drH

I’m pleased to announce that my article Joss Whedon, Dr. Horrible, and the Future of Web Media? is finally available. Here’s the abstract:

In the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, one of the areas in dispute was the question of residual payments for online material. On the picket line, Buffy creator Joss Whedon discussed new ways online media production could be financed. After the strike, Whedon self-funded a web media production, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Whedon and his collaborators positioned Dr. Horrible as an experiment, investigating whether original online media content created outside of studio funding could be financially viable. Dr. Horrible was a bigger hit than expected, with a paid version topping the iTunes charts and a DVD release hitting the number two position on Amazon. This article explores which factors most obviously contributed to Dr. Horrible’s success, whether these factors are replicable by other media creators, the incorporation of fan labor into web media projects, and how web-specific content creation relates to more traditional forms of media production.

The official version is available in the new issue of Popular Communication (vol 11, no. 2). If you can’t access the article due to the paywall, then there’s an open access pre-print available at Academia.edu.

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Links through to April 22nd (catching up!):

  • Siri secrets stored for up to 2 years [WA Today] – “Siri isn’t just a pretty voice with the answers. It’s also been recording and keeping all the questions users ask. Exactly what the voice assistant does with the data isn’t clear, but Apple confirmed that it keeps users’ questions for up to two years. Siri, which needs to be connected to the internet to function, sends all of its users’ queries to Apple. Apple revealed the information after
    Wired posted an article raising the question and highlighting the fact that the privacy statement for Siri wasn’t very clear about how long that information is kept or what would be done with it.”
  • Now playing: Twitter #music [Twitter Blog] – Not content to be TV’s second screen, Twitter wants to be the locus of conversations about music, too: “Today, we’re releasing Twitter #music, a new service that will change the way people find music, based on Twitter. It uses Twitter activity, including Tweets and engagement, to detect and surface the most popular tracks and emerging artists. It also brings artists’ music-related Twitter activity front and center: go to their profiles to see which music artists they follow and listen to songs by those artists. And, of course, you can tweet songs right from the app. The songs on Twitter #music currently come from three sources: iTunes, Spotify or Rdio. By default, you will hear previews from iTunes when exploring music in the app. Subscribers to Rdio and Spotify can log in to their accounts to enjoy full tracks that are available in those respective catalogs.
  • Android To Reach 1 Billion This Year | Google, Eric Schmidt, Mobiles [The Age] – “Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt predicts there will be more than 1 billion Android smartphones in use by the end of the year.”
  • Soda Fountains, Speeding, and Password Sharing [The Chutry Experiment] – Fascinating post about the phenomenon of Netflix and HBO Go password sharing in the US. When a NY Times journalist admitted to this (seemingly mainstream) practice, it provoked a wide-ranging discussion about the ethics and legality of many people pooling resources to buy a single account. Is this theft? Is it illegal (apparently so)? And, of course, Game of Thrones take a centre seat!
  • “Welcome to the New Prohibition” [Andy Baio on Vimeo] – Insightful talk from Andy Baio about the devolution of copyright into an enforcement tool and revenue extraction device rather than protecting or further the production of artistic material in any meaningful way. For background to this video see Baio’s posts “No Copyright Intended” and “Kind of Screwed”.
  • Instagram Today: 100 Million People [Instagram Blog] – Instagram crosses the 100 million (monthly) user mark.
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Links through February 23rd:

