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The worldwide shipping crisis is bad. Here are some reasons:

  1. “Just in time” manufacturing, shipping, delivery, and logistics. For several decades, the whole supply system has been optimized for “lean” everything. On the whole, no part of it fully comprehends breakdowns outside the scope of immediate upstream or downstream dependencies.
  2. The pandemic, which has been depriving nearly every sector of labor, intelligence, leadership, data, and much else, since early last year.
  3. Catastrophes. The largest of these was the 2021 Suez Canal Obstruction, which has had countless effects upstream and down.
  4. Competing narratives. Humans can’t help reducing all complex situations to stories, all of which require protagonists, problems, and movement toward resolution. It’s how our minds are built, and why it’s hard to look more deeply and broadly at any issue and why it’s here. (For more on that, see Where Journalism Fails.)
  5. Corruption. This is endemic to every complex economy: construction, online advertising, high finance, whatever. It happens here too. (And, like incompetence, it tends to worsen in a crisis.)
  6. Bureacracies & non-harmonized regulations. More about this below*.
  7. Complicating secondary and tertiary effects. The most obvious of these is inflation. Says here, “the spot rate for a 40-foot shipping container from Shanghai to Los Angeles rising from about $3,500 last year to $12,500 as of the end of September.” I’ve since heard numbers as high as $50,000. And, of course, inflation also happens for other reasons, which further complicates things.

To wrap one’s head around all of those (and more), it might help to start with Aristotle’s four “causes” (which might also be translated as “explanations”). Wikipedia illustrates these with a wooden dining table:

  • Its material cause is wood.
  • Its efficient cause is carpentry.
  • Its final cause is dining.
  • Its formal cause (what gives it form) is design.

Of those, formal cause is what matters most. That’s because, without knowledge of what a table is, it wouldn’t get made.

But the worldwide supply chain (which is less a single chain than braided rivers spreading outward from many sources through countless deltas) is impossible to reduce to any one formal cause. Mining, manufacturing, harvesting, shipping on sea and land, distribution, wholesale and retail sales are all involved, and specialized in their own ways, dependencies withstanding.

I suggest, however, that the most formal of the supply chain problem’s causes is also what’s required to sort out and solve it: digital technology and the Internet. From What does the Internet make of us?, sourcing the McLuhans:

“People don’t want to know the cause of anything”, Marshall said (and Eric quotes, in Media and Formal Cause). “They do not want to know why radio caused Hitler and Gandhi alike. They do not want to know that print caused anything whatever. As users of these media, they wish merely to get inside…”

We are all inside a digital environment that is making each of us while also making our systems. This can’t be reversed. But it can be improved.

One way might be to build ways to fully (or at least adequately) comprehend whole systems that subsume and transcend the scope and interests of any part, whether those parts be truckers, laws, standards, or whatever. Global aviation has some of this, but it’s also a much simpler system than the braided rivers between global supply and demand.

Is there something like that? I don’t yet know. Closest I’ve found is the UN’s IMO (International Maritime Organizaiton), and that only covers “the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine and atmospheric pollution by ships.” Not very encompassing, that. If any of ya’ll know more, fill us in.

[*Added 18 October] Just attended a talk by Oswald KuylerManaging Director of the International Chamber of Commerce‘s Digital Standards initiative, on an “Integrated Approach” by his and allied organizations that addresses “digital islands,” “no single view of available standards” both open and closed, “limited investments into training, change management and adoption,” “lack of enabling rules and regulations,” “outdated regulation,” “privacy law barriers,” “trade standard adoption gaps,” “costly technical integration,” “fragmentation” that “prevents paperless trade,” and other factors. Yet he also says the whole thing is “bent but not broken,” and that (says one slide) “trade and supply chain prove more resilient than imagined.”

Another relevant .org is the International Chamber of Shipping.

By the way, Heather Cox Richardson (whose newsletter I highly recommend) yesterday summarized what the Biden administration is trying to do about all this:

Biden also announced today a deal among a number of different players to try to relieve the supply chain slowdowns that have built up as people turned to online shopping during the pandemic. Those slowdowns threaten the delivery of packages for the holidays, and Biden has pulled together government officials, labor unions, and company ownership to solve the backup.

The Port of Los Angeles, which handles 40% of the container traffic coming into the U.S., has had container ships stuck offshore for weeks. In June, Biden put together a Supply Chain Disruption Task Force, which has hammered out a deal. The port is going to begin operating around the clock, seven days a week. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union has agreed to fill extra shifts. And major retailers, including Walmart, FedEx, UPS, Samsung, Home Depot, and Target, have agreed to move quickly to clear their goods out of the dock areas, speeding up operations to do it and committing to putting teams to work extra hours.

“The supply chain is essentially in the hands of the private sector,” a White House official told Donna Littlejohn of the Los Angeles Daily News, “so we need the private sector…to help solve these problems.” But Biden has brokered a deal among the different stakeholders to end what was becoming a crisis.

Hopefully helpful, but not sufficient.

Bonus link: a view of worldwide marine shipping. (Zoom in and out, and slide in any direction for a great way to spend some useful time.)

The photo is of Newark’s container port, viewed from an arriving flight at EWR, in 2009.

There’s an economic theory here: Free customers are more valuable than captive onesto themselves, to the companies they deal with, and to the marketplace. If that’s true, the intention economy will prove it. If not, we’ll stay stuck in the attention economy, where the belief that captive customers are more valuable than free ones prevails.

Let me explain.

The attention economy is not native to human attention. It’s native to businesses that  seek to grab and manipulate buyers’ attention. This includes the businesses themselves and their agents. Both see human attention as a “resource” as passive and ready for extraction as oil and coal. The primary actors in this economy—purveyors and customers of marketing and advertising services—typically talk about human beings not only as mere “users” and “consumers,” but as “targets” to “acquire,” “manage,” “control” and “lock in.” They are also oblivious to the irony that this is the same language used by those who own cattle and slaves.

While attention-grabbing has been around for as long as we’ve had yelling, in our digital age the fields of practice (abbreviated martech and adtech) have become so vast and varied that nobody (really, nobody) can get their head around everything that’s going on in them. (Examples of attempts are here, here and here.)

One thing we know for sure is that martech and adtech rationalize taking advantage of absent personal privacy tech in the hands of their targets. What we need there are the digital equivalents of the privacy tech we call clothing and shelter in the physical world. We also need means to signal our privacy preferences, to obtain agreements to those, and to audit compliance and resolve disputes. As it stands in the attention economy, privacy is a weak promise made separately by websites and services that are highly incentivised not to provide it. Tracking prophylaxis in browsers is some help, but itworks differently for every browser and it’s hard to tell what’s actually going on.

Another thing we know for sure is that the attention economy is thick with fraud, malware, and worse. For a view of how much worse, look at any adtech-supported website through PageXray and see the hundreds or thousands of ways sthe site and its invisible partners are trying to track you. (For example, here’s what Smithsonian Magazine‘s site does.)

We also know that lawmaking to stop adtech’s harms (e.g. GDPR and CCPA) has thus far mostly caused inconvenience for you and me (how many “consent” notices have interrupted your web surfing today?)—while creating a vast new industry devoted to making tracking as easy as legally possible. Look up GDPR+compliance and you’ll get way over 100 million results. Almost all of those will be for companies selling other companies ways to obey the letter of privacy law while violating its spirit.

