Fireside 2.1 (https://fireside.fm) Reality 2.0 Blog https://www.reality2cast.com/articles Tue, 27 Oct 2020 11:00:00 -0400 Reality 2.0 Blog en Reality 2.0 Newsletter - October 27, 2020: Should Social Media Be Regulated? https://www.reality2cast.com/articles/reality-2-0-newsletter-october-27-2020-should-social-media-be-regulated Tue, 27 Oct 2020 11:00:00 -0400 podcast@reality2cast.com 24241082-0949-4c43-b007-e0610936051a This week we talk section 230, efforts to regulate social media, and social media's impact on journalism. To get this weekly dose of Reality delivered by email, sign up on our Substack page.

A Quick Plug

In this week’s episode, Doc Searls, Katherine Druckman, and Petros Koutoupis attempt to uncover problems with social media and, by extension, journalism. We discuss recent attempts to reinterpret section 230 of the Communications Act, which was passed into law by the 1996 Communications Decency Act, and how that may affect social media and its relationship to journalism. We hope you’ll check it out and join the discussion. Please remember to subscribe via the podcast player of your choice.

Episode 45: Social Media Regulation and Journalism


But First You Must Define the Problem

We find the issues of social media regulation and ad tech’s negative impact on journalism to be somewhat intertwined. Traditional news sites rely heavily on inbound traffic funneled through the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other large social media intermediaries, and while they ultimately deliver the traffic, they take a chunk of advertising revenue along the way. Matt Stoller argues this relationship harms our democracy by delivering a financial blow to legitimate journalism, while allowing low-quality content to flourish.

[P]hony Facebook pages illustrate the crisis of the free press and democracy: Advertising revenue that used to go to quality journalism is now captured by big tech intermediaries, and some of that money now goes to dishonest, low-quality and fraudulent content.

Some have argued that the role of social networks like Facebook and Twitter has become less of a neutral go-between, and more of a curator, thus significantly impacting the habits of both publisher and reader. This controversy has led politicians to question the liability protections afforded internet platforms in Section 230 of the Communications Act.

It is important to understand both the intended and actual functions of social networks, ad tech, and journalism so as not to confuse them, especially in the current political climate. In this week’s episode, we attempt to unpack some of these ideas, initiated in part by the short reading list we’ve included here.

We don’t view our podcast as a source of answers, but rather as a source of inspiration for further discussion, so, to that end, we invite you to draw your own conclusions and join the conversation by commenting here on this post, by visiting us on any of our social outlets, or via our contact form.

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This Week’s Reading List

FCC chairman says he'll seek to regulate social media under Trump's executive order - CNN — The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will draft regulations intended for social media companies following a petition earlier this year by the Trump administration, the agency's chairman said Thursday. In a tweet, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai indicated he will move forward with a rulemaking to "clarify" Section 230 of the Communications Act of 1934, which currently acts as a legal shield for tech companies' handling of user generated content.

Opinion | Tech Companies Are Destroying Democracy and the Free Press - The New York Times — Ad revenue that used to support journalism is now captured by Google and Facebook, and some of that money supports and spreads fake news.

BIG by Matt Stoller - Matt Stoller is an author with an impressive political resume. Find more of his work in his Substack newsletter.

Tim Hwang - Subprime Attention Crisis — Tim Hwang is a writer and researcher based in New York. He is the author of Subprime Attention Crisis, a book about the bubble of online advertising. He is currently a research fellow at the Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET) at Georgetown University.

Executive Order — Here is the full text of President Trump's executive order relating to social media, published by the White House on Thursday May 28, 2020.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act | Electronic Frontier Foundation — Tucked inside the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996 is one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation on the Internet: Section 230.

