Our Web, Not Theirs

Media power takes on new dimensions as we move into an “always on” digital mediascape, where questions loom concerning not just the media that citizens will consume, but also the digital environment they will consume it in. At this pivotal time the Internet is becoming evermore subjugated to commercial interests of a cartel of domineering big media corporations.

A concentrated participator medium?

One recent study showed that only 20 domains (websites) capture 39% of all time spent online by US users. Considering that the Internet is technically an open medium, this is an amazingly high level of user concentration. Mysapce.com, which is owned by News Corporation, commands an astounding 11.9% of US users time online. Bearing in mind the USA has well over two hundred million Internet users this kind of concentration of online website usage creates huge vectors of power.

Chief among the online brands are the ever popular social networking website. In the period between September 2006 to February 2007 the number of visitors to the social networking website Facebook.com jumped 75 percent to 24.8 million worldwide and the number of visitors to MySpace.com grew 26 percent to 98.5 million visitors in the same period. “More than half of all Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 use some online social networking site such as MySpace or Facebook.

Many of the most powerful online media websites are owned by some of the largest media corporations. Fox Interactive Media(NewCorp) spent $580 million to acquire MySpace.com. Google, a large and evermore powerful media corporation, owns one of the most popular blog platforms: BlogSpot.com. Google also purchased Youtube, the most popular online video site on the Internet, for U.S.$1.65 billion. Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL Time Warner own other popular platforms. Googles chief executive officer Eric Schmidt, recently estimated that Google buys start-up web companies every few days, and is quoted saying, “I think the pace [of Google buyouts] will accelerate”.

In Who’s Interest is the Internet Being Shaped?

This level of power over what is the most powerful medium the world has ever seen begs the question; how are major web owners using these online properties? New commercial incursions by big online media enterprises including the widely distained “Facebook Beacon” make explicit what new media giants have been doing quietly for some time; searching for new and evermore effective ways to sell our attention, our clicks and our private information to advertisers and marketers.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg described the facebook advantage to advertisers this way: “you will be able to select exactly the audience you want to reach, and we will only show your ads to them. We know exactly what gender someone is, what activities they are interested in. their location, country, city or town, interests, gender”. The new Beacon system monitored facebook users activities on partnering websites and notified the users friends about purchases made. It’s not surprising that this both ruined a few Christmas surprises and outraged many when they realized the level of surveillance they were exposed to.

Facebook may have misjudged it’s audience and taken privacy invasions a step too far for it’s users to passively accept, but this kind of surveillance and data collection is the norm with the new media cartel. Myspace has its own “HyperTargeting” system described by Michael Barrett, chief revenue officer for MySpace parent division Fox Interactive Media as “an ad platform that translates our massive amounts of self-expressed user data into highly targeted, interest-based segments, enabling us to better serve the exact right ad to the right person at the right time”.

Media companies are working with marketers to segment online participants into target groups, and (to quote a marketing company) “corralling your next online movement–by controlling and limiting what’s headed your way, in the form of packaged, personalized content”. The marketing company Future Now’s boasts of something called a “Persuasion Architecture” that…

provides a detailed process for persuading your visitors to take the actions you want them to take. Nothing is left to chance. You design persuasive paths based on personas to provide visitors with the information they want, when they want it, in language that speaks to their individual needs.

The marketing industry is also investigating, and refining measurements of responses to ads, including brain behaviours involving both cognition and emotion. Lets also consider that Google has applied for a patent for

a method by which an end user accessing the Internet via a wireless access point (WAP) would be served advertisements based on factors such as the geographic location, a behavioral profile and local vertical market.

