Hypothetical Symposium: “The New Media Landscape: What Should We Be Most Concerned About?”

15 05 2010

Hypothetical Elon University interactive media master’s degree program symposium on media issues titled “The New Media Landscape: What Should We Be Most Concerned About?”

Moderator:

Good afternoon and welcome everyone to Elon University’s media issues symposium. My name is Andrew Rushton and I will be moderating what should be an enlightening panel discussion. It is my great honor to welcome you to today’s event.

The distinguished members of our panel today are all experts within their respective specialties. They include:

  • Robert McChesney, author of The Political Economy of Media, which focuses upon journalism and media outlets and the changing journalism landscape within the modern media environment.
  • Daniel Solove, author of The Future of Reputation, which explores the relationship of free speech and privacy to the hyper-connected world of the Internet.
  • Ken Auletta, author of Googled, which analyzes the stunning rise of Google as a dominant media empire, the affects the company has had and the changes resulting from new business models in the media industry.
  • and

  • Jonathan Zittrain, author of The Future of the Internet, which proposes insights on the potential failure of the Internet and the idea of genericity that could play an influential role in saving the powerful online resource.

Each of the distinguished speakers will have the opportunity to step forward to the podium and provide their opening remarks. Without further a due, let us welcome our first speaker to the podium.

McChesney:

Let me begin by extending a sincere thank you to Elon University for the opportunity to take part in such a relevant and interesting exchange of ideas. This symposium should reap tremendous rewards for anyone hoping to obtain a better understanding of the multiple transformations occurring within modern media and the significance each one holds.

My opening remark is simple: journalism is broken. This is an exceedingly sad point to make when one considers the role that journalism is meant to play across our society. Journalism is a watchdog. Journalism is built upon the premise information should be made available to the public with little influence from business and government in the dissemination of this information. Herein lies one of the major problems with journalism today.

Increasingly, journalism is becoming representative of corporate control. The interests of big business, corporate American, tend to drive what passes today as journalistic actions. The result from this is an erosion of the diversity and depth of story coverage. In turn, this limits the ability for enterprising journalists to seek out and deliver material that requires public awareness and action. In essence, the watchdog role of journalism is disappearing.

One reason, if not the principle one, for this change stems from profits. Capitalism is exerting influence over everything in our society including journalism. Corporate owners want to make profit, large profits, regardless of journalistic compromise. This presents one of the main deteriorations of journalistic practice as everything comes with a price tag. Journalism cannot function effectively in this environment and changes must be made to prevent further erosion of such a critical societal construct.

Critique:

Change in and of itself should not be framed as a negative characteristic. McChesney seems to base his argument that journalism is being destroyed around concepts that are traditional and outdated. The modern media environment is not the same as it was a decade ago, let alone a generation age. As with any business, money and profit must factor heavily into the decision making process for a business enterprise to remain functional. Whenever McChesney discusses profits, there seems to be an underlying criticism of capitalism as being wholly evil. He premises this opinion around the notion that capitalism isolates the collective power of a population to a very select number of individuals with influential amounts of power. For those not part of these select inner circles, such as the average citizen, interest in political decisions affecting the media industry diminishes (370). As a result, apathy among the majority of the population sets in and the select group of power brokers can continue unabated in coalescing even more power. McChesney provides insight to his perspective when he wrote “The global commercial media system is radical in that it will respect no tradition or custom, on balance, if it stands in the way of profits (321).”

Even though McChesney fails to realize the positive influence that new media can have on journalism, he does shed light on instances where journalism has been corrupted. If a completely objective journalist even exists is debatable. However, journalists that try mightily to refrain from twisting information and passing off mere opinions as facts are generally viewed with high regard. In the midst of the Enron and WorldCom scandals of 2001, traditional journalism failed to serve its watchdog role. Instead of journalists reporting on the fact that these companies were intimately involved with political figures and this in turn helped to keep journalistic reporting on the crisis to a minimum, the companies collapsed; helping to weaken the national economy in the process (51-52). In instances such as this one, McChesney’s point is rather valid. The watchdog role of the press is a valuable asset in assuring that democratic principles are maintained.

