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No we are not yet Borg

I admit that while not being a die-hard science fiction fan, I am a fan of Battlestar Gallactica and Star Trek. Last spring I binged on BSG sometimes watching three or four episodes a day. The series is great. While I’m more a fan of a Star Trek: The Original Series, I always found the Borg the more interesting of antagonists on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Their single-minded focus on assimilating all species of the known universe into one collective was intriguing and downright scary.

BSG also dealt with the collected in a way. The series depicted survivors of the Twelve Colonies (twelve planets) wiped out by machines they had created. These machines, the Cylons, were also part of a collective although they were not out to assimilate any humans. They managed to defeat the Twelve Colonies by hacking their interconnected computers. The commander of one of the Colonies’ battlestars, Bill Adama, had a rule on his ship that may have been responsible for them staying alive: no interconnected computers on his ship. Interconnection has its downside.

I’ve touched on being interconnected before, addressing the downside of social media, but an article in The Wall Street Journal by Holman Jenkins provided some additional fodder for the notion of being socially connected via computer. Mr. Jenkins argues in the latter part of his piece that the current tit-for-ta that we are seeing between CBS and Time Warner Cable is a side show, a distraction from the real goal of telecommunications and cable companies: facilitating the meld of mind and machine.

It makes sense. From a consumer view, cell phone users may as well implant their devices as much as we are seen clutching them to our ears. I have to get used to people apparently mumbling to themselves when they are actually talking to someone else.

From a business view the fight for advertisement dollars comes from the traffic we can accumulate at some point. The cable and telecommunications companies, the broadband providers, want their sites to be the points of accumulation. They want the advertising traffic that Facebook and Google are combating for. Anticipating our consumer needs by tracking and documenting our thoughts, feelings, and buying habits would be aided by a technology that makes it easier to meld devices collecting this data with the behavior of the consumer.

My question is, will government promote this type of innovation? How regulated will this new frontier of technology and consumer thought be?

National Council on Negro Women: The reason why our sistas are the backbone of our broadband family

The National Council on Negro Women expressed their support for AT&T’s bid to purchase T-Mobile USA. The civil rights group expressed that it was important that underserved minority communities get online access to healthcare, education, and career resources. Should we be denied access to these services because of capacity issues? Opponents of the transaction seem to think so.

Were it not for groups like the National Council on Negro Women, there would be no one to vigorously address the issue of the digital divide. The only thing I hear from Sprint, Free Press, and Public Knowledge is the usual paranoid ranting of why AT&T being big is supposed to be bad for everyone.

Opponents never make a case for why allowing T-Mobile USA to eventually go out of business would be good for solving the digital divide issue. They never argue why denying the purchase will help make spectrum available in rural or underserved urban areas.

Groups like the National Council on Negro Women are properly tying the social justice arguments with the economic arguments that support the acquisition. Public Knowledge, on the other hand, would rather scare people into believing that there is going to be some horrific change from the current market structure to something so utterly gruesome that it will be Armageddon for consumers.

What are we going to see after the sale is closed? The very same market structure that exists today; an oligopoly.

So kudos to the National Council on Negro Women for seeing past the smoke and mirrors of the opponents’ arguments.

Come on. How is Comcast stopping my message?

Critics of the proposed Comcast and NBC Universal joint venture have been making the argument that such an arrangement, between a large distributor of video programming and other content and a large content provider, would dampen our ability to fully participate in our great democracy.

I agree that the public should remain suspect of the media and its influence on our ability to keep government accountable. The traditional and major news sources also spend too much time being duplicative. ABC gives me the same old information that CBS gives me. I mean, how many times do I have to hear that the captain of the Enterprise got busted or that John Boehner is a cry baby. The information they provide does not appear very diverse.

And yes, there are a small number of large news organizations that appear to have a lock on the voices being heard on the airwaves. The alphabet soup includes CNN, MSNBC, FOX, CNBC, and Bloomberg.

But even with an apparent dearth of news outlets, am I ready to throw in the towel on democracy? Of course not.

There is no lack of information. There is a dearth of citizen accountability for going after information. We choose and find excuses for being spoon-fed. If we can’t get the news and a Katie Couric smile in 24 minutes, we move on to Facebook and end up spending more than 24 minutes on-line. Between the libraries of our state universities and our public libraries, we have access to lots of information about how our government runs.

With the information that we glean from alternative sources, we can resort to the tried and true methods of message transmission, letter writing, phone calls, and personal visits, to influence the policy decisions of our representatives. The hang-up that critics like Free Press have is really not with democracy. It’s with the use of one medium, namely the Internet, by content providers.

The Internet is sexy, and gets sexier with every new app, blog, and social media network that gets its hooks into it. It’s the fear of “gatekeepers” like Comcast relegating these content providers to the back of the bus and forcing them to pay to play that has critics scared. They could care less about our ability to impact our representative government as long as the pipes on the Internet are clear enough to allow them to send out their messages.

In an information society with access to probably too much information, the real threat to democracy is not whether Comcast will allow me to go to Color of Change’s website. It’s whether Americans will take the time to pursue good information, no matter the source of the content or distribution, and use it.

FCC v. AT&T: Is it me or does the FCC just enjoy picking fights?

Just read FCC v. AT&T, 582 F3rd 490, United States Court of Appeals-3rd Circuit. The court remanded this case back to the Federal Communications Commission to determine whether disclosure of certain e-mails, names, other documents to the FCC by AT&T would amount to an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

The court held that the personal privacy exemption under the Freedom of Information Act was also applicable to AT&T because corporations were defined as persons under the statute. It appears instead that the FCC would rather the U.S. Supreme Court (see docket no. 09-1279) define once and for all what an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy is and more importantly clarify that FOIA defines corporations as persons.

That’s fine by me. A decision in favor of AT&T would pay dividends for broadband access providers. Even if net neutrality is not codified by statute (which it won’t be), being able to claim that a broadband access provider is exempt from providing requested information to third parties during a law enforcement action is a positive benefit not only to companies but also to their subscribers.

Is online privacy a property right?

Whenever I log into Facebook and share information with my FB posse, I usually wonder to myself, how much is Facebook making off of my information and insights?

Facebook, MySpace, etc., are all generating income derived from advertisements. Businesses buy ads based on the level of traffic coming to these sites and with over 500 million users that‘s a lot of traffic for Facebook.

Facebook is making money. They make money when I add friends because it means 410 possible sources of traffic. I get “friended” based partially on my profile. My thing is, why can’t I get a piece of that action? Where is my check? I don’t mind giving people access to my information, my content, my property if I can be compensated for it.

Unfortunately, this rational market approach is not even being considered by the privacy police. They would rather institute more privacy laws and regulations rather than recommending that Facebook pay us for appropriating our images and content. Let’s face it. If Americans were concerned about privacy, we wouldn’t be on the Internet much less use social media.

What we should do is implement a market-based mechanism that, through the power of price, would regulate the amount of our information allowed to be provided to third parties. If websites and credit card companies want the information, especially for the purposes of resale, they should buy it. If not, they should be legally liable for its use without permission.

A market based solution to privacy with the courts as arbiter should be explored before pursuing any additional regulations.