FTC, You Better Turn-on (then Quickly Shut-off) Your TiVo

As the FTC readies a review of online commerce, including privacy, it should examine TiVo’s new plan to turn over “second-by-second” viewer data to major advertisers. The TiVo-Omnicom deal, as reported yesterday by Ad Age and others, will also include “behavioral data” derived from our personal video recorder (PVR) viewing. That data will form the basis of an “engagement” study that TiVo and Omnicom will do together. (Engagement is a relatively new ad industry initiative that is attempting to design, deliver and measure more effective ways of branding.) Omnicom, of course, is an advertising and marketing octopus, operating such agencies as BBDO Worldwide, DDB Worldwide, and TWBA/Worldwide. The TiVo deal is with the Omnicom Media Group, which includes OMD (which is interested in new media), PHD Network, Icon International and others.

Almost from the start, TiVo has positioned itself as an ad-friendly technology (to help allay fears from the media and ad industry it brought in many investors from those fields, such as Time Warner, CBS and NBC). Last month, TiVo announced “the creation of a new line of business, TiVo Audience Research and Measurement (ARM), offering advertisers, marketers, networks and advertising agencies second-by-second data and analysis on DVR viewing. With this unique data, advertisers will have key insights into the viewership and effectiveness of their TV advertising by network, genre, day-part, time-slot, day of week and pod position. The initial research product, Commercial Viewership Report, provides a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the creative and media planning strategies that are most effective to reach a fast forwarding consumer.”

This should sound alarm bells. No matter what they (or others) claim are sufficient privacy policies, analytical data about unique habits are being turned over to marketers. The FTC and state attorneys-general should demand that TiVo stop any such “second by second” collection and behavioral analysis until they have submitted detailed information so its plans can be evaluated. TiVo’s subscribers must be given full-disclosure and the ability to opt-in to any new data analysis arrangement. All of this, of course, is part of the ever-growing system of personalized data collection and targeting that is shaping all media delivery platforms. Our privacy and more is at risk. But, we have to admit. Does the FTC really care about growing threats to privacy via our broadband world?

This is an issue will be writing about (and actively working on) in the months ahead. And an issue that is the focus of our new book—out in January (apologies for the marketing here!).

Will "Expanded" Microsoft/Verizon Alliance Spell Problems for Net Neutrality?

We await to see if Microsoft continues to play a leadership role in the battle for Internet Freedom now that it has expanded its broadband business dealings with Verizon (including a “co-branded portal”). With the upcoming Senate vote, now’s a crucial time for action. If Microsoft doesn’t play an serious leadership role backing network neutrality legislation, it will reflect poorly on the legacy of Bill Gates. Will this deal with Verizon mean a Microsoft pull-back from the issue?

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Ken Tomlinson, Karl Rove and the BBG-CPB Scandals

It isn’t surprising that the White House still backs the second term nomination of Kenneth Tomlinson as head of the Broadcast Board of Governors. Tomlinson is a pal of high-level GOP officials, including Karl Rove. The new report [registration may be required] by State Department investigators detailing improprieties by Tomlinson underscores why we still need to know about any communications he had with the White House (as he ran CPB). Several months ago, my group—along with Common Cause and Free Press—filed a Freedom of Information request with the BBG [see below]. BBG denied our request. But the public deserves to know whether anyone in the White House urged Mr. Tomlinson to appoint Patricia Harrison, a high-level GOP official, to the CPB presidency? Was Tomlinson given encouragement to pressure PBS on its news and public affairs programming?

Here’s the initial letter sent to the BBG.

November 22, 2005

Martha Diaz Ortiz, FOIA/Privacy Act Officer
Broadcasting Board of Governors
330 Independence Avenue SW
Washington DC 20237

Re: Freedom of Information Act Request

Dear Ms. Diaz:

The undersigned organization representatives request unredacted copies of the following documents under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 5 USC 552:

Any and all reports, records (paper or electronic), including electronic mail, phone logs and appointment calendars of Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson with any reference to his role or work as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to include but not be limited to any and all communications on this topic with White House personnel, the Executive Office of the President, current and former CPB staff or contract personnel, and any other individual or organization that communicated with Tomlinson regarding his work associated with CPB in the past 36 months.

