Jonathan Zittrain must have been smiling as he read Leander Kahney's excellent Wired cover story this month, "How Apple Got Everything Right By Doing Everything Wrong." In a sense, the article vindicates Zittrain's thesis in The Future of the Internet--And How to Stop It.
Again, in his provocative book, Zittrain argues that, for a variety of reasons, the glorious days of the generative, open Internet and general-purpose PCs are supposedly giving way to closed networks and a world of what he contemptuously calls "sterile, tethered devices." And Apple products such as the iPhone, the iPod, and iTunes serve as prime examples of the troubling world that await us. And Kahney's article confirms that Apple is every bit as closed and insular as Zittrain suggests. Kahney nicely contrasts Apple with Google, a company that "embraces openness," trusts "the wisdom of crowds," and has its famous "Don't be evil" philosophy:
It's ironic, then, that one of the Valley's most successful companies ignored all of these tenets. Google and Apple may have a friendly relationship -- Google CEO Eric Schmidt sits on Apple's board, after all -- but by Google's definition, Apple is irredeemably evil, behaving more like an old-fashioned industrial titan than a different-thinking business of the future. Apple operates with a level of secrecy that makes Thomas Pynchon look like Paris Hilton. It locks consumers into a proprietary ecosystem. And as for treating employees like gods? Yeah, Apple doesn't do that either.
The long-awaited final report of the UK's Byron Review on Children and New Technology is finally out. It is called Safer Children in a Digital World. It focuses on the benefits and risks associated with the Internet and video games. I will be posting more about the specifics in coming days, but the general thrust of the report--at least from the executive summary--looks quite good. Here's a few key quotes:
* Technology offers extraordinary opportunities for all of society including children and young people. The internet allows for global exploration which can also bring risks, often
paralleling the offline world.
* "New media are often met by public concern about their impact on society and anxiety and polarisation of the debate can lead to emotive calls for action." ... "Debates and research in this area can be highly polarised and charged with emotion."
* "I propose that we seek to achieve gains in these three areas by having a national strategy for child internet safety which involves better self-regulation and better provision of information and education for children and families."
* "We need to take into account childrenâ€™s individual strengths and vulnerabilities, because the factors that can discriminate a â€˜beneficialâ€™ from a â€˜harmfulâ€™ experience online and in video games will often be individual factors in the child. The very same content can be useful to a child at a certain point in their life and development and may be equally damaging to another child."
I like the focus on education and parental oversight that I see in the report. Here's a particular good recommendation that closely parallels what I have called for in my own work:
This morning, Comcast and BitTorrent agreed to work together to deliver video and rich-media content to broadband Internet customers. This is a huge win for common sense and for a healthy, growing Internet.
The companies had been engaged in a dispute over network traffic management practices that was sparked when some BitTorrent users charged Comcast with slowing or degrading their upstream video sharing. Comcast replied that it was managing its network so that a few heavy users didn't degrade the service for the vast majority of its of broadband customers. The issue had reached the FCC in the form of two petitions that sought to ban or regulate traffic management, and it revived interest in legislation by Rep. Ed Markey that would have put net neutrality regulation back on the table. This major agreement, however, should sweep those complex, onerous, anti-investment proposals back off of the table.
[T]he current rapprochement will attempt to defuse this issue. As part of the agreement, Comcast pledges to experiment with ways to more effectively manage traffic on its network at peak times, said Ashwin Navin, the president of San Francisco-based BitTorrent.
Rather than slow traffic by certain types of applications -- such as file-sharing software or companies like BitTorrent -- Comcast will slow traffic for those users who consume the most bandwidth, said Comcast's Mr. Warner. Comcast hopes to be able to switch to a new policy based on this model as soon as the end of the year, he added. The company's push to add additional data capacity to its network also will play a role, he said. Comcast will start with lab tests to determine if the model is feasible.
The rapid growth of Internet traffic has been an issue for all service providers but particularly cable companies. Cable networks are shared among users at the neighborhood level, meaning that users consuming lots of bandwidth can degrade the performance for those surrounding them.
We at PFF have been arguing for years that the Internet is a fast-moving realm of changing technology and content. New hardware is finally delivering bandwidth abundance. New software is bringing the Web to ever more users. New content and distribution methods are changing the media, advertising, news, and entertainment landscapes. New businesses and partnerships are being formed.
We advised that Washington should not wade into this dynamic arena with static rules that are likely to be misguided, and sure to be outdated even before they go into effect. The agreement reached today is exactly the type of private partnership, arrived at in the market, that will deliver a better Internet to everyone. As FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell said today:
I am delighted to learn that BitTorrent and Comcast have reached a resolution to their dispute. Consumers will be the ultimate beneficiaries of this agreement. As I have said for a long time, it is precisely this kind of private sector solution that has been the bedrock of Internet governance since its inception. Government mandates cannot possibly contemplate the myriad complexities and nuances of the Internet market place. The private sector is the best forum to resolve such disputes.
