Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kiosk not found to be cause of TJX security breach

A few weeks ago we speculated (with the help of some other speculation) that the security breach at TJX (the company that owns TJ Maxx, Marshalls and others) could have been caused by hackers who used unattended employment application kiosks to gain access to the firm's corporate network. Both Information Week and StorefrontBacktalk suggested that the kiosks were a reasonable vector into the net, especially since many suggested that it was not firewalled away from other connected devices.

However, this story in the WSJ today suggests that was not the case at all. Instead, the privacy commissioners of Canada and the province of Alberta (who jointly conducted a probe), found that:
"TJX was using a weak encryption protocol to protect its consumer data in July 2005, when hackers first broke into its computer system. The protocol, known as Wired Equivalent Privacy, or WEP, isn't recommended by securities experts even for wireless home networks because it is so vulnerable to hackers.

"TJX decided to upgrade to a more secure Wi-Fi Protected Access encryption protocol at the end of September 2005, Canadian officials said. By then, however, hackers had been able to access the company's internal transaction database. They did so initially from outside two stores in Miami, the probe found."
While this isn't the only investigation going on inside the company, and it's possible that others will find additional ways past the firm's security systems, at least for now it looks like kiosks were not directly at fault for causing the breach and subsequent theft of up to 45.7 million credit card numbers.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

NBC U Steps Into The Retail Kiosk Arena

Media Post has reported that NBC Universal is going to be installing retail kiosks that allow customers to download music and will promote NBC's new TV programs (in particular, their late night line-up). According to the article, "The network will have access to hundreds--an exact figure was not provided--of so-called Mediaport ATMs at retail locations to display their promo content. The ATMs, or "vending machines," offer some 1 million tracks that can be downloaded to mobile devices or CDs."

This comes right on the heels of the announcement that NBC U has put together an ad council to look into further advancements in media buying and planning. Plus, it's also no secret that major media outlets are starting to pay more and more attention to out-of-home advertising.

This is a great move on NBC U's part, and if their research and experiments pay off they're going to look very smart when the other major networks begin to follow suit. Considering that the network consistently falls behind CBS, ABC and FOX in the ratings wars (watch a week's worth of Conan O'Brien and you'll likely hear a joke about NBC being #4), they really can only gain momentum by experimenting with non-traditional advertising methods and media.

I also think that a music download kiosk could be a very solid platform for ad delivery, as it's a prime example of giving back to ad viewers. Whether they are drawn in by the content on the screens or by the prospect of downloading songs, viewers are bound to get something worthwhile out of the experience. It's also a good way to engage younger audiences, which is certainly a big reason why advertisers and networks have been experimenting so much recently. The TV ad market, while still huge, is slowly being eroded by the prospect of something better, whether it's YouTube, TiVo or the fast-growing video game market. These things are not only eating away at the TV viewer base, but also at where viewers' attention spans and taste for TV advertising.

But the fact remains that television is still the defining media platform, and if NBC and the other big networks can bring more viewers back with techniques such as this one then it will serve as a big lesson for traditional media.

Tags: NBC Universal, interactive kiosks, kiosks

Friday, September 14, 2007

Would self-service airports be better than what we have now?

Normally descriptions of sterile future environments clad in stainless steel and devoid of bustling humans can get pretty creepy and dystopian, but after reading this blog post at Smarter Travel I wonder if airports might be an exception to that rule.

While few would argue that airline check-in kiosks have dramatically improved things both travelers and airlines, Smarter Travel posits that we could probably see even better results -- including lower costs, less stress and lower airport traffic -- by pushing self-service to the limits. Envision, as they suggest, this scenario:
As the automatic doors part, you step into your familiar old airport. Except it's not familiar at all. Gone are the ticket clerks, baggage handlers, and other airline personnel you've long depended on to get you and your luggage to your destination. You walk up to a kiosk and check in for your flight by waving your cell phone at a laser, then drop your suitcase into a chute, and proceed to security. You're ready to fly and it's only been three minutes, but you haven't interacted with a soul.
Creepy? Yeah, still a little. But darned efficient, you have to admit. And it's not just a pipe dream, either. Apparently there are proposals on the table to fit Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport with this kind of technology, along with other possible concepts like a shared check-in counter for all airlines and RFID luggage tracking. But the article also notes that just like other self-service experiments it will take a combination of customer education, employee training and a good deal of hand-holding to make everything work properly. Smart Traveler ultimately asks two critical questions: "if there's no one around to help when the machines break down,
what do you do?", and "are airline officials really interested in
improving the customer experience, or is the prospect of cutting labor
costs really behind this push to automate airports?"

