Google’s non-neutral YouTube–Gives Advertisers “Brand Protection” to bypass online videos

Google, like other major advertising and media companies, works hard to please its biggest advertisers.  For decades, radio and TV networks relied on Standards and Practices divisions to screen programs to make sure they were suitable “environment” for commercials.  So-called “brand protection” has mushroomed online–as we predicted it would many years ago.  The business model for TV and the Internet are aligned–it must please the Fortune 1000 advertiser first.  So it’s no surprise that Google has launched a “brand protection feature” for YouTube, explains Ad Age, that provides “more control for advertisers to exclude objectionable videos, genres, channels.”  Ad Age explained that YouTube’s new feature, is called “target excludes.” It’s “part of the site’s Video Targeting Tool, which gives advertisers the choice to exclude as few as one video they don’t want their product associated with as well as specific genres and channels. The feature addresses the most often-criticized aspect of YouTube: You can buy video there, but you never know what you’ll get.Other uses for this new feature by advertisers include improving returns by excluding channels or videos that are not relevant to the brand or those that are performing poorly.”

Here’s how Google explains it: “We’re constantly working to give advertisers control and flexibility over their YouTube campaigns. We place great value on this because ads are an extension of what a company represents as a business, and we want YouTube to be a place where that reputation and image can flourish. To that end, we’ve been rolling out features to keep advertisers in control of their campaigns…Google has also been investing significantly in ensuring brand safety, transparency and control for advertisers across the Google Display Network. We’re hoping that these added layers of control will make your campaign targeting even more precise.”

As we said, so-called online brand protection is a booming business.  But its purpose, explains one online advertiser, is to be “a preemptive technology and is designed to block ads from appearing next to controversial content…protecting brands from potentially damaging negative associations resulting out of negative content adjacencies.”  But questions should be raised now about how decisions will be made placing videos and other content on so-called censoring “whitelists” [which are really blacklists]. How will it ultimately affect the diversity of controversial content online?  Does YouTube further go from a quasi common carrier to an environment where, as we already see, Google favors some content over others?   Will the online medium be further transformed to reflect the TV model, with consequences to serious journalism and independent content?  The questions are larger than what Google does.  But given Google’s network neutrality flipflop and its online ad and data collection ambitions, a debate about the impact of so-called “brand protection” on the future of the online media is in order.

Memo to Obama Administration: Time for a “Public Media Corps” [or the WPA Meets the Digital Age]

As the nation faces a severe economic crisis, new jobs–especially for youth– must come from the public sector. We should take this opportunity to create a federally-funded “public media corps.” Its mission would be to revitalize public television, helping it become more relevant for the 21st Century. We have a generation of youth (and many others) adept at using new media, who can create social networks, mobile applications, online video and more. There is a vastly under-utilized system of broadcast stations which can serve as production and distribution hubs for new programming. The public media corps would be tasked to engage in investigative reporting and news production; create new forms of cultural programming that reflect the country’s diversity (something public TV desperately requires, by the way); help develop a new approach to public media communications (in such areas as mobile content and social networks).

As the Obama Administration considers its policy for public broadcasting, it should recognize the system is in deep crisis. There’s been an absence of leadership and vision coming from CPB and PBS [I will let others address NPR, which is much more vital than its TV kin; although they too should be part of the public media corps]. We can use this unfortunate financial melt-down to both re-envision public television and help develop a new generation of digital media advocates, journalists, and creators. At a time when traditional news institutions are in their own crisis, the country needs a way to better see itself. A public media corps could provide numerous digital mirrors–so we could see our mistakes, flaws, and the many positive qualities that can help with the painful transition ahead.

We hope that users of Facebook (as well as MySpace) express opposition to the new aggressive data collection and targeted marketing system. Facebook is supposed to be an community where you can express who you are, and friends freely communicate. But it’s being transformed into a zone where advertisers with the biggest budgets can harvest your data, take advantage of your network of friends, and deliver targeted marketing and branding commercials. Facebook’s new approach combines behavioral targeting with viral marketing. That system threatens everyone’s privacy. Facebook is thumbing its nose at its users as well. This forced data collection and `target to your profile and friend’s’ scheme is, claims Facebook’s “chief privacy officer” Chris Kelly, actually good for you. “We saw a real opportunity here to democratize advertising,” he said [via Online Media Daily. Sign-up required]. “People will not be able to opt out of these social ads or turn them off, at least for now, unless they stop revealing information about themselves on Facebook.” That’s according to Techcrunch, which blogged live from Facebook’s advertising event.

Is this a democratic form of expression, or a Kremlin like digital gulag?