Official Title 47 Section 230 PDF document — 230(c) - (1) Treatment of publisher or speaker No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

47 U.S. Code § 230 - Protection for private blocking and screening of offensive material — Reference from Cornell Law.



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Reality 2.0 Newsletter - October 20, 2020: Podcasts Killed the Radio Star https://www.reality2cast.com/articles/reality-2-0-newsletter-october-20-2020-podcasts-killed-the-radio-star Tue, 20 Oct 2020 11:00:00 -0400 podcast@reality2cast.com 57beeb4e-67ba-4f58-ba3b-d6983baec800 This week, we talk about podcasting's evolution and rise in popularity, as well as radio's decline. To get this weekly dose of Reality delivered by email, sign up on our Substack page.

A Quick Plug

Our latest podcast episode explores the current state of podcasting and how we got here. We talk a bit about the medium itself, and how we put ours together, as well as its roots and evolution, especially as they relate to radio. We hope you’ll listen!

Episode 44: Podcasts Killed the Radio Star


A Little History

As many of our listeners already know, podcasting originated with an idea to add enclosures to an RSS feed. After much lobbying from former MTV personality Adam Curry, Dave Winer, creator of the RSS format, famously updated RSS version 0.92 in 2001 with the addition of an <enclosure> tag, and while it took a few years to catch on with widespread adoption thanks largely to the Apple iPod, the rest, as they say, is history.

Ars Technica published a retrospective on podcasting in 2014, and it’s well worth a look now.

“He had to beat me over the head to get me to listen to the idea,” Winer told Ars in a recent interview. “The whole idea of video on the Internet didn’t interest me due to the latency problem. At the time I thought video and audio whatever, the pipes were small. The whole idea of waiting for the thing to download would not be worth the wait. I had written off the idea at first—it took me a few times to listen. If those barriers are there for me [as a software developer], you can only imagine how they were for everybody else.”

Early into podcasting’s history, our own Doc Searls noted in September 2004, that the word “podcast” only returned 24 results on Google, and noted again in November of 2005, that the number of search results had grown to over a hundred million. That initial popularity explosion established podcasting as a format, but the response from some tech and media giants has been slower. A prime example of this (pun intended) is Amazon. Amazon dove head first into the video streaming wars years ago, but only added podcasts to Amazon music this year.

So, it seems that podcasting could be in the early stages of a renaissance. According to a recent Financial Times article:

But it is the fact that podcasting is an underdeveloped market that makes it appealing. The music business that is Spotify’s bread and butter has long been dominated by a handful of companies that own the copyright to all the world’s music. These music rights holders take about 70 cents of every dollar Spotify makes.  Podcasting, on the other hand, is a highly fragmented sector that is mostly owned by independent creators and dozens of small start-ups. This leaves Spotify with ample opportunity to enter a growing market that does not require pricey payments to someone else. There are exceptions, but most of the time Spotify does not pay podcast creators directly for their content. Podcasters instead make money from selling ads in their own shows. 

And while a new media giant like Spotify is right to spot the massive potential in podcasting, the nature of the established podcast creator and distributor model may be more inherently sovereign than they are prepared for. Doc’s words from his April 2017 Harvard blog post seem especially prescient today:

Nobody is going to own podcasting. By that I mean nobody is going to trap it in a silo. Apple tried, first with its podcasting feature in iTunes, and again with its Podcasts app. Others have tried as well. None of them have succeeded, or will ever succeed, for the same reason nobody has ever owned the human voice, or ever will. (Other, of course, than their own.)

Because podcasting is about the human voice. It’s humans talking to humans: voices to ears and voices to voices—because listeners can talk too. They can speak back. And forward. Lots of ways.

Podcasting is one way for markets to have conversations; but the podcast market itself can’t be bought or controlled, because it’s not a market. Or an “industry.” Instead, like the Web, email and other graces of open protocols on the open Internet, podcasting is all-the-way deep.

While podcasting has been in our vernacular for over fifteen years, it’s still very early. The longest-running shows are teenagers, perhaps still figuring it all out while still blazing their trails, and the next generation is carving its own path. Where we collectively go from here remains to be seen, but we’re excited to be a part of the evolving podcasting universe.


