Signal June 10: WTF is Up With PRISM?!

The official seal of the National Security Agency.

The official seal of the National Security Agency.

In this week’s Signal: The NSA’s Prism program, questions about how it was reported, and reactions to it; advertisers’ social media content problem; Facebook’s new ad strategy; Launch founder Jason Calacanis on why he broke up with YouTube; Google’s decision to allow advertisers to run images with search ads; the next generation of mobile-first Web design; Gary Vaynerchuk’s new social media strategy; the NYSE’s ‘Big Stage’; why blogging and revenue-generation don’t have to be at odds with each other; and more.

To the links…

U.S., British Intelligence Mining Data from Nine U.S. Internet Companies in Broad Secret Program (WP) Washington Post writers Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras sparked outrage with this report that the National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies. The program, code named PRISM, extracts audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.

The real story in the NSA scandal is the collapse of journalism (ZDnet) Well, the story certainly has spiraled. This piece notes how strongly our society, and in particular our journalists, want to believe that the government really is doing what we suspect they are doing. It documents how the Washington Post (and by extension, many other outlets) most likely didn’t get the story above right. I don’t believe we’ve even scratched the surface of “the truth” in this matter, but it’s a major win that we’re even talking about it as passionately as we are now.

“Direct Access” Is The Defining Phrase Of The NSA Scandal (BuzzFeed) The Washington Post’s initial report about PRISM, a massive NSA digital surveillance operation, alleged that it gave tech companies “direct access” to the servers of America’s largest tech companies. This particular detail, it seems, is one that these companies feel they can respond to — and they have.

What the …? (Google Blog) Larry Page, CEO of Google, and David Drummond, the company’s Chief Legal Officer, respond to press reports alleging that Internet companies have joined a secret U.S. government program called PRISM to give the National Security Agency direct access to our servers. “First, we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers,” they write. “Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday. Second, we provide user data to governments only in accordance with the law. Our legal team reviews each and every request, and frequently pushes back when requests are overly broad or don’t follow the correct process.”

Tech Companies, Bristling, Concede to Federal Surveillance Program (NYT) Discussions between the government and tech giants have opened about developing technical methods to more efficiently and securely share the personal data of foreign users in response to lawful government requests. According to the Times, “In at least two cases, at Google and Facebook, one of the plans discussed was to build separate, secure portals, like a digital version of the secure physical rooms that have long existed for classified information, in some instances on company servers. Through these online rooms, the government would request data, companies would deposit it and the government would retrieve it.” Since tech companies’ cooperation with the government was revealed Thursday, tech execs have called for more transparency.

Boundless Informant: The NSA’s Secret Tool to Track Global Surveillance Data (Guardian) The National Security Agency has developed a powerful tool for recording and analyzing where its intelligence comes from. The tool, called Boundless Informant, details and even maps by country the voluminous amount of information it collects from computer and telephone networks, raising questions about the NSA’s repeated assurances to Congress that it cannot keep track of all the surveillance it performs on American communications.

President Obama’s Dragnet (NYT) The New York Times editorial board believes that the Obama administration has now lost all credibility on the issue of phone data collection. According to the board, “Mr. Obama is proving the truism that the executive branch will use any power it is given and very likely abuse it. … Based on an article in The Guardian published Wednesday night, we now know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Security Agency used the Patriot Act to obtain a secret warrant to compel Verizon’s business services division to turn over data on every single call that went through its system. We know that this particular order was a routine extension of surveillance that has been going on for years, and it seems very likely that it extends beyond Verizon’s business division.”

The Distasteful Side of Social Media Puts Advertisers on Their Guard (NYT) Advertisers are trying to figure out how to prevent their brands from appearing on social media pages that contain offensive content. The problem came to light last week when, after failing to get Facebook to remove pages glorifying violence against women, feminist activists waged a digital media campaign that highlighted marketers whose ads were found alongside those pages. Nissan and several smaller advertisers temporarily removed their ads from the site.

Facebook Changes Ad Strategy to Woo Madison Avenue (CNBC) To fix its problem of having too many ad programs which are complicated and confusing, and, as a result, discourage ad buyers from spending, Facebook announced that it will offer more solution-oriented programs. The goal is to help brands drive in-store sales, generate online conversations, drive app downloads, and improve brand awareness. With this new approach, Facebook is slashing the 27 ad products it offers to just six or seven over the next six months.

