FCC: ISPs To Respect Privacy

info protectionData mining. Persuasive messages. Unique clicks. Monetizing the internet.

These were all topics that we discussed in my most recent class about digital convergence, media and how the landscape of media has changed. It was a very interesting discussion, mostly because I got to hear what younger “millennial” types thought about privacy or the lack there of and what kind of information they were okay with giving up. Then we were asked what would we pay for on the internet? This stumped me, I have to admit, because I don’t think there really is anything for which I would pay the internet directly. I guess the closest thing for me is Netflix.wheeler

 

Today on NPR’s All Things Tech I caught an interview with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. The interview was about a proposal Wheeler will formally be making March 31 about privacy. This however, is different than the usual discussions of privacy issues that crop up around the internet.

The only thing between you and the internet is your internet service provider (ISP). These providers have a wealth of data and micro data that they collect from their customers and then turnaround and sell to brokers and marketers and credit reporting agencies. This is information that they not only get from their customers when they sign up for service, but also information that they continue to get from the online activities of their customers. What customers search for, what apps they download, what locations a customer visits. Chairman Wheeler is proposing two things: that consumers be able to decide how much their information is worth and how that worth should be reflected in what an ISP charges for it’s service; that ISPs be required to report any breach of data to it’s customers, and that any breach affecting 5,000 or more customers must be reported to the FBI.

Now that is something I would pay for. Being able to control my information, after all it is mine, isn’t it? Better yet, you want my information? Here, now give me free internet.

A Spotlight on Convergence

I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately, I saw Spotlight recently. The Best Picture Oscar winner is about the investigative arm of the Boston Globe, named Spotlight, and how that team uncovered the massive child abuse and molestation scandal within the Archdiocese of Catholic Boston. Spotlight doesn’t just do an excellent job of portraying journalism at the turn of the 21st century, it also does an excellent job conveying the soon-to-be power of the internet and eventual convergence that will occur between old and new media.

My nostalgia came in watching the early aughts portrayed in hairstyles and clothing, printing presses, flip cell phones and pen to paper. The tone of the movie had a focus and intensity that is very often lacking in current movies, shows and in our current culture. There is a scene in the movie where the team is talking about the final story going to print, how there is more information than there is space in the paper. The decision is made to include a url on the “world wide web” at the end of the article where readers can go for more information. They also list a phone number for victims to call. This scene in particular is fantastic in its subtle nod to the cusp of digital convergence as we now know it. It also made me think—again— just how many directions into which our attention is being pulled today.

Spotlight chronicles and portrays living in the world of Web 1.0, where information on the internet was a one-way street, a place to get information and leave. Today we live in the world of Web 2.0, where the internet graduated to a two-way street; sharing information and receiving feedback on that information. There is now so much information pulling at the eyeballs of every user via data mining gathered from Facebook likes, searches, cookies and now from “super” cookies. Thinking about this, I could not help ask myself, “Would a story like this have been able to come out in such detail today?” The Spotlight team and their editors took time to develop and research the story, protecting themselves and the victims from retaliation from the Church. Would that kind of care be possible in today’s media landscape?

Additionally, this time period in which Spotlight takes place, is also the beginning of the corporate take overs of many media outlets—AOL/TimerWarner merger, and Disney/ESPN were the two big ones, but for the most part there was, at that time, still some independence in media ownership.

And that, is what I was nostalgic for. In taking a moment to turn away from the show that is our current election season and taking a moment to turn off my electronics, I was able to focus. Focus on a movie that looked back at a time when we were really able to focus…intensely, able to engross ourselves in specific content and focus on learning about an issue. That is something worth remembering to do.

I Have A Bad Feeling About Data

I felt a great disturbance in the force….

–Obi Wan Kenobi

Finding that clip, on YouTube cost me an hour of my life thanks to the wormhole of endless Star Wars (and by Star Wars, I mean Episode 4 for you young’ins) clips, documentaries and commentaries. So much stuff to wade through, that I only found that particular clip by entering “Obi Wan Kenobi disturbance in the force” in the search field.

This brings me to the point of this week’s blog post. Data. Data-star-trek-the-next-generation-31159191-1024-768No, not that one. The information kind, like when you mindlessly agree to the terms of services to all those convenient apps on your smartphone. Your DataOr all the information (data) that is collected behind your computer screen via cookies or IP addresses. What about information that should be or supposed to be out there? The kind that helps us make decisions like whether to get the HPV vaccine for your kid or whether one car brand is better than another, or who to cast your ballot for?

Data, information and knowledge all go hand in hand. You need one for the other, right? But what if that data is disrupted, what happens to gaining the knowledge you seek by searching for that data? Enter Donald J. Trump, disruptor extraordinaire. He is the planet Alderaan to the Republican party, and it’s leadership, crying out in terror. The question remains who will be silenced.

Before all this convergence in technology, content and media, there were clear messages and information that was shared, processed and understood for the most part with little disruption. If you wanted information about a vaccine, you consulted your doctor or maybe a medical journal. Which car is better? Consult some mechanics or a Consumer Reports article. What candidate to vote for? Check out the newspaper’s in depth breakdown of candidates positions on issues or watch a debate. That was then….not too long ago, mind you, before all this data on everything became the new way of doing, well, anything. Back when election debates were substantive with effective moderators. Not promoted like a cage match.

Now, we have so much information, so much data available about everything that it defeats the purpose of getting to that educated decision. As an undergraduate communications and political science major, my big project was on media bias. That was the thing 20 years ago, all media were liberal or conservative and in order to be media literate one had to consult several media sources for the same story in order to get the best understanding of the given subject. Today, not only are the lines of bias blurred thanks to the internet, social media, re-purposed content and the personalization of an online presence but there is just so much out there now that it causes disruptions in basic reception. In the end all it becomes is noise, until Donald Trump speaks, then it’s a cacophony.

Bruce Springsteen seemed prophetic in his 1992 song 57 channels:

Well we might’ a made some friends with some billionaires
We might’ a got all nice and friendly
If we’d made it upstairs
All I got was a note that said “Bye-bye John
Our love is fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”

He was just 300 channels off.