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Show Notes

Do Digital Boundaries Exist?: This week Paul and Rich sit down to talk about this week’s tech scandals. We chat about the security flaws found within email client Superhuman and teleconference software Zoom. Do these companies have an obligation to protect their client’s information? Should usability trump security? Do we have a right to be angry? If that’s not enough, we also chat about summer BBQs.

Transcript

Rich Ziade [Makes ringing sound

Paul Ford “Hello?”

RZ “Hi! Mr. Paul Ford?”

PF “Yes! Hi, is this Amazon?”

RZ “Yeah! My name is Rich Ziade, I’m a Customer Advocate at Amazon.”

PF “Are you like in a warehouse? I’ve never talked to anybody from Amazon.”

RZ “I’m just at Amazon. How are you doing today?”

PF “I have a pretty good day, I just bought something accidentally on my Kindle with one-click.” 

RZ “Oh! I’m sorry to hear that. Are you gonna read it anyway?” 

PF “I’m not, actually, and then I opened it and saw the first page—“

RZ “Well, that’s not really why I’m calling you [laughs].”

PF “[Deflated] Oh . . . oh but I thought that maybe you could help me get that money back cuz I’ve been a good customer for so—“

RZ “I’m just here to find out how your experience with Amazon is going.”

PF “Well, it’s not so good because I’m not able to get that money back for the book I—“

RZ “If you’ve got a couple of minutes I’d love to send you a li—“ [both laugh, music fades in and plays alone for 18 seconds, then ramps down].

PF Let’s not name the people who use Superhuman in our office. 

RZ No, why would we do that to them? 

PF Superhuman is a new layer on top of Gmail . . . that allows you to be more productive email user. 

RZ Ok, so essentially it’s an email client [music fades out]. 

PF It’s like an email client client. 

RZ Ok. 

PF But it connects to Superhuman’s own servers and data and they build up their databases of information about the people that you send email to by putting little what you might—you used to call tracking pixels but basically they didn’t exactly sneak around—

[1:30]

RZ Ok, wait. Slow—slow down. Slow down, Paul—

PF Yeah, we better slow down—

RZ You’re makin’ me anxious . . . Ok, so my email flyin’ around the world is still going through Gmail . . . if I’m using Gmail. 

PF I believe that’s correct with Superhuman but it drops a little something extra into that email. 

RZ Ok. 

PF And that led to some discussion online. 

RZ What happened? 

PF People got upset knowing that a general purpose email client would track how the recipients were behaving without their consent. 

RZ Ok, so let’s walk through this with a case. I write Paul an email. 

PF I received your email. I opened it up. 

RZ Ok. 

PF And when I opened it up, it gave a little yell back to the Superhuman servers [mm hmm] and said, “Hey, guess who looked at this?” 

RZ So it’s tracking you opening the email. 

PF Well, look, I mean, everything tracks everything these days. 

RZ Ok, so this doesn’t sound that crazy to me. 

PF Every single email newsletter works this way. 

RZ Meaning an email newsletter has—I think it’s called something, right? It’s like an open rate. 

[2:33]

PF It’s an open rate and—

RZ Which is are they opening the email? 

PF That’s right. And the way you used to do that classically, there’s different approaches, is that you would include a little tiny picture that nobody could see, an invisible picture—

RZ A pixel. 

PF And the pixel was on your server, it had to go get that picture from somewhere [mm]. It wasn’t in the email. It would say, “Hey! Go get this picture and display it,” which is how the web works. But when it did that, that’s the same as loading any webpage and the email opening would send a signal back that you had engaged with the email. 

RZ “Paul has actually seen this email.” 

PF That’s right. Cuz I know—I have an ID for you and I can pass all that information back. You know, honestly, I think everyone was sort of taking it for granted that that’s normal stuff. 

RZ It’s normal stuff. Sales tools, newsletters all use stuff like this. 

PF And this is what’s tricky about privacy it turns out there’s a limit that people get really—feel uncomfortable about their friends corresponding with them using that same technology. 

RZ Ok. So here’s the distinction now, now we’re gettin’ to it. If it’s Target, no pun intended, sending me their weekly newsletter, they put a tracker on it, makes sense. Target’s tryin’ to see who is actually engaging with their email newsletter. 

