Think of the new Gmail/Google+ features as part of the identity jigsaw

Gmail and Google+

Last week, Google announced the addition of an interesting new feature to Gmail – the ability for people you know on Google+ to email you even if they don’t have your email address. And vice-versa.

I first heard about it through seeing posts and reports galore about “how to disable Google’s new Gmail feature,” clearly suggesting that an awful lot of people see this as something really bad and to be avoided.

In fact, I’m ok with the idea as explained by Google, that enables anyone in my circles on Google+ being able to send me an email just by typing my name and using the result offered by Google.

And crucially, says Google…

[...] Your email address isn’t visible to a Google+ connection unless you send that person an email, and likewise, that person’s email address isn’t visible to you unless they send you an email.

I’m quite happy with that.

Interestingly, there’s an aspect of this that is much more significant than the simple matter of exchanging emails with people you’re connected to on Google+.

In a post yesterday at re/code, guest writer Hunter Walk has an intriguing idea:

Here’s what I think the integration of Gmail and G+ messaging is really about: Making communications about people and permissions, rather than possession of contact info.

I like this future-thinking as he expands on that idea:

[...] Current generations of kids aren’t going to have to worry about knowing your phone number or email or street address. They’ll be able to press your name or picture, and depending on the app or need, will initiate a text, call, delivery, whatever. Twitter has been experimenting with various DM permissioning. And why do you think Snapchat’s user base didn’t care much when phone numbers leaked? Because the phone number is the least personal data on a phone, compared to your text messages, photos or other app data.

My bet is that a year from now, G+ will be much more about communications, with content sharing as part of the interaction, rather than a social stream. If you were building Gmail and G+ from scratch today, they’d be the same product. And that’s the logic behind the messaging permission changes.

Project that out further and think about this as one potential element in identity verification. Not just your G+ profile or Gmail address, but the whole concept of verifying “name + picture = you” via rich sources of information in trusted databases.

It brings to my mind something that already happened to someone last month where his Facebook profile was accepted by the TSA in the US as validation of identity.

This is a big canvas that paints a huge picture that is one piece of the digital jigsaw that is identity and verifying it, balancing privacy and a lot more.

Lots to figure out.

Is your Facebook profile enough to prove your ID?


One thing synonymous with air travel is declaring your identity, usually in the form of a passport or citizen ID card, depending on the country and other factors.

In some countries, you can manage just fine with a driving license (a de facto ID document in many places), residency permit for foreigners, or a multitude of means of proving your identity.

But would a social networking profile be an approved method of substantiating your identity? Facebook, for instance?

The Drum reports that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) – the US government agency responsible for security at places like airports – has accepted sight of a traveller’s Facebook profile as an approved form of ID.

The news emerged after Twitter user @ZachKlein tweeted his experience on 22 December. [...] “Got to the airport, realized I left my ID at home. TSA allowed me to use my Facebook profile instead,” he tweeted.

According to the Drum’s report, the TSA says it will accept identification in lieu of other more traditional forms of ID from “publicly available databases.” And the TSA says this clearly on its website in the page entitled ‘Acceptable IDs‘:

We understand passengers occasionally arrive at the airport without an ID, due to lost items or inadvertently leaving them at home. Not having an ID does not necessarily mean a passenger won’t be allowed to fly. If passengers are willing to provide additional information, we have other means of substantiating someone’s identity, like using publicly available databases.

The web page doesn’t explicitly mention Facebook. But the question does arise – is this a new policy or just an individual decision by a TSA employee at one particular airport in how he or she interpreted the meaning of “publicly available databases”?

Another question is: what does it say about Facebook as a place of supposed privacy if a government agency sees it as a publicly-available database?

The possibility of using a social network profile for an ID purpose like this wouldn’t immediately occur to me. But when I think of it, I wonder: why not? If you set your profile to be visible publicly, doesn’t it qualify it as being on a “publicly available database”?

On the face of it, using digital information like a database of personal information to verify someone’s identity makes a lot of sense. It’s efficient, it doesn’t require you to carry bits of plastic or paper, undoubtedly it’s more cost effective, and more secure.

If you trust the end-to-end process of doing this, then it’s not a big step to imagine such digital information about you being used in many other areas where ID verification is required. Think of international air travel where a passport currently is an essential ID to show no matter what other form of ID you may have.

It’s also not hard to project that thought out to iris scanning or facial recognition as a way to verify ID, where no other form of ID is required. That’s not a new idea at all. Indeed, I remember making use of iris-scan recognition for entry to The Netherlands when I lived in Amsterdam a decade ago – no need to show a passport when arriving (or departing) on an international flight.

