In the fast-moving world of technology, Fox is the tortoise and CBS is the hare.
CBS has spent the past few months making deals to distribute the network’s fare in every conceivable way — on the Internet, through on-demand services, on iPods, on cell phones. Fox has been content to mostly watch this frenzied activity from the sidelines.
Considering their images as TV networks, it’s a fascinating reversal of type. In this tech race, CBS, with the oldest average audience, is the teenager careening wildly from experience to experience. Fox, home of “The Simpsons,” is the conservative elder taking it all in.
January 23, 2006
Positioning for the Surveillance Fight [9:32 am]
I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading some depressing books: State of War by James Risen (distressing), No Place To Hide by Robert O’Harrow (purposely scary) and The Digital Person by Daniel Solove (even scarier, in that all the incidents cited in O’Harrow’s book appear here, presented matter-of-factly within their legal context).
All three speak to the need for us to think long and hard about what the emergence of “digital identity” means for American ideology.
What they all point out is that the greatest threat is not the actions by our government and our industries to construct these “digital identities” from the binary detritus of our daily lives. Rather, it is the failure to conceptualize a notion of “privacy” that is consistent with the threats that we face. Warren and Brandeis pointed out over a hundred years ago that technology was going to force us to reshape our thinking on the subject — we just don’t seem to have developed anything terribly sophisticated, while the users of technology have found a host of sophisticated applications that directly challenge our concepts — c.f., this current surveillance effort. (Also, more mundanely, see Inscription Suspicion [pdf])
This is something that I’ve been challenged to think about within the context of some recent research, so expect more on this from time to time. Anyway, a couple of articles in today’s papers mention that positioning is going to be everything as this debate starts up:
From the NYTimes: Delicate Dance for Bush in Depicting Spy Program as Asset; From the LATimes, Lawmakers Debate New Limits on Spying [pdf]
Also see David Berlind channel Jonathan Zittrain on this topic here: Phone calls, e-mails, and now search data. Where will Bush stop?; also Tim Wu’s Keeping Secrets
January 22, 2006
New Senate Broadcast Flag Bill Would Freeze Fair Use (see earlier posting for Commerce Hearing details)
According to them, here’s all tomorrow’s innovators should be allowed to offer you:
“customary historic use of broadcast content by consumers to the extent such use is consistent with applicable law.”
Had that been the law in 1970, there would never have been a VCR. Had it been the law in 1990, no TiVo. In 2000, no iPod.
Content Neutrality [4:22 pm]
The changes may sound subtle, but make no mistake: The telecommunications companies’ proposals have the potential, within just a few years, to alter the flow of commerce and information — and your personal experience — on the Internet. For the first time, the companies that own the equipment that delivers the Internet to your office, cubicle, den and dorm room could, for a price, give one company priority on their networks over another.
This represents a break with the commercial meritocracy that has ruled the Internet until now. We’ve come to expect that the people who own the phone and cable lines remain “neutral,” doing nothing to influence the content on your computer screen. And may the best Web site win.
For more than a year, public interest groups, including the Consumer Federation and Consumers Union, have been lobbying Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to write the concept called “network neutrality” into law and regulation. Google and Yahoo have joined their lobbying efforts. And online retailers, Internet travel services, news media and hundreds of other companies that do business on the Web also have a lot at stake.
Meanwhile, on the other side, companies like AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth are lobbying just as hard, saying that they need to find new ways to pay for the expense of building faster, better communication networks. And, they add, because these new networks will compete with those belonging to Comcast, Time Warner and oth er cable companies — which currently have about 55 percent of the residential broadband market — this will eventually bring down the price of your high-speed Internet service and television access.
Communication: How vs. What [3:53 pm]
This may be the universal attraction of text-messaging, in fact: it’s a kind of avoidance mechanism that preserves the feeling of communication - the immediacy - without, for the most part, the burden of actual intimacy or substance. The great majority of text messages are of the “Hey, how are you, whassup?” variety, and they’re sent sometimes when messenger and recipient are within speaking distance of each other - across classrooms, say, or from one row of a stadium to another. They’re little electronic waves and nods that, just like real waves and nods, aren’t meant to do much more than establish a connection - or disconnection, as the case may be - without getting into specifics.
