No One Cares But DoubleClick

In his CNN Tech article “With ‘real-time’ apps, Facebook is always watching” John D. Sutter explains the effects of real-time apps:

In the old world of Facebook, I would have to click that I “liked” a song for it to show up on my Facebook profile page. That’s something you have to think about: “OK, I really like this song, and I really want all of my friends to know that I’m listening to it right now.” Now, sharing is both passive and automatic. It’s a choice you make in advance — one time — and never again.

And so it goes with all kinds of the new “real-time” apps.

Since I’ve logged in to Yahoo! News with Facebook, every time I read an article on that site, it goes to my Timeline.

The same is true for Hulu and TV shows.

And for the Internet game “Words with Friends.” When I play a Scrabble-style word in that game, it will show up on Facebook, along with an image of the current playing board.

Which raises an obvious question: who could possibly want to receive such a constant stream of mundane information about one’s friends, or especially about one’s “friends?” One obvious answer is “no one with a life of their own.”  My spouse does not want to follow every Scrabble hand I play with my son. I do not want to know every song she plays while hanging out in the kitchen. I see a group of friends just about every day for coffee, we talk about everything that captures our brief attention spans, yet being notified of every video they watched online is TMI.  We filter our experiences, we decide which of our friends might be interested in which stories, we curate.  This word is five minutes from overuse but its prevalence evidences our response to the problem of too much information.

To the question “who could possibly want to receive such a constant stream of mundane information” the other obvious, more relevant, and more truthful answer is “anyone who can use that information stream to sell me stuff.” One’s virtual and actual friends will tune it out as the background data buzz that surrounds every Facebook user like a thick cloud of noisy midges. Advertisers will collect, collate, examine, and evaluate each vibrating data point to construct interest and activity profiles. Then they will market to the midges.

This is no great insight. Sutter’s article makes the same point. What moves me is the breathtaking transparency of Facebook’s game. Facebook’s interest in serving its users is overwhelmed by its interest in users as data generators. Real-time apps provide a means to calibrate with unparalleled precision the relationship between user data and vendors of stuff. Facebooko ergo sum:  I Facebook therefore I am–a consumer first, last, and always.

Internet Sales Taxes

The effort to collect sales taxes on Internet transactions gained momentum recently. Last week the New York legislature passed a bill that would require Internet retailers doing more than $10,000 a year in business to collect and remit taxes on sales to customers in New York. This article in the New York Times addresses the issue, noting that since 2003 New York’s state income tax form has contained Line 59, on which taxpayers are required to list unpaid sales taxes on Internet sales from non-New York retailers. In 2006 five percent of New York taxpayers included information on Line 59, with an average tax owed of $95.36. I expect that most taxpayers are unaware that they are required to pay in-state use taxes on out-of-state purchases that were untaxed at the time of purchase because, for instance, the taxpayer had the item shipped from the store to their home. The requirement to pay use taxes has been around for some time–since the 1960s in New York, via Line 56 on older tax forms–but the only enforcement I recall involved disgraced Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski’s evasion of sales tax on a multi-million dollar purchase of paintings. Kozlowski purchased the paintings in London and had them shipped to his home in New York via Tyco’s headquarters in sales-tax-free New Hampshire, for the purpose of avoiding New York sales tax. New York indicted Kozlowski for tax evasion but ultimately dismissed the charges. New York expects to collect about $50 million a year from the new law.


E-Commerce Top Ten

The Software Information and Industry Association (SIIA) announced the Ten Most Significant eCommerce Developments of the Past Decade. They are:

  1. Google (Sept. 1998)
  2. Broadband Penetration of US Internet Users Reaches 50% (June 2004)
  3. eBay Auctions (Launched Sept. 1997)
  4. Amazon.com (IPO May 1997)
  5. Google Ad Words (2000)
  6. Open Standards (HTML 4.0 released – 1997)
  7. Wi-Fi (802.11 launched – 1997)
  8. User-Generated Content (YouTube 2005)
  9. iTunes (2001)
  10. BlackBerry (1999)

I’ve used, utilized, or relied on all in the past month, so I can’t argue much with the list. (At first glance I omitted Blackberry from this statement until I remembered that Randy did Google searches on his Blackberry to settle disputes during the bike trip.) What I’d like to see at #11: standardized spelling for eCommerce e-Commerce E-Commerce.

The Cup Runneth Over

The problem in teaching Internet law is choosing what to cover. There is no such thing as “Internet Law,” not in the sense of an integrated body of legal principles such as contract law, tort law, or constitutional law. “Internet Law” might better be described as “The Legal System’s Response to Problems Arising from Use of the Internet and Digital Technology for Commercial and Other Transactions.” That’s a title certain to scare away prospective students, and still probably incomplete.

When Internet Law, or Cyber Law, entered the legal consciousness about eight years ago textbook publishers rushed a number of Internet law texts to market. I looked at all of them, tried out a few, and now don’t use any. One problem they shared was the lack of clear vision as to what they should cover. They spent time on topics like non-disclosure agreements for employees of tech companies or forms of business organization for Internet start-ups. These are interesting topics in an employment law or entrepreneurship course, but pose no issues unique to the Internet. Teaching this course requires guidelines to determine what topics are in and what are out. Two Internet law professors might use different guidelines and disagree about whether to include a particular topic. For instance, I don’t discuss patent law in my Internet law course. Patent law raises vitally important issues these days, such as the patentability of methods of doing business and the Patent Office’s need to vet prior art thoroughly, but in my view these cutting-edge issues do not turn on unique Internet characteristics.

Fortunately the news abounds with issues of Internet law. These are some of the stories that came across my desktop yesterday:

Darren Waters, Warnings over ‘broken up” Internet, BBC News, Oct-11-06 (reporting on concerns that countries such as China will tailor Internet architecture to their specific needs, resulting in “island of connectivity that have no inter-connectivity between them”)

Jonathan Bick, E-Communications Policy: Getting It Right, E-Commerce Law & Strategy (Law.com), Oct-12-06 (recommendations about employer policies governing employee use of “Internet, computer, and electronic assets” that recognize the ubiquity inherent insecurity of current methods of electronic communication)

Jack M. Germain, The False Promise of Browser Security, E-Commerce Times, Oct-11-06 (“Vulnerabilities are so embedded in any browser that surfing the Web is no safer than driving a tank through a mine field while blindfolded.”)

Does YouTube Make Google a Big Target for Copyright Suits?, The Wall Street Journal, Oct-11-06 (Discussion between John Palfrey, Harvard law professor and Director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society and Stan Liebovitz, University of Texas economics professor and Director of the Center for Analysis of Property Rights and Innovation)

Susanna Hamer, Google’s big bet, CNNMoney.com, Oct-12-06 (Advertisers will use databases of personally-identifable information, tracking cookies, geo-location software, and other devices to deliver personally-customized video ads to Internet users)

Like I said, the problem in teaching Internet law is choosing what to cover. There is too much.