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Cymbal

cymbalA trio of recent college grads have filled “a strategic gap in the digital music business,” reports Denali Tietjen in Forbes (7/29/15). Their creation is an app called Cymbal that is like “Instagram for music. The app adopts a simple interface embracing a ‘less is more’ vibe, allowing users to post just one song, illustrated by colorful album art … Your Cymbal is your song of the moment.” It is added to your “home feed” which “becomes an updated playlist” and “the soundtrack to your life.” Like Instagram, you have a “personal profile, followers, likes, comments, hashtags and tags.”

Gabriel Jacobs, who graduated from Tufts this past May, based the idea for Cymbal on a music blog he created while in high school where he reviewed “one great song per day.” Gabriel became bored with concept after “four years and a thousand songs” and thought that music should be more like a conversation. At Tufts, he met two other computer-science enthusiasts, Amadou Crookes and Mario Gomez-Hall, and they collaborated to create “a social network for song sharing,” or, as they put it, “music discovery powered by friends, not algorithms.”

Within “a few months” of its release, Cymbal was “downloaded at least 17,000 times.” The trio has now “landed $1.1 million in seed financing” and is valued at $6.1 million. Cymbal is actually just one of 34 apps the three guys have developed, including one called iJumbo that Tufts students use “to find out everything from when the next shuttle bus is coming to what is being served at the dining halls.” None of this is new to Gabriel, who created his first app hit at age 14. It was called Fart for Free and featured “some 16 different fart sounds.” It was #1 on iTunes briefly, and generated more than “4 million downloads.”

Steal This Song

how-musicThe unraveling of the music business was not really Napster’s fault. How Music Got Free, by Stephen Witt, tells “a bigger story,” reports Alan Light in a New York Times review (7/21/15). “There were numerous forces — from the creation of the MP3 format to the continuing consolidation of the major labels — that needed to align in order to create the situation in which peer-to-peer file sharing could become so dominant so quickly.” While the big record companies are popularly tagged as having been clueless, the “decline of the music industry affected every player, from the largest corporate labels to the smallest indie.”

A range of people “played a part in this upheaval, from the North Carolina factory worker who became the world’s primary source for albums leaked ahead of their release dates to the well-intentioned British college student prosecuted (and exonerated) for running a popular BitTorrent site in an attempt to create a global music library.” Then there was Karlheinz Brandenburg, “an idealistic German professor who invents the MP3 as a near-perfect way to compress audio files.”

Frustrated after his technology lost “out as the official industry standard format to a less effective but better-connected rival. In a last-ditch effort to keep their work alive, his team releases the MP3 free, and users soon discover its merits. As his technology gets licensed and bundled into different operating systems, Brandenburg receives a cut from each transaction,” profiting from the ensuing piracy. The reality was that nobody really knew what to do back in 2007, and even “to this day” nobody has “figured out a truly effective strategy in response to a new paradigm.”

Charcoal Lemonade

juice-generationA new line of black lemonade is spiked with activated charcoal, reports Kerry Close in The Wall Street Journal (7/30/15). Its maker, Juice Generation, also produces a charcoal-infused protein drink and another made of mixed greens. Activated charcoal, or “charcoal that has been heated to increase its ability to trap chemicals,” is “increasingly used by health-conscious consumers looking for ways to detoxify their systems.” Juice Generation founder Eric Helms says the line, which he introduced last fall, is his best-selling product at his 15 stores. Fine Cheese Co. of Bath, England, is also doing well with activated-charcoal crackers.

Activated charcoal has grown as an ingredient in beauty products recently and is actually nothing new in food products: “United Kingdom-based JL Bragg created its first charcoal biscuits around 1860 to appeal to the health-conscious in Victorian England.” The company “reintroduced charcoal products in 2007″ and John Briggs, its current owner, says sales of its biscuits have more than doubled since then. He says that pregnant women, in particular, like the biscuits as a salve for morning sickness. However, some dietitians say “people on certain medications should be careful about consuming the products.”

