What only customers can do

Businesses love to say “the customer comes first,” “the customer is in charge” and that they need to “let the customer lead.”

But the customer can’t come first, can’t be in charge, and can’t lead, without tools of her own: tools that give  her ways to interact in common ways across all the companies she deals with. Ways that give her leverage:

She already has some of those tools. The Internet. The Web. EMail. The phone system. Credit cards. Cars. All of those give a person scale, in roughly the same way that using a common language or a common currency gives a person scale.

For an example of absent scale at work, look at what a customer needs to do when she changes, say, her email address, preferred credit card or last name. She has to go from one website to another, over and over again, logging into all of them separately, like a bee buzzing from one flower to another across a whole garden—only taking a lot more time and wasting a lot more energy.

The reason we have that situation is that companies are still leveraging industrial age norms, in which every company works to “own” the customer, and her experience, separately and exclusively. This is why, even though we’ve been living in a networked world for a quarter century, and we all carry highly advanced digital devices in our pocket and purses, we remain stuck in a world where every company we deal with has its own unique and different ways of dealing with us, and of providing us with ways for relating to them.

The plethorization of separate and unique “customer experiences” (“CX” to the industry) is only compounded with each new company we deal with—and worse, with each new law imposing obligations on companies that will implement compliance differently. We see this today with all the separate ways we “consent” to being tracked by companies doing their separate best to comply with the GDPR and the CCPA as well. Those laws embody the assumption that we still live in an industrial world where all agency over personal privacy resides on the corporate side, rather than on the personal one.

This is why better CRM, CX and GDPR/CCPA compliance approaches actually make the problem worse. Since all are different and exclusive, each one adds unique forms of cognitive and operational overhead on both the corporate and the personal side of every “relationship” that really isn’t.

It’s as if every company required a different language, a different handshake, and a different keyboard layout.

To really come first, to really be in charge, to really lead, the customer needs powers of her own that extend across all the companies she deals with. That’s scale.

Just as companies need to scale their relationships across many customers, customers need to scale their relationships across many companies.

The customer can only get scale through tools for both independence and engagement. She already has those with her car, her purse, her phone, her personal computer, her email, her browsers, her computer, her credit, her cash. (See The Cash Model of Customer Experience.) Every company she deals with respects the independence she gets from those tools, and every company has the same base-level ways of interacting with them. Those tools are also substitutable. The customer can swap them for others like it and maintain her autonomy, independence and ability to engage.

For the last ten years years many dozens of developers around ProjectVRM have been working on tools and services that give customers scale. You’ll find a partial list of them here.

Here is what we have been looking for, from any and all of them together—

  • Ways to manage gradual, selective and trust-based disclosure of personal identifiers, starting from a state that is anonymous (literally, nameless).
  • Ways to manage our many administrative identities (the ones by which companies and other organizations know each of us), as well as our sovereign source identities (how each of us know ourselves).
  • Ways to express terms and policies with which companies can agree (preferably automatically).
  • Ways to change personal data records (e.g. name, address, phone number) for every company we deal with, in one move.
  • Ways to share personal data (e.g. purchase or service intentions) selectively and in a mutually trusting way, with every company we deal with.
  • Ways to exercise full control over our sovereign data spaces (e.g. PIMS) for every thing each ofus owns, and within which reside our relationships with companies that support those things.
  • Ways to engage with existing CRM, call center and other relationship systems on the vendors’ side.

We have most or all of the technologies, standards, protocols, specifications and APIs we need already. What we need now is thinking and development that goes meta: one level up, to where the customer actually lives, working to manage all these different relationships with all these different cards, apps, websites, logins, passwords and the rest of it.

Apps for doing those things should be as substitutable as a car, a wallet, a purse, a phone, an email client. In other words, we should have a choice of apps, and not be stuck again inside the exclusive offerings of any single company.

Only with scale can free customers prove more valuable than captive ones. And only with mastery will customers get scale. We can’t get there with a zillion different little apps, most of which are not ours. We need go-to apps of our own.

One of our jobs at Customer Commons is to stand with the customer as she watches those tools and services being built, and weighs in with input and intelligence of her own. If you want to help us do that, follow @CustomerCommons and DM us there after we follow you back. Thanks.

The business problems only customers can solve

Customer Commons was created because there are many business and market problems that can only be solved from the customers’ side, under the customer’s control, and at scale, with #customertech.

