The Enduring Threat of Net Neutrality

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. – H.L. Mencken

No regulatory issue in memory has been quite like that of “net neutrality.” A solution in search of a problem, bankrolled and of early and particular economic benefit to two companies, and a regulation that threatens to give government sway over an industry where it had none before, network neutrality by regulation defies logic, history, and the way the world works. Other than that it’s one terrific idea.

Net neutrality was conjured up by an alliance of left-wing activists, Democratic commissioners of the FCC, and certain Internet companies and their trade associations. The regulations that followed have been on a devolutionary path, such that what was merely bad (net neutrality under Title I) became, in 2015, very much worse – net neutrality under Title II. Continue reading “The Enduring Threat of Net Neutrality”

Electronic Privacy Needs ICPA Update

Privacy advocates won an important victory in July when a federal appeals court ruled to limit the access of the U.S. government to individuals’ e-mail accounts.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the federal government did not have the authority to issue search warrants for persons’ e-mails stored on servers outside the United States.  The case was brought by Microsoft Corp. in response to a warrant that would’ve compelled Microsoft to turn over customer e-mails stored on a server it maintained in Ireland.  The court affirmed that the Stored Communications Act (part of the broader Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986) did not give the government such powers outside U.S. territory.

This was a key judicial ruling to be sure. But it points up the increasingly urgent need for Congress to update that 1986 ECPA legislation to reflect the realities of today’s global digital environment.

Such legislative efforts have been initiated in recent years, only to languish in committee.  The most notable example was the Law Enforcement Access to Data Stored Abroad (or “LEADS”) Act, introduced in February 2015.

Writing about the LEADS Act when it was introduced, attorney Kurt Wimmer noted in an issue paper for The Media Institute that “cloud computing” as we know it today did not exist when the ECPA was enacted in 1986.  “Our current storage habits for digital records are precisely the opposite of the habits that existed in 1986, when ECPA was adopted,” he wrote.  And so it remains today.

However, there is new hope on the horizon.  On May 25, Reps. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) introduced the International Communications Privacy Act (ICPA).  Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Chris Coons (D- Del.), and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) introduced identical legislation in the Senate.  These bills (H.R. 5323 and S. 2986) follow in the footstep of the LEADS Act in seeking to establish a rule of law for lawful access to data in the global environment.

Reps. Marino and DelBene (who had also introduced the LEADS Act) said in a statement:

“We were pleased that the LEADS Act gained such widespread support with more than 130 cosponsors in the House.  ICPA improves upon this effort by broadening industry recognition, and we believe it will earn an even greater backing from our colleagues in Congress.  This bill guarantees that users of technology have confidence that their privacy rights will be protected by due process while simultaneously ensuring law enforcement agencies have necessary access to information through a clear, legal framework to keep us safe.”

The bill stipulates that U.S. law enforcement could obtain warrants for the electronic information of U.S. persons physically located in the United States, or nationals of foreign countries that have a Law Enforcement Cooperation Agreement with the United States, provided the country does not object to the disclosure.  Thus, the ICPA would maintain the sovereignty of nations in protecting information stored within their borders.

By clarifying the rules surrounding the release of electronic information, the ICPA would not only protect individual privacy but would also improve the competitive posture of American companies doing business in the global digital economy.  Cloud computing will continue to revolutionize everything from newsgathering and financial transactions to the Internet of Things as the future of business migrates ever more rapidly to the cloud.  The rules governing privacy and the protection of information in that space need to be clear.

Updating the ECPA with the International Communications Privacy Act would reflect today’s reality of cloud computing and provide the legal framework needed to protect the privacy of individuals, support law enforcement, and promote a competitive environment for American companies.  Congress can’t afford to let this one languish.

The Overblown Backlash Against Peter Thiel for Destroying Gawker

The news that pro wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker has been financed by Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel has sparked many opinions, some of them erroneous, some duplicitous, and some deeply shameful.

Before providing examples of each, a little background.  In 2007, Valleywag, a now-defunct blog site then owned by Gawker Media, outed Thiel, against his express wishes, as a homosexual.  Though he is in fact gay, Thiel was angry about this, and angry too about what he saw, and sees, as Gawker’s bullying journalism in its coverage of Silicon Valley’s tech industry.