Today's announcement obviates the need for any further government intrusion into this matter.
The U.S. dollar last week appeared mercifully to end its plunge. World markets cheered, and the immediate financial crisis in the U.S. abated. But this week the dollar is retesting all-time lows versus the euro and yen, and commodity prices, capital flows, and trade remain vulnerable to its movements. Inflation in dollar-linked China is rising fast, and an over-strong yen could thwart Japan's recent recovery after its painful 1990s deflation. In the U.S., currency swings are destabilizing the economy and fueling anti-trade populism. After a decade of wild instability, it's time to rethink global currency markets and monetary policies.
Tata Group, maker of the $2,500 Indian car and the $100,000 Anglo-American SUV?
Matthew Slaughter of Darthmouth's Tuck business school is one of the most consistently interesting academic commentators on globalization. This morning, after the news of India's Tata Group acquisition of Ford Motor Co.'s Jaguar and Land Rover lines, he writes about the hugely important role foreign investment plays in the U.S. economy.
From 1987 through 2006, the U.S. received a lot of greenfield FDI: $220 billion worth. But over that same period, it received $1.78 trillion of new FDI via mergers and acquisitions (M&A) with existing U.S. businesses. M&A activity, not greenfield investment, is far and away the predominant method foreign companies use to invest in the U.S. It accounts for more than 88% of new FDI in the U.S. over the past two decades. M&A transactions have been essential for insourcing companies to expand in -- and generate benefits for -- the U.S.
The second key feature of insourcing that the Tata transaction underscores is who does it. For many decades, the bulk of FDI into the U.S. flowed from other high-income countries such as Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom. But in recent years there has been a rise of FDI from multinational firms based in developing countries such as China and India. In 2006, outward M&A transactions by Indian companies totaled $23 billion, more than five times the 2005 total and approximately 20 times the annual total in 2000.
But, Slaughter warns, populism threatens to undermine this great American advantage.
In recent U.S. policy discussions about inward FDI, however, these facts have largely been ignored. Instead, many voices are calling for new restrictions on inward M&A -- especially on transactions from nontraditional countries....
There is no law of physics that the U.S. will continue receiving transactions like Tata's. The world has recently enjoyed some of strongest, most widely shared growth ever seen -- in large part due to dramatically liberalized trade and investment regimes. For globally engaged companies like Tata, all this means an ever-wider range of countries in which they can expand. For the U.S., all this means stiffer competition to attract and retain these companies. The U.S. share of global FDI inflows has already been declining for decades: from 31.5% in 1988-1990 to 24% in 1998-2000 and to just 16% in 2003-2005.
American policy makers should strive to make the U.S. a premier location for the dynamic, high-productivity activities of globally engaged companies -- both insourcing companies and U.S. multinationals alike. To truly be such a location would require dramatic progress on many fronts: renewing the president's trade promotion authority; resuscitating the World Trade Organization's Doha Development Round; passing comprehensive immigration reform.
The U.S. recently blocked Bain Capital's acquisition of 3Com because China's Huawei was to be a small minority partner in the deal. Some say there are classified details that raised security concerns. But the U.S. should not lightly go down the path of protectionism.
"Critical blow" for broadcasters in the ad market?
One of the installments in my ongoing Media Metrics series was called "Ad Wars" and in it I discussed the radical changes underway in the modern advertising market. And in a subsequent installment in the series entitled "Changing Fortunes," I made it clear that we are already seeing the ramifications of these changes for some of the nation's oldest media providers, especially broadcasters.
Technology blogger Ike Elliott has a terrific series underway over at his blog this week looking at the differences between cable and telco-fiber infrastructures. He is "looking at why cable companies are kicking the tires on fiber-based passive optical networks, even though they have a heavy investment in hybrid fiber coax (HFC) networks." The series is a good primer on these issues. Here are the entries in his series so far:
Google has just launched an excellent new online safety campaign and website that includes new tools, materials and videos for parents looking for help in protecting their kids from potentially objectionable online material. Over at the Google blog, Elliot Schrage, Vice President of Global Communications and Public Affairs, outlines the new offerings. Schrage discusses the partnerships Google has struck with other safety groups and the other initiatives it has underway. He also mentions Google's excellent "Safe Search" tool, which I have praised in my report on parental controls & online child safety. It really is amazing how well that tool works. (Note: other search engine providers also offer excellent safe search tools).
Google also has released an excellent new online safety video with the forks at Common Sense Media:
I previously mentioned the excellent new book, "Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering," which is edited by Ronald J. Deibert, John G. Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain. It is a comprehensive survey of the methods governments are using to stifle online expression. The contributors provide a regional and country-by-country overview of the global state of online speech controls and discuss the long-term ramifications of increasing government filtering of online networks.
Business Weekhas just posted an interview with one of the editors of the book, John Palfrey, executive director of the Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. John provides a nice overview of the major themes and issues covered in the book. But make sure you pick up the entire volume. It's an important resource to have on your bookshelf.