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The Dangerous Land of Tor Cloudflare protects companies from all the many things that go bump on the Internet. As connoisseurs of digital creepy-crawlies, they have been closely watching traffic coming from the Tor anonymizing network. In a recent blog post, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince suggested that up to 94% of the traffic coming from Tor is malicious; meaning that it is comment spamming, vulnerability scanning, ad click fraud and login scanning. Many sites deal with this tidal wave of bad traffic by simply blocking any connections from Tor. However, Prince offers an interesting detail in his post that Cloudflare deals with traffic from Tor like it comes from its own country. Application to Marketing: The implication that Tor traffic can or should be treated like its own country is fascinating. This suggests that Tor users of whatever nation have more in common with other Tor users than they do with people from their actual country of origin. From Prince’s perspective, I suppose that commonality is criminal activity. But the idea of emergent digital “nations” can be applied to marketing more broadly. Digital activity may be more suggestive of actual affinity than the color of your passport. Next Steps: A company that doesn’t use Cloudflare to protect their digital assets is playing with fire. Read More The Dash Question When Amazon first introduced their dash buttons that allow consumers to re-order product by simply pushing a wi-fi connected button, some observers assumed it was an April Fool’s Day Joke. But now with more than 100 consumer packaged goods brands participating in the dash button program, people are taking another look. Amazon is being cagey about actual sales numbers from dash buttons. Based on past experience with the technology giant, this could mean that either the initiative is a massive success or a massive failure. But there’s no ignoring the fact that big, experienced marketers like P&G see something in dash buttons that they like. Application to Marketing: Ultimately, it doesn’t much matter whether dash buttons are effective or not. As traditional retail continues to falter and Amazon sucks up more and more consumer spending, savvy brands are trying to prove themselves dependable partners for the ecommerce giant. Dash buttons may not be the solution, but chances are good that Amazon will be a source of more sales volume as time goes on. Next Steps: CPG companies should look for opportunities to work with Amazon. Read More Not-so-cozy Nest Rewind a couple of years and Nest was riding high based on the success of their smart thermostats. The company seemed made to order for a technology market suddenly in thrall to the internet of things and smart homes. Then Google waltzed in with their $3.2 billion dollar offer. This was followed shortly by Nest (now a part of Google) spending $555 million to buy Dropcam. Many observers believed these purchases were a masterstroke that would allow design-challenged Google to compete on hardware with Apple. Two years later, that doesn’t seem to have panned out. Although transparency on revenue is hard to come by, it seems clear that Nest continues to miss their sales goals. Application to Marketing: Everyone needs to slow their roll. When technology and marketing come together, it creates a perfect storm of hype and hyperbole. We are too quick to celebrate unproven concepts and too quick to dismiss these same concepts when they fail to live up to the hype. Nest has some nice products and a lot of smart, ambitious individuals on staff. If Google can retain the core team, this investment will eventually pan out. Next Steps: If you owned a Nest thermostat, you wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss them. Read More The Tale of the Racist Chatbot Pity poor Microsoft. Even when they create something undeniably cool, it comes back and hits them in the face. Joining the Windows Phone on Microsoft’s list of noble failures is Tay, a chatbot that uses artificial intelligence to learn how to engage in chat-based conversations. The more Tay talked to people, the more Tay learned about how to converse. Unfortunately, Tay quickly fell in with a bad crowd. Internet trolls taught Tay all sorts of charmingly racist, sexist and homophobic things to say. And Tay, obedient chatbot that he is, quickly repeated those things to others. After a few days Microsoft acknowledged that their experiment had run badly off the rails and shut Tay down. Application to Marketing: Count me among those who don’t believe that AI engines will be able to replace actual humans in marketing and customer service any time soon. The problem is that many engineers are still infatuated with the Turing test for artificial intelligence. That is, in order to prove it’s intelligence, a computer must be able to fool a person into believing they are talking to another person. Actual human conversation is infinitely subtle and nuanced, reflecting social mores, class, role and relationship. Sure, Tay seemed like a human being. Just a particularly loathsome and intolerant human being. Next Steps: Do nothing. This technology needs to go back into the oven until it’s fully baked. Read More

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