Posts Tagged ‘privacy’

What if the mobile Internet were a real place?

October 4, 2012


While there’s still plenty of porn and pop-ups (browsers have gotten the latter, at least, under control), needless to say, a lot has changed online in the eight years since Dave Chappelle envisioned a real-life version of Internet, starting with how we access it.

In a parallel universe where one of the Internet generation’s favorite comedians is still producing sketches, what would “If the Mobile Internet Were a Real Place” look like?

I imagine, something like this.

Even though we avoided some of the lewder areas Dave visited in his original sketch, the Internet is still pretty “disgusting and intolerable,” as he put it.

Poor users. At least the runaway pop-ups have run away.

Creative Commons photos by Flickr users coolinsights, drtel, thecrazyfilmgirl


Almost famous: Suit over Facebook’s Sponsored Stories could cement your celebrity

December 21, 2011


With apologies to Tears for Fears, everybody does not want to rule the world — too much responsibility. Counting Crows were probably closer: Everybody wants to be famous. What else would explain “Fear Factor”?

And thanks to social networks, we can be. Yes, for better or for worse, a viral message can catapult you onto the celebrity stage, be it for 15 minutes, or for a career. With a gratuitous Double Rainbow reference out of the way, this post isn’t concerned with that, however.

This post is concerned with the celebrity bubble within our bubbles: How your daily me shapes your daily you shapes your friends’ daily me. How you compete to see and be seen online, even among a, on average, on Facebook at least, small circle of 130 people.

If everybody wants to be famous, I have good news for everybody: Everybody wants you to be famous, too. Everybody involved in a noteworthy Facebook lawsuit, at least.

If you haven’t heard much about the suit yet, you likely will. Don’t let Mark Zuckerberg suing Mark Zuckerberg distract you. This case, in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif., Fraley v. Facebook, Inc., deals with the essence of Facebook: You “liking” stuff and Facebook selling advertising based on those “likes.”

PaidContent, among other commentators, says the legal challenge, which last week survived a motion to dismiss, threatens the social network’s Sponsored Story strategy. Introduced in January, Sponsored Stories are paid ads featuring your name, likes, and, well, likeness. For example, if John Doe “likes” a Facebook Page called “Widgets,” one of his friends could see an ad featuring John’s profile picture and the copy “John Doe likes Widgets.” For now, the ads are relegated to the right rail, but, just announced, they are coming to the Newsfeed early next year.

Angel Fraley, a 40-year-old Seattle woman, is suing Facebook on behalf of all California users registered before January 25, 2011, the day Sponsored Stories started. Seeking to stop the ads and recover damages, Fraley, who registered for Facebook under the name Angela Frolicker, alleges that by profiting off the unauthorized use of users’ testimonials, Sponsored Stories violate user publicity rights and unfair competition laws in California, where Facebook is based.

Which brings us to everybody wanting you to be famous.

The plaintiffs want you to be famous because they need to establish standing, which, among other things, requires that they demonstrate they were harmed — something that’s derailed similar lawsuits. To do this, referencing statements by Nielsen and Facebook itself, they first assert that Facebook gains from using users’ likeness because ads containing friends’ endorsements are considered more effective and therefore more valuable than traditional ads.

They then state, according to the judge’s ruling on the motion to dismiss, that the use causes economic harm “in the same way that celebrities suffer economic harm when their likeness is misappropriated for another’s commercial gain …”

The ruling continues (emphasis mine):

“Plaintiffs allege that they have been injured by Facebook’s failure to compensate them for the use of their personal endorsements because “[i]n essence, Plaintiffs are celebrities—to their friends.”

The people behind an already disruptive lawsuit against one of the richest and most powerful companies in the world say you’re famous. Go adopt yourself a chihuahua.

Facebook wants you to be famous because it would help make your actions newsworthy, and therefore exempt from misappropriation claims. Facebook offers, again, according to the ruling (again, emphasis mine), that “Plaintiffs are ‘public figures’ to their friends.”

One of the richest and most powerful companies in the world says you’re famous. Go buy yourself a tiara.

Even the judge wants you to be famous, if only to be consistent. In questioning Facebook’s newsworthiness defense (content published for commercial instead of journalistic purposes, however newsworthy, is not exempt from the publicity rights law), U.S. District Court Judge Lucy Koh, happily for you and your new dog, endorses both parties’ “famous” arguments.

