Just Stop It: Asking for my Date of Birth

Just Stop itIt’s interesting, government departments in many countries cannot ask for any personal information unless it is needed for the services they provide. Why can internet sites get away with this? Your date of birth is a critical piece of identity information, but it’s absolutely not necessary to register for a website.

A number of websites ask you your birth date as part of their registration process, including – as shown in the above example – Yahoo!

Yahoo! in this case tries to soften the blow by promising to provide me with a “better experience”. Let me translate what that means; they will guess based on your age which ads should be served to you. So if you’re in your thirties, and perhaps visit a baby clothes site, you’ll get baby ads, if you’re over forty five it’ll be hair-loss and menopause remedies. Get older and it’s incontinence pads. As if you couldn’t search for such products without their help.

In my case I lie, I have a birth date that I use as my “internet birthday”. Which means I’ll get the incontinence pad ads a little late.

Dark Patterns


I go through Schiphol airport most working days, just as a commuter, don’t get excited. Happily there is free wifi at the airport until I head underground to the train platform. Here’s what the login screen looks like for wifi.


Very simple interface, with clear instructions. But wait! That little box neatly positioned between “accept & connect” and ” terms and conditions” looks like you need to check it, until you read the text next to it. The first time I used the free wifi I checked the box in error and was taken to a purchase screen for premium wifi. I had to turn off wifi and turn it on again to connect to the free access wifi. I wonder how many people pay without realising they didn’t need to.

This is what is known as a dark pattern, a part of user interface designed to trick the user into making a decision that benefits the business. Many cases involve tricking you into opting into subscriptions, or buying extra services.

Computer users scan rather than read content on websites, and we are all used to the standards that have emerged online, we expect to have to tick that we agree to terms and conditions for example. Designers rely on us behaving predictably and design sites using those patterns.

But this predictability can be exploited by designers to generate dark patterns to trick us into buying something we don’t want, or sharing or email address, or preventing us from unsubscribing. In one great example cited on the Dark Patterns site the text explaining how to unsubscribe was in white, on a white background. Sometimes it’s a deceptive check box as in the Schiphol wifi example, so far 11 types of Dark Patterns have been identified.

Many companies are guilty of exploiting dark patterns on their e-commerce sites in deliberate and dodgy attempts to up-sell. Some of the most egregious examples of bait and switch cross into the territory of illegality. Most of the practices aren’t illegal – yet.

As a consumer it’s a good reminder to read carefully, as professionals in the digital world it’s a reminder to treat our customers fairly – the way we’d like to be treated in fact.

Image:  Texture |  Engin Akyurt via pixabay  |  CC0 1.0

It’s Not Google, It’s Us.

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Mashable published an article under the title “Google Translate Might have a Gender Problem“, and published the evidence of the problem, a series of tweets. The complaint was that Google Translate translates the Turkish phrase “o bir doktor” as “he is a doctor” when in fact the Turkish doesn’t give any gender information.

How did this happen? English uses gendered pronouns; he and she, but not all languages do. Turkish uses one pronoun “o” regardless of gender. Which means that to translate a text from Turkish to English a translator must decide whether to translate ‘o’ as he or she.  A human translator will look for evidence within the document to determine which pronoun to use in the translation.

Google Translate works in a different way, it’s essentially a big data project which uses existing translations on the internet and a statistical analysis of the proximity of words in phrases.

So the google translate engine has seen multiple instances where ” o bir doktor” in Turkish was translated as “he is a doctor” in English. Or, where there are few language matches, the frequency of that word sequence is high. In fact another Google tool, ngrams, illustrates how much more commonly we think of doctors as male. Ngrams compares data from books rather than internet sites, but it does reflect how our culture assigns gender to the occupation of doctor.

Doctor is associated with maleness in published text in English, the same pattern exists for engineers and soldiers. Unsurprisingly “he is a nurse” is far rarer in our books than “she is nurse”.
Yes there is misogyny on the internet. But Google Translate hasn’t created this, it’s come out of our misogynist culture.Could we stop blaming Google for something that is far broader – just stop it. In this case Google translate is just a mirror.
 Image:  Stop  |  Kenny Louie  |  CC BY 2.0

Just Stop Putting Public Content Behind a Paywall

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Newspapers are struggling to make money online, so paywalls make sense I get it.

But if your whole story is about a couple of tweets then that story does not belong behind a paywall. Here’s what inspired this post.

A story came up on facebook, I clicked on the link and saw this;

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From the story description and preview I could find enough keywords to find the story on Yahoo.

I could also find the original tweets;

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and then JK Rowling’s genius response which I think is probably what attracted the Telegraph to report it; screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-16-33-25

I do pay for a couple of online subscriptions, where the content is extraordinary, quality, original, researched and well-written. This story is none of those things, it’s a witty aside to the real news. Telegraph did not create the content, it’s not unique to them, they have no ownership rights to it, but feel entitled to put it behind a paywall. Just stop it.

Image:  Stop  |  Kenny Louie  |  CC BY 2.0

Mobile Customer Journey

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Just stop presenting desktop sites to mobile users.

