Evan Schuman

About the Author Evan Schuman


Supreme Court to look at mobile privacy. Uh-oh.

Does the prospect of your company’s worst enemies getting access to full tracking information on your employees’ mobile phones freak you out? If so, you’ll want to track something yourself: a case the U.S. Supreme Court just agreed to consider. 

Although the case involves criminal law and the question of whether police need a court-issued search warrant for intimate mobile records, one former federal prosecutor points out that the Court’s ruling could open the door to civil discovery and subpoena access. In other words, the ruling could make such mobile data available to anyone who chooses to sue your company, for any reason, whether the claim is legitimate or not. 

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Amazon Go is a great mobile solution, but for the wrong problem

A long-held retail IT fantasy is that complete item-level RFID will be deployed. In theory, this would allow both merchant and shopper to know precisely where every item is, making both inventory and finding that wayward box of strawberry-flavored corn flakes quite easy. But the economics of placing an RFID tag — the cost of which still tends to plateau at about five cents each — have made it nonviable for all but the most expensive products.

Hold that thought for a moment. Now let’s consider Amazon Go, which is Amazon’s attempt at an entirely automated physical store. But instead of RFID tags, it uses cameras and video analytics. It presumably starts with a perfectly accurate snapshot of every item in the store and knows exactly where each one is situated.

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IDG Contributor Network: Amazon Go is a great mobile solution, but for the wrong problem

A long-held retail IT fantasy is that complete item-level RFID will be deployed. In theory, this would allow both merchant and shopper to know precisely where every item is, making both inventory and finding that wayward box of strawberry-flavored corn flakes quite easy. But the economics of placing an RFID tag — the cost of which still tends to plateau at about five cents each — have made it nonviable for all but the most expensive products.

Hold that thought for a moment. Now let’s consider Amazon Go, which is Amazon’s attempt at an entirely automated physical store. But instead of RFID tags, it uses cameras and video analytics. It presumably starts with a perfectly accurate snapshot of every item in the store and knows exactly where each one is situated.

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Dual biometrics may just be the authentication answer we need

A major problem with biometric authentication is that, when it doesn’t work, there are few good options to proceed with the authentication. When the system says that’s not your eyeball, there’s no fallback akin to “Forgot your password?” You have to revert to some less discerning authentication method, such as a PIN. 

Some vendors are trying to deal with this by using a simultaneous, multi-biometric method. “Simultaneous” is important because using two methods consecutively would take more time, resulting in end users’ resistance and lower participation rates. 

One vendor, Sensory, is making serious headway in figuring out interesting ways to use dual biometrics.

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IDG Contributor Network: Self-checkout: What shoppers want to do is rarely what they end up doing

One of the first things retail executives learn is that shopper surveys are horrible indicators of what shoppers will do in stores. Asked if they would make purchases at a breached retailer, they’ll routinely say no. But quarterly earnings betray the truth that being breached has just about zero influence on revenue. (Blame zero liability, but that’s a column for another day.)

The issue for today is self-checkout. Surveys show that shoppers love the idea. Retailer experience shows that shoppers don’t love self-checkout the reality nearly as much as they love self-checkout the concept. Reality messes things up, with fruits and vegetables that need weighing and age-restricted products and long lines and filled-to-the-brim shopping carts that were never supposed to be handled at self-checkout. Shoppers are quick to dismiss the value of an associate at a staffed checkout lane, ignoring the fact that their experience of scanning millions of SKUs makes them awfully good at it and impressively fast.

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IDG Contributor Network: Amazon successfully fights off pricebots

One big downside of the plethora of e-commerce shopping bots out there today is that they create the impression of a difference when there may not be one. If I may give my two cents’ worth, is a two-cent difference meaningful, especially when shipping prices are far more than that?

Significant difference or not, shoppers love them. And even more importantly, they act on them. When a bot lists a product and shows 20 different sites, the ranking by lowest price is almost always selected. After price, reputation and customer reviews can play a role, but none persuade as effectively as price.

That’s why Walmart, which wears its tagline about having the lowest prices the way Marley’s Ghost wears his chains (each one is weighed down by bad decisions made years ago), takes pricebots so seriously. Unfortunately for Walmart, so does Amazon. And Amazon doesn’t seem to care one bit for Walmart’s price trackers — and chose to block them all.

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Missing protection: Corporate B2B privacy policies

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With security awareness, money talks

According to a recent report, academics have been analyzing brainwaves of computer users to improve how they are alerted to cybersecurity dangers. I’m sorry, but getting users to pay stricter attention to security isn’t brain surgery: It’s all about money and job security. Come to think of it, job security itself is all about money, which makes money the only carrot and the only stick that IT needs.

That report, courtesy of Bloomberg BNA, said, “Many computer users automatically swat away repetitive dialogue box warnings of impending doom, especially when they are engaged in another activity. Now, engineers are using data analytics based on user tracking to discover what might help users pay attention to warnings. Software engineers are exploring promising techniques, such as changing background colors in warning notifications and switching formats to distinguish substantial security warnings from mundane messages. Tapping people’s brains helps the engineers design more effective user interfaces.”

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IDG Contributor Network: Apparel chains can fight back against Amazon, but it won’t be easy

With recent reports that Amazon is preparing to make a major play in custom clothing — as well as apparel in general — clothing chains are panicking. To be fair, when many physical chain executives hear the word “Amazon,” panic seems to be the default response.

The good news is that panic is not needed, because there are some fine defense options. The bad news is that those options are painful, and I’m not at all certain apparel chains are scared enough to actually take meaningful actions.

This column has repeatedly argued that the best way physical chains can fight Amazon is to do what Amazon can’t: Deliver a wonderful physical experience. Use that which is unique to the physical experience and deliver a show that no virtual retailer can.

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