A Google-Cable Industry Alliance?

A quote from a Reuters story about a Google exec. complaining that the Internet has a lack of bandwidth for delivering video and multi-media. It suggests that Google’s plan to further transform the Internet into a better interactive video ad system will eventually bring it into an alliance with the phone and cable giants.

Reuters: “The Web infrastructure, and even Google’s (infrastructure) doesn’t scale. It’s not going to offer the quality of service that consumers expect,” Vincent Dureau, Google’s head of TV technology, said at the Cable Europe Congress. Google instead offered to work together with cable operators to combine its technology for searching for video and TV footage and its tailored advertising with the cable networks’ high-quality delivery of shows.”

Source: “Internet not Designed for TV, Google Warns.” Lucas van Grinsven, European Telecoms Correspondent. February 7, 2007.

Conflict of Interest: Why NY Times, Wash Post, USAToday, CNN, NBC & More Should Acknowledge Role Promoting Threats to Privacy and other Interactive Marketing Problems

Interactive advertising and marketing are helping shape the transformation of the media, here in the U.S. and everywhere else. A infrastructure is being put in place, without the public’s consent, designed to better sell to us 24/7. It’s using some of the most powerful communications technologies ever created to do so. Among the key issues society should be debating right now include the need for privacy safeguards to protect our personal information online, and what kind of limits should be put in place to check the excesses of interactive marketing (think personalized ads flooding your PC, mobile and TV screens, propelled by a data profile of you created via artificial intelligence technologies, and designed to get you to feel or think in a way positive to the brand).

But critical commentary about interactive advertising is largely missing from the ever-present coverage of the digital marketplace. Each day, major papers run stories in their business section about the latest triumph of technology or company. But too rarely do they examine the negative consequences, let alone the role of their own publisher or media firm. One glaring omission by such major news outlets as the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, etc. is the relationship they have with the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB). The IAB is a trade group whose mission is “helping online, Interactive broadcasting, email, wireless and Interactive television media companies increase their revenues.” Among its goals include: “[T]o prove and promote the effectiveness of Interactive advertising to advertisers, agencies, marketers & press;” and “[T]o be the primary advocate for the Interactive marketing and advertising industry.”

On the board of the IAB include officials from the New York Times Company (Martin Nisenholtz, its leading digital exec); Washington Post Newsweek Interactive, Cox Newspapers, USA Today, NBC, CNN, and Disney. They work alongside board members representing Google, AOL, Conde Nast (attention New Yorker magazine!), Verizon, Comcast, Yahoo!, Forbes and others.

There is a clear conflict of interest here when newspapers, television, and online news report on interactive marketing and have a representative helping direct the key group promoting the industry. These news outlets should be disclosing their membership in the IAB and any other industry trade group (which have a political or marketplace mission). Editors at the Times, Post and other papers should commission stories which more effectively analyze the digital marketing industry, including raising the critical issues which the public should debate. They must also prominently disclose their conflict of interest with the IAB as they report on the industry they are working to serve.

Time Magazine: You’ve Got Hypocrisy

Time’s person of the year issue named You– and everyone else—as its annual award recipient. Hailing what it called “Citizens of the New Digital Democracy,” the Time Warner flagship publication breathlessly published a series of exuberant articles about how the new media is dramatically changing our country and the world. “You control the Information age” claimed the magazine headline, complete with a mirror-like cover device so you could admire yourself. But the failure of Time to seriously address the key issues raised by Web 2.0 and broadband illustrates the many hurdles to overcome if we are to have any semblance of a digital democracy.

Perhaps the best example of Time’s failure to truly be honest with readers/users was its failure to address the elimination of network neutrality. Time magazine’s parent company is one of the corporate leaders opposed to an open and non-discriminatory Internet. Time Warner is part of the cable industry lobbying apparatus that has eliminated broadband non-discrimination in the U.S. If Time Warner–and its allies Comcast, Verizon and AT&T–have their way, a handful of cable and phone conglomerates will actually determine much of our digital destiny. These old media giants want to extend their monopolies into the digital era, ensuring that their content receives preferential treatment; that broadband becomes a pay as your surf and post toll-road; and that they become powerful barons of the digital domain.

Time magazine should have acknowledged that its parent company is opposed to limits on media consolidation. It wishes to own as much of cable as it can (so it could continue to swallow up cable systems, such as what it and Comcast recently did when they carved up giant Adelphia cable). The magazine should have acknowledged that its parent once before had predicted great things for the U.S. public with new media—when AOL and Time Warner merged in what was then the largest media merger in U.S. history. It should have acknowledged the numerous lies given by Time Warner executives to shareholders, consumers, and policymakers when it claimed to be a sound and public-minded deal.