It seems that activated charcoal “isn’t selective; it sweeps the good with the bad,” according to dietitian Jessica Marcus. Health claims include that activated charcoal whitens teeth and clears skin, although dermatologist Sejal Shah doubts the latter. As to the former, some dentists agree that the charcoal can remove tartar. Old Mother Hubbard, a dog-food maker, meanwhile markets Char Tar treats said to “freshen dogs’ breath.” As to the taste, beauty blogger Annie Atkinson says activated charcoal is “not necessarily delicious.” And it comes at a cost, as a 6-pack of 16-ounce bottles of Juice Generation’s drinks costs $58.

Honest Kitchen

thkA growing line of pet-food claims “human grade” ingredients, reports Brian Solomon in Forbes (7/20/15). The pet food, made and marketed by The Honest Kitchen, is sold dehydrated and “looks like granola put through a blender — just add water — but the ingredient list sounds like it comes from a four-star, farm-to-table restaurant: free-range chicken, cage-free duck, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, cranberries.” “They’re the same ingredients that I feed my human family,” says Honest Kitchen founder Lucy Postins. “To me it’s not gourmet, it’s just common sense.” Her common sense has built a $21 million company over the past 13 years.

Lucy’s market, naturally, is “dog and cat lovers who shop at Whole Foods and wouldn’t serve nonorganic, genetically modified food to their human families.” They are also willing to spend “up to $120 for a 20-pound box of dog food (that becomes 40 pounds with water).” She started down this path reading about raw diets, “which encourages owners to serve animals uncooked vegetables and meat, supposedly replicating what their ancestors ate in the wild.” Some experts question this approach, and in any case “serving raw ingredients at home can be expensive, messy and even dangerous because of the bacteria.”

Seeing dehydration as a solution, Lucy began producing the food and “began passing out samples at local dog parks,” and built the business from her home. She is convinced that the “human-grade” positioning, “implying a level of quality beyond competing products,” made the difference. However, Dr. Lisa Freeman, a Tufts Veterinary professor of nutrition, “says the fancy ingredients are likely no better for pets than less expensive food.” “Ingredient lists are just marketing,” she says, “and unfortunately consumers are basing their decisions on that marketing.”

Sixth Taste

fatScientists now say that fat is a flavor in its own right, reports Roberto A. Ferdman in The Washington Post (7/27/15). We’ve long known about the “four basic tastes: sour, sweet, salty and bitter.” A fifth taste, umami, “perhaps best described as savory,” has recently been added to the lineup. Now a Purdue University nutrition professor says he has proven that fat — most often considered a texture rather than a taste — is also a basic taste. He believes it’s a flavor that will make “tons of food taste better.”

“We could isolate it and use it in the same way we have used other basic tastes,” says Richard Mattes, who conducted two experiments to arrive at his conclusion. In the first test, “more than 100 participants were given isolated solutions that had one of six different tastes” and “asked to sort them into as many groups as they believed were necessary.” Participants easily sorted “sweet, sour and salty” but lumped “umami and fatty” into a “bad” or “strange” group.

In the second test, subject were asked to sort only the “bad” or “strange” tastes, which they easily categorized into three types, representing bitter, umami and fatty. Richard says the “fatty” taste, which doesn’t taste good on its own, is “hidden in a bite of steak or dollop of olive oil,” not unlike the way “umami is hidden in a bite of anchovy.” He compares tastes to primary colors, which can be mixed to create new colors. The taste of fat, he says, could “have huge implications for the food industry,” and “improve the taste of our food.”

Craft Oil

ca-olive-ranchA former Silicon Valley exec believes olive oil can be the next craft beer, reports Brian Solomon in Forbes (7/28/15). “Olive oil is the category that marketing forgot,” says Gregg Kelley, CEO of California Olive Ranch. “Our strategy is to take olive oil to the place where craft beer, chocolate, cheese, wine and coffee have gotten.” Gregg also sees a parallel to the wine business, “with delicate flavors … that taste like bananas, mint, apricot and nuts. There’s a whole continuum,” he says.