In the absence of solutions that customers control, both customers and businesses are forced to use business-side-only solutions that limit customer power to what can be done within each business’s silo, or to await regulatory help, usually crafted by captive regulators who can’t even imagine full customer agency.

Here are some examples of vast dysfunctions that customers face today (and which hurt business and markets as well), in the absence of personal agency and scale:

  • Needing to “consent” to terms that can run more than 10,000 words long, and are different for every website and service provider
  • Dealing with privacy policies that can also run more than 10,000 words long, which are different for every website and service provider, and that the site or service can change whenever they want, and in practice don’t even need to obey
  • Dealing with personal identity systems that are different for every website or service provider
  • Dealing with subscription systems that are different for every website and service provider requiring them
  • Dealing with customer service and tech support systems that are different for every website or service provider
  • Dealing with login and password requirements that are as different, and numerous, as there are websites and service providers
  • Dealing with crippled services and/or higher prices for customers who aren’t “members” of a “loyalty” program, which involves high cognitive and operational overhead for customer and seller alike—and (again) work differently for every website and service provider
  • Dealing with an “Internet of Things” that’s really just an Amazon of things, an Apple of Things, and a Google of things.

And here are some examples of solutions customers can bring to business and markets:

  • Standardized terms that customers can proffer as first parties, and all the world’s sites and services can agree to, in ways where both parties have records of agreements
  • Privacy policies of customers’ own, which are easy for every website and service provider to see and respect 
  • Self-sovereign methods for customers to present only the identity credentials required to do business, relieving many websites and service providers of the need to maintain their own separate databases of personal identity data
  • Standard ways to initiate, change and terminate customers’ subscriptions—and to keep records of those subscriptions—greatly simplifying the way subscriptions are done, across all websites and service providers
  • Standard ways for customers to call for and engage customer service and tech support systems that work the same way across all of them
  • Standard ways for customers to relate, without logins and passwords, and to do that with every website and service provider
  • Standard ways to express loyalty that will work across every website, retailer and service provider
  • Standard ways for customers to “intentcast” an interest in buying, securely and safely, at scale, across whole categories of products and services
  • Standard ways for customers’ belongings to operate, safely and securely, in a true Internet of Things
  • Standardized dashboards on which customers can see their own commercially valuable data, control how it is used, and see who has shared it, how, and under what permissions, across all the entities the customer deals with

There are already many solutions in the works for most of the above. Our work at Customer Commons is to help all of those—and many more—come into the world.

 

Going #Faceless

Facial recognition by entities other than people and their pets has gotten out of control.

Thanks to ubiquitous surveillance systems, including the ones in our own phones, we can no longer assume we are anonymous in public places or private in private ones. This became especially clear a few weeks ago when Kashmir Hill (@kashhill) reported in the New York Times that a company called Clearview.ai “invented a tool that could end your ability to walk down the street anonymously, and provided it to hundreds of law enforcement agencies, ranging from local cops in Florida to the F.B.I. and the Department of Homeland Security.”

If your face has ever appeared anywhere online, it’s a sure bet to assume that you are not faceless to any of those systems. Clearview, Kashmir says, has “a database of more than three billion images” from “Facebook, YouTube, Venmo and millions of other websites ” and “goes far beyond anything ever constructed by the United States government or Silicon Valley giants.”

Among law enforcement communities, only New Jersey’s has started to back off on using Clearview.

And Clearview is just one company. Laws will also take years to catch up with developments in facial recognition, or to get ahead of them, if they ever can. And let’s face it: government interests are highly conflicted here. Intelligence and law enforcement agencies’ need to know all they can is at extreme odds with our need, as human beings, to assume we enjoy at least some freedom from being known by God-knows-what, everywhere we go.

Personal privacy is the heart of civilized life, and beats strongest in democratic societies. It’s not up for “debate” between companies and governments, or political factions. Loss of privacy is a problem that affects each of us, and requires action by each of us as well.

A generation ago, when the Internet was still new to us, four guys (I was one of them) nailed a document called The Cluetrain Manifesto to a door on the Web. It said,

We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it.

Since then their grasp has exceeded our reach. And now they’ve gone too far, grabbing even our faces, everywhere we go.

Enough.

Now it’s time for our reach to exceed their grasp.

Now it’s time, finally, to make them  deal with it.

We need to do that as individuals, and as a society.