These and others will certainly need to be addressed, but I'd say they're part of the same, larger question of, "do airline officials realize that making things better for customers can make things better for the airlines as well?" After the rapid adoption of self-service check-in kiosks, I'm hoping they've started to realize that. To realize the kinds of benefits that they're hoping for with this new level of automation, airlines and airport management companies need a true win-win scenario -- without customer, airport and airline all receiving some benefit from the new technology and practices, the system will never take off, if you'll pardon the pun.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ice cream kiosks dispense product based on happiness

As this story from Advertising Lab tells us, the Royal College of Art-Platform 11 has developed an ice cream kiosk that will dispense a portion of ice cream commensurate with how happy or sad the user is. Having a bad day? Voice sensors will detect the stress in your voice and dole out a healthy portion of the cold, creamy manna (I'm an ice cream addict, if you couldn't guess :). Not so unhappy? Then you can afford to cut back on the calories and save more for those who may need it. As Demitrios Kargotis, the kiosk's inventor, simply states, "the more unhappy you are, the more ice cream you need."

While the machine (which is more of an art project than something intended for commercial production) is certainly novel, as a generally happy person I still feel the need for a big portion, thank you very much.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

NYT blogger uncovers user perceptions about check-in kiosks

New York Times technology columnist David Pogue isn't exactly a Luddide, so I was kind of amused to see this recent blog post about his experience with a hotel check-in kiosk at a New York Hilton. Here's his account of what happened:

There were about 400 people waiting in line for the Reception desk. But me, I just breezed up to the kiosk, fed it a credit card for I.D. purposes, and pocketed the card key that the machine spat out. The machine then printed a page that identified my room number, and even gave me directions on how to find the elevator! (“Cross the lobby,” etc.)

They’ve had check-in kiosks at airports for years now. But in my view, hotels need them far more desperately. What the heck took so long?

O.K., the concierge told me that this Hilton has actually had them for two years now. But still, you get my point: At most hotels, you get there, you stand in line, you’re tired from travel, and you just lean against the counter for—what, seven minutes?—as the reception agent taps away on the computer. What on earth is so complicated about checking somebody in?

Hate to say it, but the little kiosk machine completed the same transaction in under 30 seconds. Let the revolution begin!

Of course, hotel check-in kiosks aren't anything new, and while still less utilized than airport check-in kiosks (which have reduced some airlines' check-in staff by over 40%), they're still one of the fastest-growing areas for self-service devices today. My own (wholly anecdotal) observation does agree with Pogue's: people seem reluctant to use the machines, as they still seem to get some additional benefit/service from speaking with somebody at the counter. This is distinctly different from airports, where very few people need or expect to get anything other than a boarding pass and seat confirmation before heading to the gate.

More interesting than Pogue's post, though, are the 100+ reader-submitted comments on the subject, ranging from "kiosks are great" to "kiosks suck." I don't know that I've ever seen a more varied display of opinions on the matter, and I suspect that kiosk application designers will be able to gain a little insight into the love-hate relationships that many people have with self-service technologies. The comments themselves are well worth the read. Here's a brief selection that I found pretty enlightening:

  • I don’t know, there’s something about check-in kiosks that I just don’t like. I see the obvious benefits of having them if you’re tired, don’t feel like waiting in line, etc. But I just prefer interacting with a person, especially when I’m at a place like an airport. They’re great as long as they’re just an additional option for checking in, not if they replace normal check-in desks altogether (Nick Schumacher).
  • I have seen them in other Hilton’s over the past 2 years. Most times they are not even noticed by the folks in the check-in line. I was in a hotel in Oakland near their airport about 6 months ago, and not only did they have kiosks to check-in, they also had lobby kiosks to let you print boarding passes for every airline serving the Oakland Airport. Talk about convenience (Jim McNerney).
  • I often wonder if keeping the traditional check-in method is some misguided idea of providing high-touch service… (Brian)
  • There’s a big reason to use a person. A person can find you a better room, especially if you have status with the chain. The computer will give you nothing better than what your reservation says. (Stew)
In those four comments alone there are a range of shortcomings that need to be addressed, not so much with technology, but with marketing, customer education and staff training. Thankfully we're now passed the stage where kiosk reliability is measured in the number of reboots/day, but the problems that we'll face as they become more pervasive will be even harder to solve.

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