PF I don’t think people have consciously processed this, I guess they just are kinda more used to it. 

RZ Yeah, but me sending it to you—

PF And not telling me, there’s no like, “Hey, read receipt—” There’s no notification that you’re checking in on me. 

RZ Alright, I get it. It doesn’t sound that bad. 

[4:06]

PF Let me read you something Mike Davidson, who is a product leader in our industry, wrote, “It’s disappointing that one of the most hyped new email clients, Superhuman, has decided to embed hidden tracking pixels inside of the emails its customers send out. It calls this feature “read receipts” and turns it on by default for its customers without the consent of its recipient. You’ve heard the term “read receipts” before, so you’ve most likely been conditioned to believe it’s a simple read/unread status that people can opt out of, with Superhuman it’s not. If I send you an email using Superhuman no matter what email client you use, and you open it nine times, I see—” And then he has a screenshot of an email and telling him how often it’s been opened, and who opened it, and where they were at the time. Now, look, Superhuman responded to this, they’re changing the pattern because they’re—not just to this. 

RZ Before we get to Superhuman, does this bother you? As a recipient? 

PF Yes. 

RZ Yeah?! 

PF When’s it stop? Can I have an assurance of some boundary in ever in my freaking life with anything digital? 

RZ Yeah, you can! You wanna know how to do it? Go hiking! Go upstate and go hiking. 

PF Email didn’t used to work like this. They changed the rules on me?! 

RZ Television didn’t used to work the way it does today. 

PF Alright, screw it! I’m gonna use Emacs to read all my email. 

RZ Here we go with the Emacs again. 

PF No, I read my email in Emacs. If I could get responses to work in HTML, then I would probably just use it for all of my email. 

RZ So it does bother you? 

PF It bothers me. 

RZ Interesting. 

PF It bothers me less—Look, I mean, this is the thing with privacy: it’s spongy. There’s no single response for everything. I know that Target is just gonna spy on me. I give up. Fine. 

RZ Let me be supportive of Superhuman first before you get to their response: we are marketing this not as an email client for your personal email, this is a business tool. 

[5:50]

PF It’s not for mom to send pictures of the kids. 

RZ It’s not. It’s a business tool. I’m trying to chase that opportunity. They haven’t responded to me. 

PF I know but Jesus Christ. Can we get a break? Ever? Can we just get any little break where nobody—it just feels like everybody’s just sniffing all the time. 

RZ Right, right. 

PF It’s an industry of sniffers. 

RZ Well, I mean, you’re not alone, right? Like, what was the reaction to Mike’s—Mike Davidson’s post? 

PF Well, that’s the thing, it exploded all over the internet. 

RZ It did, it did. 

PF And then people got a little excited and probably overreacted a little bit. And then Superhuman was just sort of like, “Oh, we take your privacy very [uncertain, voice cracking] seriously???” 

RZ You know it’s bad when they say, “We take your fill-in-the-blank very seriously.” 

PF Oh, very seriously is dangerous [Rich laughing]. So they responded and they’re, you know, now it’s more like opt-in and—but you’re still gonna get to sneak on people if you want to. 

RZ You can?

PF I think that’s correct, yeah. You know they’re not taking the whole thing away, they’re just—

RZ Well, it’s part of their value prop, right? 

PF It’s not on by default. 

RZ I’m ok with this. So now there was another kerfuffle. 

PF Zoom. 

[6:49]

RZ So, what is Zoom, Paul? 

PF Video conferencing. Like Google Meet or Blue Jeans or any of these. 

RZ Skype. 

PF Yeah. 

RZ Skype is another popular one. 

PF So Zoom is pretty good, you can put like nine people on a screen, ten people on a screen. It’s got good hardware support for video conferencing. It’s a good corporate solution [ok] if you’re doing a lot of video conferencing. They had a thing! It’s a little hard to explain. But . . . if you downloaded Zoom for the Macintosh computer, for your laptop or whatever, it setup an insecure port that would make it really easy to connect to your computer in certain circumstances and then it set it up so that if you tried to get rid of that, it would reinstall. So, this is bad. 

RZ Hold on, so, it put this little thing. 

PF Yeah. 

RZ It exposed your Mac. 

