Online Ad Lobby Raising $1 Million to Help Fight Against Privacy Safeguards

The Interactive Ad Bureau [Google, CBS, Comcast, NBC, Facebook, Fox, Microsoft, BlogHer and many others] is fundraising to “undertake additional coordinated advocacy at the Federal and state level. IAB is nearly half-way to our goal of raising $1 million in cash…”  Funds will be used to support a campaign that includes “our ongoing advocacy efforts to combat legislation and regulation that could damage the interactive advertising industry.”  IAB calls this its “Consumer Protection and Education Campaign,” because it also includes a goal of a billion online ads (to be donated by marketers) used to “support consumer and business understanding and appreciation of the interactive advertising industry.”

We are sure that there will be many–such as the growing interest of the news media in the issuethat will follow this special interest money–especially as the Congress and FTC focus on protecting consumers online.

Comcast’s Pathetic “Public Interest” Commitments to Regulators for its NBCU Deal

Comcast released a memo this morning summarizing what it will promise regulators in order to win approval of its NBCU mega-deal with GE.   It’s a laughable document that demonstrates a cable monopolist mentality.  As the country’s most powerful cable and residential broadband company, they likely feel that they don’t have to really  provide a serious array of public interest commitments.   Even though the broadcasting business is in transition, and film distribution is changing, the sale of NBCU to what is arguably the dominant TV giant isn’t on its own a meaningful public interest benefit.  Indeed, the recent history of media consolidation in the U.S. is one that has actually harmed the public–through cutbacks in news and public affairs, more tabloid programming and higher cable TV rates, for example.

Comcast’s memo today [available via here] says nothing on the key (and crucial) issue of network neutrality and online programming access.  Nor are there any  safeguards for privacy and interactive ads, meaningful concrete funding commitments for local and national news,  and support for truly diverse (non-Comcast/NBCU owned) minority programming.   Today, Comcast demonstrated it’s only fit to perhaps be allowed to operate Comedy Central.

CDD Urges Regulators to Protect Consumer Privacy in Comcast/NBCU deal

The Center for Digital Democracy will ask both the FCC and FTC to ensure that consumer privacy is protected as part of the regulatory review of the Comcast/NBCU partnership.  Comcast is currently deploying interactive TV applications, including for advertising, on its cable systems.   The nation’s largest cable company and broadband ISP  has played a leading role in developing next-generation “advanced advertising” services through the Canoe Ventures interactive TV cable consortium, as well as with CableLabs (Comcast chair Brian Roberts is the chair of the board of CableLabs, the industry’s R&D center).  For advanced advertising, information on household viewing, including from individuals, will be collected from set-top boxes that can be combined with outside databases to form viewer ad targeting profiles.   Highly personal ads will be created, practically instantaneously, for real-time delivery based on these profiles. Cable and other video providers are creating a “real-time decision-making system” for marketing that analyzes user data–including income, ethnicity, and viewing and behavior patterns–to help determine the precise ad to be delivered. Comcast is reportedly planning  “a gigantic database called “TV Warehouse,” able to store a full year of statistics gathered from digital set-tops in more than 16 million households nationwide… having a massive 500 Terabytes of storage, would then feed up to a database even broader in scope operated by Canoe Ventures…”

As the nation’s biggest “video provider” and “largest residential Internet service provider,” Comcast has access to detailed financial information on its TV and broadband subscribers.  It also has a treasure trove of consumer data on viewing behaviors online and with TV.  Comcast can also use its dominate position as the leading high-speed ISP and cable TV provider to extract additional consumer information from its programming partners.   Regulators will need to ensure effective safeguards on network neutrality, programming access and competition, and consumer privacy—especially for “advanced advertising.”

CDD also will ask competition authorities to review Comcast’s relationship with Canoe Ventures, and its implications on content diversity.
Some Background:;;;;;;;

Huffington Post CEO Opposes Consumer Privacy Safeguards [HuffPost CEO Eric Hippeau Doesn’t Get Privacy]

File this under “we aren’t concerned about the public interest when it may affect our bottom line.”  At yesterday’s Web 2.0 Summit conference, a panel on the future of news included representatives from HuffPo, Google, the NYT and others.  When a question was asked from the audience about behavioral targeting, here’s what Huffington Post CEO Eric Hippeau said [according to the WSJ]:

“it’s much ado about nothing. “I’d much rather see an ad I’m interested in,” he says. Efforts at regulation are made by people who “don’t get it.”

