Posts tagged Thing

One Thing Is Missing From Facebook’s Research Guidelines: Respect For Its Users

When Facebook announced changes as to how it will conduct online research, there was one glaring omission in its new guidelines: There’s no mention of how the social network will treat its users moving forward.

Facebook faced quite the backlash from its emotional manipulation study published earlier this summer, in which it deliberately showed some users more positive or negative posts to see how they affected mood. In an effort to placate its critics with more transparency, the company issued new guidelines on Thursday to help it conduct online experiments more responsibly.

The framework includes a a more thorough vetting process for research proposals; a review panel that includes “senior subject-area researchers” and members of multiple teams at Facebook; a six-week training program to educate employees on research practices; and a new research website to publish Facebook’s academic studies.

See also: How To Opt Out Of Facebook’s Mind Altering Experiments

Facebook wants you to blindly trust it to be better, and not to worry about potentially becoming a participant in an experiment you didn’t sign up for. But Thursday’s blog post doesn’t instill that much confidence.

“What’s glaringly missing in this statement is the word ‘ethics’,” said Reynol Junco, an Iowa State professor and faculty associate at Harvard’s Berkman Center, in an interview. “There’s really no discussion of how they’re going to address the ethical concerns, and who their ethical experts are going to be, and what their ethical review process looks like.”

I spoke with Junco earlier this year, and he said the problem with the Facebook study—and what made it different from the research other companies conduct as a form of A/B testing—was the potential for harm in its experiments. As he said at th time:

Is what you get from the research worth doing the intervention, and if the answer is yes, what are you going to do to minimize the effects?  

Facebook is silent in this regard.

Clickwrap Consent

When Facebook first published the emotional contagion study, one of the biggest concerns was that the company did not get informed consent from users—meaning people had no idea they were a part of an experiment. Facebook manipulated people psychologically without getting their consent first.

The mood manipulation study may have been legal, but perhaps not ethical. According to The Atlantic, the experiments took place before any of the researchers consulted an institutional review board, which exist primarily to ensure the protection of human research subjects.  Facebook’s recent blog post says it will engage with the academic community, but doesn’t say if it will seek approval from review boards before doing similar research. 

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy watchdog organization, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission claiming Facebook broke the law when it ran the experiment. That’s because the social network didn’t state specifically in its data policy that user information could be used in research. 

Facebook has revised its policy since, although it’s not yet clear whether it that change sufficient “informed consent” for future research purposes.

“The devil’s in the details—it’s a nice statement, but how is this going to work in practice?” Junco said. “I don’t see any talk about how … strong the user protections are going to be. They don’t really say how this isn’t going to happen again—is it just going to happen again, and they’ll say, look, we have clear guidelines and we have a panel?”

The guidelines are a good start, though, and increased transparency is at least somewhat promising sign. Facebook plans to apply the guidelines to both internal and public-facing experiments, for what that’s worth.

Lead photo by Robert Scoble

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Dear Barry Bonds: Stop Trying To Make “Glassing” A Thing

Silicon Valley Street Style is a weekly feature that looks at the intersection of fashion, technology and taste.

Barry Bonds uploaded a photo on Twitter on Monday in which the former big-league superstar looked over the city of San Francisco—coffee cup in hand, Google Glass on his face, deep introspection in his eyes. 

“I’m glassing,” reads the superimposed caption. 

It’s a message I imagine said in Bonds’ voice, as if he were looming behind me and whispering “I’m glassing” into my ear with hot breath. 

And yet … why? 

Google, as we know, is doing its darndest to make its face computers socially acceptable to the masses, yet according to the myriad of flummoxed users, Bonds has nothing to do with the anti-Glasshole campaign. 

Bonds, it seems, is doing a solid for his pal, “visual storyteller” Anthony Phills, the guy behind “I’m Glassing,”  a project and magazine about the wearable—a project not sponsored by Google. 

Glassing is a term referring to wearing and using Google Glass, a word that Phills is trying to force into the modern day lexicon—joining the ranks of tech-words-turned-canon like “Googling” and “tweeting.” 

Phills and Bonds have a tough road ahead of them. What is the consensus about people wearing Google Glass? Google Glass has become the symbol of privilege and shamelessness, and willing to wear the device on your face conveys a sense of pseudo-intelligence, pseudo-clout.