Here’s a three-part plan for that.

First, use image above, or one like it, as a your personal avatar, including your Facebook, Twitter or Whatever profile picture. Here’s one that’s favicon size:

 

Second, sign the Get Out Of My Face (#GOOMF) petition, here.  (With enough of us on it, this will work.)

Here at Customer Commons, we have some good ideas, but there are certainly others among the billions of us whose privacy is at stake.

We should discuss this, using the hashtag #faceless. Do that wherever you like.

Here’s a rule to guide both discussion and development:

No complaining. No blaming.

That stuff goes nowhere and wastes energy. Instead we need useful and constructive ideas toward what we can do—each of us, alone and together—to secure, protect and signal our privacy needs and intentions in the world, in ways others can recognize and respect.

We have those in the natural world. We don’t yet in the digital one. So let’s invent them.

 

 

Change of Address (√)

Way back in 2006 or so, in the first Project VRM meetings, our canonical use case was ‘change of address’; that is to say, we wanted individuals to have the ability to update their address in one place and have that flow to multiple suppliers.

That seemed easy enough, so we thought at the time; all that’s needed is:

– a data store controlled by the individual

– a user interface

– an API that allowed organisations to connect

We did not note the need at the time, but there probably should have been one around ‘standardised data sharing terms’ so that organisations would not get tied in legal knots signing many different contracts to cover themselves as they would need to do.

So, 12 or so years later, that proved to not be quite so easy….. I think our most flawed assumption was that organisations would see this as a good thing and be willing to get involved.

No matter, the reason for my post is to flag that individual driven change of address can now be done at Internet scale, albeit yes we still need to crack the adoption issue. There are also then a number of downstream use cases, e.g. where the address change must be verified.

Here’s a visual of how change of address works in the JLINC environment; the same principles could apply in other environments. The critical dependency is that both parties (individual and organisation) have their own data-sets that they voluntarily connect to each other.

Beyond the fact that this plumbing now demonstrably works at scale, I think the most interesting thing that has emerged from the JLINC deployment is the Standard Information Sharing Agreement. The requirement here is to have an agreement that works for both parties; here is the initial one built for JLINC. The expectation is that these will evolve over time and likely become life aspect/ sector specific (e.g. Health); but critically they will not mimic the current model where each organisation invents their own. The secondary function that I believe makes this scale is the ability to record every single data exchange that takes place should either or both parties need to refer to that downstream.

So, we can now tick the box around ‘change of address’, at least as working plumbing. The better news still is that the same plumbing and approach works for any type of data, or any data flow (so organisations sending data to Alice too). At least it should not take another 12 years to make that next use case work, which incidentally was ‘Intentcasting’; i.e. an individual being able to articulate what they are in the market for without losing control over that data.

Let’s make May 25th Privmas Day

25 May is when the GDPR—the General Data Protection Regulation—went into effect. Finally, our need for privacy online has legal backing strong enough to shake the foundations of surveillance capitalism, and maybe even drop it to the ground—with our help.

This calls for a celebration. In fact, many of them. Every year.

So let’s call 25 May Privmas Day. Hashtag: #Privmas.

And, to celebrate our inaugural Privmas let’s make a movement out of blocking third party cookies, since most of the spying on us starts there. Let’s call it #NoMore3rds.

Turning off third party cookies is easy. Here’s our guide, for six different browsers.

There is much more we can do. But let’s start with #NoMore3rds, and give us all something to celebrate.

 

Privacy is personal. Let’s start there.

The GDPR won’t give us privacy. Nor will ePrivacy or any other regulation. We also won’t get it from the businesses those regulations are aimed at.

Because privacy is personal. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t have invented clothing and shelter, or social norms for signaling to each what’s okay and what’s not okay.

On the Internet we have none of those. We’re still as naked as we were in Eden.

But let’s get some perspective here:  we invented clothing and shelter long before we invented history, and most of us didn’t get online until long after Internet service providers and graphical browsers showed up in 1994.

In these early years, it has been easier and more lucrative for business to exploit our exposed selves than it has been for technology makers to sew (and sell) us the virtual equivalents of animal skins and woven fabrics.

True, we do have the primitive shields called ad blockers and tracking protectors. And, when shields are all you’ve got, they can get mighty popular. That’s why 1.7 billion people on Earth were already blocking ads online by early 2017.† This made ad blocking the largest boycott in human history. (Note: some ad blockers also block tracking, but the most popular ad blocker is in the business of selling passage for tracking to companies whose advertising is found “acceptable” on grounds other than tracking.)