The cover story should have acknowledged how the new media poses great threats to our privacy, as data is collected about our every move by AOL and many others. It should have discussed how Time Warner’s AOL made public our personal search data, and also turned over records about our searches to the Bush Administration. Instead of mindlessly claiming that to see the future of our media we should look at raw videos on YouTube, it should have said that the public should learn about how Time Warner’s interactive ad subsidiary—Advertising.com—targets us with personalized digital marketing.

As we discuss in our new book—out tomorrow—much of today’s new media “vision” is driven by a desire to create a stronger mechanism for personalized and targeted interactive marketing. Companies such as Time Warner, Google, and Yahoo want to combine the branding power of video with the data collecting and interactive capabilities of the Internet. It will be a digital democracy shaped by Madison Avenue. That was the vision originally developed for our new media future by AOL and Time Warner’s leaders Steve Case and Richard Parsons. Much of Web 2.0 is based on that vision: a system designed to promote the “brandwashing” of America.

Yes, we have endless possibilities with new media, including the Web 2.0 paradigm. But powerful political and economic forces will shape what ultimately develops. If Time Warner has its way, they will hold a key copyright over our digital democracy.

Follow the Data—N.Y.Times Overlooks

Today’s business story on Microsoft’s online business honcho Steve Berkowitz over-looked a key critical dimension with what is really going on at that company. Microsoft is now focused on interactive advertising–and data collection–as a primary source of revenue. Microsoft has turned every bit of itself into a system that serves the needs of its adCenter [Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions]. As we explained recently in a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, Microsoft’s bundling of search, rich media, user-generated content (blogs, videos), email, instant messenger, etc. to help collect the data used for advertising microtargeting is on the cutting-edge of what threatens consumer privacy, in the U.S. and everywhere else.

We hope that the news media will look closely at its own operations as its relates to interactive marketing and privacy. Everyone, including the New York Times, is engaged in interactive data collection and ad schemes that threaten our privacy. Perhaps if business reporters, editorial boards, and executive producers were willing to cast a critical eye at themselves in this regard, we would have business stories that got to the core of what is driving e-commerce today.

“Looking for a Gambit To Win at Google’s Game.” Saul Hansell, NYT. 12/9/06

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CDT Works to Undermine the Public Interest in Broadband/ Allies with PFF

The Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) has long served as part of the political support system for the telecom and media industries. While many view CDT as a privacy group, a great deal of what the organization does benefits its corporate supporters—which have been some of the biggest media and data collection companies in the country. They have included Axciom, Doubleclick, Time Warner, AT&T, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Google and Intel.

Now, CDT has joined forces with one of the key corporate funded groups that has been leading the charge against network neutrality: the Progress and Freedom Foundation. PFF, co-founded by Newt Gingrich, is also supported by numerous corporate media/telecom interests, including Murdoch’s News Corp. (Fox), AT&T, BellSouth, Comcast, Clear Channel, GE/NBC, Google and Microsoft.

Yesterday, the two groups jointly filed amicus briefs in federal courts supporting News Corp./Fox and NBC’s efforts to undermine the ability of the FCC to regulate communications. The TV networks are fighting the FCC’s recent decisions on broadcast indecency. But the CDT/PFF filing wasn’t only about over-turning the FCC’s foolhardy and inappropriate efforts on so-called indecent content. The message CDT and PFF gave to the courts was they should rein in any effort by the FCC to ensure that the public interest be served in the digital media era. The filing claims that convergence of various media, including the Internet, make any policy role for the FCC related to diversity of content a threat to free speech itself. A very convenient argument that must warm the hearts of both CDT’s and PFF’s corporate funders, because they are precisely the companies who wish to avoid having a public interest regulatory regime in broadband.

Missing from the brief is any discussion of the regulatory areas for broadband (including PC, mobile, and digital TV [IPTV] platforms) that will require federal policy, including a key role for the FCC. Among them, ensuring an open, non-discriminatory content distribution policy for the Internet—network neutrality. Other rules that will require FCC action in the broadband era include ensuring “free” and “equal” time for political speech; diversity of content ownership, including by women and persons of color; localism; public service; privacy; and advertising regulation. There will need to be ad safeguards, for example, protecting children from interactive marketing that promotes obesity as well as with prescription drug ads targeting seniors via immersive “one-to-one” media techniques.

