Washington Post

Why you should care about the mobile Web’s advertising problem

[Commentary] Remember when using your smartphone or tablet to access the Web was a relatively ad-free experience? Now there are seemingly ads everywhere you go -- pre-roll segments on videos, paywall roadblocks, subscriber messages that ask you to sign up for newsletters, ads in your news feeds, floating ads that cover inconvenient parts of the screen.

Now that the number of mobile Web users has eclipsed the number of desktop Web users, it’s no wonder that companies are introducing a growing panoply of mobile advertising options, all competing for your attention.

By 2017, there will be more money spent on mobile advertising than on radio advertising.

Combined, Facebook and Google now control two-thirds of the mobile advertising market. Expect that number to increase once Facebook launches its new mobile ad network. All of this has very real implications for the way that we use the Internet.

It’s already the case that 86 percent of users access the mobile Web via apps and that percentage could inch even higher as companies dedicate more and more resources to winning the mobile app game.

In short, we’ve quickly transitioned from a situation in which Web companies have a mobile advertising problem, to a situation in which the mobile Web experience has an advertising problem.

How Washington’s last remaining video rental store changed the course of privacy law

After 33 years, Potomac Video is closing its doors. It was the last remaining brick-and-mortar video rental store in the District -- where big chains and local entries alike have disappeared since the dawn of the streaming era -- and one of the first when it opened in 1981.

But even as the local retail chain lets loose its dying moan, Potomac Video can still claim credit for changing the face of consumer privacy thanks to its role in the creation of the Video Privacy Protection Act, or VPPA.

Flash forward 20 years: that same legislation became a thorn in the side of the video rental industry as it shifted online. In 2008, the now-all-but-dead Blockbuster faced a class action suit alleging that it shared rental information with Facebook's online advertising project Beacon. Netflix, too, faced a suit in 2009 about its release of "anonymized" customer data as part of a context for improving its recommendation engine that may not have been quite so anonymous.

Netflix was so wary of being on the wrong side of the law that it excluded the United States when it first rolled out Facebook sharing in 2011 -- and urged users to lobby their legislators about changing the law. The streaming video did, ultimately, win that battle: The law was amended in early 2013, and Netflix extended Facebook sharing to US users in March 2013.

But even with the changes, the VPPA continues to provide consumers some leeway to keep their video-viewing habits private. Hulu, for instance, is embroiled in a years-long class action suit related to alleged violations.

CodeBabes: the latest thing to make women in tech cringe

Women in tech have yet another Web site to roll their eyes at: "CodeBabes" -- one that's dedicated to using women's bodies to teach basic coding skills.

The site, which appears to have launched earlier in April, features videos of how to do some basic coding.

The first course -- termed the "virgin" class -- features women who are mostly clothed, but the site says they will become more scantily clad as lessons become more difficult.

"Watch the lesson, absorb the info, pass the quiz, and your instructor removes one piece of clothing." Just enough to "motivate" users, it promises.

CodeBabes has not responded to a Washington Post inquiry asking whether it's a joke or a high production value parody that is uneasily close to real life (similar ventures that have leveraged women's bodies to attract interest in the tech world, like "Hot Tech Today," have turned out to be serious).

Low-level federal judges balking at law enforcement requests for electronic evidence

Judges at the lowest levels of the federal judiciary are balking at sweeping requests by law enforcement officials for cellphone and other sensitive personal data, declaring the demands overly broad and at odds with basic constitutional rights.

This rising assertiveness by magistrate judges -- the worker bees of the federal court system -- has produced rulings that elate civil libertarians and frustrate investigators, forcing them to meet or challenge tighter rules for collecting electronic evidence.

Among the most aggressive opinions have come from DC Magistrate Judge John Facciola, a bow-tied court veteran who in recent months has blocked wide-ranging access to the Facebook page of Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis and the iPhone of the Georgetown University student accused of making ricin in his dorm room.

In another case, he deemed a law enforcement request for the entire contents of an e-mail account “repugnant” to the US Constitution.

For these and other cases, Judge Facciola has demanded more focused searches and insisted that authorities delete collected data that prove unrelated to a current investigation rather than keep them on file for unspecified future use. He also has taken the unusual step, for a magistrate judge, of issuing a series of formal, written opinions that detail his concerns, even about previously secret government investigations.

The FCC’s new net neutrality rules will kill Aereo, even if the Supreme Court doesn’t

[Commentary] We heard a lot about Aereo, the startup that could upend the television business if it survives a Supreme Court battle with television broadcasters. But even if it squeaks past the court's technologically challenged justices, it might not matter -- the company is still likely doomed. Here's why.

At heart, Aereo is an Internet company that operates on Internet pipes and serves Internet customers. Yes, the company's main business involves pulling broadcast TV signals out of the air. Critics say that practice violates copyright laws.

But technologically, Aereo stores its customers' TV shows in an online, cloud-based locker. Then it sends those shows, on-demand, over the Internet to its subscribers' waiting PCs, tablets and mobile phones. Incidentally, that makes Aereo subject to the Federal Communications Commission's new rules on network neutrality.

If Aereo loses its Supreme Court bid, the show's over and the question becomes irrelevant. But if Aereo survives, then it would be living in a world filled with Internet fast lanes and paid prioritization.

