How to report online abuse?

reporting abuseWith recent high profile cases leading to public outcry for standardised procedures, the subject of online abuse has rarely found itself under such a spotlight.

How can online abuse be reported and managed?  Is it even possible?  What are the right questions to ask?  Where should the burden of responsibility rest?  Government, police and relevant authorities?  Website Owners?  Internet Service Providers?  Another body?

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Chariots of Ire – a lecture on media regulation

An unmediated hero of London 2012

With little over a week until the findings of the Leveson Inquiry are released, on Wednesday evening Lord David Puttnam delivered Cardiff University’s Hadyn Ellis Distinguished Lecture: “The Lessons of Leveson – The future of media regulation in the internet age”.

The address to a Business School lecture began gently enough, with an explanation that the media debate is all about trust.   But Lord Puttnam’s words quickly grew caustic, laden with a powerful drama befitting his film producer credits.  Indeed these credits rather than media regulation seemed to be the subject of most chatter in the reception before the lecture, Chariots of Fire excitably mentioned several times.

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Breaks in the Cloud

What is Cloud Computing and what can it offer businesses?

A foggy November afternoon cloaked the new-build surroundings and military grade security around BT’s anonymous Cardiff Bay datacentre. I guessed at a right turn and considered that the subject of Cloud Computing was rather suitable. After offering my details to an intercom box, a man on the other side gave precise instructions where to park and a pair of mean looking gates clanked apart.

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Mobile messaging marketing: attitude & effectiveness research affirms validity

OverheadsThe Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and Direct Marketing Association (DMA) recently commissioned research firm Brand Driver to carry out three phases of research on mobile messaging, concentrating on attitudes, effectiveness and qualitative focus group research.

(I was belatedly alerted to this study by a write-up from the ever insightful Mobile Marketing Magazine folks.  I’ve pasted parts from there.  Thanks chaps.)

The first research phase was an online survey of 1,000 people about attitudes to mobile messaging. Phase two looked at the effectiveness of mobile messaging across 1,000 people on Marks & Spencer’s opted-in database, and 1,000 on the O2 More and Orange Shots opted-in subscriber databases. In this phase, one group was sent SMS messages; a second received MMS messages; and a third, control group, received nothing. Phase three consisted of qualitative, focus group research among two groups, one who were opted in to a mobile marketing database, the other not.

Here are some of the main figures:

12 per cent – respondents opted in to receive SMS or MMS messages from a mobile operator 15 per cent – respondents opted in to receive SMS or MMS from a company or brand
74 per cent – not opted in to a database but would do with the right incentive
62 per cent – read a message within five minutes, even if it’s from someone they don’t know.

Awareness
In an effectiveness study, advertising awareness was tested amongst three groups (control, SMS recipients and MMS recipients). The control and SMS groups scored 79 per cent; the MMS group scored 86 per cent.

Asked about their likelihood of visiting an M&S store, the control cell scored 83 per cent, the SMS cell 80 per cent and the MMS group 80 per cent, a finding which challenges the view that mobile drives retail footfall.

Asked about their likelihood of visiting the M&S mobile site, the control group scored 4 per cent, the SMS group 3 per cent and the MMS group 10 per cent.

SMS and MMS messages were sent to M&S customers who were also on either the Orange Shots or O2 opt-in databases.  Prompted advertising awareness was 55 per cent in the control group, 59 per cent in the SMS group, and 70 per cent in the MMS group.

Control
Attitudes towards mobile messaging

41 per cent – more likely to opt in if the advertising could be controlled
39 per cent – more likely to opt in if they could control which types of brands contacted them

32 per cent – unaware the type of service existed
71 per cent – wary of the costs of receiving this type of message.

Additional barriers included receiving spam or untargeted offers (both 71 per cent); having to give personal information (64 per cent); and not being able to opt out once they were opted in (61 per cent).

Everything’s illuminated (?)

The numbers from this study clearly paint the challenges and opportunities in messaging which have been evident for some time.  While there is clearly a growing awareness and appetite for these messages in the audience studied – particularly around those who have happily received them, there’s still reticence on some parts, and arguably plain uninterest.