In case you think this happened just because most ads are “intrusive” or poorly targeted, consider the simple fact that ad blocking has been around since 2004, yet didn’t hockey-stick until the advertising business turned into direct response marketing, hellbent on collecting personal data and targeting ads at eyeballs.††

This happened in the late ’00s, with the rise of social media platforms and programmatic “adtech.” Euphemized by its perpetrators as  “interactive,” “interest-based,” “behavioral” and “personalized,” adtech was, simply-put, tracking-based advertising. Or, as I explain at the last link direct response marketing in the guise of advertising.

The first sign that people didn’t like tracking was Do Not Track, an idea hatched by  Chris Soghoian, Sid Stamm, and Dan Kaminsky, and named after the FTC’s popular Do Not Call Registry. Since browsers get copies of Web pages by requesting them (no, we don’t really “visit” those pages—and this distinction is critical), the idea behind Do Not Track was to make to put the request not to be tracked in the header of a browser. (The header is how a browser asks to see a Web page, and then guides the data exchanges that follow.)

Do Not Track was first implemented in 2009 by Sid Stamm, then a privacy engineer at Mozilla, as an option in the company’s Firefox browser. After that, the other major browser makers implemented Do Not Track in different ways at different times, culminating in Mozilla’s decision to block third party cookies in Firefox, starting in February 2013.

Before we get to what happened next, bear in mind that Do Not Track was never anything more than a polite request to have one’s privacy respected. It imposed no requirements on site owners. In other words, it was a social signal asking site owners and their third party partners to respect the simple fact that browsers are personal spaces, and that publishers and advertisers’ rights end at a browser’s front door.

The “interactive” ad industry and its dependents in publishing responded to that brave move by stomping on Mozilla like Gozilla on Bambi:

In this 2014 post  I reported on the specifics how that went down:

Google and Facebook both said in early 2013 that they would simply ignore Do Not Track requests, which killed it right there. But death for Do Not Track was not severe enough for the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), which waged asymmetric PR warfare on Mozilla (the only browser maker not run by an industrial giant with a stake in the advertising business), even running red-herring shit like this on its client publishers websites:

As if Mozilla was out to harm “your small business,” or that any small business actually gave a shit.

And it worked.

In early 2013, Mozilla caved to pressure from the IAB.

Two things followed.

First, soon as it was clear that Do Not Track was a fail, ad blocking took off. You can see that in this Google Trends graph†††, published in Ad Blockers and the Next Chapter of the Internet (5 November 2015 in Harvard Business Review):

Next, ad searches for “how to block ads” rose right in step with searches for retargeting, which is the most obvious evidence that advertising is following you around:

You can see that correlation in this Google Trends graph in Don Marti’s Ad Blocking: Why Now, published by DCN (the online publishers’ trade association) on 9 July 2015:

Measures of how nearly all of us continue to hate tracking were posted by Dr. Johnny Ryan (@johnnyryan) in PageFair last September. In that post, he reports on a PageFair “survey of 300+ publishers, adtech, brands, and various others, on whether users will consent to tracking under the GDPR and the ePrivacy Regulation.” Bear in mind that the people surveyed were industry insiders: people you would expect to exaggerate on behalf of continued tracking.

Here’s one result:

Johnny adds, “Only a very small proportion (3%) believe that the average user will consent to ‘web-wide’ tracking for the purposes of advertising (tracking by any party, anywhere on the web).” And yet the same survey reports “almost a third believe that users will consent if forced to do so by tracking walls,” that deny access to a website unless a visitor agrees to be tracked.”

He goes on to add, “However, almost a third believe that users will consent if forced to do so by ‘tracking walls”, that deny access to a website unless a visitor agrees to be tracked. Tracking walls, however, are prohibited under Article 7 of the GDPR, the rules of which are already formalised and will apply in law from late May 2018.[3] “

Which means that the general plan by the “interactive” advertising business is to put up those walls anyway, on the assumption that people will think they won’t get to a site’s content without consenting to tracking. We can read that in the subtext of IAB Europe‘s Transparency and Consent Framework, a work-in-progress you can follow here on Github., and read unpacked in more detail at AdvertisingConsent.eu.

