Can Data Control Provide Ease of Mind?

Most Internet users have significant privacy concerns when it comes to their personal information and location data. There is good reason: An incredible 82 percent of apps access user data, and 80 percent can share location data.

In a bid to get more people to use their sites, app providers and websites are providing new control mechanisms. This next generation of apps address the lack of safety presented by open data. Will it work?

The privacy problem is typified by the wildly successful Tinder dating app. The secret behind Tinder’s success is its simplicity, but the app has stated a roadmap where Tinder users can locate each other in the same room. Further complicating matters is Tinder’s ability to send user data (gleaned from Facebook) to third parties, including sexual preferences.

Other dating apps like SinglesAroundMe are giving end-users control through new features like Position-Shift. Position-Shift lets people show where they are, hide themselves, or even shift their location to mask their exact whereabouts.

Facebook launched its own location app last week; the Nearby Friends service. Like many new apps on the market, Nearby Friends lets users locate their connections via mobile phone. To ease stalking concerns, Facebook is touting a double opt-in, and forces users to select a level of friends from small custom groups to friends. Friends of friends and public listings are not an option.

Life360 offers a different take on location, allowing people to share information with select small groups. The ideal user group is families. The application developer is so security focused calls itself a red state app offering. The company has successfully garnered more account sign-ps than most of its competitors, but does not report active users.

Will Self Regulation Be Enough?


While apps are moving towards empowering users with more privacy control, it may not be enough. Location and personal data conerns have attracted attention in Congress. Senator Al Franken reintroduced his Location Privacy Protection Act to close legal loopholes that allow stalking applications to exist on smartphones.

A different set of app developers are creating mechanisms to alert smartphone users when an app is rooting their phone for data. Even enigmatic tech tycoon John McAfee released DCentral1, an app that lets you audit the permissions on your Android phone, and monitor how your data is being leaked.

These new “privacy control-only” apps reveal significant weaknesses in the iOS and Android platforms. In the end, the apps may force smartphone operating system developers Apple and Google to give stronger controls to the end-user.

It seems fair to say that the days of simple check-in apps like Foursquare are ending, at least beyond a very basic public level. As more application developers provide different levels of privacy control, users will become aware of not only the available security measures, but also the general public’s vulnerability to data leaks.

How app users respond to these developments remains to be seen. The more personal the app is, the more likely end-users will demand robust data security.

What do you think?

Does Google Deserve More Credit?

Sometimes I think Google deserves more credit.

This is not a defense of Google+, anti-trust issues facing the company, or the apparent sunsetting of Feedburner. Rather, more admiration for the company’s overall approach and success online in recent years.

When I learned Google had scrapped its facial recognition technology because the negative uses outweighed the good, I felt they were the better player of the big companies operating in this space. It’s not an isolated incident.

Google changed its privacy earlier this year, uniting its many disparate policies across different products into one holistic company-wide statement. The company waged an extensive public relations and advertising effort to explain the new policy to the general public.

When was the last time Facebook did that? Never, to my knowledge. You just log in and find everything switched without any communication whatsoever.
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2012 Trend Spotting: Grieving Blackberry

Chart ws stock researchinmotionltd 20111216123240 top
Image by CNN

By all accounts, 2012 will be the year that Blackberry’s decline dramatically increases. Most analysts and even parent company Research In Motion’s SEC filings see Blackberry dropping out of the top tier of smartphones, surrendering the market to the Apple iPhone and the many Google Android operating system-based phones.

Because Blackberry has been a very strong brand, one that basically brought the Internet to phones in the form of email and casual web browsing, expect to hear a lot of complaining. People love their Blackberries!

But unfortunately, the company was never able to respond to tactile input technology and the subsequent mobile application revolution created by Apple and then Google. Users have little choice with Blackberry’s increasingly obsolete operating systems if they want a modern smartphone with the best technology.

The decline has been an ugly one. When the iPhone first launched, Blackberry was slow to react, chugging along with its 1.0 email monster.

BlackBerry Storm
Image by StrebKR

Finally, after the phone took off, Blackberry began to evolve towards touch screen interfaces. By then Android had launched. While Android is often considered an iPhone knock off, it was extremely competitive from an innovation standpoint and cost effective. It became the iPhone answer instead of a touch Blackberry.

Research In Motion responded by cutting costs to incredibly low levels, which buoyed sales into 2011. However, low costs, a revamped operating system and attempts to build a Blackberry only mobile social network and application marketplace have failed to stem the iPhone Android tide.

The final blow appears to be the failure to deliver yet another new operating system — Blackberry 10 — until late 2012. With market share rapidly deteriorating, Blackberry needed a turn around now, not in nine to 12 months. And so it seems apparent that in 2012 we will be hearing a lot about Research In Motion and Blackberry’s fall from grace, and their desperate last attempt to stay relevant.