For some apparent combination of these reasons, Thiel subsequently offered to covertly pay for Hogan’s legal fees in connection with the wrestler’s invasion of privacy suit against Gawker.  The gravamen of Hogan’s suit is that Gawker published online a secretly taped video of Hogan having sex with the wife of a friend of his.  At trial the jury awarded Hogan $140 million.

So right off the bat a couple of things are clear: Neither Hogan’s lawsuit nor Thiel’s payment of his legal fees are First Amendment issues, despite allegations to that effect in stories published by such as the New York Times>> Read More

Maines is president of The Media Institute.  The opinions expressed are his alone and not those of The Media Institute, its board, advisory councils, or contributors.  The full version of this article appeared in The Daily Caller on June 9, 2016.

Is This What Net Neutrality Is Really About?

Recent congressional hearings held in the wake of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality ruling provide a glimpse into what is so deeply wrong with this regulation, and why so many activist groups were behind it.

It’s an aspect of this matter of which you were perhaps unaware while the FCC was considering its regulatory strategy. Perhaps you thought net neutrality meant what was said of it: that it was intended to prevent the blocking or throttling of websites, or of “paid prioritization.”

Silly you.  Actually, those were the interests of those companies — like Google and Netflix — that saw in governmental sway over the Internet commercial benefits for themselves.  But what about those groups and individuals who had political or ideological interests, and who played such outsized roles in the deal?

You know, groups like Free Press, Media Matters, Public Knowledge and New America’s Open Technology Institute?  Or what about the large grant-giving foundations, like Ford, MacArthur, Knight, and George Soros’s Open Society Institute that, in addition to munificently funding third-party net neutrality activists, directly lobbied the FCC themselves?

It should now be clear, even to those who weren’t paying attention earlier, that the primary interest these groups had, and have, in net neutrality is their desire to insinuate government in the regulation of speech on the Internet.  >> Read More

 

Google, the FTC, and ‘Plausible’ Justifiability

Though it was surely not its intention, the Federal Trade Commission’s conclusion last week of its investigation of Google invites the question: What useful function does the FTC serve?

Not content, after two years of investigation on the taxpayers’ dime, to largely look past the mountain of evidence of marketplace harm caused by Google’s search and advertising practices, the Commission compounded that error by declining to issue a formal consent order, leaving it in the hands of Google itself, without the prospect of penalty, to change some of its business practices.

As even Commissioner J. Thomas Rosch said in his statement of concurrence and dissent, the FTC’s “settlement” with Google “creates very bad precedent and may lead to the impression that well-heeled firms such as Google will receive special treatment at the Commission.”

In elaboration of his dissent from the settlement procedure, Comm. Rosch added this:

Instead of following standard Commission procedure and entering into a binding consent agreement to resolve the majority’s concerns, Google has instead made non-binding commitments with respect to its search practices….

Our settlement with Google is not in the form of a binding consent order and, as a result, the Commission cannot enforce it by initiating contempt proceedings.  The inability to enforce Google’s commitments through contempt proceedings is particularly problematic given that the Commission has charged Google with violating a prior consent agreement.

What Comm. Rosch delicately calls “special treatment,” the more cynical of us would recognize as political influence peddling, a practice that Google has become quite adept at employing.  First it bankrolled the codification, at the Federal Communications Commission, of “net neutrality” regulations, thereby providing a solution to a nonexistent problem; then it led the successful opposition to the PIPA and SOPA copyright bills, the better to protect its investment in YouTube; now it has neutered the FTC, with the consequence being that it can continue to game its search results in ways that favor companies it controls.

So how has Google managed such political feats?  Well, would you believe that money has played a role?  In the FTC investigation alone Google reportedly spent some $25 million lobbying the matter.  To give an idea of the magnitude of this kind of spending, it equals 10 percent of the FTC’s total annual budget of $250 million.

But in addition to its FTC-specific lobbying, it’s well known that Google has cast its lot, through munificent campaign contributions and public policy support, with the current administration. Though it failed to come to pass, there was undoubtedly substance to the rumor that Google’s Eric Schmidt was being considered for a cabinet post in the Obama Administration.

