Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Internet: The Friend that Tells All Your Secrets

“When you’re doing stuff online, you should behave as if you’re doing it in public — because increasingly, it is.”- Jon Kleinberg, professor of computer science at Cornell University

It used to be that as long as you didn’t post any pictures of yourself that you wouldn’t want that creepy guy down the street to see and didn’t post your full name or address on a site then you were generally being safe on the internet. In the past few years, however, the whole ball game has changed when it comes to online privacy and safety.

The internet has impacted privacy in so many ways; some say privacy is long gone for the modern world of technology, others, like Alma Whitten, claim that “privacy is alive and well.” The internet provides more opportunities for people to share information with each other, and possibly inadvertently with the public. If you don’t have your settings right on social networking sites like Facebook or other online accounts you may be at risk to lose your job, be targeted by anyone from Google to people who want to steal your identity or stalkers. Now, people can figure out virtually everything you do online. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been quoted as saying, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.” While I think this a stupid response to the issue of internet privacy, he does have a point: if you don’t want people to know what you’re doing, then you probably shouldn’t do it on the internet because as we’ve learned from various studies you only need a little crumb of information to be able follow the rest to you and your life. One such study was done by Alessandro Acquisti and Ralph Gross who “reported that they could accurately predict the full, nine-digit Social Security numbers for 8.5 percent of the people born in the United States between 1989 and 2003 — nearly five million individuals” as Steve Lohr explained in his article How Privacy Vanishes Online.

Even your simple online habits can put you in situations that you may not like. As Sarah Perez explained in her article, 3 Facebook Settings Facebook Users Should Check Now, many people may think they are being safe and protecting their privacy online but even posting something like your birthday or relationship status or even visiting a store’s website can give advertisers and criminals enough info to target you. Even with all the tips Perez provides to Facebook users, even she admits, “they're by no means the only privacy settings worth a look.” Even the Federal Trade Commission worries that rules “to protect privacy have not kept up with technology” says Lohr. He goes on to explain that “…an individual’s actions, researchers say, are rarely enough to protect privacy in the interconnected world of the Internet…you may not disclose personal information, but your online friends and colleagues may do it for you, referring to your school or employer, gender, location and interests. Patterns of social communication, researchers say, are revealing.”

Companies have taken advantage of the questionable restrictions/ rules provided by governments and the lack of knowledge that most users have. They keep up with all our information to sell more to us, to advertise to us and to entice us into anything they can on the web. Email companies sell your email address to other companies all the time; they call them “partners,” so that these partners can target you with ads and things and both parties profit. They usually let you know this by saying something like this: “Sometimes we offer your email to our partner companies is this okay?” Sounds innocent enough right? I mean why wouldn’t my email provider protect me? After all these are my personal emails and I trust my email so why shouldn’t I trust their friends? Yeah, right. At first I thought it was some really cool coincidence that the ads on my Facebook page always seemed so catered to me, now I just feel dumb. Facebook monitors what you write and puts ads on the side of your page that correspond to things that you talk about on your page or even groups or fan pages that you join.

As long as you use your name, or a name they know you go by, future employers can find out pretty much all they want about you too. You might not even get called for an interview before HR knows all about your crazy college days. If you’ve ever commented in a forum, been in or the topic of an online article, or have a social networking site, employers will most likely look for it. Even if you’ve deleted your Myspace page, employers still might be able to see that picture that you posted of you underage drinking with your buddies and took down a day later out of fear your mom would see it—you’ve seen that commercial, pictures never leave the internet. You probably have next to no control over a Google search about yourself, even if you set everything you do to private.

(Though this is about online sexual exploitation, you can see where it still applies.)

As I mentioned before, there is little one person can do to protect themselves from all the risks. Your best bet though is to just pay attention to “the fine print”- anything that sounds fishy, anything that asks for more information, just make sure you know who your information is going to be seen by.

Another aspect of the privacy issue is brought up in Colleen Barry’s Article, Italian Judge says Profit Behind Google Verdict. The conflict in the article was that a very offensive video was posted on YouTube (now owned by Google) showing an autistic young man being taunted and beaten by peers (the ones that posted the video) and YouTube/Google not only allowed it to be posted but also allegedly sought to gain a profit from it “by selling advertising on the site where the footage was posted.”

“Google argued that it was unaware of the offensive material and acted swiftly to remove it after being notified by authorities.” I have a few issues with this. That video topped “Google Italy's ‘most entertaining’ video list,” I find it hard to believe that they don’t monitor what is being most watched so that they can sell that prime advertising space (it obviously has lots of viewers) to companies that will pay them lots of money to let them and was it just sheer coincidence that advertising did pop up there alongside this most entertaining (perhaps most watched) video? While I believe their motives are highly suspect and that the fact that it even happened was ridiculous … I hate to say that, legally, I don’t think Google is responsible. Maybe Google saw the video, saw an opportunity and ignored it, maybe they have a system in place that automatically picks where, what and when to advertise based on certain conditions, who knows? It almost doesn’t matter. Like the Google reps said, the internet was built on the principle of free speech, what if Google too struggled with whether it was legally their right to take down those boys’ video? And with millions of random, outrageous, offensive and radical videos being uploaded to the site every minute one company can’t be expected to view and okay (who’s standards would they even use?) let alone potentially have a legal dispute with every person that posted one.

