Sunday, July 23, 2017

Nothing beats a platform monopoly

Since the birth of broadband, net neutrality’s cheerleaders have feared that service providers might begin to act as the internet’s “gatekeepers,” …The real distortions come from massive “platform monopolies” like Google, Facebook and Amazon, whose proprietary algorithms decide what users see online.

The supposed purpose of “net neutrality” is to stop any internet company from getting a leg up over others. But that’s exactly what happens when Google’s search results prioritize its own services—and profits—over competitors’. …If Google’s favoring its own products while pushing potential competitors down its rankings doesn’t create “fast” and “slow” lanes, what on earth does?

Similarly, avowed net-neutrality supporter Amazon was granted a patent in May for “Physical Store Online Shopping Control,” a system to block shoppers in brick-and-mortar stores from using Wi-Fi to view competitors’ prices. Isn’t “no blocking” the heart of net neutrality? Facebook, meanwhile, has virtually abandoned chronology in its News Feed in favor of picking and choosing what users see—and what they don’t—based on what the company has learned about them.

The costs of such abuses from the platform monopolies are obvious and many. Newspapers have nearly been “prioritized” out of existence by Google’s shameless appropriation of their work: Why click through and read a whole article when Google News will pluck out the most important bits and show them to you free—alongside its own ads, of course. … Last year, the FCC chairman tried and failed to force TV companies to make their feeds available on set-top devices made by—wait for it—Google, Apple and Amazon.

The internet giants behind the Day of Action can now track users’ physical location 24 hours a day, learning where they live and work, by logging where their phones are at different times of day or the Wi-Fi networks they pass. If two phones sit side by side overnight, advertisers knows what that means—and appropriately “targeted” pitches are sure to follow.
From Ev Ehrlich, “‘Neutrality’ for Thee, but Not for Google, Facebook and Amazon,” Wall Street Journal, July 21, 2017.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The meaning of Memorial Day

The story of Lt. James Cathey, U.S.M.C. (1980-2005) is told in a photo essay that has been circulating today on Twitter in honor of Memorial Day. Attached to the 2nd Marine Division, he died on August 21, 2005 as the result of an IED explosion in Iraq. The photo essay is part of one that won a Pulitzer Prize for Todd Heisler, then at the Rocky Mountain News and now at the New York Times. 

A haunting image is that of Lt. Cathey’s pregnant widow Katherine, sleeping on an improvised bed next to his casket upon its return to the U.S.. The photo includes one of the local Marines standing vigil, as part of three day guard mounted in honor of their fallen colleague.

Memorial Day was created to honor the war dead of the Civil War. Seeing this photo reminded my of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (as read by Henry Fonda in a recording Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait”):
That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. That we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.