• Laundry time. Make sure you are getting what you’re paying for. That’s good advice in a lot of areas of human endeavor and it’s certainly true of online advertising. We wrote last month about efforts by the online advertising industry to impose standards on how viewable an ad must be.  Now advertisers have a new worry: “domain laundering,” a scheme in which online advertising exchanges represent to advertisers that ads will appear on legitimate sites, but actually place the ads on sites known for pirated content. Clearly, that’s not the environment in which an advertiser wants its message to be located. “This has become increasingly common as sophisticated perpetrators realize they can circumvent the manual, internal checks that many ad platforms have in place,” the senior vice president of corporate development at comScore, a digital analytics company, told the Wall Street Journal.
  • Valuable tweets. Twitter earned $361 million in the last fiscal quarter and has certainly carved out a place on the social media scene. Kurt Wagner of Re/code says this is a perfect time for the company’s leaders to define what Twitter aspires to become in the next few years. Does it plan to try to hit a billion users? (Its current count of active users is about 284 million.) Or is it thinking somewhat less broadly? Twitter starts with a smaller user base than Google or Facebook, but it provides an immediacy that distinguishes Twitter from many other major networks. According to Wagner, this is also a good time for Twitter to explain to advertisers what its true value is. One key may be for Twitter to find a way to count the people who don’t have accounts but still visit its site or see tweets on television.
  • Cops and robbers. There’s been a lot of discussion about law enforcement and social media: Are the cops keeping up with techniques that are being used by criminals? And are they making sure to stay within the framework of Supreme Court decisions that protect the rights of suspects? A new study from LexisNexis isn’t especially encouraging. It shows that 80 percent of law enforcement agencies in the United States use social media to catch criminals but that 52 percent of them don’t have a formal policy regarding the use of social media. Only 33 percent of the agencies have an assigned social media monitor, while the others leave such monitoring to individual officers. The study solicited answers from nearly 500 local, state and federal enforcement agencies.
  •  Lyfted documents? Uber and Lyft, two ride-sharing companies that are both expanding rapidly and trying to take business away from traditional taxis in cities across the nation, have never been on the best of terms. Their rivalry just found its way into the courts, as Lyft has sued its former chief operating officer Travis VanderZanden, who moved over to Uber as its vice president of international growth. Lyft claims in the lawsuit filed in state court in San Francisco that, when he left, VanderZanden took with him more than 1400 of Lyft’s confidential business documents. The documents, Lyft says, are among its most sensitive and include “historic and future financial information, strategic planning materials like marketing plans and product plans, customer lists and data, international growth documents, and private personnel information.” VanderZanden allegedly backed these documents up to his phone and his computer before he left. Lyft claims that this action amounts to breach of VanderZanden’s confidentiality agreement and fiduciary duty to the company, and says it has forensic evidence to support its allegations. A Lyft spokeswoman told CNET, “We are disappointed to have to take this step, but this unusual situation has left us no choice but to take the necessary legal action to protect our confidential information. We will not tolerate this type of behavior.” Uber hasn’t yet responded to the complaint.
  • Going native. Banner ads have been on the Internet since—well, since there was an Internet. They’re a standard item on nearly any website. But New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo says that banner ads’ day has come and gone. According to Manjoo, banner ads are clunky and unattractive, they distract the user from his or her Web experience, and practically no one reads them anyway. “The history of the banner ad is a cautionary tale for today’s hot start-ups,” Manjoo writes. “It is a story of what happens when you try to monetize an invention too quickly, before it has gained a wide enough foothold with an audience to create a sustainable, symbiotic business model.” Manjoo says the shift from computer-based websites to mobile apps is going to be the final straw that ends the era of the banner ad. He thinks “native ads” may end up as the ultimate replacement for banner ads. These are pieces of advertising that look like regular content on an app or website. A Levi’s ad on Instagram, Manjoo points out, looks like a regular Instagram posting. A Facebook sponsored story looks like any other post. A promoted tweet looks like a tweet. It’s much less annoying, but as Manjoo acknowledges, it’s easy for an unsuspecting reader to miss the distinction between editorial and advertising content. This blurring has even attracted attention from the FTC, which has warned that deceptive native advertising may be illegal.
