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October 27, 2014

Integrity of Whisper App Questioned

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The firm behind social media app Whisper is tracking the location of its users – despite claiming to be ‘the safest place on the internet’ in terms of anonymity. The company is also sharing information from phones known to be used in military bases with the US Department of Defense, according to a recent Guardian expose.

Whisper users currently publish around two-and-a-half million messages a day. Their principal selling point is anonymity, but the Guardian report alleges the company has developed an in-house mapping tool allowing them to locate users to within 500 meters. The British newspaper also claims Whisper has been handing user locations to the Department of Defense. 

According to the Guardian, Whisper has been storing data since their 2012 launch. At that time, much of their brand image was predicated on a policy of holding data only for ‘a brief period of time’ and allowing those who don’t wish to be tracked to opt out of geo-location.

But the Guardian claims Whisper has been storing data even on users who specifically opted out. The news will be particularly alarming to military personnel who have used the platform to unburden themselves of traumatic events witnessed or experienced in the line of duty. Many soldiers use the app to share suicidal feelings and symptoms of PTSD and to discuss other topics they wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about on social media outlets like Facebook. 

The Guardian says Whisper has shared user data with law enforcement agencies, the FBI and MI5, a practice Whisper contends is standard in the tech industry – and only in situations where there is evidence of criminal behavior or imminent suicide.

Whisper has denied the allegations, saying it ‘does not follow or track users’ and dismissing the suggestion they were monitoring people without consent as ‘false’. CEO Michael Heyward issued a ten point riposte to the Guardian and suspended his editor-in-chief when the allegations came to light. He insists Whisper is only sharing information with the DoD when there is an investigation into frequent mentions of self-harm, adding “[We] are proudly working with many organizations to lower suicide rates.”

Heyward has been summoned to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee to answer questions about the app’s privacy policy.

Whisper has experienced rapid growth over the past two years and is now valued at more than $200m. The app tapped into a growing demand for private, confessional platforms which purport to foster more candid public discussions about sensitive issues like suicide.

Whisper has updated it’s terms and conditions since the story broke. 

October 16, 2014

How to Improve Text Message Security

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Mobile phone security risks are abundant with standard, unencrypted text messages among other elements of mobile use. Accordingly, more and more users are looking to encrypted phone call and text message options for privacy protection. A number of apps available for iOS and Android are designed to improve text message security, encrypting both text messages and phone calls. Let’s take a look at some of these apps, but remember no app can protect mobile devices from physical access. Unless a phone features a passcode, anyone handling the device can read messages, view pictures, check out call history, etc.

 

TextSecure and Signal

Created by former Twitter security researcher Moxie Marlinspike’s Open Whisper Systems, TextSecure allows users to message everyone on their phone list. End-to-end encryption is only available when talking to other TextSecure users; however, notifications are sent if the conversation isn’t secure. Available for free on Android, TextSecure utilizes independently developed algorithms, including those that create a new security key with each message.

 

Telegram

Described by its creators as the encrypted, cloud-based, quicker version of WhatsApp, Telegram makes it easy to share messages and media with up to 200 people at once. Choices include ephemeral chats, which are never saved, and cloud-accessible messages for users wanting to return to conversations. The “secret” chats leave “no trace” on the Telegram server.

 

Wickr 

Offering “military-grade security,” Wickr is for those who want to know their messages and photos aren’t readable past a certain time. Metadata is stripped from photos before they’re sent, and messages automatically disappear following a set amount of time after being read. The app makes customization simple and allows users to decide how many people they want to find them, create group chats, and “shred” remains of deleted files.

 

Surespot

Surespot features tools for independently managing different identities on a single device to distinguish personal and professional communications. Voice chat is also integrated, as is flexible photo control for locking, unlocking, and deleting photos from recipients’ phones. The app requires a password that cannot be recovered or reset. Users may look at one another’s public keys offline to ensure no “man-in-the-middle” attacks.

 

CoverMe

CoverMe securely stores a variety of media data, including passwords, photos and documents, and makes it possible to hide identities and phone numbers. Calling and texting with non-users is possible via the CoverMe phone plan, but only phone calls and texts with other users feature end-to-end encryption.

These and other security apps offer the text message security that businesses often require to communicate with employees and clients. And of course, they’re useful for the everyday user as well.

 

October 09, 2014

Are Selfies the Future of Mobile?

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Defined as a photograph “one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to social media,” the selfie is poised to be the future of mobile marketing, duck face and all.

The folks behind Opera Mediaworks certainly believe in the marketing power of the selfie. The company recently partnered with Celtra and now offers advertisers the ability to integrate selfies into ad campaigns.