Shame on Mr. Hippeau.   Perhaps he opposes protecting consumer privacy because it would be inconvenient while his company expands its online ad targeting business.  HuffPost uses a range of online data collection and targeting tools, including Pubmatic for ad optimization, and Admeld. It uses Time Warner’s behavioral targeting subsidiary Tacoda [] and also Google’s DoubleClick service.  Here’s an excerpt from HuffPost’s privacy policy:

“The more we know about you, the better we are able to customize our web site to suit your personal preferences and interests… We may also from time to time send you messages about our marketing partners’ products. To maintain a site that is free of charge and does not require registration, we display advertisements on our web site. We also use the information you give us to help our advertisers target the audience they want to reach…the ads appearing on are delivered to you by DoubleClick, our Web advertising serving partner. Information about your visit to this site, such as number of times you have viewed an ad (but not your name, address, or other personal information), is used to serve ads to you on this site. And, in the course of serving advertisements to this site, third party advertisers may place or recognize a unique cookie on your browser.”

Progress & Freedom Foundation Comes to Aid of its Data-Collecting Backers (Using a `save the newspapers’ as a ploy to permit violations of consumer privacy protection!)

This report from on the Progress and Freedom Foundation’s “Congressional” briefing illustrates how desperate some online marketers are that a growing number of bi-partisan congressional leaders want to protect consumer privacy.  So it’s not surprising that some groups that are actually financially supported by the biggest online marketing data collectors in the world would hold a Hill event to help out the friends who pay their bills.

It should have been noted in Ken Corbin’s that Google, Microsoft, Time Warner (AOL), News Corp. (MySpace) financially back the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF).  Other behavioral data targeting `want to be’s’ who monopolize U.S. online and other platforms are also backers:  AT&T, Comcast, NBC, Disney/ABC, Viacom/MTV/Nick, etc. For a list, see here.

PFF and some of its allies deliberately distort the critique of consumer and privacy groups.  We are not opposed to online marketing and also understand and support its revenue role for online publishing.  But many of us do oppose as unfair to consumers a stealth-like data collection, profiling and ubiquitous tracking system that targets people online.  One would suppose that as a sort of quasi-libertarian organization, PFF would support individual rights.  But given all the financial support PFF gets from the major online data collectors, how the group addresses the consumer privacy issue must be viewed under the `special interests pays the bills’ lens.

PFF and its allies are playing the ‘save the newspaper’ card in their desperate attempt to undermine the call for lawmakers to protect consumer privacy.  Newspapers and online publishers should be in the forefront of supporting reader/user privacy; it enhances, not conflicts, with the First Amendment in the digital era.  Finally, PFF’s positions on media issues over the years has actually contributed to the present crisis where journalism is on the endangered species list.  This is a group that has worked to dismantle the FCC, eliminate rules designed to foster diverse media ownership, and undermine network neutrality.

PS:  The article quotes from Prof. Howard Beales of George Washington University (and a fCV,ormer Bush FTC official with oversight on privacy).  Prof. Beales was on the PFF panel.  Prof. Beales, according to his CV has served as a consultant to AOL and others (including  Primerica and the Mortgage Insurance Companies of America).  Time Warner, which owns AOL, is a PFF financial backer.  All this should have been noted in the press coverage.

The Loss of the Trade Press Covering the Media Industry in D.C.: Why it matters

This week we learned that the long-time reporter covering the cable industry in Washington, D.C. for the industry “trade” publication Multichannel News had lost his job.  Variety also closed its DC bureau in December.  Hollywood Reporter doesn’t have its veteran DC reporter.  Adweek/Mediaweek/Brandweek no longer have a regular person based in Washington.  There’s been consolidation at Ad Age and TV Week as well, with one journalist now responsible covering issues for both publications.  We understand there has been some belt-tightening also at Broadcasting and Cable.

