As the sun sets, I ask Alexa to turn on the deck lights so my wife and I can enjoy some time together after we tuck our children in. When I do that, the whole sequence looks like the following:
- Alexa takes my voice and digitizes it
- The digitized command is sent to the Amazon Cloud
- The audio is analyzed based on Amazon’s algorithms and guesses what I might have said
- Amazon then checks against my personal set of commands for my smart home stored in their cloud
- Once the “Turn Deck Lights On” is identified, Amazon then communicates to Wink that I have a command
- Wink authenticates that Amazon is able to make that request on my behalf
- Wink then sends the command to my local Wink hub over the internet
- My hub authenticates the command from Wink and, over the Z-Wave mesh network, tells the switch controller to turn on the smart plug associated with Deck Lights
With a noticeable delay, the lights come on and we continue with our evening plans of drinks, sunset and relaxation. But what I don’t think about everyday is how much of this “simple” command flow takes place outside my home, of how many potentially weak links there are in that chain. Given the number of “actors” involved in making this happen, any of these actors could be compromised, allowing our family’s data to be shared with others wholes goals do not align with turning on my deck lights. As we are learning from the headlines, there are an increasing number of bad actors seeking to do just that. Additionally, companies have left open loopholes in their own development efforts, accidentally, that expose users to new constellations of ramifications. The revelation that Twitter was storing our passwords in the open before securing is tantamount to banks leaving our cash in a paper bag on counter while the teller is on break before putting it in the vault. Twitter did not do it on purpose. They are, especially with the scrutiny that Facebook is under, typically one of the good guys in this balance between utility and privacy.
What are the chances that the devices and services we pull together to protect and control are home will be compromised in the near future? Very high, mainly because the extreme reliance on cloud services increases the attack surfaces available for hackers to take advantage of. We’ve actually seen a significant jump in consumer concerns on hacking in our tracking of the Smart Home market in the past few months.
There have been a few firms working to enable more localized control of the Smart Home. Hubitat is the most recent to launch a 100% local Smart Home solution. While they do not handle video integration, they can at least keep the deck lights scenario I mentioned above all in the family. Not only does the local control all but eliminate the delay in asking Alexa to turn on the deck lights, it all happens (except for the Alexa processing of my voice) locally. Especially if I have devices from multiple manufacturers, activating a scene like ‘date night’ dims the interior lights, turns on Barry White on the “Deck Group” and locks the front door, becomes instantaneous. This is a big step towards really securing the home from bad actors, both purposeful and accidental.
If you’d like to really understand what is happening in Smart Home, cutting through the promises to the meat of consumer reality, let us know. We have the data on over a million Smart Home consumers across the entire market. I’m sure we can help make you a Smart Home hero!
Q1 2018 Smart Home Provider Scorecard: Consumers love Xfinity more than Vivint after a brief affair with ADT
I was reviewing the NPS scores for the big three Smart Home Providers, ADT, Vivint and Xfinity for Q1 2018. You might recall that ADT had some issues with a system upgrade in June of 2017 that caused a flood of frustrated users taking to the airwaves, dropping ADT’s already low NPS into the bowels of consumer hell. Checking around the holidays saw ADT start to recover, the the point of being on par with Xfinity and Vivint.
Notice that ADT’s NPS peaked in mid December, almost to an NPS of 25%. They actually were rated higher than Xfinity for the middle two weeks of December! Since then, ADT has fallen back into negative territory, frustrating users even as they lose them to other monitoring services or DIY solutions.
While all providers saw a drop in interest after a surge in engagement over the holidays, Xfinity saw the smallest drop in interest. Vivint customers are still more vocal about their experience but Vivint’s NPS score dropped to 36% based on app reviews while Xfinity pulled ahead to an NPS of 40%. Both Vivint and Xfinity continue to threaten ADT’s prior dominance in the space even as Google, Amazon and Apple work to design DIY systems that dampen the demand of “Do It For Me” installations.
We’ve got the data, updated continuously, on the entire Smart Home market. With literally hundreds of thousands of consumer perceptions coming in every quarter, Argus Insights sees the successes and failures across the Smart Home landscape and has the tools to help you profit from the lessons others have paid for with sweat, tears and market share. Let me know if there is a question you’d like an answer too.
