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Archive for February, 2010

Buzz causes Google a storm on data privacy worries

February 26, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Good Customer Service is always the key to profitable businesses. However upsetting loyal users is only part of the danger. Like Microsoft before it, Google also risks antagonising business partners and regulators. 
Buzz logo google's provacy data fears
Any move into a new area can now seem like a naked attempt to grab market share, or a defensive gambit to shore up a weak flank.

The warning from Vodafone, for example, is a sign that mobile operators are starting to worry that Google’s dominant advertising business will eventually suck all the profits out of their industry.

That fear echoes the mobile industry’s distrust of Microsoft a decade ago, when it tried to extend its Windows monopoly on to phone handsets. 

In a telling moment earlier this week, Google revealed that 60,000 handsets a day are now being shipped with its Android software installed – a rate that exceeds the number of handsets carrying Windows.

For now, the mobile industry has not reacted to Google’s incursions by repelling it: its open-source Android software is viewed as an independent platform to counter giants such as Nokia and Apple, making Google still more of an ally than a threat.

After the rapid changes it has made to correct the missteps in Buzz, the privacy row will no doubt fade and users may indeed see the benefits in a social networking service tied closely to their e-mail. 

But this week’s developments carry a clear message: if Google wants to keep the goodwill of customers and business partners as it continues to expand, at the very least it must work harder to convince them it truly has their interests at heart- rather than just it’s own.

Buzz causes a storm on privacy fears II

February 25, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Further to my last post on the botched launch of Buzz the fiasco, it has intensified a feeling that has been growing as Google has sought to extend its reach: that it is deliberately using its dominance in one area to gain a stronger foothold in new markets, much as arch-rival Microsoft did before it.

Antitrust regulators have already rebuffed Google’s attempt to forge a deal with Yahoo in search and are investigating its plans to extend its advertising reach into the mobile arena through the acquisition of Admob. 

This week, in clearing a rival Microsoft search alliance with Yahoo, the US Department of Justice highlighted the arrangement’s importance in countering Google’s “dominance” of internet search and the advertising that accompanies it.

In any other industry, Google’s conduct would be considered good corporate practice. In the technology world, however, where start-ups with disruptive new products are romanticised and companies such as Apple and Google have built their brands largely on their ability to out-innovate rather than outmanoeuvre their competitors, it is often seen as unimaginative.

For ordinary internet users, there are clear potential benefits from Google’s strategy of extending its influence into more and more corners of the internet – as well as some obvious dangers.

Yet as the Buzz privacy debacle has shown, internet users have different expectations of the different services they use. Trying to merge them can lead to confusion and distrust.

Facebook has learnt this to its cost. In its pursuit of Twitter, where most communication takes place in public, it recently reset some of the default settings for its users so that more of their information appears publicly. As with Buzz, that brought an outcry from privacy interest groups.

Buzz caused a storm on privacy fears

February 24, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Google has caused a lot of anger since the catch up launch of Buzz it’s social networking service. 
Launched on February 10 2010, it is meant to give Google a stronger foothold in the booming social networking business, where it is rapidly losing ground to Facebook and Twitter. 
Its main effect in the short term, however, has been to stir up an outcry over privacy that the internet giant could have done without.

It has also served to reinforce a bigger narrative about Google that has surfaced in other ways this week. This holds that the company is prepared to use its growing market power as a blunt instrument to muscle its way into new markets – and is not too concerned about whose feet it treads on in the process.

In one sign of these growing fears, even Vittorio Colao, chief executive of Vodafone – nominally one of Google’s business partners – raised a red flag over the potential spread of its search dominance into the mobile world. Regulators should take a close look at Google’s massive market share in search, he said, “before it is too late”.

The outcry included an official complaint to US regulators and left Google scrambling to stem the anger, with a public apology and two changes to the service announced within its first four days. In the aftermath of its recent decision to abandon censorship of its search results in China, this looked like another case of testing the limits of the “Don’t be evil” motto, only to later back down.

