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May 26, 2019
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How to stop robocalls spamming your phone

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No matter what your politics, beliefs, or even your sports team, we can all agree on one thing: robocalls are the scourge of modern times.

These unsolicited auto-dialed spam calls bug you dozens of times a week — sometimes more — demanding you “pay the IRS” or pretend to be “Apple technical support.” Even the now-infamous Chinese embassy scam, recently warned about by the FBI, has gained notoriety. These robocallers spoof their phone number to peddle scams and tricks — but the calls are real. Some 26 billion calls in 2018 were robocalls — up by close to half on the previous year. And yet there’s little the government agency in charge — the Federal Communications Commission — can do to deter robocallers, even though it’s illegal. Although the FCC has fined robocallers more than $200 million in recent years but collected just $6,790 because the agency lacks the authority to enforce the fines.

So, tough luck — it’s up to you to battle the robocallers — but it doesn’t have to be a losing battle. These are the best solutions to help keep the spammers at bay.

YOUR CARRIER IS YOUR FIRST CALL

Any winds of change will come from the big four cell giants: AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon (which owns TechCrunch).

Spoofing happens because the carriers don’t verify that a phone number is real before a call crosses their networks. While the networks are figuring out how to fix the problem — more on that later — each carrier has an offering to help prevent spam calls.

Here are what they have:

AT&T‘s Call Protect app, which requires AT&T postpaid service, provides fraud warnings, and spam call screening and blocking. Call Protect is free for iOS and Android. AT&T also offers Call Protect Plus for $3.99 a month which offers enhanced caller ID services and reverse number lookups.

Sprint lets customers block or restrict calls through its Premium Caller ID service. It costs $2.99 per month and can be added to your Sprint account. You can then download the app for iOS. A Sprint spokesperson told TechCrunch that Android users should have an app preinstalled on their devices.

T-Mobile doesn’t offer an app, but provides a call screening to alert customers to potentially scammy or robocalled incoming calls. (Image: Farknot_Architect/Getty Images)

T-Mobile already lets you know when an incoming call is fishy by displaying “scam likely” as the caller ID. Better yet, you can ask T-Mobile to block those calls before your phone even rings using Scam Block. Customers can get it for free by dialing #662# from your device.

Verizon‘s Call Filter is an app that works on both iOS — though most Android devices sold through the carrier already have the app preinstalled. The free version detect and filter spam calls, while its $2.99 a month version gives you a few additional features like its proprietary “risk meter” to help you know more about the caller.

There are a few caveats you should consider:

  • These apps and services won’t be a death blow to spam calls, but they’re meant to help more than they hurt. Your mileage may vary.
  • Many of the premium app features — such as call blocking — are already options on your mobile device. (You can read more about that later.) You may not need to pay even more money on top of your already expensive cellular bill if you don’t need those features.
  • You may get false positives. These apps and services won’t affect your ability to make outbound or emergency calls, but there’s a risk that by using a screening app or service you may miss important phone calls.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

You don’t have to just rely on your carrier. There’s a lot you can do to help yourself.

There are some semi-obvious things like signing up for free to the National Do Not Call Register, but robocallers are not marketers and do not follow the same rules. You should forget about changing your phone number — it won’t help. Within days of setting up my work phone — nobody had my number — it was barraged with spam calls. The robocallers aren’t dialing you from a preexisting list; they’re dialing phones at random using computer-generated numbers. Often the spammers will reel off a list of numbers based off your own area code to make the number look more local and convincing. Sometimes the spoofing is done so badly that there are extra digits in the phone numbers.

Another option for the most annoying of robocalls is to use a third-party app, one that screens and manages your calls on your device.

There are, however, privacy tradeoffs with third-party apps. Firstly, you’re giving information about who calls you — and sometimes who you call — to another company that isn’t your cell carrier. That additional exposure puts your data at risk — we’ve all seen cases of cell data leaking. But the small monthly cost of the apps are worth if it means the apps don’t make money off your data, like serving you ads. Some apps will ask you for access to your phone contacts — be extremely mindful of this.

The three apps we’ve selected balance privacy, cost and their features.

