Google Co-founder: Web freedom at risk

The underpinnings of the creation of the internet, namely openness and access, are at risk, said Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google in an interview with the Guardian.  Brin warned there were “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world… I am more worried than I have been in the past,” he said. “It’s scary.”

According to Brin, the corruption of the philosophical foundations of the internet is coming via government obstruction and intrusion, the entertainment industry’s crackdown on piracy, and the walled garden approaches of Facebook and Apple which control which types of software can be released on their platforms.  Brin is no stranger to fighting censorship: Google famously pulled out of China in 2010 over fears of excessive censorship and cyber-attacks. 

Brin claims that he would not have had his success with Google if Facebook had been dominating the web as it is today: “You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive,” he said. “The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation.”  Many critics of Google fear that they hold too much information, and that Google has already released too much personal information to the government and other companies.  Brin acknowledged these criticisms, and added that “We push back a lot; we are able to turn down a lot of these requests. We do everything possible to protect the data. If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great. If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great … We’re doing it as well as can be done.”

Facebook and Apple, coincidentally, are Google’s two biggest competitors, so publicly tarnishing their ethics makes sense from a business standpoint.  But if Facebook and Google are the kettle, Google is most definitely the pot calling them black.  Google supports a highly-controversial cyber-security bill called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act which allows the government to monitor information given to private companies, with many vague privacy restrictions.  Google was also recently implicated in collecting personal information on wifi connections through their Google street cars without knowledge or consent of the public.  This seems to me like nothing other than a ploy by a businessman to drum up some negative PR for his competitors.  I’ll start believing what Brin has to say when his actions corrolate with his words.

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Gingrich accuses Fox News of bias

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich slammed Fox News on Wednesday, citing bias in its presidential election coverage.  Gingrich accused Fox News of slanting coverage in favor of Mitt Romney, the leading Republican presidential candidate.  The network shot back at Gingrich on Thursday, calling him bitter.

Gingrich began the verbal quarrel when he told members of a Tea Party gathering in Delaware that he believed Fox News distorted the campaign coverage in favor of Romney.  He also accused Murdoch of controlling the bias in the presidential race coverage.  “I assume it’s because Murdoch at some point said, ‘I want Romney,’ and so ‘fair and balanced’ became ‘Romney,’ ” Gingrich said. “And there’s no question that Fox had a lot to do with stopping my campaign because such a high percentage of our base watches Fox.”

Gingrich also added:  “In our experience, Callista and I both believe CNN is less biased than Fox this year. We are more likely to get neutral coverage out of CNN than we are of Fox, and we’re more likely to get distortion out of Fox. That’s just a fact.”  In a prepared statement, Fox News said that Gingrich was priming for a position on CNN and that he is bitter that he is bitter that his contract with Fox News was terminated (his contract was terminated when he announced his intentions to run for the Republican nomination).

Accusing Fox News of bias is like accusing Bernie Madoff of being greedy; everyone already knows it, therefore there is no reason to announce it.  It seems as though Gingrich was fine with it, as he was a former commentator for the network, but as soon as the bias started affecting him, he decided to draw attention to the problem.  Perhaps Gingrich needs a refresher on blatantly obvious truths: Dogs will bark, the sun will rise, and Fox News will always be biased.  (You’re welcome, Newt).

Iran to shut down internet

Almost all Iranian citizens will soon be without Internet access, as the Iranian government has announced its intentions to build a national intranet within the coming months.  With the implementation of the national intranet, Iran plans to block sites such as Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail, effectively creating a ‘clean’ internet.  Iran plans to unveil their plans in May. 

Replacing the aforementioned sites will be Iran’s version of popular sites, such as Iran Search Engine and Iran Mail ID (which will require personal identification associated with each email account).  The second stage of the rollout, which will be implemented in August, completely denies Iranians access to the Internet.  ISPs in Iran must comply with strict filters set by the national government or they will face harsh penalties.

Scarier still, Iran is also taking measures to prevent citizens from reaching the unfiltered internet through proxy servers.  Reza Taghipour, the Iranian minister for Information and Communications Technology, said last March that the Internet “promotes crime, disunity, unhealthy moral content, and atheism,” and that government’s goal is to eliminate the online “scourges.”

This national intranet sets a dangerous precedent for other authoritarian states.  If Egypt had a similar system implemented before their revolution, I wonder if it would have had the same effect globally, as social media played a crucial role in the uprising.  Iran even mentioned exporting their formula for internet filtering if it proves successful domestically.  These are, surely, frightening times for citizens around the world.

