Author: suzannecosta2014

Don’t get caught with your knickers down

For those of you who haven’t heard this story (and I can’t imagine how you would  have missed it), poor Jennifer Lawrence unfortunately was literally caught with her knickers down.  Her iCloud was hacked and some very naughty and very naked pictures went viral!  It wasn’t just Jennifer but over one hundred other celebrities; a bug was found in the security and all their personal information including videos and images were accessible.

It highlights why you should care about your personal information and take some control because in the race for convenience and ease of use we have forgotten about our privacy and making sure it is secure.

We can’t always avoid being cyberpunked but there are some basic questions you should be asking your cloud provider and I came across this helpful guest blog post on  by Mike McAlpen who is the Executive Director of Security and Compliance and Data Privacy at 8×8 Solutions.  In summary:-

5 Questions to ask your cloud provider

1 – Are they compliant with EU/EEA/US standards?

2 – Will they forward or share your information with third parties?

3 – Do they have the capability to encrypt sensitive data when it is being transferred across the Internet and importantly again when it is ‘at rest’?

4 – Does the provider allow you to access, edit or delete your information?

5 – Do they have Service Level Agreements within your contract?  As the article says, there is no point have a privacy contract with a supplier if there is no penalty when they fail to deliver!

If you have further checks for information security please add a comment.

The Wonderful Wizards of Advertising

Diet products and supplement advertising is really a sordid and manipulative industry.  I have fallen for it with the Wild Rose diet and I bought the Atkins book (he was a doctor wasn’t he?).  Yes they worked but because there wasn’t much that I wanted to eat from the permissible food list; hence I ate less.  But are they sustainable?  Hell no, I like my chocolate, cheese, bread, pasta…..

What does this have to do with us controlling our personal information?  The more companies know about you the more they can target you specifically through your current emotion or activity.  For example on Facebook you can put in your status how you are feeling (this is coded for easy analysis by the way), reading, eating, watching etc.  If you were to put in ‘feeling sad’ and ‘eating cake’ you are probably going to be targeted for the Garcinia Cambogia pill or chair gym – yep you can look fabulous without leaving your chair!  What we buy is an emotional thing, we are not really the rational beings we think we are when buying stuff, if it isn’t emotional that it is probably habit.

I was being completely irrational and very emotional when buying the Wild Rose and Atkins books.  I have never believed in diets, I don’t like diets and I always scoff at others who do them so what made me do this?  I am so bombarded by images in advertising that makes me feel bad but gives me hope, there is a wide range of feelings that weight loss advertising evokes in me.

1 – Fear, although not overweight I am a bit of an apple shape which apparently puts me at higher risk of heart disease!  I don’t want to get heart disease

2 –Insecurity.  Images of young, beautiful and happy girls with the perfect body!  Yep I want that!  I want to wear a bikini and run down the beach with confidence without feeling my belly rise and fall at the opposite time to the rest of my body

3 – Living the dream.  These ads make me feel like I can’t be truly happy until I get down to that perfect weight (for me that is 115lbs – ridiculous).  Anyone who doesn’t think they would be happier if they were thinner are in the minority.  For me it’s like buying the lottery ticket and imagining what I will do with the winnings.  With being thinner I imagine all the wonderful clothes I would wear and all the places I would wear them.  Super happy and super confident.

4 – Dazzled by science.  There is always a new study or a new specialist out there who wants to tell us a new quick fix to getting the perfect bod!  It must be true its science; these pills really will speed up my metabolism or absorb the fat so that it isn’t absorb into our bodies and I get to eat what I want.

5 – Trust– Well Doctor Oz said its true so it must be right?  Celebrities and celebrity doctors are in our homes through the TV, we think we know them and we think we can trust them.  We have either seen them work off their own weight and have found that miracle or they are doctors who we have already put on the pedal stool of honesty.  This was never more perfectly ripped to pieces than by John Oliver on Last Week Tonight.  I hope you watched the video not only because it is so hilarious but also because ‘Morning Joe’ so beautifully epitomizes how irrational we are.




Dear Cable Guy. Sorry it is you, not me

cable guy


We have finally rid ourselves of our cable network!  In Canada there is pretty much a choice of two service providers Bell and Rogers (courtesy of the medium’s regulator, the CRTC), and this frustrating minimal competitive landscape has hindered the overall service levels and of course the price of said services.