Yet all that bad shit is also a red herring, misdirecting attention away from the inefficiencies of an economy that depends on unwelcome surveillance and algorithmic guesswork about what people might want.

Think about this: even if you apply all the machine learning and artificial intelligence in the world to all the personal data that might be harvested, you still can’t beat what’s possible when the targets of that surveillance have their own ways to contact and inform sellers of what they actually want and don’t want, plus ways to form genuine relationships and express genuine (rather than coerced) loyalty, and to do all of that at scale.

We don’t have that yet. But when we do, it will be an intention economy. Here are the opening paragraphs of The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012):

This book stands with the customer. This is out of necessity, not sympathy. Over the coming years, customers will be emancipated from systems built to control them. They will become free and independent actors in the marketplace, equipped to tell vendors what they want, how they want it, where and when—even how much they’d like to pay—outside of any vendor’s system of customer control. Customers will be able to form and break relationships with vendors, on customers’ own terms, and not just on the take-it-or-leave-it terms that have been pro forma since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

Customer power will be personal, not just collective.  Each customer will come to market equipped with his or her own means for collecting and storing personal data, expressing demand, making choices, setting preferences, proffering terms of engagement, offering payments and participating in relationships—whether those relationships are shallow or deep, and whether they last for moments or years. Those means will be standardized. No vendor will control them.

Demand will no longer be expressed only in the forms of cash, collective appetites, or the inferences of crunched data over which the individual has little or no control. Demand will be personal. This means customers will be in charge of personal information they share with all parties, including vendors.

Customers will have their own means for storing and sharing their own data, and their own tools for engaging with vendors and other parties.  With these tools customers will run their own loyalty programs—ones in which vendors will be the members. Customers will no longer need to carry around vendor-issued loyalty cards and key tags. This means vendors’ loyalty programs will be based on genuine loyalty by customers, and will benefit from a far greater range of information than tracking customer behavior alone can provide.

Thus relationship management will go both ways. Just as vendors today are able to manage relationships with customers and third parties, customers tomorrow will be able to manage relationships with vendors and fourth parties, which are companies that serve as agents of customer demand, from the customer’s side of the marketplace.

Relationships between customers and vendors will be voluntary and genuine, with loyalty anchored in mutual respect and concern, rather than coercion. So, rather than “targeting,” “capturing,” “acquiring,” “managing,” “locking in” and “owning” customers, as if they were slaves or cattle, vendors will earn the respect of customers who are now free to bring far more to the market’s table than the old vendor-based systems ever contemplated, much less allowed.

Likewise, rather than guessing what might get the attention of consumers—or what might “drive” them like cattle—vendors will respond to actual intentions of customers. Once customers’ expressions of intent become abundant and clear, the range of economic interplay between supply and demand will widen, and its sum will increase. The result we will call the Intention Economy.

This new economy will outperform the Attention Economy that has shaped marketing and sales since the dawn of advertising. Customer intentions, well-expressed and understood, will improve marketing and sales, because both will work with better information, and both will be spared the cost and effort wasted on guesses about what customers might want, and flooding media with messages that miss their marks. Advertising will also improve.

The volume, variety and relevance of information coming from customers in the Intention Economy will strip the gears of systems built for controlling customer behavior, or for limiting customer input. The quality of that information will also obsolete or re-purpose the guesswork mills of marketing, fed by crumb-trails of data shed by customers’ mobile gear and Web browsers. “Mining” of customer data will still be useful to vendors, though less so than intention-based data provided directly by customers.

In economic terms, there will be high opportunity costs for vendors that ignore useful signaling coming from customers. There will also be high opportunity gains for companies that take advantage of growing customer independence and empowerment.

But this hasn’t happened yet. Why?

Let’s start with supply and demand, which is roughly about price. Wikipedia: “the relationship between the price of a given good or product and the willingness of people to either buy or sell it.” But that wasn’t the original idea. “Supply and demand” was first expressed as “demand and supply” by Sir James Denham-Steuart in An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Oeconomy, written in 1767. To Sir James, demand and supply wasn’t about price. Specifically, “it must constantly appear reciprocal. If I demand a pair of shoes, the shoemaker either demands money or something else for his own use.” Also, “The nature of demand is to encourage industry.”

Nine years later, in The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith, a more visible bulb in the Scottish Enlightenment, wrote, “The real and effectual discipline which is exercised over a workman is that of his customers. It is the fear of losing their employment which restrains his frauds and corrects his negligence.” Again, nothing about price.

But neither of those guys lived to see the industrial age take off. When that happened, demand became an effect of supply, rather than a cause of it. Supply came to run whole markets on a massive scale, with makers and distributors of goods able to serve countless customers in parallel. The industrial age also ubiquitized standard-form contracts of adhesion binding all customers to one supplier with a single “agreement.”

But, had Sir James and Adam lived into the current millennium, they would have seen that it is now possible, thanks to digital technologies and the Internet, for customers to achieve scale across many companies, with efficiencies not imaginable in the pre-digital industrial age.

For example, it should be possible for a customer to express her intentions—say, “I need a stroller for twins downtown this afternoon”—to whole markets, but without being trapped inside any one company’s walled garden. In other words, not only inside Amazon, eBay or Craigslist. This is called intentcasting, and among its virtues is what Kim Cameron calls “minimum disclosure for constrained purposes” to “justifiable parties” through a choice among a “plurality of operators.”

Likewise, there is no reason why websites and services can’t agree to your privacy policy, and your terms of engagement. In legal terms, you should be able to operate as the first party, and to proffer your own terms, to which sites and services can agree (or, as privacy laws now say, consent) as second parties. That this is barely thinkable is a legacy of a time that has sadly not yet left us: one in which only companies can enjoy that kind of scale. Yet it would clearly be a convenience to have privacy as normalized in the online world as it is in the offline one. But we’re slowly getting there; for example with Customer Commons’ P2B1, aka #NoStalking term, which readers can proffer and publishers can agree agree to. It says “Just give me ads not based on tracking me.” Also with the IEEE’s P7012 Standard for Machine Readable Personal Privacy Terms working group.

Same with subscriptions. A person should be able to keep track of all her regular payments for subscription services, to keep track of new and better deals as they come along, to express to service providers her intentions toward those new deals, and to cancel or unsubscribe. There are lots of tools for this today, for example TruebillBobbyMoney DashboardMintSubscript MeBillTracker ProTrimSubbyCard DueSiftSubMan, and Subscript Me. There are also subscription management systems offered by PaypalAmazonApple and Google (e.g. with Google Sheets and Google Doc templates). But all of them to one degree or another are based more on the felt need by those suppliers for customer captivity than for customer independence.

As Customer Commons unpacks it here, there are many largely or entirely empty market spaces that are wide open for free and independent customers: identity, shopping (e.g. with shopping carts of your own to take from site to site), loyalty (of the genuine kind), property ownership (the real Internet of Things), and payments, for example.

It is possible to fill all those spaces if we have the capacity to—as Sir James put it—encourage industry, restrain fraud and correct negligence. While there is some progress in some of those areas, the going is still slow on the global scale. After all, The Intention Economy is nine years old and we still don’t have it yet. Is it just not possible, or are we starting in the wrong places?

I think it’s the latter.