But all that’s the logic. The emotional aspect of it is a dark place given the absolute lack of trust many people have with regard to governments and personal information. Just ask Edward Snowden.

Still, if it helps makes air travel (for instance) a simpler, easier, safer and more pleasant experience, I like the idea.

I’d be willing to consider it. Would you?

Don’t ignore social voices, Knight Frank #LostMyGiggle


It’s always very interesting seeing how the mixture of empowered social communication, Twitter and a hashtag can totally disrupt traditional communication and command and control behaviours.

We’ve seen this during the past week in two specific examples – the negative hashtag hijacking experience for British Gas (#AskBG), and the positive organization/consumer enlightenment experience for the Bank of England (#AskBoE).

As Shel and I discussed in this week’s FIR podcast, a Twitter hashtag that’s at the centre of a communication activity can be a double-edged sword.

So it’s with great interest that I’ve been following developments on Twitter (and elsewhere on the social web, especially Facebook) over the past few days with #LostMyGiggle, #knightfrank and #ruralvoice.

The first hashtag is central to a developing story involving my friend Heather Gorringe, owner of Wiggly Wigglers, a mail-order gardening supply business in Herefordshire; and Knight Frank, the London-based estate agency firm with offices worldwide.

The latter two hashtags play supporting, amplifying (hijacking, even) roles.

The heart of the matter involves a disagreement between Wiggly Wigglers and Knight Frank over professional advice by the latter to the former concerning a planned property purchase.

While I can’t comment on the details of the issue itself, I can comment on the communication and what’s happening online as a one-sided conversation is building that’s extremely critical of Knight Frank.

Results for #LostMyGiggle

One sided? Yes, because the object of all of the criticism is absent from the conversation in the primary place it’s happening.

And absent from its own hashtag, clearly ignoring this conversation that’s extending there as well.

Results for #knightfrank

Just reading the tweets timeline over the past week and more tagged with #LostMyGiggle shows the number of voices expressing concern and outrage at the unprofessional way in which they believe Knight Frank has behaved in this matter is growing by the day.

The total number of tweets (1,254) so far may be small but the reach (2,202,698) is what counts more – look at the number of tweets and retweets and the indicator of network sizes of those tweeters – as Heather posted today.


Facebook is also part of the big picture. Heather noted that Knight Frank deleted a post on its Facebook timeline that she had commented on.

"You have removed a post..."

As I write these words, that post hasn’t been undeleted by Knight Frank. Luckily for posterity, Heather took a screenshot before the post disappeared.


While I can also see all of this from Knight Frank’s probable perspective – it’s an issue that has potential legal, ethical and professional implications so no public discourse about anything – I can also see where staying mum isn’t necessarily the best course of action.

Some people may think this is all totally irrelevant and has no importance whatsoever. After all, what difference can a small business in rural Herefordshire, along with its vocal social community, make against a global corporation like Knight Frank?

That’s the wrong question, in my view. The TweetReach metrics Heather posted today give us a clue of what really matters here as the small number of critical voices on social networking sites continue to be critical, grow in strength and get amplified as more people discover or stumble across their posts.

Knight Frank should see all this as an alarm bell, a warning shot across the bows of reputation where they will be judged in how they address these online criticisms.

Ignorance is failure.

Filters and trust

Truth-O-MeterAs we get exposed to more and more information online, two elements assume great importance – filtering in the things we want to see; and verifying those things so we trust our filtered-in information along with the purveyors of it.

The former is easier done than the latter: there are apps, algorithms and all manner of technical tools to help you filter in what you want and, thus, filter out what you don’t.

Trust is a very tricky thing. Subjective, emotive and based largely on the things people say to one another, no one has yet come up with a method of automating trust that is convincing, reliable and, well, trusted.

Could PundiFact and the Truth-O-Meter be an answer? According to the US newspaper the Tampa Bay Times, yes, it could.

[…] The new site will have a dedicated staff of journalists who will research claims by media figures and rate them using PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter. The fact-checks will be published on and will often be featured on the main PolitiFact site.

[…] “Pundits on TV and radio, as well as bloggers and columnists, are prominent voices in our political discourse, yet sometimes they blur the lines between opinion and fact,” said Neil Brown, editor and vice president of the Times. “Now we will hold them accountable, much as we’ve done with politicians.”

PolitiFact does have a track record of rating American politicians and what they say, presenting ratings in a way that you can, at a glance, see how particular public voices stack up on a truth scale. At least, according to PolitiFact.


