Monthly Archives: May 2010

Final Exam

Opening Remarks

McChesney:

One of the main issues that Robert McChesney has with modern journalism is the fact that it is has become subject to market pressures, driven by large media conglomerates whose visions are clouded by profit. According to McChesney, commercialism is ultimately hindering objectivity in journalism.

In today’s digital age, traditional reporting and journalistic ideals are being challenged by bloggers and informal news sources. In response to a competitive market environment, mergers and acquisitions in the media world have led to several large companies controlling most news outlets. Unfortunately though, this ownership can influence the content made available through these news channels.

McChesney sees the Internet as a way to revitalize and preserve democratic discussion that has otherwise been overshadowed by neoliberalist ideals. While he recognizes the value in the Internet fostering public discussion, debate and a free flow of information, McChesney also has concerns about the integrity of journalists. The Internet allows for everyone to become a content producer or a reporter. Blogs are rising in popularity and are a daily staple for most Internet surfers. McChesney worries that the professionalism and integrity of journalism is in danger.

Auletta:
After many rejected interviews with Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Auletta finally broke down the doors at Google and was able to delve into the company’s inner workings. Now an expert on the Internet giant, Auletta speaks about the building of a business that revolutionized the way we use the Web.

Auletta discusses Page and Brin’s vision for Google: a free search engine that would simply provide information for people, directing them to their destination in the fastest and most direct way possible. The company survived for a long time without leadership, as Page and Brin only saw the need for strong engineers to make the search engine what it is today.

While Google currently has earned trust with its consumers, Auletta addresses growing privacy concerns—challenging the company’s “Don’t be Evil” motto. Comparing Google’s reputation to Microsoft’s, Auletta warns about privacy, and the wealth of data about billions of users available at Google’s beckon call.

Solove:

Whereas embarrassing moments in public were once fleeting moments in our lives that we laughed off and passed on, they now face the possibility of being preserved forever online.  Hand-held devices such as camera phones or small video cameras can capture anything and be uploaded to the Internet with the click of a button.

In this always-on world, users know how to produce, find and spread information at an incredibly rapid pace. But this has grave implications for our privacy and our personal lives. Cyber bullying is nearly inescapable. A video in the wrong hands could be leaked online, both exposing information and making it permanent. Preserving one’s reputation is becoming a bigger challenge as the Internet community expands and resources become more readily available.

As a result of this new online environment, societal norms are changing. Online conduct is becoming more important as employers view social media profiles and often Google individuals to see which sites yield the highest results on the search page. As technology becomes further integrated into our lives, it will become more difficult to keep one’s personal life under wraps. Solove warns about the dangers of sharing too much information online, citing personal blogging as an example of how a seemingly harmless exchange on a blog can become widespread and potentially life-changing overnight.

Zittrain:
The Internet has become an open playground for any one to create, develop, contribute and collaborate. But how long will this last? Zittrain’s concerns lie in the future of generativity. Generative sources are open, allowing users to add their own information and contribute to something greater. Wikipedia is one example of a generative source. Without its open platform, the site’s content and resources would be scarce. The business relies on entries from its readers to expand the database.

But sometimes we don’t want to contribute. We desire a device that does it all without our help. The iPod is a good example of a non-generative device. The mp3 player is all-inclusive and iPod owners expect that. While Zittrain sees the value in non-generative devices, he worries about them becoming too prevalent, which may lead us away from a creative mindset that generative devices encourage. If generative devices degrade too much, we may lose valuable conversation and collaboration on the Internet.

Zittrain mentioned a potential downfall of generative sources as well: worms. The more transparent a source is, the more susceptible it becomes to hackers and worms. While Zittrain points out that worms have historically been relatively unsuccessful in doing any significant damage, they continue to be a threat.

Critique: Auletta and Solove

Auletta delves into the story behind Google, the company that was started by two Stanford students and grew to become one of the most powerful Internet commodities. In an interview for I Want Media, Auletta explains: “Google is not composed of cold businessmen; they are cold engineers. The difference is that Google is not obsessed with killing competitors, they’re obsessed with eliminating inefficiencies.”

