A Little Market Research

From this week’s New York Times “Most Wanted” page [local copy]:

A look at the top 10 artists based on sales of album, and the top 10 artists based on downloads of digital track shows a divide. Fans of popuar and country music prefer albums, and fans of hip-hop and R&B download tracks. Only Linkin Park […] made the list in both categories.

Surveillance Tech: US-Made

And, of course, field-tested here: Keeping an Eye on China’s Security

[W]ith China now becoming wealthier and its citizens more mobile, the government is now embracing the extensive use of street-by-street surveillance technology — and the United States government is becoming less sure that American companies should be playing a central role in the effort.

The Commerce Department is drafting new rules on what security equipment American companies can sell to China. The move comes in response to rapid advances in surveillance technology and the increasing involvement of American companies in the Chinese market as the Olympics approach.

People involved with the process said the Commerce Department was singling out biometric technology — face-recognition software, in particular — which Chinese security agencies could use to identify political and religious dissidents.

[…] American companies heavily promote their equipment as being the most advanced on the market, in part because much of it was developed to fight the threat of terrorist attacks in the United States. Current American regulations allow the export of most surveillance equipment if regulators believe it could be used in a factory or office complex and is not intended exclusively for police work.

In addition to multinationals that export surveillance equipment from the United States, there are other security companies that are incorporated in the United States — and are mainly bankrolled by American hedge funds — but with virtually all of their employees in China.

Technology: It Taketh and It Giveth

HDTV: The Super Bowls guaranteed MVPpdf

IMPROVED televisions hardly seem like harbingers of social change, but this technological evolution very well may alter how some people spend their time and relate to others.

If a football game or movie is exponentially better when viewed at home than in a stadium or theater, are we more likely to withdraw into our own private worlds? If a new generation of viewers grows up watching TV on some high-definition cellphone of the future, will fewer families gather around the big set together?

Though researchers are just beginning to study the effect of HDTV on human behavior, the new technology represents what sociologists call the privatization of leisure: People are less likely to seek entertainment in public social settings.

Whats complicating the outlook for the future, UCLA sociology professor David Halle says, is the Internet.

“While people are watching their HDTV, theyre also text-messaging their friends. This is not privatization in the old sense, but now in context of this tremendous web of relationships.”

Consequences of Opening Cellphone Networks?

And I’m sure it will be used as an excuse to inhibit the change: Porn to spice up cell phonespdf

Unlike in Europe, mobile porn has yet to take off in North America as carriers have been afraid of offending political and religious groups and parents concerned about children being exposed to adult content.

That may change this year as phone companies plan to loosen control on their networks to allow a wider variety of gadgets and services, while introducing new tools to shield minors. More advanced phones with better Web browsers like Apple Inc’s iPhone also offer higher quality pictures and video.

Note that there are copyright issues, too, of course:

Popular video-sharing site YouTube.com’s plan to expand to about 100 million advanced cell phones may help the cause, even if it means some ClubJenna content — which includes everything from glamour photographs of scantily clad models to hardcore videos — is seen for free on phones. ClubJenna was sold to Playboy Enterprises Inc in 2006.

“It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s giving away content. … On the other hand, it’s expanding the brand,” said [ClubJenna’s Jay] Grdina [sic], adding that ClubJenna needs a boost in the U.S. market, where it generates “pretty much zero” mobile revenue compared with “very healthy” revenue in Europe.

Dahlia Lithwick Calls A Spade A Spade

Let’s do away with the legislative fiction of the terrorist alarm clock

It’s true enough that FISA requires a sober update to account for technological changes since it was drafted in 1978, but the PAA wasn’t sober and it wasn’t justified. Now we must also contend with the added insult of the president’s demand for telecom immunity for the companies that allegedly helped him illegally spy on Americans. Hmmm. Don’t punish phone companies for believing our lies almost sounds plausible, so long as the Bush administration remains on the hook for peddling those lies. But that’s not what the White House wants—it wants telecom immunity, plus more government secrecy, plus no oversight. Sens. Feinstein and Feingold, and others, are pushing for amendments that would keep us safe while preventing the Bush administration from slinking away from its surveillance activities.

“Hippies?”

If you’re going to try to spin a story, a little more thought into the underlying concepts might be in order. Particularly since, IMHO, the music industry’s current problems have only been revealed by technological developments rather than caused by them [via Machinist]: Silicon Valley’s hippy values ‘killing music industry’pdf

U2’s manager yesterday called on artists to join him in forcing the “hippy” technology and internet executives he blames for the collapse of the music industry to help save it.

