Online presence data as human rights risk

Have you ever had to delete parts or all of your online presence because you feared for your life? This story has been on my mind since I read this:

“USAID, the United States’s humanitarian arm, purportedly sent an email over the weekend to partners asking them to go through their social media accounts and websites with a fine-toothed comb to ‘remove photos and information that could make individuals or groups vulnerable’. USAID also advised partners still operating in Afghanistan to delete and wipe any personal identifying information of those they’d worked with on the ground, in case it fell into the wrong hands.”

https://www.wired.co.uk/article/afghanistan-social-media-delete

Are there lessons we can take from this story about data privacy architecture and such? Probably, and out of fairness to these and potentially the next humans who will go through this we should absolutely work through that discussion and create better solutions. For reasons far less grave but still important, we have long needed to re-think the opportunities we have to control where our data goes, who has access to it, and how we can pull it back or lock it down when we need to.

But I don’t want the vastness of that conversation to overshadow the very real experiences people are living through right now. So in the meantime this is just a placeholder of compassion for human beings dealing with an imminent existential threat that is complicated even further by the latticework of digital experiences and data most of us take for granted.

Here’s wishing safety and peace to those who desperately need it.

Introducing “Strategic Optimism”

All around us we seem to be surrounded by bad news and hard choices. And yet you, as a leader, still have to make choices. You still have to manage teams of people who are looking to you for direction. You still have to decide what risks to take, what tradeoffs to make, — and it feels like I should add a third thing that ends in -ake but that’s probably just the former songwriter in me. I will resist.

Anyway, given all this, how can we put forward a positive outlook for our teams and our companies? How can we convince ourselves that there’s a brighter future to lead toward?

And how do we do all this with an awareness of the very real challenges in the world? And while acknowledging the very real harms that people are facing, and the negative potential outcomes of our actions — and our inactions?

The pessimists will say that we’re doomed, and nothing can be done to change it. The optimists will say that if we focus on the positive, nothing can go wrong. Neither of those views are true. Not on their own.

Today’s Approach to Leading for Tomorrow

The best way — indeed perhaps the only way — to confront the challenges we face and build a bright future is to allow ourselves to see the brightest future possible while at the same time acknowledging the ways the future could go dark and working to prevent that from happening. That’s Strategic Optimism.

Technology is developing rapidly and it has changed and will change society significantly. One consequence is that it stands to widen gaps in income and wealth. As a result, the top 1% of the population will own most of the world’s wealth, while some 80% of people may only have access to basic needs — if that. That’s due to the capacity and scale of using technology to power economic solutions. When it’s applied only to scaling corporate revenues, it benefits only the top corporate leaders. The untapped opportunity, though, is to harness the capacity and scale of technology to solve human problems at scale. But to do that requires a combination of thinking strategically and optimistically — both/and — about the decisions we make today for the future we want to create.

Making the Future a Little Bit Brighter

book cover image of A Future So Bright by Kate O'Neill
cover image from A Future So Bright: How Strategic Optimism Can Restore Our Humanity and Save the World, by Kate O’Neill

That’s what I explore in my new book A Future So Bright. My aim is to help you develop the habit of seeing both the good and the bad outcomes for any possible future situation, not just the rosy ones. That gives you the opportunity to prevent or mitigate the worst outcomes, while you lean with all your might into the best possible outcomes.

With Strategic Optimism, you can lead from a place of integrity, acknowledging the pain and anxiety people are feeling, but also the hope they very much want to feel. And you get to lead in a way that aligns with the best futures for the most people.


Helpful Links:

Book announcement earlier on this blog: “The New Book Unveiled: A Future So Bright

Book listing at Amazon: A Future So Bright: How Strategic Optimism Can Restore Our Humanity and Save the World (Kindle edition available for pre-order now; coming September 7th to print, Kindle, and audiobook formats)

The New Book Unveiled: A Future So Bright

I’m so pleased to introduce you to this new book.

book cover image of A Future So Bright by Kate O'Neill
book cover image of A Future So Bright by Kate O’Neill

The book detail page has all the details you need, but here’s the summary version:

This book, quite simply, explores some of the ways we have already begun to solve human problems at scale, and makes the case for us all to take an approach that’s both hopeful and strategic as our best chance at a truly bright future.