“We’re all wired together” is the collective message, and we’ll signal again in a couple of minutes, not to say anything, probably, but just to make sure the lines are still working. The most depressing thing about the communications revolution is that when at last we have succeeded in making it possible for anyone to reach anyone else anywhere and at any time, it turns out that we really don’t have much we want to say.
Issues in Technology-Mediated Expression [1:43 pm]
The headline alone should give one pause: Who Owns Seydou Keïta?
The story of this discrepancy - how a pocket-size print, sold for a few dollars in a neighborhood shop in West Africa, became a wall-size photograph that sold for $16,000 in an upscale SoHo gallery - begins in colonial Mali in the 1930’s and continues into the future: a new show of Mr. Keïta’s work opens at the Sean Kelly Gallery in Chelsea on Friday.
It is a story that includes screaming fights, a lawsuit and charges of theft, forgery and perjury. It survives the photographer himself, who died in 2001. And it touches on the broadest channels of human history, from colonialism to capitalism to revolution to race. But it also involves a conflict of the most rarefied sort - a philosophical disagreement over the nature of photography and the concept of authenticity.
[...] As a photograph (or any other work of art) is separated in time from the cultural context in which it originated, the work becomes open to new meanings. This idea, perhaps first articulated in Walter Benjamin’s landmark 1931 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” has been embraced by many curators in recent years, leading them away from what Mr. Wallis refers to as the “fetish for the vintage.” Instead curators are more open to the new meanings that may emerge from manipulating the originals, even if those meanings are different from - or in direct contrast to - anything the artist had in mind.
The result is ripe with possibilities, but also with contradictions. It is now not uncommon for galleries to put on shows that reflect this postmodern approach but at the same time to charge higher prices for original works.
[...] There is, though, another argument, based in the technology of photography, that undermines the concept of photographic authenticity. Charles Griffin, who prints the photographs of Cindy Sherman and Hiroshi Sugimoto, observes that the resolution of photographic negatives is far greater than that of the prints made from them. The negatives, you might say, contain a far greater amount of information than can be shown, placing those who make prints in the position of having to select and suppress the information that will ultimately appear.
And the printer’s responsibility in this regard, Mr. Griffin added, has been heightened by the decision of paper companies to reduce the silver content in, and therefore the sensitivity of, photographic papers.
[...] In the end, the debate over how to make prints from Mr. KeÃ¯ta’s negatives may soon be academic. As a result of the litigation to recover the 921 negatives from Mr. Magnin and Mr. Pigozzi, the association has little money left to preserve those negatives that are in its possession - negatives which, according to Mr. Griffin, are quickly deteriorating. In the end, the controversial prints may be all that is left of Seydou Keïta. And at that point, the postmodern will have become the authentic.
Convergence and the Internet [1:28 pm]
A look at what it might mean to distribute television signals over the Internet without careful thinking about the current regulatory structure: Media Frenzy: This Time, the Revolution Will Be Televised
“The next thing that we’re all buzzing about is this concept of selling programming to people over the Internet,” said Mr. Goodmon, whose flagship station, WRAL, is the CBS affiliate in Raleigh. “If CBS wants to sell ‘CSI,’ we would like to be able to sell it for them - in partnership with them - on our Web site. I think we’re in the best position to sell and promote that material on behalf of the network.”
On the face of it, it’s difficult to argue with that commercial logic. But even if limiting the geographic reach of content on the Internet is technologically feasible, it is ideologically contrary to one of the Web’s defining principles: that it is a ubiquitous, low-cost, global distribution platform.
New gizmos like Slingbox and Sony’s LocationFree are designed to allow you to tap into your hometown television signals from anywhere in the world - and a product like Decisionmark’s could theoretically frustrate them, too.
The big question is whether television industry constituents - networks, affiliates, programmers, writers, even advertisers - are better served by preserving the industry’s current pecking order or by pursuing a more fundamental revamping of its business model to satisfy the “anytime, anywhere” demands of digital consumers. Expect this debate to come to a head if downloads of hit shows take off and local affiliates start losing viewers and advertisers as a result.