Craigslist founder Craig Newmark is quoted in the Tampa Bay Times story with a resonating appeal:

I just want news I can trust, and PunditFact is a real contribution in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.

The bold’s my emphasis.

Maybe that’s the way to see this idea as one that’s “in the direction of trustworthiness and accountability.” That sounds realistic.

I’d love to see a PunditFact for the UK!

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Too much FUD and too little facts about fracking

Fracking equipment

If there’s one major issue of significant public interest today that’s shrouded in fear, uncertainty and doubt, it’s fracking.

If you believe the supporters of this mining process to extract natural gas and petroleum deposits from shale rock – formally known as “hydraulic fracturing” – it could be the salvation of our energy needs for the foreseeable future, maybe for the next forty years or more.

If you believe the opponents of fracking, it’s a major threat to the environment and to public health, causes earth tremors if not actual quakes and is not the answer to meeting our energy needs.

In the midst of all this FUD are governments looking for that political and economic Holy Grail of meeting energy needs that is low cost to do so, will create jobs, stimulate the economy and doesn’t have significant environmental impact, among other things. And might get the political party in government re-elected at the next election.

Who to believe? When trying to find some facts about fracking itself and the consequences of employing the techniques to extract the energy resources from the ground, what confidence can you have that the information you do find is trustworthy? Or rather, those who curate that content can be trusted?

For instance:

A few reports from the mainstream media (plus opinion in one blog post). But is it all just so much propaganda?

Seeing TV news reports of the recent protests surrounding the Balcombe site in southern England and the plans by Cuadrilla, an oil and gas exploration and production company, to carry out exploratory drilling to determine suitability of the site for actual fracking, I’m left befuddled and not knowing who to believe.

Even though the Balcombe protests look far too organized to be purely concerned local citizens – to me, it smacks of professional protesters parachuted in, so to speak, by a serious and well-financed organization, one with a big political agenda and little transparency in who’s behind it all – I’m also left with increasing alarm:  what if the anti-frackers are right?

Now take a look at this video I came across the other day, via Robert Llewellyn. I have no idea who the producer “Millie Thedog” is, what axe he or she may be grinding (or not), nor whether he or she is an information source I can trust. I have no information on that.

Yet this six-minute video presents a calm but disturbing assessment of the alleged impact of fracking in southern England if it actually happens, especially on the scale the video claims.

(If you don’t see the video embedded above, watch it at YouTube.)

After watching the video for the first time, I asked myself: “Just because we could, does it mean that we should?”

Where’s the truth? Is it out there?

(Image at top of page via Cuadrilla Resources)

JWT India and Ford: the real costs of stretching boundaries

JWT India's Ford ad mock-up

Last week’s kerfuffle surrounding JWT India, unauthorized mock-up ads and car maker Ford that Shel and I discussed at length in this week’s episode 697 of the FIR podcast may have subsided in terms of news headlines in the mainstream media, but it’s the stimulus for a great deal of commentary and opinion online about the ethics and morality of what JWT India did, the reaction of Ford and the consequences so far.

Briefly, this is what happened.

JWT India, Ford’s ad agency in India, created three mock-up print ads for the Ford Figo, a hatchback car based on the Ford Fiesta. The most controversial shows former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in caricature flashing a peace sign from the front seat of a car that has three curvaceous women tied up and gagged in the boot.

Another shows a caricature Paris Hilton winking while the Kardashian sisters are gagged and bound in the back of the Figo. And a third portrays Formula One driver Michael Schumacher in caricature behind the wheel of the car with rivals Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso tied up in the boot.

In each case, the ad’s tag line is “Leave your worries behind with Figo’s extra-large boot.”

The mock-ups weren’t intended for public use. But the creators at JWT India uploaded the concept artwork to the Ads of The World website where they were public.

Reaction has been near-universal outrage across the social web, and widely reported in the mainstream media in many countries. Ford and JTW apologized in public statements. One swift action taken by JWT India was the firing of the creative team behind the stunt and axing Bobby Pawar, chief creative officer and managing partner at JWT India.

Ragan’s PR Daily has a good summary of events and how Ford’s PR teams responded to it; in my view, their actions prevented a kerfuffle becoming an actual crisis – a key point I made in the FIR podcast report I mentioned earlier.

Is it a big deal and firing JWT India’s employees was absolutely the right thing? Or is it all a storm in a tea cup with over-reactions everywhere by Ford and others?

Opinions are actually quite divided.

The first commentary I read that clearly fell on the side of storm in a teacup was written for by Vishal Mehra, a digital strategist at Bite’s New Delhi office.