So, to sum all this up, so far online what we have for privacy are: 1) popular but woefully inadequate ad blocking and tracking protection add-ons in our browsers; 2) a massively interesting regulation called the GDPR…

… and 3) plans by privacy violators to obey the letter of that regulation while continuing to violate its spirit.

So how do we fix this on the personal side? Meaning, what might we have for clothing and shelter, now that regulators and failed regulatory captors are duking it out in media that continue to think all the solutions to our problems will come from technologies and social signals other than our own?

Glad you asked. The answers will come in our next three posts here. We expect those answers to arrive in the world and have real effects—for everyone except those hellbent on tracking us—before the 25 May GDPR deadline for compliance.


† From Beyond ad blocking—the biggest boycott in human history: “According to PageFair’s 2017 Adblock Report, at least 615 million devices now block ads. That’s larger than the human population of North America. According to GlobalWebIndex, 37% of all mobile users, worldwide, were blocking adsby January of last year, and another 42% would like to. With more than 4.6 billion mobile phone usersin the world, that means 1.7 billion people are blocking ads already—a sum exceeding the population of the Western Hemisphere.”

†† It was plain old non-tracking-based advertising that not only only sponsored publishing and other ad-suported media, but burned into people’s heads nearly every brand you can name. After a $trillion or more has been spent chasing eyeballs, not one brand known to the world has been made by it. For lots more on all this, read everything you can by Bob Hoffman (@AdContrarian) and Don Marti (@dmarti).

††† Among the differences between the graph above and the current one—both generated by the same Google Trends search—are readings above zero in the latter for Do Not Track prior to 2007. While there are results in a search for “Do Not Track” in the 2004-2006 time frame, they don’t refer to the browser header approach later branded and popularized as Do Not Track.

Also, in case you’re reading this footnote, the family at the top is my father‘s. He’s the one on the left. The location was Niagara Falls and the year was 1916. Here’s the original. I flipped it horizontally so the caption would look best in the photo.

 

How customers help companies comply with the GDPR

That’s what we’re starting this Thursday (26 April) at GDPR Hack Day at MIT.

The GDPR‘s “sunrise day” — when the EU can start laying fines on companies for violations of it — is May 25th. We want to be ready for that: with a cookie of our own baking that will get us past the “gauntlet walls” of consent requirements that are already appearing on the world’s commercial websites—especially the ad-supported ones.

The reason is this:

Which you can also see in a search for GDPR.

Most of the results in that search are about what companies can do (or actually what companies can do for companies, since most results are for companies doing SEO to sell their GDPR prep services).

We propose a simpler approach: do what the user wants. That’s why the EU created the GDPR in the first place. Only in our case, we can start solving in code what regulation alone can’t do:

  1. Un-complicate things (for example, relieving sites of the need to put up a wall of permissions, some of which are sure to obtain grudging “consent” to the same awful data harvesting practices that caused the GDPR in the firs place).
  2. Give people a good way to start signaling their intentions to websites—especially business-friendly ones
  3. Give advertisers a safe way to keep doing what they are doing, without unwelcome tracking
  4. Open countless new markets by giving individuals better ways of signaling what they want from business, starting with good manners (which went out the window when all the tracking and profiling started)

What we propose is a friendly way to turn off third party tracking at all the websites a browser encounters requests for permission to track, starting with a cookie that will tell the site, in effect, first party tracking for site purposes is okay, but third party tracking is not.

If all works according to plan, that cookie will persist from site to site, getting the browser past many gauntlet walls. It will also give all those sites and their techies a clear signal of intention from the user’s side. (All this is subject to revision and improvement as we hack this thing out.)

This photo of the whiteboard at our GDPR session at IIW on April 5th shows how wide ranging and open our thinking was at the time:

Photos from the session start here. Click on your keyboard’s right (>) arrow to move through them. Session notes are on the IIW wiki here.