  • Nomorobo has a constantly updated database of more than 800,000 phone numbers which lets the app proactively block against spammy incoming calls while still allowing legal robocalls through, like school closures and emergency alerts. It doesn’t ask for access to your contacts unlike other apps, and can also protect against spam texts. It’s $1.99 per month but comes with a 14-day free trial. Available for iOS and Android.
  • Hiya is an ad-free spam and robocall blocker that powers Samsung’s Smart Call service. Hiya pulls in caller profile information to tell you who’s calling. The app doesn’t automatically ask for access to your contacts but it’s an option for some of the enhanced features, though its privacy policy says it may upload them to its servers. The app has a premium feature set at $2.99 per month after a seven-day trial. Available for iOS and Android.
  • RoboKiller is another spam call blocker with a twist: it has the option to answer spam calls with prerecorded audio that aims to waste the bot’s time. Better yet, you can listen back to the recording for your own peace of mind. The app has more than 1.1 million numbers in its database. The app was awarded $25,000  by the Federal Trade Commission following a contest at security conference Def Con in 2015. RoboKiller’s full feature set can be found on iOS but is slowly rolling out to Android users. The app starts at $0.99 per month. Available for iOS and Android

You may find one app better than another. It’s worth experimenting with each app one at a time, which you can do with their free trials.

WHAT YOUR PHONE CAN DO FOR YOU

There are some more drastic but necessary options at your disposal.

Both iOS and Android devices have the ability to block callers. On one hand it helps against repeat offenders, but on the other it’s like a constant game of Whac-a-Mole. Using your in-built phone’s feature to block numbers prevents audio calls, video calls and text messages from coming through. But you have to block each number as they come in.

How to block spam calls on an iPhone (left) and filter spam calls on Android (right).

Some Android versions are different, but for most versions you can go to Settings > Caller ID & Spam and switch on the feature. You should be aware that incoming and outgoing call data will be sent to Google. You can also block individual numbers by going to Phone > Recents and tapping on each spam number to Block and Report call as spam, which helps improve Google spam busting efforts.

iPhones don’t come with an in-built spam filter, but you can block calls nonetheless. Go to Phone > Recents and tap on the information button next to each call record. Press Block this caller and that number will not be able to contact you again.

You can also use each device’s Do Not Disturb feature, a more drastic technique that blocks calls and notifications from bugging you when you’re busy. This feature for both iOS and Android block calls by default unless you whitelist each number.

How to enable Do Not Disturb on an iPhone (left) and Android (right).

In Android, swipe down from the notifications area and hit the Do Not Disturb icon, a bubble with a line through it. To change its settings, long tap on the button. From here, go to Exceptions > Calls. If you want to only allow calls from your contacts, select From contacts only or From starred contacts only for a more granular list. Your phone will only ring if a contact in your phone book calls you.

It’s almost the same in iOS. You can swipe up from your notifications area and hit the Do Not Disturb icon, shaped as a moon. To configure your notifications, go to Settings > Do Not Disturb and scroll down to Phone. From here you can set it so you only Allow Calls From your contacts or your favorites.

WHAT THE REGULATORS CAN DO

Robocalls aren’t going away unless they’re stamped out at the source. That requires an industry-wide effort — and the U.S. just isn’t quite there yet.

You might be surprised to learn that robocalls aren’t nearly as frequent or as common in the Europe. In the U.K., the carriers and the communications regulator Ofcom worked together in recent years to pool their technical and data sharing resources to find ways to prevent misuse on the cell networks.

Collectively, more than a billion calls have been stopped in the past year. Vodafone, one of the largest networks in Europe, said the carrier prevents around two million automated calls from reaching customers each day alone.

“In the U.K., the problem has been reduced by every major operator implementing techniques to reject nuisance calls,” said Vodafone’s Laura Hind in an email to TechCrunch. “These are generally based on evidence from customer complaints and network heuristics.”

Though collaboration and sharing spam numbers is important, technology is vital to crushing the spammers. Because most calls nowadays rely in some way on voice-over-the-internet, it’s easier than ever to prevent spoofed calls. Ofcom, with help from privacy regulator the Information Commissioner’s Office, plans to bring in technical solutions this year to bring into effect caller authentication to weed out spoofed spam calls.