PF Yeah. 

RZ And if you got rid of it, it reinstalled it? By itself? 

PF Yeah. 

RZ Woah! 

PF That was a lot. So, then—

RZ So, wait, what do you mean by “insecure”? Like it’s a security hole? I mean this is just something that gets patched in the next update? 

PF It’s just everything went wrong. There’s a process for doing this, you’re supposed to let the company know, and then you’re supposed to publicly reveal the vulnerability that you found, and sort of like there’s a socially accepted process for finding security risks and publicizing them. And Zoom was like, “Nah, man, we got a bug bounty program! Why are you doing this? Don’t be talkin’ to all this stuff. And we’re just trying to make it really easy for our users.” 

[8:09]

RZ Well there’s that, right? There’s ease-of-use and lowering friction and noise. So wait, there’s another angle here though, Paul, and this was that this component it gave access to the camera and the mic. 

PF That’s right. 

RZ That was the big issue. 

PF So it opens you up to the world. It didn’t let them run your computer but it definitely let them sort of see you. No one was hacked as far as we know. This vulnerability was found and people started to mess with it. What you’ve got here are two stories. One is, “We’re trying to keep our customers happy with the—and add value to email. And one of the ways we’re doing that is we are giving them information on who is opening and looking at their email; where they are; and what they’re doing. Which are able to do because people read email on the internet and the internet has, in 2019, people are reading HTML email and that has pictures and we’re able to get all sorts of information back.” The second is, “We want it to be really easy for our users to install zoom without a lot of popups and questions. It’s gotta be as frictionless as possible and we have found—yeah, it’s a little hacky but we found a good way to do it. You call it a security hole, we call it ease-of-use.” Now, the person who [chuckling] ultimately called it a security hole was Apple who quietly released an update that—

RZ Apple did! 

PF Apple did. There was a quiet update to Mac OS to make sure that that port got closed up. 

RZ Could it be argued that Apple should’a headed this off and they shouldn’t have never been able to do this anyway? 

PF Eh you’re going down a world of Unix permissions and just [yeah] like ports above a certain number. I mean it is like, Zoom hacked with the way that the world works. They didn’t do anything like illegal, they set things up so that you install Zoom and now you’re good to go and it will always be easy to install Zoom. And there assumption is that it’s always a net good. 

RZ This is the appropriation of the customer’s always right. Businesses, I mean historically, right down to like Walmart and just like make the customer happy, and Amazon it’s like this overzealous like, “We are ultimately looking out for the best interests of the customer,” has reached a funny place, right? Because to deliver the best possible product which means less steps, less things to worry about, don’t worry about security—

[10:14]

PF Uh. I’m so tired of all of it. Yeah, go ahead, keep going. 

RZ I mean what they’re essentially saying is, “I know what’s best,” and frankly, you can be angry at ‘em but the climate that’s taken hold of how we use computers today, and how we use our phones today, and if you look at the behemoths that pretty much the oxygen they inhale is all of that information in the gaps that we know nothing about—

PF The other day I was looking at—

RZ It’s over, dude!

PF I was looking at a book on Amazon and I hit the orange button by accident. 

RZ You just bought it. 

PF I one-click ordered. It’s 7.99, I kinda wanted it anyway and then if you open that book and start looking at it, you’re not returning it. 

RZ It’s over. Yeah. 

PF Yeah, so that happened. I’m up a book. I don’t know what I bought. I can’t remember the name of it. 

RZ [Scoffs] You made a mistake. 

PF Yeah, I should probably never have to spend money for a book I truly didn’t intend to read, but the one-click ordering is just so convenient. I turned on one-click ordering. I said, “You know what? I like it. I like to hit a button, spend ten dollars and get a book [yeah] with no further thought.” And so, look at that! That is the industry. 

RZ Can you be angry at McDonald’s for making people obese? 

PF This is where it gets tricky: anger is a very strange reaction there to me. Obviously McDonald’s exists under its own terms over decades. Cultural norms change, institutions don’t always change to meet them. The government just doesn’t get involved with anything anymore, they’re just busy fighting. 

RZ With each other. 

[11:41]

PF Yeah, I mean like in the eighties Tip O’Neill would probably go talk to McDonald’s about calorie counts, right? 