  • Nielsen Agrees to Expand Definition of TV Viewing [The Hollywood Reporter] – Nielsen ratings reflect that online TV ratings are growing and matter: “The Nielsen Co. is expanding its definition of television and will introduce a comprehensive plan to capture all video viewing including broadband and Xbox and iPads … By September 2013, when the next TV season begins, Nielsen expects to have in place new hardware and software tools in the nearly 23,000 TV homes it samples. Those measurement systems will capture viewership not just from the 75 percent of homes that rely on cable, satellite and over the air broadcasts but also viewing via devices that deliver video from streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, from so-called over-the-top services and from TV enabled game systems like the X-Box and PlayStation. While some use of iPads and other tablets that receive broadband in the home will be included in the first phase of measurement improvements, a second phase is envisioned to include such devices in a more comprehensive fashion.”
  • Billboard and Nielsen Add YouTube Video Streaming to Platforms [Billboard] – The Billboard music charts in the US finally adapt to include online activity, including YouTube streaming data, and suddenly Baauer’s meme-tastic ‘Harlem Shake’ debuts at the top of the Billboard chart! The ratings, they are a-changing.
  • Why I’m Done Posting Photos of My Kid On Facebook [Chicago Now] – Short but well written piece on why parents should be more careful about what photos etc they share of their kids online. Author calls parents “online guardians”. “We all want to believe that Facebook takes parents’ concerns about privacy seriously. But the truth is that Facebook is a publicly traded company that cares first and foremost about making its shareholders happy. We have no idea how far it will go to do so, especially since the company is not extraordinarily profitable right now. But what we do know is that Facebook is pushing our boundaries now, often, to see just how much of our privacy we’re willing to give away.”
  • Instagram users begin fightback against stolen photos [Technology | guardian.co.uk] – Solid piece on the challenges of photos from Instagram (and the web in general) being used by others without permission. Copyright, theft, credit and ethics all get a mention, but the short version is: if copyright is understood on the web (often it’s not), it’s often not respected whatsoever. For the Instagram examples, I can only image this will get worse, not better, with Instagram moving more solidly onto the web proper, not just mobile devices.
  • Introducing Your Instagram Feed on the Web [Instagram Blog] – Furthering their shift to looking more and more like parent-company Facebook, Instagram have expanded the web presence associated with each username, allowing the liking, commenting and exploring of the people you follow on Instagram without use of a mobile device. The only thing you can’t do is upload an image from the web (yet).
  • Coming and Going on Facebook [Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project] – “Two-thirds of online American adults (67%) are Facebook users, making Facebook the dominant social networking site in this country. And new findings from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project indicate there is considerable fluidity in the Facebook user population: * 61% of current Facebook users say that at one time or another in the past they have voluntarily taken a break from using Facebook for a period of several weeks or more. * 20% of the online adults who do not currently use Facebook say they once used the site but no longer do so. * 8% of online adults who do not currently use Facebook are interested in becoming Facebook users in the future.”
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By Tama Leaver, Curtin University

The recent publication of a leaked video demonstrating American security firm Raytheon’s social media mining tool RIOT (Rapid Information Overlay Technology) has rightly incensed individuals and online privacy groups.

In a nutshell, RIOT – already shared with US government and industry as part of a joint research and development effort in 2010 – uses social media traces to profile people’s activities, map their contacts, and predict their future activities.

Yet the most surprising thing isn’t how RIOT works, but that the information it mines is what we’ve each already shared publicly.

Getting to know you

How Raytheon software tracks you online.

In the above video, RIOT analyses social media accounts – specifically Facebook, Twitter, Gowalla and Foursquare – and profiles an individual.

In just a few seconds, RIOT manages to extract photographs as well are the times and exact location of frequently visited places. This information is then sorted and graphed, making it relatively easy to predict likely times and locations of future activity.

RIOT can also map an individual’s network of personal and professional connections. In the demonstration video, a Raytheon employee is surveyed, and the software shows who his friends are, where he’s been and, most ominously, predicts that the most likely time and place to find him is at a specific gym at 6am on a Monday morning.

Privacy concerns

The RIOT software quite rightly raises concerns about the way online information is being treated.

Since privacy rules and regulations around social media are still in their infancy, it’s hard to tell if any legal boundaries have been crossed. This is especially unclear since it appears, from the video at least, that RIOT only scrutinises information already publicly visible on the web.