The reality is that there are solutions to fix the robocall and spammer problem. The downside is that it’s up to the cell carriers to act.

Federal regulators are as sick of the problem as everyone else, ramping up the pressure on the big four to take the situation more seriously. Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai threatened “regulatory intervention” if carriers don’t roll out a system that properly identifies real callers.

One authentication system would make call spoofing nearly impossible, known as Secure Telephone Identity Revisited and Signature-based Handling of Asserted Information Using Tokens — or STIR/SHAKEN. The system relies on every phone number having a unique digital signature which, when checked against the cell networks will prove you are a real caller. The carrier then approves the call and patches it through to the recipient. This happens near-instantly.

The carriers have so far promised to implement the protocol, though the system isn’t expected to go into effect across the board for months — if not another year. So far only AT&T and Comcast have tested the protocol — with success. But there is still a way to go.

Until then, don’t let the spammers win.

Cybersecurity 101 - TechCrunch

Google reshuffles its leadership in Asia Pacific

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There’s a changing of the guard within Google’s Asia Pacific business. In recent weeks, personnel changes within two of its most important roles show the search giant is entering a new era of management for its fast-growing business across the continent.

Scott Beaumont, a British executive who previously ran Google in China and Korea, stepped into the role of Asia-Pacific president following an announcement made on March 18. Following that, Google revealed today that Rajan Anandan, the executive in charge of Google’s business in India and Southeast Asia, would leave the company. VC firm Sequoia India said that Anandan, who has made a number of angel investments, is joining its ranks to oversee Surge, the early stage accelerator program that it announced in January.

A former consultant with McKinsey in the U.S, Anandan worked for Microsoft and Dell before joining Google in 2011. Under his tenure, the company executed a range of initiatives for India under its ‘Next Billion Users’ initiative which included its Tez payments service (now called Google Pay), public WiFi, local apps and a range of more data-friendly versions of apps like Maps and YouTube. Under Anandan, Google’s revenues surpassed $1 billion annually with reports suggesting that India-based income grew some 30 percent year-on-year last year.

Anandan will stay on at Google until the end of April. Vikas Agnihotri, Google India’s head of sales, will step into his role until a replacement is found, Google said.

Beaumont paid tribute in a statement:

We are grateful to Rajan for his huge contribution to Google over the past eight years. His entrepreneurial zeal and leadership has helped grow the overall internet ecosystem in India and Southeast Asia, and we wish him all the best in his new adventures.

Google certainly stands in a more competitive position in India today, but whoever replaces Anandan will need to deliver a strategy in response to Facebook’s phenomenal growth in India — where it is said to be close to $1 billion in annual revenue, with big plans for its hugely popular WhatsApp service — and continue to develop strategies for mobile.

Rajan Anandan, vice president of Google for South East Asia and India, is leaving the search giant to oversee Sequoia’s new early-stage accelerator program (Photo credit: Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)

It isn’t clear if Anandan’s departure is related to Beaumont’s recent promotion — you’d imagine that the two were among the main candidates for the top job at Google Asia — but heading to Sequoia is no slack move, particularly given the company’s increased focus on early-stage investing and Surge.

Now some words on Beaumont, who TechCrunch understands from sources is widely-liked within Google. His tenure in China is linked with the development of DragonFly, the secretive project to develop a government-friendly search service in China, but internally his star is rising thanks to Google’s improved business position in China.

DragonFly may (may) have been shuttered, but Beaumont is credited with helping Google build revenue in China through advertising deals, with The Information reporting that China-based revenue surged by more than 60 percent to more than $3 billion last year.

Scott Beaumont, Google’s newly-appointed head of Asia Pacific is widely credited with developing Google’s business in China in recent years, but that also included the controversial work on a proposed censored search service for Mainland China (Photo credit: Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

Like Twitter and Facebook, that has included dealing with state-backed media and other organizations keen to lean on Western internet pillars to reach a global audience but, as an interesting report from The Information earlier this year showed, Google also set up robust on-the-ground systems to let SMEs and companies selling to the global market access Google services through third-party offices and resellers.

On the strategy side, Beaumont struck investments deals with e-commerce giant JD.com and HTC — which involved the acquisition of a smartphone division, in the case of the latter — inked a patent license with Tencent, put cash into some earlier stage startups and selectively launched some products in China.

