Enable-Javascript.com

Today for the first time, a web site I visited directed me to http://www.enable-javascript.com/  The site is supposed to be a service for webmasters who need an easy and accurate way to tell site visitors how to enable Javascript in the browser.  Though at first glance that may seem like a great idea and a useful service, it is just the opposite.

This is bad on so many levels.

  • The site makes no mention of any of the many good reasons why you would want Javascript disabled.
  • It doesn’t ask the user to consider how or why Javascript  came to be disabled in their browser in the first place and the implications of reversing that action.
  • It fails to consider the possibility that Javascript is enabled but that it is being blocked by a plug-in or add-on, in which case the instructions will be useless.
  • It offers no information on any of the tools that allow you to enable Javascript on a site-by-site basis

The only function of the site is to tell visitors how to enable Javascript globally for a variety of browsers, as if that were universally a Good Thing.  There is no attempt whatsoever to explain the issues with sufficient depth to allow the visitor to make an informed decision about enabling Javascript.  Considering that Javascript generally has to be manually disabled, who is the target audience?  People who used to know why they wanted scripts disabled but have since forgotten?

And who are the target audience among webmasters?  If the site is usable without script, visitors have no reason to enable script, therefore no reason to visit http://www.enable-javascript.com/.  Presumably, this service is targeted to webmasters whose sites fail to provide content with script disabled.  The webmaster who links to this site is saying to their visitors “My content is so valuable that it is worth the risk to you of turning on Javascript for all sites on the Internet, including those that host active malware such as phishing sites and malvertising networks.”

Or, more likely, it is aimed at webmasters whose advertising fails to render with scripts disabled. In that case the webmaster who links to this site is saying to their visitors “My content is so valuable to me that it is worth imposing the risk to you of turning on Javascript for all sites on the Internet, including those that host active malware such as phishing sites and malvertising networks.”

Who is the more naive one in this exchange?  The visitor who follows the link and enables Javascript globally?  Or the webmaster who genuinely thinks this is a good idea and implements it?

I use some script on my web sites but my approach is to not collect personal data so there’s nothing for me to lose, and to not monetize traffic with dynamic ad networks known to carry malvertising.  I want people to feel comfortable white-listing my site if they want it to be responsive and mobile-friendly, to see the slider on the home page, or to use the social media functions.  I will happily point them to NoScript, Ghostery, Privacy Badger, and more.  But the content doesn’t rely on scripts.  (Possibly The Odd is Silent does since WordPress hosts it, but I try to minimize the impact, including paying them to remove their ads.)

I would never ask you to enable scripts globally to view my content.  And I can’t help but wonder about anyone who would.

The nightmare of easy and simple

The instrumented waste bin I predicted at the San Francisco Personal Data meetup a couple years back is now a thing.  While researching GeniCan I naturally had to go read their privacy policy.  It was there that I stumbled onto a service that lets you generate a privacy policy from a workflow.  You fill in some data and select from several options, it generates a custom policy from an inventory of templates that it fills in and assembles.  It can make policies for your web site, Facebook app or mobile app. Easy. Simple. Free.

Sounds awesome, right?

You were waiting for the “but”?

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Better surveys = better signal

I’ve spilled many bits in this blog about the difference between vendor-driven creepy malvertising ad-tech versus consumer-driven intentcasting and Vendor Relationship management.  The vendor-driven model is the one where you are surveilled from all sides and the data compiled, analyzed, sliced, diced, massaged, correlated and enhanced until the vendor has a good idea to which things you will respond viscerally and then attempt to manipulate you with them.  This model is based on exploitation of human biases and vigilance fatigue. Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) on the other hand is about the consumer broadcasting intent and preferences to a market that can respond accordingly.  This model is based on fulfillment of the consumer’s self-directed interests and desires.

Somewhere in the middle are consumer surveys: direct customer input, wholly vendor driven.  Or at least many people, vendors and customers alike, think these are somewhere in the middle.  Me?  I’m a sucker for surveys since they are about as close to VRM as it gets most of the time these days.  I fill them out in bulk in hopes of detecting some whiff of VRM in one of them, and now and then I’m rewarded for my effort.  But only once in a blue moon.  Sadly, virtually all surveys I’ve seen fail to rise to a level that might qualify as anything close to VRM and most are just plain clueless.

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Listening wasn’t bad enough?

Owners of Samsung’s “smart” TVs are now reporting that streaming apps running on the TVs are inserting Pepsi ads into user-owned content stored locally on their PCs and NAS drives.  In nearly identical stories, GigaOm and Ars Technica report that this happens for Plex and Foxtel apps running on the TVs.

In addition to the obvious privacy implications, this renders visible a new category in the monetization field: legalized theft of intellectual property.