Even yesterday’s announcement of the new report from the UN IPCC that climate change is already on track to be hotter and more damaging than experts were trying to avoid years ago, and that some effects are inevitable and irreversible — even that includes recommendations for reducing greater impact on the farther-ahead future. Because otherwise we’re going to make things even worse. In other words, amid all that hard-to-hear news, there is still hope that we can do better than we’re on track to do, and a strategy for how we do it.

To get us started, I have published an excerpt from The Strategic Optimist’s Manifesto, the summary at the end of A Future So Bright, over at Medium. My hope is that even as only a small piece of the book, this excerpt might still offer encouragement and guidance over the next steps we must collectively make. Please enjoy, and feel free to share widely.

What happens between now and September 7th?

Over the next few weeks as the book gets its finishing touches and prepares to be launched into the world, this blog will preview some of the key ideas and themes from the book and offer some suggestions even before the book launches on how you can begin building the brightest future for the most people.

I look forward to introducing you to this book. In the past year or two I’ve heard from so many of you that you need this. You need a hopeful way to think about the future. I’ve listened and read and researched and talked to a lot of people and listened some more, and out of that I’ve put together the approach that evidence suggests and I believe gives us the best chance at a bright future. I hope you’ll be encouraged to buy it, read it, share it.

Thank you for your hope and your work.

Kate O signature

Engati Recognizes Kate O’Neill as one of the ‘Top 30 Marketing Influencers you need to follow for 2021’

Kate O’Neill has been recognized as one of the top 30 marketing influencers by Engati. The list includes marketing leaders, entrepreneurs, and thinkers the likes of Mark Schaefer, Chief Operating Officer at B Squared Media, LLC, Jeff Barrett, Global Influence and Communications Consultant at Adobe, Roger Dooley, a global keynote speaker and a Neuromarketing genius, and marketing technologist Michael King.

While KO Insights is not a marketing company, per se, we follow the Peter Drucker reasoning on marketing: that its purpose is to know and understand a customer. And since we value knowledge and understanding, particularly that of humans, we’re excited to share this honor with you.

New Biometric Privacy Law Goes Into Place in NYC on Friday July 9, 2021

Image by teguhjatipras, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Beginning July 9, all New York City commercial businesses that obtain customers’ biometric information must comply with a newly enacted protocol that protects consumers.

Commercial businesses that obtain biometric data from customers will be required to post signs on storefronts signifying they utilize this technology and will not be able to profit from any collected data. Additionally, employees of companies that utilize the technology are excluded from this ordinance.

http://newyorkcitywired.com/biometric-data-protected-in-new-york-city/

This Friday New York will join a growing list of cities that have banned the use of facial recognition and other biometrics in certain contexts and for certain purposes. The law was enacted by the city council in December.

Under the new law, any commercial establishment that collects, retains, converts, stores, or shares biometric information from customers must post a conspicuous sign near the establishment’s entrances notifying customers in plain language that their information is being collected, retained, converted, stored, or shared. Notably, “biometric information” is defined in broad terms to include a retina or iris scan, fingerprint or voice print, scan of hand, or face geometry, “or any other identifying characteristic.” The law also prohibits receiving anything of value in exchange for biometric information.

https://www.nixonpeabody.com/en/ideas/blog/data-privacy/2021/02/18/nyc-biometric-privacy-legislation-targets-retail-use-of-facial-recognition-technology

Failure to comply with the law can cost businesses between $500 and $5,000 for each violation, plus attorneys’ fees — so it’ll be worth it to read up on it and make sure you’re in compliance.


More posts about facial recognition in the KO Insights blog.

The Groundhog Day Review

Well, the groundhog has spoken. Six more weeks of winter, in this economy?