“Taste is the major driver,” says Gregg, and that the key is to get people to taste it. “We provide individuals with recipes that show how olive oil improves food,” he says. “We have trials at wineries around the country where people are already open to tasting new food … We’ve also made food service a focus — white table cloth restaurants. We have 18 award-winning chefs using our olive oil.” Gregg further notes that Americans “want American products, and there has been very little olive oil made in the US.”

This, despite that America is “the third-largest market for olive oil in the world.” Since “joining the company as CFO in 2006 and taking over as CEO in November 2007,” Gregg has turned his enterprise into “the #4 brand of olive oil in the United States — although it remains a small player in an industry dominated by foreign markets.” This growth is largely on the strength of distribution through Whole Foods, Walmart and Target, starting from $1.6 million in revenue in 2006 to a projected $80 million in 2015.

Quiet Riot

quiet-revIntrovert guru Susan Cain has quietly decided not to write a second book, reports Laura M. Holson in The New York Times (7/25/15). Susan is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. Her decision was based on advice from Seth Godin, author of 18 best-selling books. “Writing a book is rewarding,” Seth says he told Susan. “But it doesn’t change most people’s lives.” Instead, Susan has launched a company, Quiet Revolution, “that is focused on the work, education and lifestyle of introverts.”

Susan has also established the Quiet Leadership Institute, “working with executives at organizations like NASA, Procter & Gamble and General Electric to help them better understand the strengths of their introverted employees.” She is also introducing “a co-branded lifestyle section on The Huffington Post” as well as a podcast and a website supporting “a community that includes writers and advocates; and a line of young-adult books and shows whose heroines are quiet leaders.” All this activity emanates from a “two-story Victorian” known as Quiet House.

The Quiet Leadership Institute is led by Mike Erwin, a former West Point professor and self-described extrovert who says he regrets writing “off a lot of people who didn’t speak up or want to be in charge.” Susan, meanwhile, suggests that social-media is not a great place for introverts. “It’s a culture that says it rewards authenticity,” she says, “but it really rewards a curated, managed kind of authenticity. It’s not and will never be the authenticity of two friends sitting down and having a cup of coffee together and sharing the truth of their lives.”

Ambiverts

yin-yangChances are that you are neither an extrovert nor an introvert. According to Wharton psychology professor Adam Grant, “roughly two-thirds of people are ambiverts,” reports Elizabeth Bernstein in The Wall Street Journal (7/28/15). Ambiverts are those who are both introverted and extroverted, classifications established by Carl Jung in the 1920s. Jung also said there was a third group but didn’t label it. The term “ambivert” actually has been used by psychologists since the 1940s, but has largely taken a back seat to introverts and extroverts.

The author Daniel Pink compares ambiverts to being bi-lingual. “They have a wider range of skills and can connect with a wider range of people in the same way someone who speaks English and Spanish can,” he says. A study of ambiverts published in the Journal of Science based on “340 outbound call-center representatives” found that ambiverts are “superior sales people.” Ambiverts had “the highest revenue per hour — an average of $208, compared with $138 for the full sample.” The downside is that ambiverts sometimes don’t know how to act.

“An introvert and an extrovert know pretty quickly what they crave,” says Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power. Classically, extroverts are energized by being with other people, while introverts “feel drained by a lot of social interaction or a crowd.” Extroverts tend to think while they speak whereas introverts do their thinking before they start talking. Ambiverts, says Adam Grant, can have a hard time deciding which side of their personality applies in a given situation, and need to pick one or the other personality type or else find themselves stuck.

Upstart Algorithms

upstartA lender called Upstart is using an algorithm to judge its customers’ character, reports Quentin Hardy in The New York Times (7/27/15). Paul Gu, Upstart’s 24-year-old founder, eschews credit scores in favor of an algorithm that assesses a prospective customer’s “SAT scores, what colleges they attended, their majors and their grade-point averages.” Says Paul: “If you take two people with the same job and circumstances … five years later the one who had the higher GPA is more likely to pay a debt.”