The use of mobile phones has risen and for some uses has overtaken the use of a desktop. Companies have taken advantage of this in a big way, including online retailers. I’ve produced and translated screen captures to demonstrate the issue.

Firstly I received an SMS, telling me I could, via a link, choose a delivery time.

Just Stop It SMS
I clicked on the link and got a internet site with all my order information displayed and the proposed time of between 8am and 10pm. Well as I’d like to leave the house sometime during the day I clicked on the link to change the appointment, and here’s where it went a bit wrong…

Just Stop It… because a new page opened that was impossible to read.

Just Stop ItI could stretch the screen and make the change I needed (delivery between 9am and 1pm).

If you’re using mobile for customer service – particularly if you’re directing customers to use mobile – you need to make sure that the whole experience works on mobile. Just stop thinking it’s OK to expect customers to navigate desktop sites on a mobile screen.


Postscript; my order was delivered at 12.53, and set up in my terrace garden half an hour later. 

 

 

Image:  Stop  |  Kenny Louie  |  CC BY 2.0

Just Stop It: Twitter Auto DMS

Auto DM’s on Twitter. I am not alone in this;

I’ve never got the point of sending an automatic direct message on Twitter. Most of the ones I get either thank me for following them or ask me to connect on another platform. Although I don’t usually react, I think it’s nice, at least the intention is good.

Occasionally the DM asked me to do something extra – retweet something, or leave a comment on a blog, or buy their book. Yep, I once got a DM asking me to buy the author’s book (I didn’t).  I’ve also had some asking me questions – cute, more likely to get a response.

I’ve also noticed a worrying trend; repeat DMs. I’ve had a repeat auto DM at a regular intervals; despite my utter lack of response. This is an old example. I can’t tell you if they’ve stopped because I unfollowed.

 

I have done a quick check on my DMs, at least 80% are sent by robots. That’s pretty much like email spam – only harder to delete. Marji J Sherman called for auto DMs to end, she makes great points. It’s not authentic, it’s not useful, it’s not social. Please, just stop it.

Auto DMs reached a new low recently; I got one saying “Glad we are now friends”. I need a little more than a mutual twitter follow to consider someone a friend. Plus the message came from a company.

Do you send automated DMs? What value do they bring?

Just Stop It: The Curse of the Stock Image


Years ago I noticed that one of our company’s websites used an improbable image across the front page, which turned out to be a stock image. We had a rule in place about stock images which went something like “Don’t use them”. So when I saw the same image appearing on a Nicholas Sparks novel I contacted the web manager who promised to change it, and did about five years later.

In that case there was no reputation damage, in fact few people would have even seen both images and fewer would have made the connection. But what if we’d used a generic “people in office” image and then a magazine had used exactly that image to illustrate an article on say, cybercrime? Not an association you really want people to make about your brand.

There are other examples where choosing a stock image could be problematic; I’ve found customer testimonial images that appear to be someone else’s employee image and all traceable back to one stock photo. It casts doubt on those testimonials.

The testimonials on Cherry Apron Chef include two images of happy customers

 

Both people co-incidentally appear to work for SA softwares

And their colleague on the left seems to have migrated from Rome to Frankfurt, with the help of Expat Guide

“Marcello” also turned up in a website about Rand Paul’s election campaign. I guess the images were chosen to give readers the idea that that Mr. Paul has a wide and diverse group of followers, but it turns out that all the images are from shutterstock, and from a German-based photographer. So much for the local endorsements. Once this was spotted by internet sleuths the images were removed.

The problem with all these examples is that stock images do not grant you an exclusive licence, so other people can re-use the image in their own promotions.

On at least one occasion a stock image has been used to support views not held by the people in the image. Earlier this year a family photo was used in the campaign against gay marriage in Ireland – and the family came out in support of Gay Marriage.

And it gets even worse. This week Donald Trump’s twitter account featured this image to demonstrate his extreme patriotism, and position him as a future leader of the USA.

 

But the internet sleuths spotted something interesting. The soldiers on the lower right, don’t look American, in fact the experts quickly figured out that the image is a stock image from a war re-enactment. So the image used in Trumps campaign to demonstrate his great love of America featured people dressed as Nazi soldiers. The tweet has since been removed and the PR excuse is that it was a “young intern” and that Donald Trump had been somewhere else when the image was posted. So there was a campaign screw-up and Trump blames someone else, immediately. I couldn’t help thinking of a former leader of the USA who famously had a sign on his desk saying “the buck stops here“. So much for “real leadership”!

I understand that using stock images is a cheap way source quality images for your site. But you need to take care using them. I would suggest;

  • don’t use stock images of people to illustrate your employees or your customers, instead use photos of your employees and customers – with their permission! (See this post “Who the hell are these people?” and this post “Photographs of real people work better than inane stock images” from David Meerman Scott)
  • make sure the image is what you think it is, and if there’s doubt look for a new image
  • use the four eyes principle – so two people check every image that is used (no, one person wearing glasses does not count)
  • NEVER blame the intern; it’s your fault for not giving clear instructions, not checking the image, and not having a process in place to manage your content well

Or you could keep it really simple, and don’t use stock images.