Way back in 1995, when the Internet first showed up on both of our desktops, my wife Joyce said, “The sweet spot of the Internet isn’t global. It’s local.” That was the gist of my TEDx Santa Barbara talk in 2018. It’s also why Joyce and I are now in Bloomington, Indiana, working with the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University on deploying a new way for demand and supply to inform each other and get business rolling—and to start locally. It’s called the Byway, and it works outside of the old supply-controlled industrial model. Here’s an FAQ. Please feel free to add questions in the comments here.


The title image is by the great Hugh Macleod, and was commissioned in 2004 for a startup he and I both served and is now long gone.

 

So I ordered one of these yesterday…

…and got a notice that said,

That was to my building in Manhattan: a three-story walk-up in a district that’s post-dangerous but pre-gentrified. In other words, safe; but not beyond worry that someone could walk off with a box on the steps that says Amazon on it.

We live on the top floor, so it took me a minute to get from my desk to the front door, where there was nothing. So I went to Amazon’s Contact Us page and got this:

Then, after I clicked on the big yellow button, a dialog ensued :

Hi! It’s Amazon’s messaging assistant again.
Amazon eero mesh WiFi system – 2 pack
Is this what you need help with?

12:49 PM

Yes, that’s it

12:50 PM

Messaging Assistant | Customer Service

Looks like this item was delivered on Tuesday, Jun 22.
Could you confirm what went wrong, so I can help?

12:50 PM

Didn’t get it

12:50 PM

Messaging Assistant | Customer Service

Sorry to hear that. Tell me a little more about what happened.

12:50 PM

Package never arrived

12:50 PM

Messaging Assistant | Customer Service

OK, looks like the delivery status may have been updated too soon.
The good news is it should arrive soon. Give us until end of day Wednesday, Jun 23.
Really appreciate your patience with this. Is there anything else I can help with?

12:50 PM

No, that’s all

12:50 PM

Messaging Assistant | Customer Service

Thanks for choosing Amazon. I’m here to help whenever you have an issue.

12:50 PM

Messaging Assistant has left. Thanks for contacting Amazon!

This kind of thing has happened before; not just with Amazon, and not just here. In fact, it has happened enough times for me to wonder whether there is a method to the madness.

I mean, is “the delivery status may have been updated too soon” an occurrence that’s common for a reason? Also, might that reason be technical, human, neither or both?

To be fair, this is not a big deal. Progress is how the miraculous becomes mundane, and this is a good example of it the mundane miraculous at work. “No sooner said than shipped” is the new norm. So are conversations with robots.

I’d love it if one could give me answers below, but that feature isn’t working right now. So feel free to tweet yours or something. Thanks!

Since I’m done with fighting in the red ocean of the surveillance-dominated Web, I’ve decided, while busy working in the blue ocean (on what for now we’re calling i-commerce), to bring back, in this blog, some of the hundreds of things I’ve written over the last 30+ years. I’m calling it the Redux series. To qualify, these should still ring true today, or at least provide some history. This early one is still on the Web, here at BuzzPhraser.com. I’ve made only two small edits, regarding dates. (And thanks to Denise Caruso for reminding me that this thing started out on paper, very long ago.)


The original BuzzPhraser was created in 1990, or perhaps earlier, as a spreadsheet, then a HyperCard stack; and it quickly became one of the most-downloaded files on AOL and Compuserve. For years after that it languished, mostly because I didn’t want to re-write the software. But when the Web came along, I knew I had to find a way to re-create it. The means didn’t find that end, however, until Charles Roth grabbed the buzzwords by their serifs and made it happen, using a bit of clever Javascript. Once you start having fun with the new BuzzPhraser, I’m sure you’ll thank him as much as I do.

The story that follows was written for the original BuzzPhraser. I thought it would be fun to publish it unchanged.

—Doc, sometime in the late ’90s

BuzzPhrases are built with TechnoLatin, a non-language that replaces plain English nouns with vague but precise-sounding substitutes.  In TechnoLatin, a disk drive is a “data management solution.”  A network is a “workgroup productivity platform.”  A phone is a “telecommunications device”.

The virtue of TechnoLatin is that it describes just about anything technical.  The vice of TechnoLatin is that it really doesn’t mean anything.  This is because TechnoLatin is comprised of words that are either meaningless or have been reduced to that state by frequent use.  Like the blank tiles in Scrabble, you can put them anywhere, but they have no value.  The real value of TechnoLatin is that it sounds precise while what it says is vague as air.  And as easily inflated.

Thanks to TechnoLatin, today’s technology companies no longer make chips, boards, computers, monitors or printers.  They don’t even make products.  Today everybody makes “solutions” that are described as “interoperable,” “committed,” “architected,” “seamless” or whatever.  While these words sound specific, they describe almost nothing.  But where they fail as description they succeed as camouflage: they conceal meaning, vanish into surroundings and tend to go unnoticed.

Take the most over-used word in TechnoLatin today: solution.  What the hell does “solution” really mean?  Well, if you lift the camouflage, you see it usually means “product.”  Try this: every time you run across “solution” in a technology context, substitute “product.”  Note that the two are completely interchangeable.  The difference is, “product” actually means something, while “solution” does not.  In fact, the popularity of “solution” owes to its lack of specificity.  While it presumably suggests the relief of some “problem,” it really serves only to distance what it labels from the most frightening risk of specificity: the clarity of actual limits.

The fact is, most vendors of technology products don’t like to admit that their creations are limited in any way.  Surely, a new spreadsheet — the labor of many nerd/years — is something more than “just a spreadsheet.”  But what?  Lacking an available noun, it’s easy to build a suitable substitute with TechnoLatin.  Call it an “executive information matrix.”  Or a “productivity enhancement engine.”  In all seriousness, many companies spend months at this exercise.  Or even years.  It’s incredible.

There is also a narcotic appeal to buzzphrasing in TechnoLatin.  It makes the abuser feel as if he or she is really saying something, while in fact the practice only mystifies the listener or reader.  And since buzzphrasing is so popular, it gives the abuser a soothing sense of conformity, like teenagers get when they speak slang.  But, like slang, TechnoLatin feels better than it looks.  In truth, it looks suspicious.  And with good reason.  TechnoLatin often does not mean what it says, because the elaborate buzzphrases it builds are still only approximations.

But who cares? Buzzphrasing is epidemic.  You can’t get away from it.  Everybody does it.  There is one nice thing about Everybody, however: they’re a big market.

So, after studying this disease for many years, I decided, like any self-respecting doctor, to profit from the problem.  And, like any self-respecting Silicon Valley entrepreneur, I decided to do this with a new product for which there was absolutely no proven need, in complete faith that people would buy it.  Such is the nature of marketing in the technology business.

But, lacking the investment capital required to generate demand where none exists, I decided on a more generous approach: to give it away, in hope that even if I failed to halt the epidemic, at least I could get people to talk about it.

With this altruistic but slightly commercial goal in mind, I joined farces with Ray Miller of Turtlelips Services to create a product that would encourage and support the narcotic practice of buzzphrasing.  Being the brilliant programmer he is, Ray hacked it into a stack in less time than it took for me to write this prose.  And now here it is, free as flu, catching on all over the damn place.

What made BuzzPhraser possible as a product is that the practice of buzzphrasing actually has rules.  Like English, TechnoLatin is built around nouns.  It has adjectives to modify those nouns.  And adverbs to modify the adjectives.  It also has a class of nouns that modify other nouns — we call them “adnouns.”  And it has a nice assortment of hyphenated prefixes and suffixes (such as “multi-” and “-driven”) that we call “hyphixes.”

