It’s somehow fitting that today, May 25th, marks my return to writing here on Searchblog, after a long absence driven in large part by the launch of NewCo Shift as a publication on Medium more than two years ago. Since then Medium has deprecated its support for publications (and abandoned its original advertising model), and I’ve soured even more than usual on “platforms,” whether they be well intentioned (as I believe Medium is) or indifferent toward and fundamentally bad for publishing (as I believe Facebook to be).
By creating a Data Commons, our tech giants could help save the innovation economy, and possibly our democracy
In my last column, Data, Power, and War, I argued that the four largest tech companies have cornered the market on the data, processing, and human capital required for our society to truly understand itself. And I warned that such a concentration of power is both unhealthy and dangerous. It also puts the Four on an inevitable collision course with Big Government.
Look out Marketing Industry, You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
The marketing communications industry has always worked with a high level of data. But over the last decade, it’s been transformed by a new degree of granularity — the number of data streams available, new insights, and the ability to take action on those insights. We’re now working with up to 10 to 50 times the amount of data we had access to before, and it has the potential to unleash a new level of understanding, creativity, consumer value, and monetization.
Of course, there are a few pitfalls, which fall primarily into three categories.
The first has to do with understanding privacy rights: making sure everyone knows how their personal and consumer data will be used. Ideally, marketing creates a value exchange — providing benefit to consumers in exchange for collecting their information for the purposes of targeting media or custom messages.
This is what online services like Google and Facebook would argue they already do — free services in exchange for data collection and targeting. There is no true corollary for offline media at present, but when you look at the mergers of Time Warner and ATT, and the future direction of Comcast, both companies plan to inject as much data as they can into their advertising delivery and distribution vehicles. Over the Top (OTT) television offerings, and apps which enable a direct to consumer relationship between broadcast companies and consumers are also an example of media companies trying to simultaneously reclaim their relationship with the viewer and inject data into their targeting and sales approaches.
Welcome to our second edition of NewCo Shift Weekly Newsletter, a roundup of top NewCo Shift stories. Remember to follow us on Medium to receive real time notification from all our stories as they’re published. And let us know what you’re interested in us covering: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And Valerian debuts, plus a plutocrat calls out his kin
Well, here’s a pickle for you, if you happen to be the President of the United States. On the one hand, you want law enforcement to have sweeping powers over all data sources in the country, so you can, you know, keep America safe from terrorists, criminals and scoundrels. On the other hand, it turns out that some of that data could implicate you and your campaign in a major investigation being chaired by, well, the folks in charge of law enforcement.
The investigation? Russian meddling in US elections. The data? Use of Facebook’s advertising and promotion tools to boost Russian fake news stories. And the big question? Did the Trump campaign actively work with Russian operatives to promote newsfeed stories that helped Trump’s cause, and harmed Hilary Clinton’s campaign?
Facebook so far has a half-answer to that question: “We have seen no evidence that Russian actors bought ads on Facebook in connection with the election.” Perhaps, but what is known is that Trump’s campaign bought a ton of those ads — so many, in fact, that Facebook staff worked “alongside” Trump’s team, helping guide the campaign’s strategy (such coordination is not unusual for a large client). If a significant portion of that spend went to support the Russian fake news campaign, well, that certainly would be suspicious.
Many companies enter the fray for possession of the coveted default seller position on Amazon pages — the seller you end up choosing when you click the big orange “buy” button — but only one can win. Since an estimated 85 to 90 percent of the sales for a given product page go to the winner, it’s a consequential choice. In Buzzfeed, Leticia Miranda lays out how this struggle has evolved, and what criteria Amazon uses to resolve it.
The answers are to some extent opaque: Amazon won’t detail its formula for fear it will get gamed, but says companies can win by “keeping prices low, updating their inventory, and offering multiple shipping methods and fast, reliable service.” Also, it helps if they are Amazon Marketplace veterans and if they ship from Amazon warehouses.
A tale of tulip-mania in Africa, or how the automobile killed the feather market.
Kelly Jensen Digital Collections Specialist, California Academy of Sciences, gives one of five Shift Ignite talks earlier this year at the Shift Forum. A fascinating tale of tulip-mania (but with feathers!), this five minute Ignite talk reminds us all what happens when social behaviors rapidly change.
Kelly Jensen: Hi, I’m Kelly Jensen. I’m a digital archivist and a founding fellow of Odd Salons, a cocktail and lecture series here in San Francisco, and I’m going to tell you a little story about the glory days of state sponsored ostrich theft.
U.S. stock markets have boomed since Donald Trump’s unexpected victory last November. The conventional explanation is that investors got excited by the twin prospect of business tax cuts, which seemed inevitable given Republican domination of the federal government, and of huge infrastructure spending programs that Trump promised. (If you’re doing the math, you can see that investors did not worry about the government taxing less while spending more. Deficits? What deficits?)
By now, however, it should be clear to everyone that virtually none of the GOP program is going to get enacted any time soon, if ever, given the dysfunction in Washington and the Trump administration’s limp grasp on the levers of power. Yet the markets remain ebullient. What’s up with that?
The entire digital economy is built on a simple transaction model in which users give companies access to their personal data and companies provide services cheap or free. It’s a convenient and successful scheme, but it has some ugly incentives built in. And every now and then, a news story that lifts the veil from its shadier corners causes the world to go “yuck.”
In the latest incident of this sort, readers of Mike Isaac’s in-depth New York Timesprofile of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick yesterday learned that an email inbox cleanup service called Unroll.me was selling anonymized data about its users’ behavior to third-party companies. In this case, Uber paid Unroll.me for reports on the volume of Lyft receipts in its users’ email so it could suss out the health of its rival’s business. Much online outcry ensued (here’s a good summary from CBS News).
One observer dubbed it “the Exxon Valdez of security breaches”: Yahoo revealed that information for a billion user accounts — including names, addresses, hashed passwords, phone numbers, birthdays, and security-question answers — was stolen from its servers in 2013 (Krebs on Security). No, you’re not having deja vu: This is a separate incident from the previously disclosed hack of another 500 million Yahoo accounts.
Let’s survey the damage. Yahoo’s deal to be acquired by Verizon looks far less likely. Countless individuals and organizations will now be that much more vulnerable to being hacked. On some broader level, our trust in the cloud-based systems that now run our lives is tattered, if not shattered.