  • Boxing out. Twitter has moved the “tweet box” or “compose box” on twitter.com, where users can compose and post tweets, from the left side of its page to the top of the timeline. This seemingly small change appears calculated to make the box more visible and easier to use, thus encouraging more tweets. In the same vein, the box used to include the bland phrase, “Compose new tweet,” but now it says, “What’s happening?” Mashable says that makes it sound a lot more like the phrase found in Facebook’s status box, “What’s on your mind?”
  • Cuffed links. The Spanish parliament has passed what is commonly known as the “Google tax,” although it’s technically not a tax and doesn’t apply solely to Google. Rather, it’s an intellectual property law requiring online news aggregators to pay fees for describing and linking to stories published by Spanish newspapers; failure to pay can expose the aggregator to penalties up to $758,000 (€600,000). Moreover, according to The Independent, the Spanish law characterizes these fees as an “inalienable right” (derecho irrenunciable) that “overrides any concept of ‘fair use’.” Not surprisingly, the new law has sparked criticism, with Gizmodo observing that this makes Spain essentially “the first country in the world to charge for linking online.”
  • Pass the passcode. Can prosecutors force a criminal defendant to hand over the passcode to his cellphone if they think there’s incriminating evidence on the phone? A trial judge in Virginia said no in an interesting case late last month. The judge said it’s one thing to force the defendant to be fingerprinted – even if the fingerprint is what unlocks the phone, prosecutors can do that. It’s another thing entirely to compel production of the passcode, because that would require handing over a form of “knowledge” in violation of the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination. The case involved a man charged with attempting to strangle his girlfriend; prosecutors believed that the phone’s built-in video camera may have recorded what went on in the altercation between the couple.
  • Treasure tweets. Under its recently announced partnership with Twitter, IBM will be tapping into a truly vast source of data – the nearly 500 million tweets that run across Twitter’s network every day. Many consider this to be a treasure trove of information that can help businesses to better understand consumer sentiment and to tap into trends before they become evident. IBM plans to find patterns in the Twitter data and to sell its findings to clients. This is a pretty big deal for IBM, as it is training 10,000 workers in the art of finding trends and patterns in the data and making them useful to businesses. Although IBM and Twitter may make for an odd couple, big data analytics require big databases, and few databases are as big as the one that Twitter is making available to IBM.
  • Unfree speech? In the United States, the First Amendment would likely prevent the prosecution of someone who posted racist or anti-Semitic messages on a social media platform. But social media platforms operate worldwide, and many nations’ laws are much less permissive when it comes to speech of this type. Following a French case in which Twitter was forced to remove certain anti-Semitic content, many operators of social media platforms have updated their terms of service to comply with European laws regarding racist statements, Holocaust denial and other hate speech.
  • By invitation only. Google is currently rolling out Inbox, a new email system with added features that may eventually replace Gmail for some users. Interestingly, Google is initially making Inbox available only by invitation. Each person with an Inbox account can invite up to three friends by clicking a “golden ticket” icon. It’s not clear why Google is doing this. According to an article on Techcrunch, Google may be trying to create a “sense of buzz” for the new app so that it can grow the user base inexpensively and virally.
  • Not with a bang but a whimper. Last month, we wrote about the long-drawn-out trademark battle between Twitter and Twitpic in which Twitter said it would prevent Twitpic from gaining access to its API if Twitpic did not abandon its trademark. Twitpic decided to shut down instead, and we just heard the last bit of news on this dispute: Twitpic’s archives of photos will remain accessible and available for perusal, but no new additions will be allowed. And Twitpic is ending the availability of its mobile apps. So if you put a photo on Twitpic a year ago, you’ll still be able to find it, but that’s about all.
  • Clearing the air. Aereo, the startup broadcasting service that lost big in the U.S. Supreme Court last June, just lost another, and possibly its last, court battle. A U.S. district judge in the Southern District of New York, responding to a motion filed by the major broadcasting networks, granted a preliminary injunction barring Aereo from retransmitting programs to its subscribers while the programs are still being broadcast . The ruling by U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan also rejected Aereo’s argument that it should be able to take advantage of the statutory compulsory license applicable to cable systems.