We pay a whopping $190 a month for cable TV, Phone and Internet, which is an apparent “good deal” after 2 years of haggling and spending copious amounts when we go over our data limit.  As a proud Brit I was pretty disappointed with the TV programming and interface in Canada.  The main hoity complaint from yours truly is the lack of highbrow shows that we get on the Beeb but a close second, third and fourth is the is the glitchy interactive display, ridiculous amounts of advertising and PRICE, did I mention price?  I was paying the equivalent of $90 a month with BT Vision in the UK and it was a much better experience user wise and I got unlimited internet usage. I love BT Vision.

So goodbye traditional cable with your endless adverts and “scheduled programming” and hello streaming and Netflix on demand, ridding myself of 18 minutes per hour of advertising time versus maybe 6 minutes an hour (on average) via streaming.

I am part of a growing crowd that are leaving traditional television to move to more affordable, better quality and more tailored viewing that comes with Netflix, Crackle, CouchTuner and Hulu to name a few. Ok there may be some limited advertising with the likes of Hulu and CouchTuner but it is still greatly reduced and we have freedom to watch what we want and when we want.

I am presenting a biased opinion, as I am a HUGE fan of Netflix and this is where I see real benefits to the collection of my personal data. Not only do they make good recommendations based on my previous viewing but they have also provided the most riveting shows recently like Derek, House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. Why so successful? They are looking at our viewing behaviours and making awesome choices through what we are watching. Take “House of Cards” for example, they found through our data that those of us who had watched the original BBC miniseries (also by the same name) were also likely to view movies with Kevin Spacey and/or directed by David Fincher. They combined the three of these and committed $100 million for two 13 episode seasons. Thank you again Netflix… genius. There is also another big advantage with this, they do not have to spend millions on advertising and promotion which we find rather intolerable anyway, they just influence us through suggested programs

“We don’t have to spend millions to get people to tune into this,” “Through our algorithms we can determine who might be interested in Kevin Spacey or political drama and say to them, ‘You might want to watch this.’” Steve Swasey, Netflix’s V.P. of corporate communications, told GigaOm last March.


Date us don’t stalk us: The power of community

I had an uplifting experience last week and it was driven by my community, The Beaches.

Thursday morning I was reading my Facebook page and saw a note asking ‘has anyone found the Bengal cat that is lost and has been having seizures’?  The answer was no and I remember thinking how sad that was.

But let me step back and give some background.  I am part of my local community on Facebook, ‘The Beaches-Toronto’ and every day there are snippets of good news stories, recommendations, requests for help or anything relating to events in our area.  It reinforces the village feel and allows good neighbours to be…well good neighbours.  There are some aspects that I don’t like such as people complaining or judging others which can quickly incite a moral high ground lynch mob.  For instance there is a guy who walks on the beach wearing a short sarong maybe no underpants – I am happily unsure; he has a guitar and asks groups of women if they would like to hear a song (I stress women and not young girls).  I have witnessed this and had a chuckle with my husband and moved on – to me it seemed pretty harmless.  However, there are those that feel that he puts the community in danger and some even questioning whether it was safe to bring their children to the beach if this man was lurking around.  I don’t like this kind of news, because there is usually little context and people often jump to assumptions that can do harm to an individual.  Ok so the guy may have bad dress sense and no one wants to see what is underneath a mans kilt on a lovely sunny day, but should he be annihilated on social media without all the facts? Anyway that aside, I love being part of this group, my community and part of daily life here.

So when I saw this note about a Bengal cat it touched me, I have two cats and remember how I felt when my Leonard went missing last year.  I was besides myself and there were plenty of tears but luckily he turned up in the garden later that night –  so maybe I overreacted just a little.  Anyway I got up to my usual routine and was on my way out the door to take my dog Pepe out for a walk and there in my driveway was an orange cat which reminded me about the lost cat.  I called my husband who told me he had seen a lost poster for the same missing cat down our road.  So off I ran to get the owners number.  Ten minutes later she arrived at our house to find her cat Moby in our bushes.  It turns out he had been lost for 6 days after suffering a seizure and running away in confusion, he was diabetic and had been without his meds all this time.


