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The Digital Decade – A Look Back

With 2019 coming to a close, we’re not just saying goodbye to the past 365 days, we’re also saying goodbye to an entire decade. As we bid farewell to the 2010s, we’re taking this opportunity to look back and reflect on the digital decade as well as consider what the future might have in store for us all.

The past ten years were a whirlwind of change, with new advances in technology exploding onto the market at a faster pace than ever before. We witnessed an incredible amount of change in how we not only use the internet but in how we interact with the digital world. The internet, once accessible only via a browser and computer, has become more portable than ever. With mobile and tablets, and even our watches, we’re able to access the internet at any time. Not to mention the wealth of connections via the cloud—voice, home and factory floor automation, transportation—the opportunities are endless.

How we access the internet isn’t the only big change. From personal emails to social, chat and messaging, to using hardware and traditional hosting to digital storage within the cloud, we also witnessed a massive expansion of the domain name space. And it doesn’t stop here. We now rely on apps to help us complete everyday tasks from connecting with our friends to shopping to conducting financial transactions to staying abreast of world events with news channels that are updated each second of every day. In addition, we’re changing how we access the internet, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) built to recognize our voices and Augmented Reality (AR), helping to blur the lines between what’s real and what’s digital.

In this post, we’ll take a look back at some of the major changes to arrive on the scene in the past ten years and follow with a second blog in which we look ahead to the next ten years.

So grab a glass of bubbly, put on your most festive NYE hat and let’s toast five major milestones we witnessed this past decade.

1. The Rise of Mobile

In the early 2010s, mobile and tablets were just starting to take off. Consumers still largely relied on computers for internet usage. Mobile and tablets accounted for just a scant single digit of overall internet usage, and when you think back to where the technology for these devices were at that time, it’s no surprise. The iPhone 3G only had a single rear-facing camera, making it exponentially more difficult to take a good #selfie. And forget about posting it to Instagram. That app didn’t officially launch until October of 2010. Speaking of launches, the iPad is also still a relatively new player on the field, with its release in April of that year as well.

Mobile devices and apps, although still in their infancy at this point in the decade, resonated with consumers, who quickly embraced the technology. It was this wide acceptance that allowed mobile devices to surge in popularity, and in just a mere six years, were being used more often than computers to access our favorite internet sites and apps. With all those eyeballs locked onto mobile screens, and with over 5 billion global users of mobile devices, it’s no wonder mobile ad spend exceeded television ad spend in 2018.

Speaking of eyeballs locked onto screens, at the same time mobile usage was rising, unfortunately so were the number of accidents, ranging from distractedly bumping into one another on sidewalks all the way to the implementation of legislation aimed at curbing distracted driving following a number of accidents on highways attributed to mobile use.

2. Apps Lead the Way

What would a mobile phone be without apps? When it comes to connecting consumers with brands, few options are available to brands that are as popular right now as the mobile app, and few mobile app platforms as popular as the Apple App Store and Google Play Marketplaces. In the short ten years since launch, these two platforms managed to drive nearly three billion app downloads and hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue. By the end of 2018, there were nearly 6 million apps available in the two stores, with over 194 billion apps downloaded. Even with conservative linear growth, it’s estimated that the revenue generated by mobile apps will hit $210 billion dollars at the end of this year.

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. Originally launched in October of 2008 and called simply the “Android Market,” Google Play had humble beginnings. Early apps were capped at a maximum size of 25 megabytes, and by March of 2009, there were 2,300 apps available for download. Rebranded as “Google Play” in 2010, the platform has grown to encompass games, music, books, movies, television stores, news publications and magazines, devices and Play Pass, a subscription service that allows users to access games and apps without ads and in-app purchases. As of September of 2019, the Google Play store now hosts over 2,800,000 apps ranging in size from 10MB all the way up to 4GB, with thousands more added every day.

Equally impressive is the growth experienced by the Apple App Store. As the second-largest mobile app distribution platform in the world, the Apple App Store currently houses just under 1.8 million apps, a huge leap from the original 500 the platform hosted in early 2008. The Apple App platform generated over $22.6 billion in 2018. And with over 20 million currently registered iOS developers constantly working on new and exciting apps for the over 500 million weekly visitors, those numbers are only expected to grow.

3. Fun and Games – Literally

Speaking of apps, there are few that are as insanely popular as those used for entertainment. Social, messaging, media and games drive the majority of all app downloads and revenue. In fact, the top four most downloaded apps of the last decade are Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.

When it comes to generating revenue, it’s the entertainment apps pulling in the biggest numbers with games, video streaming and music apps consistently ruling the top three slots.

Mobile devices and apps allowed people to connect with others in ways we never imagined before. Social media usage was tracked at just 5% back in 2005, meaning the early chat rooms were pretty quiet. But now, with usage at over 75% and growing every day, social media sites have made reaching out to friends and family across the globe as easy as pushing an upvote button.

While there is no question Facebook is king when it comes to connecting people, it’s Twitter that has actually managed to change the course of history, helping to rally support for causes like Arab Spring to the current protests in Hong Kong. Hashtags like #metoo and #blacklivesmatter helped shed light on important issues in the United States and there’s no question that social media influence, both positive and negative, was felt in multiple elections across the globe, including the 2016 US presidential race.

Speaking of staying connected, we can’t talk about social media or apps without touching on the emergence of wearable technology. From watches that monitor health to rings that vibrate for incoming phone calls to glasses that project heads up displays, we’re just an arc reactor away from real-life Iron Man technology. Already robust with over 526 million wearable devices currently in use, it’s estimated that it will continue to grow to over 1.1 billion in 2022 as telecom technology switches from 4G to 5G.

