Guardian kills its Facebook social reader

After a year-long experiment that saw its Facebook “social reading” app gain more than six million monthly users — and then lose more than half of those after the network changed the way those apps work — the Guardian has decided to take back control of its content.

A little over a year ago, a big topic of discussion in the newspaper business — apart from the ongoing cataclysmic decline in print advertising revenue, of course — was how to leverage Facebook as a platform for content, and specifically the rise of what were called “social reading” apps, which were like mini-newspapers housed within a Facebook page.

The Washington Post and The Guardian were among those who launched these applications, and for a time they drove a substantial amount of traffic, until Facebook changed the way they worked. Now the Guardian has said it is effectively shutting down its app and will be pushing readers from the social network to its website instead, so that it can retain more control over what happens to its content.

The Guardian‘s app now has a large banner ad that says “The Guardian app is changing” and links to a blog post on the newspaper’s website by product manager Anthony Sullivan. In that post, Sullivan notes that the paper launched the social-reading app in November of last year as an experiment in how to use social platforms like Facebook to increase the readership of the Guardian’s content and allow people to share it more easily. Those goals have been achieved, he said, with millions of people — more than six million a month, at the peak usage of the app — engaging with the paper’s stories, many of them outside the Guardian‘s typical demographic:

“The Facebook app has given us access to a hard to reach audience and has helped us learn much more about our new and existing readership which, as a digital first organisation, is crucial [but] we have decided to switch our focus to creating more social participation for our users on our own core properties…”

It seems clear that the Guardian has decided the benefits of controlling the way that readers come into contact with its content — and how they interact with it once they have done so — outweigh the benefits of the social reader app. In particular, the paper no longer has to worry about whether Facebook is going to hide more of its links from users because they are not “liking” or sharing them enough…

Facebook’s behavior continually reinforces the fact that it is in the driver’s seat when it comes to how the content is seen (or not seen), and under what conditions users can interact with it. The Guardian‘s latest move means that it can still get most of the positive impact from a relationship with Facebook — since it allows users to login to its site with their Facebook ID and can use that to customize content or make it easily shareable — without giving up as much control. Whether that makes the process more lucrative for the paper as well remains to be seen.

While I haven’t a detailed opinion or approach to the questions raised by Mathew Ingram – mostly because Facebook is only an incidental part of my online life. My personal blog offers little more than a link to my latest posts. Class Warfare Exists has utilized involvement with Facebook to grow rapidly into o significant point of expression for progressive politics in North America. Dvorak Uncensored hardly notices the existence of Facebook.

So, I offer the opinion of one of the better writers and analysts from GigaOm – mostly because it feels like respecting and supporting the Guardian is what he’s about. And after decades of involvement with that newspaper, I feel the same.

Government requests to censor Google/YouTube increase

Google has received more than 1,000 requests from authorities to take down content from its search results or YouTube video in the last six months of 2011, the company said on Monday, denouncing what it said was an alarming trend.

In its twice-yearly Transparency Report, the world’s largest web search engine said the requests were aimed at having some 12,000 items overall removed, about a quarter more than during the first half of last year.

“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen over the past couple years has been troubling, and today is no different,” Dorothy Chou, the search engine’s senior policy analyst, said in a blogpost. “We hoped this was an aberration. But now we know it’s not.”

Many of those requests targeted political speech, keeping up a trend Google said it has noticed since it started releasing its Transparency Report in 2010.

“It’s alarming not only because free expression is at risk, but because some of these requests come from countries you might not suspect — Western democracies not typically associated with censorship,” said Chou…

Not publicly associated with censorship in the obedient press, that is.

In one case, Spanish regulators asked Google to remove 270 links to blogs and newspaper articles criticizing public figures, including mayors and public prosecutors.

So far Google has not complied…

Chou said that in Thailand videos featuring the monarch with a seat over his head have been removed for insulting the monarchy. The country has some of the world’s toughest “lese- majeste” laws.

In Canada, Google was asked by officials to get rid of a YouTube video showing a citizen urinating on his passport and flushing it down the toilet…The company refused.

Google and many other online providers maintain that they cannot lawfully remove any content for which they are merely the host and not the producer, a principle enshrined in EU law on eCommerce since 2000.

BTW, Google complies most often with requests from the United States government.

Just in case you wondered.

Agencies in Schleswig-Holstein banned from Facebook

German data watchdogs on Friday ordered state agencies to shut down their Facebook pages and remove “like” buttons from their Web sites, suggesting that anyone who uses Facebook will have their online activity tracked.

