Tag Archives: Federal Communications Commission

Legalized Discrimination

I work with a number of startup companies, as I’ve mentioned before. There are a whole host of issues that these newbies face but one they don’t, if they’re digital, is the same sort of access to their potential audiences as is enjoyed by their much larger, entrenched competition. The reason for this is an underlying principle of the Internet which is that all traffic – those little packets of information that carry data, pictures, sound, etc. – is handled equally, both by the “backbone” companies responsible for transport and by your Internet Service Provider. You know – the folks (or folks, if you have a cable provider that provides internet access and a wireless company) to whom you send a check each month in return for the ability to send cat videos to your friends.

The reason for this post is to call your attention to the increasingly loud noises out of DC about giving those ISPs the ability to discriminate. Three years ago, John Oliver did a fantastic job of explaining why this issue is important and last Friday night, he did so again. Why did he need to? Because rules that were put in place to protect everyone are being changed.

Suppose you watch those cat videos on three different video platforms: YouTube, Vimeo, and a startup called CatVideosRule. You notice that the first two are crystal clear and in full high-def, while the last takes forever to load, buffers a lot, and isn’t very clear. It’s likely that the reason for that isn’t that the startup is using bad technology but that your ISP is prioritizing traffic. Maybe they are getting fees from YouTube and Vimeo. Maybe they don’t like cat videos and are slowing down the startup. The reason doesn’t matter. What does is that it’s discrimination and it’s going to be legal. In my mind, once ISPs get to pick and choose, it’s not a big step for them to begin censoring the content as well. You know: if you want to be on our network at full speed you will not criticize us, etc.

The new head of the FCC is suggesting that we just ask the ISPs to promise they’ll play nice. These are the same ISPs that promised you 50MB speed and deliver 30MB with no fee adjustment or apology. We are already seeing some services become “zero-rated”, which means that using them doesn’t count against any data plan you may have. It’s bad enough that the ISPs are boosting their own services at the expense of others. Legalizing another form of discrimination could be the death knell of one of the things that have fostered the dynamic, disruptive growth of our digital world. Do you agree? Are you following this story?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Some Important News You Might Have Missed And Why You Should Care

There was a bit of news that broke last week which you might have missed since it seems that the election drowns most other news out. The FCC told Internet Service Providers to be much more explicit concerning what information it collects and shares with others, and provide (mostly) clear “opt-in” requirements on some of that data collection. Hopefully, you realize that more than any other entity in the digital age your ISP (and that can be your wireless provider as well) know pretty much everything you do on the internet.

Not surprisingly, there were immediate outcries from both the broadband providers as well as from the Association of National Advertisers. “The FCC’s new sweeping privacy rules decision is unprecedented, misguided, counterproductive, and potentially extremely harmful,” the advertisers’ organization said in a statement.

This comes on the heels of Google changing their policy related to how it connects DoubleClick advertising to other data that it has about you, allowing the company to actually link your name and other identifying information to you as you surf the web. The real issue is that Google isn’t being very clear about how this information is going to be used. At leat, however, they do give you the ability to opt-out and to clear your history. Your ISP gives you no such option. Be that as it may, having to opt out is far different from granting permission by having opted in.

Obviously, the ad industry is upset because less useful data means diminished ability to track and target consumers. Having spent a career in the media business I know that this could be bad for content providers as well as marketers. But I can’t understand why explaining clearly and transparently what you’re collecting and why as well as allowing consumers control over how their data is collected and used is a bad idea. Failing to do so leads to ad blocking or worse.

What could be worse? Check out Sudo. As this article explains it, Sudo allows you to create:

nine “virtual identities,” each of which is associated with a phone number, email address, credit card number, and even profile picture. They’re digital nom de guerres, in essence — fictional profiles for services, websites, and apps to which you’d rather not supply your personal information…Sudos live as long as you want. You can delete one after a week, or devote a profile to activities like online shopping, social networking, or calling.

That, in my mind, is worse. Data is collected and associated with a false person who just disappears. So if I decide to label myself as a 35-year-old woman (which is quite different from my much older male self), marketers will waste money promoting products to me I won’t care about. When I get sick of that persona, I’ll disappear her.