Koh writes, in part (emphasis added):

“… the Court agrees that Plaintiffs’ assertion of their status as local ‘celebrities’ within their own Facebook social networks likewise makes them subjects of public interest among the same audience…”

A sitting federal judge says you’re famous. Go buy your chihuahua a tiara.

Whatever the law has to say — Gigaom explores the potentially wide-ranging legal ramifications in a post of its own — we’re already acting like celebrities: Competing for attention, curating public and private versions of our lives, stalking, hawking and gawking for photos. How does this affect our view of and expectations for interpersonal relationships? Are these new personal publics bringing us together? Or are they pulling us apart?

Creative Commons photo by Flickr user Storm Crypt

Google’s inside Baltimore businesses, takin’ 360-degree pics

November 1, 2011

City among 11 U.S. test sites

Google’s Street View – and all the utility, hilarity and controversy that follows it – has come off the streets and into local businesses.

Going live this week, Google Business Photos, attached to Google Places pages, lets users virtually pan, pace and zoom around the interiors of participating establishments. Baltimore is one of 11 U.S. cities where merchants can now request a 360-degree photoshoot by a “Google trusted photographer.” According to the service’s FAQ, sessions should take about an hour.

To start off, small businesses (no chains) like restaurants, hotels, shops, gyms and repair shops are most likely to be selected, according to a Huffington Post article. Private residences, hospitals and law offices cannot participate. Like with Street View, faces are algorithmically blurred.

(What about newspapers? Hey, millions of HBO viewers have already seen the inside of my workplace.)

I was able to find Business Photos views for three Baltimore area clients of another new Google product, Google Offers. (Thanks to @wheelsee for the Twitter tip.)

Privacy gripes lie with law, social norms, not tech, Jeff Jarvis tells Big Head Baltimore

October 19, 2011

Online sharing isn’t changing human nature, it’s merely enabling it.

In a livecast chat about his new book on the virtues of digital publics, journalist Jeff Jarvis paraphrased Mark Zuckerberg to frame a fundamental point: It’s not the technology, stupid.

When privacy watchdogs say technology goes too far, the City University of New York professor told participants in the Greater Baltimore Technology Council‘s first monthly Big Head Baltimore talk, the real problem is that our legal system or social norms have come up short.



Take the digitization of health records. In “Public Parts,” Jarvis, who has blogged — in intimate detail — his battle with prostate cancer, envisions a health care system where every page of everyone’s record is publicly shared.

The knowledge that could be gleaned from such a large, accessible dataset would save billions of dollars and potentially millions of lives. Who wouldn’t want that? (The principle is being applied on a much smaller scale and involving information about pharmaceuticals instead of people in effort to improve drug manufacturing.)

But fears about how insurers, employers and peers might treat us if they knew our full medical past and prognosis quickly flip the equation. Who would want that? 

Legitimate concerns, Jarvis says, but don’t make technology the scapegoat. If someone denies you coverage or fires you because of something they saw in your file, the problem is that the law let them. If you’re ostracized because of your condition, the problem is the stigma society attaches to illness — something, incidentally, that sharing can help overcome.

Jarvis — who qualified that he does not expect open health care records or many of the other ideas presented in his book, such as The Radically Public Company (Chapter 10), to become reality —  is the first to admit that he approaches technological change from a utopian point of view. If we’re to realize the full benefits of interactive tools, he argues, we must first conceive them.

It’s difficult to disagree. If nothing else, like perfect competition in economics, perfect sharing, even if it never naturally occurs, is still instructive to study.

As tweets streamed by on audience members’ iPhones and on a screen off-camera in Jarvis’ office, the author offered a favorite rejoinder: There’s no such thing as over-sharing, just over-listening. Don’t like it? The unfriend or unfollow button is just a click away.

It is your choice. Your choice to share. Your choice to listen. Isn’t it? Well, to take the dystopian point of view, increasingly not.

Whether it’s peer pressure all but forcing us to share, an algorithm telling us what to listen to (Jarvis addressed this) or an unseen network of interconnected devices doing both, we’re losing some of our curational agency. Take that away, and is what we hear as meaningful? Is what we say even properly called sharing?

Is Google Making Us Dumb? Yes, No and Maybe

April 16, 2010

Google logo inside brain illustration.WGHP-TV reporter Bob Buckley recently visited my Citizen and Participatory News class for a technology story he was working on. His question for me and my classmates? “Is Google making us stupid?” Having studied Google extensively over the past year, especially in my Contemporary Media Issues class this spring, I had an answer — well, three answers — at the ready.