At the root of the problem is Google’s decision to use Gmail, with its 175m active users, as a launchpad for its latest push into social networking. All users were enrolled as soon as they clicked a link to look at the service, and many found the names of those they corresponded with most frequently by e-mail – usually a private list – became the basis for a public “social network” of contacts on Buzz. 

That risked exposing the details of “estranged spouses, current lovers, attorneys and doctors”, according to the complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (Epic), a privacy advocacy group in Washington.

Google executives concede that they did not do enough to warn users that their private contacts would be disclosed publicly. But they put this down to a mistake made in good faith and characterise it as one of the inevitable teething problems of a new online service.

“You can’t incubate these kinds of products in a Petri dish and pull back the covers on a fully baked opus,” says Bradley Horowitz, vice-president of product management for Google’s applications business. “If you look at any company that’s been successful in this space it’s because they have been able to iterate, refine, listen, stumble, dust themselves off, get up.”

However, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Epic, says that Buzz’s privacy settings were in fact the product of a deep corporate agenda. “The way they could compete was to enlist all their Gmail subscribers. That’s a very clear corporate decision.”

Dr Search will continue my review of Buzz in my next blog posting.

Evil let loose after Google’s buzz breaches email privacy

February 23, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Once again Google has breached millions of peoples’ personal privacy- this time with the launch of it’s new social networking site Buzz.

The launch of the Buzz networking site has backfired badly

On Tuesday Feb 16th Eva Hibnick, a Harvard law student, opened her Gmail account and saw an offer for Buzz, a new service from Gmail’s owner, Google. She wasn’t interested. “I just clicked ‘No, go to my inbox’,” she said. Within hours she and millions of others realised that sometimes no means yes.

Now Hibnick is taking Google to court, and the search giant is left fighting a rearguard action in the latest skirmish over privacy on the internet.

Hibnick, 24, is the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed against Google over the launch of Buzz, a social networking service that lets people bring their online connections together to share status updates, videos and photos.

With 146m users, the sheer size of Gmail instantly catapulted Buzz into the top ranks of social networking sites alongside Facebook and Twitter.

As Gmail users were quick to point out, though, they chose to join those networks, while Buzz’s new army was conscripted. The service raided a Gmail user’s contacts book to set up the social network.

The people we contact most frequently are not necessarily those with whom we have the closest relationship. Within hours of the Buzz launch, angry tales were being told of people’s contact details and other information being passed on to the “psychotic” and “abusive ex-husbands”.

Actress Felicia Day, Vi in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, found herself deluged with messages from strangers after posting one message on Buzz. “Buzz things turn up as a message in your inbox? Disabling now. Heart attack,” she wrote. Before Google changed Buzz, some fans would also have been able to see who Day emailed most frequently.

Hibnick and her lawyer claim that information she had a right to consider private had been shared among her Gmail contacts. “I signed up for a private email account, not for a social networking site. They can’t just opt you in,” she said.

“Basically all my email contacts were accessible. Everyone is so shocked that Google would do this.”

Fellow Harvard law student Benjamin Osborn, who is assisting on the case, said the initial problem was that it was not clear what information was being shared and with whom.

Hibnick’s lawyer said Google could face statutory damages of $1,000 per occurrence — a potentially huge sum given Gmail’s size. But he added that the real aim was to force Google to put better checks and balances in place over privacy.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, the watchdog based in Washington DC, has now asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate whether consumers were harmed and has asked the commission to demand that Google ask Gmail users to sign up for Buzz instead of enrolling them automatically.

Google moved swiftly to contain the crisis last week, dropping the automatic sign-up and offering clearer instructions on how to opt out of the service and keep messages private.

“We made some mistakes and we accept that,” said Peter Barron, Google’s head of communications. “But if you look at the way we responded, I hope people will see that we reacted quickly to those criticisms and made significant improvements.

