IBM goes outside the company for a new chief digital officer

Bob Lord, the former AOL president whose ascent to AOL CEO was derailed by the sale to Verizon, is returning to his Razorfish digital roots and taking the reins of digital at IBM.
In an indication of the time we are in, the news was first broken on Twitter, by IBM’s David Kenny:
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Arik Hesseldahl reports,

In a statement circulated to IBM employees, the company said Lord will “accelerate and scale all aspects of IBM’s digital presence, operations and ecosystem,” and will run its its digital platform, digital sales and marketing and its developer ecosystem.

Chief Digital Officers are often called in to create a digital transformation, not just running digital operations. I guess it’s clear that IBM needs such a transformation, in order to get more agile in just about the most rapidly shifting market in the world: enterprise technologies.
I’m going to have to try to connect with Lord, and see what his charter actually is.

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AOL says two-thirds of its audience now comes from mobile

Media and advertising giant AOL is now seeing most of its audience — about two-thirds — coming from mobile devices, the company has shared with Gigaom. That’s up from about half its audience coming from mobile in January 2015.
Verizon-owned AOL has a large stable of high-trafficked digital properties, including the Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Engadget, Moviefone, and many more, which have a collective global audience reach of about half a billion people per month, according to comScore. And while it’s not exactly surprising that more people are consuming content via smartphones and tablets, it is significant that AOL now has the audience to support its transformation into a mobile-first company. (That’s something Facebook also recently achieved.)
The heavy mobile growth is thanks to a strategy that began over a year ago that entailed (obviously) a defocus on desktop; strategic partnerships; internal changes; and being acquired by Verizon, according to AOL global head of mobile Chad Gallagher. “There wasn’t a magic bullet, but rather this is the culmination of all those plans finally coming together. The [mobile audience growth] is a good proof point,” he told me.
The larger mobile audience may also help AOL’s new parent company Verizon (as well as AOL itself) justify the content side of the business, even though many speculate that it was most interested in AOL’s ad-tech platform. Digiday reported back in May that AOL had approached Time Inc. about selling the Huffington Post for a cool $1 billion. Similar rumors circulated about a sale of tech news leader TechCrunch, with AOL chief exec Tim Armstrong dismissing both claims and insisting the company would remain in the business of content.
As for advertising, Gallagher said the higher mobile audience adds to recent efforts to further company’s ad business. Specifically, AOL’s agreement with Microsoft to take over most of its ad sales operations back in July, and more recently, closing on the acquisition of Millennial Media. Both of those efforts should help the company better monetize its own content.
The company, however, declined to share any stats on its mobile video audience. Yet, that’s an area of advertising AOL is increasingly interested in (as is the rest of the industry), which is clear from the Go90 ad deal Verizon and AOL made with Publicis Groupe last month.

Verizon’s data-sharing with AOL is worrisome, but not surprising

There was never any chance Verizon would refrain from bolstering AOL’s advertising network with the information it collects from its customers. The carrier paid $4.4 billion for an ad-dependent business; it’s not going to leave that business to its own devices, at least not where revenues are concerned.
So, it should come as little shock that Verizon planned to connect its “zombie cookies” — trackers that collect data from unencrypted connections unless a consumer opts out of the program — with AOL’s advertising network so it can better target specific demographics, as ProPublica reported earlier this week.
The zombie cookies allow advertisers to learn about someone’s “gender, age range, and interests.” When asked for comment on the information-sharing, a spokesperson linked to a blog post in which Verizon chief privacy officer Karen Zacharia says the data will only be shared to “Verizon companies, including AOL, and to a select set of other companies that help Verizon provide services.”
AOL’s Tim Armstrong defended the plan on Wednesday. “If consumers don’t trust you it’s not worth whatever you’re going to do with the data,” Armstrong said, according to a report from AOL-owned TechCrunch. “Verizon is probably more sensitive to data than most Internet companies.” He then compared data to oil and said information and fossil fuels can be used in good or bad ways.
Those defenses won’t carry much weight. There’s still something unsettling about knowing that one of the nation’s largest wireless carriers will be sharing information with an all-but-omnipresent ad network to assist its targeting. Verizon customers didn’t sign up for that when they decided to use the wireless network, nor when they visited any of the sites serving AOL’s advertisements.
Which lends some more credence to the idea that people might wish to install ad blockers. A spokesperson from Eyeo, the company behind AdBlock Plus, told me the tool “can technically help users to defend themselves against this kind of tracking.” Combine the desire to maintain a little bit of privacy with the time and money to be saved by using an ad-blocker, and it seems like a no-brainer.
Those benefits are especially funny when Verizon is involved. Using an ad-blocker to cut down on the amount of mobile data used could prevent many people from having to pay for going over their monthly data limit, while also preventing the company’s shiny multibillion-dollar acquisition of AOL from paying off because people don’t want its ad network to learn more about them.
Still, the company must be given credit for its efforts to let people know about the change. As Zacharia explains in her response to ProPublica’s reporting:

We are alerting customers who are eligible for these programs in the following ways: we’ve posted a notice on our website; customer bills will contain a message notifying them; and those customers for whom we have an email address will also receive an email notification.

I went through the process myself, and while it was frustrating having to “save changes” for every section within Verizon’s privacy controls, it was nice to have everything available right there. Who knows when I’ll have to switch everything off again (companies have a knack for forgetting someone’s preferences, at least where data collection is concerned) but for now it seems like everything’s good.
I’ll still leave the ad-blockers enabled, though. Verizon isn’t the only company trying to collect more information with what Walt Mossberg described as “a form of spyware, scooping up information about what people do online without their knowledge and permission.” So long as that remains true, it seems like a good idea to block ads, even if gives the media industry a series of panic attacks.