2007/09/27

Censorship Is Bad For Business

It was perhaps this week's biggest "DUH!" moment. Verizon reverses itself not 24 hours after it banned NARAL Pro-choice America's text messages from its mobile network. And "Why?" you might ask, did Verizon decide to appoint itself the guardian of its subscriber's mores? Well nobody's really sure, but the Telco did mouth something silly about not accepting content that, "...may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users."

Damn! "...controversial or unsavory to any of our users."? Are you people serious? Well that settles it. I'm switching, and then I'm gonna tell Verizon that I find anything sent via text from the GOP, RNC, Rudy, Romney, Bush, and Cheney to be offensive. That should thoroughly torpedo 'Thuglican grass-roots efforts in the next election.

But wait... Just this afternoon Verizon wakes up and smells the moolah. Because, when you're a telco, you don't just say no to a customer that will net you 10 to 20 thousand dollars every time they use their message tree. No sir! You say, "Democrat messages, Republican messages, pro-choice, anti-choice, Elvis sightings, sightings of Paris Hilton's cootchie...BRING 'EM ON!"

So I suppose, to the extent there's something to worry about here, it's the idea that a Telco would assert their right to censor whatever goes through their lines. Imagine if they pulled these kind of shenanigans with your email.

I guess I'd be worried if it wasn't so bad for business.

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12 Comments:

To be filed under, its not the heat, its the stupidity.

It also shows just how lame and reactive big businesses are and how they often fail to comprehend the scope of an issue before saying "no"..."I mean yes." And so forth.

Gotta run- there is a text on my cell about an Elvis sighting!
I hear they route all text containing phrase MoveOn directly to terror sweeper listening network.
hail to the thief. hail to my paris hilton coochie txt msg.... 10cents per forward... cha-ching
kvatch, you wrote:

"But wait... Just this afternoon Verizon wakes up and smells the moolah."

Not exactly. The boardroom question boils down to placing a bet on whether the company will lose more customers by allowing ANY and ALL text ADVERTISEMENTS, or limiting the range of advertisements via the phone system.

Notice that you don't see advertisements for Playboy, Hustler, or any outright porn magazines on broadcast TV or radio. Is that because the magazines have no interest in advertising over the airwaves? Or is it because TV and radio stations refuse those ads?

Here in NY we have enjoyed an irreverent newspaper known as the NY Press. Plenty of sex and tawdriness. Plenty of mudslinging and viciousness. Plenty of ads for call girls, call boys, massage parlors and every form of sexual activity. The paper employed some popular sex columnists, at least one of whom subsequently did some writing for the "Sex and the City" TV show.

Guess what? That paper recently came under new ownership. In the last few weeks the new owners have booted the sex columnists. I expect to see their replacements focusing on relationships, family, kids, schools and all that.

Also gone are the ads for hookers and adventurous sex.

Why? Because the new owners think there's more money to be made serving a different market. And it all boils down to the advertisers. The NY Press is a free paper. Thus, its success hinges on advertising revenue -- and the appeal of its writers. If the advertisers alienate a segment of the paper's target market, then the paper is faced with a choice. Cut out the offending advertisers and live with the results OR take every possible step to reach the potentially more lucrative market.

You wrote:

"Because, when you're a telco, you don't just say no to a customer that will net you 10 to 20 thousand dollars every time they use their message tree. No sir!"

Actually they do. The question is where to draw the line.

You wrote:

"You say, "Democrat messages, Republican messages, pro-choice, anti-choice, Elvis sightings, sightings of Paris Hilton's cootchie...BRING 'EM ON!""

Oh. So you want your phone clogged with text messages from a long list of advertisers. Part of the original appeal of cable TV was its touted freedom from commercials. Too bad that couldn't last. Anyway, it's not likely you truly want an endless stream of messages dominating the screen on your phone.

YOu wrote:

"So I suppose, to the extent there's something to worry about here, it's the idea that a Telco would assert their right to censor whatever goes through their lines."

Censor!? This is a key point. Advertising decisions are not acts of censorship. They are decisions about revenue and the future.

Would any legitimate company run adverttisements for the KKK? Even if the klan offered triple the going rate? No.

You wrote:

"Imagine if they pulled these kind of shenanigans with your email."

Imagine? Yes. One would need a lot of imagination to ignore the reality of life in the US. You would have to believe that a phone company that provides a medium for private communication between electronically linked parties cares about the content of the communications.

The phone companies have already settled the legal issue of responsibility for the content of communications. There is none. The phone companies have no responsibility for statements, words, images or anything that moves over its network.

This holds true for the Internet too.

Crimes occurring via telcos for which people are arrested have nothing to do with the medium itself.

You wrote:

"I guess I'd be worried if it wasn't so bad for business."

That's right. Businesses are focused on the future. And decision-makers are aware of the fickleness of consumers.

Recall the old story about VCRs versus Betamax. Knowledgeable people have always said Beta was the better technology. But VCRs got traction and won that war. Why? Probably because more porn was produced for VCRs than Betamax machines.

The point is this: Verizon's acts were not political or Big Brotherish. The decisions were driven by assessing the best path for the company's future. Totally mercenary. Zero ideology.
So now we have the government spying on us, and major corporations essentially playing Big Brother to the masses.

This nation is so screwed!
Well as an Informationalist I would have to say. Censorship is bad PERIOD.
Not exactly. The boardroom question boils down to placing a bet on whether the company will lose more customers by allowing ANY and ALL text ADVERTISEMENTS, or limiting the range of advertisements via the phone system.

OK... no_slappz, I could waste a lot of time trying to comment on your novel length observations, but one essential point that you missed stands out: NARAL's message are not advertising! They are explicitly opt-in informational content. You can't receive these unless you take an explicit action to sign-up for them. So...there is no possibility of your mobile phone being clogged with unsolicited NARAL spam; no chance of offense unless you sign-up to be offended; and no analogy with newspapers, TV, radio, nor any other medium with the exception of "opt-in" email lists or newsletters. Thus, my point about content filtering.
FranIAm... An Elvis sighting? How do you rate?! ;-)

Cognitirex... :-) Actually MoveOn would probably love that--all press being "good press" you know.

10cents per forward... cha-ching

RAFFI... And a cottage industry is born!
Gary... There really is only one solution to the email/texting/VoIP issue: If the Telcos insist on not behaving like a common carrier, then you must encrypt everything you send.

Octavian... I agree, and since, as no_slappz pointed out, the Telcos are insulated from any liability (other than having to respond to their customer's pique), there is no upside to censorship--especially when we're talking about "opt-in" content.
kvatch, you wrote:

"but one essential point that you missed stands out: NARAL's message are not advertising! They are explicitly opt-in informational content. You can't receive these unless you take an explicit action to sign-up for them."

The initial probe sent out by NARAL is paid-for. Verizon is not blasting ALL its subscribers with a text message sent free-of-charge.

Again, by your logic, you think Verison should accept payment from the KKK under the same circumstances.

I think the telco has the right to refuse service to anyone as long as the refusal does not violate any anti-discrimination laws.

It is not censorship when a media company tells an advertiser his business isn't wanted.
I love your idea, Froggie - of letting Verizon know that I find any text messages originating from any Republican-dominated organization to be "offensive".
you telling me you get mass junk text messaging in America... oh boy! oh no!!

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