We are employees of nonprofit organizations who work to increase understanding of the workings of U.S.-funded public broadcasting organizations. As such, we ask that all fees for this request be waived. Disclosure of the information requested above is in the public interest because it will significantly contribute to public understanding of the operations of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. This information will specifically show the degree to which the BBG is accountable and responsive to the American public it is charged to serve.

We request that you inform us immediately of your receipt of this letter; we also request that you immediately notify us when the documents we have requested are available for retrieval, as they become available. If you must deny access, please notify us immediately of your determination as well as the reasons for making that determination.

Thank you for your consideration.


Chellie Pingree, Jeffrey Chester, Josh Silver
Common Cause, Center for Digital Democracy, Free Press

Please, it’s all “Badware”

While we are pleased that groups are on the lookout for interactive advertising abuses, such as the one reported today focused on AOL, we believe that the attempt to make a distinction between “badware” and “adware” creates a false dichotomy. The ever-growing field of digital marketing adware is really all about “badware.” A pervasive data collection, profiling, and targeted marketing culture is shaping our broadband era, fueled by ever more powerful digital ad technologies and marketing networks. So when the “StopBadware.org” group “targets” an ad industry outrider or practice, it is important to remember that by making the case that there are only a few bad examples, it ultimately helps companies such as Google. Google, of course, is one of the key sponsors of StopBadware.org (as is Sun Microsystems, which has helped create rich media applications designed to deepen branding and marketing relationships with individuals). A Google, Yahoo! and a Microsoft, among too many others to mention, depends on a world where digital marketing practices are permitted to go unchecked by policy.

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Tribune Company Cutbacks, Lay-offs, and Off-shoring. Doesn’t it realize it’s killing Journalism?

So driven to please Wall Street, the Tribune Company is further wrecking what’s left of the editorial vitality in their already journalistically-battered newspapers. Look what’s happened to the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, and Newsday. These and other Tribune outlets have witnessed a departure of fine reporters and editors, including award winners (such as Pulitzers). Morale at the Tribune papers is understandably low. The message is clear: they don’t want to spend the money it takes to do serious journalism. Now this chain is even dismissing many U.S. employees as it outsources its circulation/customer service to the Philippines. Meanwhile, the Tribune Company is engaged in a lobbying [registration may be required] and PR effort to scuttle federal media ownership safeguards. It wants to end the key newspaper-TV cross-ownership rule, designed to ensure a community gets diverse sources of news and information. Tribune execs are telling policymakers that by being allowed to own more TV stations, it will help journalism. They are lying. They just want more of that easy money coming from the TV business. Company financials extol the profits made via such Tribune Entertainment productions as “Beastmaster” and “Mutant X.” Owning more TV stations, if the FCC axes the rule Tribune has targeted, won’t help journalism. But it will likely help them distribute a new round of Beastmasters.

We hope the FCC and Congress take notice. Weakening media ownership rules has permitted a Tribune to grow in size and power—but without any meaningful public interest quid pro quo. The Tribune should be ashamed of itself, in terms of a lack of commitment to journalism and also for its cutting back on employing people who live in the U.S.

PBS will revise website to provide more Ad disclosure. But more needed

Communications Daily [Aug. 29, 2006. subscription required] reports that PBS plans to “revise its website as early as today (Tues.) to explain “sponsored links.” The Daily quotes PBS VP Lea Sloan saying that “we agree there could be more precision in describing what happens to users when they leave the PBS site and are looking into how best to articulate that.”

In a letter I wrote last week to the PBS ombudsman Michael Getler on behalf of the Center for Digital Democracy, we asked for an investigation into how users of the site are having data collected about them from third parties (including the placement of cookies). The letter said that such undisclosed data-collection via the PBS site was a ‘deceptive” practice. We have not yet heard from Mr. Getler.

But while we are gratified that PBS is listening (after a series of stories in newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and complaints from advocates), we are not satisfied. PBS should not be engaged in any interactive advertising—on its website, via its digital broadcast airwaves, or by any method (such as wireless). PBS must not be allowed to become an digital ad-addicted junkie. It should offer the public a totally commercial-free environment as it enters the broadband communications era. We hope that Congress will consider legislation restricting PBS, NPR and other federally supported public broadcasting entities from running any ads at all—including interactive outlets.