Larry Page and Sergey Brin have kept their focus on Google from the beginning—concerned only with making the service more efficient and expanding its capabilities. In doing so, Google has risen to become the top search engine, receiving as many as 235 million searches per day. It is clear that users trust Google. And Google does the same for its users. While the company is working to improve the search, it is also relying on its users to maintain PageRank, in which search results are listed in order of page views. The Internet community collectively decides which sites hold the most relevance.

While the Google empire is expanding and more users are relying on the search engine daily, privacy has become a major concern. The company’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto is being challenged by its competitors who see Google as a threat to their success, by traditional media outlets who are concerned that their services will become obsolete, and by users who wonder about Google’s access to their personal data.

Auletta describes the motto as an “effective way to brand Google as a nonthreatening, almost cuddly company” (p.104). But when Google went public in 2004, old media quickly became aware of the company’s vast power and potential threat to traditional news and information outlets. The biggest concern now is that Google has access to so much data that the company has the power to access personal information from its users, making the privacy threat a growing concern.

Tim Wu of Columbia synthesized the privacy concern with Google, stating that while the company has yet to breach the privacy of its users, many wonder if Google will stay true to its original business philosophy. “Will they stay focused on search, on ‘their founding philosophy, which is really an engineers’ aesthetic of getting you to what you want as fast as you can without getting in the way?’ Or will Google become a ‘source of content, a platform, a destination that seeks to keep people in a walled Google garden?’”

That’s the question that everyone is asking. Are Larry and Sergey really that oblivious to the privacy concerns of its users? Apparently so. When the company launched Gmail in April of 2004, they omitted the delete button from the interface, bringing to light some of the first privacy fears of Google users. “Users feared that Google would peak at e-mails. And Paul Buchheiet’s e-mail scanning software only fanned this fear. For Google, it was a way to make money from e-mail by placing ads when certain keywords were typed. But critics said it was an invasion of privacy, that Big Brother was watching everything” (p.99).

Google CEO Eric Schmidt has been vocal in response to criticisms of the company’s power. At the Abu Dhabi Media Summit in March 2010, Schmidt responded to fears in the audience that Google has so much information on its users. “Would you prefer someone else? Is there a government that you would prefer to be in charge of this?” Schmidt was very open with the audience, explaining that Google understands the power of the information it holds. “There are many, many things that Google could do, that we chose not to do. One day we had a conversation where we figured we could just try to predict the stock market. And then we decided it was illegal. So we stopped doing that.”

As long as the company remains transparent and stays true to its long-standing “Don’t Be Evil” motto, it will continue to have the trust of millions of users. Many are skeptical that the company won’t become greedy, suddenly driven by solely by profit rather than by its original mission to make the Web a navigable medium through an efficient search engine.

While Auletta expresses concerns about privacy in terms of a larger company obtaining personal information, Daniel Solove writes about privacy concerns and reputation as related to the Internet community as a whole in his book “The Future of Reputation.” How can we as individuals protect ourselves from both other companies and users who may use our personal data to our detriment?

Solove suggests that the Internet may be eliminating the second chance that we used to have when a rumor was spread or we made a mistake. Often, data on the Internet can be “false and defamatory; or it can be true but deeply humiliating or discrediting” (p.17). The openness of the Internet and the ability for anyone to be a content creator may end up making people more cautious in the end, thereby impeding our freedom.

Solove connects our reputation with freedom, deeming it an essential component to the way we live our lives and the relationships we develop. But what happens when our reputations are compromised? Does our freedom go with it? The Internet is making this freedom more difficult to preserve. Solove quotes Judge Benjamin Cardozo: “What gives the sting to writing is its permanence in form. The spoken word dissolves, but the written one abides and perpetuates the scandal” (p.33).

The Internet does just what Cardozo is talking about—except it applies to much more than just words. Photos and videos can implicate people or show them in the wrong light, leading to a damaged reputation. “The Internet makes gossip a permanent reputational stain, one that never fades. It is available around the world, and with Google it can be readily found in less than a second” (p.33). Not only does Google have access to a wealth of personal data, but its effective search engine is making it easy for information to be found amidst billions of Web sites.