A happy medium of a both free and protected internet may not even be possible. It sounds depressing but that’s precisely why we as a society have to figure something out to develop the kind of internet we can all be okay with.

I think growing up with this type of shaky privacy people will have the right level of trust and distrust when interacting on the internet. A lot of people are already aware of the risks that come with going on the internet whether you’re sharing information or not. I’m still young (now I don’t even want to say my age lol) and I know, my own personal experience has been that I largely am weary of the internet and tend to feel like it’s not as much my friend as it is that girl at school that acts nice to my face but is just waiting to spread a rumor about me. However, I think that life now revolves so much around the internet that it would be really difficult to try to avoid it so we are stuck just trying to make sure we’re being careful.

These privacy issues do relate to The Long Tail and democracy and, ironically, in a good way. The positive, and democratizing, thing about the lack of privacy on the internet may in fact be the lack of privacy on the internet. By giving everyone equal opportunity to access information on the internet, corporations, politicians, public figures, etc. can more easily be found out and held accountable by average citizens. For example, because a young exec decided to brag about his acts involving the company in a personal email to a friend, huge allegations have been brought up against investment firm Goldman Sachs (click here for article). Another example would be the Salahi’s. You remember? The White House party crashers who were under fire for weeks after people (and officials) found the pictures they posted on their Facebook pages of their wild party crashing night. Maybe a little lack of personal privacy may actually aid in providing a somewhat safer society for all of us. Okay, so the situation isn’t ideal, but it’s one we have to work with until we create something better.

While I felt that Alma Whitten was a little bias in her article, she did have one good point when she said, “But we [Google] can't and shouldn't do it alone. Ensuring real control in our ever-changing world is one of the most important challenges our society faces. Together, we must find new and better ways to guarantee privacy today and for the future.”

"There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment... It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time.

But at any rate they could plug into your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live - did live, from habit that became instinct - in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and except in darkness, every movement scrutinized." - George Orwell, 1984

Monday, April 12, 2010

On Air and Plugged In 24/7

It used to be that people would watch TV on their television sets on the comfiest spot on their couches, restricted to watch the shows they liked at the day and time that the program was scheduled, and if they missed it they might have a chance a long time later to see a re-run of the show.

With cable we got a little more flexibility. We could then catch frequent re-runs of shows we missed and possibly even some shows or movies on demand and we also got even more channels than we could care to watch. But all of this luxury came at a price, a large price. Cable can be a monthly bill that gives lots of households trouble. We also began to use devises like DVR’s which enabled us to record, pause, play back and rewind many of our favorite shows.

Now we have regular (now HD) TV to watch on our television sets as well as the many channels available through expensive cable packages and we can also watch many of those same shows on the internet. Whether you just watch them on your computer or hook it up so you can view programs from the internet on your TV watching your favorite shows for free from the internet is becoming the popular way to view television.

On sites like,,, and the ever popular people can view many of the programs they like to watch on TV. You can also watch shows directly on the show’s web page and sometimes even on their social networking pages (like on MySpace, Facebook or Twitter).
The internet has changed TV in many ways. When thinking about the 5 C’s of the Post-Network Televison proposed by Amanda D. Lotz’s, The Television Will be Revolutionized, we see how standards and therefore the industry have changed. As I mentioned before, at one time we didn’t have much CHOICE or CONTROL over the television we viewed. There were only certain things on at certain times and if two programs you liked were on at the same time, you’d just have to choose. Television giants like ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox all basically controlled what and when you watched on your TV set and cable companies could gauge your wallets freely. We are now getting a little freedom from that with the addition of internet to the equation. We can now watch many of our favorite programs when we want and free of charge; heck we can even pause, play back and rewind them via the internet!
CONVENIENCE and CUSTOMIZATION came out of the expectations that consumers had after experiencing their new found choice and control. Creating convenience would be like how cable companies constantly air re-runs so that you can see a program at a different time than it airs. Customization come with things like that feature you can get with cable where it sees what you watch the most and recommends shows you may also like (a clever ploy to just get you to watch more TV and thereby get addicted to more shows that will make you keep your cable or upgrade to a pricier package- but I digress).

The concept of COMMUNITY has changed quite a bit. It used to mean being able to talk around the water cooler about that show everyone watched last night at the same time. Now, we have become so accustomed to be in constant connection with the whole world at all times that we still want that when watching television. We want to be able to text about the show while were watching it and in that way, connect on a deeper(I use that term loosely) level. In Television Will Be Revolutionized, Beth Comstock explains, “In the digital age, community is all about gathering people with shared interests and giving them a plat form to interact with each other, to engage in relevant content and to create something new.”