Grieving Blackberry

Personally, I have never really liked the Blackberry platform. Instead, I preferred a Palm or Windows phone during the 1.0 era, and the iPhone and Android phones in the 2.0 era.

RIM Bullfrog

However, as a wireless reporter in the late 90s, I remember Research In Motion when it launched. The original Research in Motion device, a Bullfrog, was this innovative clam shell pager with a QWERTY keyboard. It was the size of a Big Mac!

Soon after they added voice capability, and became a start-up legend offering a phone that beat the big boys like Ericsson, Nokia and Samsung. The Blackberry revolutionized telecommunications, just as its current nemesis the iPhone has. It’s place in history should not be forgotten.

What are your memories of the Blackberry?

Why the Facebook Feature Frenzy Will Fail

Last week Mark Zuckerberg revealed video chat (see above video), the first of many new features in what will be called, “Launching Season 2011.” Yet, this announcement (conveniently timed one week after Google+ launched) only seems to add to the problems that Facebook has.

First and foremost, Facebook’s nightmare user interface offers a plethora of features, many of which don’t fit on one screen view much less a mobile application. More clutter won’t make the mess better. While an interesting business strategy — much like McDonalds’ approach to adding competitive products to its menu — sooner or later so many features are just too much. On the contrary, additions are bound to make Facebook’s menu of social offerings even harder to navigate.

Facebook needs to address its user interface, wonky personal list issues, and privacy concerns as Google+ did with its next generation offering. Google+ is not perfect by a long mile, but it did up the ante.

Google plus android
Image by Geeky Gadgets

Consider the whole mobile experience. Everyone knows the mobile revolution is upon us. Just today Pew released a study showing 25% of Americans prefer accessing the Internet on their smartphones.

If the Facebook web interface is bad, the mobile interface is from hell. Google+ was clearly designed with mobile use in mind. The Android app is fantastic, and exposes a lot of weaknesses in the half functional Facebook app. The inability to provide a great experience in a touch environment is a major competitive issue for Facebook. Not only does it have Google+ to contend with, but Twitter will soon be integrated into all iPhones. Mobile will be a two front war for Facebook.

Like other networks Google+ has privacy issues with content licensing, too. But at least it is built on an opt-in premises with circles of friends rather a big jambalaya of friends, colleagues, and family. It respects the way we work as people and our sense of privacy. This is the exact opposite of Facebook’s approach, which is empire building at the expense of its users.

You can easily make the argument that Google+ is in the beginning, and doesn’t warrant a response, even if it has five million users already. Facebook has 750 million users. But Inside Facebook recently reported that Facebook’s growth has stabilized in early adopter countries, and is even retracting in some months.

Time has shown over and over again that big web companies lose their stature. The “Death” of Facebook is not so unfathomable this month. To stave off that loss of stature, Facebook needs to address its UI and privacy issues rather than create more of the same problem.

What do you think of Facebook’s response (or does it need to respond)?

Kick Your Competitor’s Ass

DC United at the DC Auto Show

Yes, you did read the headline correctly. One of the most annoying flavors of kumbaya in social media circles remains the idea that we should all get along. These voices leave no room for public competition. Meanwhile most of the folks singing this tune don’t run businesses, and are bloggers and their fans. They are clueless about winning market share.

Ignore them. As a marketer, your job is to outperform your competitor.

Growing the pie bigger and helping the industry makes sense. That’s just part of being a good community member. Acknowledging when a competitor does good things makes sense, too. Facts are facts, and everyone appreciates best practices. You probably like some of your competitors. Hey, sometimes it even makes sense to team together for larger purposes.

The cause space could stand for less competition and more cooperation since nonprofits seek to resolve the world’s ills rather than compete. Still, nonprofits have different ideas and approaches towards change, and compete. Thank goodness because some approaches don’t work, like Komen’s suing other causes over the phrase “for the Cure.”

When it comes to direct one to one market competition and position, your job is to win. “Me, too” platitudes and nicety will cause your organization to fall behind more often than not.

If a competitor launches a winning service, innovate and offer customers a better offering. When the competion catches up and betters you, focus and compete on quality, price, timeliness, distribution and services. Look how Radiohead competes in all of these areas compared to traditional recording artists.

When competitors have weaknesses or hurt the market with bad practices, position against them and seize the market. See Google Android versus iPhone (open versus closed operating systems). When competitors make poor decisions that distract them from your customers, let them fall down. Who cares if they like it or cry about it? Are you in business or in a popularity contest?

Whether its your phone operating system, selling music and tickets, ideas via blog content, a better answer to social crisis, or a marketing firm, competition exists. Kick ass, and don’t look back.