The partnership “brings together Celtra’s expertise in empowering advertisers to deliver meaningful, highly-captivating brand messages to their audiences in the most effective and measurable manner and Opera Mediaworks’ vast global ad platform, which serves 64 billion impressions a month to more than 800 million consumers.”

This selfie ad format allows advertisers to create highly-personalized campaigns geared towards “precisely-targeted” audiences, and therefore up the ante much like geo-tracking. Today’s consumers can browse the internet, download favorite music, stream movies and do pretty much anything else on their phones, resulting in a desire for personal experiences with favorite brands rather than a more generic or traditional interaction. Selfies are about “branding yourself” as much as they are about brands...think images of famous people holding or using assorted products.

The Celebrity Selfie

The ubiquity of the celebrity selfie is partially responsible for turning the concept into a money-making opportunity, with Calvin Klein recently launching a selfie campaign using celebs and fans posing in their Calvin briefs. The pictures feature the hashtag #mycalvins. Ellen DeGeneres’ snapshot from the 2014 Oscars featuring Bradley Cooper, Julia Roberts and a number of other stars was dubbed “the most retweeted selfie of all time,” once again demonstrating the selfie’s impressive function as a communication tool.

World Domination

Selfies aren’t just for American audiences, or for those who keep their feet on the ground. The Philippines is one country capitalizing on the selfie, with their Postal Corporation recently creating selfie stamp tourism souvenirs as a way of encouraging locals to send personalized packages. NASA is getting in on the selfie action, with their Instagram account featuring selfies of astronaut Mile Hopkins...in outer space.  

Simplicity At Its Best?

Taking a selfie isn’t exactly challenging, and the popularity of selfies and their corresponding hashtags provide an easy advertising option for brands looking to create more personal relationships with consumers. Every smartphone features a quality front-facing camera, and even if the selfie is as narcissistic as critics say, there’s no denying its power as a marketing tool. 

October 08, 2014

Mobile Marketing Budgets are Smaller Than They Should Be

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Mobile devices have quickly become powerful marketing tools, yet brands are still not investing in mobile advertising as they probably should. Despite practically “everyone” owning a mobile device, mobile marketing accounts for a mere 5 percent of the average brand’s budget. Why? Usual reasons include difficulty tracking performance and gauging ROI.

According to recent Forrester research, 62 percent of marketers surveyed felt “confident” about measuring mobile ad campaign ROI, yet only 18 percent felt “very confident” in their ability measure ROI. Marketers want to see hard numbers if heavily investing in mobile, which many experts find “counter-intuitive.” 

“Consumers now spend over half of their leisure time on mobile devices,” says Gal Oppenheimer, senior product manager of built.io, a mobile back-end and application development platform. “Mobile advertising is clearly important, but it needs to get easier to track brand awareness and consumer spending.”

Other experts say marketers are too busy comparing mobile and desktop metrics, which is essentially a waste considering how different the mediums are. Marketers are used to cookie-based tracking, but such tracking doesn’t really work in the mobile world. A single cookie isn’t capable of tracking consumer actions as they go back and forth between mobile browsers and apps, nor can they follow consumers who click on mobile app download ads. The latter is a common mobile ad unit that encourages consumers to download a brand’s app. 

Mobile marketing is definitely a work in progress, yet current efforts are encouraging. Groupon, for example, works with at least three different mobile ad networks, and places ads on a wide range of publishers’ mobile sites and apps. The online retailer works with mobile advertising vendor Fiksu Inc. to discover which mobile attribution methods are best for tracking ad effectiveness.

Facebook is also working on a solution to the “mobile puzzle.” The social media giant introduced a mobile ad unit in April of this year, Audience Network, which allows marketers to target and place ads across an assortment of mobile apps utilizing what Facebook knows about its sizable user base. The network is designed to result in more relevant ads on apps, which leads to improved click-through rates, and subsequently a better ROI for the advertiser and more revenue for app developers.

Marketers are still hesitant, but if tracking abilities improve, more money will go into mobile ad efforts. “Forrester found that if marketers could track more reliably, 86 percent would allocate more of their budgets to mobile,” wrote Mike O’Brien in a recent post for ClickZ. “And 93 percent would run more cross-channel campaigns, something only 13 percent said they felt confident measuring.”

 

September 23, 2014

5 Reasons Why Mobile Marketing is Top Dog

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Mobile marketing is now so sophisticated and ubiquitous, it’s easy to forget just how new the phenomenon is. Web marketing has been around since the advent of the internet, but apart from a few rather crude SMS blasts, the concept of mobile marketing didn’t really exist until the first wave of smartphones came out less than a decade ago.