“It’s not a question of whether you can pay,” Paul says. “It’s a question of how important you see your obligations.” So far, Upstart has “lent $130 million to people with mostly negligible credit scores. Typically, they are recent graduates without mortgages, car payments or credit-card histories.” Paul believes Upstart’s approach is more fair than credit scores, but admits it has some short-comings. For example, he, himself, “had perfect SAT scores but dropped out of Yale,” and “would not have qualified for an Upstart loan” based on “his own initial algorithm.”

Another lender, called ZestFinance, looks at “whether someone has ever given up a prepaid wireless phone number” because this “may indicate you are willing (or have been forced) to disappear from family or potential employers.” “If all you look at is financial transactions, it’s hard to say much about willingness” to pay, says Zest CEO Douglas Merrill. Jure Leskovec of Stanford meanwhile studied “the predictions of data analysis against those of judges at bail hearings,” and is finding that the “data-driven analysis is 30 percent better at predicting crime.”

Ethical Robots

jerry-kaplanEngineers “are ill-prepared to design social intelligence into a machine,” writes Jerry Kaplan, author of Humans Need Not Apply in The Wall Street Journal (7/25/15). The rise of driverless cars and other androids using artificial intelligence ushers in “systems capable of independently pursuing goals in complex, real-world settings — often among and around people … As these systems increasingly invade human domains, the need to control what they are permitted to do, and on whose behalf, will become more acute” and raise all kinds of ethical quandaries.

For example: “Should your car swerve to save the life of the child who just chased his ball into the street at the risk of killing the elderly couple driving the other way? Should this calculus be different when it’s your own life that’s at risk or the lives of your loved ones?” Would it be okay to program your driverless car to re-park itself to circumvent the intent of a two-hour time-limit on parking spaces? Would you want “your self-driving car to strike a pedestrian rather than cross a double-yellow centerline?”

Also: “How will you feel the first time a driverless car zips ahead of you to take the parking spot you have been patiently waiting for? Or when a robot buys the last dozen muffins at Starbucks while a crowd of hungry patrons looks on?” More seriously: “Should it be permissible for an autonomous military robot to select its own targets?” The problem is that “programming intelligent systems to obey rules isn’t sufficient, because sometimes the right thing is to break those rules.” The challenge, says Jerry, is “to create civilized robots for a human world.”

Social by Design

michael-miller-catapultSocial knowledge transports brands from conversation to conversion. A Hub white paper by Michael Miller. What’s the return on social? That’s the question every marketer wants answered — or at least his or her boss does. Let’s be honest, however. The return is not quantifiable even if we think it works. A recent eMarketer survey found that 30 percent of global marketers believe that social would “indirectly” produce return-on-investment. Conversely, 70 percent are searching for a return.

So, let’s ask better questions: Are we looking at the right metrics? Are we creating social solutions across the marketing funnel from product development to conversion? Social has an impact, and brands and retailers are finding creative ways to prove its worth. However, many times these are soft and nebulous metrics like engagement, awareness or intent to purchase. A clean line from social to sale doesn’t exist — or at least in any way marketers can present to their boss (i.e., here’s a number; now expand my budget). Continue Reading.

Like Wow

aiComputers may be better at social intelligence than humans are, reports Robert M. Sapolsky in The Wall Street Journal (7/25/15). This assessment is based on research that compared “the nuances of personality and demographics with the Facebook likes of tens of thousands of people.” First, some “58,000 active users of Facebook … provided demographic information about themselves and took a standard test to classify their personalities in five broad categories: degree of openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.”

