Google, Amazon and Facebook are lingering in what’s sometimes an uncomfortable position just under the news headlines, undergoing huge scrutiny over their latest developments and challenges. But despite the varied offerings of these different digital behemoths, consumer concerns are all centred on the same worry: online security and safety. We take a look at some of the ways these big brands have been making the news in recent weeks.
The search engine has announced that it is updating its ranking systems to attempt to stem the flow of ‘fake news’, making it more difficult for false information to be easily accessed and shared on the results page. After an embarrassing episode where Google’s relatively new “knowledge boxes” were found to be giving prominence to conspiracy theories, hoaxes or misleading information.
The new algorithm is being tested by a 10,000-strong focus group of users, who are digging deeper into the sources of highly-ranking pages to ensure they are legitimate. With so many attempted abuses of the system taking place each day, perhaps Google is hoping that introducing an element of human judgement will be the first step in a long-term solution, protecting consumers from the threatening tide of misinformation rising from the digital ether.
The latest product from Amazon, the Echo Look, was unveiled last week to a very mixed reception. The new smart speaker, powered by Amazon’s Alexa software, includes a camera which can snap pictures of your outfit choices, storing your images in a “look book” for future inspiration. Sceptics are already hailing the potential privacy issues presented by the device, which has already drawn criticism for its perceived “always on” microphone on its Echo and Echo Dot devices. An internet-connected camera is a step too far for some, with experts voicing their concerns about the device’s capabilities on Twitter.
While Amazon is keen to explain that the data would not be passed on or used by third parties, it will reserve the right to serve adverts based on the information gathered by the device. With all images and data being automatically stored on the AWS cloud, consumer fears about the device’s security will be enough to put some users off completely. But this intimate connection with the everyday consumer is another step towards the digital homes of the future that many have dreamed of, presenting Amazon with the opportunity to create unique relationships with its users and streamline the entry of digital into our daily lives.
Facebook has this week denied claims that it has targeted users with adverts based on their perceived “emotional state”. The Australian newspaper reported on a research paper which noted the posting habits of teenagers, and the potential to tailor adverts around the subjects such as body-image, stress and weight-loss. There’s no doubt that the vast quantity of personal information shared on Facebook means that the social media platform has the potential to get an in-depth overview of user’s feelings. Dubbed “sentiment analysis”, the research aimed to understand how people express themselves on Facebook, but there’s no denying that the news may make users more wary about how they are perceived online.
It’s not the first time that research undertaken on the platform has drawn scrutiny. In 2014, Facebook was criticised for conducting tests in which it manipulated the news feeds of 700, 000 users in order to gauge the impact on their own posting. As such a powerful influencing and sharing platform, the transparency of Facebook must remain a priority if they are to retain consumer trust. With so many brands focussing on Facebook as the cornerstone of their social strategy, it must therefore be vital best practice to nurture and reassure that audience, and make sure that the relationship between brand and consumer in the news feed is useful, and also not intrusive.
With huge brands like this being in possession of so much of the consumer’s everyday choices, routine and personal information, it is they who must set the standard for the safety and security of their users, and go the extra mile to reassure them that their best interests are at the heart of the brand. With the regulations on consumer data growing tighter, scrutiny like this might soon be an expensive path to tread.