Why Would You Want an Amazon Echo and Who Else is Listening


Amazon EchoHow do you feel about a device that is listening to everything that is being said in your home or office and is connected to the Internet? Especially in this age of cyber terrorism,  when we know that criminals already use tools like Facebook to target people with easy to steal and easy to sell assets.

How do you feel when Gmail bombards you with advertisements for products you have just bought or vacation location deals when you have just returned home from that place? Besides being a waste of time because you already have those things, it shows how Google (in return for giving you free email software and storage) has access to everything you write using their freeware.

So when Amazon had their massive sale on Prime Day, I thought about the Amazon Echo and wondered what I would do with it if I had one and why.

I very occasionally use Siri to save a reminder, a note, perhaps in the car to reduce the risk of having pen and paper in my hand when the lights change, or illegally using my phone because of the inherent risks, even at a traffic light. No joke, my wife has had 2 cars she was driving totalled, both while she was legally stationary at a red light. I’m not saying she could have avoided them, she couldn’t, but the people who hit our cars were certainly not paying attention.

So when I take Siri, and I have to admit it has improved in it’s ability to understand my Kiwi accent, the number of times I have said one thing and Siri has randomly rung a phone number for someone I had no desire to speak with and the fact that Siri has even randomly responded to a sound it heard, when I hadn’t even touched my phone is interesting.

I would love to have an automated home. When I got home last night from dinner in the freezing cold city it was around 6 degrees inside our house and I said to my wife how nice it would be if I could have turned on the heat pump via my phone. It has a timer, but we didn’t know when we would be home and I’m sure we could get an electrician to wire a remote switch into that circuit without having to buy a new heat pump, but I digress.

When everything I write makes a permanent footprint on the Internet and the supplier of that service has access to it all in order to ‘assist me’, I struggle with why I would want another device listening to everything I say.

Imagine living in a country like North Korea where you can be put in jail or worse for just saying the wrong thing to the wrong person, and then having a device that YOU PURCHASED providing access to every word that you said in the ‘privacy of your own home’.

Now I know that Amazon is not a spy agency, they can’t afford for this product to risk your privacy because if it did, they could go broke, but they do want to know what you are interested in and devices like these are supposed to be your personal digital assistant. I used to have an executive assistant in one of my jobs and she knew what I wanted or needed often before I did. It was awesome because I knew and trusted her. this device has to listen, even for the Alexa command to work, so technically it is listening to every word, even if in theory it is identifying most as not relevant.

The biggest issue for me with devices like this, which was also why I digressed a little with the heatpump, is that hacking or cyber crime is easy if you know how,or are prepared to pay someone to do it for you. Whether it is hacking someone’s wireless internal garage door or front door, checking Facebook to see who has a boat in the their back yard AND is on holiday overseas is really simple, because most people don’t know how to or don’t want privacy, because they don’t realise the risk.

I read a CBS story this morning about how some cheap Chinese mobiles are apparently surreptitiously sending information from the mobiles back to China using firmware that was in the phones from the factory.

You could say that Alexa can only be woken by people using the word Alexa, then it starts listening for instructions. So what is the first thing that is going to happen when you buy one of these devices? You’re going to tell your friends about it and show it off, so you are going to be using the word frequently and waking it up frequently and it will start listening.

For now I think I’d at least like to be able to use the fingerprint recognition on my phone and tap a button to turn on an appliance if I can’t be bothered standing up to do something like turn on a light. I am happy that I can have a wireless remote system with security algorithms to do that. I’m not sure I want Amazon or a hacker to be able to listen to everything said in my home and then using data mining tools to look for keywords or information that could be used by criminals, or by advertisers to send me more info I don’t want.

How about you?

 

Retailer Shuts Shop – Why Retailers Fail


I was sad to read a story in my local newspaper, North Shore Times about a Glenfield hardware store McPherson’s Hammer Hardware, which is going to close in a couple of months. Firstly I as going to share a link with you, but the aforementioned newspaper has a system that requires you sign up to their digital version if you want to share a story, and likewise, probably if you want to read from a link. I do not provide links for my readers to sites like that.

I used to live in Glenfield and visit this story and I remember asking them how they stay in business. The owner, John MacPherson told me it was about community, having those little things that the big stores make you buy in bulk, advice on how to do things, friendly service, remembering people’s names, the little things that come with community retail.

The newspaper story goes on to quote that he has probably hasn’t been making a profit for 6-7 years, but hung in there. He points out that the DIY super-stores and Internet have changed the game and that even the major stores/chains suffer from sluggish consumer spending.