All institutions in the federal state of Schleswig-Holstein, Germany [must] shut down their fan pages on Facebook and remove social plug-ins such as the ‘like’-button from their Web sites,” the German Data Protection Commissioner’s Office said in a statement. “Whoever visits or uses a plug-in must expect that he or she will be tracked by the company for two years.”

After “thorough and legal analysis,” the commission said it concluded that Facebook and its “like” button violates Germany’s Telemedia Act and its Federal Data Protection Act because data is transferred to the U.S. and Web analytics are sent to Web site owners…

German agencies have until the end of September to stop using Facebook for official business. Failure to do so could result in fines. Commissioner Thilo Weichert said in a statement that those agencies “cannot shift their responsibility for data privacy” to Facebook or the user.

Facebook, however, denied that its activity was in violation of any EU laws…

The commission said today’s ban is “only the beginning of a continuing privacy impact analysis of Facebook applications.” It also advised people to “keep their fingers from clicking on social plug-ins such as the ‘like’-button and not to set up a Facebook account if they wish to avoid a comprehensive profiling by this company.”

There are solid historic reasons for Germans to prefer to have a nanny state protect their rights to privacy. There also are pretty good reasons to classify the heavy-handed approach as total crap equally reminiscent of a totalitarian past.

Not especially different from conservatives who blather against political correctness – unless the topic is one of their ongoing campaigns to legislate morality, sex, music and thought that might displease someone with their brain still stuck into the 19th Century. Or the 14th Century.

Is your Congress-critter supporting Leahy’s privacy bill?

Now who would want to see my email?
Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) has proposed sweeping digital privacy protections that would require the government, for the first time, to get a probable-cause warrant to obtain e-mail and other content stored in the cloud.

Leahy’s proposal (.pdf) would nullify a provision of the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act that allows the government to acquire a suspect’s e-mail or other stored content from an internet service provider without showing probable cause that a crime was committed, as long as the content has been stored on a third-party server for 180 days or more. The government had only needed to show that it has “reasonable grounds to believe” the information would be useful in an investigation…

“We think this is the beginning of the discussion. This is a very positive step,” Chris Calabrese, legal counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said by telephone…

But the Leahy bill, which has not been sent to committee for review, is a give-and-take of sorts when it comes to other forms of electronic privacy…

The measure would also expand, or at least clarify, the information the government may obtain with so-called National Security Letters. They allow the FBI, without a court order, to obtain telecommunication, financial and credit records relevant to a government investigation. The Leahy bill adds “electronic communication identifiable information” and strikes “electronic communication transactional records.”

“It is not appropriate for the government to be able to get detailed information on everybody who you communicated with,” Kevin Bankston, a privacy lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said by telephone.

That said, the bill is “a great leap forward,” Bankston said.

The struggle takes us all the way back to the founding of this nation. There have always been those who are committed to the power of the government over the rights of individuals. And some libertarians who refused to consider the question of benefits to the common good superseding any individual’s rights.

Most educated folks come down on the side which support individual freedoms within history’s context. Those who are tied emotionally for one reason or another to the extremes of history and government end up stuck into the disparate worlds of anarchist or fascist. Although they occasionally share rationales. :}

I wish Senator Leahy well with his attempt and will zap off an email via to my elected representatives suggesting they support the bill, too.

Factbox: Conclusions of U.S. financial crisis panel

CFO of Goldman Sachs on TV monitor on the floor of NY Stock Exchange during testimony

A divided U.S. investigative panel released on Thursday a wide-ranging assessment of what caused the financial crisis that rocked global markets from 2007-2009.

The 10-member Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission was created by Congress to deliver a bipartisan report on the origins of the crisis, but it failed to deliver a consensus view.

The main report was endorsed only by the commission’s six Democratic members, undermining its impact as the post-crisis Dodd-Frank banking reforms of 2010 are being implemented.

I hope no one out there in citizen-land actually expected Republicans to participate in naming their primary sources of income as bearing responsibility for the financial crisis and the Great Recession.

Below are the main points of the…majority report:

* We conclude this financial crisis was avoidable.

* We conclude widespread failures in financial regulation and supervision proved devastating to the stability of the nation’s financial markets.

* We conclude dramatic failures of corporate governance and risk management at many systemically important financial institutions were a key cause of this crisis.

* We conclude a combination of excessive borrowing, risky investments, and lack of transparency put the financial system on a collision course with crisis.

* We conclude the government was ill prepared for the crisis, and its inconsistent response added to the uncertainty and panic in the financial markets.

* We conclude there was a systemic breakdown in accountability and ethics.