RZ McDonald’s sells salads now. 

PF They sure do. They’re terrible. 

RZ They don’t sell them because they felt guilty. 

PF Yeah, I know. 

RZ They sell them because sentiments started to change. These are businesses that are just reacting to what they’re seeing as trends that are out there. 

PF Sure. 

RZ Right? I once was at a barbecue with an executive at a large snack food and soda company which will remain anonymous. 

PF Yum! Yum!

RZ It was Pepsi Co. which owns, by the way, a lot of chips and—

PF Yum brands, man! Aren’t they the combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell? 

RZ They might be the Yum brands. They might be. You’re at a barbecue, you don’t know the person that well, you gotta look for that small talk, right? While you’re eating the macaroni [Paul makes a faint whistling sound] salad, right? So I said [yeah], “So how are you handling all this change?” And he was like, “What are you talking about?” He could almost—he knew where I was going. 

PF Yeah. 

RZ “People are just drinking, you know, mango juice and they’re not—they’re eating, you know, whole grain toasted chips instead of fried potatoes and all that.” And he’s like, “That’s not true.” I was like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “Well, we’re growing. Our business is growing. We’re finding people still buy our products. And they love them.” And I didn’t know what to say to the guy! And I felt like saying, “Why don’t you stop killing children?” I coulda said that. 

PF Listen, this is what’s tricky: we started this company, I was coming from media. Media is very boxed up. You’ve got the people doing the editorial work which has a very specific set of ethics around it; and then you’ve got the business side, and they sell advertising. And the idea is that you can kind of sell an ad to anybody who wants one and that’s never gonna affect the coverage because we’re never gonna ask editors and writers to, you know, report on the advertisers. That line gets blurry and then there’s native content and so on. So I come into Postlight and I’m like, “Great! We started a company. It’ll take a while. I’m sure there’ll be some moral challenges and organizations that I don’t always love will show up and want us to work with them and I’ll have to figure that out but that’s ok,” and it was like day two. I mean, it’s just if you’re doing something, actively, like fully engaged with capitalism, you are one step away from the whole thing, from the institutional banks, the military, and then like the thing for me is I had to really figure out what are my morals and what are my scruples? And it doesn’t look good in the accounting. From my like 25-year-old self. And what I’m getting at here is like Pepsico, Superhuman, Zoom, their reality is that they thought they were doing good and that they were ethically utterly in the clear because they were pursuing a path of simplification, ease, and efficiency.

[14:08]

RZ Look: I think what we’re getting into, what we’re wading into here is like do businesses have some sort of a bigger moral obligation above and beyond just making money? And they—obviously, look: there’s a way to do it, right? The easiest boundary to see because there’s red lines is the law. You can’t break the law. You have to put the ingredients on the bag; there are certain ingredients you can’t use [mm hmm]; you can’t sell alcohol to minors, like et cetera. There are laws out there around—

PF And let’s just say: the law is the easy one. 

RZ Law is the easy one. 

PF Because if somebody comes to you and says, “I want you to do something that breaks the law,” you go, “I can’t do that cuz it breaks the law.” 

RZ “I can’t do that.” Right? Exactly. 

PF That’s against general accounting principles for me to break the law. 

RZ Exactly, exactly. 


PF And everyone’s like, “Ok, I’ll go talk to somebody who wants to break the law.” 

RZ That’s right. 

[14:50]

PF It doesn’t deliver value to your shareholders to break the law. 

RZ Exactly. It brings risk, in fact. So you don’t wanna do that, right? So that’s one path and the law can creep in and start to say, “You know what? You’re not being good enough citizens.” And that’s what’s happening in Europe, right? The sort of tightening of control there and it’s like, “You know what—” 

PF Well, and you can fudge around at the edges too and be like, “I don’t like paying taxes that much in America, I’m gonna incorporate over here in the Dutch Antilles. Like there’s stuff late which is legal but kind of against the spirit. 

RZ The workarounds are out there, yeah. And so you’ve got that but can you name a company that just consistently has won you over in its goodwill and it’s just a business you want to interact with because they’ve consistently given you good product but at the same time have not done harm. 