If you recall the arguments around web search, framing and deep linking, the damage claims arose from money made on the value of the content by people who did not own the content and without permission of the content owners.  It was, according to various legal arguments, theft of intellectual property rights, conversion, dilution of the market, etc.

In this case, Samsung is monetizing content you stream locally without regard to who owns the content.  There is every reason to believe the content is yours since every smart phone made today takes movies.  It’s a point of pride for Samsung who tout their high quality cameras and sensors made to do exactly that.  Samsung unquestionably understands the concept of user-generated content and the high probability that the content into which they are inserting commercials is home movies of your cat(s), your kid(s), someone’s birthday party, or your vacation.  Maybe you are showing home movies of your recently departed loved one at the wake and suddenly Samsung inserts the Pepsi commercial.  (One only hopes it is at least the “Pepsi brings you back alive” campaign from years past.)

The point is, Samsung has no way of knowing anything about the content or the context, only that you find it interesting enough to watch therefore it is valuable enough to monetize, and Samsung believes they have the right to do so.

Because they manufactured the display.

I realize suggesting that Samsung believes they have a right to impose these ads on you may sound a bit hyperbolic, so let’s look at their Privacy Policy–AdHub Supplement:

When you use a Samsung service that includes ads provided by AdHub, AdHub receives certain information about your device. This information may include the device’s hardware model, IMEI number and other unique device identifiers, MAC address, IP address, operating system version, and settings.

In addition, the first time you visit a service that displays ads by AdHub, Ad Hub will assign your device a random ID number, which will be sent back to AdHub each time your device gets a new ad from AdHub.

When AdHub displays an ad to you, AdHub logs the fact that your device received that ad, as well as the webpage or other place where you viewed it.

This leaves no doubt that Samsung is assigning unique tracking IDs to each device capable of rendering content and ads.  In order to access the features of the phone, tablet, smart TV or whatever, you are required to have a Samsung account.  This attaches your personally identifiable data to each Samsung smart device and correlates those devices under a single umbrella account.  Everything that is trackable on the devices is personally identifiable back to the device owners.

Whether or not you trust Samsung as custodian of your private data, the real question is how much you trust the advertisers and publishers that Samsung invites into your device through their AdHub.  Though Samsung doesn’t share with them the information collected by Samsung, they do something even better.  Samsung gives these third parties direct access to your device, tells you up front that your data will be collected by these third parties, then disclaims any responsibility for what those third parties might do with that privileged access.  Samsung remains cozily wrapped within a cloak of anonymity and a blanket liability shield:

Third-party advertisers may use web beacons in their ads in order to collect information about users who view their ads, including through cookies, beacons and similar technologies. Samsung does not control the data collection and use practices of these companies.

Samsung next states their right – there’s that word again – to impose these terms on you.  The last part of the policy supplement states that “you can opt out of receiving targeted advertising from AdHub” but notes that that if you do “you will continue to see ads, but they may be less relevant to you because they will not be based on your interests.”  In other words, haven’t opted out of any of this data collection, only whether it is used to deliver targeted ads.  Everything upstream of that, including the personally identifiable data collection and all the various uses to which that may be put, both by Samsung and it’s army of anonymous advertisers, is protected under the contract.  Should you choose to operate the device without registering it to a Samsung account, the piece that makes your use of the device personally identifiable and provides the context of all your other devices, you don’t get to use the features for which you purchased the device.

Let’s be real clear about this.  You unquestionably own all rights to content that you create, including the right to monetize that content or to make the choice to not monetize it.  You are watching the content in the privacy of your own home.  It is running over cables, switches, routers and NAS devices that you personally own.  You are the one paying for the electricity and bandwidth.  But if the smart device on which you render the content bears a Samsung nameplate, they can force you to watch ads as a prerequisite to render that content, whether you like it or not.  Not only is Samsung monetizing your content, they are monetizing your viewing of your content.  

Whatever we may think of this, we need to be asking what’s next?  Will Motorola, Linksys and Netgear claim a right to insert ads into your privately owned, user-created, streamed content because they manufactured the cable modem, switch and router, respectively?  Will Western Digital, Buffalo, or Synology claim a right to insert their ads into your privately owned streamed content because they made the NAS drive?

All of these “smart” components are in the path between where your content is stored and where it is displayed.  All are essential for the content streaming to work.  All have the processing capacity to insert ads into your content, and all come with Terms of Service and Privacy Policies that you agreed to sight unseen.  Samsung may render the content but there is no content to render without all of these other components.  Samsung was merely the first to stake their claim but every device in the chain has no better or worse standing to claim a right to insert ads into your streamed content than does Samsung.  Do you believe none of them will assert that right once Samsung establishes it?  What, exactly, do you believe will stop them?