Your friends, photos and ‘check-ins’ online leave a digital footprint that programs like RIOT can trace. Gavin Llewellyn

The usefulness of some social media tools for mapping a person’s activity are abundantly clear. Foursquare, for example, basically produces a database of the times and places someone elects to “check-in” to specific locations.

Checking-in allows other Foursquare users to interact with that individual, but the record is basically a map of someone’s activities. Foursquare can be a great service, allowing social networking, discounts from businesses, and various location-based activities, but it also leaves a huge data trail.

Foursquare, though, has a (relatively) small user base (around 30 million) compared to Facebook (more than one billion) – although Facebook, as we know, also allows users to check-in by specifying a location in updates and posts. But the richest source of information we tend to share publicly, but not even think about, is our photographs.

Picture this

Every modern smartphone, whether an iPhone, Windows or Android device, by default saves certain information every time you take a photograph. This information about the photograph is saved using something called the Exchangeable image file format, or “exif” data.

Exif data typically includes camera settings, such as how long the camera lens was open and whether the flash fired, but on smartphones also includes the exact geographic location (latitude and longitude) and time that each photograph is taken.

Thus, all of those photographs of celebrations, birthdays, and our kids at the beach all include a digital record of where and when each and every event occurred.

We should consider how the information we post online could be used before posting it. shutterstock.com

Given that so many of us share photographs online using Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Flickr, it’s not surprising that RIOT might be able to build a picture of where we’ve been and use that to guess where we might be in the future.

Yet we don’t have to leave this trail. Most smartphones have the ability to turn geographic location information off so that it’s not recorded when we take photographs.

Most of us never think to turn these options off because we don’t think about our social media persisting, but it does. Our social media fragments – our photos and posts – have no expiry date so it’s worth taking a moment when we set up a new phone or account and tweak the settings to only share what you really want to share.

If RIOT demonstrates anything, it’s the fact that information shared publicly online will likely be read, shared, copied, stored and analysed in ways we didn’t immediately think about.

If we take the time to adjust our privacy settings and sharing options, we can exercise some control over the sort of profile RIOT, or any future tool, might build about us.

Tama Leaver receives funding from the Australian Research Council.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Links for December 18th through December 22nd:

