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The Internet: Making the World More Open, Even If You Don’t Want It to Be

On May 13th, Europe’s highest court ruled that search engines can be ordered to remove links from search results.  The event followed a complaint by a Spanish man regarding articles about his real estate transactions on Google.  The online newspaper refused to take the articles down, so the Spanish Data Protection Agency went to Google to take the links down, thus keeping the content but removing how most users access it, through search engines.  Google predictably appealed it, leading to the court debate and subsequent ruling.

Online privacy is a murky topic.  At first, people are either oblivious or apathetic, disregarding terms of services and laws until they experience the consequences firsthand.  With the Internet being a giant cache of data, there is bound to be information on each person.  Here are possible sources of leaks:

Public Records

The government at all levels publishes records online by law that in most cases cannot be removed.  They range from criminal offenses to real estate sales, like that of which caused the European Google ruling.  The records are mainly used for employment background checks, though could be abused by identity thieves.

Data Breaches

Data is only as secure as the database that stores it.  Consumers expect companies to keep their transactions safe, but more often than not there are vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit.

In December of 2013, retailing company Target announced that 40 million of customer credit and debit card numbers were stolen.  In the following month they added that the names, mailing addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers of up to 70 million people were stolen as well.  Hoping to alleviate customer relations, they offered a meager 10 percent discount for the weekend of December 21st to 22nd, but the damage was done – Target’s profit that quarter dropped by 40 percent.

Earlier this week on May 21st, popular auctioning site eBay notified the public the login information and “non-financial data” of its 128 million users had been compromised by a cyber-attack.

At some point, the corporations become the villains, not the hackers.  After all, it is the business’ responsibility to serve their customers.  In fact, it can be argued that the hackers are the good guys, alerting everyone to flaws in the system and preventing later disasters of even bigger scale.  In most  cases, the company has weak security implementations, and not that the hackers developed revolutionary malware.  Target had already installed $1.6 million anti-malware system FireEye, made by the same company that services the Pentagon and the CIA.  The software actually caught the first hacking attempts, but Target had turned off the automatic malware removal feature, leaving the threats untouched.

As is the case with public records, the average citizen cannot prevent data breaches from revealing their personal information.  They can only be careful regarding who they give their business to and immediately change their passwords and credit cards whenever a breach occurs.

Social Networks

Some information is willfully posted by the users themselves.  The crux of Facebook is online real-life identity.  In other words, people feed websites their own information, which is the most accurate.  Most people have the notion that their profile is safe from strangers.  The default privacy settings make profiles viewable by the public, even if they do not have a Facebook account.  The good news is that the privacy settings can be adjusted to stricter levels, to the point that non-Facebook friends cannot see your information and unregistered visitors cannot even access the profile page.  This provides more peace of mind for wary users, but unfortunately it is not the default setting.  Youth who have no concept of privacy are probably unaware that the settings even exist, making them especially vulnerable online.

So the privacy settings take care of strangers on Facebook.  But keep in mind, a Facebook friend does not mean a friend in real life.  It could be a mutual accomplice or classmate that is barely known.  As long as they are Facebook friends, they can view the users’ profile in its entirety.  The problem is intensified that Facebook has become a place for users to show how great their lives appear, and not actually are.  This is done by posting every little detail and event, from what breed of dog they like to lunch dates.  All this is made possible by users themselves, into the eyes of people they barely or do not know in any way.  Possible solutions are to delete existing posts, private message the intended audience, communicate in person, and never release online in the first place.

It seems that most of the top websites nowadays such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter have real-life features.  Also true for the more mature and professional business-oriented social network LinkedIn, although it makes sense that users’ resumes can be viewed by strangers who may end up becoming their employers.

However, some social networks have remained popular in spite of, or perhaps because of the lack of real-life association.  A notable example is Reddit, a social news site where users submit posts which can be text, a picture, or a link to an external website.  The unique feature is that other users can “upvote” or “downvote,” and the top posts are displayed closer to the first page.  Freshness also plays a factor, and users can comment on the posts.  And most importantly, Reddit does not allow the posting of personal information.  Even having the names still visible in a Facebook picture will get the user banned.  They give the heartwarming reason that it could hurt people.  You can read the whole rule here (only a paragraph!).

