December 6, 2019
What We’re Reading This Week
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the brokerage industry moving to $0 commissions and referenced an old quote: “If you are not paying, you’re not the customer. You are the product.” Across all industries, more and more, human data is the currency that is being traded. Facebook, for example, makes its money on ads; ads that are targeted to its users in a very specific way. Most people get it and are appropriately conscious of what they post and how they interact on the site. It’s sort of like an internet version of that camera at the gas station. You know your Facebook is watching you and if you spend a lot of time on there looking at cars, you will see some car ads in your feed.
Most of us are also aware that we are being tracked in other vague, unknown ways. Is my laptop camera running? Is my phone listening? That sort of thing.
Last month, The Times reported on some of the secret ways our data is tracked and I happened to come across the article this week.
“As consumers, we all have ‘secret scores’: hidden ratings that determine how long each of us waits on hold when calling a business, whether we can return items at a store, and what type of service we receive. A low score sends you to the back of the queue; high scores get you elite treatment.”
I’ve always expected that as companies gathered more data, they would begin to analyze and share it in new and astonishing ways. What surprised me is how pervasive it already is.
Included in the article are several companies that collect your data and instructions on how to request your file from them: · Sift, which determines consumer trustworthiness, asks you to email firstname.lastname@example.org. (An earlier version of this article contained a link to an online form; the company disabled the page after receiving thousands of submissions.)
· Zeta Global, which identifies people with a lot of money to spend, lets you request your data via an online form.
· Retail Equation, which helps companies such as Best Buy and Sephora decide whether to accept or reject a product return, will send you a report if you email email@example.com.
· Riskified, which develops fraud scores, will tell you what data it has gathered on your possible crookedness if you contact firstname.lastname@example.org. · Kustomer, a database company that provides what it calls “unprecedented insight into a customer’s past experiences and current sentiment,” tells people to email email@example.com.
Of course, I requested my files but I haven’t heard back yet.
Interestingly, making your data available to you is a very recent development and there are still countless numbers of firms not sharing data with consumers. In 2018, legislation titled, “General Data Protection Regulation” passed in Europe and it has had a small effect on American companies. Most firms agree that more laws will follow in the U.S. and a smattering of companies have chosen to get ahead of the changes.
Skincare brand, Sunday Riley, has been in the news recently because the FTC outed the brand for writing fake reviews of its own products on Sephora’s website between 2015 and 2017. I mean, we all get it…online reviews can be faked. This story is a little more fun because the company CEO, Sunday Riley, was at the center of the campaign. This means that we get to read excerpts of emails she sent to employees with words like this:
“Make sure to NOT compare the product to other products, to not use foul language, and to be very enthusiastic without looking like a plant.”
“If you notice someone saying things like I didn’t like ‘x’ about it, write a review that says the opposite. The power of reviews is mighty, people look to what others are saying to persuade them and answer potential questions they have.”
I guess I have a few thoughts on this. Like number one, if you are going to do something illegal or just ethically questionable, maybe don’t send detailed emails to your accomplices about it. Also, how good does the CEO think the company treats its employees that she feels so comfortable committing blatant fraud and asking them to participate? Really though, she ended up getting caught because of an employee whistleblower. Obviously.
For some, the penalty, which was nothing, was seen as little more than a light slap on the wrist.
“This settlement sends the wrong message to the marketplace,” [wrote FTC Commissioner Chopra]. “Dishonest firms may come to conclude that posting fake reviews is a viable strategy, given the proposed outcome here. Honest firms, who are the biggest victims of this fraud, may be wondering if they are losing out by following the law. Consumers may come to lack confidence that reviews are truthful.”
So, for all my last-minute Christmas shoppers, use this link to search a product review page for fakes: https://www.fakespot.com/
Once there, enter the website you want analyzed and the product’s reviews will be assigned a score of “A” to “F”.
For what it’s worth, I analyzed several Sunday Riley products and their worst score was a “C” despite having perpetrated the largest, known, fake review scheme in recent history.