Aside from the general concern about privacy, Solove also asserts that this fear of privacy and reputation online is breaking down social norms. While we were once able to break social norms and essentially “get away with it,” the Internet exposes us and demands a response. Solove recommends that one take advantage of the Internet’s ability to disseminate information at a rapid pace. When false or negative information about you is released online, the best thing to do is spread true information as fast as possible.

Social norms are changing, and so are the boundaries between professional writers and amateur content producers. Bloggers are getting younger, and many youth use the forum as a place to write opinions or diary entries. But all it takes is just one well-known blogger to link to a seemingly unknown Web site, and before long it becomes viral. Yahoo! recently posted a story about a young boy who covered Lady Gaga’s  “Paparazzi” at his school’s talent show. The article stated that the YouTube video had already received 36,000 views. Just one day later, the video had 8,417,886 views. In this case, the boy in the video benefitted from the exposure, receiving a call from the Ellen Show asking for him to make an appearance. But this quick dissemination of information also holds true for negative information.

Solove makes some suggestions regarding the law, recommending that we seek a middle ground between a libertarian approach that gives us too much freedom, and an authoritarian approach in which we relinquish all control to the government (clearly going against everything the constitution stands for).

Internet users should understand that nothing online is ever really private. Educating youth about the importance of online privacy and personal information online is essential. Social networks frequently communicate with third party servers that then gain access to our personally-identifiable information.  We should take advantage of the fact that we are currently able to keep our personal life separate from our online life, if we choose to do so. Soon, this will be nearly impossible.

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5 popular brands that have laid low on TV ad campaigns

I was watching TV the other day and flipping between channels when a Starbucks commercial came on for the company’s new coffee-based, customizable Frappucinos. It was then that it occurred to me: I haven’t seen a Starbucks ad on television since the DoubleShot commercials in 2005.

It’s interesting to think about the commercial prevalence of other widespread brand names; McDonalds, Coca Cola, Wendy’s and Best Western, just to name a few. I can immediately recall ads from these companies, not to mention I see their names and logos multiple times almost every day.

But I wonder how some big-name brands made it with almost no advertising on one of the most popular communications channels available.

1. Starbucks

Starbucks put out several ads in support of its DoubleShot drink, available in convenience stores and supermarkets throughout the country.

The coffee giant’s next ad campaign was in 2006, in which they promoted the new pre-mixed Frappuccino in a bottle, a product that like the DoubleShot, would also become available out-of-stores.

Starbucks’ has historically sponsored very few television commercials. Why? Well as a viewer, it seems obvious. The company is normally very consistent. Customers rely on baristas to create the perfect customized concoction with each visit. So why tell consumers what they already know? Instead, Starbucks waits until something changes.

When the company released its new VIA instant coffee in September 2009, the television ads used to promote the product were the first ever TV ads for the company in Europe.

Most recently, Starbucks has sponsored a campaign to promote an in-store drink for the first time: The new-and-improved Frappuccino. Check it out:

We will likely see more ads from Starbucks if sales continue to dwindle. Over the past couple of years, it has been reported that customer traffic is dropping. Starbucks announced a three-point plan to try and reverse this trend, including the launch of a national television advertising campaign.

2. Bed Bath & Beyond

After scouring YouTube and the rest of the Internet for Bed Bath & Beyond commercials, I was unsuccessful at finding a single made-for-TV ad. This is most likely due to several things:

  • The company is a store that sells necessity goods. Many of the store locations have most items that a regular drug store would carry, not to mention towels, sheets, drapery and much more.  So I would really equate the company’s scarce TV presence with that of Rite Aid.
  • Given the consumer base for Bed Bath & Beyond, the company is able to market themselves via the mail (either traditional or electronic). The company’s policy to accept multiple 20%-off coupons per order (despite expiration date), make it an attractive shopping destination).

3. Chipotle

Chipotle chose the Internet as its advertising medium. In 2009, the company launched the MyChipotle campaign, in which users could create videos to post online about their favorite dishes. The winner was given $10,000.