CDT and PFF argue that the new media environment provides the public with greater choice, another reason they urge the courts to limit FCC authority. But what’s really happening with digital media is that we are facing a system where the “choices” are being meaningfully reduced by the market. Wherever the public goes, the forces of conglomerate media and advertising will confront them. Consider, for example, News Corp.‘s MySpace now running Fox programming. (It’s interestingly, by the way, that neither CDT nor PFF told the courts that they have a financial relationship with some of the interests involved in the indecency debate).

We have long opposed FCC efforts to “regulate” indecency, including being critical of FCC Commissioner Michael Copps (whom we otherwise strongly admire). The indecency effort by the FCC has helped let it become vulnerable to this attack by the media conglomerates, and their supporters, who have a longstanding political agenda aimed at sweeping away all regulation and safeguards. Fox, NBC, Viacom, Disney and the rest want a U.S. media system where they can own as many media outlets as they want, not have to do any public service, nor worry about regulators concerned about threats to privacy and interactive marketing abuses.

The emerging broadband era in the U.S. will see us face further consolidation of ownership of media outlets, including the Internet, as well as an increase in overall commercialization. The cry that Wall Street has for broadband is “monetization.” But our electronic media system must also serve democracy—not just the interests of those who want to make money. Civic participation, public interest civic media, and safeguards from content and services designed to manipulate us must be addressed. There is a role for the FCC in all this. (We shouldn’t throw-out as “bathwater” the potential of our broadband media to serve democracy and a role for the FCC because we are upset about it catering to zealous social conservatives who don’t like some programming).

Finally, shame on CDT for joining up with PFF. PFF is an opponent of the network neutrality policy for the Internet. It has also long opposed any meaningful role for the FCC. But, perhaps that’s the point. If PFF gets it way, its backers–and many of CDT’s–will be free to do as they please, regardless of the consequences to our democracy.

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Online Ad and Data Collection Watch

My group has launched a new project to keep the public better informed about the latest threats to our privacy. Click here to visit Online AdWatch. It will regularly highlight new developments in the interactive ad marketplace across the PC, mobile, and digital TV platforms. Send me your favorite examples of technologies, applications and market strategies that should be included.

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What Google-YouTube Means for the Public Interest

Here’s a new piece I wrote for The Nation magazine online that summarizes my concerns about what is happening with our digital media system–and what we should do about it.


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Google’s Grandiose Ad Ambitions

Look, we all know that Google is in the business of delivering eyeballs and clicks. That’s where it makes 99% or so of its revenue. But have they no sense of bounds for the evolving role of interactive marketing? According to Mediapost, Tim Armstrong, Google’s vice president for ad sales, said today that “[A]t the end of the day, we’d like to see Madison Avenue get bigger.” The online publication reported that “Google wants to combine Madison Avenue with Silicon Valley to forge what [Armstrong] hopes will be the largest marketing platform around.” Armstrong made these comments at Google’s new offices located in New York City’s Chelsea district.

There need to be meaningful safeguards to govern the new media marketing world. The folks at Google shouldn’t be so glib about creating a system of digital platforms where over-consumption permeates our identity—online and off.

Source: “Google Sets Sights On Madison Avenue.” Wendy Davis, Just an Online Minute via Mediapost. Oct. 2, 2006

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Google’s Alliance with Rupert Murdoch and Fox News

We think Google founders’ Larry Page and Sergey Brin need to revisit what they personally hope to ultimately contribute to society. Google’s deal with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox, including its Foxnews.com sites, supports a media empire that has engaged in jingoistic journalism (to say the least!). Hey, Google guys. Don’t you recall what Fox did to help get us into a war that has unnecessarily cost so many, many, thousands of lives—let alone caused so much destruction?

Helping Rupert Murdoch out is exactly what Google is doing. Google’s signed a much-publicized deal with Fox Interactive Media (FIM) last month, making it the “exclusive search keyword targeted advertising sales provider” for Murdoch’s MySpace.com “community.” But Google is also working with the rest of Murdoch’s FIM properties, including Foxnews.com, fox.com, Foxsports.com, ign.com, askmen.com, etc. Google will be giving its pal Murdoch a minimum of $900 million over a three-year period, as part of its revenue sharing deal.

I know people will say it’s only business—and that if Google didn’t make the deal, a Yahoo! or MSN would. But that’s not the point. You need to be careful about who you choose as your business partners. So despite the positive PR Google gets when it creates a for-profit foundation, there is something ultimately wrong-headed about the company. Helping Rupert Murdoch sell interactive ads and promote the Foxnews brand is another indication that Google’s legacy may be one rich with cash—but not corporate moral clarity.