He’s not wrong, but the key word is change. I love the world of retail, I used to have the privilege go to the NRF in New York and FMI Connect in Chicago and bring back ideas to write about in retail magazines, share with my resellers and speak about at conferences around the world. This was important because many of our retailers couldn’t afford to go to those conferences, but learning new ideas, particularly from people who have proven experience, is how business evolves.

It doesn’t really matter what business you are in, you have to evolve to meet the demands and opportunities presented as society evolves. As John said in the North Shore Times article, “In Glenfield we had a haberdashery (incorrectly spelled in the newspaper, I had to look it up to find out what it was), greengrocer, butcher, it was a great mix”. It went on to say they were boom times.

So here’s the thing, it is still boom times for those businesses that want to keep up with the times. The problem that retailers used to tell me was that they didn’t have time to keep up with the times. They were too busy starting early in the morning cleaning the shop, doing stock takes, placing and chasing orders, talking to merchandising reps, ringing customers to say their widget had arrived, preparing the float and a myriad of other things. In hindsight, those retailers, from John McPherson’s Hammer Hardware in Glenfield, through to Borders and other retailers should have found the time to look at how some businesses were thriving, while others weren’t.

When they went on their holidays, they could have combined them with visits to businesses and conferences that showed how some retailers were managing in the new world of mobile and tablet, of connected customers. They could have seen new products that aren’t available in NZ, they could have combined bricks and mortar with online themselves. I appreciate how hard it is to run a business, I have run several businesses over the years and worked in companies from small to multinational and the common thread is that those who looked ahead continue to do well, those who looked to their original training and just repeated what they had learned, which may have been best practice in the 70’s or whenever, will have done well for a while, but aren’t there any more.

People still want to have experiential retail, they still want to see and touch, ask questions, they even want to see people like John McPherson stick around and stay in business, but they can’t advise him on what to do to stay in business and get back into the black.It’s tough, but the time to get ahead in business is when you are ahead and you have the resources to go and do some training, bring in a consultant, go attend a conference. I used to speak regularly at retail conferences in New Zealand and what was really frustrating was that the people attending were those that needed it the least, because they were looking ahead and staying up with the times. The ones that needed it the most didn’t go, probably didn’t read the specialist trade magazines, ask their suppliers for knowledge or go to the trade shows. They were too busy. Now they are either out of business or heading out. Is it too late, not necessarily, but it will be much harder, even to change the mindset. When things get tough, many go even farther back into doing what they used to do, even doing it harder. That’s not the answer.

Back when business was booming for people like John McPherson, Bob Dylan was singing The Times They are a Changing. He was so right. “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone.” Listen to the lyrics, they are prophetic. But this is no different to 200 year ago. The times are always changing.

We are still buying all the things we used to buy and more. Some business models have been and gone, but others are growing in a big way. We are still a DIY country, that’s why we have the mega stores, but there is still room for specialists, room to be a community and have community involvement in business, there are so many opportunities. Whether it is classes at the back of the store teaching people how to do things, or a new section selling 3D printers and teaching kids how to make things, using location based mobile services to find people who are looking for what you have, supplementing your business by selling items you can’t afford to stock, online.

I’ll finish with a question. Why is it that I can buy a set of my favorite guitar strings online from a retailer in the USA, 75% cheaper than the same product in New Zealand? The local retailer will say that’s because the guy in the USA doesn’t have a shop to run. But the fact is they do, Elderly Instruments has a bricks and mortar store in Lansing, Michigan, they have bands playing in it, they have workshops for musicians, they just supplement that with online sales. I recently contacted them because I couldn’t get help from local retailers to fix a broken part on my Dobro. I had personal emails, just the same service that John provides in his hardware store and I’ve managed to repair it myself with the parts they sold me. Doing business with them was so easy. If I lived in Michigan, I would go and by from their store and I’d even be prepared to pay a little more, heck I’d buy more anyway just because I like doing business with them and they like what they do and know what they are talking about.

So I’ll finish on a saying that is one that has killed many a good retail business. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Have a look around you right now and ask yourself how many of the things you take for granted would be there if everyone had said that back in 1970, let alone 1870?

Martin Fenwick Should be Gruntled Right Now


Last week I had the privilege of attending a training program run by Martin Fenwick, author of The Change Factor: Insights For Leaders of Change. As a subscriber of my blogs including SoLoMo Consulting and The Future Diaries, you will know that change has been a major motivating factor in my life as a futurist, right back to the promise made to me and my contemporaries, that my problem in the future would be what to do with my spare time, as automation took care  of the majority of our human workloads.

BORDER-CLOSEDChangeI am passionate about change and the need for traditional businesses to embrace and create change, less it be foisted on them by a competing business model. Some examples of my thoughts on the book industry that you may have previously read are here.

