Google CEO Eric Schmidt told a conference March 5 thatGoogle and the rest of the industry are just at the beginning of our ability to target ads. There are many new technologies coming.” According to the story, Schmidtpredicts an explosion of innovation related to targeted advertising over the next several years. “There are so many new places for targeted advertising…” One of those places is mobile phones and devices. Schmidt, who is on the board of Apple, spoke highly of the forthcoming iPhone and mobile phones in general as “the first highly targetable devices. The iPhone is an incredible product. It’s the first full-featured phone that’s a music player, Internet browser and computer,” said Schmidt. “I’m sure there will be many more of [these kind of devices] coming.” He said Google is exploring ways to better target TV advertising and leverage the fact that an increasing number of consumers have IP addressable set top boxes.

The Center for Democracy and Technology hosted a “gala dinner” last night featuring Bill Gates. Billed as a “night for networking,” the event was to (self) honor CDT. CDT has long raised tremendous amounts of money from the very industries it is supposed to serve as a watchdog for. How can the organization really press Microsoft on privacy when it uses Mr. Gates to help the group sell tables at $5,000 each! Having a host committee filled with folks opposing network neutrality and safeguards for online advertising doesn’t help either. For a list, see here. Verizon, the Network Advertisers Initiative, Comcast, Progress and Freedom Foundation are just a few listed. There are some public interest folks as well. How can groups such as CDT act as truly independent advocates for the public interest in digital communications when their hands are out for such donations. Ask yourself.

A Post-script. CDT is part of a corporate coalition pushing for a national privacy policy that would not truly protect the public. It would permit Microsoft and the others to continue their unprecedented collection and abuse of our personal information. Note the huge loopholes–and disingenuousness–in this key section from the CDT/Microsoft backed “Consumer Privacy Legislative Fourm:

Consumer Privacy Legislative Forum Statement of Support in Principle for Comprehensive Consumer Privacy Legislation

The time has come for a serious process to consider comprehensive harmonized federal privacy legislation to create a simplified, uniform but flexible legal framework. The legislation should provide protection for consumers from inappropriate collection and
misuse of their personal information and also enable legitimate businesses to use information to promote economic and social value. In principle, such legislation would address businesses collecting personal information from consumers in a transparent manner with appropriate notice; providing consumers with meaningful choice regarding the use and disclosure of that information; allowing consumers reasonable access to personal information they have provided; and protecting such information from misuse or
unauthorized access. Because a national standard would preempt state laws, a robust framework is warranted.

About the Consumer Privacy Legislative Forum: The Consumer Privacy Legislative Forum was organized in the winter of 2006 to support a process to consider comprehensive consumer privacy legislation in the United States. The Forum began with a Steering Committee of companies eBay, Hewlett-Packard, and Microsoft, the consumer group Center for Democracy and Technology, and Professor Peter Swire of the Ohio State University..

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MySpace Keeping Tabs on You

Thanks to Peter Levinsohn of Fox Interactive for–once again–helping us make the case for a national privacy policy where opt-in and full-disclosure is required from all online sites. Here’s an excerpt of a news story in Broadcasting & Cable:

Levinsohn also talked about the wealth of data MySpace collects from its users. He said that 90% of users register, which includes “an enormous amount of information,” which he said includes “age, marriage status, likes, dislikes, where you live.” He said the site then “combines that data with data we extract from the profile pages…marry it with the enormous amount of inventory we have and then target our ads more effectively.” He said he saw it as a way to dramatically increase the CPMs (cost per thousand) across the overall network.”

Source: “Fox Interactive Claims 40 Billion Page Views in January.” John Eggerton. Broadcasting & Cable. 3/7/07

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Will Arianna Huffington tell Madison Ave. to first serve the Public Interest?