By focusing so much of his attention on traditional media, McChesney never seems to clearly demonstrate how new media technology will enable success for the average person. The primary component of his convoluted suggestion involves a “nearly unprecedented degree of politicalization in the United States (357).” By getting the government involved, even though it is already intimate by his own examples with corporate America, the Internet can become the respected, transcended version of traditional journalism of the modern era. Without this involvement, McChesney holds the Internet and its potential in a largely negative light.

Solove:

Thank you Mr. Rushton, I really appreciate being here today, it really is quite an honor.

Today, all of us in this room live in an electronic existence. Although some of us may realize the implications of this more than others, the risks and benefits of this existence hold relevance to each of us as individuals. More specifically, what I am talking about today is the fact that practically anything can be accessed on the Internet. There is a limitless potential for information, regardless of truth or accuracy, to be made available for millions of people to consume from a computer screen. Based upon these actions, the Internet is quite possibly going to make us less free.

Unlike media of decades past, the Internet thrives off of instantaneous accessibility. The Internet can be updated with new material within seconds. On the surface, this seems like an incredibly enriching capability, which it can be. However, the opposite is also true. Just as easily, the Internet can convey material that can damage the reputations of others. This is particularly true when considering the fact that the Internet does not forget (Solove, 8). Once information is posted online, it will remain there, in one form or another, forever.

That being said, I would be remiss in my remarks if not highlighting social norms. Norms are unofficial social laws; they “are widely known and widely observed rules of social conduct (84).” What are the norms for online expression? Where does one draw the line between the freedom to express information and the protection of personal privacy? This is uncharted territory that modern societies must come to terms with or else every human on the Internet will contribute to the vanishing of privacy.

Auletta:

Hello everyone and thank you for having me speak this afternoon. Based upon the prior speakers, I am most definitely in the presence of some powerful minds!

From a traditional perspective, business used to be conducted within a relatively prescribed manner. To assist in bettering chances of success, businesses needed to generate income in order to grow. This may have been all well and good in the past but once Google established itself as a dominant presence in the business world, things changed.

Since the company’s founding, Google has been run largely by engineers, relatively atypical folks holding the reins for a business venture. In large part due to the heavy engineer influence, it has not been unusual for employees to ask why things are done in certain ways, questioning the status quo of business operations (Auletta, xii). As I found throughout my research, it was this very questioning by employees in nearly every area of the company that has greatly helped Google expand to the size it is today.

When Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded Google, they realized that data was fundamental lifeblood of the company. Almost every decision made at Google since those early days revolves around analyzing data, most often user data obtained through the company’s massive search engine operations. Elaborating upon the power that Google’s search engine operations allow, Page told an academic class that “If you can solve search, that means you can answer any question. Which means you can do basically anything (322).” In many ways, Google continues to demonstrate this capability through nearly constant business expansion and diversification efforts.

Sharing similar concerns to those touched on by Daniel Solove, privacy also plays an integral role in Google’s current and future operations. Because the company is built upon the belief that all growth derives from data, Google has come under fire from Internet users who have expressed concern over the amount of personal information Google collects every time someone searches for material online. That being said, information collection by way of data could present a serious challenge to Google’s success in the future. The company has shown the power that data collection and analysis can provide to address the needs and desires of the public. It remains to be seen however if the desire of Internet users to maintain their online privacy will spur a Google backlash.

Zittrain:

Hello folks, I want to thank you for having me here as part of the panel. Although I may sound like a broken record at this point being the last panelist to speak today, I am also honored to participate in this dynamic symposium.