Researchers “then correlated the personality profiles with each person’s Facebook ‘likes,’ an average of 227 per subject.” The computer next compared “the nuances of personality and demographics with the Facebook likes of tens of thousands of people.” Based on this “it could predict a person’s race with 95% accuracy and gender with 93%. The model also accurately predicted religious and political orientation; intelligence; the likelihood of substance abuse; and personality.” The computer model proved to be better at this than people were.

In a separate test,”86,220 subjects took the personality test; the subjects’ friends and family then filled out a short personality-profile questionnaire about them.” The result: “With just 10 random Facebook likes, the computer could beat an individual’s co-worker in predicting personality. With 70 likes, the machine trumped friends. With 150 likes, it crushed relatives. At 300 likes, the computer was better than a spouse.” Based on “little pixels of disconnected opinion, a pattern-seeking computer can create a detailed pointillist picture of each of us in all our individuality.”

Killer Looks

devious-facesAn untrustworthy face can be a death sentence, reports The Economist (7/25/15). Little consensus exists “among researchers as to whether someone whose face is deemed devious really is more likely to betray a trust.” People do, however, “decide quickly how trustworthy a stranger is, based on what his face looks like … There really are, it seems, trustworthy and untrustworthy faces.” With this in mind, researchers at the University of Toronto analyzed convicted murders in Florida.

“They selected 371 on death row and a further 371 who were serving life sentences … Each sample included 226 white convicts and 145 black ones. A group of 208 volunteers … were then invited to rate photographs of each convict’s face for trustworthiness.” The result was “that the faces of prisoners who were on death row had an average trustworthiness of 2.76 and those serving life sentences averaged 2.87. Not a huge difference, but one that was statistically significant.”

This “suggests that untrustworthy-looking defendants are more likely to face a lethal injection, if convicted, than trustworthy-looking ones.” The researchers, John Wilson and Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto, who published their findings in Psychological Science, also determined that those found innocent after conviction based on DNA evidence “had more often been sentenced to death in their original trials if their faces were rated untrustworthy.”

Mercado da Ribeira

timeout-lisboaTime Out magazine is reinventing itself as a food court in Lisbon, reports Andrei Khalip via Reuters (7/20/15). “This is a magazine, with various of its sections, brought to life,” says Joao Cepeda, who heads the Time Out Markets unit of Time Out Lisbon. Standing two stories tall, Mercado da Ribeira “gives a physical dimension to the mostly-digital Time Out magazine, which owns the expanding project.” The idea to “renovate and run the market” began in 2011, amid Portugal’s economic crisis and the magazine’s falling advertising revenues and website views.

Time Out, a guide to “dozens of cities nationwide … assigned its journalists and critics to handpick their favorite chefs, bars and shops for the market … Day and night, tourists and locals sit at long wooden tables and bar counters sampling fusion food and local dishes made in 20 busy, see-through kitchens … Rave reviews on travel websites frequently label the spot a ‘foodies’ paradise,’ with many praising it as a pioneering ‘cross between a food court, a Shoreditch food market and a chef’s restaurant,’ while others highlight its ‘hipster aura’ and modest prices.”

Joao describes it as “a simplified version of a fine dining experience.” Further extensions include Time Out-branded city tours and musical performances, as well as “an urban art project called Underdogs, which is a gallery and a public art program for local and foreign artists.” All of this uses “our know-how to save the local edition,” says Joao. So far it is working, with some “60,000 visits on a good week,” which exceeds “initial expectations almost two-fold,” he says. Plans are to open similar markets “in London by 2017 and another in New York by 2018.”

Elio Fiorucci

    fiorucciThe late Elio Fiorucci created “a funky temple of retail innovation,” writes Ruth La Ferla in a New York Times obituary (7/21/15). His New York flagship store “was a breeding ground for fledgling designers and upstarts of the fashion and art worlds, among them Betsey Johnson and Anna Sui, to whom Mr. Fiorucci rented concessions, and the painters Keith Haring and Kenny Scharf, whose works were ostentatiously displayed. The windows were styled by the then little-known illustrator Antonio Lopez.” The store’s “touches continue to reverberate in the malls of today.”