Even so, there is evidence that the FTC commissioners know what they have done.  Their concluding statement about Google’s search practices, for instance, displays an almost comical defensiveness as they contend that, even if Google’s search practices favor its own companies, that is arguably okay:

In sum, we find that the evidence presented at this time does not support the allegation that Google’s display of its own vertical content at or near the top of its search results page was a product design change undertaken without a legitimate business justification.  Rather, we conclude that Google’s display of its own content could plausibly (emphases added) be viewed as an improvement in the overall quality of Google’s search product….  Although at points in time various vertical websites have experienced demotions, we find that this was a consequence of algorithm changes that also could plausibly be viewed as an improvement in the overall quality of Google’s search results….

Although our careful review of the evidence in this matter supports our decision to close this investigation, we will remain vigilant and continue to monitor Google for conduct that may harm competition and consumers.

Such limp-wristed rhetoric aside, there is a chance that Google will be brought to heel, just not by American authorities.  As it happens, the European Commission has also been investigating Google’s misdeeds, and the odds are good that, lacking the kind of political clout in Europe that it has in the USA, the company may actually receive from the Europeans something more than just a slap on the wrist.  On Dec. 18 the Commission gave the company 30 days to provide it with proposals to settle its complaints, something that could cost Google billions if it fails to do so.

Whatever the Europeans do, however, there remains the FTC’s foozled play, well put in a Bloomberg News editorial:

The FTC missed an opportunity to explore publicly one of the paramount issues of our day: Is Google abusing its role as gatekeeper to the digital economy?  Lawmakers, economists, other regulators, and consumers should all be in on this important debate over whether Google is leveraging its overwhelming dominance of search into unassailable market power in other areas. 

                                               

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

The Truth Behind Google’s Copyright-Bills Hysteria

Though the final chapter in the legislative history of the copyright bills hasn’t yet been written, a couple things are obvious even now: The tech industry has demonstrated great political clout through the mobilization of its users and fan base; and the industry lobby, led by Google, will say and do pretty much anything to advance its commercial interests.

This provides the background for what happened within just a few days last week, as Congress was flooded with calls and mail, and petitions were signed by millions, in opposition to bills whose intent was to provide an effective way to combat content infringement on rogue websites abroad.

Didn’t matter that most fans of social media, file-sharing, blogs, and the like know next to nothing about communications policymaking, or even the details of the laws they were moved to oppose.  They know what they like, and dislike, and when manipulated into seeing the copyright bills as a threat they responded in great numbers.

None of which, of course, is to wonder why people feel more of a kinship with things like the social media than they do with the mainstream media.  The one-way and “one-to-the-many” aspects of the old media don’t empower people, or allow for their personal expression, in the manner of blogs or social media like Facebook and YouTube.

But the reason so many people were disposed to dislike the copyright bills, and their knowledge of what was actually in them, are two different things.  What moved them to act on their dislike was yet another.  For these parts of the story we have to look to the tech industry lobby, and Google most importantly.  It was Google that floated the canard that passage of the bills would forever change “the Internet as we’ve known it.”

The irony in Google’s claim was apparently lost on most of the media, tech and mainstream, which may explain why so few reporters pointed out that this alleged threat is word-for-word what the company said, 13 years ago, in opposition to another copyright bill (the Digital Millennium Copyright Act), passage of which has since proven to be a positive boon to Internet companies.

It may also explain why so few reporters pointed out that Google’s claims about the copyright bills – as precursors to the regulation of the Internet – are not just over the top but hypocritical.  It was, after all, Google that successfully lobbied, with the active help of a majority of FCC Commissioners, for so-called “network neutrality” regulations, the precedent of which provides not for just speculative but “here and now” regulation of the Internet.

Still, if crass exaggeration and hypocrisy were all that Google displayed in this regard, one might be inclined just to dismiss it as boys being boys.  But it didn’t stop there.  Google, and other groups that should know better, also gave expression and currency to the bunkum that the copyright bills amounted to an assault on the First Amendment.

That this argument was utterly demolished by the country’s leading First Amendment expert, Floyd Abrams, didn’t give them a moment’s pause, with the upshot being that this nonsense was parroted by all sorts of people as a reason for rejection of the bills.

In August of last year, The Media Institute filed a white paper with the Federal Trade Commission titled “Google and the Media: How Google is Leveraging its Position in Search to Dominate the Media Economy.”  Among other things, the paper demonstrated the ways in which Google profits from copyright infringement; that indeed the use of other people’s content without their permission has been at the heart of the company’s business plan.

Though the paper didn’t recommend any particular remedy, it asked the FTC to intervene in a way that would prevent the media economy from being dominated by a single entity.  Google’s conduct regarding the copyright legislation shows that, far from pulling back, its interest in this kind of domination is growing apace.