PF This is what’s tricky, right? I—the narrative of the company gets into your head. Like, you know what? I’ll give you a good example: The New York Times. 

RZ Ok. 

PF Great paper. I’ve written for it. It’s hometown paper. 

RZ Gotta drop that in. 

PF Every now and then I will read something, op ed or otherwise, and I will lose my damn mind. And I remember once I had a friend who was an editor—

RZ Are you saying they’re a good citizen? I don’t understand. 

PF The net positive of The Times is fantastic. 

RZ It’s fantastic. 

PF But I remember once I was outraged, very easy to let outrage overwhelm all your other instincts. 

RZ Very easy. It’s actually very common and very addictive today. 

PF I’d read something in The Times and my friend, an editor I knew, said, “Ah dude, it’s—contains multitudes. It can be very, very good and very, very bad and you need to acknowledge that, that that’s like anything and that you have very high standards for it, it’s your local paper, you’ve been reading since you were, you know, 14-years-old and always thought it was the apex of daily newspapers and that means something and here you are very upset about it cuz you care about it very much. You’re kind of powerless in this situation. You’re a consumer. And, at the same time, you have this asymmetric relationship and you just have to accept it. It’s gonna keep being what it’s gonna be and you can either get upset about it or you can take your value out of it and move on.” He didn’t say all that. He said much, much less than that but I keep thinking about it, right? I’ll give you an example: would you have enjoyed the last 20 years . . . without Google in the same way? Probably not, I think they made, overall, a better and more interesting internet. 

[17:08]

RZ Google Maps changed how we lived. 

PF My friend Mark Herst will tell you, “Get off of Google. Don’t use any of their products.” 

RZ Oh I have friends that are like that. They won’t go near ‘em. 

PF Same with Amazon. When I wrote my piece for Wired, a good friend was like, “You left the platforms alone.” You know and they’re kinda like, “Where’d you go? Why didn’t you beat up on Facebook? Why didn’t you beat up on Google?” It’s a fair question. But at the same time I’m just like, “I don’t know, this is reality. Things centralize, they get big, and those places have their own ethics.” And it’s kind of up to their employees and their leaders to figure out what they are. 

RZ Yeah. I think ultimately their customers will render judgement. If you really wanna pause and say, “Has Google made your life better?” I mean, let’s face reality: I haven’t given Google a whole lot of money. I’ve given ‘em some money. 

PF We give them thousands and thousands of dollars. 

RZ As a company. 

PF Yeah. 

RZ But for many, many years I was using Google Maps, I think I was using Gmail, personally, [yeah]. I was using Google, obviously, the search engine, for years and years and years. And they didn’t take any of my money. 

PF Nope. 

RZ The amount of value they were willing to put forward essentially was gaining not only their goodwill but they were slowly but very methodically insinuating themselves into how I live [mm hmm] on a regular basis. Such that when it got to the point to ask questions about like do I want a Google Light Bulb or a Google Home or a Google Wifi or whatnot? 

[18:26]

PF A Google Baby. 

RZ My relationship [chuckles] with—

PF My Google Wife. 

RZ—with the company is actually very distinct, right? It’s not am I interested in buying this dishwasher or that one? I’ve been living with you for many years now. 

PF See, I see living with Google in the same way I see living in New York City: it’s a very corrupt, broken city but it’s my home and I love it too. 

RZ Interesting. 

PF I don’t have—I certainly don’t have control over. I get this little, tiny vote which of course here you have to vote like once every two weeks cuz they—it’ll be like for a judge. 

RZ Everybody [laughing] is getting voted on. 

PF Sometimes I go—they’ll be like, “You’re the fifth person.” 

RZ Yeah, I’ll tell you a funny story. I wanna close it with a funny story. 

PF Yeah. 

RZ So a huge trend that’s happened over the last few years is there’s this image of cutting out the middleman [mm hmm]; cutting out big production; and delivering something to you on a very personal level. Worby Parker is a place where you go in, they were shattering some of the monopoly that existed with the big lens people to get glasses and you go in and it’s a really personal experience and you get it, I think, in a couple of hours, and I took my prescription in there. It was very nice. It was actually very simple, they didn’t try to sell me much. You pick your frames and gave them the prescription. And I get my glasses, I’m like, “These don’t feel right.” Like I double checked them with my doctor which wasn’t at Worby Parker and I was like, “It doesn’t feel right.” And the woman behind the counter said, “We can’t make them as good as you want ‘em.” 

