The New Meaning of Networked TV

24 10 2010

This post by Andrew Baron on TechCrunch details the integration of web content into television technology. Over the last couple of years, many major television manufacturers have been building Internet applications into their televisions. However, the newest Apple TV model and the release of the Google TV have transferred a whole new degree of content accessibility from users’

 

Both the Apple TV and Google TV are examples of web-based content permeating the home entertainment experience.

 

computer monitors to their televisions.

These devices allow users to stream, rent and purchase content to be watched on their televisions simply with an Internet connection; no computer is necessary. Accessing content has never been easier, with both platforms’ on-demand distribution system. And since Google is looking to make its device “open,” it is unlikely there will be a mandatory pay-per-view system similar to Apple’s.

Unfortunately for Google, ABC, NBC, and CBS have managed to install Internet protocols blocking Google TV users from accessing their free online content (mostly archived episodes of older shows and recent episodes of current shows). I personally find this procedure painfully redundant; usually when I watch free online network programming it’s through my laptop, connected to my television as a monitor.

While the networks might prohibit Google from allowing users to stream content on their product, Baron points out in his post that this phenomenon stems from cable providers bullying the networks into making sure that cable stays the primary means of content distribution; in short, they’re scared of the capabilities these devices have (as they damn well should be).

There are many contingent factors that come into play in determining the degree of success these devices will have. One can be sure though that judging by potential and the dramatic increase of web-accessible content, these are no trendy fad set-top boxes, but rather the predecessors to the future of content delivery.

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The End of Internet Trolling?

17 10 2010

Online message boards and comment threads have long standing reputations as being Thunderdome-like verbal war zones, with slanderous bombs and spiteful attacks lobbed in all directions on any variety of subjects. We can trace this behavior, often referred to as “trolling,” to online anonymity; the idea that users are not required to disclose any information regarding their identity in the cybersphere. But in the way that the evolving web often tends to, the vicious and offensive behavior of Internet trolls has seeped out from cyberspace in into reality.

 

Formula for an Internet Troll

 

Separate legal actions have been taken against Google by a model and a Columbia Business grad student to seek out the identities of online attackers, in efforts to bring their respective trolls to justice under defamation charges. While both “victims” used litigation to have Google provide the identities of their attackers, their cases diverge in terms of context.

The model, Liskula Cohen, squeezed the identity of blogger Rosemary Port out of Google after Port asserted on her Blogger.com account that Cohen was a “psychotic, lying, whoring… skank.” While a New York court sided with Cohen and forced Google to provide Port’s information, Julie Hilden believes Google “betrayed clients” by not siding with Port’s right to freedom of speech.

Hilden, a Yale Law graduate specializing in First Amendment litigation, admits that while the comments technically fall within defamation statutes, one must also question, “Could any reasonable person have read this material and truly believed, with any degree of confidence, that Cohen was literally psychotic, or truly a liar? Or, would they have read it in the way that that the blogger ultimately urged the court to read it – as an out-of-control, spewing rant expressing nothing but anger and dislike? I think the answer is the latter.”

Anne Salisbury, the lawyer that represented Port in this legal fracas brings up the notion that taking this type of legal action could stifle free expression online. She references a case in California in which a developer is suing Google to obtain the identities of journalists that wrote stories about a bribery scheme in which the developer was involved. She said, “Google has taken the position that unless it receives a written “motion to quash” the subpoena, it will release the information to the developer’s attorneys. Many people in the free speech community are alarmed at this potentially dangerous incursion, because of the belief that vigorous, honest discourse will be stifled by fear of retribution if personal, identifying information can be so easily obtained.”

There has to be a line drawn between legal frivolities such as Cohen’s battle against “skankblogging,” and more serious cases such as the one in California, and former model and Columbia Business grad Carla Franklin’s case against a cyberstalker.

Franklin asserts that in addition to anonymous harassing behavior including unwanted phone calls and emails, she had to deal with multiple YouTube “shrines” dedicated to her, using unauthorized video footage and photographs. According to her, the last

 

Carla Franklin has taken Google to court to bring her cyberstalker to justice.

 

straw was an anonymous comment posted on one of these YouTube videos, calling her a “whore.” A Manhattan judge ruled in her favor, ordering Google on Friday (10/15) to come up with the identity of Franklin’s attacker. Franklin has since posted her case at the online forum Free Speech Version 3 to promote online harassment awareness and argue for legislation protecting individuals from such violations.

The cases of Cohen and Franklin outline some of the issues we must now face in the era of completely anonymous global communication. While it has taken society centuries to arrive at the free speech standards we enjoy today in reality, we must begin to contemplate what restrictions, if any, should to be applied to the Internet. Hilden’s suggestion that the “reasonable person” would have known to take Port’s comments with a grain of salt shows recognition that people understand that the Internet is not meant to be taken as a solid source of information, just like Wikipedia is not to be taken as a solid source of information in writing a research paper. However, the rising trend of cyberbullying and other forms of online harassment have to fall into their own area of the law, not a legally inapplicable gray zone, to protect those who cannot fight trolls hiding behind anonymity.