It remains to be seen how Google’s China strategy will develop now that Beaumont has taken on more responsibility with a broader job and, indeed, what he will bring to Google’s overall strategy in Asia Pacific. The region accounts for around 15 percent of revenue behind the U.S. and Europe, according to Google parent Alphabet’s latest financials, with 33 percent annual growth second only to Latin America.

The “splinternet” is already here

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There is no question that the arrival of a fragmented and divided internet is now upon us. The “splinternet,” where cyberspace is controlled and regulated by different countries is no longer just a concept, but now a dangerous reality. With the future of the “World Wide Web” at stake, governments and advocates in support of a free and open internet have an obligation to stem the tide of authoritarian regimes isolating the web to control information and their populations.

Both China and Russia have been rapidly increasing their internet oversight, leading to increased digital authoritarianism. Earlier this month Russia announced a plan to disconnect the entire country from the internet to simulate an all-out cyberwar. And, last month China issued two new censorship rules, identifying 100 new categories of banned content and implementing mandatory reviews of all content posted on short video platforms.

While China and Russia may be two of the biggest internet disruptors, they are by no means the only ones. Cuban, Iranian and even Turkish politicians have begun pushing “information sovereignty,” a euphemism for replacing services provided by western internet companies with their own more limited but easier to control products. And a 2017 study found that numerous countries, including Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen have engaged in “substantial politically motivated filtering.”

This digital control has also spread beyond authoritarian regimes. Increasingly, there are more attempts to keep foreign nationals off certain web properties.

For example, digital content available to U.K. citizens via the BBC’s iPlayer is becoming increasingly unavailable to Germans. South Korea filters, censors and blocks news agencies belonging to North Korea. Never have so many governments, authoritarian and democratic, actively blocked internet access to their own nationals.

The consequences of the splinternet and digital authoritarianism stretch far beyond the populations of these individual countries.

Back in 2016, U.S. trade officials accused China’s Great Firewall of creating what foreign internet executives defined as a trade barrier. Through controlling the rules of the internet, the Chinese government has nurtured a trio of domestic internet giants, known as BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent), who are all in lock step with the government’s ultra-strict regime.

The super-apps that these internet giants produce, such as WeChat, are built for censorship. The result? According to former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, “the Chinese Firewall will lead to two distinct internets. The U.S. will dominate the western internet and China will dominate the internet for all of Asia.”

Surprisingly, U.S. companies are helping to facilitate this splinternet.

Google had spent decades attempting to break into the Chinese market but had difficulty coexisting with the Chinese government’s strict censorship and collection of data, so much so that in March 2010, Google chose to pull its search engines and other services out of China. However now, in 2019, Google has completely changed its tune.

Google has made censorship allowances through an entirely different Chinese internet platform called project Dragonfly . Dragonfly is a censored version of Google’s Western search platform, with the key difference being that it blocks results for sensitive public queries.

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer of Google Inc., sits before the start of a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Pichai backed privacy legislation and denied the company is politically biased, according to a transcript of testimony he plans to deliver. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “people have the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Drafted in 1948, this declaration reflects the sentiment felt following World War II, when people worked to prevent authoritarian propaganda and censorship from ever taking hold the way it once did. And, while these words were written over 70 years ago, well before the age of the internet, this declaration challenges the very concept of the splinternet and the undemocratic digital boundaries we see developing today.

As the web becomes more splintered and information more controlled across the globe, we risk the deterioration of democratic systems, the corruption of free markets and further cyber misinformation campaigns. We must act now to save a free and open internet from censorship and international maneuvering before history is bound to repeat itself.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – MAY 22: An Avaaz activist attends an anti-Facebook demonstration with cardboard cutouts of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, on which is written “Fix Fakebook”, in front of the Berlaymont, the EU Commission headquarter on May 22, 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Avaaz.org is an international non-governmental cybermilitating organization, founded in 2007. Presenting itself as a “supranational democratic movement,” it says it empowers citizens around the world to mobilize on various international issues, such as human rights, corruption or poverty. (Photo by Thierry Monasse/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Ultimate Solution

Similar to the UDHR drafted in 1948, in 2016, the United Nations declared “online freedom” to be a fundamental human right that must be protected. While not legally binding, the motion passed with consensus, and therefore the UN was provided limited power to endorse an open internet (OI) system. Through selectively applying pressure on governments who are not compliant, the UN can now enforce digital human rights standards.

