On-Demand Culture

June 14, 2013

Have we as a society become so demanding that we forgo the unexpected? Back in the early 2000’s, before DVR’s and video-on-Demand services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, and HBO GO, the living room operated around scheduled programming. Yes, the family could watch a movie or do other actives to pass the time, but for new exciting content you had to be in front of the TV at a certain time on a certain channel. Why is this important? Compared to today’s scheduling, the gross amount content that demands our attention is a click away. We can skip commercials and fast-forward the boring parts. Managing to fit all that stuff in the valuable free time of a single day is perhaps the most time-consuming part of actually engaging with the content.

However, it is not only television that is changing the landscape of entertainment; video games, movies, music, and software of many kinds can be bought and downloaded within minutes. So what am I getting at? From a security standpoint this increased “demand” dulls our perceptions of security and privacy. Consumers don’t care how we get our content as long as we have it.

A common example of our desire for instant access is how no one reads the terms of service agreements associated with different programs and websites used everyday. Did you read your iTunes agreement? Well, if you clicked accept you agreed not to create chemical weapons using any part of iTunes. If you happen to actually use iTunes for such purposes, your access could be revoked – that said, the chemical weapon example is unlikely to impact that average user. More subtle instances, but more important ones, are the privacy issues linked with terms of service agreements. Below is a portion of Google’s Terms of Service. It’s a bit wordy but it’s a good example of the privacy and intellectual property rights people give up for simple and instant service.

When you upload or otherwise submit content to our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps).

-Google Terms of Service

Sometimes, the choice of content is not up to users, but instead, big data dictates what its users consume. A good book on the subject is Eli Pariser’s, “The Filter Bubble.” If you don’t have a couple hours to read it, here is a quick summary:

The filter bubble is a metaphysical, private space where algorithms provide users with targeted content based on their habits, likes, and dislikes. You see this type of service with Google, Netflix, and Facebook, just to name a few.

Filters do have a useful purpose in assisting us with choosing a good movie to watch and articles to read, but the problem is that this type of service is mandatory; I would like the option to flick the switch and actually look for content without corporate input. Problems occur when we get trapped inside our own content bubbles. Take this example, in terms of experiencing different perspectives on a particular topic, if you’re biased one way, you will mostly be provided with material of the same theme. For research purposes, your results you find online may be skewed because the contradictory information is hard to find or not available to you.

The growing security issue is the lack of thinking that goes into online activities. Do you read all the pop-ups that you encounter? Most likely not. Yes, sometimes those pop-ups are there for a reason, but sometimes they’re not in your best interest. Look at the examples of children getting trapped into submitting their cell phone number for free gift cards or bonus point for games. What I’m saying is that no matter where the future of entertainment takes us, we can’t forget about long-term consequences of our actions and the liberties we give up all because in the moment we wanted that new thing right now.

Digital Food For Thought Darren Laur AKA “The White Hatter”


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