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You can’t hide anything anymore

A year ago, Wired magazine had the front page headline: Get Naked.
It made me buy the magazine and turned out to be a fascinating article
all about how the world is now transparent. Nothing can be controlled
or hidden anymore. You cannot keep anything secret. It will all get out
there somehow, some way.

Since this article, I’ve noticed how true this is. Embarrassed
politicians, corrupt traders, covert chief executives and their cohorts
should all be afraid. Very afraid.

You cannot hide anything anymore. Information will out, whether it
be through Facebook, blogs, emails, instant messaging, chatrooms, text
messages … you name it. Information will out.

Here are a few examples of how disruptive these trends are proving to be.

First, there is the case this week of the Bear Stearns
executives who thought they could share ideas secretly, but the truth
has come out. Their cunning plan was to send emails between their wives
email addresses. No-one will ever look there will they? Their mistake
was that they believed email to be private communications and did not
realise that all of their emails go through host internet service
providers who keep a copy. Oh dear. Everything is always retrievable
this way.

Second was the very sad case of Tim Russert,
NBC’s news anchor who died of a heart attack in the studios on June
13th, shortly before going on air. The usual form when such a tragic
event occurs is to let the news channel break the news first, out of
respect for the family and friends who should have been contacted
beforehand. Within twenty minutes of Mr. Russert’s passing however,
Wikipedia had his obituary online; a good forty minutes before the
station broke the news.

Third was the recent example of Prince Harry in Afghanistan, whose presence was meant to be secret but was leaked online by an Aussie magazine and, before you knew it, everyone knew he was there. Result: he had to leave.

Fourth, is the news of the launch of Phorm
in the UK. Phorm is being trialled with 10,000 UK BT broadband
customers to make advertising more relevant. It allow sites to run ads
based on individuals surfing history, rather than the content of the
page being viewed.  The system works by using data about a customer’s
internet address and website movements, to build a profile of the
customer. 

Bottom-line: whether you like it or not, everyone will know
everything about you, your preferences, your habits and needs. Oh, and
don’t think privacy is an issue here. As Phorm’s CEO says, all data is
held randomly and no-one’s name or computer address is revealed or
identified. Oh yes.

The fact is that any bank, retailer, government, consumer or citizen
who wants to hide their business these days will find it incredibly
difficult.  Maybe the only way to do this is to be a digitally excluded
and avoid having any information about you being held online.

Become a nobody.

Even then, digital recluses are not immune to being found digitally.

Take the example of one of my relatives. They are in their 70’s and
have no digital accessories. They have never used a computer, have no
email address and do not want to use the internet or anything digital.
They have a typewriter, a telephone and a television, and that is as
technology oriented as they want to get.

I stunned them the other day by googling their name and address,
only to retrieve a variety of documents that gave me a profile of who
they are and what they do.

Nothing is secret.

Banks are no longer able to keep secrets.

I regularly look up banks and bank groups in social networks and online chatrooms and find chats such as:

J: “What do you love most about working here?”
S: “The end of my shift.”

So don’t try to hide anything anymore.

Work out how to use blogs, social networks and viral chat as an aide
to business rather than a threat. There are ways.  More on that another
day.  However, today, to show how much of a threat not being on the
internet can be, you only have to look at this week's battle of
Britain’s largest retailers.

On the evening of June 17th, and all day through June 18th and 19th, Sainsbury’s online shopping website broke down.
As a result, the 90,000 customers who shop online for groceries with
Sainsbury’s each week could not spend their average £80 per transaction
online. That means the grocer lost £1.5 million during the period their
website was down. They also offered £10 compensation to 20,000
distressed shoppers who could not shop to make up for it.

This was really bad timing as the CEO of Sainsbury had just
announced that first quarter results in a presentation to the City
aon18th June, saying that “the online operation is continuing to
perform well, with sales growth at over 40 percent”.

Equally, rival supermarkets started running Google advertisements
within 24 hours of the issue, offering free deliveries and £5 off if
you opening accounts with them instead of Sainsbury.

Imagine if your online banking systems went down for two or three
days, or an exchange’s fault tolerance failed for 72 hours, and you can
imagine this blood bath in banking.

In this cut-throat market, where everything is transparent,
real-time, ultra-competitive and ultra-accessible, banks – like these
internet retailers – must start to leverage internet capabilities far
more than today, to fight harder and win more business.

Using blogs, viral and related services to gain business, whilst
attacking any weaknesses in competitor’s website operations will be the
standard, and the quality of the bank’s internet services team
operations, and online marketing competencies, will separate the
winners from the losers.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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