Just a few days ago, I receive notice from Instagram that they were accelerating the shutdown of the bulk of their API features, including posting on user’s behalf, searching for results and subscribing to updates from particular users. Ostensibly this is to cut down on using these tools for nefarious reasons as Instagram’s parent company, Facebook, continues to reel from the impact of Cambridge Analytica using FB data to target US citizens with propaganda and potentially impact the election. There have been cries from users to move off Facebook, delete their profiles, and move their peeps to another network. Most famously, Will Ferrell has deleted his account. A corporate alumni group I am a member if is considering moving to Slack. For most everyone else, it is business as usual on the world’s largest social network. Mainly because the consumer privacy frogs have been boiled to death. Most consumers do not realize that when they use Facebook or other social network accounts to log in to new websites, they are sharing their entire social graph with that site. That is how Cambridge Analytica, buying data through a Cambridge researcher and other channels, was able to capture the details of 87 million Americans. Most users do not know what they are signing up for, how their data is being used, and click through privacy updates faster than Las Vegas retirees at penny slots.
What we see on the backend, where the social sausage is made, is that firms like Instagram and Twitter are changing what data people can get access to as the horror of what is possible is moving from the dark web to public headlines. Twitter, a few weeks ago, started shutting down so called “TweetDeckers,” accounts that build and maintain a captured set of followers to artificially amplify their message across that social network. Facebook moved their public search api behind their firewall and provided curated access through data provider Datasift a few years ago, mixing public and private in a way so that marketers could target ads more broadly but have less access to the details of who they are targeting.
What we have not yet seen from these firms is more transparency to their users as to what is going on. Twitter did not market the fake influencers on their network as Tweetdeckers, they just suspended their accounts, most only temporarily. Many of these offenders just opened new accounts, both to continue their operations as usual and to complain to their tribe of followers (mostly bots) that they were wronged by Twitter. Our own analysis at Argus Insights found that most of the content in B2B discussions on Twitter are published by compromised accounts. In the Internet of Things market alone, 75% of the content published is from accounts compromised in some way, yet we see nothing from Twitter to help sort the wheat from the chaff. Spammers use Twitter’s API to drop in latitude and longitude information to boost their discovery in local search results. (It is hilarious to see Tweets published from the geographic center of Palo Alto, evidently published from a phone located inside the concrete walls of one of the buildings there).
It’s an arms race, I know, trying to keep up with how people will leverage tools for both good and evil. By the very nature of Silicon Valley, we want to build more tools, more API’s to share even more data, because that level of transparency is good, right? If plutonium can be used to craft weapons of mass destruction, social data can be used to build and deploy weapons of mass disruption. And here’s the thing, just like arms dealers making bank selling weapons to both sides of battles in small African countries, the social networks make their quarters (fiscal and literal) by the volume of advertising running on their platforms. I do not begrudge these firms making benjamins on my eyeballs. I understand they are turning my social capital into financial capital. But as a buyer of advertising, I want to make sure I get what I pay for.
Imagine if CBS Interactive charged billboard advertisers for space for the 101 freeway in Silicon Valley based on the number of chickens making their way from LA to Napa? Chickens have eyeballs, they are the target market since they are on the freeway in Silicon Valley. Why should Chipotle or Saleforce.com cry foul if CBS Interactive charges a premium for reaching an tract 30 million eyeballs a month? This is the equivalent of the debacle we call social advertising today. I had a client whose ad campaign netted over 43,000 new followers for their account. Of those new followers, less than 200 had participated in their market in the last six months. They paid good money to reach prospects, not chickens, which is what they got instead. The social firms can maintain and grow their business if they do a better job of ensuring the quality of their networks, and provide metrics beyond fake followers and fake reach.
And tell their users how their data is being used. Make it transparent how the data is being used to target users to the mutual benefit to advertises, the platform and users. We watch TV, we know need to see ads. Heck, we watch the Superbowl because of the ads! We read the paper, we see ads, we search in Google, we see ads. We know we pay for things with our attention.
- Social networks are working behind the scenes to make it harder to misuse their data and tool but will always fall behind the arms race of nefarious actors peddling influence
- Consumers have had their privacy concerns boiled out of them but still need to be made away (in simple language) the impact of their actions
- Advertisers should demand higher quality targeting of people, not chickens along with better metrics of success or failure of campaigns
- Someone has or will recommend that Blockchain and/or Artificial Intelligence will solve all of these problems if you just gave them enough funding…
Ahead of the news from Facebook on Cambridge Analytica abusing the data of American citizens, Twitter started suspending accounts for a practice called Tweetdecking, where accounts would solicit and at times pay for accounts to artificially boost their classic influence metrics of reach and followers. Over the weekend of 18 March, some of the Internet of Things most prolific influencers were also suspended, at least for a while. Many of them are back on the Twitter-waves, pushing content like before but the artificial amplification they received by Tweetdecking has diminished to mortal levels.
