Published by Ny Tid
Increasing autonomy and control at the same time
I have listened to many conversations about the impact of the Internet on our lives. Some passionately argue that the Internet enables people to connect, increasing their abilities to protest, share knowledge and educate themselves. The Arab Spring is usually used as an example illustrating this increased people power, due to the Internet and social media.
At the other end of the spectrum, people argue how the Internet increased control for governments and marketers. One ‘wrong’ tweet and people can get arrested – like journalist Ebru Umar in Turkey last April.
Personally, I don’t believe that the nature of ‘the’ Internet is freeing or controlling in itself. It is a tool for people to use in whatever way they decide. The Internet consists of computers, cables and networking protocols. Like everything in life; people decide how they want to use available tools and products at any given time. A car is not violent in nature, but a driver can make it a deadly tool.
So, let’s look at how people are using the new options made available to them by the Internet. Some options are used to bring power to the people, others to influence the masses in a specific way. A development that stands out in this area is big data. Again, big data can be used for a multitude of different applications, and is not freeing or controlling by nature.
First of all, big data developments increase control for marketers on our buying behaviour. Analysing massive amounts of user data allows companies to increase the usability of a website, but it also allows marketers to increase the chances that you will buy a product. User studies are not a new thing, but the extent to which consumers are tested is new.
Split testing of websites, for example, provides unique insight into consumers’ minds on a scale that’s never been seen before. It allows marketers to bypass customer surveys, and directly observe purchasing habits which is more accurate. Pepijn Rijvers, Chief Marketing Officer at Booking.com explained to VPRO Tegenlicht that all pages on their website are constantly being tested. ‘Some changes are so small you wouldn’t even notice it, like a button with or without a white border.’
Or as Bart Schutz, Chief Inspirational Officer at Online Dialogue, states in the same episode of VPRO Tegenlicht: ‘The chance that you are part of an experiment if you would go online now is huge. All banks, insurance companies, e-commerce stores, they are all testing’. We participate in many experiments, one after the other, which makes for ‘hundreds of billions of people’ in experiments according to Schutz.
Of course, there are also very practical reasons for implementing data studies that benefit both the company and the customer alike. Supply chains can be way more effective in getting the right amount of products to the store, for example. Perishable products like flowers used to be very tricky to deliver on time, but analysing data can tremendously cut down on the waste created by decaying roses and tulips.
The amount of big data from Internet use is already staggering, but this is about to be dwarfed by upcoming data from smart products. As more and more products are able to go online, the Internet of Things (IoT) will offer to provide insight on online and offline behaviour. Our toothbrushes, fitness trackers and thermostats measure what we do at home, at work and outside. Even our bodily functions like heart rate are about to be uploaded to the Internet.
Benefits include giving people increased insight into their own behaviour. It will allow them to become fitter and decrease electricity consumption. But all this data is not just visible to consumers; it is also shared with the producers of these products. This ‘smart mattress’ for example shares user data with the producer Eight via the app: ‘Eight may share or sell aggregated, de-identified data that does not identify you, with partners and the public in a variety of ways, such as by providing research or reports about health and sleep.’
Companies will transform from production companies to big data companies as their customer database becomes more valuable over time. As the revenue of analysing, using, and selling data increases, their business model will focus more on data. Big data is the new gold, and many industries are trying to get a piece of the pie. All kinds of products are being equipped with sensors as we speak; espresso machines, doorbells, and even LEGO. A sensor can be added to almost anything, transforming simple utensils to data collection devices.
This also means that cybersecurity is a big issue. Instead of hacking a computer or data centre, hackers only have to access a device that’s connected to the Internet. At the moment many IoT devices are not well protected, meaning there’s going to be an explosion of poorly protected entry points for hackers with the spread of IoT devices.
They’ve been exploited before. In October 2016, hackers blacked out large portions of the Internet by spreading malicious code through IoT devices. Alberto Yépez, co-founder of Trident Capital Cybersecurity, said to The Mercury News this was probably a test run. He expects hackers to try and make money from this weakness in the near future.
Predictions by Check Point Software Technologies Ltd., a cybersecurity firm, also point to increasing attacks on IoT in 2017: ‘In the coming year, we expect to see cyber attacks spreading into the Industrial IoT.’ Rami Ben Efraim, Head of Governments, Defence, Critical Infrastructure Sectors at Check Point, spoke recently at hub conference in Berlin: ‘In a few years we’re going to have billions of IoT devices which are going to automatically communicate between themselves. We will have to secure them.’ So the companies producing smart products are also under threat themselves.
While it might be nice to know if you get enough sleep on a regular basis, the price of a smart mattress might be high regarding the potential reduction in the privacy and safety of the Internet as a whole. Try and sleep on that.