PF Woah! 

[19:51]

RZ And that was a moment. I was like, “What do you mean?” It’s like there are certain lenses out there, I think the brand is called Verilex or something, that are like for my needs [uh huh] and she’s like, “If you really want what you’re asking for, we don’t make those. We don’t make the super intense stuff.” And I was shocked by it! What are they doing? They’re selling to a targeted, mass audience that fits and on the edges there they don’t wanna play, right? 

PF Your margin’s probably, you know, negative seven percent. 

RZ It’s a volume game. 

PF Yup. 

RZ It’s a volume game, right? So it was shocking to me to hear that and I found I was like, “Oh shit, I guess I’m gonna go back to the regular place that makes all of ‘em,” right? [Mm hmm] And I think you’ll find that like personal experience that, “They’re finally connecting with me and how I think about mattresses.” [Laughing] Or how I think [yeah] about shaving, or whatever it may be. There’s this very intimate sort of style of marketing. But ultimately it is a numbers game. And they’re gonna market to me cuz they’re gonna find out I need glasses cuz of how I opened emails and where I surfed on the web. I mean that is what we signed up for. 

PF Let me tell you something. Here’s the future, you ready for the future? . . . It’s a little bit of both. 

RZ Hmm. 

PF So I go to a dental chain here—Like I recently had to get my wisdom teeth out. 

RZ Ok. 

PF Had a toothache, turns out it was impacted, it had a cavity, all the stuff. 

RZ It’s a bad scene. 

PF I had to get four teeth out! Cuz I’d never had my wisdom teeth out and I was like, “Let’s do ‘em all at once. Don’t just do one side.” It still hurts. So I go into the dental chain, it’s the official dental chain of The New York Yankees. And I mean they are like—

RZ They have some nice smiles on the Yankees so you’re in good shape. 

PF It’s walk-in, they move fast, you can make an appointment, there’s some web enablement there, like it’s pretty efficient. It’s still clunky around the edges, it’s not Zocdoc but whatever. And I go in and it’s like I am clearly just a number in the spreadsheet. They’re moving me through—

[21:45]

RZ Yeah 44 dash 8661 or whatever. 

PF Yeah but the equipment’s modern and they put me in and everything’s clean and they’re like, “Ok, let’s do the xray.” Chunk, chunk, chunk. “Here’s your cavity. This is what I would do. If you wanna come back in, this is what you do: the surgeon’s here every Monday. Et cetera, et cetera.” “Ok, great!” And I come in and the surgeon is excellent. He works with two different hospitals, he communicates very clearly. [Ok] You know, you look at that, it’s that mix of the commoditized, efficient, web enabled digital experience and then when you need it. I don’t need someone to be a great communicator when they clean my teeth. 

RZ But you’re going to a surgeon, you’re getting surgery. 

PF I’m gonna have somebody leaning over me, rippin’ out parts of my body, I want that official like old school surgical experience. 

RZ Yeah. 

PF “I’m gonna take five minutes here and I’m gonna communicate what we’re gonna do today and I’m gonna make sure you’re opted in and let’s talk about your pain options.” 

RZ Right. 

PF I feel that that mix is—

RZ You think it’s gonna continue to get more and more personal over time. 

PF I think what happens is you get Amazon doin’ like, “We’ll rip everybody off and have 700 brands of our own and we’ll just own the world,” right? Starbucks comes up with other coffee brands in order to make sure [yeah]—for people who don’t wanna go to Starbucks. 

RZ You’re nailin’ it and this is how we can bring this full circle . . . you can only take it so far, eventually you get caught [yeah] and everyone gets pissed off or you look like a fool. 

PF That’s right and so what happens is when your ideology takes over. Zoom and Superhuman have an ideology about serving their particular customer [mm hmm] that forgot to take into [chuckles] account all the other parts of reality. 

RZ Of human beings! 

[23:12]

PF Of human beings, right? [Yeah] And they got caught and then they kinda waffled around and then finally they’re like, “Oh ok.” 

RZ Yeah. 

PF Right? 

