Privacy ain’t what it used to be

I don’t recall the exact number but as I recall Google is perhaps surprisingly one of the biggest lobbyist in DC. I know for a fact that Google fights every legal attack from every angle to the bitter end…and in the occasional cases where it loses a claim or dispute because it was clearly mistaken or in the wrong their revenge is mighty and awful. You will never do business with them again…which is tough if your business is based around search. It’s also interesting to note that with the exception of the EU regulators who clearly hate, hate, hates Google and will stop at nothing to pin them down on something all attempts to assault any perceived monopolistic practices by the mighty G are routinely and predictably unsuccessful.

So it was perhaps not much of a surprise to read that yesterday Google successfully fought off potentially millions of Gmail users who were attempting to claim that by programmatically analyzing email within and between Gmail and other email systems for the purposes of ad targeting.  They were claiming that Google was essentially guilty of something between illegal wiretapping and racketeering. The plaintiffs were looking for $100 per day for the period Google has been doing that. In my case I’d be looking to collect upwards of $350,000. The judge refused to allow the various complainers to combine to a massive class action in part because the published T&Cs allow for that practice and in part because the various complaints were apparently too disparate to be lumped together. The Judge left the window open for them to bring individual complaints but the reality is having lost this push it’s going to be hard to rope attorneys in to what looks like a lost cause from day one.

The sad fact is that the majority of Gmail users could neither know nor care if Googles computers are scanning mail for targetable keywords.  The nuances of whether Google opens and scans deleted mail or mail which hasn’t even been opened yet are even further down the path to don’t understand/don’t care.

The last year or so has seen revelation after revelation that those knights in shining armor at the NSA have been reading our mail and texts for years. I suspect that most folk have come to terms with living in what amounts to a goldfish bowl.  A week or so back 60 Minutes covered this whole area of privacy and marketing. It was fascinating to see Morley Safer (a sweet old man who appears to be suffering from terminally long earlobe syndrome) was shocked, shocked to discover that pretty much anything we post on line is being mined for commercial purposes by the online giants. Is anybody honestly surprised by this stuff anymore?  We are surrounded by amazingly useful and powerful online tools and services the vast majority of which are delivered to us users for absolutely free…at the point of use. It made me want to yell at the screen…”Why on earth do you think they are giving us all this terrific stuff?”

The bottom line is that Google, Amazon and the other online giants who create and enable or online world are not charities…we trade privacy for facility routinely. Trying to squeeze that genie back into the bottle is a lost cause. Big brother is watching us….and we don’t really care.


The Weirdly Beardly Situation

Beards are back…they are even doing beard transplants on Bronx hipsters putting chest hair in formerly wispy faces. I’ve had a beard more or less all my adult life…all I can grow is exactly what Lenin had…but I can grow that in a week. What’s weird is the whole beard color thing. I regularly see guys with apparently authentic dark head hair but their beard runs from black to pure white often through some version of brown or red. So what’s a guy to do?  If you don’t want to have a premature Santa Clause look you have to head on over to the beard aisle at CVS and get busy with the bead dye. There is typically exactly one choice of bead dye to be had. Just as a side question how many products which might be used by potentially half of the adult population are served by exactly one product? That alone strikes me as weird…is there some kind of beard dye OPEC maintaining a retail monopoly?  Anyway if bead dye is in your future …that’s where this gets weird.

My beard started going really grey in my early 40s.  In spite of the fact that my mother insists that I dye my head hair (I swear I don’t) I started to dye my beard. I have many years wasted in amateur dramatics and I’ve done a fair amount of stage makeup so I perfected a technique which beat the grey back without looking too fake…I hope.  The problem I always had was that I’d go through a vicious cycle of grow the beard, color the beard break out in annoying little sores which I couldn’t get rid of whilst keeping the beard, shave the bead, cure the sore spots….and repeat. I’d itch and worry at the sore spots like an insane person much to the annoyance of my lovely wife who was convinced that I was some flavor of OCD or just plain nuts.

The other day my lovely wife was yelling at me for once again shaving off my bead to fix the OCD induced sores. This time she also jumped online and did some poking around and it turns out that what I had been experiencing is actually far from rare. I’m not nuts I’m allergic. Tons of guys reported similar cycles of irritation and accusations of OCD bead scratching.  A little more poking around revealed an alternate solution. I’ll plug the brand because I think these guys are heroes. It’s called WolfsHead bead dye. It’s essentially a henna based dye which you apply in vanishingly small amounts every day after the shower to subtly and undetectably take out as much of the grey as you want to in a few seconds. No breakouts no, itching no, OCD madness.  I started using it and have never looked back.  You can’t get it in your local pharmacy (no idea why) but it’s readily available on line.