I Ain’t Gonna Work On YouTube’s Farm No More (Launch) Launch founder Jason Calacanis spent the last year as a funded YouTube partner and was one of the top 10% of content creators who had their deals renewed in ‘cycle two.’ But he turned down their money, and in this editorial he explains why. The bottom line, he says, is that “someone needs to create a viable alternative to YouTube, even if it’s the top 100 channels on YouTube getting together and creating their own product that lets content creators own the relationship with their users and advertisers.”


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Google Allows Advertisers to Run Images Alongside Search Ads (Biz Journals) Last Wednesday, Google announced that it would allow advertisers to run images alongside their search ads. Advertisers can choose the images to be displayed and send them in for review. The company emphasized the need for necessary rights to the images, and said that image extensions are running in English globally.

Native is the Only Advertising Solution for Mobile (Digiday) Patrick Keane, President of Sharethrough and a veteran of the consumer Internet industry, believes that the next generation of mobile-first Web design is about feeds and streams, not columns, banners and boxes. He touts that the user consumption paradigm on mobile is feeds, not banners, splash pages, pre-roll or other interruptive traditional IAB units. “Publishers are seeing that an average of 30 to 40 percent (and in many cases higher) of their audience and traffic migrate to the mobile Web,” he writes. “Interruptive traditional desktop advertising strategies are threatening to derail mobile monetization before it starts. Mobile will be part of the digital marketing mix only if the advertising is user initiated, and native is the best solution.”

Why Gary Vaynerchuk’s New Social Media Strategy Should Change The Way You Do Business (Forbes) Gary Vaynerchuk relaunched his blog on Wednesday, signaling that he’s going to become an even greater content provider. Forbes reports that he’s redeployed an employee at VaynerMedia, his social media consultancy, to “shadow” his life “by following him at conferences and key local events to record his remarks and turn them into social media content.” Vaynerchuk believes it’s only a matter of time before this arrangement becomes common, and cautions that throwing up your hands and saying you’re too busy just isn’t an option.

NYSE Jumps on Content Marketing Trend with New Site, The Big Stage (Adweek) The New York Stock Exchange has launched a standalone, photo-heavy site designed by Digitas and called The Big Stage. Visitors to the site can find videos, feel-good profiles, Q&As around NYSE-listed companies and their executives, and more. “Hard-hitting journalism it’s not,” writes Lucia Moses, “but with a small army of 10 behind it, The Big Stage is the latest example of how brands are putting big resources in the service of audience engagement, lured by the idea that marketers can be publishers. Indeed, Marisa Ricciardi, CMO of the exchange, called the site NYSE’s “first entree into brand journalism.”

Bloggers: Don’t Bet on Display Ads (Digiday) Oliver Deighton, Vice President of Marketing at VigLink, believes that display advertising won’t enhance blogs, but native advertising can. “There’s a simple truth about blogs,” he writes. “Readers rarely, if ever, come to one to be marketed to. … Ads are an interruption, a betrayal of the natural flow individuals expect of a well-written, informative blog. Yet blogging and revenue-generation don’t have to be at odds with each other. What many bloggers, online forums, product review sites and other “independent” sources of online content haven’t yet embraced is that the very thing people come for, credibility, is a trait that has economic value.”

Why Content Marketers Should Love Programmatic Marketing (Ad Exchanger) Chris Sukornyk, Founder and CEO of Chango, pens this latest “Data Driven Thinking” column about how programmatic marketing is quickly evolving beyond direct response. He looks at the two fundamental ways to use programmatic marketing for content campaigns: on-site content optimization and off-site content optimization.

eMarketer: Amazon Ad Revenues To Reach $835 Million This Year (Ad Exchanger) As our own John Battelle predicted in January of this year, Amazon is breaking out. Worldwide advertising revenue for the company will reach more than $800 million in 2013.

Twitter Ad Exchange Excites Media Buyers (Digiday) Jack Marshall asks five agency executives about the prospect of a Twitter exchange or retargeting product.

Facebook Is For Old People (Lefsetz) Every once in a while an article like this one comes around, touting that the young generation is technologically hip and that the gray-haired generation is stuck in yesterday’s Internet just waiting to die.