* We conclude collapsing mortgage-lending standards and the mortgage securitization pipeline lit and spread the flame of contagion and crisis.

* We conclude over-the-counter derivatives contributed significantly to this crisis.

* We conclude the failures of credit rating agencies were essential cogs in the wheel of financial destruction.

If you’d like to peek at the beginnings of analysis, try this article over at

Oppose net neutrality? Here comes the Comcast toll booth!

Comcast has begun imposing a fee on Internet middleman Level 3 Communications, one of the companies that Netflix has hired to deliver movies and TV shows to Web customers.

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable TV company, has set up an Internet “toll booth,” charging Level 3 whenever customers request content, the Broomfield, Colorado-based company said in a statement yesterday.

Level 3 plans to complain to U.S. regulators who may enact so-called net-neutrality rules next month. The Federal Communications Commission is seeking to bar phone and cable providers from interfering with legal traffic on their networks. The rules are backed by President Barack Obama and companies led by Google, EBay and IAC/InterActiveCorp. Phone and cable companies say rules aren’t needed and may hurt investment.

“This action by Comcast threatens the open Internet and is a clear abuse of the dominant control that Comcast exerts in broadband access,” Thomas Stortz, Level 3’s chief legal officer, said in the statement. “With this action, Comcast is preventing competing content from ever being delivered to Comcast’s subscribers at all, unless Comcast’s unilaterally determined toll is paid.”

Comcast, which is seeking regulatory approval to acquire majority ownership of NBC Universal, defended the fee in a statement, saying it is based on “long established and mutually acceptable commercial arrangements” with Level 3’s peers…

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, in proposing net neutrality rules last year, called for a principle of non- discrimination by Internet-service providers. The FCC will meet on Dec. 21.

This means they cannot block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks,” Genachowski said.

And, btw, putting a surcharge, a toll on your traffic is the same as blocking traffic. If you don’t pay the toll, your traffic doesn’t go through – or Comcast will slow it down enough to make it unwatchable.

Throughout most of the United States, Comcast has been working their semi-competent buns off installing throttling mechanisms. They told everyone – including the Feds – this was to protect consumers from the exorbitant demands of nerds and illegal downloads. Shock and amazement! It’s just of an accident of nature that it can be used as a weapon to extract tolls from companies using the Web for business purposes.

Son to sue mother over Facebook harassment

A teenager in Arkansas…has become so annoyed with his mother’s Facebook intrusion that he has reportedly decided to sue her for harassment.

According to KATV-TV, the 16-year-old son of Denise New from Arkadelphia claims that she hacked into his Facebook account, changed his password, and even posted things about him that were slanderous.

New told KATV: “You’re within your legal rights to monitor your child and to have a conversation with your child on Facebook whether it’s his account, or your account, or whoever’s account.”

She said she read things on his Facebook page that suggested he had driven home one night at 95 mph because he was upset with a girl. (Oh, you knew a girl had to be involved here, didn’t you?) This appears to have prompted some kind of Facebook intervention.

Her son’s grandmother is his custodian, but New told KATV that she had enjoyed an excellent relationship with him prior to the Facebook fallout. Now she faces the prospect of a court date on May 12.

Mom clearly intends to fight for her right to put her face into her son’s Facebook. She told KATV: “I’m not gonna let this rest. I think this could be a precedent-setting moment for parents.”

Har! The war between generations can be more than absurd – but, dragging it through a courtroom should be a trip. We’re gonna hear from a judge and lawyers who are likely to be about as hip to social networks as your average cornball dweeb.

The squeeze begins – Murdoch closes Londonpaper

Rupert Murdoch’s News International, which plans to begin charging for online content, said Thursday it was to close its free London newspaper as part of cost-cutting measures.

The Londonpaper, which employs 60 editorial staff, will cease publication within a month.

“The strategy at News International over the past 18 months has been to streamline our operations and focus investment on our core titles,” James Murdoch, who heads his father’s Europe and Asia operations said.

He added that the performance of the newspaper had “fallen short of expectations“, adding: “We have taken a tough decision that reflects our priorities as a business…”

It was launched in 2006 as a rival to the city’s longstanding paid for publication, the Evening Standard — then owned by Associated Newspapers, who retaliated with their own free sheet, London Lite.

Rupert Murdoch said earlier this year his News Corp. media empire would begin charging for online content on its portfolio of titles including The Wall Street Journal, the London Times and the New York Post.

“We are now in the midst of an epochal debate over the value of content and it is clear to many newspapers that the current model is malfunctioning,” he told analysts in May.

The value of content from most of Murdoch’s newspapers – is as toilet paper.