Making messages relevant, useful and entertaining, as well as ensuring the subscriber is transparently informed of cost, will be critical in extended adoption of messaging marketing.  That Orange and O2 are investing in such schemes clearly shows their commitment and belief in the medium, and the relationships it can nurture with both brands and consumers.

Another interesting one to keep tabs on is the trickle-down effect from operators to other mobile marketing providers in the form of aggregators of various sizes, technical solutions providers, enterprise developers and digital and creative agencies.

Market consolidation continues to impress malleability on this side of the business through mergers and acquisitions, occasionally making it tricky to figure overall strategies and where the main revenue is being generated.

It’s more mobile fierce than ever out there now too.  There’s not always the basic interest in messaging due to the multitude of other jostling mobile agendas.  Mobile applications, Augmented Reality, NFC and the minutiae of the latest operating system have deflected attention.  Messaging is the whining, timeless acoustic singer songwriter who might be trying to do innovative things, but can still get the shut up Granddad treatment.

Yet there’s a wealth of opportunity to be had in the side of messaging which integrates into databases and management systems for SMEs, as well as the web-based interfaces which are employed by local chip shops and garages.

Because messaging isn’t JUST for M&S, it’s for everyone.

Unlimited mobile data: RIP

traffic congestionO2 announced the end of unlimited mobile data tariffs and left several breathless towards the end of last week. But it was foreseeable and understandable.

Smartphones and predominantly iPhones are the first devices which have properly sold mobile content to a mass audience. As a result, data traffic has scaled leading to congested pipes and considerable performance issues – although only a fraction of users are said to be responsible for this.  Whenever any resources are limited, however limited they are, tight controls are needed and new measures occasionally need to be introduced.  The upshot is often that prices rise.

As the UK network with original iPhone exclusivity, O2 has had the Apple device in its ranks and taken the strain of its data demands for longer than any other network.  So it come as little surprise that they’re the first to do away with unlimited data.

In explaining the  new tiered system, O2’s Chief Executive, Ronan Dunne, likened it to variable speed limits on motorways which are necessary to ease congestion.

Dunne said that 97 per cent of its five million smartphone customers use less than 500 megabits a month, but the remaining 3 per cent, or 150,000 users, take up 30 per cent of network capacity.

O2, and all mobile network operators, need to equally balance the customer experience of the heavy user, the occasional user and the moderate user, with the investment they’re able to plough into their networks and infrastructure.

The rise of riche, consumer-friendly mobile media, added to an audience fraction with an almost insatiable appetite for data, has led to the end of unlimited tariffs. Most O2 customers will pay between £25 and £35 a month when signing new contracts, but heavy users can expect their deals to double to £60 a month for their present mobile internet use.

This is also a move which indicates the success of mobile content on smartphones. That such steps are necessary, and are likely to be followed by other mobile network operators, reflects well on mobile content providers who are evidently providing a broad range of services consumers want.

For developers and consumers

In the wake of tiered pricing the data requirements of these services – mainly mobile applications found on smartphones – need to be scrutinised in greater depth by both the providers and the consumers.

– What sort of product and service uses most data?
– What elements do I need and what is dispensable?
– Is the video element vital to this app? Is it why our consumers like it or is it merely a nice-to-have add on which most don’t have the patience to use?
– Can my target audience afford to use that data on a regular basis?
– Should we introduce data ‘lite’ and rich versions?


For the networks

iPlayer and iPlayer-like applications used on mobile devices squeeze bandwidth to an extreme, using months of ordinary mobile data consumption in one video play, and hogging network space as they do so.

The mobile networks are not banning this behaviour, but making heavy consumers aware that they will have to pay for the privilege of such consumption, using what are commercially owned and ultimately finite resources.

After helping to nurture a consumer appetite for sophisticated data services, networks should also make efforts to educate less frequent users about data intensive services. A quickly comprehensible and discreet certification system could be employed, visible or flagged upon download, which helps to counter potential consumer paranoia and encourage use from a broader audience.

