Piracy and Privacy
Piracy and Privacy
IN an effort to stymie
Internet pirates, the International Federation of the Phonographic
Industry, a music industry group, is asking European lawmakers to
require Internet service providers to use filters to block the illicit
transfer of copyrighted material (dslreports.com).
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (eff.org), a privacy advocate, responded by sending a letter to the European Parliament
arguing that such filters would be an “ineffective measure that will do
little to practically address the concerns of major rights holders
while imposing serious costs on the individual rights of European
The filtering technology would not be effective, according to the
foundation, because pirates would simply encrypt files to bypass it in
the same way that banks encrypt credit card information. Meanwhile,
legitimate users of copyrighted material would be hampered in their
ability to post video and music clips. And the costs would most likely
be borne by service providers, and, by extension, their customers, the
Media companies and trade groups in the United States have sought similar measures. In a widely ridiculed letter to the Federal Communications Commission last summer, NBC Universal
said such filters would help American corn farmers because Internet
users, unable to watch pirated movies, would head to theaters and buy
The recording industry group is asking that service providers use
filtering technology like that made by Audible Magic, which identifies
and blocks audio files bearing a digital “fingerprint.” It further asks
that service providers block users’ access to specific peer-to-peer
file-sharing services — those that “have refused to implement steps to
prevent infringement,” according to a copy of the group’s request
obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
“This is the latest in an ongoing effort for the entertainment
industry to pretend that the Internet needs to conform to the way it
wants the world to act, rather than conforming to the way the Internet
actually works,” wrote Mike Masnick (techdirt.com).
ADVERTISERS’ DILEMMA As ratings continue to sag for the major television networks, advertising rates are going … up?
“Although it seems counterintuitive, it’s the law of supply and
demand,” Holly M. Sanders of The New York Post reported this week (nypost.com).
“As the TV audience shrinks, advertisers have to buy more ads to reach
their target number of viewers. But that increased demand for ad slots
creates scarcity, which in turn leads to rate hikes.”
The situation highlights “the strategic blindness of advertisers,”
according to Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine. To reach the people they want,
advertisers have to “work a little harder and move past the one-stop
shopping of TV,” Mr. Jarvis wrote (buzzmachine.com). “Actual work? Heaven forbid.”
According to a recent help wanted ad seeking journalists (journalismjobs.com),
MainStreet.com “will cover breaking news, including celebrity and
entertainment news, as a means to get into personal finance.”
So, an article might be something like this, according to the ad: “Jamie Lynn Spears
is having a baby.” The article would then say: “Suddenly finding
yourself with an unplanned bun in the oven? Here’s how to start
preparing yourself financially to have and raise a child.”
One of the requirements listed in the ad is “great news judgment.” DAN MITCHELL
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January 20, 2008
The Risk of Innovation: Will Anyone Embrace It?
By G. PASCAL ZACHARY
THE Prius has become one of the hottest cars in America — an amazing development, because this hybrid-electric car requires some rather large changes in how people behave.
I learned the need for Prius-style adaptation early this month, when I rented a Prius from Budget Rent A Car in Seattle. Much to my embarrassment, I couldn’t get it to go forward. Once I got going and arrived at my destination, I couldn’t figure out how to put it in reverse.
Fortunately, another Prius owner on the premises — they seem to be everywhere these days — gave me a quick lesson. You start the Prius by pressing a button on the dashboard, not once but twice. To put it in drive or reverse, you manipulate a very small stick protruding from the dashboard.
The next morning, I awoke before dawn and started the Prius, but no matter how many times I pressed the button, I couldn’t get it to move. I finally called Budget roadside assistance, and a polite man talked me back from my private technology disaster. It turns out that I had failed to tap the brake while moving the gear shifter in a certain inexplicable way.
I don’t think I can adapt to the behaviors required by the Prius. But thousands of people are, and Toyota, its maker, is reaping the benefits.
Whether humans will embrace or resist an innovation is the billion-dollar question facing designers of novel products and services. Why do people adapt to some new technologies and not to others? Fortunes are made and lost on the answer.
Great innovations have foundered over human stubbornness. Consider the Picturephone, trumpeted by AT&T at the New York World’s Fair in 1964 as a major technological advance. Engineers reasoned that if hearing someone’s voice over the phone was terrific, wouldn’t seeing a face be even better?
Consumers didn’t think so. AT&T’s Picturephone, which would have added around $90 to a person’s monthly phone bill in 1974, a huge amount for the time, “was superfluous, adding little information to voice alone, especially considering its high price,” said Kenneth Lipartito, a professor of history at Florida International University.
Even today, when adding video to a phone is a trivial cost, consumers may rebel. Video-conferencing often remains an activity forced on people by their employers.
Resistance to technology is an omnipresent risk for every innovator. Even a device as fabulously freeing as the personal computer struck some people as an abomination. In 1990, the poet Wendell Berry famously declared his perpetual allegiance to the typewriter in his essay, “Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer.”
Few people joined him, however, a reminder that rejection isn’t the real specter facing new gear. Adaptable humans usually trade one technology for another, rather than reject any and all. To be accepted, innovations must deliver benefits — enough benefits to make change worthwhile.
“As consumers we’re constantly asking ourselves, where do we draw the line? How far do we go?” says Mitchell Kapor, chairman of the Open Source Applications Foundation in San Francisco.
Businesses crave a sweet spot: where the line is drawn in favor of the innovator. The late Akio Morita, founder of Sony, talked about satisfying appetites that people didn’t even know they had. He achieved such a feat with the Sony Walkman, the music player introduced in 1979. While at the Lotus Development Corporation, Mr. Kapor created another such “killer app,” or application: the spreadsheet for the PC.
Killer apps are sought-after innovations because people get addicted to them and make behavioral changes that might otherwise be unthinkable. “Those who benefit from a technology adapt to its constraints and become dependent on it,” says John Staudenmaier, editor of the journal Technology and Culture and a historian of technology at the University of Detroit Mercy.
Dependency drives profits, the ultimate arbiter — for some — of an innovation’s success. Look how Apple has converted the mania for the iPod into record profits — and a record stock price.
IPod “addiction” seems benign. Yet some worry that other innovations may harbor health threats. As a result, they may be vulnerable to what Marc Ventresca, a lecturer at the Saïd Business School at Oxford, calls the “frog boiling” problem. For the frog, gradually rising heat causes no alarm — until the water is so hot that death is imminent.
“Adaptation can sometimes be dangerous, but the hazard isn’t apparent until it is ‘too late,’” Mr. Ventresca says.
While people may be fearful of allowing a seductive technology to imperil them — the “Frankenstein effect” — they may also fear the consequences of not changing their ways. As the case of climate change illustrates, many consumers are enthusiastic about changing their behavior — in this case, the way they drive cars — if they believe that by adapting to new technologies they will save themselves and the planet. Think of the Prius again.
FOR technological innovators, the cash register can ring either way. They may achieve a smash-hit breakthrough, or simply make a slight improvement in a technology that humans already feel comfortable with. Most innovators no longer even try to predict human reactions to their creations.
Henry Kressel, a partner at Warburg Pincus and a co-author of “Competing for the Future: How Digital Innovations Are Changing the World,” says, “You throw technologies into the market and see what sticks.”
The hope is that passionate “early adopters” will blaze a path toward mass acceptance of a new technology. Yet the truth is that no one can tell in advance which innovations people will adapt to and which will become the next example of the Picturephone.
Where people draw the line can be known only after the fact. Which is why innovation is always a risky — even humbling — business.
G. Pascal Zachary teaches journalism at Stanford and writes about technology and economic development. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.