For those of you in the audience who have read my book, The Future of the Internet, and even those of you who have yet to do so, I discuss several points of serious concern regarding what is in store for the Internet. Originally, the Internet was constructed around the concept of genericity. This concept was and still is a powerful one in which a system has the “capacity to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences (Zittrain, 70).” It seems that by default, the Internet would be a smorgasbord of openness, which it is in a sense, but this maybe changing.

The increase in commerce on the Internet is increasingly positioning the Internet as the center of a power struggle. Corporate entities want a greater say in controlling how Internet users access the Internet, view materials, purchase products and services online. These attempts to control the Internet fly in the face of the idea of genericity because it presents an increasingly real possibility that corporations will slowly strangle the openness of the Internet. In turn, this could bring the Internet, as we know it, to its knees.

As I have proposed in my book, a balance must be realized between these two distinct interests. Without diversity online, which contributes to decision-making guided by human ingenuity and intrigue, the Internet will loss much of its appeal. However, too much genericity can present security problems online where so much vulnerability exists that the Internet will essentially poison the online presence of those who use it. Viruses represent just one type of vulnerability that has already proven troublesome. The Internet must be seen as an incredibly powerful tool that can aid in the expansion of human intellectualism. Allowing it to become so open that security concerns cause it to implode is unacceptable just as allowing excessive, proprietary control by corporations is equally unacceptable.

Critique:

So much attention on the Internet revolves around its present existence, whereas very little seems to focus on what may be coming in the future. Zittrain lays out a very compassionate and intriguing case in his position that the Internet is at a point in its existence where the future is not guaranteed. He does this well by describing the original composition of ideas that led to the Internet’s early days where strict functionality was the focus, not directing or controlling the behavior of online users (Zittrain, 28). As time passed however, the support of a functional Internet began to expose security vulnerabilities that now are of serious concern. Corporations want to exert greater control over the Internet experience in order to expunge some risks associated with an open framework, but at what expense? Can the Internet survive a corporate takeover where the practice of genericity is eliminated? I think his concern is well founded. Zittrain reflects on this point-blankly when he wrote, “The most salient feature of a PC is its openness to new functionality with minimal gatekeeping. This is also its greatest danger (57).”

What is so striking about Zittrain’s work is his insightfulness to realize two major influences, each on opposite ends of the spectrum that will likely decide the future of the Internet. On one end, the idea that if the Internet becomes too prescribed by corporate influences it will present a harmful cap on the Internet’s growth and flexibility. However, on the other end of the spectrum, if too much openness allows the Internet to run amok, tremendous security vulnerabilities will be available for exploitation. This alone could cripple the Internet.

One criticism I have regarding Zittrain’s writing is the lack of perspective in relation to what governments are doing to address these concerns. Although government actions are mentioned several times in the book, there seems to be a lack of serious, in-depth examination of whether government officials are actively working to reach an acceptable middle ground between the two aforementioned ends of the spectrum. He describes the concerns and their premise very well. However, I do believe the impact of his points on genericity, security and control would be even more impressive had they been followed with detailed, insider perspectives regarding what is being done to address these issues within government.

In conclusion, Zittrain does a fine job shining light on what is in store for the Internet. Overall, his points are generally well supported and rather interesting. The Internet seems to be speeding closer to a conundrum about its own continued existence. Going one way will present problems, whereas going completely the other will do just the same. Attempts should be made now to try and reach a workable compromise. However, as with most things in life that have value, there is risk. What maybe considered foreshadowing about the Internet’s future, Zittrain wrote, “an experimentalist spirit is best maintained when failures can be contained as learning experiences rather than catastrophes (157).”





Age and Income: Unwanted effects on technology utilization?

5 05 2010

It is no secret that the population in the United States is ageing at a rapid rate. This can largely be attributed to the baby boomers following the end of World War II who are now the ones entering retirement age en mass. The United States Department of Health and Human Services Department on Aging estimates that adults age 65 or older will account for 19% of the United States population by 2030, equivalent to 72 million people. Similar trends are beginning to play out in other countries around the globe as well.

