Social Media and Elections – A Reflection

It’s been a little more than 6 months since news broke that (allegedly) Russian backed online hacktivists targeted US voters across several social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s YouTube.  [You can read the comprehensive timeline here, which traces these types of activities back to a Ukrainian election in 2014.]  By current accounts, the total budget spent on these ads equaled less than $500K over the course of approximately a year and a half.

Now that everyone else has weighed in on this topic, I thought that I’d share some of my thoughts on the matter.

  1. This Isn’t A Surprise.  Fake accounts, “fake news”, and online social engineering are not new activities – they’ve been going on long before the 2014 Ukrainian election referenced in the previously linked Mashable article above.  Foreign powers trying to influence elections isn’t new either.  And if we look closely (especially at “arms length” 501 c 3s), we’d likely find these same practices being conducted domestically, even between same party candidates in primary elections.  Sadly, these practices also span beyond elections; deceptive practices in marketing have been going on for decades if not centuries.
  2. The Influence in the Election of 2016 is Questionable.   Even with hyper targeting, a $500K media budget spent over more than a year isn’t that big.  Having run large campaigns before, I question the ultimate reach and the potential influence these campaigns had … especially during an election season when ad rates are inflated based upon increased demand.Political campaigns are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on online advertising.  If an election could be won with less than $500K in spend, publishers have bigger issues to worry about.

    This doesn’t make election tampering right, by any means.  Interference at any level is abhorrent, whether it is had the desired outcome or not.

  3. This Could Have Been Easily Prevented.  Dunn & Bradstreet, Experian, TransUnion (among others) have business databases which could have been used to verify the legitimacy of these ad accounts.  This first line of defense could have further been strengthened through a more stringent ad review policy.  With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this is an issue that can easily be managed through industry wide self policing.

    In addition to validating the advertiser, publishers need be transparent about the source of the ad, and the details of the advertisement.

  4. This Won’t Be The Last Time.  Some bad actors, foreign and domestic, will use every tool at their disposal to impact elections.  So unfortunately, while the tactics may change, the target will likely not.  And ultimately (as with all political marketing material) it is up to the voter to actively question all information so that they can cast an informed vote.

Everyone deserves a fair and transparent election process, free of interference both domestically and internationally.  And hopefully the outcome of this controversy is a more fair and transparent election process.


Protecting Your Home From Wildfires and Floods – A Public Service Announcement

Growing up in Southern California, my family has experienced its fair share of floods and fires.  My grandfather and great-grandfather first build their beach-side summer home in the 1920’s.  During WWII this home burned down, and when my grandfather moved back in the 70’s to rebuild a retirement home, he did so with the intent that this property would be protected from natural disasters.   His efforts were tested several times over the 30+ years when we owned the property, the home surviving numerous floods and wildfires – one of which literally went over the house.   You can read an LA Times article about his successful efforts here.

As the article suggests, much of my grandfather’s knowledge came from Dr. Klaus Radtke.  He met Dr. Radtke at a wildfire seminar in 1978, and they would become lifelong friends.

Dr. Radtke has written an informative e-book entitled “A Homeowner’s Guide to Fire and Watershed Management At the Chaparral / Urban Interface“.   A shorter title might be: “Protect Your Home From Floods and Wildfires.”

I know first handle the value of the knowledge in this book – and if you live in any area susceptible to natural disasters I highly encourage you to download it and read it.


New Jersey Uses An Algorithm To Eliminate Bias In Criminal Bail System

Faced with jail overcrowding at a near epidemic proportion, earlier this year New Jersey recently overhauled how it determines bail eligibility for persons awaiting trial.  Now, using an algorithm that weighs the risk of a person to “skip bail”, New Jersey has reformed their system bail system – removing cash from the equation.  A person is either eligible to be let out of jail as they await trial, or they are not.

And apparently, this system is working very well. This algorithm, which was designed transparently by prosecutors, public defenders, and judges, measures simple historical factors such as the crime they are accused of, their criminal history, and their history of reporting for court.

Other areas are looking at replicating this system.  It keeps low risk offenders out of jail and (hopefully) productive members of society, reducing costs of incarceration.

Just enough example of data for good.

What Do The New Communication Privacy Rules Mean To You?

A lot is being made about the recent moves to unwind the FCC privacy rules, which made it difficult for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to share consumer web and app behavior data without permission.

