by Stephen Downes
Jan 30, 2015
From free to fee: How U.S. dailies decide to use paywalls
Natalie Jomini Stroud,
American Press Institute,
Interesting report that observes that few newspapers use research of any sort (beyond asking each other whether it's a good idea) before implementing paywalls (it's a summary of a recent paper that is not available online (I searched)). The research also looks at the value of paywalls and reports that, even in the success stories, "paywalls most likely will not offset steep losses in advertising revenue." But another report suggests that the real value in paywalls might not be the subscription fees, but rather the user data. Erica Sweeney writes, "demographic data can help publishers tailor and recommend specific content, which could increase subscriptions and the value of content." Of course, this means that as you read your newspaper, your newspaper is reading you.
Cyber surveillance worries most Canadians: privacy czar's poll
This is one of the major reasons we have focused on creating a personal application in LPSS. According to this report, "Canadians deeply value privacy, but fear they are losing the control they have over their personal information. It’s imperative we find ways to enhance that sense of control so that people feel their privacy rights are being respected." It doesn't help that we also discovered this week that Canada's security agency CSEC has been monitoring millions of users' file downloads in an (ostensive) effort to identify terrorists. "Every single thing that you do – in this case uploading/downloading files to these sites – that act is being archived, collected and analyzed."
Investigating the Yik Yak attack
From the moment an application came into existence that allowed people in the same general area to make anonymous comments to each other it became inevitable that students would use it to criticize a professor (hence, the 'Yik Yak attack'). It is also inevitable that within a few minutes to the incident the Chronicle would publish an article lamenting the behaviour. Steve Kraus describes the coverage (here (the original Chronicle article is paywalled). I won't pretend the behaviour was not offensive and abusive (from the snippets I saw). But I also don't blame the technology for the behaviour - I blame the environment, I blame the entitled students who think there are no limits to their behaviour, I blame a media environment which promotes this sort of behaviour on a daily basis. And how does this help: "The only student so far punished in connection with the Yik Yak incident is one who stepped forward and confessed?" Alex Reid says, " Ultimately some mechanisms of social interaction arise to regulate behavior." Not unless you can remove or kick off the offenders. The trolls and the haters don't bend to social pressure; that's kind of what defines them.
The New Inquiry,
A few talks ago I cause a twitter in the audience by comparing big data analytics to astrology. It was no more than a half-formed thought, but as it turns out I'm not the only one who has had this thought and this author - via the mediation of Thomas Adorno - has given it substance. Robin James writes, "Scaled up in size and in processing power, big data could be the realization of what Adorno called 'the potential danger represented by astrology as a mass phenomenon.'" Their apparent objectivity allow them to be represented as value-neutral - but "astrology rearticulates unfashionable superstitions in the occult, in mysticism, and so on, by presenting them in empirical rather than supernatural terms—star charts and tables, for example. Upgrading the medium in which they are expressed, obsolete social myths gain new life as apparent fact." Just as does big data analytics. "Down-to-earthness is precisely the problem with forecasting: It only ever reproduces society and its most conventional norms, values, and practices. All that data up in the cloud opens no new vistas; it just repackages tired social, political, and economic institutions (white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy) in new, hip abodes on more seemingly solid ground." Yeow!
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