Is the internet worth it?

Economics columnist Robert J. Samuelson argues that the internet is not worth it.  Yes, it’s nice to get e-mail, watch YouTube, and have access to all this information.  But, he maintains, the internet has made our infrastructure more fragile and our dependence on the internet opens us up to new levels of crime, sabotage, privacy violations, and social problems. [Read more...]

The Surveillance State is also Bugging the Internet

As we posted about last week, the federal government has been secretly monitoring millions of phone calls.  Now it has been learned that the feds are also  secretly monitoring massive amounts of internet activity by tapping into servers of internet companies. [Read more...]

The next step in internet TV

As a follow-up to our ZeroTV discussion, I present to your information about Aereo, a website that will stream live television broadcasts that it picks up over the free airwaves.  Broadcasters and Cable moguls alike are trying to stop this venture in the courts, but so far to no avail.

I have questions for both sides of the controversy:  (1) How are broadcasters harmed if a website shows their over-the-air programming as opposed to that programming being shown on a television set? (2)  What is the advantage of watching live broadcasts on a computer screen as opposed to watching it over a television screen?  (3) Television stations are howling that their content is being “stolen.”  But how can it be stolen if the stations are giving it away for free? (4)  Why would viewers pay $10 per month for Aereo when they can get the same programming on a bigger screen for free?  [Read more...]

From spam to bacn

I have learned a new word, though I’m quite familiar with the reality.  From  BBC News – Why your inbox fills with bacn instead of spam:

Bacn is becoming what spam once was – the nuisance that fills up your inbox and makes it hard to pick out the important messages you have to read and which require a reply.

Bacn is all those reminders, newsletters, notifications, limited offers, alerts and other ephemera sent by websites, e-tailers and other services you have used ever since you made your first mouse clicks on the web. [Read more...]

Suing negative reviewers

You know those user reviews on online sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, Yahoo, and all those restaurant and travel sites?  Some businesses are striking back at negative reviews by suing the reviewers.

A Fairfax County woman being sued for defamation over negative reviews she wrote on Yelp and Angie’s List must delete certain accusations and is barred from repeating them in new posts, a judge ruled Wednesday.

The preliminary injunction was hailed as a victory by a D.C. contractor, who took the woman to court claiming that her online reviews of the work he did on her home were false and cost him $300,000 in business. He is suing her for $750,000.

“It’s a win on morality, integrity and truthfulness,” contractor Christopher Dietz said after the hearing in Fairfax County Circuit Court. “This is permanent damage. I can’t undo what she did.”

Jane Perez hired Dietz to perform cosmetic improvements in June 2011 on her newly purchased townhouse, but she quickly soured on Dietz and gave him a scathing one-star review on Yelp and a similar treatment on Angie’s List.

The list of accusations over the job were long, but included damage to her home, an invoice for work Dietz did not perform and jewelry that went missing when Dietz was the only other person with a key to her home. Dietz denies those claims. . . .

In Virginia, someone can be found liable for defamation if he states or implies a false factual statement about a person or business that causes harm to the subject’s reputation. Opinions are generally protected by the First Amendment. . . .

Lawyers say legal actions over reviews on Web sites such as Yelp are on the rise, as the sites have grown in popularity and online reputations have become more important for doctors, dentists and a host of other professionals.

Some reviewers and free speech advocates view such suits as attempts to stifle freedom of speech, while business owners say they are being forced to fight back because a false post online can cause serious damage to their businesses.

via Judge says homeowner must delete some accusations on Yelp, Angie’s List – The Washington Post.

Should consumer reviewers have the freedom to say whatever they want?  Or do businesses need some recourse against exaggerating individuals who can ruin their reputation?

Mining “big data”

An interesting article by Ariana Eunjung Cha on how financiers, politicians, and researchers are mining data from Twitter, Google, Facebook, and the like to identify trends and forecast the future:

From a trading desk in London, Paul Hawtin monitors the fire hose of more than 340 million Twitter posts flying around the world each day to try to assess the collective mood of the populace.

The computer program he uses generates a global sentiment score from 1 to 50 based on how pessimistic or optimistic people seem to be from their online conversations. Hawtin, chief executive of Derwent Capital Markets, buys and trades millions of dollars of stocks for private investors based on that number: When everyone appears happy, he generally buys. When anxiety runs high, he sells short.

Hawtin has seen a gain of more than 7 percent in the first quarter of this year, and his method shows the advantage individuals, companies and governments are gaining as they take hold of the unprecedented amount of data online. Traders such as Hawtin say analyzing mathematical trends on the Web delivers insights and news faster than traditional investment approaches.

The explosion in the use of Google, Facebook, Twitter and other services has resulted in the generation of some 2.5 quintillion bytes each day, according to IBM.

“Big data,” as it has been dubbed by researchers, has become so valuable that the World Economic Forum, in a report published last year, deemed it a new class of economic asset, like oil.

“Business boundaries are being redrawn,” the report said. Companies with the ability to mine the data are becoming the most powerful, it added.

While the human brain cannot comprehend that much information at once, advances in computer power and analytics have made it possible for machines to tease out patterns in topics of conversation, calling habits, purchasing trends, use of language, popularity of sports, spread of disease and other expressions of daily life.

“This is changing the world in a big way. It enables us to watch changes in society in real time and make decisions in a way we haven’t been able to ever before,” said Gary King, a social science professor at Harvard University and a co-founder of Crimson Hexagon, a data analysis firm based in Boston.

The Obama campaign employs rows of people manning computers that monitor Twitter sentiment about the candidates in key states. Google scientists are working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track the spread of flu around the world by analyzing what people are typing in to search. And the United Nations is measuring inflation through computers that analyze the price of bread advertised in online supermarkets across Latin America.

Many questions about big data remain unanswered. Concerns are being raised about personal privacy and how consumers can ensure that their information is being used fairly. Some worry that savvy technologists could use Twitter or Google to create false trends and manipulate markets.

Even so, sociologists, software engineers, economists, policy analysts and others in nearly every field are jumping into the fray.

via ‘Big data’ from social media, elsewhere online take trend-watching to new level – The Washington Post.

That’s very impressive, to be sure, but do you think all of this “data” is really equivalent to a natural resource?  The stock trader who buys when the Twitter traffic is happy and sells when it’s sad has been making money, but why not buy when people are sad (picking up bargains when people are giving up on the world and dumping their stocks for cheap) and selling when they are happy (taking advantage of their irrational exuberance)?  That is to say, is his data mining resulting in an application that is all that scientific?  And in what sense is a Twitter tweet necessarily equivalent to hard data?  Can one control for irony, sarcasm, and jokes?  I’m not denying that there may be some very useful information amidst all of the clutter, but still. . . .


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