It may have taken a while to come of age, but mobile commerce has been making up for it over the past few years, with sales derived from tablets and smartphones expected to reach $100 billion by the year’s end. Google analysts predict mobile search volumes will outstrip desktop by 2015. Every business worth it’s salt is pursuing some kind of mobile marketing strategy, each hoping to corner their share of a smartphone audience that accounts for more than half of the population of the United States.

We’ve identified five key reasons why mobile has become the top priority of businesses great and small:

It’s Local

Right now, 40% of mobile searches are local; 77% of those take place from a user’s home or workplace, indicating an active preference for mobile even when alternatives are available. This is tremendously important for small businesses serving their local area. By targeting local keywords, a small business owner can conduct an effective mobile marketing campaign on a relatively tight budget. Which brings us to…

It’s Affordable

Before the mobile revolution, effective marketing campaigns were expensive. Really expensive. Television, radio and billboard advertising cost a lot of money, way more than your average small-to-medium sized business owner can afford. Big corporations got bigger and everyone else was priced out. SMS messaging has changed all that, allowing start ups to have a realistic chance of success on shoestring budgets. The ROI for mobile advertising is also easy to track, with analytics providing invaluable data like peak search times and customer preferences. With mobile, businesses can tweak their service according to consumer behavior and make their ad spend go further.

It’s Fast

Four out of five mobile conversions happen within five hours of the search. This is critical because searches turn into leads, and ultimately sales. Make yourself available via mobile and you can grab more customers faster than ever before.

It’s for Everyone

The first generation of cell phone owners are now in the valuable 55-64 demographic – and their children are even more tech savvy. Mobile growth is happening across all age groups and ethnicities, which is a solid gold gift for marketing managers.

…and Everything

The top five tasks performed on smartphones are making phone calls (83%), checking emails (74%), search (67%), taking photos (62%) and accessing social media (57%). There’s hardly an online activity that isn’t conducted via mobile. Another gift for marketers, who can focus variously on each task as part of their campaign.

Mobile marketing is here to stay, and it represents a real revolution for small business owners who no longer have to be drowned out by corporate clout. Get on board with your own mobile marketing campaign and you’ll find out for yourself why mobile is top dog.

September 17, 2014

(More Than) Texting From Your Computer

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As many iPhone users know, it can be a breeze to respond to iMessages whether you have your phone or not. Due to the fact that Apple has designed the iMessage platform to run on Mac, tablet, and smartphones alike, users have the benefit of sending and receiving messages from a computer if they want to. But what if you don’t have this luxury? Perhaps you are using another type of smartphone or you prefer PCs. Well, now you have an answer.

A new platform called Pushbullet serves to mirror all of the content on your android device, sending it to the computer of your choice. And yes, this includes text messages.

Many will argue that they don’t need to send or receive texts from their computer, but note all of the powerful benefits. First of all, mobile phones have much smaller interfaces with tiny on-screen keyboards that can be difficult to navigate. When you attempt to type on them, they autocorrect your every word. Were you to type the text message from your computer, you could type the whole text message on your regular keyboard – some without even looking at the screen.

When you work on a computer all day long (as most people do these days), isn’t it easier to send and receive text messages without having to look down at your phone every few seconds. Sending and receiving SMS messages from your computer is easier on the eyes and the neck. Also, you can turn off the loud text alert in the office without worrying about missing texts due to silent mode.

The Pushbullet platform also provides messaging history. If you have more than one mobile device, you can review all of your messages at once, along with any documents currently on the mobile device.

Pushbullet technology allows users to send a variety of items from their computers to their phones, save SMS attachments on a computer’s hard drive, and seamlessly transfer links between computer and phone. Essentially, Pushbullet has a variety of options for Android/PC users that can increase productivity immensely, which is arguably even more significant than sending a text messages from a computer.

August 31, 2014

Building an Effective Drip Campaign

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Connecting with customers can be difficult in an age of technology, when consumers are being bombarded by advertising from all directions. Due to such high spam rates, the effectiveness of email marketing and snail mail advertising has dropped significantly. That’s why marketing these days takes repetition, repetition, repetition. By creating a good drip campaign, you can raise the chances that a prospect will not only open your marketing message but ultimately invest in an ongoing relationship with the brand.