We believe that PBS’s future more fruitfully lies in building up a site that users will financially support–grateful that it will be one of the few places on the planet where they aren’t the target of personalized interactive marketing.

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Disney’s Branded Entertainment Scam: Pushing its Mobile Phone Biz Via a Program-Length Commercial

This is a good example of why a PBS should avoid even the taint of commercialism. Public broadcasting needs to be a safe haven from the kind of show/ad-biz industry mishegas we are increasingly witnessing in the interactive marketing era. Take the announcement via the crazy folks at Burbank. Bob Iger must be channeling Michael Eisner in the bad taste department. But it’s also a great example of why there needs to be beefed up federal safeguards protecting kids from targeted digital marketing. Read on:

“Disney to Debut ‘Storymercial

Disney plans to launch a half-hour TV program based entirely on its branded mobile service, in order to let parents know about the variety of features the service offers, on ABC Family sometime before November.

The show, or “storymercial,” will incorporate viewer-suggested storylines about the phone service, highlighting the features that could help families keep track of their minutes – and keep track of each other, writes Brandweek. Footage from the show will also end up in other media such as online, on DVDs and on television commercials.

The long form – or infomercial – is coming back into vogue thanks to a couple of factors such as the rise of video sites such as YouTube and the availability of inexpensive bandwidth (which makes it possible to reuse and recycle content). And because retailers are facing mounting pressure to “start selling from day one,” long form advertising is necessary to build online and offline buzz for complex products such as the Disney Mobile service, before they hit the shelves, says Dave Merton, vp for Meteor and consultant to manufacturers.

However, long form can be disastrous if it is simply a 30-second spot stretched to last a longer time. Rather, it must be exclusive, brand correct content that makes for great watching, says Doug Garnett, president of Atomic Direct and creator of the successful Drill Doctor long form campaign.”

[Source: www.mediabuyerplanner.com] The story broke, we understand, in Brand Week. It is online.

It’s the 64 [Fill in the Amount] Question: Will Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!, Diller’s IAC, eBay, and Amazon Spend What it Takes to Sound the Alarm about Network Neutrality?

Will it be .64 cents or $6.4 million? With Congress soon coming back—and a possible Senate vote on network neutrality legislation just a few weeks away—it’s time for those who care about the democratic nature of U.S. digital communications to put up or…We think the public deserves to know what’s at stake (including, but beyond what Google felt it had to tell investors in its SEC filing). There should be full-page newspaper ads; 30-second spots on TV and radio; a major on-line ad campaign. The Works. Let’s tell the public what the companies know. That without network neutrality, the U.S. will not have a democratic Internet. That both diversity and competition will be harmed. That Congress is about to approve a massive give-away to a few special interests. That only a few years ago the Internet was rightly hailed as the “most participatory form of mass speech yet developed.” But that was the Internet with network neutrality. Without it, the Internet could become just a souped-up interactive cable TV-like service.

So. Messrs Gates, Schmidt, Semel, Bezos, Diller, and Ms. Whitman. What will be your legacy when it comes to network neutrality? Will it be that you courageously sounded the alarm—alerting the country to a real threat to our freedom? Or that you looked the other way, making deals while the Net’s future was decided behind closed doors?

Business for Social Responsibility: At Annual Conference, Guest Speakers Feature Anti-Internet Freedom and Obesity Boosting CEOs.

The Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) group has an ad touting its annual conference in today’s New York Times business section [the Times Co. is a BSR “media sponsor”]. Featured as keynote speakers are Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons and Coca Cola’s chair and CEO Neville Isdell. The conference is supposed to help executives “learn about the best practices in corporate social responsibility (CSR) today — and what lies ahead.” The program has panels with titles as “Being Green is Glorious,” “Replicating Better Factories Cambodia,” and “Strategic Decision-Making on Climate Change: Exploring Voluntary and Regulatory Approaches.” H-P, Altria (Philip Morris), GE, McDonalds and many other heavyweights are sponsoring the conference. NGO’s also appear to play a role at BSR, as evidenced by the session entitled “Strategies for Improving Business Impact on Poverty: Unilever and Oxfam Look Ahead.”