Since websites that require identity are ubiquitous and generally unavoidable these days, the best advice is to be careful what information you submit, and be careful who you connect with.  Or, you could simply go on sites like Reddit (warning: anonymity also increases unsavoriness) and forget about the burdens of privacy.

Conclusion

The Internet is going nowhere soon, but privacy is.  Between public records, data breaches, and social networks, there are countless ways for your data to leak online.  The exponential increase in both technology and population means there will be more users than ever.  Storage capacity and computer science are also on the rise, making it easier to collect and store data.  The modern adage “what goes on the Internet stays on the Internet” is true, especially the longer it is there, since the data can be copied and uploaded onto another site anonymously.  The Internet can be a dangerous place.  You wouldn’t shout out your personal information in real life – why do it on the Internet?

Retail Monitoring – Is it Dystopian?

Consumer monitoring has been around for a while now to track inventory and occupancy. However, the focus has shifted to the customers themselves. Knowing their demographics and preferences helps retailers rapidly adjust to customer needs. Companies such as Walgreens and Walmart are starting to leverage a variety of different technology mediums, but the dust hasn’t settled yet – there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on which technologies provide the best ROI. There’s no doubt that foot traffic patterns, customer stay duration, return rate, and other related data are useful to marketers and strategists. But this may have finally crossed the line and make us feel like Big Brother has overstayed his welcome. Or, have we become so blasé with all the data that’s being collected about us, that it’s just another day in our Brave New World? Let’s examine a few of those data gathering methods for what is ostensibly being used to better serve the customer:

Camera

Cameras are not just for loss prevention. By observing customers, information can be extracted on how long they stayed, and which products they stayed for. This provides an additional layer of analysis in determining which products are purchased on impulse, with long consideration, or not at all. It can also apply to advertisements. Customers’ demographics such as age, ethnicity, gender, and even facial expressions are all taken into consideration. In fact, technology has become so advanced that we can now do a pretty good job of analyzing facial expressions and body language.

Wi-Fi

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, Internet access included. Modern stores offer complimentary Wi-Fi, but it usually comes with a catch. Oftentimes there is a terms of service agreement that consumers usually accept without much reading. In some cases, the legal acknowledge allows the store to view the users’ website history,  though that does not have to be the case. Egen’s newly designed Crowd Intelligence ™ app allows for a tiered approach to how much data is collected, in order to adapt to customer preference. It goes a long way in providing tangible data on customers in a retail environment.

Bluetooth

Invented by Ericsson in 1994, the short distance wireless technology has been used for wireless headsets, keyboards, and file transmission. In mid 2013, Apple introduced iBeacon, a Bluetooth positioning feature built into the iOS operating system.  It allows devices called beacons to transmit signals that determine the proximity of any device with iBeacon installed. Then, businesses can send store-specific promotions, coupons, and notifications to users. However, iBeacon itself does not deliver content – that is done through websites or apps.  iBeacon is effective for malls and retail chains where there are many stores spread out geographically. While relatively new, the Walgreen’s drugstore chain Duane Reade has already installed iBeacons into 10 of its New York City stores.  Walmart is currently testing with iBeacon.

Conclusion

Even though the idea of tracking customers and their behavior might sound 1984-esque, a Cisco study shows that 52 percent of shoppers are willing to share information in return for discounts. It’s not so evil, since customers are agreeable to it and their personal data is not being exposed. The demand for monitoring technology will only increase, so it is a good idea to get into the game now. Egen’s Crowd Intelligence app uses GPS, crowd-sourcing, and Wi-Fi to provide invaluable consumer information for enterprise marketers and strategists – check it out!

Improving Your Product with Analytics

Your mobile app may have been released to the public, but the job is far from done.  Both technical and market performance needs to be continuously inspected to improve the app.  There are a number of tools to help you keep up with the changing market.

Google Analytics

Google has the most popular website statistics service, taking up 80.6 percent of online analysis market.  It provides very detailed reports which include visitor location, stay duration, referrer, and event tracking (such as clicking a button).  This type of tracking is enabled by inserting Google specified code segments in designated areas of the website, and the results are displayed in Google Analytic’s online dashboard.