And look, whether or not groundhogs seeing their shadows has any bearing on the weather, we who have already been through a heck of a year have work to do and goals to reach. We don’t need some rodent dictating our schedule to us.

Think of it as Groundhog Goals Day

On the other hand, maybe this is your chance to review the goals you set a month or several months ago for 2021 and see if they still make sense by the light of early February.

If you need a little longer — say, six weeks? — to make something work before you launch it, and no one is counting on it today, why not take that time? Whether in six weeks or six months, the world as we’ve reluctactly gotten used to it is going to start changing again, and the liminal sense of time many of us have experienced will also shift.

It hits a little different this year anyway

Back in November, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece about how people were starting to abandon their yoga pants and sweats in favor of dressy clothes. But that wasn’t the vibe I was getting on Twitter. Instead, while few people could say they have really enjoyed our collective quarantine/lockdown time, some of us appreciated the few perks it offered, like day-to-night-to-day-again loungewear.

The pandemic has been devastating, no question — tragedy upon tragedy unfolding daily. But even while that’s true, for many of us, the extra time at home has meant that life is a little quieter, and despite our complaints about that, there’s a tiny part of it that we’re going to miss when it’s over. Did we do organize every corner of our homes, alphabetize our soup cans, and fold all our socks, while writing a novel and learning to play harmonica? Perhaps not. But we don’t need to finish every project we had the audacity to start in order to feel like we made good use of this time. We just need to emerge in one piece, alive and intact, and be ready to adapt yet again to whatever the world throws us next.

So maybe these “six more weeks of winter” can offer us the chance to review what we want to finish, and what we want to start in the next chapter.

Scale as Priority

“In most of our cities and our nation, we don’t prioritize human life [….] We’re prioritizing traffic and the movement of vehicles.”

Source: Zero bikers or pedestrians were killed by cars in Oslo last year
photo I took pre-pandemic in the NoLIta area of lower Manhattan

What scale you build at and what has your focus shows your priority. If you want to prioritize human safety and human experiences, you have to build at the human scale.

In contemporary business, influenced as it is by big tech, we often talk about our aspirations “at scale.” When we do, we mean large scale. Enterprise scale. We mean 10x returns on investments, if not more. We mean accelerating workflow through automation. We mean optimizing for the 3rd or 4th decimal point in super-computing systems that analyze four-dimensional data.

These are not human-scale impacts. But the market forces compelling us to strive for them are not imagined, and most leaders have to operate from the realistic constraints of the world shaped by these demands.

That’s why the KO Insights mission has long been to “make human experiences more meaningful at scale.” This is a recognition of the business drivers that build experiences at accelerating rates and exponential growth, while centering one of the most fundamentally human-scale concepts: meaning. The tension inherent in that challenge keeps us honest, and keeps our clients improving their user experiences and customer interactions.

What can you examine in your work that will bring you face to face with the human scale?

Still the right values

I happened to run across an old copy of the values for my old company, [meta]marketer. (Well, I have them in my Evernote. I have everything in my Evernote. I’m bound to run across something random every day. Which is fun.)

Anyway, I read them over again because I was curious what kind of perspective on them hindsight might give me.

And it turns out, I think we were really onto the right stuff, and that I still try to follow these guidelines in my work today. Perhaps they may be useful as thought-starters for you. See for yourself.

Make everything easier, better, or faster each time you do it.
Every time you perform a task, you have the opportunity to observe the task from multiple levels of abstraction: the doing of the task, and the overview of how the task is being done. In other words, if you can tell that there is a way to improve the way a task is being done, by all means make it better.

Relevance is a form of respect. Champion meaningful experiences.
In marketing, it’s easy to get caught up in pushing the message that the company wants to push. But the way to treat customers with respect — and usually, the way to make more money — is to present potential customers with relevant opportunities in language that speaks to their needs. It’s often our job to remind our clients that their best chance at long-term success lies in creating lasting relationships with their customers. We believe, and have seen it play out in results again and again, that an emphasis on customer experience leads to profitability.

