March 7th, 2011

Apple, Facebook and Google Are the de Facto Regulators of the Digital Domain

Advertising Age

The major powers of Silicon Valley don’t have the feds’ power or authority, but they’re assembling a pretty comprehensive ability to shape the way we experience the digital realm, affecting what seems popular, what’s permissible, what’s public and, most recently, which websites are “good” and “bad.”

The funny thing is how happily we, a people who generally trust our elected government as far as we could throw a representative, extend the benefit of the doubt to companies that answer to investors, shareholders and genius CEOs rather than to us.

Do you want to know what everyone’s talking about? Twitter’s Trending Topics list will tell you what they just started discussing, but it buries persistently popular memes, which is why Justin Bieber’s people came up with an elaborate scheme to try to make his February movie “Never Say Never” register as a Trending Topic. And Twitter’s machinations also seem to be why trendy political subjects such as massive student protests in Britain and WikiLeaks became no-shows on the Trending List at the height of their popularity.

Speaking of WikiLeaks, would you like its iPhone or iPad app? Apple rejected them in December, noting that “Apps must comply with all local laws and may not put an individual or targeted group in harm’s way,” although WikiLeaks hadn’t been charged with any crimes and the harm its leaks have caused is a matter of debate. (You can still use Apple’s Safari browser to visit WikiLeaks’ site.)

Facebook, God bless it, just published a draft privacy policy ditching the “legalese” in an effort to offer “a privacy policy written for you.” But you still can’t opt out of seeing your likes drafted into ad units called sponsored stories. Facebook notes that liking something in the first place means you wanted your friends to know. So if you don’t like the idea of becoming ad copy, that’s tough luck. Your option is to stop sharing.

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