Since it seems that there are more people ageing during a period in history where technology is increasingly becoming ingrained with every day lifestyles, where do older adults fit in this situation? That is one of several interesting topics analyzed at a recent presentation by one of my master’s program classmates, JQ Abbey. As more people enter into convalescence, how are they to interact with the latest technological breakthroughs in digital communications?

Attempts are being made to get older adults not just online but comfortable enough in using online technology to realize the great potential that the Internet holds at any age. Silver Surfer’s Day is an annual event begun in 2002 where various events are held around the United Kingdom to help older adults understand and utilize digital technology. This year’s events are taking place on May 21. In addition to providing Internet assistance, Silver Surfer’s Day events can take on many forms in bridging the gap between older adults and cutting edge technology. Resources for utilizing social media tools such as Twitter, how to play interactive video games or using digital cameras to upload pictures online are all possible topics discussed at these events.

If events such as these were taken away, how would older adults gain hands-on experience with new technology? Some might say that their children can teach them. This seems more like a cope out for several reasons. For one thing, their children are adults themselves with adult responsibilities that come with living their own lives such as jobs and raising their own children. Secondly, time can be a highly elusive entity. In order for an older adult to become familiarized with the latest technological tools, incremental steps will likely need to be taken along with plenty of time to answer any questions that are almost guaranteed to surface. Finally, what about older adults without any offspring? Are they just deemed unlucky and therefore unable to be taught how to use a laptop computer to surf the Internet?

Older adults are not the only members of worldly populations who are at a disadvantage in using technology. My classmate’s presentation also pointed out that children and families in lower income areas also experiencing similar problems. When money is limited, many families cannot afford Internet service, but efforts are underway in attempts to lessen the “digital gap” that results in such situations. One effort is the Boston Digital Bridge Foundation, which is an intensive program that provides technology skills training to children and their parents from economic disadvantaged urban areas. The program takes place in the children’s own school, often on weekends, where teachers help to facilitate the skills training. The benefits from this approach are multifaceted:

  • Parent/child bonds can strengthen
  • Parental communication and trust with their child’s teacher are increased
  • Community involvement is encouraged
  • Completing the program provides child and parent with greater confidence and ability to use different technological tools and resources

What is most interesting about these paradigms is that they focus on a shared problem between two seemingly unique populations. For older adults, they often lack familiarity with technology such as computers and how to use the Internet. For families living in lower economic levels, often access and training for technology use is lacking. However, clearly benefits can be realized by addressing these groups. The aforementioned programs are steps in the right direction. This is especially true when considering that a recent BBC World Service poll found nearly four out of five people consider Internet access to be a fundamental human right. With that kind of sentiment being clearly documented, more efforts need to be made to allow humans of all ages comfort in using the basic modern technologies.





Are you playing games on the Internet? Are you addicted? That depends who you ask. At least one government is considering jumping into the fray.

23 04 2010

There is no denying that the Internet serves a myriad of uses. In large part, the Internet has grown into an incredible productivity generator for people all over the world. Furthermore, the Internet has become an increasingly necessary tool to carry out critical tasks that can carry serious consequences if ignored.

With that being said, concern has been mounting about the possibility of Internet addiction. This controversial topic is a difficult one to grasp. What qualifies as excessive Internet use? Who decides these criteria? What are consequences for excessive use?

These are some of the very questions that governments are beginning to scope out as a means of building a regulatory framework to limit excessive Internet use that can be deemed harmful.

South Korea is at the forefront of regulations applying specifically to Internet gaming. A leading regulatory idea  is a gaming curfew where blocks of time are deemed periods of no play or at least limited play in order to encourage people to pull away from computer screens and get some rest. Granted, South Korea is in somewhat of a unique position due to the country’s advanced Internet infrastructure that allow tremendous bandwidth and speeds for all Koreans who are online.

