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Digital in 2021 – Five Predictions for Brand Protection

While smartphones were an integral part of our lives before 2020, now, as a result of the changes associated with COVID, our mobile devices are virtually “super-glued” to our hands. The worldwide pandemic has heavily influenced our lives. Based on our past experiences with digital brand protection and the trends we’re currently seeing, we’ve made five predictions regarding the future of internet usage in 2021.


1. 2021 will see faster adoption of digital communications and collaboration software at work and at home.

For almost everyone, text, video calls, and web conferences replaced in-person meetings, classes, and almost every formerly personal interaction.  Furthermore, the collaboration feature sets of Microsoft Office, Google Docs, Asana, and other productivity tools augmented by web meeting software, including Zoom, Google Meet, and Webex allow us to share creative processes and manage complex workflows. These feature sets are especially valuable in meeting the challenges posed by distributed workforces. As these technologies become even richer and more mobile accessible, we’ll use them more because they’ll be super-charged by high-speed connectivity enabled by 5G. 

2. Expect “late majority” adopters and laggards to accelerate their cloud investments in 2021.

The “work diaspora” is here to stay. With the largest tech companies allowing extended periods of WFH (work-from-home), and many other companies from all sectors offering or contemplating permanent opportunities for their workforce to work away from the office, the global workforce will continue to be distributed. Functional and technical elements of our computing infrastructure that have not yet moved to the cloud are quickly migrating there. Platforms ranging from data storage and artificial intelligence to security infrastructure have all taken root in the cloud, further propelling the growth of industry leaders Google, Amazon and other upstarts. And, with the speed, convenience and scalability of these platforms, companies can better manage growth, seasonality and other problems that were more difficult with self-managed dedicated hardware and software. 

3. Entertainment trends that started in 2020 will continue, including rapid mobile gaming growth, live events, including movie screenings and sports, will further rely on streaming revenue.

Whether you love or hate digital first-run blockbusters like the movie “Wonder Woman 84” or the videogame “Cyberpunk 2077”, few of us can say that we haven’t sought new entertainment options since the COVID pandemic shuttered theaters and other entertainment venues. With more powerful mobile phones, faster wireless and wired internet speeds, more digital and gaming content, most people are spending more time on their phones, on their laptops and in their living-rooms watching content and playing games. 

And while there are fewer and fewer live team sporting events, national and international sporting leagues and associations have found ways to keep their teams and fans safe while broadcasting their events online. For the gamers amongst us, Twitch and YouTube had already become popular places to watch pro’s game and convene with other players. COVID has accelerated that adoption curve and we predict that we’ll see even faster adoption in 2021 of mobile gaming and digital entertainment.

4. 2020 shopping innovations like curbside pickup and delivery options will be here to stay.

Before COVID, everyone dreaded a late-night visit to the market to pick up a quart of milk, or a visit to a crowded mall over the holidays to grab a last-minute gift.  And though in the past we’ve enjoyed the convenience of the brick-and-mortar outlets like Target, Best Buy, Walmart and our other favorite stores, we now have the option to capitalize on both the convenience of e-commerce and brick and mortar locations with options like curbside pickup and nearly instant home delivery from Postmates, Amazon and others. 

5. Cash apps and touchless payment have taken root; expect further financial app innovations like those that have been led by companies like Stripe, Square and Robinhood.

Rest assured, no one ever loved picking up an oft used pen to sign a credit card slip at a store or restaurant. The pandemic saw us adopting touchless checkout options like Apple and Google Pay, cash exchange apps like Venmo and Square Cash and other modes of payment. Now, with a press of a button, a wave of a phone, or a few sweeps on a screen, we can skip finding a credit card, writing checks, or digging up some dirty old bank notes. And with bank branch closures and limited visits to ATMs as a result of lockdowns, more and more people have adopted mobile banking apps and online banking, making it easier to manage money without human contact. 

Analysis and Implications

Everything Old Is New Again

With the accelerating adoption of wide-ranging mobile and digital technologies, there are now large communities of new and inexperienced users.  These new users, often elderly or very young, are not used to seeing and ignoring scams that target the naive. So, phishing scams, support scams, free offers and other scams all seem plausible to these users. In 2021 we will see the rehash of all the old scams—and more of them. 

“Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop”

With millions out of work, and lumpy governmental support for people, small businesses and local governments, times will become more desperate, and there will be more bad actors targeting the new users mentioned above. As a result, losses due to fraud and deception will increase.

Organized Bad Actors Prevail

Organized bad actors, those that display a mastery of promoting fraud and deception in digital channels, will successfully fool new and old internet users. They’ll grab attention using social, advertising and other means to drive traffic to web pages and websites where they can do the most harm. These organized perpetrators use multiple levels of obfuscation so brands without the appropriate level of technology-based intelligence will engage in one-off, whack-a-mole enforcement tactics. Meanwhile, these networks of bad actors will continue to bilk consumers out of money and personal information based on the trust earned by brands over years or decades. 

The business of working from home

With workers at home, sometimes distracted by their children, roommates, the news and other factors, bad actors will have a “field day.” Combine a greater number of accessible systems and the vulnerabilities created by remote technologies with age-old and new techniques like spear phishing, business email compromise, malware, ransomware.  The result?  Bad actors will attack more companies through their remote workforce. 

Regulatory environment - a patchwork

With the global domain name system failing to abate abuse and, in fact, thwarting consumer protection, get ready for a patchwork of local laws targeting attribution and prosecution of bad actors. Add in expected new regulation on digital platforms that may reshape notice and takedown measures. Get ready for some confusion and turmoil in the world of notice and takedown related to local laws and regulations. 

What should brands do?

Aggressively monitor

Work cross-functionally with the product, commercial and marketing organizations at your company to understand the digital journey of your customers and aggressively monitor all digital channels for abuse targeting your customers’ buying journey. 

Use advanced technologies to identify systemic abuse 

The latest technologies can help you find the bad actors who are most adept at using digital channels to attract your customers. Identifying systemic abuse will help you understand where you are most vulnerable and where you’ll get the best “bang” for your brand protection “buck.”

Prioritize organized actors

Focusing your brand protection efforts on organized networks of bad actors will yield the best return on investment. The trends listed earlier in this post mean that you are very likely to see increased abuse in 2021, but prioritizing the offenders who display mastery of digital channels will deliver meaningful results.

Use advanced attribution techniques

For the largest networks, disassemble how they work and who is behind them. Examining the source code for their web pages and apps, their privacy policies, underlying technologies and monetization methods will provide solid indicators of the identity of the perpetrators. 

Map networks of abuse, disassemble them and disable promotional and monetization modes

Map these abuse networks so you can identify the ones that are most complicated and use that intelligence to create a strategy to dismantle and disable them. Use the information about the network, its composition, who’s behind it, the damage it causes your company and customers to take the network down from the root, no matter how deeply obscured or complex the network. 

Closing Thoughts

In 2021, we can be certain of two things:  The mobile and internet user attack surface has never been larger, showing no signs of shrinking, and bad actors are more agile and sophisticated in their methods than ever before. As a result, brands need to up their game.  Legacy brand protection methods will no longer suffice. New technology and cross-functional collaboration are crucial factors for abating these threats to business and our new lifestyle. 

By Frederick Felman, Former Chief Marketing Officer at AppDetex

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Predictions bearing out... Frederick Felman  –  Jan 19, 2021 5:25 PM

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