Facebook’s users are viewed as merely grist for a big data mining mill designed to sell targeted ads. Here’s how Zuckerberg described the new approach to advertisers (also from the same Techcrunch story): “Let’s talk about targeting. With Facebook you will be able to select exactly the audience you want to reach, and we will only show your ads to them. We know exactly what gender someone is, what activities they are interested in. their location, country, city or town, interests, gender,” work history, political views…Advertisers can build their own Facebook pages and design them any way they like: “We have photos, videos, discussion boards, any Flash content you want to bring to your page, plus any application a third party developer has made.”

Zdnet reported that Facebook Ads will enable “businesses to connect with users and target advertising to the exact audiences they want…Facebook will provide metrics to its marketers that include activity, fan demographics and ad performance so businesses can adjust targeting and content.”

This is a real violation of trust. No one is saying Facebook can’t make money. But it needs to be be done in a way that respects the privacy and values of its members. The time to express displeasure is now.

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BBC Signs up with Doubleclick: Privacy out the window, along with Beeb staff?

It’s interesting to watch the tandem work of Google and Doubleclick, even prior to the proposed merger. Doubleclick was just signed-up by the BBC to handle its forthcoming interactive display paid advertising on (the Beeb better explain to all its users what will happen with those digital crumpets placed on their computers–I mean cookies, pixels, and other digital spy techniques). Here’s how NMA magazine [sub required] reports it: “BBC Worldwide has appointed DoubleClick to handle display ads on, following last week’s green light to allow advertising on the international site... It will also be responsible for the pre-roll advertising on through its existing BBC World deal. DoubleClick will work with BBC Worldwide’s internal sales team…The ads will only be served to users outside of the UK…” (Doubleclick already works with the BBC, handling ads for BBC World and the Beeb’s magazine).

Last March, the BBC signed a deal with Google’s YouTube, calling it a “ground-breaking partnership.” Meanwhile, the BBC is drastically cutting staff and reducing news budgets, as it faces reduced public funding. The reduction in funds for the world’s premier public service programmer–and the staff cuts–is a story unto itself–which we will eventually address. But the BBC should not be permitted to endorse a business model for online marketing where its users–even if not UK citizens and residents—are tagged, tracked, targeted, and sold to the highest behavioral targeting bidder. Unless safeguards are imposed, online advertising could have an adverse impact on the diversity and integrity of the news. This deal should also behoove the BBC news staff to launch a major investigation into the Google and Doubleclick merger, inc. how such a merger will impact public affairs programming.

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We don’t know anything about the work and personal interests of Mr. Luis Ubiñas. But he’s the in-coming president of the Ford Foundation. Ford is a premier public foundation working to promote a global civil society. We hope that Mr. Ubiñas will seize the initiative to fund a variety of efforts designed to foster a global democratic digital media environment. That means funding advocacy groups representing the interests of the public as both consumers and citizens (even if it means taking on the clients that he has worked with while at McKinsey and Co.); helping fund sustainable and responsible models for multi-platform and multi-media content production; promoting a diverse range of owned and operated services that reflect the interests of and are controlled by low-income and minority/new majority groups; helping journalism make the transition to the digital era; ensuring the new media truly contributes to electoral reform. Of course, dealing with the digital divide, open broadband networks, the future of public media, and privacy must also on the agenda. Such work must address the problems in the U.S., as politically thorny as they are. [We know there’s more to add to such a list. This is just starters].
This is not meant as a self-serving comment, as we’ve been funded by Ford in the past. It’s in the spirit of being on-the-record that someone with a great deal of media industry knowledge is taking over a key philanthropic institution. And it’s occurring during a critical turning point for the future of democratic communications, in the U.S. and everywhere else.

Here’s his bio from a Digital Hollywood conference: “Luis Ubiñas is a Director in McKinsey & Company’s West Coast Media, Entertainment and Technology Practice, dividing his time between offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles and also overseeing the practice in Seattle and Denver. Since joining the Firm in 1989, he has focused on serving media, communications and technology companies undergoing major change -entering or exiting businesses or redesigning core processes. Luis has extensive experience in the telecommunications and cable industries: helping build consumer high-speed data businesses; introducing advanced digital set-top boxes and services; and, now, helping design the early VOIP trials. In cable operations, he has worked with MSOs across a broad range of activities, including channel line-up standardization, rebuild prioritization, and purchasing. Luis’ work for other media companies has been operations-focused, helping several newspapers improve circulation and advertising sales and working with content companies to improve international distribution and developing digital distribution strategies. For technology companies, Luis has worked with early entrants in the home networking, digital set-top box manufacturers and other hardware providers. In addition, he has served a large number of technology start-ups as part of his work with venture capital firms. Before joining McKinsey, Luis worked at Booz, Allen & Hamilton, concentrating on marketing and strategy assignments. He also worked briefly as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and as assistant to the CEO of the Honduran beer and soft drink (Coca-Cola) monopoly. Luis has an A.B. in government, magna cum laude, from Harvard College, and an M.B.A. (Baker scholar) from Harvard Business School. He currently serves on the Boards of the Digital Coast Roundtable in Los Angeles and the SteppingStone Foundation in Boston.”