In 2002 Google introduced support for Android and iOS.  The mobile implementation is straightforward and similar to that of websites.  Google has thorough guides for both Android and iOS.

The mobile domain has additional focuses.  Tracking the number of users, visit duration of each page, and geographic location remains relevant.  The installation referrer can be the Google Play Store/Apple App Store (search bar, top charts), the app’s website, or other websites, which can range from social networks to news articles.  There should be plenty of users coming from all sources, as more sources mean more users.  Google Analytics can also detect application crashes and in-app purchases.  The breadth and depth of data is astounding; below is a sample Google Analytics dashboard.

Dashboard

Sample Google Analytics Android Dashboard

There are many data categories other than the ones displayed here.

Optimizely

With Google dominating the analytics business, there is little room for other companies.  However, the company Optimizely brings a unique and fresh outlook to analytics:  A/B testing.  There is A, the control, and B, the treatment.  In the software context, A is the currently used product while B is a test version modified in some way.  Optimizely makes both versions live and randomly shows each user one of the two.  Then it tracks the same metrics as Google Analytics, but this time there are two versions, letting you know the better one.  The position or color of a single button can have significant impacts on user experience.  In effect, Optimizely is live and highly agile prototyping.  You can try a demo on its homepage.

The Optimizely team is still working on its mobile division.  In March, they released a beta platform for native iOS apps.  They are definitely an up-and-coming company that can compete with Google Analytics by enhancing analytics with A/B testing.  Coincidentally, both of its co-founders are former employees of Google.

Conclusion

There many different options out there, but Google Analytics and Optimizely are the most popular as of present.  Whichever you choose, analytics will provide the necessary feedback to close the loop in optimizing your product for public consumption.

The Three Building Blocks of Mobile Business

For companies just beginning to establish their mobile strategy, the process is an onerous one.   Each step must be carefully thought out to ensure the product’s full potential.  Here are three components that create the infrastructure of mobile business.

Platform

There are two main platforms for mobile: native and web.  Generally, native apps are more full-featured experiences, while mobile websites serve as lightened versions of the app to encourage users to download it.  Take for example Facebook.  Their mobile website has the standard Facebook experience.  However, for iOS and Android, the Facebook app lets users call each other and upload photos directly from the camera.

Native apps have more functionality since they have direct access to the device’s capabilities, allowing them to send notifications and access hardware such as the camera.  It is best to release an app for each of the Android and iOS operating systems, which make up 81.0 and 12.9 percent of market share, respectively.  You will likely wonder wait, what’s the point of investing in iOS then?  Because market share does not equal revenue share.  Although Android is responsible for 75 percent of all app downloads and iOS only 18, each earns 50 percent of all app revenue.  This reveals that iOS are willing to spend more on apps, and value quality or quantity.  Nevertheless, it is essential to deploy for both Android and iOS to ensure coverage of the whole consumer base.

Security

Every aspect, from sending to storage, must be implemented carefully to protect user and company data.  SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is the main protocol for sending data.  It provides encryption for all communication sent over networks.  Most websites have a SSL certificate that can be purchased from hosting or security companies.  Security implementations are a bit different on native apps, but fortunately iOS and Android have official guides.

Coincidentally, earlier this month the technology industry was put into an uproar by the discovery of Heartbleed, the name given to security bug.  Heartbleed caused vulnerabilities in OpenSSL, an open source version of SSL that is wildly used.  It enabled hackers to steal transmitted data from any website that uses OpenSSL, including Yahoo!, Tumblr, and Wikipedia.  Though OpenSSL is now patched, it goes to show that companies need to pay close attention to the industry at all times.

Heartbleed may have been addressed too quickly for hackers to take advantage of, but a recent victim unrelated to Heartbleed was photo messaging app Snapchat, with 4 million active users.  It was hacked on December 31st, 2013 and 4.6 million Snapchat users had their phone numbers were leaked online.  Users and industry professionals reacted negatively, forcing Snapchat to give a public response and seek legal help.