    “It was culture, it was music, it was lifestyle, all in one, and everybody came: Greta Garbo, Andy Warhol and the king of Spain,” recalls Kim Hastreiter, a founder of Paper magazine. In fact, Warhol “stopped by almost daily,” and a 15-year-old Marc Jacobs says he spent a summer “hanging out” at the store “instead of going to sleepaway camp.” “Before turntables were commonplace at trendsetting boutiques, Mr. Fiorucci enlisted DJs to spin at his store. He was the first to hire a cadre of young fashion scouts to scour the world for the latest trends.”

    Mr. Fiorucci, who described his first store as “an amusement park of novelties,” also introduced a “namesake fashion label, built largely on stretch jeans … and T-shirts decorated with the twin-winged cherubs that would become the brand logo” (image). He recently described his retailing philosophy, saying: “I wanted people to find what they came for, to be happy and spend a little money to get exactly what they wanted … Because in the end the best thing in the world is to be loved. The greatest need of man is to be loved.”

Tunity

tunityAn app called Tunity aims at making outdoor media interactive, reports Ralph Gardner Jr. in The Wall Street Journal (7/22/15). Tunity “allows you to hold your cellphone up to a TV, scan the picture, and stream the audio through your phone.” This could be helpful at a sports bar, for instance, where the sound may be turned down on a game. In fact, Yaniv Davidson got the idea for Tunity while sitting at an airport, waiting for a flight, watching CNN, and frustrated that he couldn’t “hear Wolf Blitzer because the volume was too low.”

He thought: “Why can’t I just have an algorithm that detects the channel and brings me the audio?” As an engineer he knew it could be done, and Tunity “has been operational since the beginning of this year.” Yaniv’s plan is that the app would be free, but he would sell “TV networks or retailers reconnaissance on the viewing habits and demographics of their viewers.” “What it means,” says Yaniv, “is that CNN could get more viewers just by measuring the audience. This is how advertisers buy advertising.”

Beyond that, Yaniv thinks Tunity could “change the way people consume any form of outdoor media” and “the way advertisers communicate with consumers through outdoor media.” So, for example, if you’re in Times Square and “Samsung has this huge sign and they’re showing a video … If you’re interested in that product you can take your phone, scan it for a second, and get the audio.” Where such an ad might otherwise amount to little more than “a lot of visual noise,” says Yaniv, imagine “if we could choose to tune into just the thing that interests us?”

Robotic Airports

biometricsIn the future, the best kind of airport experience may be a robotic one. This could start with a robot that valet parks your car, Scott McCartney in The Wall Street Journal (7/16/15). This is already happening at Dusseldorf’s airport in Germany, where a “system reads the car’s license plate” and then “a robot nicknamed Ray, which looks like a giant forklift, picks up the car by the wheels and moves it. At night robots reshuffle the garage so cars that will be returned the next day are easily accessible … The robots have operated for nearly a year and boosted garage capacity by 32 percent.” (video)

In the future, robots might also pick up your “bags and maybe even deliver them, speeding up the process and reducing manual labor costs.” “Managing your baggage and not making it a pain is part of the airport of the future,” says Jim Peters of SITA, makers of Ray the robot. Dulles Airport is meanwhile using “facial-recognition systems” to streamline passport control, while other “airports use facial-recognition systems to track your movements around terminals. Gates in some airports are automated with doors that flash open like a subway turnstile when you scan your boarding pass or flash your smartwatch.”

“At London’s Gatwick Airport, beacons identify you by your smartphone and give GPS-like directions to your gate, pointing out food or shopping along the way … At the airport of the future, directional signs will be only for backup … In theory, travelers will be more relaxed, with time to get work done, shop or enjoy entertainment since the airport will track their time and location and tell them where they need to be.” Terry Hartmann of Unisys says airports will become “fun again.” “Of course, planes will still have cramped seats and airlines will still run habitually late.”