Bemoaning the End of Rhino [1:24 pm]
A commentary from the LATimes on the closing of Rhino Records, the record store: calendarlive.com: It has bins; don’t call it a has-been
The trend is national, if not worldwide: There are, by one count, only around half as many independent record stores in the country today as there were 10 years ago. Whether it’s the slump in album sales (down 7% last year, according to SoundScan), or an increase in the downloading of tracks (up 150%), or competition from online shopping, or the various technological and cultural shifts that have driven the youth of America to different distractions, it’s a changing world, and one less inclined to support small businessmen selling music out of (mostly) small rooms.
Some Internet retailers, such as Miles of Music or Forced Exposure, which sell real CDs, or eMusic.com, which sells MP3s, are trying to function as virtual independent record stores. They cater to tastes outside the mainstream, posting lists of “employee favorites” and describing their offerings in knowledgeable, friendly, sometimes cheeky terms; even through the computer screen one senses their engagement. (And many real-world stores, of course, also have a Web presence.)
But Amazon.com, whose clear business plan is to one day sell everything to everybody, has also put significant energy into creating the illusion that its website is just a friendly corner store. It remembers your name if you’ve shopped there before, says hello when you click in, knows what music you like, and recommends some more.
I know that for some, and not only of the X, Y and Z generations, cyberspace is as authentic a marketplace as any other, but I am old-fashioned enough to want to get out of the house once in a while, into real three-dimensional spaces stocked with things you can see and smell and pick up and turn over to see what they look like on the other side.
The department’s research also evokes concerns about what the government might ultimately do with its snapshot of Web-searching habits. The feds originally asked Google to disclose two months’ worth of search inquiries, then pared their request to one week. The list wouldn’t include any information about the users who did the searches, but prosecutors could certainly demand such details from Google if they came across any searches that were troubling â€” “how to hide a methamphetamine lab,” say, or “cellphone detonate plastic explosive.”
The sheer volume of data being vacuumed up by the government, though, makes such probing seem farfetched. After all, it’s not just Google’s data that is involved. Government lawyers have already obtained information from three other popular search sites, including Yahoo.
The big winner in all this stands to be Google. The company’s rapid expansion beyond simple Web searches, combined with revelations about the amount of data it stores about individual users, has led critics to accuse Google of violating its informal corporate motto, “Don’t be evil.” By resisting the feds’ subpoena, however, the company has set itself above the search-engine pack — and given users a valuable reminder that searching through the Web leaves a trail.
Search histories already are creeping into criminal trials. A North Carolina man, Robert Petrick, who was convicted in November of murdering his wife, ran suspicious Internet searches immediately before and after she was dumped in a lake. His queries? “Body decomposition,” “rigor mortis,” “neck,” “snap” and “break,” along with topics relating to the depth of the lake where her body turned up.
Those searches were stored on the hard drives of the computers Petrick used, but they could just as easily have been stored by Google had Petrick turned on the archiving feature that I use.
Our personal search histories are highly sensitive information — and obviously open to misinterpretation — because they offer such a unique view into what we are thinking. Most of us routinely ask Google questions about religion, social behavior, sex, work — whatever pops into our heads.
And those queries are mere rocks in a growing mountain of profiling data about us being compiled by many other Web services, not just Google. Over at Amazon, hackers or government investigators might have a field day if they gained access to the 171 items on my supposedly private “wish list.” (I’m too lazy to ever delete anything, and I use Amazon’s wish list as a bookmarking tool.)
Sweating out the ‘Bubble’ Release [1:12 pm]
“Would I rather see ‘Munich’ in the comfort of my home? Hell, no!” said Jonathan Demme, whose credits include such hits as “Philadelphia” and “The Silence of the Lambs.” “Doesn’t it seem like the movie business is devouring itself because it can’t wait to get to home video?”
Tim Burton, director of last year’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the animated “Corpse Bride,” called the notion of simultaneous release absurd. Obviously, he said, cinema is a business, “but everything should be done to treat it as an art form — it’s a visceral medium.”