Since the TechnoLatin lexicon is filled with meaningless words in all those categories, the words that comprise TechnoLatin buzzphrases can be assembled in just about any number or order, held together as if by velcro.  These are the rules:

  • adverbs modify adjectives
  • adjectives modify adnouns, nouns or each other
  • adnouns modify nouns or other adnouns
  • nouns are modified by adnouns or adjectives
  • prefixes modify all adjectives
  • suffixes qualify all adnouns

Here is a diagram that shows how the rules work:

As with English, there are many exceptions.  But, as with programming, we don’t make any.  So cope with it.

With one adverb, one adjective, two adnouns, a noun and a prefix, you get “backwardly architected hyper-intelligent analysis inference leader.”  With an adjective and two nouns, you get “interactive leverage module.”  Put together buzzphrases of almost any shape and length:

  • “Breakthrough-capable technology market”
  • “Primarily distinguished optional contingency philosophy control power environment”
  • “Executive inference server”
  • “Evidently complete key business manipulation capacity method”
  • “Incrementally intelligent workgroup process topology vendor”

The amazing thing is that all of these sound, as we say in TechnoLatin, “virtually credible.”  And one nice thing about the computer business is — thanks largely to the brain-softening results of prolonged TechnoLatin abuse — “virtually credible” is exactly what it means in plain English: close enough.

BuzzPhraser makes “close enough” easy to reach by substituting guesswork for thinking.  Just keep hitting the button until the right buzzphrase comes along.  Then use that buzzphrase in faith that at least it sounds like you know what you’re saying.  And hey, in this business, isn’t that virtually credible?

Acknowledgements

Thanks to:

Stewart Alsop II, who published “Random Strings of TechnoLatin” along with the original Generic Description Table in both the Preceedings and Proceedings of Agenda 90; and who would like an e-mail front end that automatically discards any message with too many TechnoLatin words and buzzphrases.

Spencer F. Katt of PC Week, who devoted parts of two consecutive rumor columns to the Table, and posted it on the magazine’s CompuServe bulletin board, from which so many people copied it that I thought there might be something going on here.

Guy Kawasaki, who told me “this needs to be a product.”

Bob LeVitus, who told me “you ought to get this hacked into a stack.”

And Ray Miller, who did it.  Beautifully.

Doc Searls
Palo Alto, California
March 7, 1991

tmobile in a hole

For a few years now, T-Mobile has been branding itself the “un-carrier,” saying it’s “synonymous with 100% customer commitment.” Credit where due: we switched from AT&T a few years ago because T-Mobile, alone among U.S. carriers at the time, gave customers a nice cheap unlimited data plan for traveling outside the country.

But now comes this story in the Wall Street Journal:

T-Mobile to Step Up Ad Targeting of Cellphone Customers
Wireless carrier tells subscribers it could share their masked browsing, app data and online activity with advertisers unless they opt out

Talk about jumping on a bandwagon sinking in quicksand. Lawmakers in Europe (GDPR), California (CCPA) and elsewhere have been doing their best to make this kind of thing illegal, or at least difficult. Worse, it should now be clear that it not only sucks at its purpose, but customers hate it. A lot.

I just counted, and all 94 responses in the “conversation” under that piece are disapproving of this move by T-Mobile. I just copied them over and compressed out some extraneous stuff. Here ya go:

“Terrible decision by T-Mobile. Nobody ever says “I want more targeted advertising,” unless they are in the ad business.  Time to shop for a new carrier – it’s not like their service was stellar.”

“A disappointing development for a carrier which made its name by shaking up the big carriers with their overpriced plans.”

“Just an unbelievable break in trust!”

“Here’s an idea for you, Verizon. Automatically opt people into accepting a break on their phone bill in exchange for the money you make selling their data.”

“You want to make money on selling customer’s private information? Fine – but in turn, don’t charge your customers for generating that profitable information.”

“Data revenue sharing is coming. If you use my data, you will have to share the revenue with me.”

“Another reason to never switch to T-Mobile.”

“Kudos to WSJ for providing links on how to opt-out!”

“Just another disappointment from T-Mobile.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“We were supposed to be controlled by the government.”

“How crazy is it that we are having data shared for service we  PAY for? You might expect it on services that we don’t, as a kind of ‘exchange.'”

“WSJ just earned their subscription fee. Wouldn’t have known about this, or taken action without this story. Toggled it off on my phone, and then sent everyone I know on T Mobile the details on how to protect themselves.”

“Just finished an Online Chat with their customer service dept….’Rest assured, your data is safe with T-Mobile’…no, no it isn’t.  They may drop me as a customer since I sent links to the CCPA, the recent VA privacy law and a link to this article.  And just  to make sure the agent could read it – I sent the highlights too.  the response – ‘Your data is safe….’  Clueless, absolutely clueless.”

“As soon as I heard this, I went in and turned off tracking.  Also, when I get advertising that is clearly targeted (sometimes pretty easy to tell) I make a mental note to never buy or use the product or service advertised if I can avoid it.  Do others think the same?”

“Come on Congress, pass a law requiring any business or non-profit that wants to share your data with others to require it’s customers to ‘opt-in’. We should(n’t) have to ‘opt-out’ to prevent them from doing so, it should be the other way around. Only exception is them sharing data with the government and that there should be laws that limit what can be shared with the government and under what circumstances.”

“There must be massive amounts of money to be made in tracking what people do for targeted ads.  I had someone working for a national company tell me I would be shocked at what is known about me and what I do online.  My 85 year old dad refuses a smartphone and pays cash for everything he does short of things like utilities.  He still sends in a check each month to them, refuses any online transactions.  He is their least favorite kind of person but, he at least has some degree of privacy left.”

Would you find interest-based ads on your phone helpful or intrusive?
Neither–they’re destructive. They limit the breadth of ideas concerning things I might be interested in seeing or buying. I generally proactively look when I want or need something, and so advertising has little impact on me. However, an occasional random ad shows up that broadens my interest–that goes away with the noise of targeted ads overlain and drowning it out. If T-Mobile were truly interested, it would make its program an opt-in program and tout it so those who might be interested could make the choice.”

“Humans evolved from stone age to modern civilization. These tech companies will strip all our clothes.”

“They just can’t help themselves. They know it’s wrong, they know people will hate and distrust them for it, but the lure of doing evil is too strong for such weak-minded business executives to resist the siren call of screwing over their customers for a buck. Which circle of hell will they be joining Zuckerberg in?”

“Big brother lurks behind every corner.”

“What privacy policy update was this?  Don’t they always preface their privacy updates with the statement: YOUR PRIVACY IS IMPORTANT TO US(?) When did T-Mobile tell its customers our privacy is no longer important to them?  And that in fact we are now going to sell all we know about you to the highest bidder. Seems they need at least to get informed consent to reverse this policy and to demonstrate that they gave notice that was actually received and reviewed and  understood by customers….otherwise, isn’t this wiretapping by a third party…a crime?  Also isn’t using electronic means to monitor someone in an environment where they have the reasonable expectation of privacy a tort. Why don’t they just have a dual rate structure?   The more expensive traditional privacy plan and a cheaper exploitation plan? Then at least they can demonstrate they have given you consideration for the surrender of your right to privacy.”