Relationships matter. Cultivate happiness.
We think work can be a place where you’re happy and having fun, all while thinking hard and solving interesting problems. We want our team members to be happy, our clients to be happy, and our clients’ customers to be happy as well. These relationships–between team members, the local community, our clients–all matter.

Have an attitude of willingness and get the job done.
We’re big on having fun, but don’t that doesn’t mean we’re not a productive team. Every team member must pull his or her weight, and that means sometimes doing tedious and unglamorous work. If it has to get done, do it.

Empathy leads to understanding, understanding leads to insight.
Looking at a problem from a different angle–for example, the customers angle–sometimes leads to groundbreaking insights. It’s important to consider issues from many sides to gain clarity.

Learning is more important than success; learning leads to success.
Come to work with the desire to learn something new every day. You never know what that’s going to be.

Speak truth to power, but confront with compassion.
People sometimes don’t want to hear what they could be doing better, even if it means that they could be making more money. When you have data on your side, it’s important to allow that data to be known and understood. Sometimes people, out of fear, laziness, or disbelief, won’t want to make changes that correspond with the data, but it’s our job to make sure that the decision-maker has the data to make a good decision, even if it seems like bad news, before making his or her decision.

Know the big words, use the small ones.
We spend so much of our day thinking about things in the abstract; when we meet with clients, it’s important that we try to translate that abstraction into concrete language they’ll understand, and to try to avoid industry jargon and buzzwords if we can make our point in plain language.

Cannibalizing Your Own Experiences

The way strategists and designers theorize about human experience — and specifically customer experience, which is humans in the contextual role of “customer” — is often disconnected from the way business leaders think about strategy and business models. But in practice, for substantive and sustainable results, the efforts must be aligned.

For example, I’ve been vegan for nearly 23 years. The plant-based food revolution of the past few years is thrilling to see. But I see brands executing poorly against it. Dunkin’ and Starbucks, for example, both have introduced breakfast sandwiches with Beyond Meat vegan sausages or with Just Egg, but the sandwiches themselves, as merchandised, are not vegan. So vegan-minded customers who are drawn in by the new products have to know to order them with a whole set of modifications and off-menu tricks. How much more welcoming would it have been for the brands to simply add vegan sandwiches to their menu? People transitioning to eating more plant-based foods wouldn’t object that the bread is vegan, and it would be a far better experience for the actual vegan customers. (And by the way, the number of vegans in the U.S. grew by 600% from 2014 to 2017 while 500,000 people have pledged to eat vegan for the first time for the whole month of January 2021, so we’re talking about non-trivial market share that’s shown no signs of slowing down.) Moreover, it would encourage vegans who weren’t already fans of Dunkin’ and Starbucks to come and buy those sandwiches, meaning incremental purchases the brands never had before. And the kicker? People who aren’t vegan-inclined already had meal options at these brands, so making the vegan-ish sandwich not vegan may actually be cannibalizing (sorry) the sales of the other meal options.

Another example is the trend of high-quality non-alcoholic mixers like Seedlip along with a growing population of people who, whether over short spans of time or long periods, choose not to drink alcohol. (Another non-trivial market segment. Pre-packaged mocktails and other non-alcoholic beverages have been on the rise and are expected to continue growing, while an estimated 15% of Americans planned to participate this year in “Dry January.” How many have stuck to it in the wake of the past week’s political turmoil is worth wondering, but the intent was there.) This experience and strategy disconnect would be like a cocktail bar owner bringing Seedlip in only to offer it mixed it into alcoholic beverages. Meanwhile there’s a group of would-be customers who have not been catered to who might otherwise patronize the establishment, and they’re not being accommodated. That’s incremental business, and the bar in this example would be turning up its nose at it — in this economy?!

I witnessed this pattern up-close myself, when I was heading customer experience and product at Magazines.com. The company had historically pushed hard in every channel to sell cheap People magazine subscriptions because they were viewed as loss leaders that would get customers in the door, but something wasn’t working out right in the equation. There were too many cancellations as the first terms were coming up for renewal.