The first step would be to implement a transparent monitoring system which ensures that the full resources of the internet, and ability to operate on it, are easily accessible to all citizens. Countries such as North Korea, China, Iran and Syria, who block websites and filter email plus social media communication, would be encouraged to improve through the imposition of incentives and consequences.

All countries would be ranked on their achievement of multiple positive factors including open standards, lack of censorship, and low barriers to internet entry. A three tier open internet ranking system would divide all nations into Free, Partly Free or Not Free. The ultimate goal would be to have all countries gradually migrate towards the Free category, allowing all citizens full information across the WWW, equally free and open without constraints.

The second step would be for the UN to align itself much more closely with the largest western internet companies. Together they could jointly assemble detailed reports on each government’s efforts towards censorship creep and government overreach. The global tech companies are keenly aware of which specific countries are applying pressure for censorship and the restriction of digital speech. Together, the UN and global tech firms would prove strong adversaries, protecting the citizens of the world. Every individual in every country deserves to know what is truly happening in the world.

The Free countries with an open internet, zero undue regulation or censorship would have a clear path to tremendous economic prosperity. Countries who remain in the Not Free tier, attempting to impose their self-serving political and social values would find themselves completely isolated, visibly violating digital human rights law.

This is not a hollow threat. A completely closed off splinternet will inevitably lead a country to isolation, low growth rates, and stagnation.

The responsibility for a sustainable digital future

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On March 12, 2019, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the “World Wide Web”, Tim Berners-Lee’s ground-breaking invention.

In just thirty years, this flagship application of the Internet has forever changed our lives, our habits, our way of thinking and seeing the world. Yet, this anniversary leaves a bittersweet taste in our mouth: the initial decentralized and open version of the Web, which was meant to allow users to connect with each other, has gradually evolved to a very different version, centralized in the hands of giants who capture our data and impose their standards.

We have poured our work, our hearts and a lot of our lives out on the internet. For better or for worse. Beyond business uses for Big Tech, our data has become an incredible resource for malicious actors, who use this windfall to hack, steal and threaten. Citizens, small and large companies, governments: online predators spare no one. This initial mine of information and knowledge has provided fertile ground for dangerous abuse: hate speech, cyber-bullying, manipulation of information or apology for terrorism – all of them amplified, relayed and disseminated across borders.

Laissez-faire or control: between Scylla and Charybdis

Faced with these excesses, some countries have decided to regain control over the Web and the Internet in general: by filtering information and communications, controlling the flow of data, using digital instruments for the sake of sovereignty and security. The outcome of this approach is widespread censorship and surveillance. A major threat to our values ​​and our vision of society, this project of “cyber-sovereignty” is also the antithesis of the initial purpose of the Web, which was built in a spirit of openness and emancipation. Imposing cyber-borders and permanent supervision would be fatal to the Web.

To avoid such an outcome, many democracies have favored laissez-faire and minimal intervention, preserving the virtuous circle of profit and innovation. Negative externalities remain, with self-regulation as the only barrier. But laissez-faire is no longer the best option to foster innovation: ​​data is monopolized by giants that have become systemic, users’ freedom of choice is limited by vertical integration and lack of interoperability. Ineffective competition threatens our economies’ ability to innovate.

In addition, laissez-faire means being vulnerable to those who have chosen a more interventionist or hostile stance. This question is particularly acute today for infrastructures: should we continue to remain agnostic, open and to choose a solution only based on its economic competitiveness? Or should we affirm the need to preserve our technological sovereignty and our security?

Internet of Things connecting in cloud over city scape.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/chombosan

Paving a third way

To avoid these pitfalls, France, Europe and all democratic countries must take control of their digital future. This age of digital maturity involves both smart digital regulation and enhanced technological sovereignty.

Holding large actors accountable is a legitimate and necessary first step: “with great power comes great responsibility”.

