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Facebook scandal will give privacy a boost

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The right to user privacy on the Internet continued to make news headlines last week as the Facebook data breach saga headed to Washington. GIL SPERLING, CTO, Popimedia, believes this will provide positive developments for data privacy and consumer protection.

Advertisers, marketers and brands are obviously keeping close tabs on what effect, if any, this latest scandal to befall the world’s largest and most influential social media network will have on the Facebook user base, or to their level of engagement.

Obviously, a mass exodus of users, or a drop in their willingness to engage on the platform will reduce the effectiveness of Facebook’s data-driven advertising model. Should this happen, advertisers will have to ask if the platform can continue to deliver adequate returns on ad spend.

The fundamental issues surrounding the scandal – the privacy and use of users’ personal data – is not new. This is just the latest in a number of issues related to the misuse and abuse of user information, of which Facebook is not the sole perpetrator. Similar data breaches have happened at other Internet companies and social media platforms.

While I don’t believe that there’s widespread apathy towards these breaches among users, I doubt that these latest revelations will be the tipping point for a mass exodus.

The main reason for this is that Zuckerberg and Facebook moved relatively quickly to respond. They have accepted blame and publicly acknowledged that ‘mistakes were made’. They are also implementing corrective steps.

Coming out of Congress

Facing a five-hour barrage of questioning from Congress in Washington, Zuckerberg reaffirmed that the company’s mission of “connecting people” would continue to take precedence over advertisers and developers.

In the session, Zuckerberg stated that: “We need to take a more active view in policing the ecosystem and watching and looking out and making sure that all the members in our community are using these tools in a way that’s going to be good and healthy.”

Obviously, such words are superfluous without meaningful action to back them up, but there has certainly been changes at Facebook since the scandal broke. Having taken responsibility for the breach, Facebook is now acting by assigning resources to solve the issues.

Zuckerberg announced sweeping measures that have already, or will be, implemented across various aspects of the Facebook platform as part of the second phase of the Cambridge Analytica ‘clean up’.

Word up

He is keeping to the promises made about addressing and resolving the issues and he is widely viewed to be acting responsibility.

These measures include notifying all Facebook users whether they were affected by the leak. This will include a notification prompting users to review which apps and websites have permission to see their data. The roll-out of this element started last Monday.

Facebook also adjusted its privacy settings and ad targeting tools to give users more control over their information and is creating a tool to make it easier for users to approve what information is shared about them.

In addition, Facebook is reviewing where additional risks for data leaks exist. Already underway is an audit of all third-party apps that offer the outside world access to the platform via their API. Any app that collected and misused data will be banned from the platform, and every user who engaged with the app in question will be notified.

Further restrictions imposed on access to user data include a lockdown of the Groups, Events and Gaming APIs. These provided data to developers – such as the number of types of events attended by users – that Facebook now says is unnecessary as they should be able to create useful experiences without scraping this information.

Following Zuckerberg’s appearance on Capitol Hill, Facebook also announced a novel bounty programme, which will reward people who find and report cases of data abuse on its platforms with between $500 to $40,000, depending on the significance of the discovery.

While welcomed, these sweeping changes and reforms that seek to impose stricter data safeguards understandably has Facebook marketing partners and advertisers wondering if their ability to target users effectively and deliver a return on their ad spend will now be limited.

Impact on advertisers

South African-based advertisers and agencies needn’t be concerned, though, as the planned changes to the platform will have a minimal impact, if any, on Facebook advertising in our region.

That’s not to say that significant changes weren’t announced, though. For instance, the shutting down of Partner Categories, a feature that enabled ad targeting on the platform by using third-party data provided by data brokers, could have ramifications across the Internet-based and social media marketing industries. However, its impact will be felt predominantly in the US and parts of the EU where the use of third-party data for narrow targeting is common practice.

This approach was not adopted in South Africa, and we believe that this is a move in the right direction to improve industry best practices and ensure greater transparency regarding the responsible use of end-user data.

There have also been a few minor changes to the platform’s automated leads development solution, but these won’t have an impact on the technical capabilities of the solution.

Are these steps sufficient to stave off a significant backlash from users and advertisers?

We believe so.

For brands to continue realising a return on their ad spend on the platform, Facebook needs to ensure that users keep coming back, remain engaged with the content, and continue to feel like they are getting value.