Print Media and the Valley of Death

It is of no shock to anyone that traditional forms of media are floundering in the increasingly-digital media landscape.  As print advertisement values continue to sink and circulation numbers fall, companies that rely heavily on print media continue to suffer.  But why aren’t these companies abandoning their print ventures for the inevitable transition to media?

A recent Gigaom.com article by Mathew Ingram describes the Catch-22-like situation for traditional media companies.  Ingram says that companies are caught between managing their existing business–which, though slipping, still provides much of the companies revenue–and creating new, digital business ventures.  

In Clay Christensen’s book “Innovator’s Dilemma”, he describes ‘the Valley of Death’ a little more in detail:

“They have been trapped in a terrible mindset that they are in the business of selling newspapers. The leap from paper to digital may be vast, but to newspaper publishers, it seemed like vaulting to a different business entirely, one they were loathe to get into [and so]…They get caught in the Valley of Death… Instead of innovating for the next business cycle, these companies die crossing the Valley, wringing every last drop of cash out of the last cycle.”

A recent LinkedIn research poll found that while online publishing is one of the fastest growing industries, newspapers are the slowest.  Abandoning a reliable revenue-stream for a less-profitable venture leaves companies broke and vulnerable, but also distracts them from their digital projects.  It is for this reason, Ingram says, that digital-native media, such as HuffPost, will always win out over traditional forms of media.

Woodward and Bernstein… and the Internet

“The truth of what goes on is not on the Internet,” said Bob Woodward recently, in response to questions about internet reporting.  The Web “can supplement. It can help advance,” Woodward continued.  “But the truth resides with people. Human sources.”

Carl Bernstein, Woodward’s Watergate collaborator and friend, had similar feelings.  “We had a readership that was much more open to real fact than today,” Bernstein said. The Watergate story done today, he said, probably wouldn’t “withstand this cultural reception. It might get ground up in the process.”

Negative reviews of internet reporting weren’t the only anti-tech attitudes held by the pair.  “All the blogs and Twitter and Facebook are all part of a conversation and a discussion, and by and large I think it’s good and it’s healthy,” Woodward said.  “People will sort out the information they’re going to use and need. But I’m not sure that being connected every minute is a good thing.”

Woodward and Bernstein simply don’t ‘get it’.  Their comments sound resentful towards something they simply don’t understand.  Woodward’s comment on truth lying within human sources is painfully obvious.  It seems to me that Woodward sees ‘the Internet’ as some giant, autonomous, untruthful machine.  Of course human beings are the sources of truth, and we use the Internet as a tool to help spread those truths.  How can Woodward say Watergate may not have happened in today’s climate when we have some official, classified document showing up on Wikileaks every other week?  Their words are those of bitter, confused, old men; nothing more.

 

Source: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/169023/woodward-the-truth-resides-with-people-not-the-internet/

The Conflict of Net Neutrality

Comcast has announced that data used with their Xfinity-on-Xbox service will not count towards the 250gb data cap they currently administer to customers.  A number of critics are claiming that Comcast’s policy is a violation of net neutrality.  Before making any opinion, we need to understand the circumstances surrounding this particular streaming service.

Xfinity-on-Xbox is a video streaming service provided through Verizon and Comcast, although it has yet to launch on the Comcast platform.  Net neutrality proponents argue that by allowing unlimited data usage through their service, Comcast is violating net neutrality, effectively giving users of their services an incentive to sign up: unlimited data usage via Xfinity.  Comcast, alternatively, maintains that they are not violating net neutrality because the data used on the Xfinity service will be on a private IP network, not in the public domain.  This raises an interesting question: Does net neutrality extend to the possiblity of competitive advantages, even if not directly related to data used on the public domain?

Net neutrality proponents claim that by offering their unlimited data cap on a private network, they have a competitve advantage over other video streaming services.  The FCC does not currently have any protocol involving data usage on private networks and its related effects on competition, so it is probable that Comcast will begin distributing this service without any inhibition. 

Net neutrality is typically a very polarizing issue.  I am all for net neutrality, but I’m conflicted: I also want a smaller amount of government interference in our daily lives.  Imagine building a service and company from scratch, providing the service, then being told that you had to abide by certain rules because you were too successful.  Anti-competition directly contradicts the capitalist ethos that drives our economy.  Again, I’m pro net neutrality, but I have conflicting views with the overarching theme of government regulation in most facets of our daily lives.  It seems as though people don’t want government at all until something goes wrong, or something is unfair, or we don’t agree with our competitors, then we’re begging for its help.  So is life in the digital-political landscape.

