rDigitalNews: Google Shopping and autonomy, Causes relaunches

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This week, Google Shopping Express heralds an age of ambient commerce, while the tech giant keeps getting in trouble for overstepping the boundaries of privacy laws. Meanwhile, a forgotten social app rose from the dead to help users craft an online identity based on the social issues and causes they believe in.

Here is our weekly roundup of digital news:

Google Shopping Express and the future of autonomy

On Wednesday, Google Shopping Express, the tech giant’s local same-day delivery service, launched for residents of San Francisco and the Silicon Valley. Users can place orders at local chain stores and specify a delivery window, then a courier is dispatched to purchase and bring the goods.

Attempts at similar services have been made by Amazon, eBay and Walmart with varying degrees of success, as the physical logistics remain difficult, despite the well-established networks for customer data and information.

Google Shopping Express offers same-day delivery (Source: Google)
Google Shopping Express offers local same-day delivery in Silicon Valley (Source: Google)

With Google stepping into logistics and commerce, it raises the prospect of what some experts are calling “ambient commerce,” explained nicely in this Wired article. As more of our consumables become connected to data networks, delivery services could learn how to restock their customers without the customers making any requests. (Low on toilet paper? Don’t worry, the machine knows and someone’s on their way.) With the amount of user information Google has already collected, could it eventually predict and decide what Google Shopping Express customers want?

eBay executive John Sheldon put it best: “Ambient commerce is about consumers turning over their trust to the machine.”

While the prospect might excite retailers (and toilet paper companies, to run with this example), it creates the prospect of a future of people living increasingly non-autonomous, isolated lives. Venture capitalist Tom Rand discussed with rDigitaLife the ways in which we already live in a virtual world:

“When you sit in an apartment in downtown Toronto and you’re watching the fires in Texas or the floods in Pakistan on the TV and you’re ordering take-in or take-out food, that is a kind of virtual world too.”

As technology enables us to stay within our own bubbles, our connections with the real world and real people around us diminish. If our devices start compiling our shopping lists and ordering everything for us, how much is left for us to decide for ourselves?

Google fined by France for failing to increase transparency

Recently, whenever a government and data security are mentioned in the same headline, the story is about a country failing to adequately protect the privacy and civil rights of his citizen. This week, however, one country started demanding that tech companies at least open the curtains on their data collection techniques.

France’s National Commission on Computing and Freedom, the agency that monitors the countries data security, plans to sanction Google 300,000 euros for failing to provide adequate information to users regarding the collection and use of data.

Five other European countries are apparently lining up to stage a similar defence against the encroachment of corporations on its citizens privacy. The money is a drop in the bucket for the monolithic company, but at least it shows state institutions defending the interests of its electorate, rather than merely getting out of the way.

Show your friends what you care about with Causes

In Facebook’s early days, an on-network app named Causes allowed users to affiliate themselves with a variety of non-profit campaigns, make a donation with a couple of clicks, and, perhaps most importantly, show their friends who they’re supporting.

The original Causes app did raise $48 million for a variety of campaigns, but was rather inefficient and fizzled out. On Tuesday, it relaunched as an independent network, while taking advantage of its established user base of 186 million.

Causes.com allows users to support campaigns, and let people see them do it. (Screengrab)
Causes.com allows users to support campaigns, and let people see them do it. (Screengrab)

Causes CEO Matt Mahan told TechCrunch that “we think your purpose or civic identity is a core part (of your overall identity) that’s currently underserved.” Causes makes the issues that you’re involved with front and centre in displaying who you are, while (hopefully) deepening your involvement with them. “We want the notion of supporting to be heavier and more meaningful than Liking or following on Facebook and Twitter,” he said.

Whether it succeeds in encouraging real, physical involvement with non-profit groups or not, leveraging the power of social networks for good is a net positive regardless.

In the wake of the #Kony2012 campaign and its vicious backlash, rDigitaLife contributor Andrew Evans wrote about generating civic involvement in a tech-obsessed youth culture. “Just because the Internet has made giving a s**t as simple as one click of the mouse doesn’t mean it shouldn’t count.”

By appealing to our desire to present a particular online identity, platforms like Causes might be able to do some good.


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