                                  

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.  This piece was first published in the Dallas Morning News on Jan. 25, 2012.

 

Media Institute Response to ‘The Truth About Google, Search, and the Media Industry’

GUEST BLOG

[EDITORS’ NOTE:  Kurt Wimmer is a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Covington & Burling LLP.  He is chairman of The Media Institute’s First Amendment Advisory Council, and is the principal author of the Institute’s white paper to the Federal Trade Commission about Google’s practices.  The article below is in response to the rebuttal of Oct. 6 by Adam Kovacevich of Google, which can be found on this site.]  

By Kurt Wimmer, Esq.

When Google wrote the Media Institute about the white paper we submitted to the FTC (“How Google is Dominating the Media Economy”), Patrick Maines invited Google to respond on this blog.  Frankly, we were pleased that we’d prompted a frank conversation about Google and the future of media.  We expected and were ready to welcome energetic disagreement with our position; after all, one of the Media Institute’s underlying missions is promoting a diversity of voices on major public policy issues.

But instead of deepening the debate, Google dusted off talking points that it’s been using for years, most of which our paper readily acknowledges. 

We don’t question, for example, that Google News drives some traffic to some publications’ websites.  Most viewers of Google News do not click through to any of the media sites from which Google scrapes content – about half of all users go no further than Google News and thus do not generate a dime for the content producers.  But we know that some traffic does flow from Google News to publishers’ sites.  We do have serious doubts about the “value” of this traffic, and we worry that, as it has in other areas, Google increasingly uses its News page to cannibalize whatever value there is.  Whether these websites can “opt out” of News is unhelpful because of the predicament News puts publishers in – opt-in, and feed the Google monster; opt-out and starve alone.  Our concerns do not relate to publishing only; as our paper pointed out, Google Places is following the Google News model in using its search dominance to scrape and scuttle local review websites.  Google’s response breezily ignores these points.

We have the same objections to Google’s treatment of Books and YouTube in its response, which again relies on broad statements rather than engaging in any serious debate.  Google simply bypasses our basic premise, which is that it has used its scale to coerce content makers into accepting the Google business model.  Google claims legal victory in the dispute between YouTube and Viacom, but the Second Circuit won’t hold oral argument to settle the matter until later this month.  Given the brazen evidence that YouTube was founded and grew on a business model of copyright infringement, we believe that Viacom is likely to take the upper hand – but we won’t claim victory until the Second Circuit rules, and suggest that Google should do the same.

And Judge Chin’s concerns about the Google Books Settlement have left that agreement hanging by a thread.  Though we disagree with Google’s legal arguments in both cases, we wouldn’t have criticized Google for offering an outspoken defense of those positions.  But Google, rather than addressing the colossal quantities of content it stockpiles at the expense of creators and competitors, offers only the same hollow defense: We bring books and video to a wider audience.  This is no help, in our view, given the costs that Google’s response sidesteps.  Infringement always brings works to a “wider audience” – an audience that the creators of the works did not agree to serve for free, and one that does not fund the creative spark that created the works.  In fact, both Google Books and YouTube exist not to bring works to a wider audience, but to create dominant platforms for works that deny creators the benefit of a competitive marketplace.

The rise of Google’s dominance in media deserves a candid discussion, both here and at the FTC.  We wish Google had contributed something new to the discussion, rather than just reiterating its weary talking points.  We would welcome any additional comments that Google would like to make in defense of its position or in rebuttal to our white paper.

                                   

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not necessarily of The Media Institute’s Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

Response to The Media Institute White Paper: The Truth About Google, Search, and the Media Industry

GUEST BLOG

[EDITORS’ NOTE: In this space we offer Google an opportunity to take issue with the White Paper that The Media Institute filed with the FTC in August.  Google’s response is printed below exactly as we received it.]

By Adam Kovacevich, Head of Competition, Public Policy and Public Affairs, Google (Washington, D.C., office)

In August 2011, The Media Institute submitted a white paper to the Federal Trade Commission claiming that Google practices could “foreclose competition” in the media industry. The white paper largely restates past criticisms of Google on copyright and intellectual property issues. We appreciate the opportunity to post a rebuttal. Some of these criticisms are obsolete or have already been litigated; others we believe are just wrong. Here are the facts:

Google Has a Record of Helping the News Industry

Google News drives valuable traffic to news organizations’ websites for free. Each click from Google News to a publisher’s site is a business opportunity, offering newspapers and other publishers the chance to show ads, register users and earn loyal readers. Google News follows international copyright law by only showing users a headline and a short snippet for each news story.