A drip campaign is a time-released set of automated messages via either email or text marketing. These messages are cued by certain triggers, from click-throughs and sign-ups, to a series of messages sent out according to a scheduled calendar. Drip campaigns are designed with one purpose in mind – to pique the interest of potential customers over continued engagement. Here are some great ideas when it comes to an effective drip campaign:

  • Be Clear on the Conversion

When setting up a drip campaign, always be clear on exactly what you would like from the customer. Is the end goal to receive a purchase, a sign-up, or a referral? Create a clear conversion goal for the campaign and an extremely coherent pathway for the customer to get there. Make sure the call-to-action is concise and simple, and the conversion process is as easy as can be. If customers don’t quickly understand what to do next and how to do it…they probably won’t do anything!

  • Strengthen the relationship

Think about how to build better relationships with customers. Personalized messages can go a long way when it comes to strengthening customer relations. Address clients by name, and send messages from a personal account whenever possible (rather than from an obviously automated one). In addition, be sure to send customer greetings on special holidays and birthdays. Consumers appreciate attention to detail and feel connected to brands that address them personally.

  • Provide value

Customers must see the benefit in engaging with a brand. Every email or text message should contain content that clients find useful. Include links to engaging articles and blogs, announce exciting events, comment on current trends, or offer them participation at upcoming webinars. Sending customers special or exclusive offers is perhaps the best way to provide value in a drip campaign.

  • Automate with excellence

Be choosy when it comes to message automation. Make sure the email or text marketing service you choose meets all of your brand’s needs. The auto-responder should have follow-up capabilities, exhaustive analysis of metrics, and matchless reliability. Don’t waste your time with second-rate services, as there are several reliable and affordable marketing companies to choose from.

With drip campaign best practices in your marketing arsenal, you are bound to gain some traction with current and prospective clients. Start planning and testing a drip campaign for your business to stand out above the milieu of advertising spam.

August 14, 2014

Is Beacon Technology Going to Change the Retail World?

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Beacon technology incorporates the power of consumer-targeted advertising with location-based mobile marketing by installing small pieces of low-cost hardware within the shelves of retail stores. When customers enter a store with Bluetooth-enabled mobiles or tablets, the business can send customized advertisements directly to their devices thereby enhancing their shopping experience. While Beacons have only recently begun to appear in shops, the technology itself is already part of Apple devices since the 3rd generation of their products. And reports from the tech blogs are starting to take notice of the Beacon technology’s capabilities.

Mass Potential

Apple’s beacon system, called iBeacon, is automatically installed in all devices that use their current operating system, iOS 7. This means that, even if a mobile user knows little about how the iPad or iPhone works, they still have the infrastructure in place to benefit from Beacon technology. There could be as many as 190 million iOS devices currently capable of accessing iBeacons. Undoubtedly, this number showcases the unbridled potential of Beacon technology.

Current Barriers

There is a bit of a curve to this technology, though. An almost equal amount of the mobile and tablet markets use non-Apple products, which are less integrated with the Beacon infrastructure. Because the operating systems of non-Apple products tend to require updated versions of their OS, mobile marketers cannot rely upon these technologies for their Beacon-based advertising strategies.

Furthermore, Beacon technology requires mobile users to “opt in,” in a manner of speaking. First of all, customers will need to download the appropriate app for the business in question, and then they will have to activate it before entering the store. In addition, Beacons require ranging technology to function, which works in proximity of the devices using a mobile’s Bluetooth. The mobile will not receive any pushes or notifications, however, if a phone’s location is cloaked – the customer must allow the appropriate app to access its location for the Beacon to function properly.

The Future

In truth, Beacon technology is only beginning to get a foothold in the physical advertising space, and once it gains some traction, it will be here to stay. The unrealized potential of mobile location-based marketing is burgeoning, just waiting to be deployed. In the near future, we will witness customers taking advantage of flash sales and contactless payment options, as well as living in automated homes where temperature and lighting may be adjusted directly from mobile devices. The rule books have yet to be written. We do know that the key to capitalizing on Beacon technology will rely on corporations’ creativity and connectedness: sharing real-time information with customers to a mutual end and appealing to the changing temperaments of these individuals, all the while motivating these loyal customers in a direction – according to when and where – they want them to be. 

August 09, 2014

Six of the Best: Reasons to Use SMS

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Despite the appeal of other emerging forms of communication, text messaging via SMS is still the most popular choice for mobile users. Four billion people around the globe use SMS, sending upwards of a trillion messages each year. Due to its popularity it’s no wonder that mobile marketers agree: pound for pound, SMS allows for the furthest reach to the widest audience. But why is SMS the best selection for a mobile marketing campaign? Here are several reasons:

1)Popularity

As mentioned above, SMS is the most popular form of mobile communication. At least 70% of the world’s populace uses a mobile phone, and of those subscribers, 80% of them use text. With reach like that, mobile marketers will want to incorporate SMS into their marketing strategy.

