matthew

The Ongoing Online Privacy War

I love keeping my eyes open for changing trends in behavior, especially online behavior.

The battle to maintain one’s privacy in a world of socially mediated publicness is a topic well picked over. Both celebrities and folks of less renown have all had a digital mishap, whether it’s the mistaken click on “Reply all” or the R-rated photo that ends up in the wrong hands.

The message of “the internet is forever” is probably as firmly embedded in the consciousness of folks young and old, just like “look both ways before you cross the street.” Not that people always heed the good advice they hear.

Into the breach have stepped several apps and services designed to anonymize your activity online. Wickr, Snapchat and the Silent Circle products are just a few examples of companies trying to help you keep your private life private.

 Wickr offers “military-grade encryption of text, picture, audio and video messages.” Yikes!

Snapchat is a photo-only service (for now) that allows you to put a time limit on how long the picture will display on the recipient’s device, up to 10 seconds. I gather this one is popular with the younger crowd.

The Silent Circle family of products were created by a “mix of world-renowned cryptographers, Silicon Valley software engineers…and former US Navy SEALs and British Special Air Service security experts.” They even offer a feature called “Burn Notice.” Too much time watching USA Network?

All kidding aside, it appears that the time is right for options like these, for various reasons. While no one is FORCING you to post a status update on Facebook or check in on Foursquare, none of us ever feel totally confident that what we try to keep private actually remains that way. Our website visits are tracked by advertisers or your ISP, our emails and texts logged, phone conversations recorded. There is no digital equivalent to the Mafia movie scenes where the  two guys walk outside amid traffic noise, and far from wiretaps, to have a private conversation.

Nowadays, closing the door to your office has no digital equivalent.

All of us have had that slightly queasy feeling that everything we do might someday be a part of the public record. I’m not positive that even these three services can successfully wipe the digital slate clean. It seems to me that communications sent from your phone, across a network to someone else’s device must be stored SOMEWHERE. Do your research.

Too often the argument for more privacy online (or off)  is attacked with the tired argument of “well, if you’re not doing anything wrong, you shouldn’t be worried.” That is so stupid on its face I won’t comment further. Smart people do dumb things, to be sure, but there are few justifications for the level of invasiveness granted to corporations, public utilities, your employer, etc. And there are times when you might like to talk to someone about something, and not have the whole world potentially know about it.

This is not some unhinged Libertarian rant against Big Brother, but I wonder if we are not seeing some push back in an area that all of us have probably felt some prior discomfort.

Plus, getting to play “Mission: Impossible” with your phone could be kind of fun. “This text will self-destruct in five seconds…”

What do you think? Do you think these kind of apps are responding to a real need? Would you sign up for one of them? Post a comment.

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Can you protect your kids online?

The concept of regulation, especially when modified by the word “government,” often produces a knee jerk reaction among many who feel that if the government is involved, things can only end badly.

About this time last year, I wrote about the well-meaning but impossibly overmatched Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) passed in 1998, at a time when the internet did not even bear a passing resemblance to today’s internet.  [Click here to read that post.] The focus of that post was largely about parents and other authority figures encouraging kids to lie to get around Terms of Service agreements. Today, the FTC is attempting to strengthen COPPA in  a futile attempt to deal with data mining and behavioral targeting.

Naturally, this effort to redress the shortcomings of a law passed in the internet Stone Age is being met with opposition. I think it’s always useful to examine exactly WHO is against any kind of regulatory change as a good first step towards parsing whether that change is good or bad.

In this case, the charges of “get government off my back” are coming from the likes of Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and twitter, not to mention television networks, app platforms and advertising trade groups.

I am not making any earth-shattering observation when I say that kids, especially pre-teens and teenagers, do not spend a lot of time thinking about the long-term consequences of online behavior. (Heck, neither do a lot of adults.) An innocent upload of a picture so they can see themselves on their computer screen next to a Disney character or battling robots inside of an app seems, to them, like no big deal.

Businesses survive by cultivating new customers, and with kids flocking to the internet in droves, they go to where the prospects are. I’m not convinced that any regulation, no matter how well-intentioned, can stanch the flow of data mining and behavioral targeting. The internet did not kill privacy, as fashionable as it is sometimes to take that position.

The only real alternative is to discuss internet safety and internet smarts with your kids. Many parents feel ill-equipped to do so because they themselves feel like they are unaware of how best to act online. The fact is, being online is not that much different than being out in the world, and you should govern yourself accordingly. It is neither reasonable nor feasible to opt out of the internet, just like you cannot opt our of society in general. A little common sense will always carry the day.

And keep an eye on who is for and who is against some of these things. That ought to scare you more than the possibility of your kid being served an advertisement for chocolate covered Doritos.

What do you think? Can anything really be done to protect kids from being marketed to and having their data collected? Leave a comment in the comments section.