Data collection and sharing comes down to Notice & Choice.  Was the consumer aware that you were collecting data, did they know how you intend to use that data at the time the data was collected, and do they currently have the option to Opt Out of the collection and subsequent use of that data at any time.

The rules around notice and choice vary from channel to channel and region to region.  If you have ever asked yourself why many European websites have begun posting obnoxiously prominent privacy notices (in some cases requiring you to actually accept the privacy policy before continuing), now you know.

As I mentioned, how this is managed varies from channel to channel, in large part because the technology from channel to channel varies.  In a web browser, a specific no-follow cookie is (somewhat ironically) use to indicate to a web browser that the consumer doesn’t want to be tracked by cookies, or other means.  If the consumer deletes that no-follow cookie, then a website assumes it is alright to follow and track that consumer.

But cookies don’t work in every channel. Addressable TV doesn’t accept cookies.  Most mobile webs don’t either.  Given the many to many relationship between the numerous potential online and offline channels, the countless signals that can be pulled from a consumer device (cookie ID, latitude/longitude, mobile ID a.k.a. MAID, cookie, IP address, device type, etc.), and the different ways in which a consumer can opt out (DMA, IAB, no-follow cookies, etc.) – the challenges of properly managing consumer opt-outs is arduous.

Understandably there was concern when it was announced that there might be changes in the policy which governs how ISPs collect and share your viewing and browsing behavior. Questions like:  what data would be collected and shared?  how would consumers be notified of this data collection (through a pop up screen?  in the terms and conditions of their contract?)   and how could they opt out ?

Unlike other “walled gardens” such as Google and Facebook, who each maintain massive databases on digital consumer behavior, ISPs are unique in that they see all of the Internet activity for their customers.   They are the “last mile” ending at the home, so in the case of wifi they see all activity coming from a specific modem or mobile device, and are able to tie that to the identity of the person paying the internet bill.   Google and Facebook only see that activity for registered users which occurs within their own sites, or sites which use their targeting and analytics services.

At this point it is unknown what the specific changes will be, but it’s certain that they will  impact both consumers and marketers alike.

Marketers need to closely monitor how data is collected not only internally but also by their marketing partners (including media publishers) to ensure that it is done so compliantly.

Building the Right Team and Ensuring Their Success

I’ve had the pleasure of being in management roles ever since a young age. Thinking back, my first role in managing people was in the Boy Scouts. We were a small irreverent troop in a rural beach town in Southern California. When the time came to select a senior troop leader, I found my peers all recommending me. My recollection was everyone quietly whispering my name when they were asked who should be patrol leader; an alternative version might be that everyone took one step backwards leaving me standing alone to take the role. Optimists favor fond memories, so we’ll stick with the former version.

It was more of a ceremonial role; no one saluted me or called me sir. I didn’t lead the troop on hikes, nor decide where we would camp. They didn’t do push-ups upon my command. We were all equals – I was simply responsible for a few additional administration functions. Each person had a clear specialty: one was gifted with a sense of direction, another had an early growth spurt so he took on more physical responsibilities, … my specialty was starting fires – a skill I learned from grandfather as we built fires in our fireplace each night. You could best define our group as a collective, connected yet autonomous … and as a result we made major decisions as a group.

Since then I’ve gone on to manage numerous teams in career. I’ve inherited teams, I’ve restructured teams, and I’ve built them “from scratch”. And through each opportunity, I find myself striving to get back to the organic simplicity we had in the Boy Scouts.

Unfortunately, the perfect team structure doesn’t usually happen organically; it must be manufactured to some extent. It starts with hiring the right person. There is a lot that goes into this decision, but some key things I look for in a team member are:


You can’t fake energy for any duration. My teams work hard, and play hard – and they need an energetic personality to accomplish this goal. Debbie Downer need not apply.


By smart, I mean every definition. Street smart and book smart. Left brain and right brain. Whiteboard flowcharts on the fly, mentally calculate complicated math, and all while geniunely winning over the client and making them your next best friend.


I look for someone who learns quickly, and adapts well to change. They don’t need to be an expert. They need to be capable of being an expert.

I tell new hires that they have a six month pass to make every mistake that they can. It’s important to encourage employees to push the limits, and not be afraid of breaking a few (little) things in the process. I’ve worked with teams where the fear of making mistakes stifled ambition and innovation.