“These days everyone leaves a data trail, whether it’s from shopping online, using your mobile phone or doing a search. When you use a credit card you are exposing far more about yourself than in an online search but people generally trust credit-card companies not to misuse their data. At Google, users’ trust is all we have. We take privacy very seriously and build privacy features into all our products based on the principles of transparency, choice and user control.

Apple removes 5,000 apps from App Store

February 22, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Apple has banned thousands of apps from the App Store, blaming inappropriate content for it’s censorship.

Apple has removed around 5,000 apps from its App Store, including some that it claims feature “overtly sexual” content.

Dozens of developers received a message from Apple stating that the company was refining the guidelines under which the App Store operates, and that content that it had “originally believed to be suitable for distribution” were now no longer deemed appropriate, following “numerous complaints from customers about this type of content”.

Jon Atherton, the creator of Wobble iBoobs, said he had received a letter saying his app was being removed from the store. The letter, from Apple’s iPhone App Review team, said that if Atherton made changes to the app so that it complied with the recent changes to Apple’s terms and conditions, he could resubmit iBoobs for review.

However, Apple has not confirmed whether it has made specific changes to its App Store rules. Instead, it said it reviews problems on a case-by-case basis.

“Whenever we receive customer complaints about objectionable content we review them,” said Apple in a statement. “If we find these apps contain inappropriate material we remove them and request the developer make any necessary changes in order to be distributed by Apple.”

According to AppShopper, which monitors App Store activity, the number of applications being removed each day grew sharply on Feb 17, with a higher-than-average number of removals taking place over the following days.

Industry insiders believe Apple is cleaning up the App Store ahead of the launch of its iPad tablet, which Apple is hoping to promote as a device for families and schools.

But the move has sparked renewed criticism of Apple’s already confusing App Store approval process. Last year, the company was criticised for banning the Eucalyptus ebook application, because it allowed users to download the Kama Sutra to read on their iPhone. 

However, it allowed Baby Shaker, an app in which players violently shook a virtual baby to stop it crying, to go on sale before hastily withdrawing it.

In the latest round of deletions, Daisy Mae’s Alien Buffet, a game for the iPhone and iPod touch, has also been removed from the store, allegedly because the cartoon heroine wears a bikini. 

Yet the official Playboy app, featuring pictures of scantily clad “playmates”, remains on sale, as do dozens of other applications that could be considered to feature “overtly sexual” content.

HootSuite adds social media CRM functionality

February 19, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Social media dashboard HootSuite has released an upgraded version boasting social CRM tools for marketers and customer support teams.

Already popular for enabling users to distribute messages across multiple social networks, including Twitter and Facebook, the latest iteration features tools to gather intelligence, manage audiences and track campaigns.

HootSuite for social media control

Designed to appeal to marketing departments and customer support teams, HootSuite has announced it will enable users to:
    * Know your audience by learning who follows you, and who they are via a ‘Friends and Followers’ chart, and by viewing profiles, influence and activity levels.
    * Gather intelligence and discover what outreach tactics work best with customer URL parameters which allow deep analysis in Google Analytics and Omniture
    * Answer efficiently by building an archive of stock responses to common customer support queries
    * Track success by examining click-through rates on messages, examining time and region breakdowns and reporting as CSV for custom reports or PDF for printing

“In the last update, we added WordPress, URL previews, and trending topic details, but we didn’t rest in the nest,” said HootSuite President Ryan Holmes. “With the new version, marketers can hone tactics with deep campaign tracking and reporting tools. 
Further, the friends and followers charting features will help everyone build the relationships which make social networking tools so useful.”
Dr Search handles a growing number of Twitter, Facebook as well as Google accounts. So the growing idea of one contrilling panel appeals to us.

Social web marketing suggestions

February 18, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

More than two thirds of all UK online shoppers use social media, with Facebook being by far the most popular but half of top online retailers have a minimal or non existent presence social media presence.