These D.C.-based reporters played an incredibly important role–not just covering their own industry for insiders, but providing people like myself (consumer and public interest advocates)  real insight into what the industry was actually saying and doing.  I know many of these journalists–they are fine reporters who did their work seriously.   I imagine reporters working for trade publications covering other industries have also lost their positions.  The losses in the daily print press are frightening.  And so too is the decimation of the cadre of trade journalists covering the media and entertainment industry. Trade reporters are a crucial part of the journalistic ecosystem–their loss is another indication of how the entire journalistic enterprise is collapsing.  It cannot be replaced solely by bloggers.  It takes real shoe “leather” and digging into the facts on a daily basis they helps keep an industry accountable–and the public informed (including industry insiders ).

We have longed urged officials in the Newspaper Guild and academic journalists to call for congressional hearings into the plight of journalists and newspapers.  Sadly, they did not act to, for example, have Congress and the states implement the many common sense recommendations made in 2001 by the writers of Taking Stock: Journalism and the Publicly Traded Newspaper Company.  The American public needs to understand what the loss of reporting institutions means for the country’s democratic future.  And we should enact new laws and regulations which help save what is left,  allowing those who really care to own and operate these outlets.  And we require new policies which can help spur the emergence of a new generation of sustainable digital news services.

Facebook researching “sentiment” engine: “looking to figure out if people are having a good day or bad day”

Via [excerpt from interview with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.  My bold]:
Facebook is, he told me, studying “sentiment” behavior. It hasn’t yet used that research in its public service yet, but is looking to figure out if people are having a good day or bad day. He said that already his teams are able to sense when nasty news, like stock prices are headed down, is underway. He also told me that the sentiment engine notices a lot of “going out” kinds of messages on Friday afternoon and then notices a lot of “hungover” messages on Saturday morning. He’s not sure where that research will lead. We talked about how sentiment analysis might lead to a new kind of news display in Facebook. Knowing whether a story is positive or negative would let Facebook pick a good selection of both kinds of news, or maybe even let you choose whether you want to see only “happy” news.” 

source: Zuckerberg: Facebook’s “intense” year.

Don Graham of Washington Post now on Facebook board of directors

We just saw the press release from Facebook announcing that Donald Graham, the chairman and CEO of the Washington Post company joined its board this month.  While it makes perfect business sense for the Post and Facebook to co-mingle, it’s bad for journalism.  Facebook’s work raises a host of policy issues–including privacy and consumer protection for online marketing–which requires a watchdoging independent press.  Mr. Graham’s new role sends the wrong signal to the already under stress reporters and editors who work for him.  We need tough investigative report on the digital marketplace–not some mutual-old-media-back-scratching-new-media relationship.  Here’s an excerpt from the press release announcing Mr. Graham’s new role:

“Don Graham understands how to build and manage an organization for the long term,” explained Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook. “He has made The Washington Post Company one of the most valued and respected education and media companies while making society more open and understanding. What I most admire about Don is his commitment to build around this purpose – and not just a business. His decision to join our board means that Facebook will benefit from this insight and experience.”

“Facebook has completely transformed how people interact by providing a compelling forum where millions and millions of people can connect and share,” said Graham. “Mark’s sense of what Facebook can do is quite remarkable.”

30,000 media jobs lost in ’08–Congress should hold hearings and pass new laws to address the Journalism crisis

Ad Age reports that “the media industries have shed more than 30,000 jobs in 2008, according to an Ad Age analysis of Department of Labor employment statistics and news reports.” More than 200,000 media jobs have been lost since 2000, the story notes.

But we all know that the mainstream news industry has been in trouble for decades, with mega mergers and various financial schemes saddling them with debt. Now the downturn in the economy, with ads on the decline, as well as the fundamental shift to digital news sources, is helping further erode the support system for serious journalism. Congress should hold hearings on why journalism is in crisis, investigating who is responsible, and what can be done about it. Among the possibilities: New laws permitting employee buy-outs of newspapers (real ones, not the phony kind engineered by Trib’s Sam Zell); changes in the tax and corporate governance rules so public service comes before shareholder profits; and regulations that reward non-profit and philanthropic news media ownership. There should also be funds from the economic stimulus designed to foster diverse ownership of news outlets. If we can bail-out Wall Street and automakers, we should certainly do something for a profession essential to our democracy.

source: “Media Companies Cull 30,000 in Fight for Their Future.” Michael Learmouth. Ad Age. December 8, 2008