Viewpoint: Sorry! The chat is over...for now

Ebrahim Dinat, COO of Ocular Technologies.
Ebrahim Dinat, COO of Ocular Technologies.

It was my mistake, and I'm sorry," Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, confessed.

He owned up that his company "didn't do enough" to protect Facebook's users from having their personal information compromised (a staggering 87 million users had their personal data harvested by filling out surveys that got to political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica).

Facebook, according to Zuckerberg, is an "idealistic and optimistic company". There is no doubt that over the years its raison d’ȇtre is to connect. To family, friends and businesses, but certainly not connecting your info to strangers for gain.

And now, for us contact centres, the dire consequences of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. At the end of March, Facebook announced (very softly) that it is pausing apps and new chatbots from joining the platform during its audit.

So, while your newsfeed still looks the same, it is a different and empty world for developers. There is no clear date as to when the hiatus will be lifted, but it is estimated to last a few weeks.

Yikes, you may rightfully think, what about the hours of coding, investment in rands and potential clients lost?

Maddy Hubbard, responsible for digital marketing at Ocular's software partner company, Aspect, points out that chatbot hopes and dreams do not need to be crushed.

First and foremost, she points out in her blog, "a chatbot is about providing fast and convenient access to information, or to conduct simple transactions with businesses. These experiences shouldn't be bound to a particular channel, and there is usually very little that binds you to a particular channel. What's important though, and what this crisis once again shows, is how important it is for a business to protect their investment and make strategic decisions regarding the software platforms that help with their customer experiences."

Hubbard explains that companies that have deployed a Facebook Messenger chatbot on channel-agnostic platforms "have nothing to fear" and their investment is safe. This is because the original code can be reused to move the bot to another channel at only a tiny cost as opposed to another huge investment to rebuild the bot.

For the time being, patience is (as always) a developer's greatest virtue. Like or dislike, until a date is given when new apps and chatbots can be submitted again, establishing solid rules to protect my data and yours is non-negotiable.

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