Let’s do the chess thing and think ahead a move or two.  What happens if someone figures out how to disable the ads and distributes a root kit or firmware patch?  If that qualifies as anti-circumvention under the DMCA it would be a felony.  Will we not have the right to root our TV, just like we do/don’t have the right to root our phone?  What happens if a downstream device like the TV happens to interrupt the stream right in the middle of the ad being inserted by an upstream device like the switch or NAS drive?  Will Linksys start charging Samsung and Synology for access to your in-home network, the same way that ISPs want to charge Netflix, Amazon and Hulu for bandwidth that has already been paid for at both ends?  Because if you are not the ultimate arbiter of what happens on your private home network, then it is up to the courts and corporations to say what happens there.

Let’s think another chess move ahead.  US law sets a pretty high bar before law enforcement officers can invade the sanctity of your home.  True, these are greatly eroded lately, but your home is where you enjoy the most privacy protection against being recorded in video or audio, and physically searched.  But if your TV, phone, game console, robots, toys, appliances, baby monitors and security systems are all live-streaming to corporate entities, law enforcement no longer have to clear that high hurdle.  Most companies, especially small start-ups, won’t stand up to government information requests.  Do you worry that “this call may be recorded for quality assurance”?  Now everything you say in your living room, bedroom, bathroom, car, and your side of every phone call will be recorded for quality assurance and delivered to law enforcement during discovery, even if you aren’t the target of the investigation.  You will have more privacy in your front yard than in your own home.

None of these scenarios are all that farfetched in a world where manufacturing a device confers the right to mediate the content transmitted or rendered on that device in a private setting.  We consumers don’t read the contracts to which we are bound when we buy these devices and it doesn’t seem likely we’ll start any time soon.  We keep buying the devices despite frequent news stories detailing ever more invasive privacy invasions and it doesn’t seem likely we’ll stop buying them any time soon, either.  These practices generate net-new revenue for the device manufacturers so, short of them stepping on one another, there’s no chance they will stop voluntarily any time soon or, for that matter, ever.

When you can be forced to watch an ad before viewing content you personally created, there is no neutral, no middle ground, no shred of privacy left to give up that isn’t already being taken from you without your consent.  The only options left are to accept the commoditization of our intimate lives, or else to actively protest and demand regulatory protection of our privacy rights and strong enforcement.

If you believe that there is anything at all in the world to which you have a right of privacy, this moment in our time is the last chance you will ever have to demand it before the window of opportunity slams shut and you are rendered effectively naked in the panopticon of life.  Anything short of active opposition now is acquiescence.  We need to be angry and we need to hold our elected officials accountable to represent our interests for once.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll start doing that any time soon, either.

Open Letter to Chris Cox and Facebook

2015-02-14_13-58-05It was nice of Chris Cox to post an explanation of Facebook’s name policy and apologize to “the affected community of drag queens, drag kings, transgender, and extensive community of our friends, neighbors, and members of the LGBT community for the hardship that we’ve put you through in dealing with your Facebook accounts over the past few weeks.”

Except that the post doesn’t honestly explain Facebook’s name policy.  The real purpose of the policy is to force you to use a name on Facebook that can be matched to the name you use to make transactions – such as the one on your credit card – so they can correlate the ads you’ve been shown to purchases you make in the real world and charge the advertiser more money.  This is why in the old wording of the policy they asked for the same documents they match against – driver license, credit card, etc.

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Guest spot on The Allan Handelman Show

Yesterday I was a guest on The Allan Handelman Show for an hour, then stuck around a bit to talk with Steve Weisman of Scamicide.com.

Here are links from the show segments:

You can listen to my segments of the show on Soundcloud:

Busting the myth that people don’t care about privacy

There’s a fundamental disconnect in the discussion about online privacy.  We are told that people don’t care about their online privacy.  Evidence of people not reading terms of service, blindly accepting all permissions on their apps, and even filling out detailed questionnaires in return for an actual cookie, seem to support this position.  But in the aftermath of a breach, or simply a news story pointing out how invasive the Facebook Messenger permissions are, the reaction implies a strong expectation of better privacy.  It is as if people have an expectation of privacy but a contradictory expectation of not being required to do anything to get it.  These two things seem mutually exclusive and yet they exist simultaneously.  How can that be?  As with most mysteries of the universe, the answer involves some physics.

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The latest malvertising incident and why you should care

Today’s news from Net-Security.org is that newly discovered malware was found on Google’s ad network and its purpose is to hijack your router’s DNS settings causing all devices behind your firewall to use poisoned DNS resolvers. That means even if *you* run NoScript, AdBlockPlus, HTTPS Everywhere, Ghostery, anti virus and avoid sketchy sites, a visitor on your guest network or even some anonymous neighbor leaching off your wireless signal can compromise your router.