I have some concerns about these proposals stemming from the South Korean government. Sure, actions that are harmful should be studied to determine the real, as opposed to perceived, threat that may be present. However, where does personal freedom factor into these scenarios, particularly in the United States? If people are in their own homes, using their own property to access the Internet and utilize it as they please, what right does the government have to step in and say essentially “Turn it off! Go to bed!” If South Korea were to fully embrace regulations about Internet gaming activities, will these actions translate into regulatory actions in the United States that are comparable to restrictions on tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption?

One of the principle problems with the idea of regulating Internet time use is the controversy around the concept of Internet addition. Some experts feel that abundant use the Internet is not classifiable as a true addition under widely acknowledged medical definitions. Others, such as Dr. Kimberly Young, founder of the Center for Internet Addiction, claim the exact opposite based upon symptomatic criteria. The following list reflects some measures by which she deems addiction to exist in Internet users:

  • Neglecting friends and family
  • Ignoring sleep in order to stay online
  • Euphoria when engaged with the Internet
  • Lack of behavior control
  • Being dishonest towards other people
  • Physical changes stemming from long periods of Internet use such as weight gain, carpal tunnel syndrome etc.
  • Absence in pleasure that previously resulted from other activities

Sifting through a variety of perspectives that exist on this issue, some major themes seem clear. First, spending too much time on the Internet either playing games or visiting pornography websites, can result in harmful health effects. The main effects cited tend to center around social isolation resulting from the deterioration of real life, face-to-face social skills. Second, the idea of excessive Internet usage needs to be scientifically proven as an addiction. Transparent studies to determine the validity of these claims should help clear the air on this topic. Finally, only after both of the aforementioned themes have been addressed can governments realize a more clairvoyant perspective on possible regulatory approaches to consider for Internet gaming and excessive Internet usage. 





Net Neutrality and the Appellate Court: Reasons for Concern and Praise in FCC Defeat

10 04 2010

A recent ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia regarding net neutrality standards raises a bunch of far-reaching consequences for Internet users. The court’s decision stated in no uncertain terms that the Federal Communications Commission does not have the authority to regulate how Internet service providers (ISP) restrict access to content that is accessed over their electronic networks. In essence, the court handed a victory to the big media companies in this country in so far that they can decide as private industry players what you and I view online.

If this potential power grab by media companies scares you, rest assured you are not alone. At first I was one of those who felt very uneasy about the effects this decision could have on my Internet surfing. However, the more I looked into the topic, the more I realized this issue has many, many sides to it.

It is likely a safe assumption that most people who have grown nervous with the Appellate Courts decision feel this way because of possible restrictions towards online content. This is a valid concern. I also do not want one company, such as Comcast, Verizon, Time Warner or any other Internet provider, to decide what I can and cannot check out online in my home on my time. Whenever public freedom to access information is restricted, there is a problem. My own ability to judge what I want to see, read or hear online should be my decision. If this recent court ruling erodes my ability to carry out this activity, I will be one unhappy camper.

When reading about the Appellate Court’s decision, I realized that there is a hypothetical elephant in the room that must be acknowledged. The elephant -–rather issue—is in regards to what the FCC can regulate. If the FCC does not possess the regulatory power for ISPs, then who or what does? Where are the safety measures, the checks and balances to power, that are meant to secure the interests of the public at large? Sure, some claim that as a private industry, self-regulation will ensure that the public is treated fairly when it comes to Internet access. However, we have seen numerous examples of corporate debacles stemming from deregulation activities in this country and the serious ripple effects the public experiences when they occur. Considering the FCC has been sidelined in terms of regulatory activity on the Internet, this leads to my next point.

The justice system that exists today in the United States is overburdened in many ways. Political leaders, judges and citizens have cried foul over the length of time it can take for court cases to be decided in this country. If there already is a problem of case overload in our judicial system and the FCC has now been ordered to stand down from regulating Internet providers, who then will have to step up to the plate and take on these regulatory duties? It would seem that by default, the United States’ courts are set to become the go-to entity in regulating Internet accessibility, as if the courts did not have enough on their plates already! This is a particular concern because it seems this will have far-reaching effects as this massive responsibility will only clog an already over burdened justice system. Additionally, if one were to factor in the increasingly partisan politics in our nations capital, the ideological differences among politicians has slowed the process of filling vacant federal court judgeship’s to a crawl. Yet another example of what may help to further strain the administration of justice across the country.