Podcast Time Machine

For a peek into the early world of podcasting featuring some early pioneers, listen to Dave Winer’s August 6, 2006 episode of his Morning Coffee Notes podcast:

A Morning Coffee Notes podcast with Doc Searls, Mike Kowalchik, Jason Calacanis, Steve Gillmor. It contains breaking news about a new career move by Doc Searls. And an ad for Digg by Jason Calacanis. Steve is a tinny voice on the Blackberry and he takes a few cheap shots at Scoble. "At this point I smell a lawsuit," says Calacanis.


A Fun Bit of Radio History

In the latest podcast episode, we briefly mentioned Voice of Peace Radio, a radio station that broadcast from the Mediterranean off the coast of Israel from 1973-1993. The station was operated by its founder, Abie Nathan, an Israeli peace activist. The following short video gives a little more background on this period of radio history.

I’ve translated the Hebrew parts, spoken by Abie Nathan below:

Opening: This is the Voice of Peace. At sunset The Voice of Peace station will stop broadcasting for 30 seconds in memory of the victims of violence in our region and around the world.

[1:00] Our crew today is much better than what we used to have before.

We feel like a family and it's hard, inviting people from all over the world, putting them on the ship in the middle of the sea and each time replacing them. 

[2:14] So we have listeners in Egypt, Jordan, Damascus, Lebanon, Cyprus, and in Israel. In this past year I felt some despair. We thought that after ten years we could do some more serious work on shore. We had hopes and each time in today’s situation with a ship that is not new, we had to sit in the middle of the sea in danger. So we worried more about how our ship will hold together rather than what we would do. Every two years we dock, and every time there is the fear, “How much will it cost?” We are succeeding today on income from advertising to maintain the ship and to donate to a variety of institutions, either in the form of money or other favors from the ship. 

[4:19] I believe in the broadcast station, that it has tremendous power of persuasion. You can warm people up to wars or you can calm them down, and you can talk to them about peace. 


Our Workflow

If you’re curious, these are the primary tools we use to create, edit, and publish our podcast:

Zoom - video conferencing that works for us

Audacity - open source audio editor

Fireside.fm - podcast hosting


The Reality 2.0 Podcast explores how tech, privacy, and security impact reality in a post-COVID world. Subscribe now and don't miss a thing! We welcome your feedback at our contact page.

]]> Reality 2.0 Newsletter - October 13, 2020: The Journey Begins https://www.reality2cast.com/articles/reality-2-0-newsletter-october-13-2020-the-journey-begins Tue, 13 Oct 2020 10:00:00 -0400 podcast@reality2cast.com f4263772-9c94-4211-a294-d6dcbb1fd3b8 This week we explore ad tech, privacy, and user agency. To get this weekly dose of Reality delivered by email, sign up on our Substack page.

A Quick Plug

In case you missed it, Episode 43: Ad Tracking Runs Deep is now available. Doc and Katherine talked to Dr. Augustine Fou about his privacy analysis app, Page X-Ray, ad tracking, and data privacy.

For more background and a brief guide to Page X-Ray, see our short blog post:

Page X-Ray Data Privacy Analysis Featured in Episode 43

Page X-Ray differs from typical consumer-oriented privacy apps, like The Markup’s recently published Blacklight in that it not only detects trackers that are loaded by the page, but also the trackers that are called by other trackers, giving a more extensive view of tracking activity and data collection.

This depth of analysis provides the striking visual below, taken from a report gathered via smithsonianmag.com.

Tree graph of trackers found on smithsonianmag.com

Figure 1. A complete tree graph of smithsonianmag.com


More on Ad Tech

Episode 43 was all about ad tech, so we’d like to share a few of the privacy tools we use to take back some control over our online lives.

The following are well worth a look if you aren’t already a user:

In ad fraud news, file the following article under, “Yes, ad tech can be harmful.”

