An interview with Zoho's Chief Evangelist
This is part two in a series of interviews between Zoho's Chief Evangelist, Raju Vegesna, and analyst Patrick Moorhead. In the first part, they spoke about consumer surveillance and how businesses exploit users by selling their data to advertisers. In part two, they address business surveillance and the role of aggregation tools in data mining.
What is the difference between business and consumer surveillance?
At first glance, consumer surveillance and business surveillance seem similar because they both involve profit-seeking businesses spying on their customers. However, consumer surveillance refers more to B2C organisations, whereas business surveillance focuses on B2B structures.
The confusion is understandable, though. Most people don't pay attention to business surveillance. It's way more discreet. In consumer surveillance, ads wrestle for your attention. When B2B businesses are targeted, there aren't as many ads, but there's still an equal interest in mining user data.
As Raju put it, let's say you visit a random website and submit a form. You might think you're just requesting a callback with a price quote. But as soon as you hit that button, the business generates a profile for you with any personal details you have submitted (like contact information and location), data maps on how you have navigated through their website, and sometimes even the competing products you have researched in the last week. So when they do call you back, they'll know everything they need to know about you thanks to their clever tracking mechanisms and multiple surveillance systems.
It's incredible that they can aggregate all that information within seconds. Who runs these surveillance systems?
Data aggregation is an industry by itself. Independent businesses offer it as a service, collecting data from thousands of sources, to give you consolidated, in-depth information about users. Many technology vendors, such as Oracle and Salesforce, have these tools built in as well. It even landed them a lawsuit in the EU for violating GDPR guidelines.
You wouldn't expect tech giants to violate the law and still remain in business. This only goes to show how mainstream this practice has become.
Is there any way to know who is tracking us?
There are plenty of resources like builtwith.com that can help you understand which websites track you. All you have to do is input a website's URL into their lookup system, and the tool will give you a list of all the third-party tracking codes embedded on the website.
I use Human Capital Management (HCM) software. Does this mean that they can track my employees?
They could if they wanted to. It depends on the software you use and the trackers they use for their product. For example, if a website has the Google Analytics code embedded on their website, they'll be able to analyse customer behaviour on their webpages.
Google will also have access to that data. If the website is hosted on Amazon Web Services (AWS), then Amazon can access the data as well. Even the Domain Name Service (DNS) provider for that website will know exactly what you browse, from the pages you visit to the last second you spent on that website. Every step of the way is tracked.
In simple terms, companies like Google and Amazon can monitor their customers (the website) and their customers' customers (you).
This is one of many security flaws that most people don't know about, so they use Google Analytics for website tracking and management. Popular browsers allow granular tracking as well. Chrome, for example, is notorious spyware. It employs extensive tracking mechanisms that not only track your activity, but also associate it with your Google account. So if you look up flights to Uluru, within minutes you'll have ads in your inbox from airlines that offer discounted tickets and tours.
They often get away with this kind of surveillance because there aren't any serious regulations on these matters. As an employer, if you make it mandatory for employees to use certain software, then you might be forcing your employees to share personal information with a host of random third-party trackers.
We all work after hours sometimes, and personal and work-related browsing overlap quite easily. It's surprising that the software we use for work is aware of my personal browsing history. Zoho also sells software products. What's Zoho's stance on these things?
Zoho doesn't allow any third parties to track our customers.
We've removed all trackers on our website like the Facebook Like buttons and Google Analytics code. In doing so, we also gave up some things.
For example, without these trackers, we can't advertise as effectively. We can't retarget website visitors because we don't track them in the first place. In the greater scheme of things, though, we're completely fine with that. As a company, Zoho believes that it's more important to protect our customers. It will also benefit us in the long run, and that's what we want to focus on.
Sometimes the numbers don't matter, and you have to follow your instinct. This is us listening to our gut.
Over the last few years privacy has become an important part of so many business narratives. Apple and Microsoft are actively campaigning for it. Does that mean we'll soon see some changes in browsers as well?
The newest version of Safari comes with a built-in option to see the prominent trackers on websites. This means, if you're browsing on Safari, you'll automatically see all the trackers that the specific website you're on is using. It's good to see Apple take that stance against tracking and, hopefully, more businesses will realise the seriousness of this issue and block these dangerous trackers.
With that, the second part of Raju's conversation with Patrick from Moor Insights & Strategy is over. We hope you found this conversation useful! Here's a recording of the video, if you'd like to watch it.