In conclusion, I must be fair in highlighting a major point of support I have towards the Appellate Court’s ruling against the FCC. From a strict business perspective, the claim by ISPs that it is neither fair nor reasonable for bandwidth hogging applications to be charged the exact same fees as normal bandwidth users is correct. If someone is using a program online that takes up a disproportionately large amount of bandwidth so that it infringes upon the Internet experience for other users, that one user should be charged more. In simplistic terms, this concept is similar to the way taxes are determined in the United States. The more income you make, the more you pay in taxes. Similarly, the more Internet bandwidth you use, the more you pay for that usage. Conceivably, the ISPs can reinvest the extra funding generated in this way for higher bandwidth capacity cables so that the Internet experience can be consistent and reliable for all users.

Stay tuned for future developments on net neutrality as the Appellate Court ruling is a beginning, not an end, to a significantly important issue facing the future of Internet use in the United States.





The premise behind Internet frameworks: open access or suffocating structure?

19 03 2010

When you search for material on the Internet, do you know how you come across the results that you view? Are there influences actively dictating what you view and what you do not have a chance to comprehend? In essence, these are some of the primary points focused on in Jonathan Zittrain’s book, The Future of the Internet.

Within this weighty yet interesting book Zittrain attempts to dissect the nature of the Internet’s DNA. Often times the Internet is though of being the ultimate example of pure openness, where anyone, anywhere can contribute anything for others to view, enjoy or revolt against. Specifically, Zittrain isolates the method for this occurrence into two distinct camps: generative nature and proprietary means.

The wider ranging of these two concepts is that of generative nature. Just as the name describes, “generativity considers how a system might grow or change over time as the uses of a technology by one group are shared with other individuals, thereby extending the generative platform (78).” The basic premise being that there is an active fostering of the possibility to produce unanticipated change through unfiltered contributions from broad and varied audiences.

Contrasting this approach is the proprietary model comprised of the tethered appliance. In its most basic form, the appliance being either an Internet service provider or a physical product that locks users into using the said product as the exclusive means of accessing what is desired. Freedom to roam, explore, contribute or change the basic dynamics is largely lacking. Innovation is the curse instead of the buzz within this framework.

Zittrain pairs both of these approaches to online existence as we know it currently and explores associated issues with each one. A common, yet incredibly fundamental component of both approaches are security. It does not take much effort to realize the potential security problems arising from vast, open electronic networks where anyone can contribute content regardless what the intent may be. This is exactly how computer viruses gained prominence during the fledgling days of the Internet, as there was an unprotected network of interconnected computers completely willing to accept malicious code of it were introduced. This lack of care for purpose was exactly the motivation of early Internet programmers, who could have cared less about how the Internet was used. Instead, they only cared that the Internet was functional (28). Zittrain reflected upon these risks associated with this approach, “The most salient feature of a PC is its openness to new functionality with minimal gate keeping. This is also its greatest danger (57).”

Response to such vulnerabilities inherent from complete openness has been proprietary measures to provide great control to allow measured functionality. The upside to this approach is that greater security can result. However, the downside is limited accessibility to content and perspective. In an online environment of the twenty-first century, this is an extremely serious constraint to content with. Even if malicious actions can be reduced via the increase in tethered appliances among consumer markets to help ensure more stable performance, an entirely new risk emerges. Not just is content access controlled by a centralized authority but Those who control the tethered appliances can control the behavior undertaken with the advice in a number of ways: preemption, specific injunction, and surveillance (107).”