Here is the whiteboard in outline form:

Possible Delivery Paths

Carrots

  • Verifiable credential to signal intent
  • Ads.txt replaced by a more secure system + faster page serving
  • For publishers:
    • Ad blocking decreases
    • Subscriptions increase
    • Sponsorship becomes more attractive
  • For advertisers
    • Branding—the real kind, where pubs are sponsored directly—can come back
    • Clearly stated permissions from “data subjects” for “data processors” and “data controllers” (those are GDPR labels)
    • Will permit direct ads (programmatic placement is okay; just not based on surveillance)
    • Puts direct intentcasting from data subject (users) on the table, replacing adtech’s spying and guesswork with actual customer-driven leads and perhaps eventually a shopping cart customers take from site to site
    • Liability reduction or elimination
    • Risk management
    • SSI (self-sovereign identity) / VC (verified credential) approach —> makes demonstration of compliance automateable (for publishers and ad creative)
    • Can produce a consent receipt that works for both sides
    • Complying with a visitor’s cookie is a lot easier than hiring expensive lawyers and consultants to write gauntlet walls that violate the spirit of the GDPR while obtaining grudging compliance from users with the letter of it

Sticks

  • The GDPR, with ePrivacy right behind it, and big fines that are sure to come down
  • A privacy manager or privacy dashboard on the user’s side, with real scale across multiple sites, is inevitable. This will help bring one into the world, and sites should be ready for it.
  • Since ample research (University of Pennsylvania, AnnenbergPageFair) has made clear that most users do not want to be tracked, browser makers will be siding eventually, inevitably, with those users by amplifying tracking protections. The work we’re doing here will help guide that work—for all browser makers and add-on developers

Participating organizations (some onboard, some partially through individuals)

Sources

Additions and corrections to all the above are welcome.

So is space somewhere in Cambridge or Boston to continue discussions and hackings on Friday, April 27th.

Hey publishers, let’s get past mistaking tracking protection for ad blocking

Here’s what the Washington Post tells me when I go to one of its pieces (such as this one):

Here’s the problem: the Post says I’m blocking ads when I’m just protecting myself from tracking.

In fact I welcome ads. By that I mean real ads. Not messages that look like real ads, but are direct marketing messages aimed by tracking. Let’s call them fake ads.

Here’s one way to spot them:

When you see one of those in the corner of an ad, it means the ad is “interest based,” which is a euphemism for based on tracking you.

If you click on that icon, you get an explanation of what the ad is doing there (though no specifics about the tracking itself, or where trackers sniffed your digital exhaust across the Web), plus a way to “choose” what kind of ads you see or don’t. Here’s how the AdChoices site puts it:

Here are just some of the many ways this is fulla shit:

  1. It’s not your AdChoices Icon. It’s the Digital Advertising Alliance‘s. They are not you. They are a cabal of “leading national advertising and marketing trade groups.” And they don’t work for you. Nor does their icon.
  2. The most “control” you take when you click on that icon is over a subset of advertising systems that might be different with every AdChoices icon you click. It might be Google‘s, Experian‘s, DataXu/Evidon‘s, Amazon‘s or any one of thousands of other ad placement systems, each with their own opt-out rosters, none of which you can track, audit, or make accountable to you in the least.
  3. What’s behind the AdChoices icon is what you find behind every fig leaf. And it has the hots for your data.
  4. Next to the wheat of real advertising (which we’ve had since forever, has never tracked you, and carries straightforward brand messages for populations rather than individuals), “relevant” advertising is pure chaff. I explain the difference in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.
  5. The benefits of relevant advertising are mostly monetary ones going to intermediaries rather than to advertisers, publishers or human beings. As Bob Hoffman puts it to publishers, “adtech middlemen are scraping 60-70% of your media dollars (WFA and The Guardian).”
  6. After perhaps a $trillion has been spent on on “relevant” advertising, not one brand name (meaning one known by the world) has been created by it, nor has a known brand even been sustained. On the contrary, many brands have hurt themselves by annoying the shit out of people, creeping them out with unexpected or unwanted “relevance,” or both. So it’s no surprise that Procter & Gamble cut $100 million out of its digital advertising budget, and all they missed was the trouble it caused.

Aagain, I have no trouble with real advertising, meaning the wheat kind, which isn’t based on tracking me. In fact I like it because it tends to ad value the publications I read, and I know it sponsors those publications, rather than using those publications just for chasing readers’ eyeballs to wherever they might be found, meaning the publisher-sponsoring value of a “relevant” ad based on tracking is less than zero. I also know real ads aren’t vectors for fraud and malware.

That’s why I run tracking protection, in this case with Privacy Badger, which tells me the Washington Post has 49 potential trackers trained to sniff my digital ass. I don’t want them there. I am also sure the Post’s subscribers and editorial staff don’t want them there either.

So how do we fix that?