Promotion

In the end, a 5-star application will have no users if no one knows about it.  The first step is to focus on the mobile website.  It should be search engine optimized and have responsive designs to adapt to various screen sizes.  By using hints from visitors’ internet browsers, the website can detect if they are on mobile devices.  If so, the website can display messages about the existence of a native version and a direct link to the download.  The web and native components should complement each other.

Social networking is an increasingly popular and affordable method of advertising.  Since consumers are spending more time on internet and less on cable and print, marketing will be more effective on sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.  There are no fees for posting messages, and using contests to encourage users to share is an easy method of viral marketing.

Conclusion

An application is never completely developed.  Even if all desired features are implemented, there are always optimizations and updates to be made.  These three elements will lay out a strong foundation for your mobile project.

Mobile Marketing Trends for 2014: Part Two

Last week, we discussed the first portion of recent mobile marketing practices.  Now, we will go over three more trends to leverage: geotargeting, crowdsourcing, and mobile payments.

3.  Geotargeting

As GPS technology in smartphones continues to improve, location becomes an important part of user experience.  Most software already has location options, such as displaying the stores closest to the user, but that may not be enough.  Companies should consider the unique properties of different locations and their residents.  If consumers cannot relate to the product, they will not care for it.  Google AdWords lets businesses customize advertisements based on location, or exclude certain locations completely.

Mobile app Foursquare encourages users to “check in” to local businesses.  Other users in the same area can see their check in on the map.  It also incorporates gamification by offering badges and “mayorships” when the person visits a place more than any other user in the past 60 days.

Image 1

 Foursquare’s location-centric model

 4.  Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is letting users themselves generate content for you.  Each person contributes information that is uploaded online and made available to others, as well as the company.  It has been around online for a while now, in the form of idea generation contests and surveys.  While those examples use crowdsourcing as a small portion of their business strategy, there are now entire mobile apps that center around it.

Last June, Google spent $1.1 billion on mapping startup Waze.  It displays real-time traffic and road information contributed by 70,000 volunteer map editors and 15 million users. 

Egen Solutions has our own crowdsourced app, Waitbot.  When users visit places like restaurants, buses, airports, or hospitals, they can share current waiting times so other users know the best times to visit.

5.  Mobile Payments

Since people already bring their smartphones wherever they go, companies have devised ways to make the physical wallet obsolete.  Apps like Google Wallet, PayPal, and Venmo, involve storing credit card and bank account information inside the app so users can quickly pay merchants and each other.  Square, Leaf, and PayPal released hardware in the form of card readers that attach to smartphones and tablets.  They serve to replace bulky registers at brick-and-mortar stores.  Many brands have their own apps, which can entice consumers to buy more from them.  Starbucks is hugely successful with 5 million weekly  transactions through its mobile app alone, which only lets users pay through the Starbucks reloadable card.

Image 2

The Square Reader

 When creating a mobile presence, it is crucial that you accept these new ways of paying.  The first step would be establishing affiliation with and accepting each mobile payment method.  If your company has physical stores, it could use mobile payment hardware like Square Reader.  You could also integrate payments and reward programs into your existing brand name app for customer loyalty.  Embracing new technology shows that your company is willing to keep up with trends.

Conclusion

The indisputable prevalence of mobile devices has brought about creative marketing tactics.  Implementing several, not just one, of the above strategies will give your app and business a modern edge against the competition.

Mobile Marketing Trends for 2014: Part One

Business Insider revealed in December 2013 that for popular websites like Amazon and Facebook, the total user time spent on mobile was already more than that on desktop. As mobile continues to gain dominance, established businesses and emerging startups alike are utilizing smartphone technologies and marketing strategies to attract new customers and retain existing ones. This week we will look at the first two rising trends, microcontent and gamification. The second installment will be released next week.

1. Microcontent
Application content has been getting shorter. Content means anything that the users see, which can include articles, messages, and videos. Infrequent, lengthy content has given way to bursts of short content. There are two main reasons why.

  • Mobile users are always on the move, so they won’t have time to consume lengthy content. Keep in mind, they could be using their smartphone while waiting for a bus, friend, or restaurant order. Soon enough, they’ll have to put their phone away. If the content is lengthy, users will consider it an unworthy investment to keep a mental note of where they left off.
  • The second reason is a shorter attention span. The Pew Research Center reported that 87 percent of teachers thought that online search tools “are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’”. Thus, the microcontent itself should be concise and necessary or it will become irrelevant as well.

