United States International

It’s Our Web, Not Theirs

It's Our Web, Not Theirs
by: Steve Anderson

The web belongs to everyone, not just mega-corporations. But you wouldn't know it reading the business pages these days. It's time for citizens to ask if their needs in a democratic society are being overshadowed by the drive for new media profits.

One recent study showed that only 20 domains (websites) capture 39 per cent of all time spent online by U.S. users. Considering that the Internet is technically an open medium, this is an amazingly high level of user concentration. MySpace.com, which is owned by News Corporation, commands an astounding 11.9 per cent of U.S. users' time online. Bearing in mind the U.S.A. has well over 200 million Internet users, this kind of concentration of online website usage creates huge vectors of power.

Chief among the online brands are the ever-popular social networking websites. In the period between September 2006 to February 2007 the number of visitors to the social networking website Facebook.com jumped 75 per cent to 24.8 million users worldwide and the number of visitors to MySpace.com grew 26 per cent to 98.5 million visitors in the same period. More than half of all Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 use online social networking sites.

Many of the most powerful online media websites are owned by some of the largest media corporations in the world. Fox Interactive Media (News Corp) spent $580 million to acquire MySpace.com. Google, a large and more powerful media corporation, owns one of the most popular blog platforms: BlogSpot.com. Google also purchased YouTube, the most popular online video site, for $1.65 billion. Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL Time Warner own other popular platforms. Google's chief executive officer Eric Schmidt recently estimated that Google buys start-up web companies every few days, and is quoted saying, "I think the pace [of Google buyouts] will accelerate."

In whose interest is the Internet being shaped?

This level of power over the Internet, the most powerful medium the world has ever seen, begs the question: how are major web owners using these online properties? New commercial incursions by big online media enterprises including the widely disdained "Facebook Beacon" make explicit what new media giants have been doing quietly for some time: searching for new and more effective ways to sell our attention, our clicks, and our private information to advertisers and marketers. The Facebook Beacon system monitored Facebook users activities on partnering websites and notified the users' friends about purchases made. It's not surprising that this both ruined a few Christmas surprises and outraged many when they realized the level of surveillance they were exposed to. Although Facebook recently bowed to public pressure and made this referral system only apply to those who opt in, it was also recently revealed that beacon continues to monitor Facebook users activities on the web even if they are logged out of Facebook, regardless of if they opt in or out of the beacon service.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg described the Facebook advantage to advertisers this way, "You will be able to select exactly the audience you want to reach, and we will only show your ads to them. We know exactly what gender someone is, what activities they are interested in. their location, country, city or town, interests, gender. . . ."

Read the entire article here: http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2007/12/18/OurWeb/

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