A Leader

I’ve learned that you need to empower employees, in stages. At first, I openly micromanage everything that they do. Most businesses where I’ve worked have had extremely complicated products and processes, and new hires benefit from the extra attention. But it isn’t sustainable, and over the course of a few months I slowly take off the training wheels and let them ride on their own. And then I make them responsible for teaching someone else.

A Listener
Most of the time clients will tell you exactly what they want, if you just stop to listen. It’s just as simple as that.

It may sound obvious, but “hiring right” is arguably the single most important thing a manager can do. If you hire the right people, your job as a manager is only that much easier. But, of course, your work isn’t done! Their success, and ultimately yours, largely depends on how you work with them.

Several years ago a friend of mine (who works at Google) mentioned that Google’s managers are measured on how successful their reports are. Success is measured not only by how reports achieve their goals, but also how reports advance within the organization. This concept has had a tremendously positive impact on how I view management and work with my team. My primary goal is to ensure their success. Such an obvious statement whose impact is really determined by the metrics of success (hint: it isn’t just revenue).

Since then I’ve made it a point to meet with my team at least twice a year to discuss their career planning. Where do they want to go within the organization (or beyond), and how do we actually make that a reality? Calculating the return on this is quite simple …. I’ve found that by investing in their future, they invest more in mine.

The Rise of the Chief Privacy Officer

Your company’s responsibility as a steward of consumer data is greater than ever. Advances in technology have made it extremely easy to access and collect sensitive consumer data from disparate first, second, and third party sources, analyze that data, and then use that data to build sophisticated consumer profiles which could impact how you engage with that consumer.

Welcome to the age of the Chief Privacy Officer.

As market capabilities have grown, so too has the breadth of what could be considered sensitive consumer data.  No longer is it just name, address, birthdate, and social security number.  Collecting personal information such as transaction data at the product SKU level, digital IDs, location, viewing history, etc. is not only very easy, but also quite common.

As is the ability to tie that information directly to an individual – across both identifiable and (seemingly) anonymous online and offline activities. The technology exists to build more sophisticated Device Graphs, which connect disparate signals to a single persistent offline ID which can ultimately can be associated with an person.  Anonymous cookie ID ‘123’ can be connected to mobile device ID ‘ABC’ which is tied to IP address 123.456.789.123. Once you’re able to associate any of those signals to a individual “offline” signal (for example, a name, postal address, email address, etc.), you’re able to align all of the behavioral data through each of those channels back to that same individual.

And the number of signals that can be used for identification continue to grown.   Recent studies have shown that a phone’s battery behavior as well as the characteristics of a phone’s audio hardware are unique enough to create an anonymous identity for the device.

The responsibility of how this data is collected, the notice and choice that is provided to the consumer, how consumers can access and alter this data, and how your organization ultimately uses that data falls directly on the shoulders of the Chief Privacy Officer.

Let’s use the example of Uber’s recent study on the price elasticity of Uber rides, which showed that consumers are more likely to pay a surge fee if their battery level is low.  In this case, Uber is clearly collecting through its app (among other things) the battery level of your phone.  The obvious concern would be the use of that data in determining the price of a ride.  Uber could theoretically increase fares of consumers based upon their then current battery level, giving consumers with lower batter levels higher prices (because, theoretically, they would pay it).  This could have negative PR and legal consequences.

What is the consumer’s responsibility?

The right to collect, associate, and use this data is buried within each provider’s privacy policy.  It’s up to the consumer to understand what data is being collected, and how it is being used.  It is also the consumer’s responsibility to proactively opt out of marketing channels.

Unfortunately, technology has not made this process simple.   What was once a relatively easy offline process of opting out of receiving direct mail either through the brand or the Direct Marketing Association, has become more challenging as the number of media channels has grown.  Each channel has its own opt out process.  For example, in digital display on a browser it is – ironically – an opt out cookie that alerts brands to not track the consumer, while other channels that don’t support cookies must offer different alternatives.

What is your company’s responsibility?

This isn’t just a legal question.  A key function of the Chief Privacy Officer role is to understand not only the legal implications of actions your company takes, but also the moral and branding implications.  Ideally, actions are decided based upon what is best for the consumer, best for your company, and in compliance with local and federal laws and guidelines.

While the Chief Privacy Officer function won’t achieve the rockstar status that Chief Data Scientist has, it is certainly just as important as your company’s role as a data steward evolves.

Wired Crowns Alexa the Winner

CES is over, and in this article Wired Magazine has crowned Alexa “the winner”.