Smart Malls

sensityLight fixtures in stores can also illuminate shopper behavior, reports Diane Cardwell in The New York Times (7/20/15). Specifically, LED lights are not only relatively energy efficient, but can also “receive and transmit data about about their own status as well as their surroundings. Depending on the installed or connected sensors, they can detect a range of factors and activities, including … a particular shopper in and around the store.” General Electric is working with Sensity Systems, “a small startup that builds and manages smart-lighting networks” that can track shoppers movements in a store. GE is also “working with Qualcomm to employ a sort of GPS system that can give retailers a shopper’s location and orientation.”

“We’re obviously excited abut the intelligent environment future — that’s really what our lighting business is becoming: It’s morphing from a hardware to a software business,” says Beth Comstock of General Electric. “What gets us excited is, frankly, light is more than you can see,” she says. Simon Malls is also investing in Sensity as “part of an overall transition to an automated shopping experience, where consumers can receive alerts on their smartphones about open parking spaces near their destinations as well as special offers from stores as they roam the mall.” Simon has already invested in “some 20,000 pole lights” in their parking lots “that can communicate with the Sensity network.”

Simon has also invested in Swirl, a “mobile-marketing platform” that “can detect a smartphone and send messages like special offers or product information.” In combination with Sensity, this enables Simon “to have contact with customers as they come into the properties until they leave.” Beyond retail, GE is looking to “smart-city projects, which use a canopy of connected streetlights as the wireless infrastructure to coordinate city services, like easing traffic congestion” or “sensing when the garbage cans are full.” This has, of course, caught the attention of “privacy advocates” who “raise concerns about the technology racing ahead of considerations about how to use it responsibly.”

Smart Crimes

cybercrimeThe ‘Internet of Things’ could be a very good thing for cybercriminals, reports The Economist (7/18/15). In addition to the potential benefits to humanity, “smart devices offer exciting new opportunities for the authors of the malware that is common on today’s Internet.” The difference is that while “antivirus software may detect their handiwork and begin scrubbing infected computers clean,” similar software is typically not available for “smart” cars, televisions, refrigerators or thermostats because they are “not designed as general-purpose computers.”

This means that it could be possible to cause a car to crash by disabling its brakes remotely, or even murder diabetic patients by shutting down their pumps. Burglars could plan their break-ins by reading energy-use patterns from smart thermostats and figuring out when a family is away on vacation. Users of such devices would have no way of knowing that their gadgets had been compromised, and even if a problem were detected “their manufacturers can’t use the Internet to distribute fixes for any security flaws that come to light after the device is sold.”

For the most part, “such worries remain theoretical,” but already there is “ransomware, in which malicious programs encrypt documents and photographs, and a victim must pay to have them restored.” “Imaging trying to bleep open your car one day, but then you’re told your car has been locked, and if you want back in you need to send $200 to some shady Russian email address,” says Graham Steel of Cryptosense, a maker of “automated security-checking software.” Since such threats are not quite here, “companies have few incentives to take security seriously,” and likely won’t until big breaches occur.

Listen Up

magillThe biggest insights can be heard in small data. A Hub Essay by Jim Magill of Cibo. Big Data brings with it concerns of Big Brother and lost privacy. However, plenty of highly admired companies use Big Data and millions of consumers enjoy the benefits. Amazon, Spotify and Netflix use Big Data to help us discover books, music and movies we might enjoy. Baseball teams use Big Data to win more games and delight their fans. Google uses Big Data to help us find whatever it is we might be looking for.These brands get it. They use everything they can to personalize the experience and engage their customers.

Big Data can do great things. Yet few companies — from large global corporations to small Silicon Valley startups — have found meaningful ways to harness all of that data and use it to improve the brand experience for their customers. Some face constraints such as distribution systems that separate them from the point of sale. Others have hired consultants to create elaborate Big Data blueprints that they can’t afford to use. Many have multiple legacy systems that generate independent and isolated data about their customers that can’t be readily synthesized into applicable insights. Continue Reading.