Paul McGuinness, who has plotted the rise of the Irish group over 30 years, said technology gurus in Silicon Valley such as Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates had profited from rampant online piracy without doing anything to stop it.

“I suggest we shift the focus of moral pressure away from the individual P2P [peer to peer] thief and on to the multibillion dollar industries that benefit from these tiny crimes,” he said.

See also this FT article echoing the currrent IFPI (and AT&T) position: U2 manager urges ISPs to help fight web piracypdf

Also, related: Music executive: business is not so bad, actually (pdf) and Music industry finds the solution to its pirate troubles – give everything away (pdf)

EU Privacy Preempts Suspicion of Copyright Infringement

For now, anyway: EU court: Downloaders can stay privatepdf

Record labels and film studios cannot demand that telecommunications companies hand over the names and addresses of people who are suspected of sharing copyright-protected music and movies online, the EU’s top court ruled Tuesday.

But European Union nations could — if they want — introduce rules to oblige companies to hand over personal data in civil cases, the European Court of Justice said.

The court upheld the Spanish telecom company Telefonica SA’s right to refuse to hand over information that would identify who had used the file-sharing program Kazaa to distribute copyright material owned by members of Promusicae, a Spanish trade group for film and music producers.

Putting Your Signature on a Gene

A little IPR gamesmanship (arrogance?) from an acknowledged master: Synthetic Genome: Signed, Sealed, Decoded

Dr. Venter announced last week in the journal Science that his team had become the first to synthesize the complete DNA of a bacterium. He revealed that the genome had five “watermarks,” sequences of genetic code that would spell words using the letters for the amino acids that would be produced by the DNA.

Litigation, Consumer-Created Content and Advertising

With echoes into other domains of user-created content: Can a Sandwich Be Slandered?

The dispute over an ad is fairly standard — companies often sue one another over advertising claims — but the video contest raises a novel legal question: Quiznos did not make the insulting submissions, so should it be held liable for user-generated content created at its behest?

If the answer is yes, that could bring a quick death to these popular contests, advertising executives say. Consumer brands like Doritos, Dove, Toyota and Heinz have run promotions of this sort because they generate publicity, usually at a low cost to the advertiser, and sometimes lead to clever spots that work well on television. But the Subway lawsuit, which seeks financial and punitive damages, seems to open a Pandora’s box.

“Let’s just hope that as collateral damage it doesn’t kill the entire genre of competitive advertising,” said Brad Brinegar, chief executive of McKinney, an ad agency in Durham, N.C., that does not work with Subway or Quiznos.

In its lawsuit, Subway contends that the consumer videos — which were posted at a site Quiznos had set up called meatnomeat.com, as well as on iFilm — contained “literally false statements” and depicted Subway in a “disparaging manner.”

Matchmaking, Updated?

An uneasy marriage of psychology, sociology and commerce: Online Dating – Compatibility Testing

Once upon a time, finding a mate was considered too important to be entrusted to people under the influence of raging hormones. Their parents, sometimes assisted by astrologers and matchmakers, supervised courtship until customs changed in the West because of what was called the Romeo and Juliet revolution. Grown-ups, leave the kids alone.

But now some social scientists have rediscovered the appeal of adult supervision — provided the adults have doctorates and vast caches of psychometric data. Online matchmaking has become a boom industry as rival scientists test their algorithms for finding love.

[…] As the matchmakers compete for customers — and denigrate each other’s methodology — the battle has intrigued academic researchers who study the mating game. On the one hand, they are skeptical, because the algorithms and the results have not been published for peer review. But they also realize that these online companies give scientists a remarkable opportunity to gather enormous amounts of data and test their theories in the field. EHarmony says more than 19 million people have filled out its questionnaire.

[…] Does this method actually work? In theory, thanks to its millions of customers and their fees (up to $60 a month), eHarmony has the data and resources to conduct cutting-edge research. It has an advisory board of prominent social scientists and a new laboratory with researchers lured from academia like Dr. Gonzaga, who previously worked at a marriage-research lab at U.C.L.A.

So far, except for a presentation at a psychologists’ conference, the company has not produced much scientific evidence that its system works. It has started a longitudinal study comparing eHarmony couples with a control group, and Dr. Buckwalter says it is committed to publishing peer-reviewed research, but not the details of its algorithm. That secrecy may be a smart business move, but it makes eHarmony a target for scientific critics, not to mention its rivals.