Awesome.

Article: Attackers change home routers’ DNS settings via malicious code injected in ads

If all my ads were not so personalized and relevant, I’d be upset about this. But it’s SO worth it, right?

The funny thing is that the attackers have FAR more privileged access to your device and your data than do the malvertisers and yet so far they just want to take over your device and empty your bank account. If the attackers ever decide to go after your *data* they’ll not only find out your daughter is pregnant before you do, they’ll make her pay $100 to not tell you about it. Then you get an email asking what your conservative employer might think of your risque purchase history. They clean out your bank account and ruin you, it’s a 1-time profit. But if they blackmail you with your data they get a long-term income stream. They get a pension fund. Forget about calf-cow relationships. Start thinking ant-aphid.

But we’re good because there are lines – somewhere – that even creepy, invasive, malvertising adtech won’t cross and that will stop the spread of cybercrime over advertising infrastructure. Right? We’re good because the adtech industry is hard at work distancing themselves from organized crime and building security, accountability and user choice into the advertising system.

“Wake up T.Rob, you’re daydreaming again!”

Oh, right. I live in Bizarro World where adtech doesn’t acknowledge any responsibility for building the rails malware rides in on. They would side with us in our battle against against organized cybercrime, except they are too busy making advertising even more invasive: Targeted Online Marketing Got Creepier Again!

Note the exclamation point at the end.  Almost seems like the author is excited about this in a good way.  In fact, that’s the case.

So if you think of it – yes, it is very creepy. It goes to the extent that marketers will start knowing more about you than you do yourself.

But on the other hand we think it’s a great step forward. First of all it means that marketers are interested in finding out what we want to be offered. They are actually listening to us. Secondly this also means more targeted communications. Instead of being bombarded with advertisements you have zero interest in, you may find that eventually you start enjoy advertising as it fits seamlessly into what you are looking for.

But the Adtech folks aren’t stopping with impressively better tech, they are hitting new efficiency levels as well, as noted in Obama-Grade Ad Tech Coming to a Local Campaign Near You. “It’s been a challenge for even mid-range campaigns to be able to afford these online advertising capabilities. Today, it doesn’t matter if you’re running for city council or congress, because now you can reach voters in one of the most effective ways possible regardless of your campaign budget.”

Or if you go to Ad:Tech NYC next week, you can learn about the new frontier of tracking consumers offline in  Behavioral Breadcrumbs: New Tools to Read Digital Signals:

Most traditional digital tracking and measurement only works as long as a consumer sits in front of a browser. What happens when they disconnect? A new breed of technologies helps extend scalable insight into consumer behaviors beyond the screen. From RFID to Wifi to optical tracking, this panel will discuss methods that identify consumer behaviors, help test and ultimately measure.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Market to consumers using signals they’re pushing.
  2. Track behaviors using consumer signals.
  3. Create a type of interactivity and measurability in your campaigns.

I’m sorry, but I’m not PUSHING signal to your RFID reader, WiFi access point, or optical recognition tracker.

If you want to know what consumers pushing signals looks like, go talk to the folks at Customer Commons, whose QR-coded badges broadcast the intention to not be tracked in exactly these ways.  Does your optical tracker honor these signals?  I’m guessing not.

If you want to know what consumers pushing signals looks like, talk to the Respect Network who are building a platform specifically to exchange user-generated signal with marketers and businesses.

If you want to know what consumers pushing signals looks like, talk to me or my colleagues at Qredo who are building out the world’s first and best fully-encrypted, end-to-end communications and Personal Cloud platform that is mutually authenticated at the endpoints and yet the data and metadata are completely anonymous in the cloud servers.  We’re all about quality signal.

Most of all, if you want to know what consumers pushing signals looks like, read The Intention Economy.  Here’s a hint: when we customers push signals, it’s intentional, deliberate, and we like you for receiving them. If you have to hunt for the signal, if we don’t like that you received it, if stealth is involved, if it feels at all creepy to any of the participants, it probably isn’t being pushed.

I’m not going to reach anyone who honestly believes that signals received over passive RFID scans, Wifi hotspot scanning, and optical recognition tracking are being “pushed” by consumers.  However, there must be some marketing and advertising people who realize how incredibly wrong that characterization is and why.  To those people I plead: please side with the consumers against organized cybercrime.  Quit acting as the R&D arm of cybercrime who watch you lay the tracks, then ride them direct to your audience, poisoning the well for all involved.