One thing is pretty clear; the Internet is here to stay. It is not going to disappear anytime soon. In turn, the continued functionality of Internetusability requires a balancing act when it comes to security by way of open platforms and securely controlled access. Over extending in either direction will only lead to revolt and possible disruption. A balanced approach is needed where security plays a distinct motivating role but open accessibility, determined by individual users, is weighted just as heavily. Zittrain suggests that a keen balance is necessary where regulation from within, among users, can actively assuage security fears if given the chance to work (102-103). Furthering this approach, he references the online encyclopedia Wikipedia as one example where users act as collective bastions in protecting the platform while still maintaining open access to almost anyone to view or contribute. Although I personally believe it is too early to know with certainty if a mainstream ethos of established boundaries is sweeping the Internet, I do think that lessons can be learned and applied to some degree from Wikipedia. The question remains, when will we know and will you be able to tell?





If privacy and the Internet is a disparate match, is sacred personal space an endangered phenomenon?

5 03 2010

Privacy is something we think we know. However, if you asked someone to define privacy half a century ago, I can almost guarantee that his or her answer would be noticeably different from the answer someone in the present would provide. In essence, what we consider privacy is not what it used to be. A significant influence contributing to the changing perspective on privacy is the Internet.

The Internet is a vast, often uncontrollable, entity that has provided many significant breakthroughs in the ways humans interact. It in due to this influence that some claim the idea of privacy has been turned upside down. Having just completed Daniel Solove’s book, the future of reputation, I am forced to consider how privacy is morphing towards a potential extinction.

Although Solove presents numerous perspectives regarding privacy and personal reputation within online communities, several factors stood out to me in particular.

The first factor is age. When is too young for someone to be inputting their life’s details online for the entire world to absorb? Seven years old is too young in my opinion. This is an example that Solove referenced in that seven year olds are now blogging on the Internet. This presents several problems. For one thing, at seven years old, children are unable to perceive the repercussions of their actions. This is particularly true with regard to intangibles such as online, electronic submissions. Secondly, at such a young age, a person lacks the maturity to effectively weigh risk. In turn, tremendous vulnerability can spring from seemingly innocent blog posts. What happens if a child posts their home address or phone number? If a pedophile happens to be tracking the blog, a serious problem could spring from this seemingly innocent contribution to the online world. Furthermore, actions by minors online affect their parents, as parents are the ones who are legally responsible for their children’s conduct. This allows for the possibility that parents, in addition to their child, could face overtly negative consequences from sharing information online.

Underlying everyone of the privacy related issues examined in Solove’s book are norms. In Solove’s own words, “a norm is a rule of conduct, one less official than a law, but sometimes as improper to transgress…Norms are widely known and widely observed rules of social conduct (84).” That being said, norms serve as the foundation to individual and societal actions. As such, norms have traditionally provided everyone a sense of entitlement to live their life with a measured degree of secrecy, a separation between one self and the prying eyes and ears of others.

Please reread the prior sentence, placing emphasis on the word traditionally.

The Internet may be changing not just the premise of privacy but also the relevancy of the entire concept. One consideration Solove touches on in the book is if privacy has a place in the future? Will there be a need, desire or ability to maintain privacy as humans rapidly accelerate deeper into the twenty-first century? Pondering this possibility within group discussions, classmates of mine predicted what norms maybe utilized in the year 2020 regarding privacy. The primary norms that were predicted include:

  • No anonymous posts online, everything is tied to an identity
  • Opt-in security and privacy protection measures instead of opt-out
  • Expectation to share life online, possibly ostracized if not
  • Expected to make connections with others so as to remain socially relevant
  • Always on, some degree of constant functionality online

I cannot claim to know how many, if any, of these predictions will prove the test of time. One point was raised though relating to these predictions that makes me seriously doubt the benefit of eroding privacy. If privacy were essentially to be expunged, replaced with an always-on mentality, would people become masks or illusions of their true selves as a default protective mechanism to being constantly exposed? Fear of being ostracized for expressing true feelings, opinions and perspectives would result in people living within a shell of their true identities because of the ever-present knowledge that someone is watching.