Colleen, Moby’s owner, was absolutely over the moon and the relief was obvious, I doubt she had slept much in the last few days and had resigned herself to the probability that he was not going to be found.  She thanked me in person and on the FB community page and everyone rejoiced in the finding of this cat and reinforced why they loved their community so much.  We take care of each other, and this happy ending would not have been possible without the wide net of the digital village.

So why am I talking about this on a blog which is about protecting our personal information?  It is because I believe that for organisations to fully tap into our behaviour and gain access to our information they should start with being part of our community and metaphorically speaking be a good neighbour.  We prefer to be flirted with and taken for dinner rather than have a secret admirer rifle through our trash.  Once we are sufficiently  wooed we will share our personal information with the advantage of trusting who we are sharing it with, organisations could then gain so much more from this two way relationship and gather far deeper insight into our habits. I would rather willingly give someone my address than have them follow me home!

She’s having a baby! Your local retailer probably knows before your friends do


To all of you who think that you are not impacted or influenced or manipulated even, by corporates, ask the father of a Minneapolis girl who kept receiving pregnancy promotions from Target. It got to the point where he went into the store to complain to the manager explaining how unethical it was to promote pregnancy and baby products to a teenager. The manager apologized profusely and could clearly see that they had in fact been sending these promotions to the girl. What transpired next has become famous within the research world, when the store manager followed up with a courtesy call a couple of weeks later the father confessed that his daughter was actually pregnant. The store was absolutely spot on in their prediction and were hustling to be the go-to store for the soon-to-be family.

This is an oldie but goodie example that has done the rounds several times in the market research world, but for someone outside of the industry it is probably surprising.

Retailers are competing for your loyalty and in the arms race are recruiting data scientists to analyze your behavior and habits to predict and influence your future spend. Influence is the real challenge for retailers because our spending habits are ingrained into our psyche. It is likely that you’re subconsciously drawn to buy the same laundry detergent that your mother used when you were little for example. But there are periods where we are more likely to change our shopping habits and during pregnancy is one of them. Like most new parents, time and alertness is going to be tight as they adapt to wonders of child rearing. Decision making will hinge on convenience and preserving their most valued asset, time. Separate trips to the grocers, shopping malls, electronic stores, will most likely be bundled into one big box Department store, such as Target or Walmart. With birth records being public, aside from all the online scraping and text analytic algorithms new parents are targeted prey, usually bombarded just after the birth of their child,

How do they know when someone is pregnant? Let’s set the background

As a customer of a store you are given an ID linked to your credit card. This ID is used to uniquely identify you, your history and all future purchasing and habits.  Under this ID, linkages can be made to your personal information such as age, marital status and estimated salary

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as they can have access to direct or inferred information on the Credit cards you carry in your wallet and what Web sites you visit. “Target can buy data about your ethnicity, job history, the magazines you read, if you’ve ever declared bankruptcy or got divorced, the year you bought (or lost) your house, where you went to college, what kinds of topics you talk about online, whether you prefer certain brands of coffee, paper towels, cereal or applesauce, your political leanings, reading habits, charitable giving and the number of cars you own. (In a statement, Target declined to identify what demographic information it collects or purchases.)” Charles Duhigg ‘How Companies Learn your Secrets’ 2012

This information is then analyzed by data scientists (the new sexy in market research) whose job is to translate your behavior into predictive models that inform the marketing depts.

Target is advanced in this particularly around expectant mums and figured out that there were 25 purchases when combined that could predict not only pregnancy but what trimester the mother was in and expected due date. These purchases were things like vitamins and supplements, hand sanitizer, unscented soaps and lotions etc… on their own these data points aren’t enough of an indicator but together they were extraordinarily powerful and telling.

We leave breadcrumbs of information everywhere for others to track us and predict where we are going, whether we want them to or not. This is a byproduct of the remarkable digital age among us. ‘We are not alone’ is less about extra-terrestrials and more about big brands following your every move and in zombie like fashion and in their own way, EAT YOUR BRAIN!!!  Ok, Ok exaggeration, but don’t become a passive zombie yourself, be aware, educate yourself and learn how you can take more control of what you put out there.