Ms. Huffington will be a keynote speaker at Advertising Age’s “360 degree Media” conference on March 21. The editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post will share the podium that day with Yahoo’s Terry Semel and other marketing executives. We hope Ms. Huffington will warn the online ad industry that its aggressive moves to track all of our digital behaviors– so they can create a variety of desired actions (“conversions”)– raise fundamental questions about privacy. Ms. Hufffington should boldy challenge their plans to manipulate consumers through the “always-on, always-being branded to” interactive media machine that has been developed. Lastly, Ms. Huffington should especially urge advertisers to rein-in messages and campaigns promoting consumption. It’s time advertisers owned up to their own role which contributes to global warming. Ms. Huffington’s Post has a real opportunity to be a model for responsible interactive advertising–where privacy, a “green” ethos,” and a pro-civic engagement commitment–shape the message and the marketing.

We always appreciate when media industry leaders, such as Viacom’s Philippe Dauman, reveal how the business really operates. From Broadcasting & Cable, reporting on today’s tony Bear Stearns media conference held in Palm Beach: “While Viacom’s U.S. margins are close to 50%, Dauman said he hoped to maintain them even having to invest in more original programming and getting its digital sales operation up to speed. To help in that effort, he has cut jobs and salaries and restructured, saying there were redundancies and people who were, frankly, overpaid.”

It’s also revealing when key executives explain their vision for the U.S. and global digital media future. It’s not plastics, as it was decades ago in “The Graduate.” It’s “immersive.” Here’s Mr. Dauman view, written by B&C: “In a fragmented world, he said, the ability to reach key demos in an immersive, branded way becomes more and more valuable…. “Our business is to reach consumers through our content everywhere they are, and sell to advertisers that consumer relationship.”

This is real life, Mr. Dauman, not the virtual branded broadband reality you are creating at Viacom. There are consequences to squeezing out such fat profit margins–including the cost to peoples lives as you lay them off. B&C has reported two rounds of cuts. Advocates should press Viacom to spend some of its cable monopoly gain on public interest programming.
Source:”Viacom’s Dauman: YouTube Wasn’t Best Environment for Content.” John Eggerton. B&C [sub may be required]

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Washington Post’s K Street Connections

We hope the Post fully discloses its own relationships with lobbyists as it unfolds its major “Citizen K Street” series [reg. required]. Right from the beginning, readers should learn that the Washington Post has had a long relationship with super-lobbyist Tony Podesta. All the various wheeling and dealing which Tony’s firm has and is doing for the company must be disclosed. The Post should also identify how it is supporting the lobbying agendas of the newspaper, broadcast, and cable industries. For example, through its Cable One subsidiary, the Washington Post plays a leading role aiding the National Cable & Telecommunications Association political agenda (such as opposition to broadband network neutrality). Via its Post-Newsweek TV group, the Post is on the board of directors of the National Association of Broadcasters (think opposition to media ownership rules). The Post is a member of the Newspaper Association of America; that trade group is fighting to eliminate the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership safeguard. Finally, the Post Co. has a representative on the board of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (opposed to online privacy rules, etc).

The series should also examine the role Cassidy has played in weakening media ownership safeguards, including its work for NBC, Fox and CBS back in 2003. As Cassidy’s firm stated on its web site at the time, it had key connections to the then top GOP leaders, including “the Speaker, Majority Leader Conference Chair and seven other leadership offices.” [Source is my book, Digital Destiny, p. 5].

Ashcroft Lobbies for the NAB

Former Attorney-General John Ashcroft has been hired by the National Association of Broadcasters to help it fight the satellite radio merger. Here’s someone responsible for helping undermine civil liberties and the First Amendment embraced by all those democracy loving radio and television broadcasters and networks (pardon the sarcasm). Broadcasing & Cable reports that “NAB retained former Attorney General Ashcroft to review and assess the proposed XM/Sirius merger,” said NAB spokesman Dennis Wharton. “His review was sent to all members of the House and Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees.” Now head of the Ashcroft Group, B& C noted that “Ashcroft’s argument is the same argument the National Association of Broadcasters, including NAB President David Rehr, made on Capitol Hill in a House hearing this week.”

