WASHINGTON, December 9, 2009 – The ubiquity of online advertising is a product of its importance to the internet economy, said a group of consumer advocates Wednesday during a debate on the future of online advertising.
But the impact of new targeted advertising methods on consumer privacy and its potential to manipulate online experiences was the subject of heated argument at the event, sponsored by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
Privacy does not mean the same thing to all consumers in all situations, said Progress and Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow Berin Szoka. Advertisements are attempts to capture user attention – the “great currency of the Internet” – and when successful support a wide range of valuable content, he said. But in online life, “consumers have many values,” Szoka added.
“Privacy is one of them,” he said, but it is not an absolute. Consumers must sometimes trade privacy for content, he said. “There is no free lunch.”
As more information and entertainment migrates to the internet, Szoka said it is “critical…that we find a way to support this media.” Targeted advertising can fit the bill, he suggested – especially if technology gives users more control over their own preferences.
Most consumers don’t understand that advertising is a necessity for today’s internet, he said. New technologies like targeting need to be given a try, he said, so content providers can recoup the value of their advertising – down 25 percent since 2000, he noted.
Center for Digital Democracy founder Jeff Chester said Szoka’s ideas about advertising’s future represented a “false dichotomy.” The real debate should be over the rules that regulate advertiser content, he said. Chester warned of a “Targeting 2.0” system in which neuroscience combined with massive databases not only serve ads, but target content to users.
“It’s about influencing our behavior without our consent,” he said. Chester pointed to the subprime lending crisis as proof of the system’s invidiousness, alleging “racial labeling” in which ads for subprime loans were presented to users whose online profiles had been targeted by a “pervasive, far-reaching system” that identified them as minorities.
“What we need are safeguards,” he said. “We don’t want to have a system that is invisible and unaccountable.”
But Howard Beales, a professor of strategic management and public policy at George Washington University said targeting has nothing to do with whether or not advertising is good or bad for consumers. Even when less-than-savory tactics are employed, targeting doesn’t necessarily increase the effectiveness of ads, he pointed out.
Any discussion of advertising regulations should be forward-looking, not based on past behavior, said Center for Democracy and Technology Vice President Ari Schwartz, who pointed out that many practices decried by consumers received little industry support, even from those who might benefit from their use.
“What I’ve seen…is that you don’t hear publishers as the ones who come to its’ defense,” Schwartz said. Publishers, in fact, don’t see gains in revenue from increased advertising, Schwartz said – but ad networks do. “Intraspaced ads” will not be the savior of online publishing, he said.
Use of personal information to target ads is a subject worth debating, Schwartz said. He suggested that should self-regulatory models and existing law fail to prevent abuses, new legislative efforts would surface. But Chester interjected, insisting “you cannot separate out the data collection process [to protect privacy] unless you understand the business model [of advertisers].
Ad networks aren’t trying to sell ads, Chester said. “The business model is to have a connection with you everywhere you go online.” Advertising is even shaping editorial content of news sites, Chester alleged.
Advertisers and publishers, he said, are “honing in on our interests and vulnerabilities” in order to serve targeted content to consumers in real time, he said. “What you see and what your neighbor sees may be totally different…there are real dangers here” he warned. “We need to examine it and create the most appropriate safeguards.”
But Szoka suggested Chester’s dire warnings come from a view that all advertising is manipulative and that consumers are inherently stupid, and reprimanded Chester for portraying him and Beales as “industry shills.”
Instead of rushing to regulation of something that may not be harmful, Szoka suggested an “principled alternative” of campaigns to “empower and educate” consumers on issues and the tools available to them – “something the FTC does extremely well.”
Digital Inclusion Leaders a Critical Step to Closing Digital Divide: National League of Cities
The National League of Cities said government leaders need to have ‘multiple points of engagement’ with communities.
WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – To understand the digital divide, cities need to include digital equity leaders in their broadband needs assessment programs, the National League of Cities said at an event on community connectivity challenges Wednesday.
A broadband needs assessment would allow city leaders to explore the extent of the digital divide in their communities, said Lena Geraghty, the National League of Cities’ director of urban innovation.
“[A needs assessment] enable city leaders to dig into who’s being excluded, what’s currently available in your city, and what solutions city leaders can use” to close the digital divide, she said.
“The community is going to know best about where access exists, where gaps exist, and the needs that will make connectivity better,” Geraghty said. To get the best picture of a community’s need, stakeholders must find and include the community’s digital equity leaders in the data-gathering process, she added.
“These could be people that are knowledgeable about digital equity or people that are experiencing the digital divide,” she said. “Think really broadly about what it means to be a leader and the type of information these folks can bring to bear in solving the digital divide in your communities.”
Geraghty said it may be useful to formalize the leaders’ work by creating a broadband working group or ad hoc committee led by the city’s government. “Giving some roles and responsibilities can help everyone move in the same in direction, there’s agreement, and really clear goals and outcomes.”
Geraghty added that it’s important for government leaders to establish multiple points of engagement for the community. “It’s not enough to gather data or information from people once,” she said. “The state of access to the internet and devices is always changing,” so leaders should create multiple touch points for community input.
The National League of Cities released its Digital Equity Playbook for cities in December, walking readers through how they can promote digital equity in their cities. The playbook has a four-step process on how to get started with digital equity.
By walking readers through the process of connecting with the community, evaluating the connectivity landscape, gathering foundational information and reporting on findings, city leaders will be prepared to target broadband funding to unserved and underserved areas in their communities.
FCC Commissioner Starks Says Commission Looking into Impact of Broadband, 5G on Environment
Starks sat down to discuss the promise of smart grid technology for the environment.
WASHINGTON, January 19, 2022 – Former and current leaders within the Federal Communications Commission agreed Thursday that it is important to make sure the FCC’s broadband efforts support the nation’s goals for the environment.
On Thursday, during a Cooley law firm fireside chat event, Robert McDowell, a former FCC director, and current FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks discussed how broadband expansion and next-generation 5G mobile networks will affect the environment.
Starks said that the commission is currently focusing on answering that exact question and are evaluating the current attempts to protect the environment, as more money is expected from the federal government and as broadband infrastructure expands. That includes putting more fiber into the ground and erecting more cell towers, but also allowing for a broadband-enabled smart grid system that will make automated decisions on energy allocation.
Smart grid systems, for example, provide real-time monitoring of the energy used in the electrical system. These systems can help to reduce consumption and carbon emissions, Starks said, by rerouting excess power and addressing power outages instantaneously in the most efficient and environmentally friendly manner. The smart grid systems will monitor “broadband systems in the 900 MHz band,” said Starks.
Starks also noted the Senate’s “Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation” initiative, which would set apart $500 million for cities across America so they can begin working on ways to lower carbon emissions.
FCC also focused on digital discrimination
Starks said the commission is also focusing on “making sure that there is no digital discrimination on income level, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin,” and that it all comes down to funding and who needs the money.
He stated that the first step is to finalize the maps and data that have been collected so funding can be targeted to the areas and people that need it the most. Many have remarked that the $65 billion allocated to broadband from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will not be divvied out until adequate maps are put in place.
Starks noted that broadband subsidy program Lifeline, although fundamental to some people’s lives, is significantly underutilized. Starks stated that participation rates hover around 20 percent, which led the FCC to explore other options while attempting to make Lifeline more effective. For example, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – which provides monthly broadband subsidies – has been replaced by the Affordable Connectivity Program, a long-term and revised edition of the pandemic-era program.
Starks and McDowell also stated their support for the confirmation by the Senate of Alan Davidson as the permanent head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and expressed that Davidson will be a key player in these efforts.
CES 2022: Public-Private Partnerships Key to Building Smart Cities, Tech leaders Say
Public-private partnerships will increase the community benefit of infrastructure projects, leaders at Qualcomm and Verizon said.
LAS VEGAS, January 12, 2022––Telecommunications industry leaders said Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show that public-private partnerships will pave the way to realizing the future of smart cities.
Raymond Bauer, director of the domain specialist group that connects governments to Verizon’s telecommunications services, said the government needs private partners to improve its infrastructure efforts.
Referencing the recent passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Bauer said governments should look forward to partnering with private technology companies to improve upcoming infrastructure projects.
“There’s a once in a lifetime opportunity from IIJA,” Bauer said. “We should find common ways to work in a way we haven’t in the past. There are certain goals and use cases to leverage the infrastructure we have,” he said.
The $1.2 trillion bipartisan legislation funds physical and digital infrastructure projects, including $65 billion for the expansion of broadband across the country.
Bauer said communities have a chance to monetize the services Verizon offers to communities if Verizon builds infrastructure for broadband access in underserved areas. “By bridging the digital divide, underserved communities get the services they need,” he added.
Ashok Tipirneni, head of smart cities and connected spaces at Qualcomm, said that cities should be thinking about how technology can improve much-needed infrastructure projects.
“Cities are growing faster than available utility,” he said, citing global issues of housing, water, and equity for vulnerable populations. “How do we ensure access for all citizens? And how can cities be in lock step with new technology, whatever it is?” he asked.
Qualcomm’s Smart Cities Accelerator Program delivers internet of things ecosystem products and services to member cities and local governments.
“New Orleans, Miami, and Los Angeles has local governments asking how they can do better,” he said. “They offer opportunities for partnerships that wouldn’t have been the case a few years ago.”
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