For that to happen, they can’t feel like their right to privacy is being abused.

Based on recent announcements and the steps already taken, it is clear that Facebook has realised the importance of fundamentally changing its data practices to restore trust among users. We feel that Facebook has achieved that with the measures implemented.

This stance aligns with current user and ad data metrics, which haven’t seen a drop off since news of the data breach first broke. Granted, there was a loss in investor value for holders of Facebook stock, but the fundamental value proposition to users and advertisers seems to still be intact.

Protecting the revenue stream

Zuckerberg also reaffirmed the company’s commitment to its advertising model as the primary source of revenue. That means Facebook’s future depends on its ability to deliver a return on ad spend. When asked whether he has considered offering an ad-free, subscription option for users, Zuckerberg didn’t dismiss the idea, but stated that there will always be a free version of Facebook available.

I also believe that the sunk investments made by most users in the platform, having built their profiles over years, even a decade for some, means that something more significant would have to happen for them to divest from the platform.

Obviously, there’s a threshold of user tolerance and many are already weary of the continual breaches in trust. However, Facebook has now taken accountability and has implemented bold and decisive action.

We’re therefore confident that it will remain business as usual for the brands that leverage the platform ethically to effectively reach their target audiences.

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Building Africa’s Century

The 4th industrial revolution will be on the agenda of this week’s Gartner IT Symposium in Cape Town. Doug Woolley, GM of Dell Technologies South Africa, ponders its meaning for Africa

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Is this Africa’s Century, as President Cyril Ramaphosa said at the recent WEF on Africa gathering? I believe so. The event made solid headway in charting a course forward for African-centric solutions to our challenges. 

Technology featured often in discussions and the 4th Industrial Revolution was a central theme. Many of the outcomes also tied to a more connected digital world. But those are the broad strokes. What happens next?

An important avenue can be found in all the individual investments made inside societies, such as broadband. The spread of connectivity is in part due to telecommunications firms being mandated by the Government to reach rural and under-serviced communities. But the major momentum behind broadband stems from demand. From individuals to enterprises, a hungry broadband market has helped South Africa become much more connected.

This paradigm applies to other technology investments as well. All of them add up to support the ideas and advancements that were discussed at WEF on Africa. The need for better services and performance through technology stokes the Fourth Industrial Revolution’s engine. Every network, every datacentre, every smartphone is a piece of the puzzle that will create Africa’s Century.

We are further along the curve than most people realise. If I can judge a country’s potential based on how digitally mature its organisations are, then South Africa is not in bad shape. Earlier this year, the annual Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Index ranked South Africa in the top ten, ahead of most developed nations. The investments made by the Public and Private sectors are taking root. 

It may not make headlines, but all these individual ambitions pointing in the same direction are building the change we all want to see.

This brings me to the Gartner IT Symposium Xpo, the business-technology event taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre from 16 to 18 September. If WEF on Africa challenged for solutions at a high level, then the Gartner Symposium is where those individual investments come into play.

The nitty-gritty of the 4IR era will be on the Symposium agenda. Research by World Wide Worx on the uptake of 4IR technologies among South African enterprises will be presented tomorrow (Tuesday) by one of the company’s data analysts, Bryan Turner.

I also anticipate discussions about multi-cloud. Cloud has grown tremendously as African organisations saw the progress that came with investing in it, connectivity and data – the core ingredients of the 4IR era. Now they are looking ahead to what can be done next: that multi-cloud is on the agenda shows how Africa’s technology capability is growing.

Unified workspaces will be another good conversation topic. What happens in the office doesn’t stay in the office. Our technology habits follow us home and, more often, our home habits follow us to the office. This makes perfect sense, because 4IR is primarily about people being empowered by technology. Our workplace technology habits are microcosms of our overall use of technology.

Multi-cloud is the ‘infrastructure’ of the 4IR conversation and the workplace is where these technologies deliver some of their value. Considerable buzz is growing around unified workspaces, which make office environments more manageable and secure while reshaping them to fit the needs of modern employees.

Stop by the Dell Technologies stand and see how we’re helping create that momentum with multi-cloud, unified workspaces and through many other channels, including skills development and supporting SMMEs to grow.