This campaign encouraged fun, create consumer participation, while educating consumers about the menu and the many different meal possibilities. After much consumer research, it was determined that the majority of consumers ordered the same thing every time they came to Chipotle. This ad competition aimed to solve that problem by allowing consumers to educate one another.

Read more about Chipotle’s online campaign here.

4. American Eagle

American Eagle recently released this ad for Spring 2010:

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But beyond that, the company hasn’t devoted much of its advertising dollars to TV. The outfitter uses its YouTube channel to post behind the scenes footage from photo shoots or fashion shows. Any TV ads are also promoted on the channel, but the bulk of the videos available are not from TV commercials.

Also, American Eagle stores are normally accessible via shopping malls. Most of the company’s advertising dollars are better spent on store window photos and promotional materials to attract customers into the store as they pass by and window shop.

In addition, American Eagle has the advantage of the fact that all of its clothes have the brand logo on them. Customers who wear the clothes engage in some sort of company promotion—a bit like word of mouth.

5. Barnes & Noble

The company has come a long way since this 1976 ad:

In 2009, B&N released the following video to promote its new reader, the Nook:

But the company really hasn’t had to rely on TV ads. One of the most obvious reasons is probably because its most devout customers really don’t spend a lot of time watching television.

In addition, B&N has seen a lot of success with its online division. According to a recent report, the release of the Nook drove the company’s online sales up 67 percent.

The company will likely put most of its advertising dollars into online marketing, due to its immediate success with its online store, as well as a much larger customer base.

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The DL on Facebook

New privacy settings, profile changes and the option to link all words in our profiles. Is this really in our best interest or does Facebook have something else in mind?

According to Gizmodo, it’s the latter. A recent article entitled “Top 10 Reasons You Should Quit Facebook,” suggested that Facebook’s privacy policies have only gotten worse with time, becoming more vague and allowing for more user information to become publically available.

All things considered, I’m not so sure that Facebook’s privacy changes are really as threatening as everyone thinks they are.  First of all, the #9 reason in the article is that “Facebook’s CEO has a documented history of unethical behavior.” However, upon reading further, the author asserts that the so-called “documented” history is “unproven and somewhat dated.”

But that aside, I started to take a look at recent changes that Facebook has made to its terms of service and privacy policy.  I’ll be picking apart some of Gizmodo’s assertions here, just to play devil’s advocate.

Facebook’s Terms of Service are One-Sided

The article says that Facebook owns all of our data. But the Terms of Service say otherwise: “You own all of the content and information you post on Facebook, and you can control how it is shared through your privacy and application settings.” Yes, users have to grant Facebook rights to their content. How are we going to be able to put content on the site and share it with our friends if Facebook doesn’t have an IP license to use it?

Here’s what Zuckerberg has to say (read the full article here):

When a person shares something like a message with a friend, two copies of that information are created—one in the person’s sent messages box and the other in their friend’s inbox. Even if the person deactivates their account, their friend still has a copy of that message. We think this is the right way for Facebook to work, and it is consistent with how other services like email work.
Read more: http://techcrunch.com/2009/02/16/zuckerberg-on-who-owns-user-data-on-facebook-its-complicated/#ixzz0nGFh3Jlj

Facebook’s “War on Privacy”

If Facebook didn’t want to promote user privacy, they sure have an interesting way of showing it. Yes, the site is currently fighting a battle regarding its choice to make everything opt-out instead of opt-in, but what about the recently-added, simplified security page?

It’s a misconception that “simplified” means “less security.” Facebook had to address a long-standing complaint that its privacy settings were far too complicated. With such a wide audience demographic, the social network took backlash from users who had accidentally posted comments or photos without understanding their privacy settings.

Yes, the privacy settings appear to be less secure, but the new site layout allows for easy editing and updates of personal material, as well as and option for users to customize every wall post.

Private Data is Shared with Applications

This is true. There is currently no way for third-party applications to differentiate between the information that they actually need to connect to your account, and the rest of your personal information available on your account.