State of the News Media 2012

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) released their annual State of the News Media report, detailing trends in the news industry.  Here are some of the key findings, summarized:

  • Mobile news applications are giving readers a deeper experience with news than on personal computers.  It was found that, generally, mobile news applications were adding to, and not replacing, people’s news consumption.  The applications are allowing readers to turn to news organizations directly, rather than through a search or page links.
  • Social media outlets, while still important, are not overwhelming drivers of news.  While more than half of the US population is on Facebook, only 10% of digital news consumers follow recommendations from Facebook or Twitter ‘very often’.  And almost all of that 10% are still using other ways besides social media, including mobile apps or going directly to news websites.
  • CNN and MSNBC saw growth in viewership, while Fox News saw a second year of decline.  CNN saw the largest increase in viewership, at 16%, while MSNBC saw a modest 3% increase.  Fox News is still, by far, the leader in cable news consumption, but this trend is, at least, a little interesting.
  • More news outlets are moving to digital subscriptions as a means of survival.  Although some may attribute the move to digital subscriptions to the New York Times’ leadership in the news industry, it is clear that many newspapers could not survive without some kind of digital subscription.  Most news papers have lost almost half of their ad revenue since 2006

There were some interesting findings in this year’s report.  While no mention was made of gains in the tablet market, it is clear that mobile devices are seeing an increased usage for news consumption.  I’m interested to see if the proliferation of news on mobile devices will erode some of the market share for tablets, seeing as mobile devices are becoming more versatile, while the tablet has a relatively small amount of room for feature diversification.

I was glad to see that social media has not become the primary medium for news consumption, especially since the stories I see people reading via Facebook are typically about Ryan Gosling’s abs or Snooki’s fist-bumping fetus (or that ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ is ‘bizarre’… Really? I didn’t know that! I always thought the hypersexualization of children was socially encouraged.  I mean, who doesn’t love 5-year-old girls who look like a cross between Ursula and Homey the Clown?)

Overall, the findings in the report weren’t entirely shocking.  What it did do, however, was reaffirm that we’re becoming a digital society, and anyone or anything that doesn’t get with it is going to be left behind.

More Than Words?: The Future of the Hyperlocal Television Landscape

One of the more recent innovations in journalism has been the introduction of hyperlocal news sites, such as AOL’s Patch.com.  Hyperlocal news allows consumers to get up-to-date news and entertainment focused on individual towns, villages, or even neighborhoods, giving the reader a much more intimate experience than they would normally have received via traditional, metropolitan-and-national-based news.  But what is the next step in the progression of hyperlocal media?

A recent commentary by Dan Rodricks of the Baltimore Sun suggests that, while not explicitly mentioning the term ‘hyperlocal’, many people would love to see “…in-depth, daily looks at what’s going on in all facets of life in Maryland. Any time of day, you could turn to this channel and see and hear what’s happening in your state, your city, your town, even maybe your next-door neighbor’s house.”  Is hyperlocal television on the horizon for news consumers?

According to Rodricks, hyperlocal television programming might look something like this:

“5-9 a.m.: A morning news/talk show, with the setting a large table in a restaurant, with two hosts holding court, talking about the overnight news, debriefing local reporters, taking calls from viewers. Brief weather and traffic reports, but in the main, conversation about the top local news.

9-10 a.m.: A newsmaker interview at a local coffee shop. Simple format: The host has a cup of coffee with a government official, business leader or community activist engaged in an issue of public interest. Calls, emails, Tweets from viewers.

10-11 a.m.: A home-front reality show with all kinds of possibilities — a weeklong visit to a busy Maryland household, a look into the life of a single mom, or a day-care center, or a home-school family.

11 a.m.-noon: A daily visit to the kitchen of a Baltimore or suburban restaurant to see lunch coming together.

Noon-2 p.m.: A daily talk show about life in Baltimore and Maryland. Hosts on a couch, with a parade of guests and topics, calls, emails from viewers. Low-cost production — essentially a radio show with a couple of robotic cameras.

2-3 p.m.: a daily visit to a family farm or vineyard somewhere in Maryland. There are videographers now toiling in TV news operations who would love this opportunity to follow a farmer or vintner and his workers through their daily chores, conversations and challenges.

3-4 p.m.: school of the week — a daily window into the operations of any K-12 school in Maryland. Mike up and follow a teacher or principal through a day.

4-5 p.m.: What’s cooking for dinner — a visit to someone’s house as the evening meal is prepared. A fun, slice-of-life show featuring a different home every day.

5-6 p.m.: Maryland’s business — mike up the owner of a small business and take a tour of a local company, from a florist to software developer, from a mechanic to the manager of a small manufacturing operation.

6-7 p.m.: Maryland politics — a lively, nightly talk show, with live conversations with legislators in Annapolis, a county executive or commissioner, or citizens who are mobilizing for some civic good. Calls, emails from viewers.