“A very useful article! I was able to log in and remove my default to receive such advertisements “relevant” to me.  That said all the regulatory bodies in the US are often headed by industry personnel who are their to protect companies, not consumers. US is the best place for any company to operate freely with regulatory burden. T-mobile follows the European standards in EU, but in the US there are no such restraints.”

“It’s far beyond time for the Congress to pass a sweeping privacy bill that outlaws collection and sale of personal information on citizens without their consent.”

“Appreciate the heads-up  and the guidance on how to opt out. Took 30 seconds!”

“Friends, you may not be aware that almost all of the apps on your iPhone track your location, which the apps sell to other companies, and someday the government. If you want to stop the apps from tracking your locations, this is what to do. In Settings, choose Privacy.   Then choose Location Services.  There you will see a list of your apps that track your location.  All of the time. I have switched nearly all of my apps to ‘Never’ track.  A few apps, mostly relating to travel, I have set to “While using.”  For instance, I have set Google Maps to ‘While using.’ That is how to take control of your information.”

“Thank you for this important info! I use T-Mobile and like them, but hadn’t heard of this latest privacy outrage. I’ve opted out.”

“T-Mobile is following Facebook’s playbook. Apple profits by selling devices and Operating Sysyems. Facebook & T-Mobile profit by selling, ………………… YOU!”

“With this move, at first by one then all carriers, I will really start to limit my small screen time.”

“As a 18 year customer of T-Mobile, I would have preferred an email from T-Mobile  about this, rather than having read this by chance today.”

“It should be Opt-In, not Opt-out. Forcing an opt out is a bit slimy in my books. Also, you know they’ll just end up dropping that option eventually and you’ll be stuck as opted in. Even if you opted in, your phone plan should be free or heavily subsidized since they are making dough off your usage.”

“No one automatically agrees to tracking of one’s life, via the GPS on their cell phone. Time to switch carriers.”

“It’s outrageous that customers who pay exorbitant fees for the devices are also exploited with advertising campaigns. I use ad blockers and a VPN and set cookies to clear when the browser is closed. When Apple releases the software to block the ad identification number of my device from being shared with the scum, I’ll be the first to use that, too.”

“It was a pain to opt out of this on T-Mobile. NOT COOL.”

“I just made the decision to “opt out” of choosing TMobile as my new phone service provider.  So very much appreciated.”

“Well, T-Mobile, you just lost a potential subscriber.  And why not reverse this and make it opt-in instead of opt-out?  I know, because too many people are lazy and will never opt-out, selling their souls to advertisers. And for those of you who decide to opt-out, congratulations.  You’re part of the vast minority who actually pay attention to these issues.”

“I have been seriously considering making the switch from Verizon to T-Mobile. The cavalier attitude that T-Mobile has for customers data privacy has caused me to put this on hold. You have to be tone deaf as a company to think that this is a good idea in the market place today.”

“Been with T-Mo for over 20 years because they’re so much better for international travel than the others. I don’t plan on changing to another carrier but I’ll opt out of this, thanks.”

“So now we know why T-Mobile is so much cheaper.”

“I have never heard anyone say that they want more ads. How about I pay too much for your services already and I don’t want ANY ads. We need a European style GDP(R) with real teeth in the USA and we need it now!”

“So these dummies are going to waste their money on ads when their service Suckky Ducky!   Sorry, but it’s a wasteland of T-Mobile, “No Service” Bars on your phone with these guys.  It’s the worst service, period. Spend your money on your service, the customers will follow.  Why is that so hard for these dummies to understand?”

“If they do this I will go elsewhere.”

“When will these companies learn that their ads are an annoyance.  I do not want or appreciate their ads.  I hate the words ‘We use our data to customize the ads you receive.'”

“Imagine if those companies had put that much effort and money into actually improving their service. Nah, that’s ridiculous.”

“Thank you info on how to opt out. I just did so. It’s up to me to decide what advertising is relevant for me, not some giant corporation that thinks they own me.”

“who is the customer out there like, Yeah I want them to advertise to me! I love it!’? Hard to believe anyone would ask for this.”

“I believe using a VPN would pretty much halt all of this nonsense, especially if the carrier doesn’t want to cooperate.”

“I’m a TMobile customer, and to be honest, I really don’t care about advertising–as long as they don’t give marketers my phone number.  Now that would be a deal breaker.”

“What about iPhone users on T-Mobile?  Apple’s move to remove third party cookies is creating this incentive for carriers to fill the void. It’s time for a national privacy bill.”

“We need digital privacy laws !!!   Sad that Europe and other countries are far ahead of us here.”

“Pure arrogance on the part of the carrier. What are they thinking at a time when people are increasingly concerned about privacy? I’m glad that I’m not currently a T-Mobile customer and this seals the deal for me for the future.”

“AT&T won’t actually let you opt out fully. Requests to block third party analytics trigger pop up messages that state ‘Our system doesn’t seem to be cooperating. Sorry for any inconvenience. Please try again later’.”

“One of the more salient articles I’ve read anywhere recently. Google I understand, we get free email and other stuff, and it’s a business. But I already pay a couple hundred a month to my phone provider. And now they think it’s a good idea to barrage me and my family? What about underage kids getting ads – that must be legal only because the right politicians got paid off.”

“Oh yeah, I bet customers have been begging for more “targeted advertising”.  It would be nice if a change in privacy policy also allowed you to void your 12 month agreement with these guys.”

“Thank you for showing us how to opt out. If these companies want to sell my data, then they should pay me part of the proceeds. Otherwise, I opt out.”

Think T-Mobile is listening?

If not, they’re just a typical carrier with 0% customer commitment.

Historic milestones don’t always line up with large round numbers on our calendars. For example, I suggest that the 1950s ended with the assassination of JFK in late 1963, and the rise of British Rock, led by the Beatles, in 1964. I also suggest that the 1960s didn’t end until Nixon resigned, and disco took off, in 1974.

It has likewise been suggested that the 20th century actually began with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the start of WWI, in 1914. While that and my other claims might be arguable, you might at least agree that there’s no need for historic shifts to align with two or more zeros on a calendar—and that in most cases they don’t.

So I’m here to suggest that the 21st century began in 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic and the fall of Donald Trump. (And I mean that literally. Social media platforms were Trump’s man’s stage, and the whole of them dropped him, as if through a trap door, on the occasion of the storming of the U.S. Capitol by his supporters on January 6, 2021. Whether you liked that or not is beside the facticity of it.)

Things are not the same now. For example, over the coming years, we may never hug, shake hands, or comfortably sit next to strangers again.

But I’m bringing this up for another reason: I think the future we wrote about in The Cluetrain Manifesto, in World of Ends, in The Intention Economy, and in other optimistic expressions during the first two decades of the 21st Century may finally be ready to arrive.

At least that’s the feeling I get when I listen to an interview I did with Christian Einfeldt (@einfeldt) at a San Diego tech conference in April, 2004—and that I just discovered recently in the Internet Archive. The interview was for a film to be called “Digital Tipping Point.” Here are its eleven parts, all just a few minutes long:

01 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
02 https://archive.org/details/e-dv039_doc_…
03 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
04 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
05 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
06 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
07 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
08 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
09 https://archive.org/details/e-dv038_doc_…
10 https://archive.org/details/e-dv039_doc_…
11 https://archive.org/details/e-dv039_doc_…

The title is a riff on Malcolm Gladwell‘s book The Tipping Point, which came out in 2000, same year as The Cluetrain Manifesto. The tipping point I sensed four years later was, I now believe, a foreshadow of now, and only suggested by the successes of the open source movement and independent personal publishing in the form of blogs, both of which I was high on at the time.