But that’s just it. We are putting all of this so-called “private” information onto Facebook.; onto the Internet where it will be subject to hackers, third-party applications, advertisers and occasionally some unwanted viewers. The real issue at hand here is education. Facebook posts all updates and changes to privacy settings in its Press Room: http://www.facebook.com/press.php#!/press.php

I’m not sure how many users know where it is or how to find it. I think that this information should be more accessible—potentially on the home page of Facebook so that all users will view descriptions of updates upon logging in.

A Big Omission

Something that the Gizmodo article fails to mention is Facebook’s recent work with the Canadian Privacy Commissioner. The social network was open to updating its privacy policies in compliance with Canadian law.

Canada has taken many measures in order to extend privacy regulations to encompass personal information online—including information available on social networking sites.

If Facebook is willing to accommodate and update its settings in accordance with other countries’ laws, it is likely that the site will adapt its Terms of Service in the future.

The thing to remember is that this is an online forum, and any decisions to post personal information on profiles should not be made lightly.

Just for Fun

Now for a bit of humor. Check out this funny parody about Facebook in “real life.”

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Convergence culture and Disney: What does this mean for kids?

I’ve always been a Disney fan. And I’m not ashamed to say that I still am. Books, movies and paraphernalia—not to mention frequent trips to Disney World as a child, made the Mouse a staple of my entertainment needs.

But it’s not just the movies. I grew up watching sitcoms on the Disney Channel. The shows are geared towards children and teenagers, but I’m not ashamed to say that at 23, I still watch an episode here and there. It’s the kid in me I guess.

So it’s no surprise that when I recently volunteered to babysit my neighbor’s eight-year-old and five-year-old kids, I meshed really well with their interests. But it struck me that day that something was different about this Disney Channel and the one I grew up with fifteen years ago. During a commercial, I listened to the brother and sister talk about one of the Disney shows. They were discussing the characters and bickering about her favorite color.

“But she wrote about it on her Web site!” said the five-year-old girl. That’s when it hit me.

No longer was Disney Channel just isolated in a box that I chose to turn on and off at my leisure. Now it was connected to something much larger, the Internet. As I watched the rest of the commercials, I began noticing how Web sites for each show were being promoted. And not just the Web sites, but the characters themselves.

For example, the character London Tipton on “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” now has her very own Web site (http://tv.disney.go.com/disneychannel/suitelife/yaymestarringlondontipton/index.html).The characters Zack and Cody also have their own blog: http://tv.disney.go.com/disneychannel/suitelifeondeck/yous/. But the more I began looking at these Web sites; I started realizing that no mention was made about the actor behind the character. The character bios, posts and all videos on the site were written in the context of the actor’s persona on the show.

And the more I talked to the kids I was babysitting, the more I realized that they believed the characters on the show were real people. Children as young as five years old were taking advantage of the extras that Disney offers to supplement their broadcast content: Character blogs, Webisodes, games and even live chats.

This is what Henry Jenkins writes about in his book “Convergence   Culture: Where old and new media collide.”  Jenkins discusses the interesting balance between traditional media and new media outlets such as the Internet. As I read the book I began thinking about it in the context of my own behavior, and that of my friends. And it made sense. Jenkins’ description of “converged audiences” accurately described my friends: Active participants, willingly engaging in show extras, watching full episodes online and even playing fantasy Survivor.

But I had never thought about it in terms of the implications of convergence on children. As a child, I didn’t visit Web sites or read blogs “written” by the characters of popular shows.  So no matter how excited I was about a show, that excitement ended when the show was over. That’s just not the case anymore. And I wonder what implications convergence culture could have on this generations’ youth. It no doubt will have some affect, but I’m just not sure if it will be adverse or not.

On one hand, convergence is turning television, (traditionally considered to be a ‘lay back’ medium), to a ‘lean forward’ medium with the added presence of the Internet. On the other hand, however, children are fully immersing themselves in multimedia and added extras that make no attempt to differentiate between the imaginary and the real.

The following video depicts just that. Disney recently released several videos on YouTube to promote a new character on Toy Story 3. They are designed to look like old commercials. Had I not read about them prior to viewing them, I would have believed that they were the real thing.

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