Anyway, I am also passionate about languages and particularly the English language, whether it is new TXT language which can have me ROFLMAO, grokking people or in this case we were wondering if there was a word gruntled, being the opposite of dis-gruntled. One of my colleagues checked on her iPhone and sure enough, there is such a word and it is in all the dictionaries.

I was interested to read on Merriam-Webster that it was first known to be used in 1926. I thought it would have gone back way farther. Never mind. The conversation went on to influence and we thought it would be interesting if we could get other people using it. I, typically suggested that I would see if I could spread it’s use with a #hashtag, which I have duly started doing. So if you look for #gruntled it is likely to stem back to a tweet or a Facebook post from me, which was motivated by the training session with Martin Fenwick.

Why bother? Why do people do flash-mobs or climb mountains? Because it can be fun and interesting. One of the things that really interests me and that I frequently research is fads and trends. How do they start? How are people influenced? What makes some things work and others not? How can you get people to do things that are good for the community (such as pay attention to recommendations about real time traffic and helping avoid congestion).

So here’s your task. Leave a comment or post a tweet with the hashtag #gruntled. RT or share this post and lets see if we can’t get people using the word. It could be a great conversation starter for you. I’m feeling gruntled today, how about you? If you think it’s a cool idea, tell him so on Twitter. Let him know you’re pretty gruntled about it.

Does Your Business Have CIPA? (Read Time 82 Seconds)


I’m just finishing the book Socialized by Mark Fidelman. It is one of the better books I have read of late about harnessing social media. Many of these books date very quickly, but the information in this 2012 book is still very relevant and I recommend you read a copy.

Socialized-book-coverTowards the end Mark relates the story of a girl who suffers from Congenital Insensitivity to Pain, aka CIPA. It was an analogy to businesses who are heading down the gurgler at a rate of knots and don’t even realize it. Those of you who read my blogs will know about how frustrated I was to see Borders self implode, when they didn’t need to. As I mentioned earlier this week, many businesses are being hurt but not realizing it, or not knowing what to do about it. It’s that frog in the pot of simmering water. We all know the story, but many of us are sitting in that pot, enjoying the warmth and then getting severely cooked.

In my experience, it is people who aren’t institutionalized in your business who you need to talk to. If it’s not consultants like myself, at least talk to your customers, the ones you have left. Ask them why they come to your business. What is it that drew them in and how can you give them what they want and stay profitable?. I had loads of answers for the book industry, but they ‘knew what they were doing”. They focused on best sellers, general merchandise goodies and even fluffy toys. The questions you need to ask have to be qualitative, don’t give them choices you think they should answer, have conversations with them. Or get out quick and sell your business to someone while it still has some value. I still maintain if I had been on the management team or board of Borders in NZ, they wouldn’t have floundered, they would have risen like a phoenix out of the ashes of the past and their stores would be full of people, in many cases still buying paper. BORDER-CLOSED

Do does your business have CIPA? Are your margins declining, is your stock-turn going down? Are people buying similar products online instead of from you? Are your customers slowly churning to other sources or evolutions of the goods and services you offer? What have you done to future proof your business? As I said in my other blog earlier this week, people are reading more, listening to more music and taking more photos daily than ever before.

Got any questions? Feel free to leave them as comments and maybe we can have a discussion about this.

On SNAKK Media, Derek Handley and Kiwi Entrepreneur Success


The Snakk Media AGM, appropriately held in the Sir Paul Reeves Building of AUT in Auckland last night, appeared to be a classic event, with typical investors, asking typical questions. However, in my opinion, it wasn’t, it was a meeting in a room made up of some of the finest minds in marketing and leading edge mobile technology.

SNAKK AGM

SNAKK AGM

I was very proud to see entrepreneur, Derek Handley, on the stage surrounded by other Kiwi business leaders and visionaries including Tim Alpe, Max Flanigan and GM, Andrew Jacobs who I met for the first time last night.

I’m sure the media will cover the story, but here’s my take; on a tangent. I have always believed in Derek, his family and team from the day I met them, many years ago as they were preparing to found The Hyperfactory. They were the classic start up and I admired their passion and enjoyed their company, because they were driven and they were passionate about the same things I was, and still am. I love the company of positive, can do, will do people.

Snakk has allowed Kiwi investors to invest in a company that may never do a huge amount of business in New Zealand, which is really exciting, because it is not an opportunity that comes up often. As was pointed out, 2 years ago mobile digital advertising spend in New Zealand and the UK was 1% of the total spend. Today in New Zealand (where I have been trying to educate agencies on location based marketing and Augmented Reality, the percentage remains at 1% and in the UK is now 23%. In Australia they have the third fastest growth in the world (sic) of smartphone and tablet users, so it is appropriate for their head office to be in Sydney.