From The Daily Show ripping apart Glass-wearers to the emergence of the term “Glasshole”, people who wear Google Glass are now seen as more of a punchline than anything. A person wearing Google Glass in public, especially in the Bay Area or at a tech event, exudes some sort of invisible people-repellant force that just makes everyone hate you. Everyone except your fellow Glassholes, that is.

Still … I think it works on Bonds. 

As a guy who is not of the tech world, he’s trying. I’ll readily roll my eyes at the people already invested in the Silicon Valley tech lifestyle who throw on a pair of Google Glass like a sign that says, “I know tech. And I’m wealthy.”

But Bonds is just getting into the whole social media thing, slapping Google Glass on, adapting to the times. As a figure so very integral to San Francisco culture, I feel as though Bonds is adopting Google Glass as if it were a peace offering to the city’s techie landscape. And I can’t fault him for that. Our tiny Silicon Valley bubble can be an angry, elitist bully sometimes and frankly I just want to take Barry Bonds by the hand and let him inside. 

Looking at this picture, I get the exact same feeling I get when I see old people who are happy. My heart swells. I tear a little. 

So “Glassing” is not a thing. So “Glassing” is a made-up term that Google doesn’t even want to associate with. So “Glassing” could already be in reference to totally unrelated things like using glass bottles as weapons or an attack move in Halo

So what? There’s a mixture of enthusiasm and being so out of touch that is reminiscent of every #dadjoke that’s ever been told. I have my doubts, but I support you, Barry. Keep on doing what you do. 

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The Most Important Thing To Do Before You Switch Mobile Carriers

The darker the shade, the better the service on Sensorly’s crowd-sourced service map.

With so many shiny new phones on the market this week, it wouldn’t be surprising if you’re thinking about switching mobile carriers for your next device.

See also: What Apple Announced: The iPhone 6, Apple Watch And More

If so, the most important thing to know before making the switch is whether that mobile carrier adequately serves your area. Sensorly and OpenSignal are both services that offers an unbiased take on whether it does or not.

Just put in your ZIP code and cellphone carrier (or prospective carrier) and either site will feed you a map. The deeper the color in your area, the better the service. Alternatively there’s Dead Cell Zones, which highlights just the opposite.

Of course, like with any free service, there is a catch. Sensorly is crowdsourced, so it’s only as accurate as its range and number of users: “Since our data is 100% user-generated, the more people who join the Sensorly Crowd and use the app, the more precise it gets.” OpenSignal is the same way, collecting anonymous data from its app users to create its maps.

See also: Motorola Launches A Phone For Your Budget

So when your options are this or your mobile carrier’s take, Sensorly and OpenSignal are certainly less biased than the alternative. Crowdsourced mobile maps are just another tool to consider if you’re in the market for a new phone.

Screenshot via Sensorly

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The Only Thing Samsung’s Not Into Is Restraint

Samsung’s much-anticipated Galaxy Note 4 was the least exciting announcement at its latest Unpacked press event this morning. 

The presentation, held in conjunction with the IFA show in Berlin, didn’t waste much time before unveiling a dizzying collection of other gadgets: A Note variation with a curved display called the Galaxy Note Edge, the Galaxy Gear S smartwatch, and the Gear VR virtual reality headset. 

See also: Galaxy Note 4 Rolls With An Entourage

Taken altogether, the message seems pretty clear: Standard smartphones and even phablets, those huge mash-ups of phone and tablet, are staid—boring, even. But don’t fret. Samsung’s here to change up that stale old mobile experience, figuring that at least one of its new gizmos is bound to be the next big thing in mobile.

Let’s take a look.

Galaxy Note 4

The Galaxy Note 4 is no slouch. It’s stronger and lighter than the Note 3, with metal framing, more durable glass and, by all accounts, an even nicer looking 5.7-inch screen.

The previous Note offered a 1920 x 1080 resolution, full HD super AMOLED screen; the new version delivers a Quad HD super AMOLED display with a resolution of 2560 x 1440, 30% more pixels.

The battery only got a slight bump from 3,200 mAh to 3,220 mAh. Samsung has borrowed power-saving features from the Galaxy S5, though, and claims that battery life has improved by 7.5%. It also souped up the charging time, giving the Note 4 the ability to charge to 50% in 30 minutes, not an hour.

The S Pen stylus now has double the pressure sensitivity of the previous stock stylus in order to make it feel more like writing with a real pen. Luxury pen maker Mont Blanc even created two special styli for the Note 4 called the Pix and the e-Starwalker—the company’s first digital writing implements that can also write on screens.

Other improvements: Better cameras in front (16 megapixels) and rear (a 3.7 megapixel front selfie cam with an F1.9 lens) that offer enhanced image stabilization and better low light performance, enhanced multitasking, and three new microphones that capture sound in eight directions. The idea is to improve noise cancellation, for clearer phone calls. (That’s right—some people still use their smartphones as phones.)

Note 4 users will choose from black, white, gold and pink when it lands on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and US Cellular in October. Bling lovers can even pick up a Swarovski crystal studded back cover. 

Galaxy Note Edge

Samsung wants to “change what consumers expect in a smartphone, all over again,” said company executive Gregory Lee. And thus, the company came up with the Galaxy Note Edge. It’s essentially the same phone as the Note 4, with an important difference: a curved display that yields an extra flap of screen on the right side.

Samsung has played with the notion of extra screen real estate before—the doomed Samsung Continuum from four years ago comes to mind. This time around, the separate screen sits under a continuous piece of curved glass. Indeed, the company looks like it just back-bended the existing display, which is possible due to the flexible screen technology it has been working on for years now.

To offer the extra screen space, the Edge shaved a little room off the side, measuring 5.6 inches instead of the Note 4’s 5.7 inches. What you end up with a single piece of glass curved at the side, that can show notifications, an app carousel, stocks or news tickers.

With this, the premise is to let users carry on with their primary screen activities, without alerts, news or incoming calls hijacking the main display. Instead, they appear unobtrusively on the side. So far, reviewers seem to be impressed.

But what really matters is what users think, and they haven’t embraced secondary displays in the past. Whether they will now depends a lot on developers, and whatever they can dream up for that extra sliver of screen. (Samsung is launching a software development kit to help them along.)

Like the Note 4, the Note Edge will hit all the major U.S. carriers, excluding US Cellular.

Samsung Gear S

Samsung’s increasingly crowded range of smartwatches got a new addition last week when the company announced the Gear S. Today, the public finally got to see one out in the wild—or at least onstage.

See also: Samsung’s New Gear S Smartwatch Looks Great

The company put some heavy emphasis on the fact that the Gear S has its own 3G cellular radio, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS location tracking. Once you’ve set it up (which requires a Note or Galaxy), you can use the watch alone for step tracking, running apps or placing calls (assuming you have the Gear Circle wireless headset, which was conspicuously absent from today’s events).

Samsung also made a big deal out of its health features—the Gear S comes with a heart-rate sensor, and can also track your steps and sync your activity to the cloud. But if the extraneous S Health features on Galaxy phones are any indication, Samsung’s take on fitness and health monitoring probably won’t make or break this device.

What might is the smartwatch’s design. Sure, the Gear S is huge, at 2 inches, but the curvature of its screen gives it an elegant and stylish appeal. In that way, the size works for it, turning the watch into a sort of fashionable cuff. 

The other crucial factor is what people will be able to do with the watch. The Gear S runs on Tizen, the company’s own operating system for mobiles and wearables—not Android. Potential customers may be concerned about a lackluster app inventory, but Samsung says more than 1,000 apps are ready for it.

The Gear S can hold up to 4GB of data and reportedly offers 2-day battery life. I’m a little skeptical about the latter, though, considering the meager 300 mAh power cell. It’s smaller than the LG G watch, and I was charging that thing every dang day.

Samsung Gear VR

Apparently the enemy of Samsung’s enemy is its friend. 

Samsung has been inching away from Google, trying to break free of its the golden handcuffs of the Android operating system—the search giant’s mobile software with millions of die-hard fans. It’s the reason the South Korean tech company developed and installed Tizen on several of its Gear watches, why it’s working on a Tizen-based smartphone, and likely factors into its decision to partner with the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift on these goggles.

Google looms large on this device for more reasons than one. Google Glass gets credit for accelerating the race for our faces, a competition that Facebook seems to have joined this year when it bought virtual reality startup Oculus Rift. Now the new Samsung Gear VR looks like a polished version of the cardboard VR goggles Google gave out at its I/O developer conference this summer.

It works pretty much the same way too. Just pop your Galaxy Note 4 in the front of the eyewear, and the goggles riff on the crystal clear super AMOLED screen to create an immersive virtual environment for the wearer. With the right software, the Gear VR can even offer a 360-degree view, processing and rendering the environment in less than 20 milliseconds. According to Oculus CTO John Carmack, the power, speed and beauty of the super AMOLED display is key for virtual reality, as they help reduce things like motion blur.

Like with most of the other gadgets, apps will be key here as well. What’s the point of virtual reality, if there isn’t much for you to see? Gaming seems like a natural fit for these goggles—with a phone seated inside, there aren’t even any cords to get tangled in, after all. But that’s not the only scenario.

With the Gear VR on, the user gets a viewing range akin to a monster 175-inch display. It’s like the biggest TV you can imagine, without the actual television. Samsung’s touting it as the Oculus VR Cinema, and as an initiative, it will live or die by the entertainment it can deliver. 

So far, Samsung has been working with a line up of partners, including Marvel, IMAX, Dreamworks, Warner Brothers, Vevo and others. But it needs Netflix, Hulu, HBO and other streaming heavyweights, otherwise it has little chance of taking off. 

Still, with these moves, Samsung’s clearly making a plea: If you’re bored with the current pace of mobile innovation, hold tight. We’ve got lots of exciting things on the way. (And maybe more importantly, please don’t forget us next week, when Apple’s press event takes place.)

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Why Robot Workers Aren’t A Bad Thing For Jobs

Robot usage in the global manufacturing industry has been climbing steadily since 2009, the MIT Technology Review reports.

Sourcing World Robotics, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the OECD, MIT found that robotic worker purchases increase every year. However, a closer look at the numbers indicates that robots aren’t taking jobs directly from human counterparts.

In Europe (except Germany), the numbers show that robot usage is up and human employment is down. In America, Germany, and South Korea, however, robot usage and human employment are up. It’s less an indication that robots are replacing people than evidence that German, American, and Korean cars are in demand. After all, the MIT research indicates that the automotive industry has embraced robots more so than any other industrial sector.

It’s hard to tell, but here’s a theory: when the economy is bad and sales are down, increased efficiency from robots keeps struggling auto industries afloat. When the economy is good and sales are up, robots and people both increase in number to meet demand. Robots require maintenance and oversight from humans, so if anything, more robots ought to mean more people when the economy demands it.

See also: Jibo’s Cynthia Breazeal: Why We Will Learn To Love Our Robots

Cynthia Breazeal, a former MIT Media Lab researcher who has gone on to create personal robot assistant Jibo, says the idea of robots stealing human jobs is an outdated one.

“There’s a knee-jerk reaction from the past about robots trying to replace people and take away jobs. But in reality that’s not quite what happens,” she said. “With any new technology, they take over the jobs that people don’t necessarily want to do anyway, and they create new jobs. They empower people to do more interesting work.”

Breazeal cited Race Against the Machine, an academic book about the way robots are transforming human employment. Instead of looking at robots as soulless usurpers, we should see them as tools designed by humans to help humans live—and work—better:

I think we need to do a better job communicating this new, more enlightened philosophy: robots are supplementing what people do. They’re meant to help support us and allow us to do the kind of work that humans in particular find much more interesting and much more fulfilling because humans are creative, humans do things that machines don’t. It’s really about teamwork.

View full post on ReadWrite

Why More Robot Workers Isn’t A Bad Thing For Jobs

Robot usage in the global manufacturing industry has been climbing steadily since 2009, the MIT Technology Review reports.

Sourcing World Robotics, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the OECD, MIT found that robotic worker purchases increase every year. However, a closer look at the numbers indicates that robots aren’t taking jobs directly from human counterparts.

In Europe (except Germany), the numbers show that robot usage is up and human employment is down. In America, Germany, and South Korea, however, robot usage and human employment are up. It’s less an indication that robots are replacing people than evidence that German, American, and Korean cars are in demand. After all, the MIT research indicates that the automotive industry has embraced robots more so than any other industrial sector.

It’s hard to tell, but here’s a theory: when the economy is bad and sales are down, increased efficiency from robots keeps struggling auto industries afloat. When the economy is good and sales are up, robots and people both increase in number to meet demand. Robots require maintenance and oversight from humans, so if anything, more robots ought to mean more people when the economy demands it.

See also: Jibo’s Cynthia Breazeal: Why We Will Learn To Love Our Robots

Cynthia Breazeal, a former MIT Media Lab researcher who has gone on to create personal robot assistant Jibo, says the idea of robots stealing human jobs is an outdated one.

“There’s a knee-jerk reaction from the past about robots trying to replace people and take away jobs. But in reality that’s not quite what happens,” she said. “With any new technology, they take over the jobs that people don’t necessarily want to do anyway, and they create new jobs. They empower people to do more interesting work.”

Breazeal cited Race Against the Machine, an academic book about the way robots are transforming human employment. Instead of looking at robots as soulless usurpers, we should see them as tools designed by humans to help humans live—and work—better.

“I think we need to do a better job communicating this new, more enlightened philosophy: robots are supplementing what people do. They’re meant to help support us and allow us to do the kind of work that humans in particular find much more interesting and much more fulfilling because humans are creative, humans do things that machines don’t. It’s really about teamwork.”

View full post on ReadWrite

Get Over The ‘Next Big Thing’: An Interview on SEO With Duane Forrester by @wonderwall7

Duane Forrester, a Senior Project Manager at Bing who oversees Webmaster Tools, has allowed us to start syndicating his well-written, thoughtful blog pieces on SEO. Over late night emails, he answered my questions on SEO, our industry, and why we need to stop waiting for the “next big thing”. In your first syndicated post for SEJ, you said, “Mostly what it means is that if a business is singularly focused (we’ll focus mainly on SEO this year, and focus on social later), you could be falling behind and not realize it.” That really stuck out to me. What are three strategies marketers […]

The post Get Over The ‘Next Big Thing’: An Interview on SEO With Duane Forrester by @wonderwall7 appeared first on Search Engine Journal.

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Right To Be Forgotten “Small Thing” Vs. Copyright Takedowns Says EU Commissioner

European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding was quoted in a BBC interview saying that the Right to Be Forgotten (RTBF) will be relatively easy for Google to administer. She asserted that, compared to the millions of copyright removal requests Google deals with, the thousands of RTBF requests…



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.

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Stack Overflow Founder’s Next Big Thing: Reinventing Online Communities

Jeff Atwood (@codinghorror) is one of the industry’s quiet legends of coding, most famous for co-founding what became Stack Overflow, the popular developer Q&A site that boasts more than 150 million page views per month.

What I find most interesting about Atwood, however, is his focus on trying to understand human behavior. He uses open source to create places on the Web where people are self-motivated to participate and share high quality information and advice with others for free.

His next endeavor aims to reinvent how we think about online discussion forums, those vital and yet often overlooked communities of like-minded individuals who stir up interesting conversations and help each other out with problems (technical or otherwise). Atwood not only wants to reenvision these fora, he wants to help them scale to manage even greater growth.

I recently caught up with Atwood to talk about his new project, Discourse, a competitor to Jive and Lithium, among others. Discourse is the forum software powering Ubuntu’s online community and the popular news and culture site BoingBoing, which alone attracts four million monthly unique visitors. If you’re in the Bay Area on June 19, you can catch Atwood speaking on a panel at ForumCon (organized by VigLink) in San Francisco about the future of discussion on the Web.

Making Self-Governance Work

ReadWrite: Stack Overflow is the most popular Q&A site in the world for developers. What is the secret sauce and what types of lessons learned are you bringing over from Stack Overflow to forums?

Jeff Atwood: The central theme of Stack Overflow (and Stack Exchange) is self-governance. The only kind of moderation that scales with the community is the community. At Discourse, we believe deeply in empowering the people who show up every day and demonstrate that they care about their community, the people in it, and the way that community presents itself to the world. Who takes care of public parks? We all do. And everyone benefits.

This natural trust level progression at Discourse is handled in a much more subtle way than the overt reputation system at Stack Exchange. Discussion platforms are generally about social discussion and sharing opinions, not publicly verifiable data, facts and science. The two most important factors we look at are reading (aka listening) and consistent participation over time.

There’s also a system of community flagging that is factored in, that lets the community collectively edit its own behavior even in the absence of any formal moderators. Through the trust system, Discourse communities develop a natural immune system that repels the trolls, spam, and hate that eventually tear apart communities on other forum software.

RW: How important is open source to what you do? Or does it matter at all?    

JA: At Stack Overflow we released all Q&A under a Creative Commons license so that people could use the content elsewhere if Stack Overflow ever shut down or started charging for subscriptions. This was our guarantee to the community: If you spend time here and contribute your time to assist other developers, we can’t take that away from you, or anyone else. Ever.

Similarly, Discourse is 100% open source, licensed under the GPL. The type of people that can build a community tend to be famous, and already have their own empires. With an open-source license, we can give them a great community platform with no risk, because nobody, including we, can ever take the underlying code away from them.

Change in a community is difficult enough without being locked in to proprietary, expensive platforms.

Most traditional forums ship with a default “we own all your content” license for user submissions, which we think is bad for users and bad for the web. The default Discourse license for user submissions is Creative Commons. People who contribute to a community deserve shared rights to their contributions, along with the greater web. After all, they built it.

Open source also means the project can evolve faster via a worldwide network of community contributions. Discourse is already one of the top 40 most Starred projects on GitHub, and it only launched in 2013. The community has translated Discourse into 17 languages. They’ve also developed a range of plug-ins to extend the features of Discourse.

Scale That Mountain

RW: With Stack Exchange getting 150 million page views each month, you obviously know about scalable systems. Can you give some advice to our readers?

JA: There are two types of scale. I’ve already explained some of the human factors related to scaling a community of people, and that’s a far deeper challenge. We’ve built Discourse with mature, scalable open-source web technologies: Ruby, Javascript, Redis, and PostgreSQL. We’re also using Docker for deployment. As you would expect from the founder of Stack Overflow, we use proven software engineering techniques. Discourse is a project designed to last for a decade and scale to millions of users.

RW: How can people monetize forums?

JA: There’s the obvious method of advertising with VigLink, Google Ads, or similar ad networks. You can also charge community members an optional fee to participate. Forums can also be a great marketplace to buy and sell unique goods, such as vintage clothing, sneakers, or watches. In exchange for easy buying and selling facilities, the forum takes a small percentage.

We hope to create the same thriving business ecosystem around Discourse that currently exists for WordPress. For example:

  • Design. Businesses will want their Discourse communities to have their own branded look and feel. Web designers can use standard CSS/HTML to offer custom Discourse design services.
  • Themes. In the future, we expect there to be a market for standard Discourse themes.
  • Plug-ins. We currently have support for plug-ins and the infrastructure for building (and finding) plugins is something we’re working hard on.
  • Hosting. There are already a number of hosting providers and open source packaging services offering Discourse.
  • Consulting. For experts in Discourse who can assist businesses in rolling out deployments, customizing them, and maintenance.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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Why Net Neutrality Became A Thing For The Internet Generation

The Platform is a regular column by mobile editor Dan Rowinski. Ubiquitous computing, ambient intelligence and pervasive networks are changing the way humans interact with everything.

FCC commissioner Mike O’Rielly had just finished torrid remarks opposing the notice for proposed rulemaking over the open Internet yesterday when a young woman in the crowd got to her feet and started yelling.

“I speak on behalf of the Internet generation, we vote for a free and open Internet….” She didn’t get much further than that. She tried to say something about Title II and common carriers, but was promptly picked up by security and taken out the door.

Everybody and their mothers (especially FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s mother, apparently) are up in arms about this net neutrality thing. Why now? Net neutrality has been an idea, and occasionally a set of somewhat spotty regulations, kicking around the Internet for years, and the public hasn’t ever much seemed to care.

Even a week ago, if you’d ask people for their thoughts on “common carrier” regulation or “Title II” or “paid prioritization,” you’ll probably get a lot of blank stares. (Now, though, they can study up with ReadWrite explainer on everything you need to know about net neutrality and the FCC.)

But American citizens are sure paying attention now. I mean, who really goes to a FCC open meeting to shout down the commissioners? 

People have come to realize the undeniable and basic fact that the Internet is the platform of the 21st century. This isn’t just about the World Wide Web, smartphones, apps, the Internet of Things or smart cities. This is the whole shebang, the entire substructure that underpins the digital age.

And people have also come to realize that their freedom and privacy on the Internet face some very real threats from some very large corporations and organizations. 

Quick Thoughts: Google Play Accepts PayPal

You might not think it a big deal, but the fact that Google Play now accepts PayPal as a payment method caused a big debate in the ReadWrite newsroom. In my mind, this is just another way for Google to allow people across the world pay for apps and media, just like all the new payment methods it added to Google Play Services at I/O last year. But our Editor-in-Chief Owen Thomas believes it signifies much more.

PayPal and Google have battled over the payments space for a long time, though the fight has been pretty one-sided; PayPal has emerged as the dominant company in online transactions. Is the PayPal partnership with Google Play an admission of defeat by Google, one that implies its Wallet product is basically dead and useless? I have covered Google fairly closely for years and Owen has covered PayPal since its Series A funding in the late 1990s. We have diverging opinions.

To me, the partnership looks like business as usual. Google is setting up new developer services ahead of I/O 2014 and PayPal’s goal is to move horizontally through the tech industry and make partnerships with everybody. What do you think? Let us know in the comments.

The Internet Generation, per that FCC protestor, has been emboldened. These are people jaded by news of the NSA’s incessant digital spying and their Internet providers’ complicity in it. These are individuals that hold little goodwill for the cable and cellular carriers that keep foisting higher Internet service fees on them while also imposing bandwidth caps and other restrictions. Complaining about your Comcast or Verizon bill has become a national hobby.

There’s plenty of precedent for this activism. Demonstrations against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and CISPA actually derailed changes that many saw as bad for the Internet, fueled by a culture of dissent stemming from the Occupy movement and protests against the tech industry in San Francisco. Many in this generation appear to be wary of wealth, wary of mega-corporations and ready to light up at a moment’s notice to protect what they think is just and right.

An open Internet governed by net neutrality rules seems to strike many of them as just and right.

This generation, after all, has grown up the Internet as a ubiquitous and ever-present utility. It’s a generation that doesn’t think of broadband as an information service—it has no memory of Usenet, or bulletin boards or AOL or Web “portals”—but a utility like water or electricity. This generation wants its broadband access on tap, on demand, for a fair and reasonable price.

The Title II Panacea May Not Be

Net-neutrality supporters are suspicious of an FCC that has twice failed to protect an open Internet—most recently, when it lost a court battle to Verizon over its ability to regulate broadband as an “information service.” That ruling brings us straight to this week, where the FCC is trying, yet again, to create rules for net neutrality that it can actually enforce.

Supporters now believe that if the FCC re-classifies broadband providers as “common carriers” under its authority via Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, then all will be hunky-dory with net neutrality.

Title II is most likely the FCC’s strongest legal choice. Its other option—cobbling together authority under Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act—would be a much trickier proposition, and might well get overruled again in court.

Broadband providers already act like common-carrier utilities when it suits their purposes. According to a report from the Public Utility Law Project this week, Verizon has played the Title II card to build its broadband infrastructure in New York and New Jersey when it was convenient to use public infrastructure to do so. Basically, Verizon is using public utilities to help build its broadband system (and often doing a bad job of it). Through its actions, companies like Verizon basically show that they are public utilities and hence should be regulated as such.

Quote Of The Day: “I don’t like the idea that the internet could be divided into haves and have-nots, and I will work to see that that does not happen. In this item we have specifically asked whether and how to prevent the kind of paid prioritization that could result in fast lanes.” ~ FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler during the commission’s open meeting yesterday.

But here’s the kicker: Title II would give the FCC greater power to regulate broadband providers as common carriers, but that doesn’t mean the FCC will necessarily use it wisely.

The issue that has everybody up in arms is paid prioritization, which could allow for the Internet “fast lanes” (allowing broadband providers to charge companies more for faster Internet service). And paid prioritization is an issue because FCC chairman Tom Wheeler first floated the idea of formalizing the practice in FCC regulation last month.

And the proposed rules the FCC released yesterday still contain significant loopholes that would permit paid prioritization, despite Wheeler’s rhetorical insistence that he will fight fast lanes to the end. 

If the FCC goes down the Title II route—and successfully defends itself against the inevitable lawsuits—it will have the wherewithal to regulate the Internet for good or ill. Public pressure has already forced it to support net neutrality, at least rhetorically. More will be necessary to make sure it follows through, particularly once the spotlight of public attention moves on.

It’s equally possible to imagine a future FCC—say, one dominated by free-market advocates under a Republican administration—smuggling Internet fast lanes back into its regulatory scheme. Giving the FCC power to regulate broadband as a utility might seem like a great idea, but proponents of net neutrality should be careful what they wish for.

More On The FCC, Title II And Net Neutrality

Lead photo via Wikimedia Commons

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