Yes, many people have found that internet TV has allowed them to be freed of their cable bill burdens, giving them an extra $30-70 in their bank account every month to enjoy once again. As Dougles Quinquia pointed out in his article Changing Channels, From Cable to the Web, “Those who belong to this crowd [internet TV watchers] are only too happy to remind you that they can watch most of what you watch, but don’t pay $60 a month or more for the privilege.” DVR’s have mostly been replaced by internet television. We don’t have to remember to set our DVR’s to record our favorite shows because we know (for the most part) that we’ll be able to access the same episode online whenever we want. We are no longer slaves to network schedules and prime-time/daytime programing! The television experience is getting better by the minute…or is it?

With all good things there are down sides:

I hate to be negative Nancy but there are some more things to think about other than just when you get to watch TV and for how much. First of all, yes the internet will have a huge impact on advertising. In the Changing Channels article Quinquia described this, “Lauren Reinhold, a stay-at-home mother in Lawrence, Kan., canceled her cable service largely to reduce the amount of advertising her children saw.” Adding up all the potential pop-ups, the sidebar ads and finally the commercials in between programs shown on home sites or sites like Hulu, you’re still getting a lot of add time.

Secondly, like I hinted at earlier, due to various factors like not enough gain gain by networks or blocks by cable companies trying to keep viewers, a lot of shows are either still not online yet, only certain episodes are aired online or you have to pay for some shows to be seen online. For example, I would like to watch The Real Housewives of New York online when I miss an episode but they only show random episodes and short video clips on the website, however, they show re-runs of episodes quite a few times a day on cable: they want to keep you watching regular TV!

A last big concern that I have is that it used to be that you could only be a couch potato in the comfort of your own home, but now since you can watch TV online, on your laptop, your phone, your iPad etc. you never have to be “unplugged”. You can take the TV everywhere you go and just be stuck to it like you would in your living room, missing every real life thing going on around you. You become what people are now calling a “mouse potato”- to me that’s insane that there’s even such a concept. That, to me, is dangerous not only for people’s own social and mental health but for society as a whole too.

The whole concept of online television isn’t a bad one all around like I said before. Some of its benefits all relate back to The Long Tail, Creative Commons and democracy. Relating to The Long Tail, internet television provides free content to everyone so that almost anyone has access to this media to watch or display. With this, even small, niche shows created by regular people or small budget studios can broadcast and built followings. Going a little further with that and adding some Creative Commons logic: people can make their own television show and such and create an audience base and chose how and when they want their work to be seen. They could even take a new approach to online TV if they wanted to, going off of the aforementioned notion of Post-Network “community”- they can do things like have viewers help decide what goes on in the show. For example, let’s say that I produce a cartoon online and every week I let viewers send in their images, recordings, etc. to add into it. Not only is that CC it’s democracy! There is also a democratic tone to the way internet television is trying to even out the playing field between consumers and cable and media giants. It relieves some of the control of these big businesses and gives a voice back to the people as to what content they want, how and when!

Personally I don’t really like watching TV shows or movies on the internet, the screen is too small and the light tends to hurt my eyes. However, if I miss an episode of a show that I like or want to sample an episode of a show that heard might be good. I like to watch episodes of Project Runway or Fringe on the show’s websites. And I even like to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, which airs on a channel I don’t have in my cable package, in situations like these TV on the internet does really come in handy. My boyfriend likes to watch soccer games on his computer, although he usually has to wait until after they’ve aired and he downloads episodes of The Office which we stream from our computer through our X-box so we can watch on our TV set. So, yes online television is a regular part of my own life.
Sometimes I feel so annoyed at myself for spending so much time watching television but I think the important thing for the future is that we can still remember to unplug from it all. I don’t know how much farther we can go with TV that we aren’t already diving into. I mean, we have TV to watch at home, regular or cable, we have it on our computers and game consoles, on our iPads and MP3 players and now our phones, the thing all of us probably carry with us the most. Right now TV can pretty much reach us anywhere. I think in his article, Web TV Divide is Back in Focus With NBC Sale, Brian Stelter asked an important question “With millions now watching TV on their computers, can the media companies put the Hulu genie back in the bottle?” I don’t think so at all.

As for whether internet television is going to destroy modern television, I don’t really thinks so, people are still going to want to watch programs the first time they are on (the regular time and place) and especially if they start charging for online television I don’t see how it would be much different than paying a cable bill. Sure, it could be cheaper but who’s to say that cable won’t lower theirs to compete or fight to prevent such low costs for content that they also carry. I still don’t think though, that even if they work out a more profitable model for online television that it will kill the TV set; sitting around the television is still a favorite pastime of American families that will die hard.

This was just a really weird and long video about television that I found: