Even before the U.S. Department of Justice filed its antitrust lawsuit to block the anti competitive, anti consumer jobs killing AT&T T Mobil merger apparently the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission had serious concerns about the deal and the proposed transaction for AT&T to also acquire Qualcomm’s spectrum. In fact the Federal Communications Commission has launched a joint investigation of both proposed mergers since it rightly decided to combine its review of both deals. If you too are rightly concerned by the possibility for greater abuse by AT&T if either merger or both mergers were approved suggest emailing a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Competition Bureau via firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you do so I would suggest your letter to the FTC include your name, mailing address and a daytime telephone number. Also suggest submitting any critical comments of either or both of AT&T’s proposed mergers in the FCC’s docket regarding the proposed AT&T T Mobil merger (11-65) asap. You can also write the Federal Communications Commission via e-mail. Each Commissioner has their own email address. The Chairman’s is email@example.com, Commissioner Michael Copps can be emailed via firstname.lastname@example.org, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s email is email@example.com, and Commissioner Robert McDowell’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also email comments to the FCC at email@example.com and/or firstname.lastname@example.org. Finally even though Justice has already filed its antitrust lawsuit and a trial date has been set for next February (2012) suggest consumers opposed to either or both mergers email the US Justice Department’s Antitrust Division if they haven’t done so already via email@example.com and emailing the US Justice Department directly at AskDOJ@usdoj.gov.
With the New York Times and Washington Post flirting with personalization despite readers disliking it I thought I’d explain why personalized news is bad. The fact is personalized news is filtered to only show information companies think are personally relevant to us. Only the news they think is personally tailored to us would be fit to print leaving out news and information that we might not be interested in but need to know about because it challenges or broadens our world view. Now its worth pointing out that some filters on the Web are acceptable like Amazon.com using filters to determine what products its customers might like to buy next based on their previous orders. However, personalized news should be and is in my opinion unacceptable. In fact in my previous post I mentioned a blog post on TheFilterBubble.com that cited a study that while newspapers were embracing personalization their readers were not doing so. Obviously readers aren’t overwhelmingly accepting personalization and as I’ve stated before that’s a good thing.
Again its also worth pointing out that personalized news is not good for readers and its not good for democracy. As citizens we have a civic duty to be informed so we can make informed choices in society and participate in our democracy. So lets ramp up the pressure on these newspapers. Ask them why are they pushing personalization when their readers don’t want it. Now websites with news having social media integration letting users share articles they like on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc is perfectly fine but beyond that for these companies to launch personalized news services that filter our news and information for us is just wrong. Don’t use personalized news services. If you want to use a social network to get breaking news use Twitter which is unfiltered. Let’s reject personalized news!
Among the announcements at Facebook’s recent F8 conference was the launch of the Washington Post’s new Social Reader app. Don’t fall for the hype of a social news application built on sharing this is after all going to contribute to the filter bubble. What we need is unfiltered news and information. In a blog post dated May 14th, 2011 “Newspapers embrace personalization readers not so much” on TheFilterBubble.com it was reported that newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times have been embracing personalized news but that they should put personalized news services on hold as a study recently released revealed that readers aren’t all that interested in personalized news tailored to them.
So I’m not very keen on using this app . While I might out of curiosity access it to see how it works I would not depend on it as my main source for news. For one thing its biased in the way it presents news. In the next post will go into further detail on why personalized news is not good for users, and the implications of what personalization means for news companies. While some personalization might be acceptable personalization of our news is something we should not accept and based on the study mentioned in the blog post I discussed above it seems readers aren’t embracing personalization and that’s a good thing. Hopefully these news companies will wake up and realize with readers opposing news personalization that they should stop embracing personalization.
Facebook which has in recent days had some user backlash over interface changes is set to revamp user profiles with its new Timeline feature announced at their F8 conference which is sure to upset already frustrated users even more. Facebook is also focusing on integrating news discovery based on your friends’ activity in the news feed. Some of the new features are certainly welcomed others potentially annoying but have to ask how each feature contributes the filter bubble phenomenon? To its credit Facebook started rolling out new privacy controls that give users more control over who to share their posts and content with and how to share them. Yet at the same time Facebook is adding some features that make avoiding its filters seem more difficult and perpetuate the filter bubble.
Facebook already launched its subscribe feature and smart lists in recent weeks. Now its launching even more features some of which as I noted above users like but some they strongly dislike like recent interface changes to the News Feed. Obviously those same users won’t be happy about their user profiles also being revamped for Timeline. What’s worse is aside from annoying interface changes is that some of the new features like the changes to their notifications system to show “important updates” first that I addressed in my last post can contribute to the filter bubble phenomenon as do services like the new Washington Post Social Reader app that I’ll discuss in my next post.
Interesting it seems Facebook is going to make it harder to circumvent its filters with some of its new features. One feature change involves their notifications system which is now being designed to only show the “important updates” I discussed in previous posts first. Important updates as noted in the last post are those that are personally relevant but what if they think something is not personally relevant to you that is? So this is a change that really worries me. One of the biggest problems of the filter bubble is most users don’t know about it. One day we could wake up and all discover that filters are running things on the Internet and it already be too late to reverse the trend. So it is important to spread the word and educate others on the issue. Those of us who blog regardless of what blogging site your affiliated with concerned with the filter bubble phenomenon should if possible inform our readers about this problem. That is we should use our platforms to increase awareness among others about the filter bubble.
A previous post detailed some steps users could take to pop their filter bubbles but noted there was little they could actually do in doing so which is why Eli Pariser has been pushing for web companies to drop filters or program a set of ethics in them to make sure they also provide us not only with information they think is personally relevant for us but information that challenges or broadens our world view. In an ideal world users could opt-out of filters by choosing to not use Google+ or Facebook, deleting the Web History associated with their Google accounts that keeps track of their web searches, using social networks that respect their privacy more and don’t have filters like Twitter or the open source Diaspora. Should users choose to still use Google+ and Facebook even then they could turn off automatic personalization in their accounts. The problem is as most users are unaware of the filters how can they be expected to opt-out. Ideally users should have to opt-in to personalization if they want it so they’ll know about it. If personalization is automatically on and you have to opt-out but don’t know it how are you expected to opt-out.
In my previous post I mentioned Facebook’s Important Updates option to only receive important updates from users you follow/subscribe to in your News Feed. I also mentioned my problem with important updates. You see Facebook determines important updates to be what are personally relevant to you but what if they make a mistake? What if they become so confident they know me better than I know myself and filter something I might find interesting? Even if they do know me well enough and do deliver personally relevant information to me if they only deliver pleasing information to me that doesn’t challenge or broaden my world view how does that benefit me as a citizen? As citizens we feel a responsibility to know more about the world even about things we’re not personally interested in. If we’re caught in a filter we might not get exposed to certain news and information we need to know about.
That’s why having read Eli Pariser’s book “The Filter Bubble” which I’ve blogged about before I too worry about the effect of filter bubbles on our democracy and our media. If the threat of big telecommunications and cable companies distorting Network Neutrality so they can takeover control of the Internet and discriminate online the threat of the filter bubble makes things worse. We don’t need corporate gatekeepers to our media online. We need to maintain the free and open Internet and have a neutral, unpersonalized global Internet universally available. That is why I don’t like some of the new changes in Facebook that make it harder to avoid their filters.
In my previous post I explained how for each user you follow/subscribe you can choose to have all their updates, most updates or only important updates show up in your News Feed. I’ve found out that Facebook determines important updates to be only updates personally relevant to each individual user. I don’t trust the important updates setting though because I’m afraid Facebook might make a mistake. They might think they know me better than they do and filter out something I’d want to know about.
So I would never consent to only accept important updates on Facebook from friends. My next post may elaborate on the problem of important updates further and discuss Facebook notifications. I’m afraid Eli Pariser was right in his TED conference speech about the filter bubble and we as users have to stand up to these companies and demand transparency and openness. If you can boycott social news platforms. I will always use Twitter when I can which is unfiltered and democratic in nature unlike the news apps on Facebook. I will also provide a new post about the new features recently unveiled at Facebook’s F8 conference soon.