Ron Howard, whose latest release is “Cinderella Man,” agreed. “Viewing in a theater is the optimum experience,” he said. “It needs to be preservedâ€¦. But, at the end of the day, technology and viewers are going to tell us what they really want.”
[...] Proof of how divisive the simultaneous release issue has become can be found in some big-name directors’ silence.
Contacted by The Times, Steven Spielberg’s longtime publicist Marvin Levy said, “Steven is not going to comment on this.”
A spokesperson for Martin Scorsese said, “He doesn’t want to get into the public fray.”
Even the powerful Directors Guild of America is loath to take a formal position on the issue.
“It’s a fast-moving horizon, and as things develop, individual directors form different opinions on how the narrowing distribution windows will affect their films reaching the audience,” said DGA President Michael Apted, whose credits include the 1999 James Bond film “The World is Not Enough.”
But among those who spoke to The Times, there is agreement on one thing: Whether one’s gadget of choice is an iPod or cellphone or something else, as technology changes how Americans entertain themselves, movies will have to adapt.
January 20, 2006
Good Luck With That! [7:18 pm]
The King of All Media is fighting some feisty subjects who don’t want to pay to hear the popular shock jock.
Sirius and Stern’s production company, One Twelve Inc., fired off a cease-and-desist letter to at least one Web site that was rebroadcasting the radio hostâ€™s show — billed the “Show” — as an audio stream.
[...] But a Boston area man who says he is the administrator of www.hearhoward.org said he didnâ€™t consider streaming Stern over the Internet theft.
“We’re not making any money off of it. We’re not selling it,â€ the administrator said, adding that he was a subscriber to Sirius. “I don’t think that they should be charging someone to listen to their service, especially . . . people who donâ€™t have the access to the service.”
Reaction to the Google’s Subpoena Snub [3:01 pm]
“This is the camel’s nose under the tent for using search engines and all kinds of data aggregators as surveillance tools,” said Jim Harper of the libertarian Cato Institute who also runs Privacilla.org, an Internet privacy database.
[...] The Justice Department said on Friday that America Online, Yahoo and Microsoft had all complied with similar requests.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales rejected concerns that the subpoena might violate individual privacy rights.
“We’re not asking for the identity of Americans. We simply want to have some subject matter information with respect to these communications. This is important for the Department of Justice and we will pursue this matter,” he told reporters.
[...] But others were not reassured. Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey (news, bio, voting record), the ranking Democrat on the telecommunications subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he would introduce a bill to strengthen consumers’ Internet privacy by prohibiting the storage of personally identifiable information Internet searches beyond a reasonable time.
“Internet search engines provide an extraordinary service, but the preservation of that service does not rely on a bottomless, timeless database that can do great damage despite good intentions,” Markey said.
Chris Jay Hoofnagle of the Electronic Privacy Information Center worried that the government could follow up its initial request with a demand for more information.
[...] On the other side, the Cincinnati-based National Coalition for Protection of Children and Families, a Christian fundamentalist group, said search companies should be willing to help the government defend children from pornography.
Two Commerce Committee Hearings [12:24 pm]
Early Indicator on DVD Format Wars? [12:01 pm]
But while Digital Playground, known as an innovator for bringing porn to personal computers, is endorsing Blu-ray, it has not yet found a company prepared to mass-produce its films in the new high-definition format.
[Digital Playground's] Joone said companies who replicate DVDs are hesitant about embracing the porn industry and are committed in putting mainstream Hollywood’s movies onto the new discs.
Pre-loaded Video iPods Raise Questions [11:48 am]
A tiny Massachusetts company named TVMyPod is selling iPods that come with movies and TV programs already loaded on them, a practice that raises questions of legality as it addresses consumer demand for convenience and portability.
ON MONDAY, my constitutional law class will meet for the first time this semester, and I don’t have the slightest idea what to tell the students about the subject we’ll be discussing for the next 13 weeks.
I’ve taught the class before, and by now I know most of the canonical cases as well as I know my own phone number. My problem is that I’m no longer sure there’s really a subject to teach.