4. Making it Rain With Cloud Computing

With all the innovations, one would expect the future of the internet to be as bright as a sunny day but believe it or not, the internet would not be flourishing if it weren’t for the cloud. Cloud computing services include infrastructure, computing power, servers, storage, databases, networking, software, analytics, and even entire business applications. Individuals and organizations lease cloud services from hosts. This allows them to run their web and mobile apps, store user, organization or application data in a secure location accessible via colocated cloud computing services, including cloud desktop storage, a cloud storage gateway, or Web-based content management systems.

Originally invented in the 1960s by Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider, cloud storage has truly taken off in the past decade with services like Amazon’s Web Services, Microsoft (including Azure, Office 365, Dynamics 365 and several other segments of the Productivity and Business Process Division), SmugMug, Dropbox, Google Drive, and even Pinterest, to name a few.

In addition to freeing companies from buying and managing software, physical computers and infrastructure, cloud storage is economical, with users only paying for the storage they use. Businesses that utilize cloud-based services typically cut their energy consumption by up to 70%, a valuable statistic with today’s increasingly green initiatives.

Of course, while the cloud might seem ethereal, there’s no question the profits made by companies who provide these services are as solid as a rock, considering the three primary players in the space, Amazon’s AWS, Microsoft’s Azure and the Google Cloud. Combined, these companies helped drive 2019’s overall cloud infrastructure market growth of 42%; reported sales this year include Amazon AWS $7.7 billion Azure $9.6 billion and Google Cloud $5.45 billion.

5. What’s in a name?

Essentially nothing more than an identification string that serves as an address for a website, domain names are a critical part of the digital experience, and as such, have found themselves at the heart of numerous discussions and debates this past decade. In 2010, there were almost 200 million domain names registered, a number that has grown to over 354.7 million by the second quarter of 2019.

Originally TLD extensions were limited to seven options; .com, .org, .net, .int, .edu, .gov, and .mil. All that changed in 2011 when ICANN’s board voted to end most restrictions on the creation of generic top-level domain names (gTLDs.) This decision led to an explosion of TLDs, covering everything from specific branded company names (.ford, .apple, etc.) to generic descriptions of services (.banking, .karate, etc.). There are currently over 1,000 ICANN approved generic TLDs with more being added.

While the release of these gTLDs may free up valuable space online for new domain registration, it’s also enabled bad actors to bulk register hundreds and sometimes thousands of domains with the intent to use them for phishing, fraud, and other nefarious reasons. In addition, with the implementation of the EU’s GDPR in May of 2018 and the ensuing redaction of all formerly public WHOIS information for registrants, it’s now much easier for these bad actors to hide.

Prior to GDPR, gaining access to registrant identifying information through WHOIS databases enabled rapid responses to these sorts of attacks. Now, in a post-GDPR world, access to domain name registrant contact information is severely limited and hidden behind registries and registrars who are reluctant to respond to WHOIS requests for fear of incurring massive fines.

While these changes to how private information is stored and shared is good news for any individual who wants to remain anonymous online, it’s bad news for a whole host of individuals, including security researchers, journalists, brand protection specialists and law enforcement agencies who use the WHOIS information as a way of identifying and tracking bad actors across the internet.

While there is no question there is a need to keep the private information of the public safe, it is clear that the GDPR, as it applies to public safety, needs to be re-evaluated. Cybercrime is a $600 billion a year business, and with ICANN’S policies and the overly conservative response from registries making it easier for criminals to thrive with relative impunity, that number is only going to increase.

Completely eliminating GDPR and returning the WHOIS database to its originally public status is not the answer, which is why the need to establish regulated access for individuals involved in cybersecurity, law enforcement, and web safety and security should be thoroughly explored. Although we are closing out this decade without a truly satisfactory resolution to this situation, we predict the issue will continue to be a topic of hot debate as both sides work towards a solution.

What’s next in the 2020s?

With these advances behind us, it is daunting to try to predict what’s coming in the decade ahead. What should we expect? What should companies and businesses anticipate when it comes to managing their brands online and how they approach their brand security strategies?

It’s safe to say that innovation is far from over and that we’ll continue to see new and exciting technologies take hold. We predict AR will continue to advance and for AI to become even more refined. We expect interfaces like Alexa, Siri and Cortana to become even more life-like with AI, Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing continuing to evolve. We’re also expecting wearable technology innovation to continue, and with technology, manufacturing and medicine working so closely together, we’ll see more integration between humans and machines, which will likely achieve both greater worker productivity and better healthcare.

While some of these technologies may be in the development phase now, we expect refinement and advancements to continue, making them ubiquitous. The question then becomes, how will these advances impact security and intellectual property protection teams? While we can’t say exactly how, we can safely assume the changes will be profound.

What is evident about the past decade is that these trends, while making commerce, entertainment and communication more convenient, have dramatically increased the amount of digital risk faced by consumers and the brands they trust. These risks and the threats they pose to customer relationships, revenue and reputation for brands have dictated new and more aggressive defensive posture in digital channels.

Stick around for part two of our blog series “Digital Decade in Review—A Look Forward” where we’ll be breaking out our Magic 8-Ball (the digital version, of course) and pulling together what we think the next decade will bring both in technological developments and their impact on brand protection and security.

By Frederick Felman, Former Chief Marketing Officer at AppDetex

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