Networks don’t wish to breed paranoia and fear of using data on their networks. They make money from it. Nor is there anything to be gained by misleading consumers into using more data than necessary – if caps are exceeded, data will continue to be delivered but at a reduced speed.

A world of tiered pricing is a simple necessity due to significant data congestion, the high quality range of mobile content products, and the consumption habits of the hungriest ‘all you can eat’ers.

Tiered data pricing means a step back and a moment to appreciate that resources are often limited. We should breathe easy, decide how much we need, how much we want, how much we’re willing to pay, and eat accordingly. Is that so unreasonable?

Where next for PRS?

A new Thinktank report (pdf doc) prepared for premium phone-paid services regulator, PhonepayPlus, ‘Current & future market for Premium Rate Services’ offers some compelling industry and consumer insights into the Premium Rate Services (PRS) market, particularly consumed via mobile devices.

A contracting PRS market is put down to stringent regulation and heavy fines disincentivising rogue providers.  While a clearly labour-intensive report provided for the regulator which praises the work of the regulator may provoke cynically tossed eyebrows, there is a degree of truth in the claim. 

Despite PhonepayPlus’s most recent, less publicised quarterly reports reflecting a marked downturn in PRS complaints, it could be that there are fewer services to complain about.

A lack services is also reflected in the report’s other major finding that “the single biggest reason why consumers are not using premium rate services is simply that they don’t find the services on offer interesting.”

Less of a trust issue then – although lack of pricing transparency is still cited as an obstacle; more that there’s a basic dearth of decent PRS services out there.  Perhaps technology has moved on and those consumers are now into smartphone services.  Having said this, Thinktank puts the PSMS 2009 market value at £316.7m.  Some people are still spending, and earning.

But there’s certainly greater billing flexibility in the Apple App Store model which is bound to a bank account and therefore unshackled by mobile network operator-mandated tariff points of up to £10 per purchase.  This is one reason services may have switched platforms and payment mechanisms. 

Will this change with evolving media consumption behaviour?  If the paywall model is to gain traction, there could be an effective role for PRS which brings premium rate messaging back into play.  

Payforit – the UK operator mandated mobile internet payment platform – is still only seeing nominal, though not insignificant growth (Thinktank market sizing puts mobile internet billing’s 2009 value at £21.4m), whereas PSMS messaging is broadly considered as quicker and more reliable payment mechanism when used on direct billing platfoms.

PRS market size

Market Sizing, Thinktank. (Based on data from PhonepayPlus)

The regulatory minefield and pricing transparency issues can dissuade some from taking this PSMS route, in spite of its obvious mass market appeal: no smartphone needed.  It’s here that a key challenge lies for the regulator in producing its 12th Code of Conduct: demystifying perceived advertising complexities for industry and, by proxy, brands.

However, in grasping that nettle, brave paywall publishers could easily appeal to readers who have read a certain item:

“You want to hear more about Ashley’s naughty text messages?  Text ‘Ash’ to 84xxx for a secure link to special new content.”

(Example inspired by Orange’s latest Digital Media Index.  At 800% growth, Celebrity search dwarfed the closest search term category, Music, 115% growth). 

Rather than pay a weekly or monthly subscription for all items, behaviourally cherrypicking stories and asking for small premium rate micropayments per story could be an area worth investigating.

Nexus One reignites smart pipe debate

The neverending debate surrounding whether mobile network operators should be dumb-pipes or smart-pipes has been reignited in this highly mobile newsy first week of 2010.

In very short: the debate concerns whether mobile networks should concentrate first and foremost on supplying robust, reliable connectivity to their customers, and relegate the priority of services which they wrap around this. Some argue that such services are not their bread and butter, they don’t do them well so they shouldn’t try.

With the long term evolution of connectivity heading towards IP rather than cellular networks, it’s understandable if networks want to get their fingers rammed in as many pies as possible, as soon as possible, whilst never losing focus of the connectivity issue. With O2 investing £100M to improve its smartphone squeezed 3G network, and main revenues still resoundingly being voice and SMS, this won’t be neglected anytime soon.