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Has Instagram changed the internet for all of us?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Instagram lately and I’ve noticed that I am not alone.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center revealed that 46% of adult internet users post original photos or videos online that they themselves created. This was the first time they had asked about Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr, so there is no historical data to compare the numbers to, but the numbers are sure to continue growing. According to the study, “27% of internet users between 18-29 use Instagram.”

And then this, from AllThingsD: “In August [2012] US smartphone owners visited Instagram from their smartphones more frequently and for longer periods of time than they visited Twitter.” Instagram had an average of 7.3 million daily active users to Twitter’s 6.9 million, and they spent nearly twice as long perusing.

When Facebook allegedly coughed up $1 billion to buy Instagram, the black crows in the media  focused on the astronomical price tag for a company that hadn’t made any money yet. I was more interested in WHY Facebook decided to acquire the popular service. More accurately, I’m intrigued by what the rise of photo sharing apps means to the future of communications. I happen to love Instagram and enjoy seeing the way people express their creativity. It also challenges me to try and find the visual narrative in any given situation. While there is certainly an overabundance of food photos, pet photos and pictures showing the view from an airplane with the wing featured prominently, I wonder how we will all tell our stories over the next few years. While Facebook and twitter allow for photo attachments, the updates that people post are largely text-based. Maybe it’s because of my background in creating television and video that I find visual storytelling more compelling, but I’m certainly not alone. If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a picture passed through a saturation filter worth?

Do you use Instagram or some other photo sharing app? What do you find compelling about it?

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Podcasting (still) lives!

I first discovered podcasts and podcasting somewhere around 2006, and my mind was blown. The first podcast I came upon was all about production, technology, communications- in short, everything that was of interest to me. It blew my mind because of the obvious potential to narrowcast and reach large audiences which  were not quite large enough for traditional radio or TV. One million podcast listeners is huge. One million TV viewers gets you cancelled before the second episode airs.

In the years that followed, it seemed like everyone with a mic and a laptop started releasing podcasts during this chaos period, but now it is clear that podcasting has reached a new and exciting level of maturity.

 

My enthusiasm for them has not waned one iota. In fact, I receive the vast majority of my news, information and entertainment from podcasts. Because it is such a personal medium, it feels very “one-to-one” and that appeals to me.

One area that has experienced a huge boom, and resultant ripple effect, is comedy. A few years back I happened upon Marc Maron’s WTF podcast, which led me to Greg Fitzsimmons’ Fitzdog Radio and on and on. Both of these shows are essentially interview shows, not comics doing their acts. Maron’s self-revelatory style over 300+ episodes has won him a huge following and a TV deal for an upcoming show on IFC. To hear him tell it, it has also resurrected what was, by his own admission, a dormant stand-up career.

Fitzsimmons’ career seems to be on the upswing, too, as a result of his podcast, although he often riffs on how hard he has worked to arrive comfortably “in the middle.” He says he gets recognized on the street occasionally, but mostly he works steadily in Hollywood, which is the dream of any creative type.

Two back to back articles in the NY Times this past week about the comics Chris Hardwick and Rob Delaney,  and the “direct-to-audience” model pioneered so expertly by Louis CK are further evidence of the power of podcasting to speak to your audience directly, and find new audiences in the process.

I made a blog post back in 2007 (Good God, have I been blogging that long?) about the huge potential I saw in podcasting. While NPR and other mainstream content providers have used podcasts to great mutual benefit for themselves and their audiences, there is still plenty of room for growth.

I think it’s time for me to get back to my podcast. I’ve been too lazy.

So, do you listen to podcasts? If so, got any good recommendations?

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How to make iPad publishing work

My last few posts have been bullish about tablet publishing as a way for any business, organization or individual to better get their message in front of a locked-in audience. Way back when, back when social media was first becoming a tactic that folks were starting to be aware of, I often reminded audiences during the speeches or seminars I conducted for business groups: “You can no longer expect people to come to you or your website. You have to be where they are already congregating.”

This is just as true today as it was back in the dark ages of 2007, as mobile devices continue to make irreversible inroads with consumers.

Today, I am thrilled to announce the publication of our first iBook, which you can download by clicking here. St. Mark’s School is a New England boarding school approaching its 150th anniversary. As an institution, it is embarking on a series of education and curriculum changes for the 21st century that go to the heart of the school’s mission of educating young people for lives of leadership and service. The changes are complex and require some explanation and background and the school was looking for a thought provoking (and conversation provoking) way to best communicate these changes to the alumni community as a whole.

We tried to blend text, photos and HD video into a rich experience that resonates with readers. Because of the user experience of the iPad, unlike a four-color brochure or PDF, there is a much better chance that your audience will connect with your content since you are reaching them in a way that is comfortable for them.

This particular iBook is directed at a specific niche for a specific purpose, but that is exactly the point and the beauty of tablet publishing. In order to get your message out, you can just get your message out.

Some ideas don’t fit into a tweet.

For more about tablet publishing, click http://bit.ly/JX03Yv

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