Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Little Blue Ghost Swimming in a Red Ocean

While getting a much needed Spring Break this year in Austin at South By Southwest (aka SXSW or 'south-by') I was handed many, many free items enticing my attention to new bands and products or old brands and products (Thanks NY Times for the flipbook and digital version!..)
SXSW is a competitive market, literally everyone jockeying for attention and bar space. Into this mele while wandering the expo hall, an unassuming 20-something handed me a small little ghost sticker and said "Here. Check us out."

Well, this little ghost is something quite BIG. Ghostery allows a simple browser plug-in to block all of the silent we'll call them sucker-fish of BIG DATA. When I downloaded it onto my browser, i was surprised to see upwards of 200 groups that were culling my internet data for sales, marketing and who-know-else research.

To give you a sense of the upheaval that Ghostery can provide, see what self-described "tech-skeptic" Bob Sullivan wrote, "If you make a product designed to help people protect their privacy, a shout-out from Edward Snowden is marketing gold.  That’s what happened recently for the makers of Ghostery, a free Web browser plugin that shows users which companies are tracking their online habits. The tool, which lists third-party firms collecting data in a small pop-up, has quietly amassed 20 million users worldwide – and now we know the world’s most famous leaker is among them. During Snowden’s remote appearance, he recommended three tools for listeners who were worried about their privacy, including Ghostery."

To get a brief top-level view of what some of that data is, i went to and here is a screen shot of some of the information "Big Data" has gathered about me:

Nothing earth shattering, but clearly data analytics is one way firms in crowded (red ocean) consumer markets are trying to get an edge on their competition, much like was outlined in the Blue Ocean Strategy article (HBR, Oct. 2004).

The interesting thing about Ghostery is that theirs is a free service. They have the potential to create a whole new Blue Ocean, but not one driven on a currency of profit, instead one focused on consumer privacy. 20 million users, but I can get their service for free.

As internet and app-based technology continues to reshape markets, it will be a highly volatile and changing landscape. What is Ghostery's market? How do they pay their employees? What sort of market share and 'ocean' are they hoping to shake up and achieve? They're clearly following a reconstructionist view (as the Snowden shout out underscores) that market boundaries can be reconstructed by their actions and beliefs.

They actually make their money off the advertisers that are currently trying to scrape your online data. From their FAQ regarding how they pay their bills

  • Ghostery is totally free, and only collects data if you opt-in.
  • All the data we collect when you opt-in is totally anonymous.
  • We provide data to the advertising industry about their own tools, because like lots of businesses, they value opportunities to measure their own performance.
A fascinating little blue (ghost) ocean to be sure.

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