What followed in the decade after the interview were the rise of social networks, of smart mobile phones and of what we now call Big Tech. While I don’t expect those to end in 2021, I do expect that we will finally see  the rise of personal agency and of constructive social movements, which I felt swelling in 2004.

Of course, I could be wrong about that. But I am sure that we are now experiencing the millennial shift we expected when civilization’s odometer rolled past 2000.

Just got a press release by email from David Rosen (@firstpersonpol) of the Public Citizen press office. The headline says “Historic Grindr Fine Shows Need for FTC Enforcement Action.” The same release is also a post in the news section of the Public Citizen website. This is it:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Norwegian Data Protection Agency today fined Grindr $11.7 million following a Jan. 2020 report that the dating app systematically violates users’ privacy. Public Citizen asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and state attorneys general to investigate Grindr and other popular dating apps, but the agency has yet to take action. Burcu Kilic, digital rights program director for Public Citizen, released the following statement:

“Fining Grindr for systematic privacy violations is a historic decision under Europe’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), and a strong signal to the AdTech ecosystem that business-as-usual is over. The question now is when the FTC will take similar action and bring U.S. regulatory enforcement in line with those in the rest of the world.

“Every day, millions of Americans share their most intimate personal details on apps like Grindr, upload personal photos, and reveal their sexual and religious identities. But these apps and online services spy on people, collect vast amounts of personal data and share it with third parties without people’s knowledge. We need to regulate them now, before it’s too late.”

The first link goes to Grindr is fined $11.7 million under European privacy law, by Natasha Singer (@NatashaNYT) and Aaron Krolik. (This @AaronKrolik? If so, hi. If not, sorry. This is a blog. I can edit it.) The second link goes to a Public Citizen post titled Popular Dating, Health Apps Violate Privacy.

In the emailed press release, the text is the same, but the links are not. The first is this:

https://default.salsalabs.org/T72ca980d-0c9b-45da-88fb-d8c1cf8716ac/25218e76-a235-4500-bc2b-d0f337c722d4

The second is this:

https://default.salsalabs.org/Tc66c3800-58c1-4083-bdd1-8e730c1c4221/25218e76-a235-4500-bc2b-d0f337c722d4

Why are they not simple and direct URLs? And who is salsalabs.org?

You won’t find anything at that link, or by running a whois on it. But I do see there is a salsalabs.com, which has  “SmartEngagement Technology” that “combines CRM and nonprofit engagement software with embedded best practices, machine learning, and world-class education and support.” since Public Citizen is a nonprofit, I suppose it’s getting some “smart engagement” of some kind with these links. PrivacyBadger tells me Salsalabs.com has 14 potential trackers, including static.ads.twitter.com.

My point here is that we, as clickers on those links, have at best a suspicion about what’s going on: perhaps that the link is being used to tell Public Citizen that we’ve clicked on the link… and likely also to help target us with messages of some sort. But we really don’t know.

And, speaking of not knowing, Natasha and Aaron’s New York Times story begins with this:

The Norwegian Data Protection Authority said on Monday that it would fine Grindr, the world’s most popular gay dating app, 100 million Norwegian kroner, or about $11.7 million, for illegally disclosing private details about its users to advertising companies.

The agency said the app had transmitted users’ precise locations, user-tracking codes and the app’s name to at least five advertising companies, essentially tagging individuals as L.G.B.T.Q. without obtaining their explicit consent, in violation of European data protection law. Grindr shared users’ private details with, among other companies, MoPub, Twitter’s mobile advertising platform, which may in turn share data with more than 100 partners, according to the agency’s ruling.

Before this, I had never heard of MoPub. In fact, I had always assumed that Twitter’s privacy policy either limited or forbid the company from leaking out personal information to advertisers or other entities. Here’s how its Private Information Policy Overview begins:

You may not publish or post other people’s private information without their express authorization and permission. We also prohibit threatening to expose private information or incentivizing others to do so.

Sharing someone’s private information online without their permission, sometimes called doxxing, is a breach of their privacy and of the Twitter Rules. Sharing private information can pose serious safety and security risks for those affected and can lead to physical, emotional, and financial hardship.

On the MoPub site, however, it says this:

MoPub, a Twitter company, provides monetization solutions for mobile app publishers and developers around the globe.

Our flexible network mediation solution, leading mobile programmatic exchange, and years of expertise in mobile app advertising mean publishers trust us to help them maximize their ad revenue and control their user experience.

The Norwegian DPA apparently finds a conflict between the former and the latter—or at least in the way the latter was used by Grinder (since they didn’t fine Twitter).

To be fair, Grindr and Twitter may not agree with the Norwegian DPA. Regardless of their opinion, however, by this point in history we should have no faith that any company will protect our privacy online. Violating personal privacy is just too easy to do, to rationalize, and to make money at.

To start truly facing this problem, we need start with a simple fact: If your privacy is in the hands of others alone, you don’t have any. Getting promises from others not to stare at your naked self isn’t the same as clothing. Getting promises not to walk into your house or look in your windows is not the same as having locks and curtains.

In the absence of personal clothing and shelter online, or working ways to signal intentions about one’s privacy, the hands of others alone is all we’ve got. And it doesn’t work. Nor do privacy laws, especially when enforcement is still so rare and scattered.

Really, to potential violators like Grindr and Twitter/MoPub, enforcement actions like this one by the Norwegian DPA are at most a little discouraging. The effect on our experience of exposure is still nil. We are exposed everywhere, all the time, and we know it. At best we just hope nothing bad happens.

The only way to fix this problem is with the digital equivalent of clothing, locks, curtains, ways to signal what’s okay and what’s not—and to get firm agreements from others about how our privacy will be respected.

At Customer Commons, we’re starting with signaling, specifically with first party terms that you and I can proffer and sites and services can accept.

The first is called P2B1, aka #NoStalking. It says “Just give me ads not based on tracking me.” It’s a term any browser (or other tool) can proffer and any site or service can accept—and any privacy-respecting website or service should welcome.

Making this kind of agreement work is also being addressed by IEEE7012, a working group on machine-readable personal privacy terms.

Now we’re looking for sites and services willing to accept those terms. How about it, Twitter, New York Times, Grindr and Public Citizen? Or anybody.

DM us at @CustomerCommons and we’ll get going on it.

 

“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world,” Archimedes is said to have said.

For almost all of the last four years, Donald Trump was one hell of an Archimedes. With the U.S. presidency as his lever and Twitter as his fulcrum, the 45th President leveraged an endless stream of news-making utterances into a massive following and near-absolute domination of news coverage, worldwide. It was an amazing show, the like of which we may never see again.

Big as it was, that show ended on January 8, when Twitter terminated the @RealDonaldTrump account. Almost immediately after that, Trump was “de-platformed” from all these other services as well: PayPal, Reddit, Shopify, Snapchat, Discord, Amazon, Twitch, Facebook, TikTok, Google, Apple, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram. That’s a lot of fulcrums to lose.