A survey of 911 dispatchers reveals the horrible, human cost of bad technology

Find Me 911, a coalition of first-responders, issued a new report on wireless 911 calls.

The group, which includes the US First Responders Association and the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, surveyed some 1,000 public safety answering points (PSAPS) nationwide -- amounting to roughly 15 percent of all 911 call centers, according to spokesman Andrew Weinstein.

"It just hit a nerve," said Weinstein. "Across the board, they're saying they have regular problems getting data, and strongly, almost to a PSAP, they say that they are regularly getting calls from callers who cannot give locations for one reason or another."

Of the 1,000 respondents, only 187 call centers reported "a great deal" of confidence in the location data they receive from wireless carriers. The Federal Communications Commission estimates that upwards of 70 percent of all emergency calls take place from a cell phone. Of those, 64 percent come from indoors, the report finds.

That's problematic because many phones today are impossible to find with the pinpoint accuracy that first-responders need to locate someone in a crisis. Assisted GPS -- the technology that helps Google Maps tell you where you are -- requires a cellular connection and good line of sight to multiple satellites. But if you're indoors and have poor reception, you'll likely be out of luck. T

here are obvious privacy concerns that come along with using geolocation data to find cell phone users. In a life-threatening emergency, though, most people would probably consider setting those aside.

Media bias explained in two studies

[Commentary] The University of Chicago’s Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro have some interesting ideas about the modern media, which they culled by studying traditional media. Namely, newspapers.

They examined the ideological “slant” of newspapers by identifying various words and phrases favored by liberals or conservatives. By tallying newspapers’ use of liberal and conservative phrases, Gentzkow and Shapiro determined papers’ political slant. This compromised their “objective” pursuit of the news.

But why are some papers more liberal and others more conservative? This is how the media resemble ice cream, Gentzkow said. Just as ice cream makers give customers the flavors they want, newspapers give their readers the stories and slant they want. It’s a market phenomenon. Ice cream makers strive to maximize ice cream consumption and profits. Papers try to maximize readership and profits.

Newspapers are commercial enterprises that respond to economic signals and incentives. Editors, producers and reporters sense what appeals to their readers and try to satisfy these tastes. Applied to cable news channels and the Internet, these same forces polarize politics.

Cable and the Internet have splintered media audiences and, thereby, created ferocious fights for ever-larger shares of ever-smaller fragments of the old mass market. The logic is powerful that the commercial imperatives of the new technologies will deepen the country’s political divisions. People will stick to their familiar political flavors and disparage those who choose differently.

How China and Russia are trying to undermine the Internet, again

The last time the world got together to talk about how the Internet should work, China and Russia proposed making it easier for individual governments to control what their citizens can see on the Web.

Now they're at it again, this time at a major international conference in Brazil. The conference, known as NETMundial, is expected to produce a set of nonbinding, international principles that countries can use in their management of the Internet.

The issue has grown more prominent lately as the United States signaled its intent to relinquish its largely symbolic role in overseeing the Web's global name and numbering system. Unlike many of the other 180-odd proposals submitted by other countries and organizations, China and Russia are plainly preoccupied by how Internet governance could affect state authority.

The Aereo case is being decided by people who call iCloud ‘the iCloud.’ Yes, really.

[Commentary] In the end, the Supreme Court's ideal frame of reference was the phonograph. The fact that their first instinct was to turn to an invention created 137 years ago speaks gigabytes for how well the Justices approach the day's most important technology cases.

It's easy to poke fun at the bench. Justice Sonia Sotomayor kept referring to cloud services alternately as "the Dropbox," "the iDrop," and "the iCloud." Chief Justice John Roberts apparently struggled to understand that Aereo keeps separate, individual copies of TV shows that its customers record themselves, not one master copy that all of its subscribers have access to.

Justice Stephen Breyer said he was concerned about a cloud company storing "vast amounts of music" online that then gets streamed to a million people at a time -- seemingly unaware of the existence of services like Spotify or Google Play. And Justice Antonin Scalia momentarily forgot that HBO doesn't travel over the airwaves like broadcast TV.

Yes, it's fun to mock Justices who seem clueless about technology. But the truth is that the laws themselves are often far behind technology. When a justice asks about a phonograph, it's because he is trying to go back to the most basic examples that support the current legal framework. And if a Justice truly doesn't understand the basics of some technology, you wouldn't want them not to ask these questions out of fear of ridicule.

Wireless lobby group names former FCC member Baker as president

Wireless industry lobbying group CTIA named Meredith Attwell Baker as its new president, another remarkable appointment for the former member of the Federal Communications Commission who has quickly climbed the ranks of a private sector she once regulated.

Baker will begin her new job June 2, after nearly three years as a high-level lobbyist for Comcast, where she promoted issues favorable for the cable giant. Public interest groups had criticized her move from the FCC to Comcast soon after she voted in favor of the cable company's merger with NBC Universal.

Critics said that Baker's move to the cable firm highlighted a revolving door between the FCC and the companies they regulate and raised potential conflicts of interests. Former FCC chairman Michael Powell now heads the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

At the CTIA, Baker will head the vast lobbying organization for wireless firms ahead of a historic auction of public airwaves in 2015. The group's biggest members -- AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint -- represent the fastest-growing segments of the telecom industry.

Baker will replace Steve Largent, who reportedly had a salary of about $2.7 million in 2013.