The Britton Digital Update—Week of March 6, 2017
Five minutes to get you up to speed on this week’s digital, business, social media, entertainment, and marketing news
In 2017, should we really still have a reasonable expectation of privacy? While most of us would argue the answer to that question is yes, it may be too late. WikiLeaks released more than 8,000 documents from the CIA this week that allegedly show government agencies’ ability to hack into smart TVs, smartphones, encrypted-messaging apps, and vehicles for surveillance. While there is no proof that the CIA has tried this surveillance on any citizens, just the fact that the ability exists puts us in an uneasy state. If the CIA can watch us through a smart TV when we think it is turned off or listen to us through our smartphone, can a hacker?
Since the dawn of the World Wide Web, privacy has always been a concern. Whether it is Google tracking our online behavior to serve up relevant ads or Facebook controlling our universe so that we can log into other apps with ease, we are slowly giving up our right to privacy. However, most of us are OK with this because we treat it more like a convenience fee. At this point, perhaps it’s time for us to simply be more cautious and to reduce our risk when communicating. If anything can be recorded or digitally captured without our permission, maybe it’s time we watch what we say or post (even though social media has trained us to do the opposite). Maybe we should just be better people? And if we can’t do that, we could always choose to live off the grid in rural Montana.
UPDATE: Amazon’s Murder Mystery
A few months ago, Amazon was pressured by authorities to turn over data in an Arkansas murder investigation, after the crime scene included an Echo device with its digital assistant, Alexa. Authorities were hoping that Alexa was activated during the crime and was recording audio that could give investigators clues as to what happened. On at least two occasions, Amazon declined to hand over any potential recordings or data, citing constitutional privacy protections of its customers. A lawsuit was expected to be filed to recover the information. It would have been a battle between privacy, free speech, and crime fighting. That changed with new developments in the case this week. The defendant, who was charged with murder and also happens to be the Echo owner, gave permission for Amazon to hand over any data and recordings from his device. Investigators are hoping that the data can prove or disprove details of the defendant’s story. For example, evidence of a recording could disprove the defendant’s claim that he was asleep during the time the crime occurred. As far as testing Amazon’s position regarding customer privacy, that is a battle on the back burner—for now.
I was excited to find out last week that I have been included in a new beta test of a Pinterest visual-search feature called Lens. The feature (which will eventually come to all Pinterest users) analyzes any object in a picture taken with the app. Pinterest then suggests categories and objects based on the items it recognizes. It works surprisingly well. This week, Pinterest brought that same visual-search technology to users of its Chrome-app extension (other browsers are coming soon). It allows you to scan any picture on a website and suggest similar content within Pinterest based on the objects it recognizes. Tech Crunch suggested that “if you’re shopping online and see a product you like but can’t afford, a click on the new search button could pull up photos of similar items—some of which might be more in your price range.”
This discovery could be extremely beneficial for brands and e-commerce companies. According to Sprout Social, “93 percent of Pinterest users use the platform to plan purchases.” It is another reminder that having your products available to be found on Pinterest is a must for retailers.
Hoisting Anchor 2.0
The Anchor app was created to “make the process of broadcasting yourself as easy as snapping a photo or shooting a video,” according to Anchor CEO Michael Mignano. When the app was released about a year ago, I was intrigued. The user experience was easy. You would record an audio post (called an anchor) that posed a question or comments, and then followers could record an audio reply back (similar to commenting on a Facebook post, but with audio). To me, listening to the post with all the replies back-to-back sounded like you were standing in a room surrounded by people chiming in one by one on the conversation. This was very different than apps and social networks that already existed. While there was some initial interest (including users in 200 countries, according to Anchor), growth was slow. A complete app and user-experience redesign released this week could breathe new life into this promising app.
Anchor 2.0 takes the popular Stories feature seen on Instagram and Snapchat and copies it, with an audio twist. The result is what feels like an online radio station where you are broadcasting to your followers. Much like Instagram and Snapchat, it is ephemeral (it lasts only 24 hours) to keep users coming back for more. When creating an audio post, you add it to your “station.” The difference is that it feels like you are broadcasting, versus having a conversation (when you think about it, that is really the difference between Facebook and Messenger—one is public and one is for private conversation). You also can add sound effects, pull in music from Apple or Spotify, and add external sound clips. Instead of “liking” a post, followers can add applause to your audio. In addition, a call-in feature lets followers respond with audio (as they could before), similar to a radio listener calling in to their favorite show. The new app works with Amazon Echo and Google Home devices, too. Anchor 2.0 is free—with future plans to include advertisements as a possible way to generate revenue—and is definitely worth a second look.
Facebook has been around for more than a decade, and since the beginning users have been begging for a “dislike” button. In 2016, Facebook responded by adding reactions to posts. The sad face and angry face came close to a dislike button, but they weren’t enough for most users. However, that could change when it comes to Facebook Messenger. The social media giant has confirmed that it is conducting limited tests within Messenger. The tests let users add a reaction to messages. These reactions include both the regular reaction options and a thumbs-down. Of course, Facebook still denies that it is a dislike button, saying it would be used in more of a “no” situation. “For example, when co-workers are making suggestions for lunch, the thumbs-down reaction could be used as a ‘no’ vote for an option,” said SlashGear.com.
There’s no word on if or when this could become a regular feature inside the Messenger app. As for the actual Facebook app, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is determined to keep things positive.
One of my predictions for 2017 was the rise of chatbots in Facebook and Messenger. Late last year, it seemed all anyone could talk about was the rush for retailers to get their own chatbot to assist with customer service. Perhaps the rush to create them was at the expense of user experience. In theory, chatbots could reduce expensive human interactions with low-cost chatbot replies to basic customer service questions. Econsultancy.com is reporting that up to 70 percent of chatbots have failed to fulfill user requests. As you can imagine, that is not a percentage that is winning over many brands.
Everlane was an early partner with Facebook, telling Recode that “over time we think this will become a way to not only build stronger relationships with customers, but to ultimately drive demand and new purchases.” Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Facebook is changing its focus to improving the user experience and chatbot success rate, and is scaling back efforts to push for widespread feature adoption. Perhaps a step backward is needed to refine the user experience and transform it from a thumbs-down into a thumbs-up from both retailers and consumers.
For the rest of the news this past week, here’s a compilation of the best news stories that we don’t have time to expound upon but that you should probably take notice of:
- Game Changer? Messenger Gets Its Stories Feature
- A Google Camera Hat Could Take On Spectacles
- Chevrolet to Offer Unlimited In-Car Data Plans
- Are 3-D Selfies Coming to the iPhone?
- Sortd Is Like Trello for Slack
- Twitch Adds a Facebook-Like Feed
- Consumers Lack Connected Home Connection
- First Delivery-Robot Laws Passed
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