Google sends news publishers more than 4 billion clicks each month. Google News provides about 1 billion of these clicks, and an additional 3 billion come from other Google services like web search. This means that Google sends approximately 100,000 business opportunities to publishers every minute.

Google News works with publishers by offering them useful tools. For example, Editors’ Picks is a feature that enables editors in newsrooms to identify the stories they believe should receive attention. Additionally, the new “standout” tag on Google News gives publishers the ability to self-designate unique and noteworthy content from their own or other publications. Articles tagged as “standout” may appear with a “Featured” label on the Google News homepage and News Search results. [Google News Blog, Aug. 4, 2011, Sept. 24, 2011]

News Organizations Can Easily Opt-Out of Google News

News publishers have control over their inclusion in Google News. If at any point a web publisher wants Google to stop indexing their content, they’re able to do so quickly and effectively by sending Google an opt-out request. Google also provides publishers with instructions to block their content from Google News, should they choose to do so. [GoogleNewsBlog, Dec. 2, 2009]

Opting out of Google News does not remove content from Google Web Search results. If a publisher opts out of Google News, but stays in Web Search, their content will still show up as natural web search results. [GoogleNewsBlog, Dec. 2, 2009]

Google Is Investing in the Future of Journalism

Google donated $5 million to nonprofits devoted to developing journalism in the digital age. $2 million went to the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that supports programs that drive innovation in journalism. The Knight Foundation used half of its grant to augment the Knight News Challenge, a media innovation contest that recognized 16 winners in 2011. [Official Google Blog, Oct. 26, 2010, June 22, 2011]

Google and the Associated Press are offering six $20,000 scholarships to journalism students to encourage and enable innovation in digital journalism. The Online News Association, the world’s largest membership organization of digital journalists, will administer the program. [OfficialGoogleBlog, Aug. 15, 2011]

Google Books Helps People Discover Books, Benefiting Users, Authors and Publishers

Google Books helps readers find information and gives authors and publishers a new way to be found. For instance, the Google Books Partner Program enables publishers to promote their books online for free — so that users can search through them, and find out where to buy them or get them from a library. More than 40,000 partners have joined the Partner Program, including nearly every major U.S. publisher. [GoogleBooksBlog, May 23, 2011]

Google will work to make more of the world’s books discoverable online. The March 2011 decision by Judge Denny Chin to reject the Google Books settlement was disappointing, but Google is reviewing the Court’s decision and considering various options. We believe this agreement has the potential to open up access to millions of books that are currently hard to find in the US today. [GoogleBooksAgreement]

Google Helps Rights Holders Manage Their Presence on YouTube

YouTube created Content ID to help rights holders manage their content on YouTube. Managing rights for content owners on YouTube has been important since the site’s early days. In 2007, this strategy led to the creation of a new technology called Content ID. Content ID is a full set of audio and video matching tools that give rights holders fine-grained controls for managing their content if someone uploads it to YouTube. Rights holders have the option of blocking, tracking, or making money from videos containing their content. More than 100 million videos have been claimed with Content ID. [YouTubeBlog, Dec. 2, 2010]

Content ID helps rights holders monetize their content. More than 1,000 partners use Content ID. Rights holders who claim their content with Content ID generally more than double the number of views against which YouTube can run ads, which doubles the rights holders’ potential revenue. Content ID contributes more than a third of YouTube’s monetized views each week. [YouTubeBlog, Dec. 2, 2010]

YouTube won its copyright case against Viacom. In June 2010, a federal court decided against Viacom in its copyright infringement lawsuit against YouTube. The court ruled that YouTube is protected by the safe harbor of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act if it works cooperatively with copyright holders to help them manage their rights online. [OfficialGoogleBlog, June 23, 2010]

Google Does Not Block Other Search Engines from Crawling YouTube

Bing and Yahoo both display YouTube videos on their search engine results pages. A search for [rebecca black friday] on Bing and Yahoo displays the YouTube video as the fourth result on Bing (following two Wikipedia entries and a Bing Images result) and as the third result on Yahoo (following two Wikipedia entries). [Bing | Yahoo]

                                  

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not of The Media Institute, its Board, contributors, or advisory councils.