  • From Grumpy Cat to Gangnam Style: The Best Memes of 2012 [Wired.com] – 2012 was a big year for memes, from McKayla Is Not Impressed to Texts From Hillary. And Gangnam Style …
  • Gangnam Style Makes YouTube History: First Video to Hit 1 Billion Views [YouTube Blog] – Gangnam Style the first YouTube video to clock one billion views! “A million views? You know what’s cool? A billion views. Today, a 34-year-old K-Pop artist made online video history when his viral video, Gangnam Style, smashed our records and became the first video ever to reach one billion views. Yup, that’s right one BILLION views! PSY’s success is a great testament to the universal appeal of catchy music– and er, great equine dance moves. In the past, music distribution was mostly regional. It was more difficult to learn about great artists from around the world. But with a global platform at their fingertips, people are now discovering and sharing amazing music from all over the planet, by artists like Brazilian Michel Teló and Belgian-Australian Gotye.”
  • Your Twitter archive [Twitter Blog] – Twitter finally rolls out – for everyone – the ability to download your entire Twitter archive: “Today, we’re introducing the ability to download your Twitter archive, so you’ll get all your Tweets (including Retweets) going back to the beginning. Once you have your Twitter archive, you can view your Tweets by month, or search your archive to find Tweets with certain words, phrases, hashtags or @usernames. You can even engage with your old Tweets just as you would with current ones. Go to Settings and scroll down to the bottom to check for the option to request your Twitter archive. If you do see it, go ahead and click the button. You’ll receive an email with instructions on how to access your archive when it’s ready for you to download.”
  • i-am-cc.org – Free your Instagram photos with a Creative Commons license! – That’s a clever idea: an explicit tool for adding a Creative Commons license to your Instagram photos, and for finding Instagram photos which have Creative Commons licenses.
  • Germany orders changes to Facebook real name policy [BBC News] – “A German data protection body has ordered Facebook to end its policy of making members use their real names. The policy violates German laws that give people the right to use pseudonyms online, said the data protection agency in Schleswig-Holstein. The agency has issued a decree demanding that Facebook let people use fake names immediately. Facebook said it would fight the decree “vigorously” and that its naming policy met European data protection rules. “It is unacceptable that a US portal like Facebook violates German data protection law unopposed and with no prospect of an end,” said Thilo Weichert, head of the regional data protection office in Schleswig Holstein, in a statement. … The decree issued by the Schleswig Holstein office was “without merit” a Facebook spokeswoman told tech news site IT World adding that it planned to fight the order.”
  • Coming Soon: Nielsen Twitter TV Rating [Twitter Blog] – The second screen just got serious: “Today Nielsen announced an agreement with Twitter to create the “Nielsen Twitter TV Rating,” an industry-standard metric that is based entirely on Twitter data.  As the experience of TV viewing continues to evolve, our TV partners have consistently asked for one common benchmark from which to measure the engagement of their programming. This new metric is intended to answer that request, and to act as a complement and companion to the Nielsen TV rating. You can read more about the news on Nielsen’s site here. Ultimately, we have one goal for this new metric: to make watching TV with Twitter even better for you, the TV fan. I look forward to sharing more about this effort in the months to come.”
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Instagram LogoDespite Mark Zuckerberg implying that Facebook’s purchase wouldn’t alter the core fabric of Instagram, a billion dollar purchase price (okay, less than that after Facebook’s share price tanked) means an expectation of a significant return. Sadly, today, Instagram announced a significant update to their Terms of Use which show the decidedly Facebooksih direction that the photo-sharing service is taking to try and bring in the cash. The changes were framed by a blog post which suggests nothing major is changing, but that’s just not true. Here’s a key passage from the updated Terms of Use (which are legally binding as of 16 January 2013):

2. Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.

3. You acknowledge that we may not always identify paid services, sponsored content, or commercial communications as such.

Or, if I could translate slightly: Instagram may, at their discretion and without telling you, use your photo to sell or promote something to other Instagram users – most likely your followers – and not even clearly identify this as an advertisement or promotion. While, strictly speaking, these Terms don’t alter the copyright status of your photos on Instagram (you own them, but give Instagram explicit permission to use them, re-use them, or let third parties use them as long as you’re still an Instagram user) the tone and spirit behind those uses have changed substantially. Sure, this might be a trade-off that many people are happy with: they get to keep using Instagram for free, and all sorts of new advertisements and promotions appear, some using images you’ve posted.

However, I fear that most people will ignore these Terms of Use changes and notifications. Ignore them, that is, until an advertisement pops up with their head or photo in it and then everyone will get loud, and angry, but unless you’re prepared to delete your Instagram account, there new Terms are absolutely binding. In the mean time, keep in mind you can always export and download all of your Instagram photos and maybe set up with a different service. For more details about what the changes mean, I recommend reading these overviews at the NY Times Bits Blog and the Social Times.

These updated changes may not worry you in the slightest, but please take the time to consider what they mean before they come into effect.

Update (21 December 2012): After considerable public backlash against the new Terms, Instagram have, for now, chosen to largely revert to their previous terms. This is a short-term win insomuch as Instagram are now aware that there are lines that their users don’t want to see crossed. Even though there was considerable misinterpretation (as far as I can see, Instagram never intended, for example, to wholesale sell anyone’s photos), concerns raised were legitimate. However, the longer term problem remains: few people ever read Terms of Use, so a change like this is only ever interpreted as a knee-jerk response against the most sensational media reports. Perhaps the salient lesson here is that at least a passing familiarity with all Terms we’ve signed up for makes us more aware of where we really stand as users, consumers and participants in a mobile media culture?