When we reported on the findings of a poll among 10,000 visitors to the UK’s top 40 e-commerce websites undertaken by ForeSee Results, an organisation that measures online customer satisfaction.

The main conclusion was get a Facebook page Now! 

With follow up suggestions of:
  • Make sure you have someone to monitor it and post good, timely information.
  • Promote it to your most loyal customers through your regular communications venues (emails, ads,
stores, coupons, etc.).
  • Use your Facebook page to post promotions and product information.
Easier said than done admittedly. There are a lot of ins and outs to social media strategy and the right formula will differ for each company. But for those retailers who have a poor to middling presence on Facebook, it’s a good place to start while you figure out how social media plays into your global brand strategy.
However here’s a truly revolutionary idea: DON’T listen to all of these ideas and opinions about what your customers and prospects want based on over 10,000 online shoppers of 40 of the biggest online retailers in the United Kingdom. 
Instead ask your own customers what they want. 
  • Find out what social media sites they frequent. 
  • Find out whether they want sales or coupons or technical support or product information. 
  • Find out how satisfied they are with your current social media efforts and 
  • How likely they are to purchase, return, and recommend your business as a result of your interactions. 
There’s a lot about social media and online marketing initiatives that is really hard to work out, but asking customers what they want from you is a truely great marketing initiative.

Few online shops have social networks media, but the majority of UK shoppers buy from them

February 17, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

More than two thirds of all UK online shoppers use social media, with Facebook being by far the most popular but half of top online retailers have a minimal or non existent presence social media presence.

These are the findings of a poll among 10,000 visitors to the UK’s top 40 e-commerce undertaken by ForeSee Results, an organisation that measures online customer satisfaction.

The study indicated that of the 69% of online consumers who use social networking sites, about 37% opted to ‘friend’, ‘follow’ or ‘subscribe’ to retailers, with more than half of such respondents doing so in order to learn about their products. 
A further 40% did so to learn about special deals, while only 6% used social media primarily to obtain customer support.

About 56% of all online shoppers used Facebook, however, with the figure jumping to a huge 80% if the focus was narrowed to regular social media users. 
This would appear to imply that the site is the best place to reach shoppers in both categories, not only because they are there already, but also because it appears that many are keen to hear from chosen brands.

Despite such findings, an unofficial look at the Facebook pages of the top 100 online retailers indicated that a quarter had no official presence and a further quarter had less than 10,000 followers.

In a further note of caution, nearly three quarters of social media fans chose to ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ less than five organisations, with only 4% interacting with more than 20. This means that the majority of online shoppers give very few retailers any air time.

Kevin Entell, vice president of retail strategy at ForSee, said: “Site visitors who also interact with a company on a social media site are more satisfied, more committed to the brand, and more likely to make future purchases from that company.”

But there was a chicken and egg situation taking place, he added. “It is likely that customers who are more satisfied and loyal to begin with are the ones who will friend us on Facebook or subscribe to our YouTube channels,” Entell said. “However, research shows that when retailers provide rewarding social media experiences, our customers become even more satisfied and loyal.”

The results were backed up by another poll from digital marketing agency dotCommerce among 100 UK retailers. It indicated that a mere 42% of UK retailers had a social media presence, with only 12% using more than one site.

Of the retailers using such sites, only 24% had a Facebook presence, while 26% preferred Twitter. They preferred to employ the latter to keep consumers aware of product updates (73%), push out marketing messages (63%) and company news (58%). 
Dr Search asks if you one of the three quarters being left behind by the social web marketing growth? If so and you would like some help- please just ask here now!

Mobile firms unite to offer mobi apps applications

February 16, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Twenty four of the largest phone operators have banded together to challenge Apple’s dominance of mobile apps applications.

The Wholesale Applications Community, as it is known, aims to make it easier for developers to build and sell apps “irrespective of device or technology”.

The alliance, which includes Vodafone, China Mobile and Sprint, has access to more than three billion customers.