We are on the verge of computerizing the consumer side of commerce.  When we computerized the supply side 30 or so years ago, it transformed the world.  But the consumer side is much larger and the transformation potentially that much richer.  Consumers want to build systems that send you signal.  Stop trying to sneak in and steal it and just partner with us.  Once we have some trust and accountability between us, organized cybercrime will have to do their own R&D.  And if you are wondering how to make those connections you’re in luck.  The next Internet Identity Workshop is next week.  The place is practically littered with common ground for us to meet on.

Marketers and advertisers, now you get to choose who you want to work with and for.  The customers, entrepreneurs, and identity geeks in the VRM community at IIW?  Or organized cybercrime?  Choose wisely because you’re running out of Mulligans on these compromised ad networks.

The Marketing/Cybercrime symbiosis

MalvertisingWhat would you do if you suddenly realized that your business model was indistinguishable from organized crime?  Or, worse, what if you realized that your business directly harmed people economically and physically?  Web Marketing has evolved to become the R&D lab for organized cybercrime and is currently in that unfortunate position.  Here is the life cycle we are stuck in at present:

  1. Users find new ways to block ads and preserve (or at least fortify) their privacy.
  2. Marketing devises new adtech to circumvent user controls.
  3. Cybercriminals exploit adtech to deliver malicious payloads.
  4. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

News reports of people whose bank accounts are emptied or their identities stolen by cybercriminals are all too familiar.  Mostly forgotten however is that when some high-level SSL certificates were compromised a few years back, forged certificates were found proxying the communications of dissidents from inside of repressive countries to Twitter, Google, Facebook and so on.  What people thought was completely secure communication was in fact transparent to the authorities.  It is a certainty that people came to physical harm after the Certificate Authority was breached, and that breach was a result of malvertising.

 How did we get here?

The problem is that Marketing believes that it is in the business of creating content and cannot get past that worldview. The reality is that in the age of popular press, then broadcast radio and television, Marketing was reinvented as the world’s first micropayment system. Diverting a timeslice of the attention that a massive audience paid to the program content, and substituting commercial content, created a revenue stream out of thin air. With a large enough audience the aggregate value of attentional time slices could be monetized predictably and in sufficient quantity to fund both the content and the overhead of the micropayment system that generates the revenue.

What Marketing has lost sight of (or perhaps never realized) is that their primary business is distilling and aggregating micropayments to fund content, not in creation of content itself. Yes, it’s called “marketing” and that implies signal from advertisers to consumers. But marketing delivered in the context of program content is invisible if nobody likes the program content. No matter what you spend on a Superbowl ad, people who don’t like football won’t watch the game to see the ad.  Funding content is primary.  Making content is a means to that end but need not be in the age of the Internet.

How can it be fixed?

In the world of bulk print media, and of broadcast radio and TV, signal goes only one way and advertising content was required to close the signaling loop. It created an information stream from consumers in the form of increased sales and revenue.  In the world of atoms, it was actually necessary to prevent the possibility of consumers responding en masse and overwhelming the seller.

But we do not need that anymore. The Internet closes the signaling loop much more effectively. Consumers can send signal upstream without overwhelming the recipient in the process.  We are finally in a position to skip the commercial content and just pay directly for program content. But people don’t want to manage a million subscriptions and vendors don’t necessarily want to do that either.  This is especially true when the lowest practical direct payment is significantly greater than the value of the content provided.  So we still need to aggregate micro-revenue streams and distribute funds back to content creators.  The difference is that we no longer need that to be driven by marketing content.

In a world where it is possible to track every second of content performance, directly funding content through subscription aggregation should be easy to do transparently, accountably, and without the invasive malicious technology. Marketing owns this space but that’s due only to historical legacy.  Unless they remove the blinders with “content creator” printed on the inside they’ll soon cede it to someone else. Content creators just need funding and if they can get it without annoying the crap out of their patrons, and especially without delivering malvertising along with their content, they would be happy to do so. Content creators do not need to sell Bud Light.  They just need funds.

Will Marketing step up?

When it comes to building a subscription aggregation ecosystem, Marketing currently holds a marginal advantage in its existing relationships with content creators and distribution outlets.  This would help in the construction of a subscription bundling ecosystem if only Marketing realized they need to build it. But that advantage is eroding quickly as the Internet commoditizes those advantages so time is of the essence. Direct funding of program content is coming whether Marketing builds it or not. If they wait too long, they lose their main delivery channel as content goes ad-free.

Isn’t Marketing also content?

Creation of content, that thing Marketing seems to believe is their primary business model, is still required but as a subordinate function. It has been pointed out many times that sellers have a need to get information about their products out to the buying public and Marketing fills that need. Fair enough. But if you are in the market for a widget then marketing information about widgets is the program content and it will be sought out on that basis.

