Yahoo buying Tumblr? It's just the start

The data turf war.

When a small impactful start-up is acquired by a sizeable market player, the inevitable questions of why and what for ensue. Yahoo did this on Monday when it announced the acquisition of Tumblr, for a staggering $1.1bn. The microblogging site, whilst a keen media player, has only posted revenues of $13m. So with motivations unlikely to be financial, this leaves us to look at Tumblr’s other key asset: Customers - which = DATA.

Data has quickly become the currency of the internet and the marriage of both social and interest data is a very powerful commodity. Being able to merge and stitch together data is something all organisations are increasingly looking for, as it brings genuine insight into audiences and their respective preferences. This level of understanding enables brands to market in a much more relevant and scaled fashion, something that can bring about an entire change in the marketing department's  relationship to both their internal and external customer. So, in Yahoo's case, its recent focus on becoming a lifestyle business must be data driven and it’s this insight that they stand to gain through Tumblr.

Whilst this is a clear turning point in the direction of Yahoo’s business strategy, the wider impact is much more interesting with the acknowledgement that data, and the insight it generates, can transform organisations. It’s not the first time that this data land-grab has occurred. Let us not forget when Facebook bought Instagram for a cool billion dollars, with only 13 employees, Google acquired Wildfire, and Salesforce are integrating Buddymedia; the motivation was the same - access to data to effectively target consumers based on their interests, eliminating the need for clusterbomb marketing.

Monetising and creating the system to mine data for insight, is the direction in which marketing and media is headed. Today, online media has become a commodity and the data held on it is now the currency to trade. This is a powerful position for social currency traders and platform enablers, as they can unlock the potential held within brands. So applying a revenue model that intelligently connects content and the consumer, with a brand they want to be engaged with, at their convenience, is an impactful entity and one that large media players are moving towards.

Where the internet of old had more of a database function, the passage of time has shown that it is maturing into a playground where data can be readily shared and responded too. Gone are the days when content was consumed in a silo. Now it’s shared, openly and discussed at length with any numbers of audiences, globally. These conversations, coupled with a more connected approach to life and advances in technology have created a consumer shift, so powerful that brands need to realign their business thinking. Data means knowledge and that, complemented with a dynamic brand proposition can be transformational.

It will be interesting to see how Yahoo works with Tumblr to reposition itself over the coming months. Clearly Tumblr’s power lies within the insight it can provide and if this data is used wisely, we could see Yahoo returning to 'darling' status once more. Don't be swayed by city commentators reflecting on the tech sector massacre in 2000, because the real success story here is not, as you might expect, the start-ups getting acquired or even the big players realising they need more than scale and brand loyalty to succeed; it’s arguably the wider tech industry. Where once software ruled; industry is now moving towards a more customer centric view of the world, using data to intelligently understand audiences and their needs in a super-fast, connected planet. This programmatic shift is one that is arguably more impactful and will drive business to the next level.

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

Marissa Mayer. Photograph: Getty Images

Rupert Staines is European Managing Director at RadiumOne

Photo: Getty
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A rape-able sex robot makes the world more dangerous for women, not less

Eroticising a lack of consent is no answer to male sexual violence. 

On Wednesday, the Independent reported a new setting had been added to the personality range of a sex robot made by the company True Companion. Called “Frigid Farrah”, the setting allows men who own the robot to simulate rape. If you touch it in a “private area” when it is in this mode, the website explains, it will “not be appreciative of your advance”.

True Companion says the robot is not programmed to participate in a rape scenario, and the idea is “pure conjecture”. Nevertheless, the news has reopened the debate about sex robots and their relationship to consent. What does a rape-able robot say about our attitudes to consent, sex, violence and humanism? Do sex robots like Frigid Farrah eroticise and normalise male sexual aggression? Or does allowing men to “act out” these “most private sexual dreams” on inanimate objects actually make real women safer?

The idea that allowing men to “rape” robots could reduce rates of sexual violence is fundamentally flawed. Sex robot settings that eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, coupled with male aggression, risk normalising rape. It sends a message to the user that it is sexually fulfilling to violate a woman’s “No”.

It’s important to remember that rape is not a product of sexual desire. Rape is about power and domination – about violating a woman’s body and her sense of self. Raping a robot is of course preferable to raping a woman, but the fact is we need to challenge the attitudes and sense of entitlement that cause violent men to rape in the first place.

There is little evidence to back the claim that giving men sexual “outlets” reduces violence. The research that exists is focused on whether a legalised sex industry can reduce sexual assault.

Studies on Dutch “tippelzones” – spaces where soliciting is legal between certain hours – claimed the areas led to a reduction in sexual violence. However, the research lacked precise data on incidents of sexual violence and abuse, and the fact that sex workers themselves can be victims. As a result, it wasn’t possible to determine exactly how the number of rapes and assaults fell in the population at large.

Similar claims made by social scientist Catherine Hakim also failed to prove a causal link between legalised prostitution and reduced levels of sexual violence – again, because low reporting means a lack of accurate data.

Other research claims that access to the sex industry can in fact increase incidents of sexual violence. A 2013 report by Garner and Elvines for Rape Crisis South London argued that an analysis of existing research found “an overall significant positive association between pornography use and attitudes supporting violence against women in non-experimental studies”.

Meanwhile, a 2000 paper by Neil Malamuth, T Addison, and J Koss suggested that, when individuals considered at high risk of acting sexually aggressively are studied, levels of aggression are four times higher among frequent consumers of pornography.

However, just as the research fails to find a causal link between access to the sex industry and reducing violence, there is no research proving a causal link between violent pornography and gender-based violence.

Instead, we have to look at the ethical and moral principles in an industry that creates models of women for men to orgasm into. Sex robots are, at their heart, anti-humanist. They replace women with plastic and holes. They create a world for their owners where women’s voices and demands and desires and pleasures – and right to say no – are absent.

That should trouble us – we are creating products for men which send a message that the best woman is a compliant and silent one. That the best woman is one who lies back and “likes what you like, dislikes what you dislike”, to quote the True Companion website, who is “always ready to talk and play” but whose voice you can turn off whenever you want.

“By transferring one of the great evils of humanity from the real to the artificial, sex robots simply feed the demon of sexism,” says Professor Alan Winfield of the Bristol Robotics Lab. “Some might say, 'What’s the problem – a sex robot is just metal and plastic – where’s the harm?' But a 'fembot' is a sexualised representation of a woman or girl, which not only invites abusive treatment but demands it. A robot cannot give consent – thus only deepening the already chronic and dangerous objectification of real women and girls.”

What research does tell us is that there is a clear link between violence and the perpetrator’s ability to dehumanise their victims. That, and a setting designed to eroticise a woman’s lack of consent, suggest that Frigid Farrah will have no impact on reducing sexual assault. Rather, it creates a space where rape and violence is normalised and accepted.

Instead of shrugging our shoulders at this sexualisation of male violence, we should be taking action to end the belief that men are entitled to women’s bodies. That starts by saying that rape is not an inevitable part of our society, and the danger of rape cannot simply be neutralised by a robot.

Sian Norris is a writer. She blogs at sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com and is the Founder & Director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival. She was previously writer-in-residence at Spike Island.