From Forbes.com: Android Users Beware: Delete These 240 Malicious Apps Now

The RAINBOWMIX apps appear at first to be legit, as they work as they are supposed to, although their quality is poor. Many of them are Nintendo (NES) emulators ripped from legitimate sources or low quality games, the researchers said. The ads themselves also appear to be legit—they seem to come from trusted apps and services such as Chrome or YouTube.

This enabled the fraudsters to bypass certain security protocols and fly under the radar, leading to millions of downloads and ad impressionsper day at the peak of the campaign. 

Doc Searls on Ad Tech

Doc has written extensively on the subject of ad tech, its impact on journalism and the publishing industry, and its threat to digital privacy and user agency. You’ll find many of his articles under the People vs. Adtech link on his Harvard blog. It’s worth bookmarking for easy reference.

The Reality 2.0 Podcast explores how tech, privacy, and security impact reality in a post-COVID world. Subscribe now and don't miss a thing! We welcome your feedback at our contact page.

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Page X-Ray Data Privacy Analysis Featured in Episode 43 https://www.reality2cast.com/articles/page-xray-data-privacy-analysis Fri, 09 Oct 2020 09:15:00 -0400 podcast@reality2cast.com 8f91fce8-3e54-424d-b52d-3563f173c316 Dr. Augustine Fou joins us for Episode 43 of Reality 2.0 to walk us through his Page XRay app, a data visualization tool that maps web site trackers. Dr. Augustine Fou joins us for Episode 43 of Reality 2.0 to walk us through his Page X-Ray app, a data visualization tool that maps web site trackers.

This is Dr. Fou’s second time visiting with us on the podcast, and I encourage you to listen to both episodes:

Episode 13: Surveillance Marketing

Episode 43: Ad Tracking Runs Deep

Page X-Ray differs from typical consumer-oriented privacy apps, like The Markup’s recently published Blacklight in that it not only detects trackers that are loaded by the page, but also the trackers that are called by other trackers, giving a more extensive view of tracking activity and data collection.

This depth of analysis provides the striking visual below, taken from a report gathered via smithsonianmag.com.

Tree graph of trackers found on smithsonianmag.com
Figure 1. A complete tree graph of smithsonianmag.com

Instead of only seeing the first level of trackers, Page X-Ray goes deeper and follows each tracker with a crawler, executing all the javascript, and thus uncovering everything else that’s being loaded. The graphs begin with the first layer of trackers being called by the site, and beyond that, show what each of those scripts loads. The app records every network call, and it translates the result into a tree graph indicating the relationship between what is loading and being loaded.

Some reports, like Smithsonian pictured above, go many layers deep.

Detail of tree graph of trackers found on smithsonianmag.com
Figure 2. The connecting lines, urls, and circled numbers provide additional useful information.

You’ll note that some of the lines are gray, orange, and red, and each url may be gray, blue, orange, or red.

Gray indicates that no cookie is set, and this is the preferred condition that we like to see.

Orange indicates that a third-party cookie was set, meaning it is set by a domain other than the site you are currently visiting.

The white circles indicate the number of times a tag was loaded. If the circle is highlighted yellow, it means this tracker was loaded ten or more times.

A blue url indicates an ad server request, while orange is another analytics tracker. If it’s gray, the nature of the server is unknown.

The flag icons show the country where a specific tracker is called from or where the data is sent, which is especially interesting when information is sent across borders, as privacy regulations differ.

Finally, a fingerprint icon indicates that a script is exfiltrating user data, and logging user behavior, thus creating a digital “fingerprint.” Sometimes this type of tracking is used with good intentions to improve UX, but the clear downside is that data is being sent that potentially includes logins and passwords. These are indicated by corresponding red lines.

While Page X-Ray is geared toward the needs of privacy and ad fraud researchers, it’s worth looking at for anyone curious about the data any site is potentially collecting and sharing. We explore its potential in-depth, and other related topics in Episode 43, and I hope you’ll join us!

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