Anyone surfing the web ad-free who is in the market for widgets will – surprise! – want to compare widget features, read reviews on widgets, check widget prices, look for things that might fit their needs better than widgets, etc. The role of Marketers for these people will be to make sure that the information exists and is easy to find. Their role will not be to invade the privacy of potential consumers, attempting to claim every possible attentional timeslice by bombarding the consumer from all sides every waking second with brand messages.  In an ad-free environment consumers will self-select to receive Marketing content at the point in time that it is relevant to them.

 When advertising is voluntary and opt-in, *all* advertising is precisely targeted and extremely valuable.

Let me repeat that for Marketers whose attention timeslice I didn’t get the first time:

When advertising is voluntary and opt-in, *all* advertising is precisely targeted and extremely valuable.  No Big Data crunching required. No invasive ad-tech required. No need to cover every visual or auditory blank space with branding.  Furthermore, assuming the system monetizes sales rather than clicks or impressions, Every. Single. View. Or. Click. Is. Legitimate. Full stop.

Our current opt-out approach and consequent oversupply of marketing messages drives the incremental value of individual ads ever lower.  But it is a mistake to believe that the value of an ad can never be less than zero.  An oversupply of ads can in fact create negative value, especially when delivered coercively as is explained in the next section.

An autistic point of view

There is a relatively new model of autism called the Intense World Theory.  Past theories of autism have assumed it arises from functional deficits in the human brain.  But Intense World Theory posits that much of typical autistic behavior results from over-stimulation.  This model explains so much better things such as texture sensitivity, physical agitation such as hand flapping or head banging in response to strong stimuli, and situational escalation leading to autistic meltdowns.

Marketing when and where a consumer requests it is an essential service.  Marketing as it is practiced today on the web is more like a zombie apocalypse.  Nobody actually wants to be attacked from all sides, relentlessly, by mindless things that just want a piece your brain, but Marketing refuses to believe that and plows ahead undeterred.  When we put up defenses, Marketing invents new tech to circumvent them and tells us it has an absolute right to do so.  This is an “essential truth” as one marketer recently put it.  When we get infected and come to harm through malvertising, Marketing disclaims any responsibility.

Ask anyone familiar with autism and Intense World Theory what they would predict consumer response to be to Marketing’s current approach of carpet-bombing the consumer’s attentional landscape.  Marketers tell us that the web depends on this model, that everyone involved is better off for it, and that they have a right to get their branding messages into our field of attention.  But Intense World Theory tells us that beyond a certain point, people begin to feel violated, overwhelmed and out of control.  They withdraw from the stimulation or find ways to defeat it, even to the point of self-destructive behavior if the stimulus is intense enough.

Head banging, hand flapping and body tics are how an autistic increases signal in order to drown out noise.  Ad-Block+, Ghostery and other consumer-side controls perform the same function with respect to Marketing.  Escalation of confrontation leads to a meltdown in the case of an autistic person, or to Congressional hearings in the case of invasive adtech.  The parallels are obvious and the outcomes predictable.

You don’t need to be autistic to respond this way.  Dial up the unwanted stimulus enough and everyone eventually gets to this point.  Don’t believe me?  Watch the reactions to the sound of fingernails on a blackboard.  This is the first time in history that it has been possible to so thoroughly invade an individual’s cognitive space so we have not previously driven neurotypical people to autistic defensive behavior.  Now that we are beginning to do so, we should recognize the response as predictable given the level of stimulus and move to change the approach. At the very least Marketing needs to dial down the stimulus.  Better yet, Marketing should relate to people as respected peers rather than as subjects.  Our attention is a privilege, not a right.

Suggestions

Marketing needs to reinvent itself as a funding aggregator for content first, and as the delivery of brand messages second.

  • Create content subscription bundles so a single subscription reduces or eliminates ads across most or all web properties.  Cybercrime cannot ride in on your rails once you rip up the track.
  • Remunerate providers proportionally.
  • Make sure independent content providers can get paid on par with large providers.  Some might even say indie content is more valuable.
  • Stop with the invasive adtech already.  We hate it and we hate you for it.
  • Make it easy for prospective consumers to find your brand messages when they are actually in the market for something.
  • Turn your commercial content into program content.  Remember the people who aren’t football fans who don’t watch the game to see the ads?  They do go watch them on YouTube and vote on them in contests.  We don’t mind brand messages if the content is compelling.  (Clue!)
  • Finally, and this applies to pretty much any business, if your business model is indistinguishable from and directly enables organized crime, don’t spend a minute rationalizing the harm caused.  CHANGE THE MODEL.

Marketers, the countdown clock is ticking.  Will you continue on the current path, eventually driving the public to a meltdown?