Source: “Ashcroft Says that XM/Sirius Deal Would Decrease Competition.” John Eggerton. Broadcasting and Cable. 3/2/07 [sub. may be required]

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Backing Further U.S. Media Consolidation: State Pension Funds, Foundations and Universities Help Providence Equity Partners New $12b Shopping Spree

Compounding problems with media consolidation is the role that private equity firms are playing buying major media, telecom and advertising properties. We are not only ending up with fewer owners of key newspapers, stations, networks, channels, and digital portals—but these private firms are even more unaccountable to the public. That’s why its disturbing to learn that what has been described as one of the largest funds to buy up media properties—the new Providence Equity Partners VI fund–is financially backed in part by groups which should know better. Investors of the new media merger fund include state pension funds, university endowments and private foundations (in addition to contributions from other pension funds, “high-net-worth” individuals and “funds of funds”). These investors are partnering with Providence’s plan to see more media properties are swallowed up. But likely missing from such buy-outs is any commitment to the public interest, let alone serious support for journalism. Ironically, foundations, unions, and a few university leaders have been part of the “media reform” effort combating further consolidation of “old media” and also working to restore “network neutrality” for U.S. broadband.

Former FCC Chair Michael K. Powell is a senior advisor at Providence, another irony (especially if any of the pension or foundation investment comes from groups backing the public interest media effort). Providence, as we’ve noted previously, has sought to acquire Clear Channel and Tribune. Its new fund will enable it to acquire more cable and other holdings, likely making it a fierce opponent of the effort to ensure broadband cable and phone networks are required to operate in a non-discriminatory manner.

We hope that there will be some serious soul-searching in the foundation, union, and pension investment community. More is at stake than a good return on a dollar. It’s the future of free expression, democratic participation, and civil rights.


We know that newspaper companies have to squeeze out all kinds of revenues, but we believe there should be a firm wall between reporting on the industry and helping to organize corporate events. Swisher and Mossberg’s “D: All Things Digital” conference is said to “put the industry’s top players to the test during informal but pointed conversations about the impact digital technology will have on our lives now and in the future.” The “hallmark” of the event, notes conference materials is “exclusive access to the most innovative and influential thought leaders.” Both Swisher and Mossberg are listed as the producers of the program. But the affair–called a Wall Street Journal Executive Conference–is promoted like a lovefest with famous people. There’s plenty of time for golf and wine-tasting too (with a $3995 “standard” admission pricetag). Perhaps the biggest problem are the corporate sponsors, which include Cisco, HP, and the NYSE. It’s one thing for them to advertise in the Journal or another Dow Jones property. It’s another to back a event run by two of the country’s preeminent technology journalists. Among the special guests showing up in 2007 (and presumably to be interviewed by Swisher and Mossberg) include Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and John Chambers (Cisco).

Reporters need to maintain their independence from key sources. It’s one thing to have access; certainly Swisher and Mossberg deserve it, given their journalism credentials. But hosting and helping organize a conference such as this, we believe, further tatters the nearly obliterated wall between marketing and editorial. The WSJ tech pair should let someone else organize and host–and then just show up as journalists. We need more reporters covering the tech and media beats to not only ask hard questions, but to probe and investigate. Leaders such as Gates, Schmidt and Chambers run companies–and engage in policy efforts–which require closer scrutiny and public debate. A cozy, high-priced, and good golfing-hyped event isn’t the best way to engage in journalism that really matters.

Update: Swisher and Mossberg, I have learned, have created their own WSJ-connected spin-off, called D:All Things Digital. According to, it’s to be “a full-fledged ad-supported website with D co-founders Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg as executive editors.” Ms. Swisher will be leaving the WSJ, says paidcontent, and become an independent contractor. But Dow Jones will own the site and sell the ads. The pair have established their own start-up company, called Shut Up and Listen, LLC. We believe this further compounds the problem. Are they reporters or entrepreneurs? What is the revenue split, if any, between Mossberg/Swisher and Dow Jones. Will they cover the stories involving advertisers for the D site? What kind of disclosure will be required?

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