According to the head of the multimedia department at Nokia, 180 million Nokia phones will ship or be downloaded in 2008 with the ability to beam “location-aware content” Using various new technologies together online media conglomerates will be able to beam you a real time ads on your phone while you’re talking with a friend, the ad could be based on your conversation, location, and the known reaction you’ll have – based on emotional and cognitive brain research. And kids are on the front line of this scary future of ubiquitous commercial surveillance, last January Nickelodeon launched its kid virtual world Nicktropolis. Vice president of Nickelodeon online properties Jason Root recently said “We’re going to have a great immersive experience both with kids and advertisers.”

Nicktropolis has 5.5 million kid users

Concentrated Power Must Be Challenged

Clearly we cannot allow this big business regulation of the Internet to continue unchallenged. There are three levers we can use to keep the new media cartel in check:

1. Push for public interest policy that limits the new media cartels ability to exploit web users. The Center Digital Democracy, US PIRG and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are fighting these battles on our behalf in Washington.

2. Build public campaigns to limit and roll back exploitation of web users by new media giants. MoveOn’s recent successful campaign to get Facebook to reframe from the worst of its predatory practices is a great example.

3. Support new media public benefit spaces and services that respect web users privacy and our right unencumbered online navigation. This last lever is perhaps the most effective and successful but maybe the least acknowledged.

The prime success stories of public benefit online media are probably Wikipedia and Firefox. Both of these projects use open-source code (meaning the software is openly available to use and build upon), and are owned by non-profit foundations. The FireFox browser has a miniscule marketing budget, yet has grown to become Microsoft’s number one competitor in this area — even surpassing the very savvy Apple corporation. It is the openness of FireFox that attracts developers to add applications that allow you to block advertisements and other highly sought services. Firefox has been downloaded over 448,764,680 times. The non-profit, open-source, citizen produced Wikipedia is touted as “one of the 15 most visited websites in the world”.

What these and many the public benefit web hasn’t quite tackled yet is the ever-popular social networking community. However, Freespeech TV is in the process of doing just that. They are building a social networking and video sharing community that is non-profit, non-commercial, and built an open-source software platform called Drupal.

What these examples begin to show is that we already have a reliable and growing public benefit web infrastructure available to us. While fighting for public interest policy and organizing web users remain key activities in the fight for our right to an open Internet, nothing scares this new media cartel more than real competition. The public interest group MoverOn recently was able to get over 50,000 people to sign a petition against the Facebook Beacon. Facebook recently back off from the worst of their Beacon service due to this profound expression of public preference. This should serve as a reminder that the new media cartel needs us more then we need them. The second we collectively decide we want a more open, independent and free web we will have it.

It’s Our Web, Not Theirs.

Find out more about the independent public benefit.

Steve Anderson is the publisher at COA News and founder of The Center For Information Awareness. Read other articles by Steve, or visit Steve's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. gerald spezio said on December 5th, 2007 at 6:52am #

    If Zionist/Israeli power and money can buy the US Senate as they have demonstrated, they can buy the internet as they are demonstrating every day.

    All the fraternity type cheerleading by “progressive voices” can’t change this game.

    Yabut we, THE GOOD GUYS, got RADIO!

  2. gerald spezio said on December 5th, 2007 at 7:32am #

    Yeah radio, like listening to Zionist-Israeli propaganda on NPR.

    If it isn’t Joe Lieberman arguing for more murder by Supernation’s grunts, its the Israeli ambassador to someplace preaching more Holocaust museums, or the tree in Anne Frank’s yard is sick, or …

    Have we got radio …

  3. gerald spezio said on December 5th, 2007 at 9:44am #

    Here is the objective NY Times on the internet attacking James Hansen for horrendous anti-Semitism.


    The Palestinians in the GAZA CONCENTRATION CAMP are crazy from their pathological anti-Semitism.

  4. gerald spezio said on December 5th, 2007 at 2:43pm #

    Steve, how much would it cost to hire your firm to “raise awareness” and “consciousness” about the Israelis murdering the Palestinians in the GAZA concentration camp?

    Are you confident that the upcoming phthalates lawsuits will get the “big bucks” that hard working attorney’s and peeyar yuppies deserve?