At Argus Insights, we have been doing our own analysis of the rampant pay to post shenanigans in the various B2B markets we track. I first identified the issue when we saw Brocade jump in 2015 after a product announcement. Our client at the time, HPE, was concerned about the amount of attention that Brocade was getting for their announcement of offering free Network Functional Virtualization solutions. We dug into the data, initially by hand, and found the bulk of the lift Brocade demonstrated came from two sources, their own employees (Corporate Narcississm) and what appeared to be bot accounts from Saudi Arabia, tweets from people that had no interest in the telecom space, based on their past social engagements. In short, someone, maybe Brocade, maybe their agency, or someone else, was paying to push their message out, inflate their metrics and give the perception that the whole market cared about their announcement. Turns out the market didn’t care. Without the bots and employees boosting the interest, the chatter around Brocade died down to normal levels almost the next day.
We had a client looking to boost their followers (the boss challenged them to beat his follower count in a few weeks) and ignored our advice to build their following organically. They instead spent money on Twitter ads and saw their followers go from 92 to over 40,ooo in just a few weeks. The boss cried foul and asked them to prove these were real followers. They came back to Argus Insights, hat in hand, and asked if we could help. By looking at which of their followers had actively participated in the market (NFV) in the last six months, we could say which of their 40k followers were likely to be real. It was only 271. Of over 40k followers they had grabbed with their ad campaign, less than 1% mattered to their business. The client started managing to their True Followers metric instead and saw their authentic influence grow, even as their overall follower count dropped.
But not everyone that participates in a market is part of that market. In November of 2017, after being frustrated with the amount of poor content that was topping the charts of our analysis within IoT, I developed some metrics to gauge whether an account fit into a few different categories. Were they a brand, pushing out content mostly from a single domain with a good level of active dialogue with the rest of market? Were they a broadcaster, just sharing content from others? We also identified content farms, accounts that tend to talk about themselves a lot and retweet content of their clients. The most nefarious type were the compromised accounts. These accounts are basically owned by content farms and seek only to artificially boost their ‘influence’ in the marketplace.
Once we had applied this account types, we found that over 75% of all IoT content was published by the compromised accounts. This means that 3 out of 4 tweets about a multi-billion dollar market are not authentic and serve only to misguide and misdirect the 25% of the content that is more likely legitimate.
It gets worse. One of the most prolific IoT influencers pushed out almost 700 tweets, over 10% were self promotion, a clear sign of a content farm. More nefarious is that of his thousands of retweets, 85%, eighty-five percent, came from the aforementioned compromised accounts. This means that only 15% of his “influence” is legitimate. This means his clients that rely on his reach to bolster their own market awareness are paying to push content to compromised accounts. Not customers, not influencers, not thought leaders, but accounts owned by others whose sole purpose is to buy and sell attention from others.
B2B marketing on Twitter is broken. Broken by those that would game the system and misrepresent their own influence. Broken by those firms that pay for influence rather than earning it. Broken for those who see Twitter as a source of what is happening in their market. Broken for those looking to see what trends are driving their markets. Broken for you…
CES 2018 is a wrap. Right now everyone is returning to their normal days, nursing whatever bug they picked up from a week of frantic hand shaking across the petri dish of CES. Not only was I able to walk the show floor but we also collected every tweet and instagram post on the show. While in past years I have renamed CES as the Car Electronics Show with the heavy emphasis on Connect Car and Autonomous Vehicles, this year was dominated by Smart Home and Robotics.
Automotive, typically a dominant force for CES interest, fell to fifth place, even with BMW’s autonomous drift racing experience at the convention center. nVidia shifted away from a pure Automotive focus and showed off efforts in their core gaming as well as their continued leadership in Artificial Intelligence, keeping them in the top 10 most discussed brands in the show.
Virtual reality beat out Televisions and Gaming though LG’s forest of curved displays was one of the must experience booths on the show floor this year, the battle for VR/AR was more interesting to the world than bigger, curvier, 8K displays. Gaming is typically heavily tied with VR and Televisions and this year was no different with Gaming related announcements in displays, Gaming focused VR headsets and more. Drones and Smartphones rounded out the bottom of the segments that grabbed the most attention this year at CES.
Missing from list that have dominated years past were Wearables and Tablets. As these markets have matured, in the case of Tablets, and slowed, in the case of Wearables, new announcements are not driving as much attention. In many ways, this year was looking for the heroic story to drive engagement for the entire CE industry. CES is typically a tremendous array of technological “coulds” in which a few golden consumer “shoulds” are found. This year Smart Home attempted to take that prize. I’ll dive deeper on that within another blog post.
If you are interested to see how your market or your brand performed at CES this year (or even compared to last year) Argus Insights has the data. Just contact us at this link and I’d be glad to share what we know about your brands ability to grab mindshare this year from your competition.