This article has referenced and extremely good article published in Forbes Magazine and written by Charles Duhigg.  I urge you to read this if you want to learn more

Reach Out and Touch Someone – Can advertising get a little more intimate without being creepy?

Following from my previous dismay at having so-called targeted advertising with the personal touch of adding my surname keep calmCosta to a terrible hoodie,  I have had another very dodgy attempt at getting my attention.  This time, same jumper but my first name!  Hideous.  We have been able to get tops with our names on them since the 80’s, really is the best that can be done with our personal information?

I really don’t mean to be negative about tailored advertising because I believe there are good opportunities to build relationships with us.  The problem is these examples where advertisers don’t yet know how to touch us as individual people rather than a group demographic.

I was recently in London and soon got back into the routine of reading the metro newspaper which is free for all commuters, and one of my favourite pieces in the paper are the regular ‘Rush Hour Crush’ and ‘Good Deed Feed’.  These are pages where commuters can talk to each other to either give a ‘thank you or a channel for someone to pluck up the courage to let another commuter know they have a mega crush on them.  People write the most touching and kind things to each other and all of us commuters as a community get to share a snippet of these  personal stories.  Truly I find this an uplifting start to the day and I look forward to reading them in the knowledge that my mood will be raised. Here are just a couple of examples

 “You’re loud mouthed, dark-haired and petite.  I heard you on the phone saying you would love a rush hour crush to be about Rush Houryou.  If you would only glance up from these pages and notice me I could show you that you already have one and maybe we could get to know each other away from the constraints of the commute.  You make my heart skip every time you get on from Surbiton to Waterloo”.



And on the ‘Good Deed Feed’

“Thank you to the drivers and guards who take the time to wave to my train obsessed two-year old as you go through Earlsfield station.  You make a little boy very happy”Good Deeds



This is how people connect with people and is a perfect example of a community who use personal information in a way to touch others and build relationships from afar.  Imagine a company who could harness this type of communication with us through better understanding (provided through our personal information and behaviour).  Not only would they connect with us on intimate human level but they would be building a story that others could be part of.  Surely there is a better way than just putting my name on a piece of clothing.

Do you think this is possible?  How do you think companies can connect with us in a more intimate or human way?




PIMS – Tune In, Maybe Turn On and Probably Drop Out

I understand the concept of PIMS (Personal Information Management Services), I understand the benefits and partly because of this blog I am motivated to invest my time signing up to a few, after all it is something I have come to feel passionately about.   The question is will the majority of others feel the same?  Now that I have joined 5 different PIMS I Speed-Bump-Signs-80549-bahave some good reasons to think that people will at first tune in maybe turn on but probably drop out.

The Trade Off

Currently there is little effort on our part, others are managing our data for their benefit and we are generally unaware of it being aggregated, analysed and reported on.  There are a network of beacons and trackers that connect all our dots and our time remains intact, in fact it saves us time in bill payments and online searches.  But if you want to manage your own data all of sudden there is quite a bit of work to be done.  When I stored my basic information I had to hunt round looking for my social security, passport, house insurance, household bills, address history, car details, residency card etc.  It took me over an hour and from now on I need to maintain it and update it when necessary.  Then there are the PIMS I joined that are social platforms, these require sign up and several verifications which although simple have more steps than other established networks.  Others required downloading software, sign up and data entry too.

It doesn’t matter what type of PIMS you join, there is an education process that simply takes time; learning what the organisation does, how the system works, signing up and navigating the dashboards.  I think PIMS need to consider how much time a individual is going to give up because each of us will be weighing up our time vs risk or time vs benefit and currently I am still asking how this is making my life easier.

The Intangibles

I am not sure anyone has an emotional response to data management, it really isn’t a sexy subject unless it has government conspiracy stamped on it.  I am not sure that it has yet hit the public what it really means when companies use our data, it is still too intangible.  We can grasp the fraudulent sale of our data or identity theft but targeted marketing? others profiting? better decision making?  Even with the latest Facebook emotional experiment, there wasn’t a mass exodus of people incredulous at the manipulation of our emotional behaviour.  It is all too vague and we are still detached, think of it like white collar crime – when does it get the front page or the crime wave title that more tangible violent crime does.

What are PIMS?