More on Newspapers and Aggregators

If newspapers ultimately survive, they might owe a debt of gratitude not only to Rupert Murdoch (as Patrick Maines suggested here recently), but also to two brothers who have combined their expertise in economics and the law to analyze the problem and come up with a potential solution.

As I wrote here earlier this month, online aggregators quite possibly could kill off newspapers by pirating the papers’ original news content.   Among the industry watchers who have studied this phenomenon are Daniel Marburger, Ph.D., a professor of economics at Arkansas State University, and his brother David Marburger, Esq., a partner at the Baker Hostetler law firm in Cleveland.   

The brothers have conducted an extensive analysis of both the economic and legal frameworks of the newspaper industry (print and online), and how these frameworks intertwine in the digital age.  In a number of papers and articles, the Marburgers have gone beyond the usual observations in two important ways: (1) They draw a distinction between “pure aggregators” and “parasitic aggregators”; and (2) they suggest a way of closing a loophole in copyright law that would seriously curtail the so-called parasites.

“Pure aggregators,” they say, use only a headline and maybe a sentence from the original news source, and then link back to that source (i.e., a newspaper website).  Pure aggregators are economically good for papers on balance because they drive readers to the newspapers’ websites.

“Parasitic aggregators,” on the other hand, take content from newspaper sites, rewrite it a bit, and then pass it off on their own sites.  These parasitic aggregators are bad because they retain readers rather than drive them to the newspapers’ sites.

In the Marburgers’ longest paper on the economic viability of newspapers, two section titles sum up the problem and its effect: “The federal copyright act allows parasitic aggregators to ‘free-ride’ on others’ substantial journalistic investments”; and “If the law does not change, newspapers continually will diminish their journalistic resources until they can subsist only by underproducing news or until they go out of business.”

The Marburgers’ solution would allow newspapers to seek redress for unfair competition under state statutory or common-law remedies for unjust enrichment – remedies that federal copyright law has in effect precluded since 1976.  They’re not suggesting a new law – just an amendment to Section 301 of the Copyright Act.

In this short space I am oversimplifying the Marburgers’ excellent analysis and recommendations – but I hope I can help draw attention to a thoughtful paper that is worthy of serious consideration and widespread recognition.   

Keeping Kids Safe Online

Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in trying to keep children safe online.  For more than a decade, various groups and individuals representing parents, children, educators, law enforcement, government, and industry have weighed in with suggestions.

Now, however, a worthwhile report has emerged from a coalition that is notable in equal parts for its diversity, its lack of political agenda, and its candor.  The coalition was brought together by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association as an element of its “PointSmart.ClickSafe.” initiative to promote online safety and media literacy.

The coalition includes industry leaders like Verizon, Comcast, Cox, Google, Yahoo!, AOL, and Symantec.  It also includes groups like Common Sense Media, the Internet Keep Safe Coalition (iKeepSafe), PTA, Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), and the Children’s Partnership.

Following a summit in Washington in June 2008 and a year-long effort, the coalition has now issued a report titled “PointSmart.ClickSafe: Task Force Recommendations for Best Practices for Online Safety and Literacy.”  It’s online at www.pointsmartreport.org.  

The “best practices,” 20 in all, are grouped in three categories: “before children go online, “during a child’s online activities,” and “when problems arise.” You can read the particulars here.

What I find noteworthy about the report more broadly, however, is its candor in admitting the sizable number of obstacles in trying to keep kids safe.  Kids know more than their parents about technology.  Kids lack impulse control.  It’s hard to verify identities and ages.  Technology keeps changing … the list goes on and on.

Given this daunting list of variables, many activist groups would turn to the government for a “solution.”  But, thankfully, not this coalition – and that’s also noteworthy.  “Best Practices … provide the most direct potential benefits, because they empower the private and nonprofit sectors to create solutions and allow government to focus on broad policy guidelines rather than detailed, prescriptive, onerous or problematic laws and regulation,” the report states.

As the FCC and several other federal agencies pursue their own studies of media and online safety, they would do well to take note of NCTA’s PointSmart.ClickSafe.  This effort demonstrates that the industry, with input from a wide range of responsible advocacy groups, is indeed able to keep its own house in order without a government housekeeper.