The last few days’ headlines have featured two pieces of news that would’ve once meant potential death knells for the companies involved.
Last Friday, we learned that workers for Apple’s Siri routinely listen to users having sex and sharing their medical secrets, among other intensely personal actions and information.
While I’m all for technology that genuinely makes life easier or more enjoyable, I have to admit to feeling a sense of vindication: Some of my friends and relatives thought I’d gone over the paranoid edge when I pointed out a couple of years ago that the voice-activated speaker allowing them to command their lights to go on and off was also undoubtedly recording their most intimate acts and discussions.
(And by the way, Google is being sued by consumers for allegedly violating California law by recording conversations without consent on the Google Pixel smartphone with Google Assistant and through Google Home devices.)
This morning brought the disgusting but not even surprising news that the financial and personal information attached to 100 million — yes, 100 million — Capital One card applications and accounts had been hacked, allegedly by a single rogue ex-employee of Amazon Web Services, the cloud hosting company used by Cap One.
So what does all of this have to do with a column about video and digital marketing?
Makers of voice-activated devices are supposedly taking a cautious approach to using these as advertising platforms, in order to allow consumers to build trust in having these devices in their homes. Here’s a news flash: These "revelations” about egregious violations of privacy aren’t going to help build that trust or acceptance of advertising on them.
The Cap One fiasco? According to The New York Times, Amazon says its cloud-host customers "fully control" the applications they build on top of Amazon's cloud data, and Capital One "said in a news release that it had 'immediately fixed the configuration vulnerability' once it discovered the problem." Further, "Amazon said it had found no evidence that its underlying cloud services were compromised."
But then we're still left with knowing that yet another huge company with massive amounts of our financial, personal and business data -- in this case a financial institution -- dropped the ball big-time.
So how can consumers not begin to fear what shoes might be next to drop in terms of how their data in all kinds of arenas -- including their entertainment consumption habits -- might be used?
Sorry, but promises of data encryption don't seem to cut it when no form of privacy breach or misuse seems impossible anymore. (Need I mention the mind-blowing societal threats already created by social media in the wrong hands?)
Shouldn’t ironclad privacy and security be the cornerstone of the exceptional consumer “experience” that all kinds of companies and their marketers are so intent upon delivering?
Moving into more industry-specific thoughts about the "consumer experience"...
On one hand, is there really any mystery that the cord-cutting trend is accelerating?
I’m not a cord-cutter -- in fact, I’m among the 65% of OTT-using households that are also still traditional paid TV subscribers, according to the latest OTT report from Comscore. And I have no stake in how the various delivery and business models ultimately pan out.
But if you want to read a comment that reflects the sentiments of many cable subscribers, read the one about cable fees posted by Mark Laurence of Greater Media in response to a Digital News Daily story this morning about one analyst’s take on the acceleration of cord-cutting. Or another comment there about the "overstuffing" of ads into basic cable programming, from Robert March of MarketingMovies.net.
Better yet, read the results of the American Customer Satisfaction Index released last month -- in which consumers ranked paid subscription services near the bottom of the barrel, along with internet service providers (which are in many cases the same companies, of course).
On the other hand, or the flip side -- as noted in a previous column on the consumer dream of centralized, cross-platform video content access -- do media companies, whether traditional or nontraditional, really expect consumers to add layer upon layer of paid subscriptions (or even multiple free, ad-supported channels) if the inconvenience of searching isolated platforms and switching back and forth to watch them is also multiplying?
Aside from all of this, viewers are increasingly caught in the middle of business disputes resulting in numerous blackouts. Who’s at fault? Don't ask me. But in case there’s any doubt in the industry, viewers don’t really care. They just want to have access to the content they were promised and/or paid for.
As for the cumulative costs of sustaining multiple, seemingly reasonably priced video and other software services, I refer you to another opinion from the consumer’s viewpoint just posted by Steve Rosenbaum, senior advisor at the Oaklins DeSilva + Phillips investment banking firm. Among other points, he reports that some probing uncovered that a single, accidental click on a video not included under one's Amazon Prime video subscription can trigger a new paid subscription that's charged to one's credit card and then put on automatic renewal.
"The FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2017 reported some $5.7 million of...losses [to "subscription traps"] by U.S. consumers, Rosenbaum writes. "Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission about them doubled from 2015 to 2017."
Bottom line: Sure, consumers like to be “surprised and delighted” by brands. That's a nice experience.
But what would surprise and delight a lot of us these days is just not having our financial data, security and privacy endangered or violated on a routine basis.
Media services and platforms that manage to demonstrate real competence and concern for consumers on those fronts will absolutely have a big competitive advantage, and those that don't may find that even the best content offerings aren't enough to compensate.
Having a "seamless," non-frustrating user experience in return for paying or watching ads would be the icing on the cake.