There are now over 7,000 Alexa-enabled devices, from cars to speakers to appliances and TVs.  By offering an open platform for the development of Alexa-enabled devices, Amazon is getting tremendous market penetration and exponentially increasing the amount of consumer insights data it collects.

This is no easy feat.  Not only does the technology need to be able to accurately understand the user (something that for Siri is still rather hit or miss), but it needs to be able to action on that command.  And based upon’s Mark Zuckerberg’s own experience creating a connected home, he showed the latter to be more critical as he often “chatted” commands to his home using FB Messenger.

But is this really a game changer?  Marketers love this, for sure.  The ability to “listen” to what’s going on in a household has huge implications – for example, (theoretically) identifying who is in a room by their voice, and what commercial their listening to / watching (including the channel) based upon the audio signature.  Tie that to actual purchase activity and you have true closed loop attribution for radio and linear TV.

But will consumers really incorporate this into their daily lives.  Or will Alexa just end up having a conversation with Google Home?  It’ll be some time before we see if this brings real value, or if it is just a gimmick.  If having a virtual assistant really gives us the freedom to live our lives to their fullest, or if they just allow us to change the room temperature without leaving the bed.

SAP Announces New DSP / DMP : Exchange Media

SAP announced Exchange Media, adding another DSP / DMP to an already crowded ad-tech ecosystem.

Advertisers are increasingly demanding transparency in their advertising, from where and how ad dollars are spent to the true impact and ROI of those advertising dollars.  Adtech providers can either give advertisers what they want or watch as advertisers bring those solutions “in house”.

This also further underscores the importance, and value, of first party data.  The companies who control access to advertiser first party data hold the keys to the kingdom.

Time will tell whether Exchange Media will be perceived by clients as an important value add, or just another platform solution in an already fractured marketplace.  Flexibility will be key, as marketers have been wary of “walled garden” approaches that lock their data into specific systems.

Source:  AdExchanger

Google Announces New Changes at I/O

Google I/O recently wrapped up, and here’s a great recap of “what’s new at Google”.

Some of my personal favorites include:

Google Home: Google’s competitor to Amazon’s Echo.  Consumers will find value in the ability to add voice commands to their home “Internet of Things”,Google will find value if Google Home leads directly to increased consumer purchases.

Duo & Allo: Google’s response to Facebook’s WhatzApp and Messenger, Duo is a video chat app with advanced “sneak peak” features, and Allo is a pure play text messenger app (important for regions constricted by low bandwidth issues).  Much like Gmail displays ads based upon the context of the message in your email, these apps will offer options for goods and services based upon the text of your message.

Daydream VR: Google has entered the VR space.  This vertical is getting very crowded, very quickly … and its success will largely depend on content creators ability to build these hardware solutions into their games, programs, etc.   Stay Tuned!

Instant Apps: Google is making moves to seamlessly connect the mobile web with apps.  To date, they’ve been separate experiences.  Google’s Instant Apps will enable users to download critical portions of apps in realtime, as they interact on the mobile web.   This will require developers to change how they build apps, but the changes will be retroactive through numerous previous versions of Android.

Sources:  The Next Web ; AdExchanger

Forest for the Trees ….

I recently had the pleasure of having dinner with the new defensive coach of our football team.  He mentioned that he was just coming off a year long “sabbatical”, as he transitioned from his previous city to ours.

I was really curious – what exactly does someone do when they take a year off?  Travel?  Repaint the house?  Binge watch missed episodes of The Walking Dead?

He spent the year doing what he loves – from the other side.  He went to football games: high school, college, and professional.  He used this time to challenge preconceptions he’d built over the span of his career.  He studied the new defensive techniques, and questioned why coaches made certain decisions.  He walked the stands and spoke with parents (something that would assist his scouting efforts in the coming years).

He explained that every Spring he would get together with fellow coaches to share the previous year’s plays, discuss new coaching techniques, etc. But given that every team plays at the same time within a set season, this only provided limited value.  He never had an opportunity to truly interrogate the way his colleagues were playing the game.

Taking the time to step outside of your role, and look at something from a new perspective, is critical – especially when you’ve been doing the same thing for over a decade.

The more you challenge yourself to look at things through a different lens, the more impactful your time off will be.  And you don’t need to take several months to a year off …. you can even do this over short periods of time, like a weekend.  All that’s required is that you disconnect from your current assumptions, and view your world from a different perspective.  Do this, and even Mondays will seem easier.