2)Permanence

First off, text messages can be sent at anytime to anyone. Even if the receiver is offline, they will receive the SMS once they are back online. Messages do not expire, and will be read as soon as the recipient is free to read it.

Furthermore, SMS users tend to remain SMS users. Many different communications platforms have been developed since the late 20th century: fax, email, IM, as well as the more recent platforms of apps, multimedia messaging, Facebook and Twitter. Consumers choose text messages due to their widespread availability and the low cost. Also, practically everyone knows how to send and receive text messages. For years, SMS shall go head-to-head with the mobile user’s other most common type of communication (voice calling).

3)Capability

SMS-style messages have numerous capabilities. They can include binary data, pictures, music, logos, animations, and coupons/vouchers. Information can be exchanged between applications. And in fairly recent news, SMS is able to utilize mWallet services – an invaluable asset to have in today’s mobile marketing landscape.

4)Dialogue

Text messages are a two-way street, allowing for back and forth communication between users. From a marketing standpoint, this paves the way for feedback, comments, and join-in promotions using SMS. Many marketing campaigns ask users to send them photos within messages. In one example, BBC radio ran a picture-messaging campaign for the MDA that was wildly successful – to the tune of over forty-thousand picture messages in a 24-hour period!

5)Payments

SMS promotes the use of reverse payments, where the recipient may opt to pay for the message. In the case of valuable mobile content, this is the most common method to receive payment. Also, charities have utilized SMS’ payment capabilities, providing a channel and a means for eager donors.

6)Economy

Certainly, bulk SMS messages can be costly, but they are cheaper than the Post Office. Also, since the messages are short, they are more likely to gain the attention of busy mobile users. And clever retailers can do a lot using only 160 characters.

Perhaps one day there will be a way for advertisers to break through the noise, creating targeted cross-platform advertisements that reach every mobile user available. Since SMS is the most widespread and powerful mobile marketing tool currently available, be sure to incorporate text messaging strategies into your marketing campai

July 30, 2014

Microsoft Finally Takes It's Head From the Sand... and Into the Cloud

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After years of threatening to become a computing anachronism, Microsoft is transmogrifying into a cloud services provider with a strong focus on mobile marketing. 

Earlier this year, the tech giant put the finishing touches to its Windows Phone 8.1 OS, and promised delivery to consumers by ‘Summer 2014’. They’ve already begun integrating Nokia’s smartphone business, and shares have gone up by 25% since the appointment of new CEO Satya Nadella five months ago.

On the face of it, Microsoft is finally joining the cloud/mobile party that’s been in full swing since the turn of the decade. It’s been a long time coming, and competing with the likes of Google and Apple will be a tough road aho.

Critics have lambasted Microsoft for its reticence regarding the obvious consumer appeal of cloud computing, but their strategy has become more focused on Nadella’s watch, with the professed ‘cloud first, mobile first’ philosophy at last gaining credibility.

In particular, the firm has begun to recognize the need to give partners more control over the cloud services they resell. They recently announced the implementation of the Microsoft Cloud Solutions Provider program, which grants affiliates who resell products like Office 365 and Windows Intune greater control of billing and customer service tools. Says Phil Sorgen, Executive Vice President of Worldwide Partnerships:

“It fundamentally enables our partners to own the customer relationship.”

The program will expand gradually until it covers all MS cloud services. It certainly appears that Microsoft is offering the right incentives to partners. They are waiving the first year fee for new registrants wanting to sell Azure and Office 365, and increasing the number of internal use rights licenses by anything from 25 to 200 percent. Even their traditional on-premise software products are getting a 10 percent price slash for partner programs.

The jury is still out on whether this cloud and mobile marketing strategy will pay off for Microsoft. With hundreds of thousands of partners out their, the challenge is to meet the needs of a vast, heterogeneous group with extremely diverse priorities. Not all of them are thrilled at the way the wind is blowing.

Many long-time resellers and integrators will find themselves struggling to adjust their models to cloud-based services after years spent building business around on-premises Microsoft software. For one thing, on-premises deals are usually made with a one-time payment, whilst cloud services are sold by subscription. The latter generates recurring revenue streams – but the size of the deal tends to be smaller.

But Microsoft have realized that focusing on the future is the only way to ensure long term prosperity. Their attentions are pointed at the ‘born in the cloud’ generation of entrepreneurs who have never used on-premises software. For them, Microsoft’s evolution can’t happen quickly enough.