When word came from the Wall Street Journal yesterday that online music service Pandora had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury, our ears pricked up. Federal grand juries are no joke, and if the Department of Justice was conducting a probe into the way smartphone app developers are collecting user information, looking for violations of existing privacy laws could mean big changes in how app markets work.
The Journal broke the story (by spotting word of the subpoena in a recent SEC filing by Pandora) and has fleshed it out with a lengthy piece today. What the Journal hasn’t done, since this is still early in the story, is break the information down into layman’s terms.
Thanks to the Journal, we know that federal prosecutors in New Jersey are investigating multiple app developers — seeking to know if they “illegally obtained or transmitted information about their users without proper disclosures”. When the word of the probe first hit, it was tempered with the statement by Pandora that they “were informed that we are not a specific target of the investigation, and we believe that similar subpoenas were issued on an industry-wide basis to the publishers of numerous other smartphone applications.” The first logical supposition was that if the DOJ wasn’t looking to charge Pandora, it must be chumming the water for bigger fish. In the case of the smartphone market, this means the platform holders like Apple and Google.
Today’s report by the Journal turns that notion on its head, as their sources lead the reporters to conclude that the Justice Department is interested in the app developers use of user data. Apple and Google have, according to the Journal, been contacted for information as well. They also make apps, and would likely be targets for that reason.
Here’s where we’d like to stress that while this is a criminal probe, these sorts of investigations often mutate into negotiations between corporations and the government that result in civil cases. What’s at stake here is the shape of the app marketplace. The rules on data collection have a huge impact on how app developers can deploy advertising. The more refined the data they can collect– age, gender, location, interests– the better targeted the advertising they can feed back over the phone to the user. This kind of data has had marketers salivating for years, a fever dream of the perfect advertising environment that has finally come to pass.
It looks like prosecutors believe this fever dream is causing companies to break the law — even when they don’t realize it. In today’s Journal, the reporters talked to one app developer who inadvertently illustrated the real problem developers have:
Anthony Campiti, creator of the Pumpkin Maker iPhone app, said he received a subpoena requesting information and documents related to his app. Mr. Campiti said he had turned the request over to his lawyer and didn’t recall who had issued the subpoena.
“They’re just doing information-gathering to get a better understanding” of the industry, Mr. Campiti said. “We’re not doing anything wrong and neither is anyone else doing anything wrong.”
The problem here is that Mr. Campiti may likely be committing the same mistake that hundreds of companies make. Few companies deliberately set out to break the law, but the law is by definition open to interpretation. In-house council can tell a developer that they are in the free and clear on a particular point, only to get slapped with a subpoena by the Feds months later because prosecutors interpret the law differently.
So the worst case scenario for app developers would be that an industry standard on data collection, one that they’ve based their business models on, turns out to be on the wrong side of the law. From there, two major paths open up: change the business model, or find a way to change the law.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, are what the privacy wars look like up close and personal.
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Robyn Gee on Friday, Mar. 11th
Talk about relevant curriculum. Emerson College in Boston now has a social media course that is underwritten by big companies, like Sprint Nextel Corp., Levi Strauss & Co. and Mattel Inc., in which students create social marketing strategies for these companies and implement them.
For example, Sprint supplied the class with smartphones and unlimited service and the students return the favor by tweeting, blogging, and pushing the company’s name through social networks, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Rubi Godinez wrote on the Emerson College Admissions blog, “As one of the semester-long projects, we are given a for-profit client. For this client we are to create a social media campaign to increase their social media presence…. I will be working with the Boston Symphony Orchestra working with Google Adwords. Google is sponsoring our class with a $10,000 budget a month to work with Google Adwords and create ads for our clients. This is big. This class is allowing us to try out ideas with clients, use real money, fail, and succeed. Pretty good deal.”
Students get a good deal, but the WSJ points out, “Of course, some parents may be surprised to learn their tuition dollars are helping to underwrite corporate marketing in addition to their children’s education.”