But yesterday key threat Google bared its gleamingly sharp teeth. A physical unveiling of their Nexus One handset at The Big G’s California HQ was complemented with an online launch of the device which was so potentially complicated, yet so exceptionally clean and clear, you could almost bathe in it.

Consumers can order the new handset in a mere six clicks directly from http://www.google.com/phone. Given the choice to either buy the device outright and insert your own SIM card, or get it financed by a compatible mobile operator or carrier who supplies your connectivity, the operator is effectively demoted in the purchasing process.

Commentators have suggested that the shrugging off mobile operators is a byproduct of Google’s renewed focus on mobile advertising – as hinted at by their acquisition of Admob before Christmas and newly countered by Apple’s acquisition of Quattro Wireless just yesterday. That’s where the bucks are; not so much in device sales. And mobile advertising is another area where some argue that mobile networks have tried to play smart, but not yet to cover themselves in glory.

So we return to the dumb-pipe / smart-pipe debate.

O2’s original exclusivity of the iPhone helped it earn Apple shine by osmosis. The festive period just gone has seen another joint venture in Apple iTunes’s 12 Days Of Christmas promotion, whereby a single piece of iPhone / iPod friendly content is given away each day: a music track or video, a television episode, a game or application.

Personally I’ve enjoyed it and found the experience pretty smooth, receiving daily push notifications to the application on my iPod Touch, connected via WiFi. Some of the content hasn’t floated my boat, some has, yet it has seemed reasonably wide in appeal, as far as the i-userbase goes.

However, my understanding is that the 12 Days of promotional giving hasn’t fostered much true love with O2 customers. The UK mobile network has been promoting the piece of content each day via SMS messages to its iPhone customers, but the key opt-out or unsubscribe mechanism: “Reply STOP to stop receiving these messages,” seems not to be working. This is a basic regulation which must be adhered in the running of any SMS promotions, and a full working mechanism should always be in place. It’s an area UK Premium rate phone-paid services regulator, PhonepayPlus is especially concerned about.

When something like this goes awry on such a scale, not only does it fundamentally sting, but it damages the credibility of other similar future campaigns, makes consumers hesitant about opting in and volunteering their mobile numbers in future promotions. This is compounded by the fact that a decent fraction of iPhone users will be appropriately equipped and inclined to broadcast their disgruntlement, spreading negative messages still further.

And it gives fuel to those who claim that mobile networks shouldn’t even try to be smart and add such services and campaigns around their bread and butter of providing reliable connectivity.

So you can see why Google, Apple and perhaps even Microsoft (at the back), might be whetting their lips: mobile advertising, services, and fairly long-term evolution of connectivity.

0870 app breaks into top 5*

(*number 5 in on-device App Store; 6 in iTunes)

Last Friday saw the end of a 429 day wait for Simon Maddox’s 0870 application to be approved by Apple – during which time it’s saved UK-based Android customers over £84,000.

Launched back in January on Android, Simon’s 0870 app converts numbers beginning with 08 — such as 0870, 0845 and 0800 which can cost up to 35p per minute to call, on top of already contracted minutes – into standard rate 01* or 02* numbers, which come out of your allowance, or are cheap on Pay As You Go.

0870 in action, saving cash

0870 in action, saving cash

Download link (opens in iTunes) – or search for 0870 in the App Store

During those 429 days when 0870 knocked humbly, yet persistently on the door to Apple’s magical kingdom, only occasional mumblings were received back, mentioning concerns that it circumvented carrier policies.

There’s speculation, still ongoing, that 0870 was rejected because O2 and BT were troubled by allowing iPhone users to make phone calls to 08* numbers, using subscribers’ existing call allowances. This is despite the fact that the application depends on dynamic access to a database of openly available numbers.

Or perhaps Apple wanted to check, and it took a while to get a definitive answer. But getting a simple yes/no definitive and unified answer out of O2 and BT couldn’t possibly take that long, could it..?

Simon was originally told by O2 and BT wouldn’t be happy with the service, but after further abstract exchanges, it appears they relented. And once this happened, Apple approved the app within hours.