Google’s Media Masterpiece with a Changing Canvas

27 02 2010

We all are familiar with the term. If you are reading this, I would be willing to bet money that you know what Google is or at least have heard the name before. Having just finished reading a very engaging and insightful book by Ken Auletta, titled Googled The End of the World as We Know It, I now see the most powerful search engine in a new light.

I will not even attempt to summarize the entire scope of the book here. Please note however that it is an interesting read that is worth your time. That being said, there are several key factors which surface throughout the book that are worthy of exploration.

First, is the issue of privacy. Google serves a nearly unbridled desire – or is it need? – for people to access information. In turn, Google has built its business prominence upon this most basic premise, providing access to almost limitless information through the Internet. As more information is accessed online though, where does the differentiation between public and private information establish itself? One of Google’s founders, Sergey Brin, elaborated on privacy fears regarding user data that Google collects in the following excerpt with author:

“When asked why consumers should trust that Google would not abuse the private data it collects, Sergey Brin in 2007 told me that the fears people face are tied to distaste for advertising and to a fear of Big Brother, which is sometimes ‘irrational.’ He wondered: ‘How many people yesterday do you think had embarrassing information about them exposed as the result of some cookie? Zero. It never happens. Yes I’m sure thousands of people had their mail stolen yesterday…I do think it boils down to irrational fears that all of a sudden we’d do evil things (194).”

Herein lies the potential monster of a problem with this perspective. Although Google may not intend to do harm towards others but with the company’s incredibly expansive size, the potential for harm increases exponentially. Again, I do not think that Google is premised upon such mean spirited motivations. However, this quote reflects that one of Google’s founders seems as if he does not realize the influence, if it were so chosen, to eradicate user privacy through multiple media platforms.

Is this arrogance? I doubt it. Is it inexperience? Not quite. Rather, I think this insight is a result of so much new ground being plowed by Google that even one of the founders is not sure how to interpret such implications. I wonder….would it be wise to interpret this as a sign that regulations should be in place to help mitigate the damage or reduce the likelihood of data release IF a company like Google were to go rogue?? The potentially catastrophic results from this what if scenario could serve as a bellwether towards the eradication of online privacy.

Second, the semblance of innocence exhibited by Google’s founders wears thin by the end of the book. In many ways, the two founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, come across as intelligent, caring leaders who happen to make extraordinarily good business decisions as if by pure luck. This seems like a kosher argument for a company that uses the rallying cry “Do no evil.” to supposedly guide company decisions. I bought into this idea for the majority of the book, I freely admit. However, the truth surfaces when pieces fall into place towards the end of Auletta’s work. Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, told the author in a rather candid admission that Google is not just a search engine, it is a company using calculated maneuvers to garner major control across the entire media industry. One of the most fundamental components of this effort centers on advertising dollars. The more ways Google can secure these funds, the more power and flexibility Google has to direct how an entire industry operates. Paraphrasing Schmidt’s words, Auletta wrote, “Google wants to be the agent that sells the ads on all distribution platforms, whether it is print, television, radio, or the Internet (294).”

Finally, a quote by Larry Page from 2002 exemplifies the idea what search means in relation to Google’s business strategy. While speaking to a class at Stanford University, Page articulated his belief that “If you can solve search, that means you can answer any question. Which means you can do basically anything (322).” This reflection is a powerful one. Keeping in mind the aforementioned innocence and play on luck Page and Brin seem to showcase throughout their careers, this quote speaks volumes behind the real ambition driving the engine of Google’s future. Both founders realize the transformative power their company oozes. The search component of their company has become the building block to an entire media empire that is expanding rapidly into various corners of the media landscape from television and cellular phones to online advertising and book publishing. The result of this strategy is causing significant waves in ways media is made and consumed. Regardless if the affects of these efforts are positive or negative, it seems increasingly clear these affects are by no means the result of luck.