So guys (and I know I have a bunch of guys in my age range who follow my insane ramblings) if this is an issue for you there is a cure…now back to search.

Dogs Chewing Toffee

I have an American Bulldog who will eat absolutely anything…there is nothing funnier than watch her chew a toffee….it’s a lot like watching politicians trying to do technology.

I was reminded of this when looking at the efforts of one of our local politicians Mayor of LA Eric Garcetti. In tech terms he’s far ahead of the crowd in many ways, he has a tech background, he’s generally tech friendly and God bless he’s really trying to get the nuts and bolts of local government in his part of California. Having lived and worked in both the North East and now California I’d say he has an uphill task. I saw a recent terrific example where the LA Cops are now going to crack down on “road safety” which is code for more and more BS tickets for us poor SoCal residents. You can bet that the Cops will be using absolute state of the art technology to ding the poor tax payers on LA. It’s ironic that in LA the actual roads are literally falling apart under our cars but the parking meters are fully automated and you can pay by debit card….and if your meter expires it could cost you $300 for going 25 cents over time. California is a nightmare…it’s very sunny and has great views….but a nightmare none the less. Technology seems to be applied aggressively against the citizens for the purposes of taxation or enforcement but where it could make our lives easier or make those same politicians more accountable tech adoption seems less enthusiastic.  

Mr. Garcetti will be speaking this week at the Democratic Municipal Officials conference in DC.  DMO’s goal is to create visibility and elective success for local Democratic officials of all stripes #NationalDMO. They are pretty adept at using new media to drive their campaign machine, much as did the national DNC and RNC in 2012. Clearly politicians have embraced many aspects of new media to target and get out the vote.  The broader question I believe is will they be as aggressive in the adoption of technology which makes their constituents lives less stressful and more fulfilling…we will see.

Welcome to the Casino…Have a Nice Day

I’m not good with Casinos….I’ve been to Vegas any number of times and on the last half dozen visits I don’t think I’ve gambled more than five bucks.  It’s partly that I don’t trust myself to get into something that addictive…part that I worked hard for that money and part that I’m just not good at it. There is a giant casino out there where the punters are playing marketing dollars for sales and it’s called Google. Historically Google has largely been the resort for large rich companies with teams of marketing professionals like us pitting their wits against the house.
Whilst Google has been doing very well of late with ad revenue up nicely in Q4 last year, the average click value declined 11% in the same period. What’s diluting the click price is the massive growth in mobile device clicks which (as yet) aren’t as valuable as desktop clicks. The problem Google has is that mobile clicks have already surpassed desktop and show no sign of slowing down.
So whats a giant Casino to do when the punters are growing in volume but avoiding the high stakes tables. The Casino either gets the same punters to spend more time at the high stakes table…or attract a bunch of new punters…hopefully without as much expertise as the existing crowd. I live in SoCal and we have an amazingly large number of Indian Casinos in our region (I know a guy who services slot machines and he has over 100 locations he serves within driving distance). What the Casinos do is bus punters from location to location all day long.
Yesterday Google’s Chief Business Officer made some interesting statements to the financial world at a Morgan Stanley Conference. Disambiguating these kind of statements is tricky…but several points seem to be emerging through the linguistic fog of Google speak.  
Google sees small local businesses looking to reach local customers looking for local customers on their mobile devices as the next influx of fresh meat to their Casino
It thinks this influx will drive the value of mobile clicks to “become a multiple” of the comparable desktop clicks…..which would nicely solve the problem of mobile clicks driving down average click value.
That’s a really interesting set of statements. We already see the impact in local businesses (most of whom aren’t online marketing experts) joining the casino. Online advertising isn’t a sport for the inexperienced…it’s incredibly easy to put money down and blow through it in perhaps seconds without the advertiser seeing a single cent of return on their investment. We know from our own efforts that tracking the ROI for local businesses can sobering.
The risk is that Google will continue to market aggressively to local businesses who will show up at their Casino slap the college fund down and leave never to return because they simply didn’t see the value. Google has recently been telling the cohorts of marketing professionals who have been spending with them for many years to look beyond the obvious conversion event and look for value driven by search all over the web. It’s possibly a good argument to make to Nike or Apple…it’s much tougher to convince a roofer or dentist of almost invisible value.  

Our business is based on driving proven ROI in the form of tracked calls.  The mess created by local businesses headed into the Google casino is likely to make businesses even more suspicious of everything online…which might be great for us long term it puts many of the tables out of reach for the professional gamblers amongst us.