Lighten up! Ford, others are overreacting to Figo fiasco, he says:

[…] what struck me the most was the mass sentiment of shock and horror over the firings. In the creative community in India, most people view this as an overreaction and believe that those creatives did not deserve to lose their jobs.

[…] Overreactions from a typically conservative Indian brand may have been expected, but coming from an American brand like Ford? The reaction to us has seemed oddly uptight for a brand headquartered in the land of free speech.

Yes, the agency and its people messed up. But why couldn’t the client show some faith and character? Yes, the agency was trying to win awards out of scam ads. But the ad industry thrives on stretching boundaries. This definitely isn’t the first time and won’t be the last time that adventurous and ambitious folks have done things true to their nature.

It’s an interesting perspective that highlights for me how understanding business and cultural differences in different countries – where in India, creating such stunt ads with the sole purpose of winning awards is commonplace – is important. Yet does that make Mehra’s perspectives valid? His post attracted a few comments, but none supports his views.

Media headlines

Mehra talks about stretching boundaries, a point that’s discussed and amplified in a really good assessment of the Indian advertising-culture landscape surrounding so-called “scam ads” in The New York Times on April 1:

[…] Controversies arise in India because of a difference in sensibility between the Indian advertising industry and international agencies, executives said. “International advertising people play it a lot safer,” said the creative director at another WPP company in Mumbai, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he didn’t want to be seen criticizing his peers. “They wouldn’t take as many risks as a developing country like India as they are often more aware of the political implications,” he said. In India, “we lack the knowledge about international icons, we don’t know where to draw the line – here you’ll see people wearing Hitler t-shirts. We don’t always understand the implication of what we are saying and doing,” he said.

It’s thin ice to walk upon when you work for an international brand as your client – and when the agency you work for is also an international brand – where the values of that brand perhaps aren’t clearly understood by agency employees in some markets. That’s not good at all, which in my view increases the likelihood of something bad happening, like this kerfuffle.

My good friend Eric Schwartzman posted an equally “What’s the big deal?” commentary to the FIR Community on Google+ yesterday in which he argues that consumers would hardly care about the kerfuffle and it wouldn’t affect Ford’s sales, adding:

[…] It doesn’t impact the company’s core competency, which for +Ford Motor Company  means safety, reliability and service. So even though it tasteless and insensitive, it’s only worthy of an eye roll.

Eric’s post drew a stream of vibrant opinion disagreeing with him, and a clear response from Scott Monty, Ford’s Global Digital and Multimedia Communications Manager:

[…] As one person who was on the front lines for this, I can tell you that Ford’s reputation was damaged over the course of the last couple of weeks. Not only did we see complaints from owners on our Facebook pages and directed to us on Twitter, indicating that they would not be buying a Ford vehicle again, we also fielded calls in our customer service unit from disgruntled customers expressing dismay in Ford, expressing their disgust and indicating they had bought their last Ford.

So yes, sales could have very much been affected.

Not to mention the dozens of similar emails we fielded via our investor relations group, with concerned investors expressing their intention to sell Ford shares as a result.

[...] What concerns me the most personally is the far-flung impact that will not be known for some time and that perhaps a future team will have to deal with as these images retain their Google juice. It’s very likely that we’ll have to explain this ad nauseam for many years to come.

From what I saw of some of the comments Scott talks about, these were mainly from US consumers. The important point, though, isn’t really one of geography: in this age of instant word-of-mouth online by people who are globally connected no matter where they are, critical and negative opinion can be seen, added to, shared and amplified at will, at any time.

As PR Daily quotes him:

[…] “It’s really a matter of having a well-integrated team—a globally coordinated effort—rather than just assuming folks in another region are going to handle it,” he explained. In years past, an issue like this wouldn’t have spread globally the way that it did, Monty added.

Which adds to the key elements to consider when you’re doing your “What if?” scenarios in planning communication strategy, especially anticipating how you’d address a crisis.This was one of the points Shel and I discussed in the FIR podcast earlier this week – how do you plan for events such as this?

My thinking is that you have to assume something like this can, and probably will, happen somewhere. That’s when you call upon your community across the social web, the people with whom you have built up trust, goodwill and rapport over time, people who will defend you and support you. You might call them fans, brand advocates or champions.

Whatever the label, they are people of influence and reach who will bring measured, independent, trustworthy and credible voices to the conversation and tell your story. They are the most invaluable connections you can make that will prove their value when you really need it, forming a significant plank in your overall communication platform.

What’s your view on all of this? Over-reaction, or more than just an eye roll? Do add your thoughts in the comments, or join the conversation in the FIR Community on Google+.

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