But the idea of featuring keynotes from Parsons and Isdell, who are positioned as some kind of global corporate role model, is absurd. Parsons leads a company fighting against Internet Freedom in the U.S. Time Warner, as we know, is opposed to broadband network neutrality. Instead of being honored, Dick Parsons should be scolded. Parsons was also the key executive helping his former boss Gerry Levin and eventual partner Steve Case fool shareholders and investors (including pension funds) when they engineered the AOL-Time Warner deal [Washington Post may require registration]. Parsons was a key leader of the Time Warner effort to further media consolidation in the cable TV business—despite its consequences to freedom of expression and ownership diversity.

Now, Time Warner is working with AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and other allies to thwart the passage of network neutrality safeguards. Instead of being honored, Parsons should be roundly criticized for his lack of real corporate social responsibility.

As for Mr. Isdell. Well, let’s just say that Coca-Cola is actively promoting a digital media-saturated global youth obesity epidemic. Take a look here.

Among the funders of BSR include the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the (get ready for this!) U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. I think we should ask for a taxpayer refund and also urge those charitable foundations to press for some serious change at BSR. [The confence has one breakout session titled “The Internet, Freedom of Expression and Privacy.” It should be made a plenary event with both Parsons and Isdell required to listen to real leaders fighting for social justice, including an open and democratic Internet].

Heart [less] Institute: Part of the Telecom/Cable Lobby Support System

The Heartland Institute is one of the never-ending series of groups that attempt to place the interests of big phone and cable monopolies before those of the average American. Ideology shapes the findings of this group. If it had a MySpace page, its “friends” would include the Progress and Freedom Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, Cato, and the Pacific Research Foundation. They are a well-connected and networked web of organizations used to advance the narrow, monopoly-building agendas of Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and a few others.

Now with a yearly budget in the millions, the Heartland Institute is keeping up a steady attack on the public interest campaign to restore online freedom [net neutrality] and broadband competition for the U.S. Internet. Take its most recent IT&T newsletter [no. Not named after the infamous super-conglomerate and scandalous company. It stands for Info Tech & Telecom News. But we think Heartland’s Freud must have slipped a lot when it chose that acronym]. In the September 2006 issue of IT&T, managing editor Steven Titch defends the upcoming mega-merger between AT&T (formerly SBC) and BellSouth. “This merger should be allowed to proceed,” he writes, because AT&T will provide “new investment and a growth strategy.” He attempts to make the case that poor BellSouth needs a government-approved mega-buyout to save its declining revenues. But Heartland’s analysis is distorted, designed to help out AT&T. So ignored, for example, is what Bell South told the SEC—and investors– in its 2005 10K report (before the pending merger helped shaped what it now claims). “We are a Fortune 100 company with annual revenues of over $20 billion. Our core business is wireline communications and our largest customer segment is the retail consumer. We have interests in wireless communications through our ownership of approximately 40% of Cingular Wireless (Cingular), the nation’s largest wireless company based on number of customers. We also operate one of the largest directory advertising businesses in the United States. We have assets of approximately $60 billion and employ almost 63,000 individuals…During 2004, we realigned our assets towards domestic wireless and increased investment in broadband to better position the company for the future. Specifically, our wireless joint venture, Cingular Wireless, purchased AT&T Wireless in October 2004, causing Cingular to become the largest wireless company in the United States and increasing the percentage of our revenue from wireless operations on a pro forma basis to approximately 40%. To further this realignment in strategy, we sold our Latin American operations to Telefónica Móviles in transactions that closed in late 2004 and early 2005…. As use of the Internet grows and as corporate data applications increase in sophistication and scope, the market for broadband and data services is expanding and evolving. BellSouth will continue to expand its capabilities in order to maintain a leadership position in the broadband and data communications market. Investment in service infrastructure is strategically managed to enable delivery of services offering increasing capacity and functionality. In parallel, we continue to use new advances in digital technology to bolster the broadband capabilities of our entire network. The emergence of high-performance broadband and digital infrastructure offers the ability to use these networks for real-time communications including voice and video using various technologies such as softswitches (software-based switching platforms) and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP).”

Doesn’t sound like a corporate version of the Titanic to me.

What Heartland and its big telecom-supported “think tank” minions want is a system where the public has no rights. An AT&T—in Heartland’s view—should be able to do what it wishes, regardless of the costs to our democratic society. Journalists and consumers beware. Heartland has constructed an artificial view of the world based on fantasy spun from corporate lobbyist’ playbooks.