[...] But as we move further and further from 1787, it becomes less and less possible to find any “correct” approach to resolving constitutional dilemmas. The Constitution was drafted by a small group of men writing at a time when the entire population of the United States was smaller than the present-day population of South Carolina, when the enslavement of human beings was considered acceptable, when women had few legal rights, when the cotton gin was still a high-tech dream. No matter how thoughtful the framers were, why should anyone imagine that a short document drafted more than two centuries ago could possibly contain the answers to every modern question?
But that’s the deep oddity of American constitutional culture. Despite its all-too-human origins, we treat our Constitution as revealed truth, and we want our judges to serve as its infallible priests.
And this, perhaps, is the best I can offer my students: the suggestion that in the United States today, constitutional interpretation is best understood as a form of theology rather than law.
January 19, 2006
Democratization of Content? [6:19 pm]
Not exactly, IMHO, but a great gimmick: This Is Not Spinal Tap: A Concert Film by Fans
But as the Beastie Boys set out to commemorate a concert at Madison Square Garden, the hip-hop group had a different idea. Why not smash the model?
They decided to lend hand-held video cameras to 50 fans, told them to shoot at will, and then presented the end result in movie theaters in all its primitive, kaleidoscopic glory.
[...] Technology has unmoored some the constructs that have girded those businesses for decades, giving the consumers of pop culture a growing ability to watch or listen to their entertainment on their own terms and on their own time, and re-evaluating the role of traditional distribution companies. “Awesome” pushes that tension further, giving the ultimate user a chance to actually create the content. “It’s the democratization of filmmaking,” said Jon Doran, a producer of the movie.
As with most films, of course, there is a benevolent despot - read, a director - involved. [...]
Google: Not Gonna Pay for B/W [5:39 pm]
Google’s Barry Schnitt told [Networking Pipeline's] Paul [Kapustka] in an email: “Google is not discussing sharing of the costs of broadband networks with any carrier. We believe consumers are already paying to support broadband access to the Internet through subscription fees and, as a result, consumers should have the freedom to use this connection without limitations.”
Politics and Community WiFi [12:08 pm]
“The problems that were hard in 2001 were technical ones,” Mr. Spiegel said. “Now, they’re personal and relationship and political ones. The technology, we almost don’t even think about it anymore.”
Greg Richardson, president of Civitium, a consulting firm, says that movement was the impetus for government-run citywide wireless Internet plans. Mr. Richardson has been a consultant on municipal wireless policy and technical issues for Philadelphia, San Francisco and other cities.
Community wireless gave municipal planners “the validation that a lot of those ideas could work,” Mr. Richardson said. Early and continuing municipal efforts to provide small areas of free access in parks and downtown districts were and still are often created in conjunction with these community groups.
The move from building physical networks to building political influence, many advocates say, stems in part from an August 2004 forum organized by the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network in Illinois.
The Bush administration on Wednesday asked a federal judge to order Google to turn over a broad range of material from its closely guarded databases.
The move is part of a government effort to revive an Internet child protection law struck down two years ago by the U.S. Supreme Court. The law was meant to punish online pornography sites that make their content accessible to minors. The government contends it needs the Google data to determine how often pornography shows up in online searches.
In court papers filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, Justice Department lawyers revealed that Google has refused to comply with a subpoena issued last year for the records, which include a request for 1 million random Web addresses and records of all Google searches from any one-week period.
The Mountain View-based search and advertising giant opposes releasing the information on a variety of grounds, saying it would violate the privacy rights of its users and reveal company trade secrets, according to court documents.
[...] “This is exactly the kind of case that privacy advocates have long feared,” said Ray Everett-Church, a South Bay privacy consultant. “The idea that these massive databases are being thrown open to anyone with a court document is the worst-case scenario. If they lose this fight, consumers will think twice about letting Google deep into their lives.”
Nothing at the Central District of California’s WWW site that I can find
Slashdot’s U.S. Government Wants Google Search Records; Scott Rosenberg’s early posting; NYTimes Jan 20th article - Google Resists U.S. Subpoena of Search Data [pdf]; Declan McCullagh’s FAQ on the subject; LATimes’ lengthy article reminds us that MSN, AOL and Yahoo! have already complied with their subpoenas: U.S. Obtains Internet Users’ Search Records [pdf]