Google search, Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, YouTube, Google Analytics, Google Maps. Google’s products are so ubiquitous and so easy to use, there’s so much available with one free username and password, that people maybe aren’t being as smart as they should be with their own data.

I said Google’s free, but it really isn’t. There are potential costs to sharing so much of your life with one company. I don’t think that’s something a lot of people think about.


Google is one of the most successful, most powerful companies in the world. Competitors and even companies in other industries — though, there are fewer and fewer industries into which Google’s tentacles don’t reach — are going to try to copy it.

Google’s more than 10 years old, yet, with its 20 percent time and we-can-do-anything idealism, it still behaves very much like a startup. Not to say there aren’t privacy, intellectual property and other concerns that come along with this, but if more companies shared Google’s ethos, the world would probably be smarter.


Google search invites and rewards curiosity. Because it’s so easy to get answers, people ask more questions. Even if searchers accept the first result as the final word on their question, if it’s a question they otherwise wouldn’t have asked, they’ve arguably been made smarter.

Google should be a starting point, not an ending point, however. Terminating all of life’s questions at the first search result, or even the 10th, 50th or 100th, severely limits one’s potential for intellectual growth. Google puts one on the path to knowledge. The onus is on the user to see the journey through.

The Reputation of Shaming

March 7, 2010

Online shaming has its benefits.
It getting too bad a rap would harm all users.

Is the Internet destined to become a Tragedy of the Commons, where users’ compulsion to shame peers for objectionable behavior and the shamed’s defensive response — either shaming back or retreating from online discourse — destroys the Web’s sanctity as a vibrant public forum?

All stakeholders count on the Web to be an open, mostly civil place where users feel comfortable interacting. Even the shamers. Even the more disgraceful shamers are enforcing norms, even if politeness isn’t one of them. Like, from Daniel J. Solove’s “The Future of Reputation,” subway riders should clean up after their dog if it poops inside the train, diners should reward good service with a decent tip, lovers should be faithful to their significant others. If the shamers’ messages become too frequent, virulent or embellished, other users, whom they rely upon to enforce the norms they’re trying to protect, are going to start to tune out such communications, even actively avoid them. The Web will lose its power as a norms-enforcing vehicle.

One of my classmates made a similar point when discussing the perceived credibility of blogs, suggesting a decline in decorum sinks all ships.

“The more pure gossip we see popping up on the blogosphere, the less credible it becomes,” David Parsons wrote in a discussion board post. “This should come as a relief to anyone wanting to stay out of the Internet’s ‘public eye,’ as more gossip only discredits the value of blogs in general. … At some point, you have to trust in the user to make smart choices about what they are reading on the Web.”

Parsons’ argument could be broadened to describe the Web as a whole.

It’s one thing, then, to make smart choices when it comes to macro-communicators like blogs. They stay in one place and usually must establish a track record before gaining a readership. It’s another thing to make smart choices when it comes to micro-communicators like social network, message board, chat users and the like, some of whom we consider online “friends.”

Consider, for a second, your own circle of (real-world) friends. You gossip. Everyone does. Don’t worry, it can be healthy, Solove points out, by shaping individuals’ reputations without confrontation. When you gossip, you likely have some friends whose words you take more seriously than others. For some, it’s, “Well, she’ll say anything.” For others, it’s “Wow, she said that? It must be true.” You’re using their reputations to inform their judgments about other people’s reputations.

Because you’ve been able to personally observe the veracity of your friends’ comments over an extended amount of time, these shortcuts usually serve you well. Online, things are considerably murkier. Our relationships with online peers are more fleeting, people can hop from one Web community to another very quickly, and we often know little about them, assuming we know anything about them, including their identity. Often, even those we label online “friends” we know surprisingly little about. Moreover, identities can be easily falsified, either, as Solove mentions, by individuals themselves, or by others.

What can save the Internet’s, yes, constructive power as a norms-enforcing vehicle? Well, norms. In the near future, society will demand transparency. Those who don’t share their lives online will be looked down upon as outcasts, much like a hermit living in a cabin on the outskirts of town might be viewed today. Those who do participate but in an dishonest way will also be ostracized. Online peers may make Internet small talk with such users — much like people do with otherwise personable neighbors who clam up the second even basic biographical details are broached — but will shut them out from the real conversation.