Incidentally, I’d love it if Instagram added native support for Creative Commons licenses, but I understand that as a Facebook-owned company, that’s highly unlikely. The lesson Instagram might learn from a conversation with Creative Commons, though, is having layered Terms where human-readable terms means read by all humans, not just those with law degrees.

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Links for October 29th through November 8th:

  • Backdown on internet filter plan [SMH] – YAY! “The [Australian] government has finally backed down on its plan for a controversial mandatory internet filter, and will instead rely on major service providers to block ”the worst of the worst” child abuse sites. The retreat on the filter, which Labor proposed from early in its term, comes after a strong campaign by providers. Opponents argued it would not be effective, would be costly and slow down services, and involved too much censorship. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who strongly argued the case for years, will announce on Friday that providers blocking the Interpol worst of the worst list ”will help keep children safe from abuse”. ”It meets community expectations, and fulfils the government’s commitment to preventing Australian internet users from accessing child-abuse material online.” The government will use its powers under the telecommunications legislation, so Senator Conroy will say a filter law will not be needed.”
  • Barack Obama victory tweet becomes most retweeted ever [guardian.co.uk] – “Barack Obama has celebrated winning another term as US president by tweeting a photograph of himself hugging his wife, Michelle – which almost immediately became the most popular tweet of all time. The tweet, captioned “Four more years”, had been shared more than 400,000 times within a few hours of being posted, and marked as a favourite by more than 70,000.” (It’s now over 800,000 retweets!)
  • Announcing Instagram Profiles on the Web! [Instagram Blog] – Instagram adds full web profiles for all (public) Instagram accounts. While users can still only upload from mobile devices (for now), Instagram embracing the fuller web, probably as part of the larger integration with Facebook.
  • Mobile Apps Have a Ravenous Ability to Collect Personal Data [NYTimes.com] – “Angry Birds, the top-selling paid mobile app for the iPhone in the United States and Europe, has been downloaded more than a billion times by devoted game players around the world, who often spend hours slinging squawking fowl at groups of egg-stealing pigs. While regular players are familiar with the particular destructive qualities of certain of these birds, many are unaware of one facet: The game possesses a ravenous ability to collect personal information on its users. When Jason Hong, an associate professor at the Human Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, surveyed 40 users, all but two were unaware that the game was noting and storing their locations so that they could later be the targets of advertising.”
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Here are the slides and audio from my paper ‘Global Media Distribution and the Tyranny of Digital Distance’ presented on Saturday, 20 October 2012 at Internet Research 13 in MediaCityUK, Salford:

The paper drifted somewhat from the original abstract, but in a nutshell asks why it is taking television networks so long to escape the tyranny of digital distance (in this instance embodied by the national delays in re-broadcasting overseas-produced television shows). I look at several examples, including the recent Olympics broadcasts, as well as the deep-seated resistance from commercial TV networks in Australia. I conclude following Mark Scott that the future is already here, in the visage of young viewers and Peppa Pig fans who will never know the broadcast schedule and that these are the viewers for whom networks should be preparing to entertain today.

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Links for September 24th through September 25th:

