The U.S. Department of Justice is quietly shopping around the explosive idea of requiring Internet service providers to retain records of their customers’ online activities.
Data retention rules could permit police to obtain records of e-mail chatter, Web browsing or chat-room activity months after Internet providers ordinarily would have deleted the logs–that is, if logs were ever kept in the first place.
One of the greatest ethical challenges involved with the internet is so simple; now that it’s relatively easy, and completely possible, to record everthing that happens in the digital realm, it’s so tempting to just do it. It seems too clear to us that it’s not a great idea when it’s legislated for ISPs to do it, but libraries? We, like Google, have sworn to not be evil, But is that enough to keep us in ethically clear waters? Libraries are keen not to keep detailed records of specific patron’s library use, we avoid some of the advantages of using portal technology to do things like amazon.com’s recommended reading pages, but we seem to have no issues with things like recording virtual reference transactions. We need some clarity on these privacy issues. Ethics shouldn’t come down to “I know it when I see it” gut reactions.
How much of the potential audience is making the effort to actually download? Downloaders tend to be dedicated fans, not casual viewers of a show, because while downloading’s become fairly simple, it’s not as easy as turning on the television and plopping onto the couch. But networks and advertisers aren’t very interested in dedicated fans; they want casual viewers, because the casual viewers on any given evening far outnumber the dedicated fans. If that holds true, then what’s the real damage done as a result of downloading?
It’s even more complicated than that, I’d wager. If there’s anything major industry doesn’t have a grip on, it’s the amazing good downloaders can do for their financially. Case in point: vidders.
Vidders are folks who download episodes of tv shows (or movies, whatever) and splice up scenes or shots into a montage that often relates a narrative about the show or the characters, and then set it to (usually illegally downloaded) music. So they create music videos from clips of copyrighted material.
Why this is good: if you can imagine a better commercial for your tv show, I’d be impressed. Here we have fans of the show, creating often beautiful videos, showcasing their favourite character, posting these vids on mailing lists or archives, so that other fans can see them. And often those fans are not yet fans of the show. But soon are, after seeing enough vids. I didn’t start watching Smallville until I saw too many of my friend’s fanvids and opted to tune in. Personally, I think the studios should be shooting extra footage and releasing it, just for vidders. Extra audio-free video every week. Challenge people to work with it. Post the week’s best vid. People would eat it up. And then you’d get even more people making vids, and broadcasting them even wider. Hello, free publicity. Underground publicity. Cool, fan-generated publicity. I’m surprised no one’s grabbed on to this yet.
And in completely unrelated news, baking soda doesn’t do a darn thing if you put it in your fridge. Apparently that’s a big marketing hoax. How about that!