  • Let’s be friends. Twitter’s relationship with app developers has been somewhat strained since the microblogging platform tightened its rules on outside apps a couple years back. That’s all changing now, as Twitter convened its first mobile app-developer conference in four years. The event in San Francisco attracted 1,000 developers. At the conference, Twitter introduced Fabric, a set of developer tools that are intended to make it easier for developers to build apps and make money from them.  It looks as if Twitter is taking note of the similar steps that Google, Facebook and others are taking to attract app developers.
  • Sharing the wealth. A New York-based tech startup called Tsu is trying to establish a whole new business model for a social network. Tsu, which has attracted a $7 million venture capital investment from Sancus Capital, will pay users based on the advertisements that their postings attract. Tsu keeps only 10 percent of the revenue that it receives from ads, sponsorships, and third-party applications. The other 90 percent is divided into two pools of money. Half of it goes to the content creator who posted the content that attracted the ad. The other half goes to the social network that recruited that content creator.
  • Time change. Until now, Twitter has made a clear distinction between people you follow and people you don’t follow: You only saw tweets from those whom you followed. Now, the service, in what it calls a “timeline experiment,” will place tweets on your timeline from select users that you are not following. Twitter is using an algorithm that determines which such tweets you will see based on the users that you do follow, the popularity of the users you do not follow, and other factors. You won’t be able to opt out of this feature and some frequent Twitter users have complained that it removes one of the factors that distinguishes Twitter from other social media platforms.
  • False flag. We wrote recently about the fake Facebook account that the Drug Enforcement Administration created to gather information for a narcotics investigation. On October 17, Facebook’s chief security officer wrote a letter to DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart calling the agency’s actions a “knowing and serious breach” of Facebook’s policies. Facebook asked the DEA to confirm that it had stopped engaging in this tactic. Facebook’s letter specifically questioned the DEA’s contention that the woman who was the subject of the fake account implicitly consented to use of her personal information for such purposes when she consented to a search of her phone.
  • Square deal. Foursquare has been known mostly as a check-in app – a place where you post your location but not much more. The company’s new ad campaign hopes to change that image and to position Foursquare as a food-oriented rating and recommendation network similar to Yelp and Urbanspoon. “Introducing the all-new Foursquare, which learns what you like and leads you to places you’ll love,” is the new slogan on the Foursquare website. The ad campaign will roll out in mass transit in New York and Chicago and in bike-share locations in the Windy City.

Big Brother isn’t just watching. A single mother in upstate New York was surprised to find that she had a Facebook page in her name, complete with photos of her, her son, and her niece. She hadn’t actually set up the page. It turned out that she was being investigated as a bit player in a federal drug investigation and that the Drug Enforcement Administration had created the page in her name, without her permission. The page, which has since been taken down, used the woman’s real name as well as photos from her cell phone, which had been seized by the DEA. The DEA even went so far as to send and accept friend requests for the woman. The woman was sentenced to probation and has sued the DEA agent who put up the page. Facebook says impersonating someone to set up a page is a clear violation of its terms of service.

Transparency vs. security. Twitter and other technology and communications companies frequently receive requests from the U.S. government for user data that the government asserts it needs for national security purposes. In the interest of transparency, these companies wish to disclose how many such requests they have received, if any, in a given span of time. The government wants to restrict the dissemination of this information and, earlier this year, it reached a settlement on the issue with Google, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Yahoo. Twitter did not reach any such settlement and it has now sued the government in U.S. District Court in California, claiming that the government restrictions violate the First Amendment. The government argues that the more is known about its sources and methods in collecting national security data, the less secure the nation will be. This should be an interesting First Amendment case.

In the city there’s a thousand things. There’s been a lot of talk about “the Internet of things.” Google now wants to bring the Internet of things directly to city dwellers. What about Zipcars that broadcast when they’re available, or bus stops that communicate with your mobile device about the next bus arrival? As part of its “Physical Web” initiative, Google is seeking to bring these and similar features to the urban environment. The idea is to interconnect seemingly unconnected physical objects that city dwellers encounter on a daily basis. As a Google designer says, “Just tap and use.”