Platforms that relay and amplify the audience of dangerous content must assume a stronger role in information and prevention. The same goes for e-commerce, when consumers’ health and safety is undermined by dangerous or counterfeit products, made available to them with one click. We should apply the same focus on systemic players in the field of competition: vertical integration should not hinder users’ choice of goods, services or content.

But for our action to be effective and leave room for innovation, we must design a “smart regulation”. Of course, our goal is not to impose on all digital actors an indiscriminate and disproportionate normative burden.

Rather, “smart regulation” relies on transparency, auditability and accountability of the largest players, in the framework of a close dialogue with public authorities. With this is mind, France has launched a six-month experiment with Facebook on the subject of hate content, the results of which will contribute to current and upcoming legislative work on this topic.

In the meantime, in order to maintain our influence and promote this vision, we will need to strengthen our technological sovereignty. In Europe, this sovereignty is already undermined by the prevalence of American and Asian actors. As our economies and societies become increasingly connected, the question becomes more urgent.

Investments in the most strategic disruptive technologies, construction of an innovative normative framework for the sharing of data of general interest: we have leverage to encourage the emergence of reliable and effective solutions. But we will not be able to avoid protective measures when the security of our infrastructure is likely to be endangered.

To build this sustainable digital future together, I invite my G7 counterparts to join me in Paris on May 16th. On the agenda, three priorities: the fight against online hate, a human-centric artificial intelligence, and ensuring trust in our digital economy, with the specific topics of 5G and data sharing.

Our goal? To take responsibility. Gone are the days when we could afford to wait and see.

Our leverage? If we join our wills and forces, our values can prevail.

We all have the responsibility to design a World Wide Web of Trust. It is still within our reach but the time has come to act.

Changing consumer behavior is the key to unlocking billion dollar businesses

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In the summer of 2012, I had just learned of a new service where a driver would pick you up in their own car, not a taxi or licensed town car. You’d be able to recognize the car by the pink mustache strapped to the front. I quickly downloaded the new app called Lyft and, intrigued, started to share it with others around the Airbnb offices.

Almost everyone gave me a same response: “I would never use it.” I asked why. “Well, I wouldn’t feel comfortable getting into someone else’s car.” I said, “Wait a minute, you are comfortable allowing others into your home and staying in others’ homes while you travel, but you don’t want to get into someone else’s car?” The reply was always a version of “Yeah, I guess that’s it—a car is different than a home.”

I was dumbfounded. Here was a collection of adventurous individuals — who spent their days at Airbnb expanding the boundaries of what it means to trust another person — but they were stuck on the subtle behavior change of riding shotgun with a stranger. I then had another quick reaction: this product was going to be huge.

Behavior Shifts in Consumer Internet

Truly transformative consumer products require a behavior shift. Think back to the early days of the internet. Plenty of people said they would never put their credit card credentials online. But they did, and that behavior shift allowed e-commerce to flourish, creating the likes of Amazon. Fast forward to the era when Myspace, Facebook, and other social networks were starting out. Again, individuals would commonly say that they would never put their real names or photos of themselves online. It required only one to two years before the shift took hold and the majority of the population created social media profiles. The next wave included sharing-economy companies like Airbnb, Lyft, and Uber, prompting individuals to proclaim that they would never stay in someone else’s home or get into their car. In short order, times changed and those behaviors are now so commonplace, these companies are transforming how people travel and move about the world.

The behavior shifts were a change in socially accepted norms and previously learned behavior. They alone don’t create stratospheric outcomes, but they do signal that there could be something special at play.

Build an Enhanced Experience

Still, just because a product creates a behavior shift does not mean that it will be successful. Often, though a handful of loyal users may love them, there is ultimately no true advantage to these products or services.

One prime example comes to mind, the product Blippy. In late 2009, the team built a product to livestream a user’s credit card transactions. It would show the purchase details to the public, pretty much anyone on the internet, unlocking a new data stream. It was super interesting and definitely behavior shifting. This was another case where many people were thinking, “Wow, I would never do that,” even as others were happily publishing their credit card data. Ultimately there was little consumer value created, which led Blippy to fold. The founders have since gone on to continually build interesting startups.