The Filter Bubble

11 10 2010

While some first took it as alarming, many of us are now used to Facebook and Amazon providing us with targeted advertisements and product recommendations, based on interests we’ve indicated through web search queries. Now, Google and Yahoo! are doing the same things to our search results, according to an interview with MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser. MoveOn.org states in its About page that it is a cluster of organizations that “work together to realize the progressive promise of our country. MoveOn is a service — a way for busy but concerned citizens to find their political voice in a system dominated by big money and big media.” One of the goals of Pariser, a renowned Internet activitst, is the passage of net neutrality legislation. He also wants to promote awareness of the problem created by customized search results, an issue he calls “the filter bubble.”

 

MoveOn.org Board President Eli Pariser

 

Pariser describes the filter bubble in his interview with news and entertainment site Salon: “Since Dec. 4, 2009, Google has been personalized for everyone. So when I had two friends this spring Google “BP,” one of them got a set of links that was about investment opportunities in BP. The other one got information about the oil spill. Presumably that was based on the kinds of searches that they had done in the past. If you have Google doing that, and you have Yahoo! doing that, and you have Facebook doing that, and you have all of the top sites on the Web customizing themselves to you, then your information environment starts to look very different from anyone else’s. And that’s what I’m calling the “filter bubble”: that personal ecosystem of information that’s been catered by these algorithms to who they think you are.”

Pariser explains that while these personalized search filters serve a purpose in helping us navigate through the vast amounts of information available online (an issue I delved into in one of last week’s posts), they’ll provide us with a plethora of information on the subject of search query, but nothing else. He says, “There’s a looping going on where if you have an interest, you’re going to learn a lot about that interest. But you’re not going to learn about the very next thing over. And you certainly won’t learn about the opposite view.” This results in a “feedback loop” creating an informationally-restricted environment: the filter bubble.

Pariser suggests a reasonable legal alternative to prevent this from becoming a locked-in part of social media SOP: that web sites become required to have users design their own privacy agreements. Rather than have users “read” pages of legal disclosures then agree to become a site member, Pariser suggests ” a standard format by which customers can have their own policy for how they want their data used.”

Implementing this, along with the success of net neutrality legislation, will prevent the Internet from becoming dominated by a few major media corporations, a disappointing trend of every telecommunication technology of the last century. This, Pariser claims, “is the project of the next couple of years.”

Pariser discusses the filter bubble at the 2010 Personal Democracy Forum:





No Country For Open Internet

3 10 2010

Free speech suffers yet another blow as of September 29th, with the confirmed death of net neutrality legislation in Congress. The bill would have given the Federal Communications Commission the authority to re-regulate broadband Internet services, specifically to prevent Internet service providers (such as Verizon and Comcast) from controlling the prices of Internet access based on network user traffic.This most recent bit of legislation, the brainchild of Rep. Henry Waxman (D – Cali.), failed to garner enough bipartisan backing in the House of Representatives, leaving the future of Internet regulation ambiguous at best.

Rep. Joe Barton (R – Tex.) officially put the kibosh on Republican backing, claiming that re-regulation of broadband services (a key part of the proposal) would stifle investment in the “dynamic” economic sector of telecommunications.

This adds insult to the injury sustained by the FCC in April’s federal court ruling favoring Comcast; ultimately, the ruling made clear that the FCC did not have the authority to sanction Internet service providers for interfering with network traffic. The passage of net neutrality would change that, giving the FCC the ability to ensure that online content remains equally accessible by every user to every site, unafflicted by lobbyist influences by corporations or interest groups.

Sure, it’s pretty obvious that our economy has seen better days, and investment should be encouraged as a much-needed stimulant. All things aside, it is investment that will kill the openness that as of now characterizes the Internet as a medium of information. Keeping Internet service providers free from a federally-guaranteed system of legal checks and balances will allow the flow of information to be directed by the highest bidder. While Google has a history of publicly backing net neutrality, more recent press coverage makes for darker implications. And if purchasing prioritization becomes legal, why wouldn’t Google do it?

It’s not over yet. There still exists the possibility of introducing new net neutrality legislation. Even so, with the impending midterm elections foreshadowing a Republican comeback, passage of any kind of net neutrality bill will be more difficult than before.

Democrats must continue trying; the Internet cannot be managed by companies that auction off traffic to the highest bidder. Should such practices become standard procedure in dealing with Internet service providers, media conglomerates (left or right wing) will launch into bidding wars to ensure their content receives the most users. Rather than allowing information from any and every source make its way into the open global forum we have today, lobbying will turn the Internet into the red-and-blue political divide that today turns so many of us off of cable television news.