  • Yik yuck. As we’ve discussed on this blog, secrecy is all the rage these days in the online world. Yik Yak – a particularly edgy social media app that seeks to preserve user anonymity – is sweeping the country, or at least the nation’s college campuses. With users’ identities concealed, the app has reportedly become a popular means for communicating deeply offensive remarks and even threats of violence. At one school, Colgate University, students launched a sit-in to protest against the ugliness they found on the app. And at the University of Tennessee, Dean of Students Melissa Shivers recently sent an email to students warning about the app and emphasizing the importance of civility on campus. With the growing popularity of anonymous social media platforms such as Yik Yak, expect to see increased tensions between anonymous speech rights and efforts to limit hateful or violent speech.
  • Listening in. For some time, many pharmaceutical companies have reportedly “listened in” on patients’ social media conversations to obtain a sense of how their products were actually being used, and data-packaging and data-mining companies have sprung up to help pharma firms get a handle on the discussions on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. Now, investors too are starting to jump into this emerging field of “social listening” to get ideas about where to put their money. An Israeli company, Treato, is actively courting fund managers with its pitch that it can tap into these aggregate conversations. Even though no actual patient names are apparently used in these reports, a lot of people are raising privacy concerns. Big Data, meet Big Privacy – should be an interesting battle to watch.
  • Legally social. The Pennsylvania Bar Association just issued a formal ethics opinion on the use of social media by attorneys. Among the key provisions are ones requiring lawyers to have a basic working knowledge of social media as part of their competence in the law, prohibiting lawyers from disclosing confidential client information in response to negative online reviews, and permitting attorneys to access the public portion of jurors’ social media profiles while prohibiting efforts to access private information from such profiles. The formal opinion is one of the most comprehensive on the subject in any state, and is recommended reading for attorneys, regardless of their practice focus.



  • Upward mobility. These days, Facebook videos, taken as a whole, are receiving a total of one billion views a day, and at least 65% of those views are occurring on mobile devices, Facebook VP of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson noted at a recent Advertising Week panel discussion. Indeed, over the past two years, there’s been an astonishing 532% increase in watching videos via mobile devices, including tablets. That means that advertisers now have the key challenge of creating digital video content that invites engagement by consumers across platforms and devices. People are carving out moments during their everyday activities to consume media via mobile, and advertisers will want to take this into account in planning their campaigns.
  • Blue platform, red platform. Is your choice of social media platform a clue to your politics? A current survey suggests that it might be.  For example, according to the survey, Pinterest fans are older and wealthier than users of other major platforms; hence, they tend to be more conservative than the average Internet user. On the other hand, Twitter aficionados are more interested in politics than most people—and also more liberal. Facebook is the most politically neutral, on average, perhaps because it is so large that pretty much every group is well represented. It will be interesting to see if these findings, released by Quantcast, have an impact on online advertising strategies.
  • Troublesome tweets? In the upcoming high-profile retrial on sentencing issues of Jodi Arias, the Arizona woman who was convicted in 2013 of murdering her lover in 2008, the defense has moved to dismiss on several grounds the prosecution’s intent to seek the death penalty. The defense alleges, among other things, that a police detective’s wife improperly tweeted sealed trial information and uploaded “insulting videos” to YouTube. The trial is set to start on October 20.
  • Filling a gap. Gap Inc., the clothing retailer, is using social media to establish a web presence focused on feminism, equal pay for equal work, and progressive values. For example, the company produced an Instagram video, which it also shared on its other social media channels, to support equal pay for women. The video is an extension of a company initiative to highlight “the missing 23 cents” – i.e., the 77 cents that women make for every dollar their male counterparts earn. This is a bold use of the Gap’s social media soapbox to promote its company values and, it appears, a very successful one.
  • Uber mess. A passenger in an Uber car in San Francisco was allegedly bashed in the head last month by the driver during an argument. The passenger suffered serious eye injuries and has said that he is likely to sue Uber. In similar cases, Uber has invoked Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act as a defense, claiming that it is merely an online marketplace and not a transportation provider. But while Section 230 has been interpreted broadly, even some of the statute’s staunchest defenders have questioned whether Uber can claim its protection in this case.
  • Tweeting your wish. Amazon and Twitter have just rolled out a new feature that enables consumers to use the new hashtag #AmazonWishList to add tweeted products to their Amazon Wish Lists, so long as they have first connected their Amazon and Twitter accounts. The companies appear to be betting that this new “wish list” functionality will be a natural extension of the way in which people already use Twitter to express interest in, and opinions about, products.