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Last Week In Digital - 26th June 2017

Uber loses its leader, Snapchat gets creepy, and Google promises privacy

26Jun

Travis Kalanick steps down as Uber CEO

Easily the biggest tech news of the week came, unsurprisingly, from Uber. The ride-hailing giant has been embroiled in controversy for six months after accusations of rampant cultural issues have shattered the company’s image. Seen as a promotor of a cutthroat ‘bro’ culture, co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down as leader as a result of pressure from five of the company’s largest investors. The resignation came just a week after Kalanick promised to clean up Uber’s corporate culture, and many see his resignation as the first step towards doing so.

Over the past six months, Uber has been accused of profiting from the New York City taxi strike in response to Donald Trump’s travel ban, as well as allowing a culture of misogyny and bullying to develop, and Kalanick himself has been caught on video arguing with one of his drivers. When former engineer Susan Fowler published a blogpost detailing her experiences of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at Uber, it felt like the beginning of the end for Kalanick, and his resignation will come as a surprise to no one.

’I love Uber more than anything in the world and at this difficult moment in my personal life I have accepted the investors’ request to step aside so that Uber can go back to building rather than be distracted with another fight,’ Kalanick told the New York Times. What that building will look like remains to be seen, given that Uber’s success thus far has been built on getting around the rules. This corner-cutting endeared the tech community to Uber, but scandal after scandal has thrown the company’s reputation into disrepair and it’ll take some building job to restore it.

Snapchat rolls out contentious new feature

Ephemeral messaging app Snapchat has been locked into competition with Facebook-owned Instagram for quite some time. The latter’s addition of a Stories function - and the subsequent explosion of Stories functions on just about every Facebook-owned app - has meant that Snapchat is looking for its next big innovation to address its slowing growth. The latest, and perhaps the most contentious, is its new Snap Map.

The feature, which users can opt in or out of, can be accessed by pinching the screen anywhere in the app, and displays your exact location. It’s the precision of the location tracking that makes the feature contentious - users have been able to locate where other users live down to a handful of addresses, with the location beamed out in real time. Both the promotional video and the app itself do a pretty bad job at telling users that your location is broadcast every time you open the app, rather than just when you add to your story. Privacy and safety concerns in response to the update have been widespread, and it’s likely Snapchat will update the feature to include better warnings.

Cannes Lions

Last week saw creative minds from the worlds of marketing and PR come together to celebrate innovative work in the industry and share ideas. The event featured some of the biggest names in digital marketing as part of its incredibly extensive line up, along with everyone from celebrity actors to famous musicians.

Changing attitudes towards marketing are threatening the festival’s existence in its current form, though. Just last week, Publicis Groupe announced that it would cut its entire marketing spend to focus on its development of AI-powered platform Marcel. This decision will mean the company’s withdrawal from the Cannes Lions festival altogether (as well as any other similar festival). According to Campaign, the move prompted WPP chief Martin Sorrell ‘to also question the worth and longevity of the festival.’ The argument is that brands projecting a ‘purpose’ in their marketing efforts - the theme at present is universalism - has become too commonplace as to become redundant; see Pepsi co-opting Black Lives Matter to sell soda. How Cannes deals with this threat to the event’s core message will be interesting going forward.

Google to stop scanning inboxes

Google has announced that it will stop scanning the content of Gmail users’ emails, which it had been doing to assist its targeted advertising. The company announced in a blog post that it would ‘more closely align’ its consumer and business products, the latter of which has been free from email scanning since its creation. ‘G Suite’s Gmail is already not used as input for ads personalisation,’ the company’s blogpost states. ‘Google has decided to follow suit later this year in our free consumer Gmail service. Consumer Gmail content will not be used or scanned for any ads personalisation after this change.’

Emails will still be scanned for things like security, identifying scams and phishing attempts, and offering ‘smart reply’ - suggested responses based on emails sent in the past. The move is, at least in part, an attempt to make it explicitly clear that it doesn’t scan G Suite customers’ emails, and it demonstrates how highly Google values these enterprise customers. It should be made clear that Google will continue to advertise on Gmail, even if these ads won’t be influenced by your sent folder. 

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