What makes them fulcrums is their size. All are big, and all are centralized: run by one company. As members, users and customers of these centralized services, we are also at their mercy: no less vulnerable to termination than Trump.

So here is an interesting question: What if Trump had his own fulcrum from the start? For example, say he took one of the many Trump domains he probably owns (or should have bothered to own, long ago), and made it a blog where he said all the same things he tweeted, and that site had the same many dozens of millions of followers today? Would it still be alive?

I’m not sure it would. Because, even though the base protocols of the Internet and the Web are peer-to-peer and end-to-end, all of us are dependent on services above those protocols, and at the mercy of those services’ owners.

That to me is the biggest lesson the de-platforming of Donald Trump has for the rest of us. We can talk “de-centralization” and “distribution” and “democratization” along with peer-to-peer and end-to-end, but we are still at the mercy of giants.

Yes, there are work-arounds. The parler.com website, de-platformed along with Trump, is back up and, according to @VickerySec (Chris Vickery), “routing 100% of its user traffic through servers located within the Russian Federation.” Adds @AdamSculthorpe, “With a DDos-Guard IP, exactly as I predicted the day it went offline. DDoS Guard is the Russian equivalent of CloudFlare, and runs many shady sites. RiTM (Russia in the middle) is one way to think about it.” Encrypted services such as Signal and Telegram also provide ways for people to talk and be social. But those are also platforms, and we are at their mercy too.

I bring all this up as a way of thinking out loud toward the talk I’ll be giving in a few hours (also see here), on the topic “Centralized vs. Decentralized.” Here’s the intro:

Centralised thinking is easy. Control sits on one place, everything comes home, there is a hub, the corporate office is where all the decisions are made and it is a power game.

Decentralised thinking is complex. TCP/IP and HTTP created a fully decentralised fabric for packet communication. No-one is in control. It is beautiful. Web3 decentralised ideology goes much further but we continually run into conflicts. We need to measure, we need to report, we need to justify, we need to find a model and due to regulation and law, there are liabilities.

However, we have to be doing both. We have to centralise some aspects and at the same time decentralise others. Whilst we hang onto an advertising model that provides services for free we have to have a centralised business model. Apple with its new OS is trying to break the tracking model and in doing so could free us from the barter of free, is that the plan which has nothing to do with privacy or are the ultimate control freaks. But the new distributed model means more risks fall on the creators as the aggregators control the channels and access to a model. Is our love for free preventing us from seeing the value in truly distributed or are those who need control creating artefacts that keep us from achieving our dreams? Is distributed even possible with liability laws and a need to justify what we did to add value today?

So here is what I think I’ll say.

First, we need to respect the decentralized nature of humanity. All of us are different, by design. We look, sound, think and feel different, as separate human beings. As I say in How we save the world, “no being is more smart, resourceful or original than a human one. Again, by design. Even identical twins, with identical DNA from a single sperm+egg, can be as different as two primary colors. (Examples: Laverne Cox and M.LamarNicole and Jonas Maines.)”

This simple fact of our distributed souls and talents has had scant respect from the centralized systems of the digital world, which would rather lead than follow us, and rather guess about us than understand us. That’s partly because too many of them have become dependent on surveillance-based personalized advertising (which is awful in ways I’ve detailed in 136 posts, essays and articles compiled here). But it’s mostly because they’re centralized and can’t think or work outside their very old and square boxes.

Second, advertising, subscriptions and donations through the likes of (again, centralized) Patreon aren’t the only possible ways to support a site or a service. Those are industrial age conventions leveraged in the early decades of the digital age. There are other approaches we can implement as well, now that the pendulum is started to swing back from the centralized extreme. For example, the fully decentralized EmanciPay. A bunch of us came up with that one at ProjectVRM way back in 2009. What makes it decentralized is that the choice of what to pay, and how, is up to the customer. (No, it doesn’t have to be scary.) Which brings me to—

Third, we need to start thinking about solving business problems, market problems, technical problems, from our side. Here is how Customer Commons puts it:

There is … no shortage of of business problems that can only be solved from the customer’s side. Here are a few examples :

  1. Identity. Logins and passwords are burdensome leftovers from the last millennium. There should be (and already are) better ways to identify ourselves, and to reveal to others only what we need them to know. Working on this challenge is the SSI—Self-Sovereign Identity—movement. The solution here for individuals is tools of their own that scale.
  2. Subscriptions. Nearly all subscriptions are pains in the butt. “Deals” can be deceiving, full of conditions and changes that come without warning. New customers often get better deals than loyal customers. And there are no standard ways for customers to keep track of when subscriptions run out, need renewal, or change. The only way this can be normalized is from the customers’ side.
  3. Terms and conditions. In the world today, nearly all of these are ones companies proffer; and we have little or no choice about agreeing to them. Worse, in nearly all cases, the record of agreement is on the company’s side. Oh, and since the GDPR came along in Europe and the CCPA in California, entering a website has turned into an ordeal typically requiring “consent” to privacy violations the laws were meant to stop. Or worse, agreeing that a site or a service provider spying on us is a “legitimate interest.”
  4. Payments. For demand and supply to be truly balanced, and for customers to operate at full agency in an open marketplace (which the Internet was designed to be), customers should have their own pricing gun: a way to signal—and actually pay willing sellers—as much as they like, however they like, for whatever they like, on their own terms. There is already a design for that, called Emancipay.
  5. Internet of Things. What we have so far are the Apple of things, the Amazon of things, the Google of things, the Samsung of things, the Sonos of things, and so on—all silo’d in separate systems we don’t control. Things we own on the Internet should be our things. We should be able to control them, as independent customers, as we do with our computers and mobile devices. (Also, by the way, things don’t need to be intelligent or connected to belong to the Internet of Things. They can be, or have, picos.)
  6. Loyalty. All loyalty programs are gimmicks, and coercive. True loyalty is worth far more to companies than the coerced kind, and only customers are in position to truly and fully express it. We should have our own loyalty programs, to which companies are members, rather than the reverse.
  7. Privacy. We’ve had privacy tech in the physical world since the inventions of clothing, shelter, locks, doors, shades, shutters, and other ways to limit what others can see or hear—and to signal to others what’s okay and what’s not. Instead, all we have are unenforced promises by others not to watching our naked selves, or to report what they see to others. Or worse, coerced urgings to “accept” spying on us and distributing harvested information about us to parties unknown, with no record of what we’ve agreed to.
  8. Customer service. There are no standard ways to call for service yet, or to get it. And there should be.
  9. Advertising. Our main problem with advertising today is tracking, which is failing because it doesn’t work. (Some history: ad blocking has been around since 2004, it took off in 2013, when the advertising and publishing industries gave the middle finger to Do Not Track, which was never more than a polite request in one’s browser not to be tracked off a site. By 2015, ad blocking alone was the biggest boycott i world history. And in 2018 and 2019 we got the GDPR and the CCPA, two laws meant to thwart tracking and unwanted data collection, and which likely wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been given that finger.) We can solve that problem from the customer side with intentcasting,. This is where we advertise to the marketplace what we want, without risk that our personal data won’t me misused. (Here is a list of intentcasting providers on the ProjectVRM Development Work list.)

We already have examples of personal solutions working at scale: the Internet, the Web, email and telephony. Each provides single, simple and standards-based ways any of us can scale how we deal with others—across countless companies, organizations and services. And they work for those companies as well.