However, Guardian reporting states that O2 denied outright that it was the blocker. So it WAS just sitting in Apple’s queue all the while? The issue is clearly a muddy one. But now thankfully academic.

When it eventually came to launch last Friday, 0870 was propelled by commentary from The Telegraph and The Guardian’s technology blogs, helping it to land a whopping 3,140 downloads by the end of that day alone. The weekend saw it surge up the free apps charts into the top ten, and by Monday morning it had rocketed to number 5. And having slapped some trusty admob advertising onto the app, it’s not without a revenue stream.

It’s also supported on other platforms. Thanks to collaborator, Kieran Gutteridge, 0870 is now also available on Sony Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung, LG and Blackberry devices as a JavaME app.

Known as one of the most talented and amiable chaps on London’s mobile developer scene, patience has certainly been a virtue for Simon, and his understandably glowing jubilance was there for all to see as he delivered a session at Over The Air, a mobile developer conference at Imperial College last Friday. Nobody would begrudge him this success.

Well, apart from O2 and BT perhaps.

Too much information?

Over the past week or so I’ve been personally exposed to cross media spam, in addition to an ongoing, tedious issue with my mobile operator, 3UK, which leads to inaccurate SMS notifications telling me I’ve reached my fair use data limit.

(My evidently premature gushing praise of their customer service now seems a false dawn.)

This spam blitz has occurred during the height of controversial bunfight de jour that is Spinvoxgate. It’s caused idle speculation about the sheer volume and density of information out there.

Are we heading towards a point of critical mass or seminal data rift? Is it becoming increasingly naïve to implicitly trust new consumer technologies, and their management of our data?

Or is this merely paranoia and a bit Daily Mail?

Less contentious is that as technology gets sexier, diversifies, converges and attracts more users, the need for effective and transparent regulation will become evermore critical.

Fears of regulatory duplication with Ofcom’s recent PRS Scope Review and PhonepayPlus’s consultation around their 12th Code Of Practice could evoke the riposte that there will always be a degree of duplication in large organisations. Ok, but public facing material which, by its very nature, is dynamic and open to industry consultation?

To these concerns I recently added a consumer misgiving. A spate of phantom phone calls from 01873742136 and 01970 801068 were instantly terminated upon my answering and didn’t accept returned calls. But may have reverse billed me for the pleasure of trying.

Where to go? There is no prominent direction or instruction about how to make such a simple complaint on either the Ofcom or PhonepayPlus site. If you look hard, there’s a low level link to the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) as this is technically an Information Commissioner issue. Next steps from there aren’t simple, motivation slowly withers and dies.

How many bodies are there then? How many must consumers deal with? How many of them have the power to actually do anything?

The UK needs a regulatory tidy up of the kind being promised by David Cameron, the likely new incumbent of Number 10. It’s no easy one to fix of course, but his touted overhaul of Ofcom and address of consumer interests will be one to watch.

For the technology pie to continue feeding as many mouths as possible it’s critical for regulation to reflect the convergence of technology. An unfathomable number of regulatory quangos with slightly different remits doesn’t help the consumer, and arguably presents more loopholes than it tightens.

There will always be a cancerous pocket of chancers out to make a fast buck. Regulatory blur and infinitely swelling information fizzing across platforms won’t make their lives harder.

_____

Moans in more detail

01873742136 and 01970 801068 have voice spammed me four times in five days.

One of the first relevant search hits was this unofficial spam reporting site, which revealed that I was not alone in my complaint and at least offered the satisfaction of instant reporting.

I had my hotmail address spoofed and messages sent to my contacts as if from me, appealing for them to sign-up to a website. Unfortunately my Father did, using his business email address, so is now potentially at risk.

The subject line was: “dont miss this!”
The body of the message said “dont miss this check out stikkso.com”

Beware

After originally praising their level of service, 3UK appears not to have fixed the SMS notifications I receive which incorrectly tell me I have reached the fair usage limit of my data allowance. My latest message came roughly three days into my new bill period, when my browsing sessions must have amounted to about five minutes.