Analysts said it was an attempt by operators to “regain control of apps”.

The app market is currently a lucrative business for mobile firms.

Analysts at Gartner have predicted that spending on the specialist pieces of software will hit $6.2bn (£4bn) this year with the number of downloads rising to 4.5 billion from 2.5 billion last year.

It predicts that downloads will top 21 billion by 2013, yielding almost $30bn.

Apple currently dominates the app market, with more than 3 billion downloaded from its app store in 18 months.

Blackberry, Google, Nokia, Symbian and Microsoft all offer their own app stores.

As a result, developers often have to create different versions of apps and go through separate approval processes for each individual store.

The Wholesale Applications Community aims to overcome this fragmentation by offering a single “open platform that delivers applications to all mobile phone users”.

It aims to develop a common standard for applications in the next 12 months.

As well as the 24 network operators, the work is also supported by hardware manufacturers such as LG Electronics, Samsung and Sony Ericsson, as well as industry body the GSM association.

The consortium’s approach to simplify application development and distribution is echoed by software firm Adobe.

The company has announced that it will begin to offer its AIR platform on mobile devices, starting with phones running Google’s Android operating system.

AIR is currently available on desktops and allows developers to build desktop applications for services that are more commonly found in the browser.

For example, there are a number of Twitter applications that use AIR. Until now it has been unavailable on smart phones.

The technology could make it easier for developers to create and publish apps that can run on many different platforms at the same time.

Apple has traditionally spurned some Adobe software – such as Flash – on its iPhone.

However, Adobe has now built a tool that allows developers to build an app for phone running AIR and easily publish a slightly different version which should also run on the iPhone.

Dr Search notes that the implications are clear for online businesses if you don’t already have a version of your website that is mobile compatible- do so in the next 12 months as your competitors are already.

Fundamental flaws found in UK’s chip and pin security systems

February 15, 2010 By: Dr Search Principal Consultant at the Search Clinic Category: Uncategorized

Cambridge University scientists have discovered a fundamental design flaw in the UK’s chip and pin credit card readers raising worries that the defects could be exploited to perpetrate fraud on a massive scale.

More than 90% of point-of-sale card transactions in the UK are now conducted using chip-and-pin systems, according to the UK Payments Administration, which represents the interests of payment card companies. In 2008, plastic cards were used to make 7.4 billion purchases, worth a total of £380 billion.

But Cambridge academics have now found a way to trick the system into thinking that the correct pin number has been entered by exploiting the way that remote readers communicate with the main shop terminal.

Flaws in the Europay, Mastercard and Visa (EMV) protocol, which enables chip-and-pin transactions to be validated, means that third party devices can be introduced between the readers and terminals to intercept communications.

Such breaches are known as “man-in-the-middle” attacks and would allow fraudsters to use stolen credit or debit cards by simply entering four zeros. The cards tested were issued by Barclaycard, the Co-op Bank, the Halifax, Bank of Scotland, HSBC and John Lewis.

Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge University told the BBC’s Newsnight programme last week: “Chip-and-pin is fundamentally broken. We think this is one of the biggest flaws that we’ve uncovered – that has ever been uncovered – against payment systems, and I’ve been in this business for 25 years.”

The researchers, who have already contacted the banks about the problem, said that the programming skills required to build a ‘man-in-the-middle’ device were relatively simple.

But the UK Payments Administration rejected the conclusions found in their paper entitled ‘Chip and PIN is Broken’. It said that there was no evidence that such attacks were not happening in UK stores today, although the research would help it to evaluate the direction in which criminals may move.

Dr Search has long known of flaws, not only in the chip and pin process, but more fundementally in the UK banking system. 
UK banks have repeatedly failed to state in a UK court of law that their offline systems are 100% secure. So how can an online system be 100% secure? Until such time as the UK banks finally make their systems secure or they admit to errors we suggest that you don’t trust your bank.