WSJ readers sent in mixed opinions of the new social media course. One reader commented, “This is not real crowdsource evangelism since the students are bought with sponsorship and items. I hope that they are indicating in the Tweets and in blog posts that it is sponsored just like the rest of us bloggers must do for full disclosure. If not, they should also learn about that in the class.”
Another negative response questioned whether learning how to tweet was enough. “ I’d advise students NOT to take courses that show you have to “tweet” or talk aspirationally about “driving the conversation”, “engaging in the dialogue”, or “promoting influence” … but rather take a paid or unpaid role with a PR firm, or marketing agency, or just read a good, recent book from a true “expert” like “Empowered” (by a Forrester VP of Research), to get up to speed … and follow tweets of people more engaged in the space than you. That’s the best way to learn.”
But these comments were overpowered by students weighing in on the value of classes that engage with real world, real time issues. They mentioned similar projects going on at Bentley University, De Paul University, Ithaca College, and Carnegie Mellon University.
One student wrote, “I am a Finance Major at Bentley University and am finding Professor Snow’s class eye-opening and engaging!… The hands-on experience of creating marketing plans that fit our real-life client’s time and monetary constraints is invaluable and an excellent resume builder. I highly recommend a class like Professor Snow’s to anyone interested in making a mark in our rapidly changing eWorld!”
A reader from Carnegie Mellon said classes like these might even help students get jobs. “Students appreciate the opportunity to get in front of clients in a consultative setting while clients enjoy the opportunity to come to campus and work with a diverse group of students who bring an innovative fresh mode of thinking to their social oriented strategies. To be honest, they also look at it as a potential recruiting tactic… I think this style of teaching will continue to grow in popularity across schools as the benefits for both groups become more widely known.”
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by The Champ
Last weekend, a few relatives and I gathered at my great aunt’s house to eat dinner and spend seven hours telling the exact same stories we told the last time we saw each other. As the youngest person in the room, my job was to do what any youngest person in a room full of loved and respected elders is usually supposed to do: listen, fetch cans of Pepsi, fact check in the most non-condescending way possible, and get teased for my reliance on my phone.
Anyway, midway through one of my dad’s inappropriately (but intentionally) hilarious recollections about New Castle, Pa (where most of my dad’s side of the family is from), something dawned on me:
“I’ve finally been here more than half as long as he has.”
You see, my last birthday officially made me more than half of my dad’s current age. Why is this important? Well, this means that I’m now officially older than he was when he had me, and this realization was quite jarring. Now, when I look at those grainy photo albums where my afro-clad dad is holding a three-day-old me in his arms, I’m looking at a man a few months younger than me. The man who looked so big, so proud, and so, well, so how a man is supposed to look hadn’t been on the planet as long as I have now, but I don’t think I measure up.
This particular brand of age-related angst is far from unique, though. In the last two weeks, both the Wall Street Journal — Kay S. Hymowitz’s “Where Have The Good Men Gone?” — and Slate — Mark Regnerus’s “Sex Is Cheap: Why young men have the upper hand in bed, even when they’re failing in life” — published widely read and discussed pieces that each contained the same latent premise: Men just aren’t growing up the way they used to.
From “The Extended Adolescence of (Some) American Men” – Sister Toldja’s examination of “Where Have The Good Men Gone”:
…I think Hymowitz’s examples of the boyish cultural tastes of pre-adult males, the “Animal House,” extended college lifestyle and dating behaviors (using women as “estrogen play things”) make a stronger statement. The longer these young men extend their boyhoods, the less prepared they will be when they do choose to enter adult romances, marriages and when they become parents.
Although I don’t possess most of the characteristics each of these articles cite as synonymous with “extended adolescence,” I do believe my singleness (“singleness” in the census sense, at least) and childlessness contributes to my feeling, well, less manly than I think I’m supposed to, and there’s no remedy waiting for me over the horizon. I still consider marriage and fatherhood to be the most prominent markers of adulthood, but “professional and creative success” remains at the top of my personal needs hierarchy.
Read the rest of The Champ’s post at VerySmartBrothas.
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