Other solutions, however, are missing—such as ones that solve the eight problems listed above.

They’re missing for the best of all possible reasons: it’s still early. Digital living is still new—decades old at most. And it’s sure to persist for many decades, centuries or millennia to come.

They’re also missing because businesses typically think all solutions to business problems are ones for them. Thinking about customers solving business problems is outside that box.

But much work is already happening outside that box. And there already exist standards and code for building many customer-side solutions to problems shared with businesses. Yes, there are not yet as many or as good as we need; but there are enough to get started.

A lot of levers there.

For those of you attending this event, I’ll talk with you shortly. For the rest of you, I’ll let you know how it goes.

When some big outfit with a vested interest in violating your privacy says they are only trying to save small business, grab your wallet. Because the game they’re playing is misdirection away from what they really want.

The most recent case in point is Facebook, which ironically holds the world’s largest database on individual human interests while also failing to understand jack shit about personal boundaries.

This became clear when Facebook placed the ad above and others like it in major publications recently, and mostly made bad news for itself. We saw the same kind of thing in early 2014, when the IAB ran a similar campaign against Mozilla, using ads like this:

That one was to oppose Mozilla’s decision to turn on Do Not Track by default in its Firefox browser. Never mind that Do Not Track was never more than a polite request for websites to not be infected with a beacon, like those worn by marked animals, so one can be tracked away from the website. Had the advertising industry and its dependents in publishing simply listened to that signal, and respected it, we might never have had the GDPR or the CCPA, both of which are still failing at the same mission. (But, credit where due: the GDPR and the CCPA have at least forced websites to put up insincere and misleading opt-out popovers in front of every website whose lawyers are scared of violating the letter—but never the spirit—of those and other privacy laws.)

The IAB succeeded in its campaign against Mozilla and Do Not Track; but the the victory was Pyrrhic, because users decided to install ad blockers instead, which by 2015 was the largest boycott in human history. Plus a raft of privacy laws, with more in the pipeline.

We also got Apple on our side. That’s good, but not good enough.

What we need are working tools of our own. Examples: Global Privacy Control (and all the browsers and add-ons mentioned there), Customer Commons#NoStalking term, the IEEE’s P7012 – Standard for Machine Readable Personal Privacy Terms, and other approaches to solving business problems from the our side—rather than always from the corporate one.

In those movies, we’ll win.

Because if only Apple wins, we still lose.

Dammit, it’s still about what The Cluetrain Manifesto said in the first place, in this “one clue” published almost 21 years ago:

we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers.
we are human beings — and out reach exceeds your grasp.
deal with it.

We have to make them deal. All of them. Not just Apple. We need code, protocols and standards, and not just regulations.

All the projects linked to above can use some help, plus others I’ll list here too if you write to me with them. (Comments here only work for Harvard email addresses, alas. I’m doc at searls dot com.)

December 10, 2020: This matter has been settled now, meaning Flickr appears not to be in trouble, and my account due for renewal will be automatically renewed. I’ve appended what settled the matter to the bottom of this post. Note that it also raises another question, about subscriptions. — Doc

I have two Flickr accounts, named Doc Searls and Nfrastructure. One has 73,355 photos, and the other 3,469. They each cost $60/year to maintain as pro accounts. They’ve both renewed automatically in the past; and the first one is already renewed, which I can tell because it says “Your plan will automatically renew on March 20, 2022.”

The second one, however… I dunno. Because, while my Account page says “Your plan will automatically renew on December 13, 2020,” I just got emails for both accounts saying, “This email is to confirm that we have stopped automatic billing for your subscription. Your subscription will continue to be active until the expiration date listed below. At that time, you will have to manually renew or your subscription will be cancelled.” The dates match the two above. At the bottom of each, in small print, it says “Digital River Inc. is the authorized reseller and merchant of the products and services offered within this store. Privacy Policy Terms of Sale Your California Privacy Rights.”

Hmmm. The Digital River link goes here, which appears to be in Ireland. A look at the email’s source shows the mail server is one in Kansas, and the Flickr.com addressing doesn’t look spoofed. So, it doesn’t look too scammy to me. Meaning I’m not sure what the scam is. Yet. If there is one.

Meanwhile, I do need to renew the subscription, and the risk of not renewing it is years of contributions (captions, notes, comments) out the window.

So I went to “Manage your Pro subscription” on the second one (which has four days left to expiration), and got this under “Update your Flickr Pro subscription information”

Plan changes are temporarily disabled. Please contact support for prompt assistance.

Cancel your subscription

The Cancel line is a link. I won’t click on it.

Now, I have never heard of a company depending on automatic subscription renewals switching from those to the manual kind. Nor have I heard of a subscription-dependent company sending out notices like these while the renewal function is disabled.

I would like to contact customer support; but there is no link for that on my account page. In fact, the words “customer” and “support” don’t appear there. “Help” does, however, and goes to https://help.flickr.com/, where I need to fill out a form. This I did, explaining,

I am trying to renew manually, but I get “Plan changes are temporarily disabled. Please contact support for prompt assistance.” So here I am. Please reach out. This subscription expires in four days, and I don’t want to lose the photos or the account. I’m [email address] for this account (I have another as well, which doesn’t renew until 2022), my phone is 805-705-9666, and my twitter is @dsearls. Thanks!

The robot replied,

Thanks for your message – you’ll get a reply from a Flickr Support Hero soon. If you don’t receive an automated message from Flickr confirming we received your message (including checking your spam folders), please make sure you provided a valid and active email. Thanks for your patience and we look forward to helping you!

Me too.

Meanwhile, I am wondering if Flickr is in trouble again.

I wondered about this in 2011 and again in 2016, (in my most-read Medium post, ever). Those were two of the (feels like many) times Flickr appeared to be on the brink. And I have been glad SmugMug took over the Flickr show in 2018. (I’m a paying SmugMug customer as well.) But this kind of thing is strange and has me worried. Should I be?

[Later, on December 10…]

Heard from Flickr this morning, with this:

Hi Doc,

When we migrated your account to Stripe, we had to cancel your subscription on Digital River. The email you received was just a notice of this event. I apologize for the confusion.

Just to confirm, there is no action needed at this time. You have an active Pro subscription in good standing and due for renewal on an annual term on December 14th, 2020.

To answer your initial question, since your account has been migrated to Stripe, while you can update your payment information, changes to subscription plans are temporarily unavailable. We expect this functionality to be restored soon.

I appreciate your patience and hope this helps.

For more information, please consult our FAQ here: https://help.flickr.com/faq-for-flickr-members-about-our-payment-processor-migration-SyN1cazsw

Before this issue came up, I hadn’t heard of Digital River or Stripe. Seems they are both “payment gateway” services (at least according to Finances Online). If you look down the list of what these companies can do, other than payment processing alone—merchandising, promotions, channel partner management, dispute handling, cross-border payment optimization, in-app solutions, risk management, email services, and integrations with dozens of different tools, products and extensions from the likes of Visa, MasterCard, Sage and many other companies with more obscure brand names—you can understand how a screw-up like this one can happen when moving from one provider to another.

Now the question for me is whether subscription systems really have to be this complex.

(Comments here only work for Harvard people; so if you’re not one of those, please reply elsewhere, such as on Twitter, where I’m @dsearls.)

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