How do we create Africa’s Century? Through those individual investments that collectively stoke the engines of our country and continent. It’s not just for the big players: 4IR can provide for every organisation regardless of size. Those investments are investments in the future of Africa.

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PayPal pictures how the future will be won – or lost

By AAYUSH SINGHANIA, director of Commercial Operations for PayPal Cross-Border Trade Markets

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There’s no doubt that technology has already re-shaped the way the world thinks about buying and selling. Who would have thought twenty years ago that people would be shopping on their phones?

Despite the huge changes to the shopping experience in recent years, it’s important to understand that we are only part-way through this journey. We are in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, and as technologies continue to advance, and we as a society adapt our behaviours, new opportunities and risks will present themselves to merchants of all sizes.

Here is where I see the future of commerce being won and lost, as we continue on this technology journey:

Meeting ever-increasing demand for personalised experiences

We’ve already witnessed the transition of commerce from brick and mortar to the web, and then from the web to mobile. The next phase of internet-connected devices will make commerce even more contextual whereby anything you can interact with can be a platform for commerce. Imagine being able to point your phone at your best friend’s shoes, and almost instantly they are in your shopping cart, ready to be delivered to your home?

Mobile has already made shopping an “all the time” activity and has given us a taste of what it’s like to have hyper-personalised experiences. While a consumer walking into a retail store is limited by physical space, the online world offers an unlimited shelf for merchants to deliver tailored customer experiences. Looking ahead, innovations in artificial intelligence and machine learning hold great promise to further deliver on this hyper-personalisation, by being able to learn about who a consumer really is as a person and their individual preferences.

As a result of this evolution, customers have moved from being surprised and delighted by personalised experiences to expect them in every context. Many customers, for example, now get frustrated when they receive advertisements for products that they’ve already bought, or have no interest in. This shift has made it critical for merchants to avoid delivering homogenous experiences to shoppers who demand personalised interactions across all contexts. In doing so, it’s important that merchants find a balance between personalising their offerings and ensuring consumers don’t feel their privacy is being invaded. Shoppers want to feel like a brand understands them, but isn’t stalking them, particularly in the wake of several high-profile data breaches.

Closing the consumer fulfilment gap to deliver seamless experiences

With new advancements in technology comes the ability to create seamless customer experiences that narrow the gap between customer desire and fulfilment. Gone are the days where shoppers decided to purchase an item and they were happy to wait a week to receive it – for many, two-day shipping still isn’t quick enough. The invention of the internet meant people could shop from home, and recently we’ve seen this evolve further where consumers prefer to shop on-the-go via mobile.

The big question is, what’s next? We’re already seeing the growth of commerce through technologies like AI-enabled voice assistants and virtual reality, so it’s critical that merchants keep pace with innovations that enable them to close the gap between desire and purchase in a delightful way.

At the end of the day, businesses need to remember that the act of filling up a cart and the process of checking out is not the fun part of making a purchase – these are points of friction – and technology is the answer to removing these frustrations for customers.

Managing customer reactions to technology disruption

Every tech disruption in its early days delivers excitement, fear, anxiety and doubt – not necessarily in that order. We all go through a phase of tech humanisation, because technology grows as we do – and we help shape the development of new solutions.

Technology has been used for good and bad, and technology that causes eye-raising experiences at the start will generally normalise in time. Remember the first video cameras on phones? As people learned how to use the technology, content got posted that shouldn’t have. Everything from the telephone, to radio and the television all caused concern and were initially criticised when first introduced to the public, but with time they’ve become part of our everyday lives.  As technology evolves, companies learn from it, and the acceptance and humanisation of technology will take place for both consumers and merchants as new innovations are applied to the world of commerce.

Merchants need to have a mindset that’s focused on being a customer champion, while recognising that customers need to adapt to new technologies in their own time. To do this, businesses must leverage technology to build the right features that aren’t intrusive, but geared towards helping people, and respect the customer’s choice to turn technology on or off.

Technology innovation will continue to re-shape commerce in the years ahead, with the potential to deliver new growth opportunities for merchants, and offering customers more choice, convenience, value and instant gratification. In a broader sense, these innovations can also help promote employment by breaking down traditional barriers to buying and selling. For merchants, the opportunities will arise, they just have to know how to take advantage of them in the right way.

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