You can track movement toward the answer in these reports:

  1. Helping publishers and advertisers move past the ad blockade 
  2. How #adblocking matures from #noads to #safeads
  3. How NoStalking is a good deal for publishers
  4. What if businesses agreed to customers’ terms and conditions?
  5. How true advertising can save journalism from drowning in a sea of content
  6. What if businesses agreed to customers’ terms and conditions?
  7. How to plug the publishing revenue drain

Right now Customer Commons is working on NoStalking, which simply says this:

Obeying that request has three benefits:

  1. It puts both publishers and advertisers in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a European privacy law that forbids personal tracking without express personal permission, has global reach (it applies to European Citizens using U.S. services) and large fangs that will come out in May of next year. I explain more about that one here.
  2. Ads not based on tracking—real ads—are far more valuable to publishers than the fake “relevant” kind. First, they actually sponsor the publication. Second, they carry no cognitive overhead for either the publisher or the reader. Both know exactly what an ad is for and what it’s doing there. Third, they can be sold and published the old fashioned ways that publishers abandoned when they jobbed out income production to revenue-sucking intermediaries. It ain’t that hard to go back.
  3. Real ads are more valuable to advertisers because they carry clear economic and creative signals. Don Marti explains how at DCN.

So here’s a request to the Washington Post and to every other digial publisher out there: talk to us. Let’s fix this thing together. Sooner the better. Thanks.

Defining #customertech

Look at your phone.

What apps there are yours? I mean yours in the way a hammer in your hand is yours. Or your car when you’re driving it. In other words, an extension of yourself.

The phone itself may seem to be that. But the apps? Not as much. Not yet. Especially not in the commercial world where we operate as customers. While there is an abundance of tech on the corporate side, all meant to give us a better “customer experience” (or just to sell us stuff), there is a paucity of instruments that extend ourselves as customers.

We have those in the physical world. Your clothing in a drawer is not an extension of your self, but it extends you totally when we wear it. Same goes for your wallet or your purse.

Clothing is many kinds of tech at once: privacytech, expressiontech and fashiontech, to name three. Unless you shop naked, which you probably don’t, clothing is also customertech: a way of extending your sovereign self into the marketplace, signaling your fitness as a customer, whether or not you are conscious of doing so.

Likewise your wallet. In that you carry a portfolio of instruments—cash, credentials, credit cards—that you can use selectively and expertly in every store, restaurant and other commercial setting we visit. In this sense wallets have scale. If you carry a purse, it might also contain a second wallet of loyalty cards and perhaps an address book where we keep notes and a list of contacts. Those tools—wallets, purses, address books—are all extensions of yourself that work everywhere in the marketplace. That’s why you carry them.

All of those things are now moving onto our phones as well, but not in ways that are fully ours. For example, there is no digital wallet made that’s as personal and private as the ones we carry in the physical world. And there should be. If anything, the customertech we have in our phones should start with the graces we enjoy in the physical world—of privacy, control, scale, convenience and expression—and expand them into the virtual one through the amazing graces of digital technology and the Internet. Instead we get lots of conveniences that offer scale only inside the silos of Google, Amazon, Apple and dozens of retailers, banks and other entities that mostly just want to acquire or move our cash and data. (In many cases they also want our attention, our loyalty—always coerced—or other scarce resources of consciousness.)

One example of good customertech we don’t yet have is a contact app that tells every company we know that we’ve changed your phone number, email address, or some other field in their databases. Another would be a wallet that’s not a service provided by one company but a personal tool that engages with all of them. Bots and APIs that belong to us, or are under our control, should be able to do that.

We can only begin to imagine these things, and how they should work, if our job is to equip the customer with tools that are fully hers. If the tool we imagine is a service, it should be one that gives the customer scale.

One real-world model for this is a rental car. When the customer has one, it’s hers to drive anywhere she likes. It isn’t a shopping cart with a steering wheel that only works inside one retailer, or only with the rental agency’s partners. She also has a reasonable expectation that the car is her private space as long as she’s driving it.

So, toward making customertech happen in a big way, Customer Commons will soon be issuing challenges for developers to make true customertech.

But first we’ll be defining it. We invite your help with that.

Meanwhile, a hat tip to Hugh MacLeod of @Gapingvoid, who drew the image above in 2004, to help explain exactly what we’re talking about here, way before the world was ready, which it is now.