Marketing Week’s flawed IoT survey

marketing_week_infographicA few hours ago, Marketing Week published an article in their Trends section titled Smart Homes Lack Consumer Connection.  Although I’m an eager proponent of Internet of Things, I don’t find much insight or any actionable conclusions here for a number of reasons that I’ll explain below.  Do you find it insightful or helpful?  Does your answer change after you read this post?

What, no privacy concerns?

When it comes to people declining to install “smart” devices, the breakdown of their reasons as provided in the article is:

45% - Cost
44% - Unimportant
23% - Complexity
21% - Inappropriate data collection
18% - Intrusive
 3% - None of the above

Apparently it is possible to drastically reduce the ranking of privacy concerns by distinguishing between “too intrusive” versus “data being collected and used inappropriately.”   That’s quite a fine line to draw considering the lack of granularity in the other categories and instead of “Privacy – 39%” which would have trumped Complexity, we get two separate line items falling below everything else on the list except for “None of the Above”.  On the one hand it’s great that the study authors found something nuanced to look at.  On the other hand, gaaaaaaa!

What does “cost” mean here?

For example, a plethora of issues appear to be lumped into “cost.”  We all know that “cost” really means “cost versus benefit” and the article fails to distinguish whether people actually like the devices on offer and in their current form – i.e. see the devices as as highly beneficial.  Maybe respondents love the devices but lack the funds to buy them, in which case a plausible ROI demonstration is appropriate.  A good example of this is 40 watt equivalent LED bulbs that used to cost $30 ~ $50.  Now that they sell for < $10 they have gone mainstream.

That seems to be the direction the authors are going when discussing energy saving devices and use the phrase “save money” four times in the article.  On the other hand, “cost” may mean it isn’t worth paying the price for the devices on offer because the additional benefits derived simply aren’t compelling.  A good example of this was when there were no 100 watt equivalent LED bulbs or 3-way LED bulbs.  You had to pay a lot more money for something that wasn’t as functional as before.  Kinda like buying a “smart” bulb and then having to duct tape the wall switch to the On position and use your phone to control it, or having no control over a “smart” device when the Internet goes out.  Too bad the study authors didn’t see the need to find any nuance here.

Relevance

Revolv Hub

This image embodies much of what’s wrong with IoT. Rather than replacing devices with functionally equivalent smart devices that provide enhancements, today’s IoT expects you to buy new types of devices, designs them as though you wish to feature them in your decor, and requires you to control everything over the phone.

Just as a raftload of sins are hidden under “cost” in the study, so too are they aggregated under “not considered important in my life.”  Does that mean “not considered important enough to find a place to put this new device on display so my friends will know how cool I am” (see the Revolv hub photo in the article) or “because I’m a Luddite,” or something in between?

Notification

Every single person who enables the buzzer on the washer and dryer has indicated their desire for those devices to notify them.  Everyone whose telephone is not set to mute, whose doorbell is operational, who use an alarm clock, who use a kitchen timer, have indicated a desire for notifications.  It is impossible to argue that notifications themselves are unimportant, so what is it about these notifications that is not compelling or relevant?  Perhaps it is because the notification destination is almost always the phone and that ambient notification devices are never used?  Of course, use of ambient notification systems would require integrations to a wider variety of devices and Industry seems to be well aware that Internet of Things is not about that.  No, the IoT is apparently about controlling, rather than enabling, all your device integrations.  That may be significant part of the problem but you’d never know it from reading this study which never considers whether the prevailing device architecture is part of the problem.  The article not only fails to provide any insight in this area, but it doesn’t seem to recognize that there’s any nuance to be found.

Actuation

The other side of smart devices is actuation.  The primary time most of us wish for actuation is along the lines of “did I turn off the [insert name of device here] before I left the house?”  We’ve had device-issued notifications forever, even to some extent remotely, but we have not had a lot of “smart” actuation before.  For many people “not considered important in my life”  probably means exactly what you’d think and what the article suggests: we haven’t had this capability up to now and we don’t generally sit around wishing we did.

But “not considered important in my life” could also mean that the functionality of the devices on offer is perceived as laughable.  “You want me to replace a perfectly good wall switch with…my phone? BWAHAHAHAHAHA!”  This is the group into which I fall.  Admittedly this conclusion requires an informed and tech-savvy consumer.  However, targeting the portion of the market who do not understand the problem with this creates an incentive and business model based on keeping them clueless, and which also happens to facilitate the device-as-data-collection-portal paradigm.  Anyone but me have a problem with this approach?  Anyone else believe that devices should first act like the analog thing they replace and then provide enhancements as a secondary function?