Being transparent and honest with your customers isn’t optional anymore. You can fight legislation but fighting consumer desires is much harder. I suspect that the ISP’s will get around these rules by burying the information they’re forced to disclose in some click-wrap agreement. Nobody reads them; they just click “agree” and move on. I think this is a missed opportunity for the ISP’s to change their behavior, their business model, and their relationship with their customers. You?

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Filed under digital media, What's Going On

I Want To Watch

Yet another brouhaha over privacy has reared its ugly head and the group which represents marketers – the Association Of National Advertisers (ANA) – has weighed in on the topic. In a blog post entitled “Don’t Bother Us With The Facts“, the ANA talks about a new set of privacy rules contemplated by the FCC. Their quarrels have to do with the complexity of the rules and the timeframe given for analysis and comment before the new rules go into effect. That, however, isn’t our topic today.

Logo of the United States Federal Communicatio...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thing I’d like to discuss is a quote at the end of the post. The new rules are going to be imposed on broadband providers – generally, your cable company or telephone provider. It says:

Most importantly, ANA will remind the FCC that “there’s no free lunch,” and that consumers receive information today at little or no cost in return for companies’ ability to reach them via directed advertising that surveys show are acceptable to consumers. This approach has fostered a healthy, vibrant, and economically valuable Internet and mobile media ecosystem that must not be allowed to be severely undermined.

I have an issue with that since the topic isn’t monetization of websites and content but the ability of ISP’s to make extra money capturing and selling information about their customers. These customers (that’s us, folks) pay handsomely for our broadband service, a service which is generally inferior to that found in other countries with respect to speed and bandwidth caps (we rank somewhere in the low teens in terms of countries ranked by average speed). Is it too much to ask that we give permission to yet another entity monitoring and monetizing our behavior?

Another lobbyist stated that requiring consumers’ opt-in consent to behavioral targeting, would prevent broadband providers “from efficiently monetizing online data in the same way that Google and Facebook have long done, with astounding consumer benefits.” Sorry, my friend. Google and Facebook provide a free service. Anyone you know receiving free broadband access in return for being tracked?

Unless and until everyone involved in marketing recognizes that consumers should control what data they give to which entities in return for what benefit, problems such as ad blocking aren’t going to go away. The customer is in control now, and tracking them just because you want to watch what they’re up to can undermine even the best marketing.  Do you agree?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Data Collection Matters

There was a piece on MediaPost about how the broadband providers and their trade associations have gone to court to prevent the FCC from imposing some of the new rules on how those providers may behave. The specific ones upon which I’m focused today are the ones concerning privacy and data collection. The article explains the issue nicely:

They specifically complain that the FCC’s decision to treat broadband as a utility also empowers the agency to impose privacy rules that could curb its behavioral advertising efforts, which involve targeting ads to users based on the Web sites they visit.

“Today, broadband providers can lawfully use information about customers’ Internet access services and usage to develop customized marketing programs that benefit both the provider and its customers,” AT&T and the others say in their court papers.

On the surface, maybe they have a point.  After all, many of us prefer to see targeted ads and as someone who has made a living off of marketing programs I’m all for them.  There is, however, a broader issue and it’s one of which any business who collects data (that would probably be YOU, dear reader) needs to remain cognizant.

The amount of data your wireless and/or broadband provider has about you is staggering.  They know where you’ve been and when.  They know what you research and with whom you communicate.  This fabulous piece demonstrates what all of this data retention means.  Ad targeting is one very simple use, but what happens when some insurance company decides to work with a broadband provider to find speeders and raise their rates?

Honestly, I’d still be OK with all of it with a very big IF.  Ask yourself this: do you know what’s being collected and do you know how it’s being used?  I can can “yes” to the first question and a very big “no” to the second.  I’m not a tin-foil hat guy – I don’t think there are seriously nefarious things going on at the ISP’s involving data misuse (the government is another matter).  I do think, however, that data collection needs to be explained to consumers in simple language and with sample data.  I think we all need transparency and the ability to opt in, not the demand that we opt out.  Having some protections in place isn’t a bad thing.  After all, the brief history of the commercial internet is rife with bad actors (see ad injectors, malware distributors, browser hijackers, etc.) who will do just about anything to line their pockets.

How do you see it?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud