Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Jan 19

Predictions for 2015: Ad v. Subscription Journalism Fight Gets Deadly

Posted: under Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

As the “New” wears off of “New Media,” investors start to expect results

Years ago, I did the first big case study for the NAA, back when newspaper revenues were in free fall, and publishers were desperately flailing around for a revenue stream – any revenue stream – that might provide a lifeline with their news organizations. At the time, paywalls were still a very dirty word with the digerati, as they seemed to reflect the very worst of Old Media Thinking.

Annenberg Media Center converged newsroom

Is the modern newsroom going to turn into something of an ad production studio? Or will there be some other way for it to survive?

Information wants to be free after all, and back then, there were some very prominent failures with trying to get people to pay for content. El Pais, which had been the market leading national newspaper of Spain, put up a paywall in the early 2000s, and then three years later, took it down after it had basically destroyed their standing in the marketplace. El Pais spent millions of dollars trying to win back the audience that had deserted them.

But then along came the crash in 2008, and the bottom fell out of the ad market (again). This time, unlike the dot-com crash of 2001, the revenues did not bottom out in 6 months, and then start climbing back again. No, this time there were insidious new technologies on the rise that have pretty much destroyed the value of the banner ad: the rise of RTB (real-time bidding) or “programmatic ad buying.”

In a nutshell, RTB allows an advertiser to reach an audience, no matter where it is on the web. Say you want to reach housewives under 35 with kids in school, who looked at washing machines in the past year. No problem. Just sign up with a programmatic bidding outlet, and you can buy banner ads across the internet that will deliver you that audience.

Great for advertisers. Disastrous for publishers.

Why? Well, because the supply of space on the web is basically infinite. That means our old friends supply and demand kick in – with a vengeance. The result has been that CPMs for ads are on a race to rock-bottom. Banner advertising is essentially going to be utterly worthless soon, which means that there is going to have to be yet another shift in how premium content publishers support themselves.

And no, we cannot just crank up subscription rates to the point where the readers pay for everything. Even at the mighty New York Times, with its much-lauded paywall, there is a recognition that doubling the subscription rates will pretty much kill the business. Not to mention the fact that putting all good & decent information behind a paywall pretty much ensures that anyone without means – that is, ordinary folks – are going to have to subsist on a diet of cheap&shoddy news. Yep. Find the flaw in that plan.

The situation gets even more dire when we consider the headlong rush to the mobile web. Banner ads are even less effective and valuable there – here, take it from the New York Times again:

The appeal of being able to buy targeted audiences at scale and the simple efficiency of automated advertising makes it a no brainer for most advertisers, and thus most publishers.

Meanwhile, the shift to mobile makes developing effective native ads even more important because, as Levien says, “we have not yet arrived at an effective interruptive format, a banner format, in mobile”.

Social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter are taking the lion’s share of mobile ad revenue in part because their ads come in the same container as the rest of their content, which works better on mobile devices. The thinking is that publishers need to do the same to compete.

…and here at last we arrive at what is shaping up to be the big fight of 2015. Call it “native advertising,” call it “content marketing,” call it what you will. It’s advertising messages that are inextricably mixed into the news content on news sites. You’ve already seen it in your Facebook feed, on Twitter, on blogs, hell, for the longest time, even in the midst of radio shows.

Why is this going to be A Thing? Well, check out what John Oliver has to say about it:

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Aug 18

Why newspapers are losing subscribers: “failure of the last mile”

Posted: under newspaper crisis, Newspapers.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Web-native companies strive to eliminate “transactional friction.” Newspapers? Not so much.

I’ve been a subscriber to the LA Times for as long as I’ve lived in Los Angeles, and I’ve watched as the big beast evolved from a gray morass of 100-inch stories to the biggest (and most profitable) paper in the U.S. in the late 90s. Which has made the last decade and a half so very hard to watch. Still, I’ve stuck by Gray Lady West through some very tough times, and I have many friends who either work there now, or have in the recent past.

grinder throwing sparks

“Frictionless commerce” is what makes iTunes, Amazon, Google AdSense, Craigslist and so many other web titans so successful. It means that you make it as easy as possible for customers to actually buy something from you. (Image credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons)

As newspapers increasingly set their sights on a “digital first” strategy (despite some notorious recent flameouts), it occurs to me that they are neglecting one of the most crucial, and overlooked departments in the entire organization: circulation. I got unpleasant evidence of this when I attempted to renew my subscription to the Times.


 

First: a lesson in what “failure of the last mile” means: consider what goes into making a successful restaurant. You have to have a prime location. Decorate the exterior. Decorate the interior. Hire a great chef. Hire great kitchen assistant chefs. Come up with an innovative menu, with food that appeals to your core demographic. Procure the freshest ingredients. Ensure that the food prep space is clean and gets an “A” from the city inspectors. Advertise. Market. Give out coupons. Sweet-talk reviewers into coming and writing reviews. Have valet parking. And so much, much more that all leads up to the “last mile” – what the experience is like at the “touch point” where the customer actually engages with the product.

In a nutshell: all this effort in preparation to make a great restaurant counts for nothing if the waiter is snotty to the diners.

I’ve seen this in action again and again with the startups I’ve been involved with. Early on, we faced epic levels of “cart abandonment” when trying to coerce people into making a purchase, because (at the time) people were really, really reticent to type their credit card numbers, expiration dates and security codes into a browser window. Since then, we’ve obviously learned that data theft can pretty much happen anywhere. However, this hurdle was gradually overcome via the efforts of eBay, Amazon, iTunes and PayPal. All of which add layers of security, and money-back guarantees if your card gets hijacked and used to buy pallets of AK-47s in Cote d’Ivoire.

So here’s what trying to buy a subscription from the LA Times looks like. You dial a number. There’s a choppy, slow voicemail hell, with choices that really don’t seem to apply to what you want to do. There is no dedicated 800 number for renewing subscriptions – you just get dumped into the bin with people who want to report their paper getting stolen, or who want to turn it off while they go visit the grandkids. So that’s turnoff #1. Even as a dedicated subscriber, I wanted to hang up and just try the website to see if I could get a better experience. Still, I hung in there to see whether things would improve.

It took 3 steps and 2 minutes to get to a place where I could finally start to accomplish what I came for. Unfortunately, rather than talking with a human – I had to manually enter a credit card number over touch-tone. That’s Strike Two, folks. If you’re going to be giving up that kind of info, consumers kinda want to get rewarded with a human voice, particularly if they have any queries about what they’re buying and how much it costs. Which I did.

So I grimly stuck to it, even after entering my financial information, hoping to get someone on the phone to explain the rather complex choices on payment amounts and term of subscription that came on the paper bill I was mailed. Pressing the “0” button just kicked me back into the main menu. Somewhere along the line, as the frustration increased, I heard that I had to “Press 9 to Speak to a Representative.” Only, that kicked me back to the main menu as well.

Finally, I started doing “button mashing” which usually triggers a kickout script in the automated phone-tree software. Call centers have learned that when they have tortured consumers to the point where we start just randomly pushing buttons and screaming with frustrated rage, maybe it’s time for some human intervention.

Sure enough, there was a silent blip as the call was transferred to a call center. Not in India – the costs for call centers have gone up there. No, this one was to the new lowest-cost call center hub – in the Phillippines. The operator was friendly enough, but the problem started when I asked about the payment terms. Under the subscription plan they now offer, the LA Times gives me unlimited web access (which is mostly how I engage with their news product these days no surprise), and charges me about $12 every two months. But looking at the rate card I was mailed, it seemed as though they were trying to incentivize me to subscribe for 6 months or an entire year by offering price breaks for these longer-term commitments.

So sure. Maybe if you let me shave a few bucks off the bill, I’ll pay you the whole amount upfront and let you make some money off the “float” of having my entire wad of subscription money that you can earn interest on. It’s one of the ways that smart companies entice consumers into locking themselves into making a yearlong commitment.

Unfortunately, the call center operator had no earthly idea of the pricing structure for the product she was trying to sell.

After having to verify (for the 3rd time on this now 15-minute call) my phone number, address, name, credit card number, etc., just asking how much I was going to pay flummoxed this person. I was quoted three different prices for the subscription I now have. I corrected the operator a couple of times, and finally after teaching her about the product she was trying to sell, got to the bottom line.

I can pay $12 every two months for the next year. Or I can pay $83 up front to “lock in” the subscription price.

Waitaminute.

Let’s do the math here.

If I pay every two months, that’s six payments a year, right? Simple math: 6 payments x $12 = $72 a year.

And you want me to pay $83 upfront in one lump sum? How does that make financial sense? I’d be paying MORE for a yearlong subscription rather than saving a few bucks.

The operator stammered and then went back to the script of “locking in the subscription price.”  Well, is the price going to go up then? No. I don’t know. Maybe.

By how much? I don’t know. When? I don’t know. But it might. Is there anyone else I can talk to about this? Not right now.

OK, at this point, I hung up. Deconstructing this entire experience, from a webconomics point of view, this is an absolute disaster. The LA Times has made it difficult and frustrating for existing subscribers to attempt to continue to be subscribers. They’ve cut costs in their circ department by outsourcing all the call center jobs to places where ill-trained people stumble over what should be easy points. And finally, their pricing structure makes no sense once you drill down and work the numbers for yourself. And the numbers are completely different on the web, in the mailers, according to the people on the phone. The price just keeps changing!

This makes it impossible for the end-user (i.e. subscriber) to trust the prices that we’re being given. Yeah, it’s only a few bucks, but come on, now. You guys know – or SHOULD KNOW – how consumers react when they start to suspect that someone else is getting a better deal.

I’ve written at length over the years about the migration from an ad-supported revenue model to a subscription-based model (AKA “paywalls”). The jury’s still out on how well this is going to work out for the newspaper industry; yes, the New York Times, Financial Times and Wall Street Journal are often cited as success stories (although detractors point to weaknesses in their underlying dynamics). News organizations across the board are looking to ways that they can support themselves by charging subscriptions to access their material.

This only works when that transaction is quick, easy and painless.

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Jan 12

NMX – Blogger Tools

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs.
Tags: , , , , , ,

The blogging community is notoriously hard to please. Check out the vitriolic tweets directed at the poor victims who dared to sit onstage at the close of the NMX convention, talking about “Inventing the Future.”

Check out the silvery television-headed robots:

20130112-143237.jpg

Despite the rather ugly tone at the end, there were some creative attempts at serving the pajama-clad tech nerd lynch mob:

First, there were the somewhat shellshocked crew behind the counter at the BlackBerry booth. They were apparently laboring under the misconception that there are actually talented developers in the world that, given a choice, would pour their time and energy into creating an app for their platform.

20130112-141307.jpg

If there is a clearer indication that upper management at BlackBerry is delusional and out of touch, I haven’t seen it.

The signs plaintively exhort the fictional mobile developers to “blog about it!” Not sure if publicly acknowledging that you’ve just wasted your time & effort on a platform that’s got one foot in the gave and the other on a banana peel should be seen as a complicated cry for help, or a confession of bad business judgement.

Next, the folks at Readz, promising “Simply Beautiful Tablet Publishing.” I’ve been grinding my mental gears on the various tablet-publishing solutions for the past two years, most recently with Atavist, iBook Creator, and the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. What I’ve learned is that these tools promise much, but run headlong into the contradictions inherent in this chaotic new space.

20130112-141617.jpg

For example, there are the crazy quilt screen resolutions, video formats and typographic specs. Ad then there’s the whole horizontal/vertical screen orientation layout problem. IBook Creator is particularly ugly and opaque on this issue — your layout will look fine one way, but flip the iPad the other way, and some elements will show up and others … won’t. No rhyme nor reason to it either.

Meanwhile, the InDesign files churned out contain such spaghetti code that you are directed to open them in Dreamweaver to clean up the CSS3 and HTML 5.

I’ll give Readz a spin, even though they inexplicably have “Wilson” the volleyball from Castaway as part of the booth decor.

20130112-141902.jpg

I did like the quirky spirit displayed by the WordPress “Happiness Bar,” where they touted the fact that the WordPress platform is being used by everyone from giant corporations to “your dad’s book club.” The folks there were talking about vague plans for better ecommerce plugins.

If someone were to come up with an open-source PayPal, that would really rock a lot of worlds. The challenges would be enormous – whenever there’s money involved on the web, you WILL get haxxors. It’s inevitable. Then again, getting out from under a corporate monolith that is vulnerable to pressure (such as in the Wikileaks case) would be a step in the direction of international press freedom.

20130112-142015.jpg

Next up, Raven. I’ve been looking at them for a while – they’ve been struggling for a long time, trying to compete with Radian6, Crimson Hexagon, et al. They seem to be engaged in a re-branding pivot, trying to go to the low-end blogger side of the spectrum, to sell us indie freaks the long-awaited way to monetize our audience(s).

They’re offering a 30-day free trial, and that alone differentiates them from the competition.

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UStream was one of the big sponsors for the conference, and they (allegedly) worked to fatten the backhaul pipes so that the bloggers in attendance could all either upload live streaming video of themselves, or download everyone else’s livestreams. Which is kind of a strange thought-exercise: an entire conference room full of people all looking at themselves looking at each other on their ubiquitous tablets.

I’ve worked with clients over the past few years to use UStream to give their fanbase and users access to live events. Where it starts getting tricky is when you want to archive the events and make them available to the audience later, or even store them on your own site’s multimedia library.

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May 28

State of Media in East Africa: “Mover and Shakers” Interview for AfroFM

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, new media, Video.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

UPDATE: The first video below was erroneously a duplicate of video #3. I blame the shoddy connection I had – I am thrilled that the videos made it up to YouTube at all, frankly, and it took me an hour and several tried to get this post to publish, so I had some version-control issues. Anyway, I’ve fixed it so that vid #1 is now the proper first part, in which we talk about the persistent power of radio.

The more I learn about how the media operates in East Africa, the more I think this is going to be a fascinating area to watch over the next few years. The conditions here are ripe for some really interesting changes – we are going to see in this microcosm what the effects are of empowering a population that is still stuck with only one-way information flow (largely via radio – please see video #1, below) to suddenly leapfrog into the ubiquitous mobile web-fueled connectivity that we see in places like Japan, Korea and (to an extent) China.

BACKGROUND: A couple of weeks ago, I had a meeting with the CEO of Fana Broadcasting. At that time, I was told that the plan was to install 4G mobile connectivity throughout the country. I have since learned that the contract looks like it is going to be awarded to a giant Chinese telecom company. This is not necessarily good news. The suspicion among the journalists is that the infrastructure contract has been given to the Chinese because they have pledged to include many of the down-and-dirty spyware and censorship features that are common to the internet behind the Great Firewall of China. Also: it is rumored that the Chinese outbid US and European companies for this huge contract, because the government of China is (illegally?) subsidizing the work, secretly funneling money under the table to the ostensibly private-sector telecom company, to allow it to do billions of dollars of work for 1/20th the price. Conspiracy theories abound here; in the absence of any hard facts or verification, people always assume the worst.

At any rate: the plan is to wire up all the major cities and towns with 4G wireless internet service. One of the big reasons expressed for that is that the Powers that Be have noticed that on just about every roof, you can see a satellite dish. Those dishes are bringing news, information and TV programs into households from TV providers outside of Ethiopia. They want to jump-start their own domestic news and entertainment industry, to start to produce high-quality content, to lure audience away from these international sources. Part of this is to foster a sense of national unity: to expose Ethiopians to news, movies and TV series that star Ethiopians, speaking Amharic, and referring to matters that are of concern to Ethiopians (and eventually, to citizens of the surrounding countries, none of which really has their own video/web content production infrastructure). Part of it is to start building up the kind of media-production capabilities that might allow Ethiopia to start exporting its culture to the international marketplace; from what I have seen here, there is certainly an opportunity for the kind of smart, dedicated artists here to start changing the international perception of this place, which is still stuck in the famine years.

Anyway, in the first part of the interviews I did with Samson Tesfaye, for his show “Movers and Shakers” on AfroFM, we talk about what things are like in the present day – where the vast majority of the rural populations in Ethiopia still rely on what they hear over the radio as their main (perhaps only) source of news and information.

The next part of the interview, we focus on the impact of social media in East Africa. At this time, Sami says that social media is not having the kind of disruptive effects we see in North Africa, where the Arab Spring is still very much alive and kicking, or to the south in Kenya, where the technology scene is vibrant and lively.

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Nov 10

Ukrainian Professors Play with New iPad 2s

Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, Online Video, Ukraine.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

…in the courtyard of the Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism

I’ve got great video of everyone having a blast, experimenting with the new guerilla-style video production tactics I’ve been teaching them — I showed them how to use the front and rear-facing cameras on their iPads to shoot video. Here, they are working on producing “establishing shots” using whatever equipment is available to you at the time; in this case, it means holding the iPad up in front of your face and doing slow 360s, talking to the camera, so the audience can see for themselves what the landscape around you looks like.

journalism professors playing with ipads

They absolutely loved their brand-new iPad 2s. It was like seeing little kids getting handed Magic Mirrors. They were polite enough for most of the day, but about mid-afternoon, I just lost them in the wilds of the App Store. Also - I will never understand how the Ukrainian women manage to walk down these uneven, treacherous ancient cobblestone streets in stiletto heels.

I also taught them the basics of shot selection, framing, the Rule of Thirds, and some basic stuff about editing and shot sequencing as a means to create emotion. It was about a semester’s worth of material crammed into a one-day lecture, but at least I opened them up to what is possible, and where they can go to try to learn more on their own.

This is still a beautiful city, even if the sky in unrelenting slate gray, and the wind from Siberia knifes right through you after the sun goes down…

At night, the streets of Kiev are filled only with the rumble and clatter of Dr. Zhivago trolley cars, and the whistling north wind. The architecture here is like the people; kind of battered, but still full of character. Resilient.

I haven’t gotten to see as much of this city as I would like; I’ve always been working too hard, or pretty much exhausted & creaking from the demented flight schedule it takes to get here from Los Angeles. Still, the little I have been able to discover on my own has been delightful.

ukrainian student concentrates on the screen

This time around, my students arrived in my classes with significant New Media skills. Some of them were already creating infographics, and this girl is already ghost-blogging for big financial companies. As you can see, she is quite determined; meanwhile, behind her, another of my more active and vocal students gasps in horror at the convoluted assignments I have inflicted on the class...

One of the greater joys of this class was seeing my students help each other out. When they got stuck with some of my more technically challenging exercises, they reached out to each other, and shouted advice back and forth across the classroom.

There is no better feeling for me. I am only here for such a very short time; I keep wishing that I had an entire semester to really reach deep into these young people, to help them draw out their skills & refine them. But seeing their willingness to follow me down these strange multimedia pathways, and to help each other out along the way … leads me to believe that they will continue to help each other out after I am gone.

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Oct 18

JetPack: the Always-Open University Library that Fits in Your Pocket

Posted: under Design.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

…but without the annoying biology grad student who is using himself as a human guinea pig to see if it’s possible to survive for 3 months on a diet of only beer, vitamin pills and broccoli florets. 

the website for jetpack

The switchover to all-digital textbooks is happening faster than predicted. I'm not too sure about reading an entire text on a smartphone screen, but for in-between class cramming, or getting instant updates to course material, it's not a bad choice.

I’d love to say that this is it, we’ve found the perfect replacement for textbooks, but from what I can see here, this is still a very limited solution. They are also trying to accomplish something that is unbelievably complex. I know, because we’ve been trying to do the same thing: come up with a way to create once-publish many.

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Jul 01

Ethiopia New Media Training

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, new media, newspaper crisis, Online Video, Video.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The clash of ancient and modern is never more stark than in these developing nations

I’ve been in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the last week, training the local journalists and government information officers (aka PR flacks) on how best to take advantage of the way that “New Media” is creating new ways of connecting with each other, and the world at large. I’m here as part of the same US Embassy program that has sent me to places like Chile, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Costa Rica, etc., to try to bring people the benefits of experience (aka the way newspapers & TV news has imploded in the U.S.), so they can start planning for the Great Digital Migration.

dave lafontaine teaches video editing to tv journalists in ethiopia

This is my class of TV journalists at Addis Ababa University (AAU). I tried to cram as much about online video and sharing into my short sessions as I could. Here, I'm showing how to use both professional tools like Adobe Premiere Pro CS5, as well as free alternatives like Windows Movie Maker.

The one thing that everyone here agrees on is that Ethiopia desperately wants to change its international image – c’mon, admit it. When you think of Ethiopia, what images come to mind? Deserts, starving people, vultures, Live Aid, right?

Well, it’s not like that any more. In fact, if you look around at the Addis Ababa skyline, you’ll mostly see cranes and highrise towers under construction. The real-estate bubble that burst and devastated the rest of the world never took hold here.

cows in the streets of addis ababa

There are still many reminders that the ancient ways of living are still very much in existence here in Addis, but please also note all the other markers of modernity in this shot.

However, they are facing many of the same challenges as the rest of the world, at least when it comes to the emergence of the internet, and the struggles of newspapers, radio and TV stations to come to grips with social media, and the ability of anyone to become a publisher/broadcaster/internet troll.

dave lafontaine and the owner of sheger fm

The very first place I visited was Sheger FM, the one independent radio station in Ethiopia. This is the courageous owner, who is really struggling to walk the razor's edge here in Addis.

 

I’ve found many of the same behaviors and attitudes I’ve encountered in the other places that I’ve done web/online video/social media training sessions – stubborn insistence that things will never change, toxic skepticism, and even outright hostility.

After a bit of a rocky start, these guys really came around and appreciated the hands-on lessons I gave them on how to do live video stand-up reports and how to compress video into the best codec to upload to YouTube. The Nelson Mandela building is a challenge, though; between the thin air at this 8000-foot altitude, and having to haul my big carcass up 5 (five) steep flights of stairs, the first few minutes of every class were mostly spent huffing and puffing, and hoping that someone in the class had a particularly insightful comment.

 

dave lafontaine and his tv production class in front of the nelson mandela building at addis ababa university 

Dave LaFontaine and his tv production class in front of the Nelson Mandela building at Addis Ababa university in Ethiopia.

 

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Mar 22

Cookie Abuse: Absurd Expiration Dates & How to Fix This

Posted: under Conspiracy Theories, Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Doop-de-doop, just adjusting the settings on Safari so’s it doesn’t keep opening up a new window every time I click a link. It’s one of the default settings in Safari that I really deplore. Maybe this made sense back when Safari first came out, and it was common to open new instances of a browser when you were doing something complicated like (gasp!) viewing two of the literally dozens of websites that were then in existence — at the same time! Wowee-zowie! It makes no sense for Safari to have defaults that make it act like Internet Explorer 3.0 or Netscape Navigator.

(Aside: have you ever tried to explain to someone younger than 20 what it was like to be “mousetrapped” back in the day? Do any of you remember what being “mousetrapped” on your browser was like? Hello? Is this thing on…?)

Anyway, I happened to click on the Security tab and then the Show Cookies button. Here’s what I saw:

list of absurd expiration dates for browser cookies

This is a short list of the cookies on my Mac. I've expunged some of the scary-looking hexcode on the right. Pay attention to the dates in the column in pink.

Yeah, that’s right. Some of the cookies on my computer won’t expire until nearly 30 years after I hit my 100th birthday. Most of the others will (supposedly) stay resident and not expire for another quarter-century.

Who does this? I mean, really? Is it really sensible in any way to assume that this computer, as much as I love & use it on a daily basis, will still be alive and kicking in more than 10 years? Or even 5? Have these guys even heard of Moore’s Law? I’m not bumming specifically on Lynda.com, because there are many other offenders, different only in degree.

But really, this is user abuse. Why would you cram something onto my machine that is so obviously useless, unless

  1. You figure your average user is too thickwitted to actually delete their cookies regularly, the way most websavvy users do (or at least try to – more about that in a bit)
  2. You arbitrarily picked a date far into the future because you couldn’t be bothered to take the extra 30 seconds to actually consider the needs of your audience;
  3. You are being sneaky and underhanded, and you’re either planting what amounts to spyware on my computer, or you are actively engaging in the practice of Zombie Cookies.

It is #3 above that really gets my goat. It exploits the users’ trust, relying on the same obliviousness that makes so many of us just click on the “I Agree” button when faced with these labyrinthine EULAs & suchlike. This is short-term thinking. And it is wrong.

This has changed the way that I look at the sites that have placed these kinds of hidden, ill-considered material on my computer. I pass this on in the hopes that other users voice their concerns as well — only if enough people start becoming aware of shady practices like this will companies start policing themselves.

Useful stuff: If you want Safari to stop acting like Internet Explorer/Netscape circa 1997, here’s what you do:

  1. Under the Safari menu, click on “Preferences” (⌘,)
  2. Click on the Tabs tab (and yes, I know how that sounds, but that’s what it is)
  3. Click on the pulldown menu next to “Open pages in tabs instead of windows” and choose anything other than “Never”

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Feb 02

More Apple EULA Goodness

Posted: under Conspiracy Theories.
Tags: , , , ,

Not to sound like a whiny ex-Apple fanboi here (check out the wrath Cory Doctorow has incurred over a BoingBoing by addressing this issue, if you dare) — but every time I tap to update my iPhone apps, I gotta swallow another amended EULA from Apple.

This latest cramdown seems to center around the whole subscription issue – one that mag publishers have been screaming about for the last year.

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Jan 07

WikiLeaks Fallout: Draconian EULAs from Adobe, Apple, etc.

Posted: under Blogging, Conspiracy Theories.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This is only an educated guess, but something has changed in the past month in those voluminous End User Licensing Agreements (aka EULAs aka “That dense small-font document that nobody bothers to read”), and it seems to be coming from Homeland Security.

It looked so friendly and inviting on my taskbar...

It started innocently enough when I updated my Mac software and discovered a new icon down in the taskbar. Well hello there, App Store! Wow, it appears as though you launched with more than 1,000 applications already waiting for me to play with. Everyone’s been chattering excitedly about what this will mean for apps that do more than produce gastrointestinal sounds.

Cool! Can’t wait to start partaking of the free & open marketplace for creativity, ingenuity and that childlike sense of wonder – wha? A new Terms & Services Agreement? Again?

Every few weeks, with your iTunes, you’re making me agree to some massive list of incomprehensible junk, and now you want me to agree to something ELSE? Dammit.

OK, I’ve got a few spare minutes and have been eating a high-fiber diet recently. Maybe it’s safe to scroll through and see if there’s anything particularly noxious about the rules governing how this App Store for my desktop Mac…

Good Christ, what’s this?

So the apps you’re serving up for me to use on my main computer, the one where I have the really important data stored, may just come with viruses, spyware and trojans. And in the next breath, I have to basically hold Apple harmless if they happen to sell me something that destroys my business? Hey, can car manufacturers and prescription drug companies get in on this kinda scam?

Can you imagine that? “Oh yeah, here’s your new heart medication. It may actually contain arsenic, other heavy metals or rat poison. We don’t know. We just shovel this stuff out the door. It’s on you. And if you happen to drop dead because of it, we ain’t responsible and you can’t sue us.” That’d go over well with all the people screeching about Death Panels, wouldn’t it?

But where does HomeSec come in? Read this and see if you don’t feel ghostly fingers clenching around your throat:

You agree that Apple has the right, without liability to you, to
disclose any Registration Data and/or Account information to law
enforcement authorities, government officials, and/or a third party, as
Apple believes is reasonably necessary or appropriate to enforce and/or
verify compliance with any part of this Agreement (including but not
limited to Apple’s right to cooperate with any legal process relating to
your use of the Service and/or Products, and/or a third-party claim
that your use of the Service and/or Products is unlawful and/or
infringes such third party’s rights).

OK, maybe that’s just Hollywood, the MPAA and the RIAA again … what’s this?

You also agree that you will not use these products for any purposes
prohibited by United States law, including, without limitation, the
development, design, manufacture, or production of nuclear, missile, or
chemical or biological weapons.

Seriously?

Jesus Christ.

I’m not even going to get into all the creepy spyware language in Apple’s EULA, that basically says that they are going to record everything you do while online, match it up with your GPS data and whatever kinds of interactions you make on Facebook, blogs, Twitter, e-mail, chat, etc., and then bundle all that information together and sell it to the highest bidder. Plow through it yourselves, lazybones.

Next up was having to install/upgrade Adobe Reader so I can look at pdfs of reconciled accounts from Quickbooks (part of the joys of running your own shop – gahhhh!). By this time, I’m kind of in a state. I mean, like everyone else who’s gone from the CompuServe/Prodigy days of online to today’s web, I expect a certain level of monitoring of what I do online, and know that this is the price I have to pay for free (well, other than the damn escalating high-speed Time-Warner cable bill) access to all kinds of amazing content created & curated by geniuses all over the world. Maybe I’ll look at Adobe’s EULA. I don’t really expect much other than the usual boilerplate legalese.

Well, how bad can it be, really? I mean – pdfs, right? It’s just a basic document structure for people to …

The Software may cause your Computer, without additional notice, automatically to connect to the Internet and to communicate with an Adobe website or Adobe domain for purposes that may include providing you with additional information, features, and functionality. Unless otherwise specified in Sections 14.2 through 14.6, the following provisions apply to all automatic Internet connections by the Software:
14.1.1 When the Software automatically connects to the Internet, an Internet protocol address (“IP Address”) that is associated with your current Internet connection is sent to an Adobe website;

(snip)

Adobe may deliver in-product marketing to provide information about the Software and other Adobe products and Services, including but not limited to Adobe Online Services, based on certain Software and Adobe Online Services specific features including but not limited to, the version of the Software, including without limitation, platform version, version of the Software, and language. For further information about in-product marketing, please see the “help” menu in the Software;

Dude, WTF!

Your software is going to wake up in the middle of the night, dial the mothership, rat me out and then start serving ads into the middle of whatever I’m doing?

Not. Cool.

OK, is there anything about…?

…any end user who you know or have reason to know will utilize them in the design, development or production of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, or rocket systems, space launch vehicles, and sounding rockets, or unmanned air vehicle systems (each, a “Prohibited Use”), or (c) any end user who has been prohibited from participating in the U.S. export transactions by any federal agency of the U.S. government (each, a “Sanctioned Party”).

Guys. If I could use Flash Catalyst to make a space launch vehicle, I’d be kicking it James T. Kirk-style on my own moonbase right now, doncha think?

Great. Anything else?

Additional Terms of Use, the Adobe.com Terms of Use (http://www.adobe.com/go/terms) shall apply. Please note that the Adobe Privacy Policy allows tracking of website visits and it addresses in detail the topic of tracking and use of cookies, web beacons, and similar devices.

This just keeps getting better and better. So once again, you’re going to monitor what I do, turn it over to whomever you want, and somehow feel it necessary to put in a big scary paragraph about espionage and misuse of data?

Who owns your data? And I don't mean this guy...

I don’t remember all this garbage showing up in the earlier EULAs software/hardware companies crammed down our throats. Maybe I just wasn’t as observant. But it appears that someone has been having some very intense, shall be say, meetings with internet/software companies in the past month or so, with an aim towards making sure that if We The Users step out of line, there exists all manner of heavy-duty legal agreements by which to come down on our heads.  All that alarmist verbiage about nukes & nerve gas can only come from a gummint agency that’s paid to be paranoid & fearful.

And what’s been on their minds lately? Oh yeah – Mr. Assange and his cohorts peeking under their skirts. How best to head this off next time around, before any of the 500,000 or so minions with Top Secret access get frisky? Hmmm … how ’bout we make sure that the revisions to the basic document viewing and sharing software that pretty much everybody uses has “features” in it that check to see if you’re working with anything that’s been flagged as Top Secret, and then finks on you to The Man.

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