RZ You know the shock of people reacting with, “Wait a minute, so you’re not just looking out for me like you promised? [Laughing] You actually have other interests in mind.” 

PF Yeah! Yeah, that’s right. 

RZ That’s the shocker, right? And so thank God. Right? I mean the press does this, right? To some extent. They’ll expose a company for like, “They promised they were doing this but it turns out they were just doin’ that.” 

PF Yup. 

RZ But eventu—Or! A blogger. 

PF Or politics. 

RZ Or an individual. Or politics. 

PF “They made these five promises and now they—” 

RZ Turned the screws, yup. 

PF “And now they say he patted a girl’s butt.” I mean it’s just like, “What?” We get really frustrated and angry at betrayal and hypocrisy. 

RZ And so you hope that businesses can self-police and actually be wary of that and just be wary of it from a risk perspective but actually be wary of it as like, “This isn’t cool, what we’re doing right now.” 

PF Here’s what I would say, I’m gonna throw out like a big thinker prediction. I don’t know if this’ll come true or not but this is—I think something that could be real. 

RZ You’re Paul Ford. Just do it. 

[24:15]

PF The mass, commoditized, digital platform experience where you buy something, you’re absolutely not perceived as a human being, it’s just a database transaction happens, and something like comes in the mail. That will be there. But! The thing where you can’t get a human . . . is a major market gap. There are too many custom, specific situations in which you need to just talk to somebody and resolve an issue. And if you’ve invested tens of thousands [of] dollars over the course of a lifetime in a platform. As we will do in the course of our life with Google and Amazon and others. If you do that you have the right to talk to a person, it just makes sense. It’s not a right but it just—the business makes sense, let them spare a moment, not just like a call centre script but someone to solve your problem, a little bit of concierge. Just like I need to get my teeth cleaned, fine. It can be any dentist. I need to get my wisdom teeth out, it better be good. Everyone’s built the extreme, high volume platforms and they’re gonna find the limits to growth and then they’re gonna realize that more personalized service at a slightly greater cost is going to be an opportunity to increase run rate in parts of the business. 

RZ Well people will pay for it. 

PF That’s right! 

RZ It turns out that humans will pay for that level of attention. It’s a real thing. 

PF That’s exactly right. Or to opt-out of an advertising driven experience towards one that’s more aligned with their explicit interests. 

RZ Yeah. 


PF So I think that with things like the Siris and the Alexas and the Google Homes of the world, like all that personalization, all that stuff, I don’t think in the future it will purely be platform. I think that there’ll have to be an element of like, “What can I do for you today?” Because the lifetime—

RZ Interesting. 

PF—the lifetime—

RZ You think that’s where we’re goin’?

PF Because the lifetime value will increase by five to ten thousand dollars if you get people in there, and especially, if you’re Google, and you have a relationship where you can find out somebody might buy Toyota . . . at scale. The amount of money you can make from that is fantastic. So it works—it actually worked [music fades in] with the classic platform, it’s just not what they’ve been building cuz it’s not efficient and cheap in the same way as hosting an ad. 

RZ Amazon’s life goal is to never speak to anybody. 

PF I know but the—you’re gonna hit walls. You’re gonna eventually saturate. That’s where we are. 

RZ Great discussion. I think we coulda just talked about privacy and security but really what this about is the relationship between these companies and people. 

PF That’s exactly right and what the norms are and what the rules are. We would never have articulated what the norms are unless somebody got upset about Superhuman and said, “Woah! You’re breakin’ the social contract.” 

RZ Yup. 

PF Cuz we don’t care when it’s a newsletter. 

RZ Right. 

PF Alright, Richard! I’m gonna send you an email. 

RZ Ok. No tracking! 

PF [Chuckles] No, I’m gonna see where you open it. 

RZ Alright. If you’ve got any questions, reach out to us at Postlight, [email protected] Put whatever you want in that email. We love getting emails, we love talking to people. 

PF Yup, give us a good rating on iTunes if you’re in the mood, and if you need anything built for your web and app and mobile needs, you need a big platform, you need to do transactions, you wanna create something really customized and personalized for your users because you’re seeing the future the same way we are . . . [email protected] [music ramps up, plays alone for four seconds, fades out to end].