A number of Internet companies have caught on. Twitter limits its “tweets,” or messages, to 140 characters. In fact, tweets with less than 80 characters get 66 percent more engagement. Video-sharing mobile app Vine allows a maximum video length of six seconds. When sending Snapchat photos to friends, users can set a time limit from 1 to 10 seconds before the image is deleted. Of course, microcontent doesn’t have to only be for social networks. It can improve any mobile app.

2. Gamification
Gamification is the use of game design in non-game settings to make them more engaging. It appeals to the human drives of achievement, status, and competition. Common elements are leveling, points, and badges. Rewards are given for completing specific tasks, effectively encouraging users to follow the path that the creators lay out. The status and competition elements are present since users can view each other’s achievements.

Skeptic consumers may accuse gamification of being a meaningless numbers game that companies utilize to manipulate them. While that may be true, the privy users can use it to their advantage. Since user profiles and their achievements are viewable by anyone, gamification can mean recognition in the eyes of others. This may not equate to much in casual websites such as Facebook, but it is becoming important in serious websites. Stack Overflow, a question-and-answer site centered around programming, has a user base of mostly computer science college students and professional software developers. It features gamification in the form of reputation points and badges, earned through answering questions and doing certain tasks. Since they somewhat accurately convey knowledge of software development, users have begun putting links to their Stack Overflow profiles on their resume. Thus, gamification can be beneficial to both the website/application and its users.

stackoverflow_png

One of the highest scoring members on Stack Overflow. The line below the reputation is the number of gold, silver, and bronze badges that the user has.

stack

 Example of a gold badge. The user wants the badge, and Stack Overflow wants the user to want the badge.

What Do Mobile Apps Mean For Healthcare Insurance?

CNN recently revealed that in January 2014, Americans spent more time online with Smartphone and tablet apps than PC’s. The mobile user base has been on a steady rise, but this latest milestone indicates that mobile strategies are now an indisputable part of success in the business world. How can it complement your healthcare insurance company?

Storing Patient Information

Having a mobile device means carrying it wherever you go, including the doctor’s office. Instead of bringing multiple insurance cards and medical bills, patients can just show their Smartphone with the appropriate app. Digital technology equates to convenience, as customers no longer have to worry about losing or forgetting their physical documents. And, by saving all transactions to one centralized data center, fraud can be prevented in real-time.

Of course, the amount of user data can quickly spiral out of control as the app gains popularity. An ideal solution would be cloud storage such as Egen’s CloudSmart approach, where data is securely scaled and backed up through a distributed system of connected servers.

Offering More Insurance Perks

People always enjoy saving money. Under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, insurers can now increase the wellness incentive from 20 to 30 percent of the coverage cost. This would motivate consumers to improve their wellness while saving money at the same time. Employers who provide healthcare plans would be more eager to look after the well-being of their employees.

An advantage of the act is focusing on actions (going to the gym, quitting smoking, etc.) rather than outcomes (e.g. losing 10 pounds). Therefore, consumers are encouraged for their efforts without being pressured for hard results. Since many people already track their fitness and eating plans with mobile apps, it would be simple to integrate those functionalities into one healthcare insurance app, turning it into a one-stop-shop for an active lifestyle.

The new perks will mean resurging interest in your company’s healthcare plans – from both an employee and employer perspective. Employers will likely embrace it, as many of them already offer gym memberships. Additionally, app users could be given the option to voluntarily share their data with others, revealing the connection between lifestyle and healthcare costs – this could have a snowball effect in many ways.

Keeping Up With Competition

In 2012, Aetna released CarePass, which helps users track their fitness goals by connecting with existing lifestyle applications. UnitedHealth Group has partnered with several app developers such as Lose It! – a weight loss app that involves personal trackers and peer support.

Many Healthcare Insurance companies have already expanded into the mobile domain. Instead of worrying about developing an in-house app yourself, let our experienced Egen team help broaden your business’ capabilities via its HealthMateTM platform.