It is also possible that “not considered important in my life” means “the device on offer doesn’t have the integrations that would make it compelling and traps me in a walled garden making it unlikely I’ll ever get the desired integrations.”    Call me crazy but when my deaf aunt comes to visit, I might actually want the doorbell, fire alarm, toaster, washer and dryer to talk to the house lighting so she can receive notifications just like everyone else in the home.  Anyone else believe that all devices should have open APIs so that prosumers and integrators can build compelling functionality with the mesh?  Or believe that a mesh of connectivity across all these unlike devices from different vendors needs to exist in order to realize the potential of IoT?  Maybe doing that would make IoT more relevant to the average consumer.  The study or authors, not sure which, or both, don’t seem to care how the “not important” category breaks out or whether the architecture is part of the reason people decline to buy.  Too bad.  We might have learned something by drilling into these issues.

Privacy – it’s in there

Marketing Week screen shotThe one area in which the authors found some nuance was privacy concerns.  It is unfortunate that the result of granularity in this category is to drastically understate the relevance of privacy in consumer minds as compared to the other categories.  The effect is apparent in the summary  that Marketing Week uses when referring to the article from elsewhere on the site: Consumers cite cost and lack of usefulness as barriers to adoption.  No, they didn’t.  If you combine both of the Privacy categories, there is a total of only 6 percentage points separating Cost (45%), Relevance (44%), and Privacy (39%).  Complexity (23%), which is the next closest category, comes in a distant 12 points below Privacy.  The concerns expressed seem to cluster around Cost, Relevance and Privacy as the barriers to adoption.  Odd that privacy would get dropped like that.

Perhaps when your audience is an industry driven by the collection and analysis of consumer data, to suggest that consumers have significant privacy concerns is taboo.  Or perhaps the researchers genuinely wanted to drill down in this area because it is important, created sub-categories for privacy, but that intention got lost in publication.  Hard to say what is going on and since the usefulness of the conclusions varies so widely depending on how you read the intent here, any credence we each give the study will tend to align with our own confirmation bias.  Anyone can interpret the results according to their own views and that, for me anyway, renders the results meaningless.

Does anyone other than me believe that devices should default to not sending data to the vendor and instead allow the device owner to optionally enable vendor access to the data based on receiving something of value in return?  That model would not only significantly improve consumer perceptions of data collection and intrusion, it would actually contribute to consumer confidence in IoT privacy.

Spin doctoring

Marketing Week Screen Shot

The article features an infographic, followed by this opening text.

I’m forced to make a lot of assumptions here because the study isn’t linked from the article and not accessible through Google search or anywhere else that I’ve found.  Since we do not have access to the study or information about its origins, we have to work with what’s in front of us.  Unfortunately, what’s in front of us doesn’t hold up well under close inspection.

Strangely, the first words in the article (at least those that aren’t a headline) are “The study, seen exclusively by Marketing Week, reveals…”  To which study are they referring, and what do they mean by “seen exclusively by”?

Are they trying to imply that someone independently and spontaneously funded this research without Marketing Week’s involvement and then gave Marketing Week exclusive access to it? The headline mentions “new research,” a non-specific phrase which could be plural or singular and suggests no connection exists between the reporter and the news being reported.  The rhetorical device of starting the article copy by back-referencing an unnamed but specific study from among all the available “new research”, and the passive construction using “seen exclusively by” combine to reinforce the suggestion that this is independent news reporting. So too do the references to “Source: Gekko” as the authors of the research.

If all that is true, then who commissioned the research?  And how did it end up as a Marketing Week exclusive and with their branding all over it?  Did Marketing Week vet the provenance of the study before publishing it?  Or did they in fact commission it themselves?  Why not just tell us the origins, scope and charter of the study or make it available, unless the intent is to deliberately put some spin on it?

To be fair, my suspicions of deliberate spin doctoring assume that the article was written by someone whose core competency is the use of English language in the art of persuasion, for example a marketing professional or experienced reporter in that field.  Someone like that doesn’t end up with a product like this by accident.  On the other hand, one could (some might say should) could give Marketing Week the benefit of the doubt and assume that the unusual rhetorical construction isn’t actually deliberate framing but rather a case of sloppy as hell writing and editing that managed to get past all the approvals required for a high-profile feature article.  Hey, it could happen.  Decide for yourself.  Got a different interpretation?  Let me know about it in the comments.

Personal conclusions

My issues with the methodology, the article’s interpretation of the results and the apparent framing lead me to conclude that there’s enough of an agenda showing through to distrust the whole thing.  I would have much preferred if the authors had drilled deeper into the broad spectrum of reasons consumers give for not buying today’s IoT devices.  There are very few devices on offer today that provide a combination of compelling functionality, an open API, operate when disconnected from the Internet, and integrate with anything.  Any study today would therefore be constrained by consumer perceptions of the crippled proprietary devices we have now as being representative of the possibilities of IoT, and thus such a study would be marginally useful at best.  But it would at least be more useful than the study presented.