Eventually a colleague and I crunched enough numbers to work out what was happening: customers were buying the cheap first-term subscriptions in lieu of a steeper-priced renewal (where the company hoped to make its money back). We also saw why. When the subscribers to People magazine were getting their renewal notices by email, those emails often had cross-sell promotions — including, sometimes, for People magazine. We were doing nothing to exclude those promotions for first-term rates from the renewal emails. Once we added programming logic to the renewal emails to exclude promotions for the title being renewed, cancellations went down, and renewals went up. If I remember correctly, it meant gaining about a million dollars a year across channels. It sounds pretty easy to recognize in retrospect, but it is this holistic way of thinking about the entire business model and how it is presented to every customer, one by one, that makes it work in the details.

These three examples have in common that they are relevant to the customers — in other words, the humans you do business with. When I talk about meaningful human experiences, relevance is a form of meaningfulness. Showing that you have a sense about what is suitable, appropriate, and timely for customers helps them feel understood. And being understood is tantamount to being seen as human beings.

Leaders, don’t cannibalize your business success. Think it through, experience by experience. It could be costing you a lot of money to ignore providing better experiences, while it’s also costing you the goodwill and loyalty you might have enjoyed from customers who would appreciate having a relevant experience provided for them.

The Future of Trust and Truth

One of the themes shaping my work this year is “the future of trust and truth.” In an era characterized by disagreement over basic facts, where algorithmically-optimized social media platforms show us the truths we most want to see, the roles of truth and trust in ethics, in systems design, and in human experience strategy are crucial for us to understand. I’m examining questions such as: What does truth mean to us as humans; how does truth relate to belief, to science, to law; how does truth relate to trust; and so on.

And of course:
How do divisive politics figure into our trust in institutions, and how does our sense of truth suffer from exposure to misinformation and disinformation?

And then, the big question as it relates to my work and the work of many of my clients:
What does it mean to bring machines into this dynamic? To cross-pollinate these very human concerns with data, with algorithms, with machine learning? For algorithms optimized for platform-specific engagement and retention to shape our exposure to news and opinions?

On that last point, the twin topics of misinformation and disinformation have been a big focus this past year because of the pandemic, the U.S. presidential election, and the widespread racial justice protests as well as the backlash against them. On seemingly every high-level topic, people had opposing views and cited opposing sources to back them up. And this went beyond the U.S.: I had a conversation a few months ago with a journalist from the leading business magazine in Brazil, for example, about misinformation and trust, and what regulations may be needed to address them. Our concerns about Trump’s outsized influence in shaping social media discourse mirror theirs about Bolsonaro. These challenges are simultaneously local and global.

translated excerpt from Brazilian Portuguese interview in Exame magazine

I’m not the first to think about trust, of course. Edelman has been producing their excellent Trust Barometer every year for 21 years. The work I’m doing is by no means meant to be a replacement of their important research, but rather incorporates their findings as part of a view on how trust and truth are fundamental to humanity, how they are important to understanding of technologies that we rely on.

I’ll be sharing ongoing insights in this blog and other outlets as I develop these ideas through my research and work them into my speaking and my forthcoming book, but for now I’ll toss another coin to Edelman, since their 2021 Trust Barometer just came out this week. One of the findings was that, of all the categories of institutions, business has the most public trust right now. Not government, not NGOs, not media, but business. That’s a tremendous responsibility and opportunity for business. It’s a call to purpose and action, a call for transparency, for principled leadership.

And for those businesses we define as “tech businesses” especially, not only is the public watching, but so are the eyes of history. As a crisis of democracy unfolds in the U.S. alongside a deadly pandemic, we come face to face with issues of misinformation and disinformation, of content moderation and platform access, and the consequences of the algorithmic blinders we all wear as we consume social media and our preferred news outlets. Each of these issues comes tangled in its own technical details around trust and truth, but in every case, there is one central truth: the need to frame these debates and their outcomes not around those individuals with the largest reach but around the rights and the future of humanity at large couldn’t be more urgent.