In successful behavior-shifting products, the shift leads to a better product, unlocking new types of online interactions and sometimes offline activities in the real world. For instance, at Airbnb the behavior shift of staying in someone else’s home created a completely new experience that was 1) cheaper, 2) more authentic, and 3) unique. Hotels could not compete, because their cost structure was different, their rooms were homogenized, and the hotel experience was commonplace. The behavior shift enabled a new product experience. You can easily flip this statement, too: a better experience enabled the behavior shift. Overall, the benefits of the new product were far greater than the discomfort of adopting new behavior.

Revolutionary products succeed when they deliver demonstrable value to their users. The fact that a product creates a behavior shift is clearly not enough. It must create enormous value to overcome the initial skepticism. When users get over this hurdle, though, they will be extremely bought in, commonly becoming evangelists for the product.

Unlock Greenfield Opportunity

One key benefit of a behavior-shifting product is that it commonly creates a new market where there is no viable competition. Even in cases where several innovative players crop up at the same time, they’re vying for market share in a far more favorable environment, not trying to unseat entrenched corporations. The opportunity then becomes enormous, as the innovators can capture the vast majority of the market.

Other times, the market itself isn’t new, but the way the product or service operates in it is. Many behavior-shifting products were created in already enormous markets, but they shifted the definition of those markets. For instance, e-commerce is an extension of the regular goods market, which is in the trillions. Social media advertising is an extension of online advertising, which is in the hundreds of billions. Companies that innovated within those markets created new greenfield but also continued to grow the existing market pie and take market share away from the incumbents. The innovators retrain the consumer to expect more, forcing the incumbents to respond to a new paradigm.

(Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Shape the Future

A behavior shift also allows the innovator to shape the future by creating a new product experience and pricing structure.

When it comes to product experience, there are no prior mental constructs. This is a huge advantage to product development, as it allows teams to be as creative as possible. For instance, the addition of ratings in Uber’s and Lyft’s products changed the dynamic between driver and rider. Taxi drivers and passengers could be extremely rude to each other. Reviews have altered that experience and made rudeness an edge case, as there are ramifications to behaving badly. Taxis can’t compete with this seemingly small innovation because there is no mechanism to do so. They can’t enhance quality of interaction without taking the more manual approach of driver education.

Another benefit to the innovator is that they can completely change the economics of the transaction, shaping the future of the market. Amazon dictated a new shopping experience with online purchasing, avoiding the costs of a brick-and-mortar location. They could undercut pricing across the board, focusing on scale instead of margin per product. This shifted the business model of the market, forcing others to respond to follow suit. In many cases, that shift ultimately eroded the competition’s existing economic structure, making it extremely challenging for them to participate in the new model.

Expect Unintended Consequences

It can be difficult to imagine at the outset, but if your product is encouraging massive behavior shifts, you will undoubtedly encounter many unintended consequences along the way. It is easy to brush off a problem you did not directly and intentionally create. But as the social media companies are learning today, very few problems go away by ignoring them. It is up to you to address these challenges, even if they are an unintended byproduct.

One of the most common unintended consequences nearly all behavior-shifting companies will run into is government regulation. Regulation is created to support the world as it is today. When you introduce a behavior shift into society, you will naturally be operating outside of previously created societal frameworks. The sharing-economy companies like Airbnb and Uber are prime examples. They push the boundaries of land use regulation and employer-employee relationships and aggravate unions.

I want to emphasize that you should not ignore such matters or think that their regulation is silly. Regulation serves a purpose. Startups must work with regulators to help define new policy structures, and governments must be open to innovation. It’s a two-way street, and everyone wins when we work together.

What’s Next

My advice is to start by thinking about existing categories that represent people’s biggest or most frequent expenditures. The amount of money you spend on your home, transportation, and clothes, for example, is enormous. Is there an opportunity to grow and capture part of these markets by upending old commercial models and effecting a behavior shift?

Scooter networks are a real-time example of a behavior-shifting innovation that is just getting going. It has the same explosive opportunity of prior game-changing innovations. There are still many individuals who state that they will never commute on scooter. But applying this framework tells me that it is just a matter of time before it is more widely adopted as the technology keeps evolving and maturing.

There is no magical formula for uncovering massive, behavior-shifting products. But if you come up with an innovative idea, and everyone initially tells you that they would never use it, think a little harder to make sure they are right…

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