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Yesterday, the FTC sent out a release announcing its November town meeting on online advertising and privacy. The hearing is in response to the formal complaint my group Center for Digital Democracy and the USPIRG filed last November.

It’s clear that the FTC is fearful of really tackling the privacy and consumer-manipulation problems intrinsic to the online ad field. Behavioral targeting, which we also address in our complaint, is just the tip of the proverbial data collection and target marketing iceberg. Policymakers at the FTC, the Congress, and state A-G’s must do a better job in addressing this problem. Chapter seven of my book covers the topic, along with recommendations. As we noted in our statement yesterday, CDD has given the staff at the FTC a ton of material since November, further making the case for immediate federal safeguards. There is so much at stake regarding the future of our (global) democratic culture and its relationship to online marketing. We hope others will join with us and raise the larger societal issues, in addition to the specific online ad marketplace concerns.

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New MIT Book Covers Children/Youth and Digital Culture/Politics

My wife Kathryn C. Montgomery has a new book about to be published. It’s titled Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet.” The following is from the MIT Press catalog:

“Children and teens today have integrated digital culture seamlessly into their lives. For most, using the Internet, playing videogames, downloading music onto an iPod, or multitasking with a cell phone is no more complicated than setting the toaster oven to “bake” or turning on the TV. In Generation Digital, media expert and activist Kathryn C. Montgomery examines the ways in which the new media landscape is changing the nature of childhood and adolescence and analyzes recent political debates that have shaped both policy and practice in digital culture.

The media have pictured the so-called “digital generation” in contradictory ways: as bold trailblazers and innocent victims, as active creators of digital culture and passive targets of digital marketing. This, says Montgomery, reflects our ambivalent attitude toward both youth and technology. She charts a confluence of historical trends that made children and teens a particularly valuable target market during the early commercialization of the Internet and describes the consumer-group advocacy campaign that led to a law to protect children’s privacy on the Internet. Montgomery recounts–as a participant and as a media scholar–the highly publicized battles over indecency and pornography on the Internet. She shows how digital marketing taps into teenagers’ developmental needs and how three public service campaigns–about sexuality, smoking, and political involvement–borrowed their techniques from commercial digital marketers. Not all of today’s techno-savvy youth are politically disaffected; Generation Digital chronicles the ways that many have used the Internet as a political tool, mobilizing young voters in 2004 and waging battles with the music and media industries over control of cultural expression online.”

Sesame Workshop’s Elmo, CPB, and the Iraq War

We see that Sesame Workshop was honored yesterday by the Defense Department at the National Press Club for its DVD aimed at helping the children of military personnel sent overseas, including to Iraq. Elmo is featured in the show. “There can be no more powerful voice of support than Elmo. He expanded well beyond our own ability to reach out,” Leslye A. Arsht, deputy undersecretary of defense for military community and family policy was reported saying. CPB’s president Patricia Harrison was present and spoke at the event, according to one source. Wal-Mart helped support the Sesame Workshop project via a $1.5 million grant.
We have not seen the DVD or script. But given the award, we think a comment is required. While such a project is noteworthy in its intent, it raises a number of serious concerns. Public broadcasting needs to maintain editorial distance from both the White House and Congress. The war in Iraq is not just your routine deployment. Certainly, the children and families of deployed troops require comfort and assistance. But public broadcasting should also be about truth telling, including placing in context why we have gone to war.

Cut the Fat and Corporate Tie-ins PBS! Program on Obesity Funded by GlaxoSmithKline, Maker of Drug for “Overweight Adults”

“Fat: What No One is Telling You” appears on PBS stations April 11th. We note that funding comes in part from GlaxoSmithKline. The drug giant just happens to have a recently approved for over-the-counter drug on the market–under the brand name Alli â„¢ –that is for “use by overweight adults along with a reduced calorie, low-fat diet.” A PBS health-related campaign was launched Feb. 14. PBS program executives need to `cut the fat’ out of their sloppy review of what’s appropriate for underwriting. Programs on PBS should be free of connections to sponsors who have a vested interest in an issue. PBS should “take one step” [that’s the name of a related health public education campaign they’re running] and clean up its underwriting practices.