There was a lot of discussion about the threat to live TV with so many people now streaming to their mobiles and time shifting. Snakk didn’t mention all the technologies, but I am confident that they have a lot of tricks up their sleeves so that people like me who watch a reasonable amount of TV, while using my iPad or mobile, and MySky, will also be able to receive the messages I want. 

Here’s where I get excited. I want, and assume you will too, my TV. When it comes to advertising, I’m a marketer, but I don’t generally like watching ads. I guess the main reason is because most of them are not relevant to me, or at least not relevant to me at that time. I want them when I am open to buy.

So here are some of the things that I wanted to hear (and did either directly or between the lines):

  • Profile. I want ads that match my profile. Having them appear on my third screen (my mobile or tablet) in conjunction with what I am watching, based on my interests is something I might welcome. If there is an interaction between my device and the TV program, then it may not matter if I am watching live or time-shifted, depending on my:
  • Context. A lot of the future of mobile advertising comes down to an app on my device knowing things about me. What I am interested in, where I eat, drink, play, get entertained. What I am interested in at certain times of the day or day of the week. Market food to me at a time I am likely to be considering a meal. Then of course there is:
  • Location. If my mobile knows where I am, there is so much more you can do. If I like coffee, I’m walking downtown and there is a cafe that wants my business, let them send me an offer together with a reward of free WiFi.

On another tangent, the awesome podcast from Asif Khan and Rob Woodbridge of the Location Based Marketing Association: This Week In Location Based Marketing mentioned that where a geofence is used for guerilla based mobile marketing, they get a 12% click through rate. Just to explain, imagine you walk into Burger King and your mobile bleeps you a notification offering you a free upsize if you go to McDonalds up the road and buy a Big Mac combo.

This is where people started to get excited and concerned about privacy and I need to mention the MAC, pun intended. Effectively it is possible for apps to learn about you and your behavior without having your personal details. Effectively they track your mobile, not YOU. It’s not quite that simple and that is why in the early days of The Hyperfactory (I didn’t actually work there, I suppose you could have called me a Hyperfactory groupie) we started to set up a Mobile Marketing Association, with the view of self regulating to ensure the Government didn’t over regulate. The key was around allowing people to know what information was held about them and giving them the right to revoke access to it.

This blog is getting way too long, so I’ll finish with a few quick thoughts on Foursquare. I wish I had paid more attention to Derek having shared an office with Foursquare, I think I made a mental note to talk to him about that, but I didn’t. Maybe I still will.

The question was asked as to whether Foursquare was viable and the general answer from the panel was, not really. Derek was more retrospect and pointed out that the issue in New Zealand has always been one of scale. In New York City scale isn’t a problem, the population is over 8 million people. They can afford to have sales people in NYC and its easy to segment them.

In New Zealand there are actually a reasonable number of users, but Foursquare hasn’t really been interested in them because we are too small. I briefly became a Foursquare Ambassador and saw big opportunities for proximity based marketing. I saw a business model for myself with Foursquare, but they would not allow me (or anyone) to manage multiple businesses on behalf of customers. Each account had to be managed individually and for New Zealand that was a fatal flaw.

For those who think Foursquare is out, have a read of this story from Fast Company.

Did you go last night? What did you think? I think this is going to be a very successful global company and look forward to being involved somehow, if only only the sideline. I have watched and met many successful people over the years through my business network and Derek Handley is a Kiwi that remains underrated imho despite all he has achieved to date. In my opinion the shares are well undervalued right now. I’d recommend at least buying a few.

Footnote: I do not own any shares in Snakk Media. I do not work for Snakk Media in any capacity. I would seriously consider both though:)

Congratulations to Julie Landry, Vaughn Davis and the team for an excellent event.

trash can is stalking you: using wifi to track people in the real world


Whether or not you give permission, your mobile phone is sharing information to anyone who wants to invest in relatively low cost to collect it and analyse it.

SoLoMo Consulting

See on Scoop.itLocation Is Everywhere

Smartphone-monitoring bins in London track places of work, past behavior, and more.

Luigi Cappel‘s insight:

This is an important read. The MAC address can ultimately be used to identify any one if there are sufficient ‘trash cans‘ located in areas where you live. If you consider the number of CCTV cameras located around London for example. One of these devices attached to each of those would be enough to start identify persons of interest.

As the story explains, if these devices are placed in malls or next to public toilets, you can identify the gender of the user. If these devices are used at shopping malls, cinemas, bus stops, you can find out roughly where people work, go to school, what sporting matches or night clubs they go to, you can build up a profile.

This can be used…

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