In October, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in an historic and contentious decision, voted to limit the use and sale of customer information by Internet providers, such as Verizon and Comcast. While individual content providers like Google and Facebook have been regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC has no mandate to restrict Internet service providers — a subtle, but important, difference.
That’s the job of the FCC. For years, it has restricted telephone companies from reselling information about who you call when, etc. However, there have been no such restrictions on Internet service providers, including wireless carriers. If you were using a browser, you were fair game.
That meant that a corporation, like Verizon, could collect information on what websites you visited, what searches you did and even where you were when you asked, since location data is tracked as well.
Last month, AT&T agreed to buy Time Warner, something that President-Elect Trump said he would block. If the merger succeeded, it could actually quadruple-dip, selling Internet access, subscriptions to HBO, targeted advertising and user data to third-party marketers — all for one phone.
New rules will require carriers to obtain specific permission from subscribers (an “opt-in”) for them to use and sell data. What percentage of people do you think would actually allow that? Probably zilch, unless the opt-in was obscured in a flurry of legalese hidden in an “update of terms and conditions” page.
I just went to my Death Star account (that’s AT&T. Doesn’t their logo look like the Death Star?) to check it out. Right now, you have to know where to go (under “advertising preferences” in tiny type at the very bottom of the page) and deliberately opt out of tracking and third-party sale of data. Not convenient, to say the least, something that can only be considered as deliberately so.
So my advice is to be wary of any new changes to your account terms, and to definitely reject opting-in. I’m not sure how long it will be before these rules are implemented, and you can be sure they will be challenged in court, so just don’t go sleepy and find out later that you’ve been sold down the river.
If you never used Vine, your brain should thank you. A video-sharing service run by Twitter, it featured six-second user-generated videos that looped over and over (and over and over …). It was the visual equivalent of 140-charcter limits.
Yes, there were “Vine Stars,” who were people who posted multiple clips and even got endorsement money, but the majority of videos were pratfalls and other embarrassing moments, or just plain drivel. Rival Instagram, owned by Facebook and featuring 15-second videos, survives. Reportedly, Twitter paid the Vine creators more than $30 million in 2012.
This was part of a downsizing by Twitter that included staff cuts of 9%, with sales and marketing hit hardest. The company has to do something; although revenue was up, the company posted yet another quarterly loss. So more people were clicking on ads, but the money Twitter collected for each one was way down.
Also, Twitter’s costs continued to climb. Much of this is caused by its decision to push higher-end video, including news and sports. It signed a deal with the NFL to live-stream 10 Thursday night games this season, and streamed the three presidential debates live. This costs it a whole ton more than just passing on your Tweets.
Typically, stories of takeover by Google, Disney and even Salesforce have surfaced. Stay tuned.
Not So Social
Groupon has bought Living Social, the D.C.-based online deals site, for an “undisclosed sum.” This is yet another example of a huge Internet bubble, once valued at $6 billion, crashing.
Living Social really started falling apart a year ago, when it laid off 20% of an already-declining workforce. The company once had more than 4,000 employees globally, with 1,000 in D.C. Fueled by a growing realization by advertisers that results were far less than desired, and by users tired of daily emails, it was unable to shift away from discount restaurant deals to “experiences,” such as massages and beauty; or travel deals, such as “Haunted Mountaintop Hotel and Spa.”
I wouldn’t expect Groupon to benefit much from the demise of its rival, since it’s had layoffs and problems, as well. The business model appears headed for the small time, if not extinction.
The election of Donald Trump may completely change the approach to such topics as net neutrality or the FCC decision discussed above. He will get to appoint a new FCC head commissioner, and the unwinding of all the consumer-friendly regulations of the Internet industry could start fairly early.
If so, information on how to browse anonymously or hide your web searches will become more and more valuable. Get ready for a wild ride, if you like your privacy.
Cliff Feldwick is owner of Riverside Computing, and offers PC troubleshooting, data retrieval and network setups for small businesses, when not wondering what life will be like in the near future. He can be reached at 410-880-0171 or at [email protected]. Older columns are available online at http://feldwick.com.