7-8 p.m.: Sports — a daily reality show about the players and coaches of a local high school or college team as it moves through a season.

8-9 p.m.: A different day-in-the-life show each night — let’s say, a nurse on Monday, a Baltimore cop on Tuesday, a hotel concierge on Wednesday, a college professor on Thursday, a Chesapeake waterman on Friday.

9-10 p.m.: Live local music from a Baltimore club, bar or concert hall.

10-11 p.m.: A recap of the day’s top regional news, with two hosts taking calls from listeners.

11-midnight: Live from a bar or diner, the Baltimore area’s own late-night talk show hosted by a rotation of local DJs, comics and commentators who conduct live interviews and take calls. Then, it’s good night, hon.”

 

It’s a very interesting approach to a popular medium.  Millions of Americans already consume reality television in nauseating doses.  Personally, I’d like to leave the news to the news people.  Hearing Joe Shmo down the street opine about the most pressing issues affecting our society isn’t particularly interesting to me, because I could just as easily ask him about it; not to mention, I really don’t care what Joe Shmo has to say about the subject, because he’s Joe Shmo.  I like to hear my news from experts and those who thoroughly understand the issues.  Understandbly, these people are not living in every neighborhood.  Television has increasingly become strictly a form of entertainment for Americans, rather than a medium for news.  Generally, many Americans try to escape the dull monotony of life by turning on the television for a few hours, ironically escaping their lives via something we like to call ‘reality television’.  Hyperlocal television would just add fuel to the fire.  I believe millions of people would obsess over it, which is why I hope it never happens, for the sake of our society.

In Search of Truth

There is a battle going on in news rooms across the world; a battle whose outcome we may never know:  The ongoing media struggle between truth and entertainment, or, what we should hear versus what we like to hear.  In today’s media landscape, truth is a rare and valuable gem.  Hyperbole and lies, however, are all too commonplace.

A recent Huffington Post article examines the accuracy of political attack ads in the current election cycle, and investigates the amount of truthful information we’re exposed to from various media.  As it turns out, many of the political attack ads from Republican hopeful Super PACs are churning out a multitude of lies about other Republican presidential hopefuls and the president himself, some of which include:
–Mitt Romney’s Super PAC claims that Newt Gingrich supports China’s one-child policy

–Santorum’s Super PAC claims that Mitt Romney left Massachusetts with over $1 billion in debt

–The American Future fund (alliances unknown) claims that dozens of former Wall Street executives are serving under Obama (there are some, but only half as many as the list claims)

But how are the average news consumers, with 40+ hour a week jobs and kids and spouses, supposed to differentiate between what is true and what is false?  The answer: They can’t.  A recent survey indicates that 78% of people get their news primarily from television coverage.  While the popularity of the internet as a news medium is growing, it is still only the 3rd most popular medium.

I suggest anyone reading this blog to check out Politifact and FactCheck, two of my favorite websites.  They verify the accuracy of claims made by various individuals or groups, without any alliance to a particular party.  It is imperative to seek the truth in all forms, and in todays media climate and relative ease of access to the internet, there is no excuse not to.

 

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.”

–Henry David Thoreau, “Walden”

Left Behind in the Digital Age

An increasing number of urban poor are unable to afford internet access at home.  An article by the Huffington Post used a number of anecdotes to describe the dire situation.  The digitilization of education and job finding puts an added pressure to an already stressed-out demographic: low-income earners. 

While the article seems to focus a lot on the minority aspect of  those without cable, I think the biggest inhibitor to their internet access is their income.  There are a number of different causes for their inconvenience, many of which are out of their control: the job market, while slightly improving, is still not where many would like to see it; lack of competition among ISP providers allows an artificial inflation of Internet service; and many simply don’t have access to broadband. 

In the Bronx, the setting for one of the anecdotes, the medium household income is $34,000, with less than 40% of residents having in-home access to a broadband connection.  In this day and age, being offline is actually more costly than being online.  80% of the Fortune 500 companies only accept online applications.  As time is an incredibly valuable resource, many people who don’t have access to the internet don’t realize its value: an incredible increase in available time.  Instead of waiting on lines to pay bills or filling out applications for jobs all over the city, they could just as easily be doing this all from a computer, and doing more of it with the increased time.

Although a little off-topic, I believe a working internet connection can be one of the most vital educational tools that anyone can have.  Since those in lower-income areas typically aren’t as educated as other, higher-income areas, the internet is an amazing tool to level the playing field.  Education is key in advancement in the workplace.  Having constant access to emails, job applications, social networks, and the wealth of knowledge on the internet surely places those with a broadband connection at a distinct advantage over those without one.  I can’t believe that, in our current state of technology, that those who need an internet connection the most don’t have it.