  • Disruptions and dividends: a fast broadband Australia [ABC] – A fantastic speech from the ABC's Managing Director Mark Scott, given in September 2012, highlighting the challenges and opportunities the public broadcaster faces in the era of broadband and digital distribution. Scott sees the huge amount of time-shifted streaming of children's television as a harbinger of a future driven by immediacy, while the recent move to make episodes of Doctor Who available online (on iView) the second they finish in the UK signals the only way to answer online piracy: provide a better and easier service.
  • Creepshots and revenge porn: how paparazzi culture affects women [The Guardian] – Disturbing but well-written piece on 'creepshots' and the broader cultural context in which they exist: "… we arguably all live in a paparazzi culture now. Cameras are ubiquitous, as is the technology to share and publicise pictures instantly. The throb of surveillance plays out in different ways. On the more benign side are the mild nerves many people feel when an email pops up to tell them they have been tagged in a Facebook photo, an image that could be from any moment in their life – recent or historical – now public, and open for comments. But it also plays out in more insidious ways. This includes the creepshot websites, and others where people collect images of ordinary women they have culled from around the internet."
  • Facebook Suspends Facial Recognition in Europe [Wall Street Journal] – "Facebook has voluntarily switched off its facial recognition service in Europe following a privacy audit by the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC). The company says it wants to reinstate the feature once a form of consent can be found that meets the guidelines."
  • Gangnam Style, Dissected: The Subversive Message Within South Korea’s Music Video Sensation [The Atlantic] – "Park Jaesang is an unlikely poster boy for South Korea's youth-obsessed, highly lucrative, and famously vacuous pop music. Park, who performs as Psy (short for psycho), is a relatively ancient 34, has been busted for marijuana and for avoiding the country's mandatory military service, and is not particularly good-looking. His first album got him fined for "inappropriate content" and the second was banned. He's mainstream in the way that South Korea's monolithically corporate media demands of its stars, who typically appear regularly on TV variety and even game shows, but as a harlequin, a performer known for his parodies, outrageous costumes, and jokey concerts. Still, there's a long history of fools and court jesters as society's most cutting social critics, and he might be one of them. [...] Gangnam is a tony Seoul neighborhood, and Park's "Gangnam Style" video lampoons its self-importance and ostentatious wealth, with Psy playing a clownish caricature of a Gangnam man."
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Links for August 29th through September 3rd:

  • Navigating the new multi-screen world: Insights show how consumers use different devices together – Google Mobile Ads Blog – New report funded by Google: “The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior” "discovered that 90% of people move between devices to accomplish a goal, whether that’s on smartphones, PCs, tablets or TV. We set out to learn not just how much of our media consumption happens on screens, but also how we use these multiple devices together, and what that means for the way that businesses connect with consumers. In understanding what it means to multi-screen, we discovered two main modes of usage:
    * Sequential screening where we move from one device to another to complete a single goal
    * Simultaneous screening where we use multiple devices at the same time
    We found that nine out of ten people use multiple screens sequentially and that smartphones are by far the most common starting point for sequential activity." [Full Report PDF]
  • UKNova made to halt television and radio torrent links [BBC News] – "UKNova has stopped offering BitTorrent links after becoming the latest file-sharing site to be targeted by copyright defenders. Its administrators said they took the action after receiving a demand from the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact). UKNova had pitched itself as a free catch-up TV and radio service and had asked its members not to add material available for sale elsewhere. It has been in operation since 2003. UKNova's use of BitTorrent links meant it did not keep any pirated material on its own servers, but rather provided the means for its members to download and upload material to and from each others' computers. [...] Unlike many other file-sharing sites, UKNova did not run adverts on its pages. One of its administrators said it was not run for profit, had survived purely from voluntary donations and nobody involved had been paid."
  • Apple kills Star Trek [YouTube] – Clever re-dub of classic Star Trek: The Next Generation footage in the aftermath of Apple's patent lawsuits. Things don't go well for the Enterprise!
  • Are Apple’s innovations inside us now? [CNN.com] – Douglas Rushkoff: "Imagine that we were just developing spoken language for the first time. And someone came up with a new word to describe an action, thought or feeling — like "magnify" or "dreadful." But in this strange world, the person who came up with the word demanded that anyone else who used it pay him a dollar every time the word was uttered. That would make it pretty difficult for us to negotiate our way to a society that communicated through speech. That's the way the patent wars on smartphone and tablet advances are beginning to feel to me. [...] Usually, advancements of this sort are developed through consortia of companies. The HTML standards through which the Web is rendered are not owned by a single company, but developed together and used by everyone. Imagine if one musical instrument company owned the patent on the piano keyboard, and another on the tuning of a violin. Or what if every typewriter company had to develop its own layout of letters?"
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