Very few people have heard of PIMS or data management services, and those that I have joined so far do not make it easy.  I have watched a lot of YouTube videos, read a lot of PDF’s and used the help button several times figuring all of this out, others will not.  Companies are not setting themselves up as a service provider but more of a software provider and that is a huge challenge for a beginner.  I would have loved a service rep to give me a call and talk me through it all.  Better still a service where I can give my approval to an organisation who will then connect to other networks and pull my data for me; even provide me with reports, updates or offers. If these services are relying on word of mouth to gain awareness then there needs to be better benefits and more ease.

What’s in it for me?

So far, not much.  Time spent on searching and signing up to all these services? I would guess about 4 hours.  In return I can block companies tracking my online behaviour – in chrome only and I have a central database with all my basic details. But mostly it is still a promise of better things to come; reports on my online behaviour to help me make better decisions, a ‘respect’ button to ensure other sites that I log in to keep my data personal, additional applications in a central dashboard and finally potential to profit from my personal information.  This is all very good but it is still just a concept without enough tangible gain.  I hesitate to make a final judgement because the industry is still young, but it is important it is addressed early in order to engage and hold on to customers.

It’s complicated

When do we store our data, where do we store our data and how do we store our data?  All of these questions are tricky, not only to the individual but those seeking to store it for us, and it is not just our online data it is our offline activity too and it is very hard to keep track of.  With all these items or instances the data accumulates at a rapid pace and important items can get lost amongst the trivial, this requires ad hoc tidying and clerical archiving requiring certain skills and someones time.  How are these management services going to integrate all our data in a uniform interface with a structure that makes it easy for us to reference or query?

Are these the only issues? Please share your concerns or reasons for not trying a personal data service.

In this article I have referenced a great book called ‘Personal Information Management’ edited by William Jones and Jaime Teevan.  If you want to learn more it is a great resource!

Tailored advertising – Fail!


Yesterday, courtesy of ‘tailored advertising’, using my data collected on Facebook (and who knows where else) I was given the suggestion of purchasing a ‘hoodie’ with my name on it.  What ever algorithm put it there got my attention and got my name right but that is where the opportunity ends.  I can’t imagine what other data was used to indicate that I would like to buy a hooded jumper (sweater) in the middle of summer.  I have never bought a ‘hoodie’, do not purchase pink clothes and do not take up suggested clothing apps recommended by FB.

The only thing tailored here is my name and actually I found it kind of creepy, even though this is an every day occurrence with the spam that bombards my google account and my name merged into the greeting.

I am on the side of advertising that is tailored to me, it should add value, be relevant and most importantly save me time.  Unfortunately this is still clutter on my page and what I consider nuisance advertising, which is a shame as it could be a lot smarter and impress.

Have you had some good experiences?  I would love to hear about them



The Economy of One

Intention EconomyRead ‘The Intention Economy” by Doc Searles,  it inspires hope for customers in the not so distant future.  As marketing and research departments look to big data to predict how we want to spend our hard earned cash, we are looking to get personal.  Personal in a way that we the individual can set the terms, and just advertise for what we want.

Think of yourself as a business that puts out a request for a product or service and sellers respond or compete for your custom.  Let me put it more simply.  Imagine I am planning a vacation; one week in August with three of my best girl mates; destination-beach, and hotel with a spa, all for a reasonable budget .  Forget browsing for full package holidays, car rental, flights, comparison websites, travel agents etc. all I want to do is advertise and let the sellers come to me with an array of options – I pick the best one.  Job done!

I have only just started ‘The Intention Economy’ but I am already inspired by this revolution that is made possible by managing our data.  If we are kitted-out with all our data we can dictate a lot more than we realise, getting to grips with our information allows us to

– Make better choices

– Express demand

– Set preferences

– Offer payment terms

– Define the relationship with the seller

“Over the coming years, customers will be emancipated from systems built to control them.  They will become free and independent actors in the marketplace, equipped to tell the vendors what they want, how they want it, where, and when – even how much they would like to pay” Doc Searls

I am really looking forward to reading all the other possibilities, using our data as the tool, I also look forward to sharing more with you!

Let me know if you pick up this book and what your thoughts are, I really want to know if this is something that you the customer would like to realise