MEDIA MASH: NPR Picks and Brazen Comcast

AlterNet.org -- NPR Pick of Five Big Winners on the Internet

Rick Karr of NPR's All Things Considered recently picked AlterNet as one of the five winners still thriving on the Internet. The NPR awards came in the clearing smoke of the great dot-com bomb of 2001. Not only is AlterNet surviving, its traffic has boomed 500 percent since Dubya came on the scene. That traffic growth has been helped along enormously by viral marketing from loyal AlterNet readers, many still angry about how Bush got into the White House. The other winners are AOL/Time Warner, Yahoo, Slashdot and the IndyMedia Centers. Among the losers tabbed by Karr were Suck and Feed, fine sites which recently bit the dust, and Salon, which ain't dead yet.

Salon - Still Alive and Kicking

Sources close to Salon, are optimistic that, with some additional funding and belt tightening, Salon will stay alive for the near future. Like the cat with nine lives, Salon continues to produce high quality journalism. Salon is all over Bush like a wet blanket, and its coverage of the drug war has been extraordinary. Staff writers like Janelle Brown are stand-outs and Eric Boehlert's dissection of the never ending media consolidation has been first-rate. His recent article about the Telecommunications Act and the resulting consolidation of the radio industry underscores that with Clear Channel and Viacom's Infinity controlling huge chunks of audience and advertising revenues, radio quality has really gone to the pits.

And Along Came Comcast

Comcast's brazen attempt to take over ATT's cable and broadband assets is another step toward total consolidation in the cable industry. If successful, Comcast will have access to 22 million customers in eight of the top 10 markets -- the largest cable provider by far. But it is Comcast's bad attitude toward open Internet access that has some media watchers most concerned.

"Comcast's official position against open Internet access -- made clear in its recent filings to the Federal Communication Commission -- should set off alarm bells," said Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy. "This proposed deal is about extending Comcast's already significant monopoly control over cable TV services into Internet access and other digital content services."

Added Chester: "Comcast wants to become an unregulated digital toll booth, and it will use its dominant monopoly status to extract new fees from competitors and consumers alike."

Who's Misbehavin'?

It's no secret that no secret is safe. But the extent to which Big Brother hovers over our shoulders still comes as a surprise.

The latest proof is a study by the Privacy Foundation which found that the email and Web sites of 14 million Americans -- one third of the online workforce - and another 100 million worldwide are under continuous surveillance. And this doesn't even include those companies that do occasional email reviews or random Internet checking. As disturbing as these numbers are, the motivation behind such monitoring is even more so. The Privacy Foundation found that more than productivity concerns, more than employee suspicion, the number one reason for employee monitoring was the low cost of the technology. With worldwide spending on employee-monitoring software at just over $140 million a year, spying costs only about five bucks per employee per year.

Well, if it's that cheap, who can bother with privacy?

Speaking of a Blue Light Special…

Tampa City officials recently instituted face-recognition technology on its downtown streets. The software scans crowds and matches the images with faces from police records, making no perp safe from Tampa's cyborg-cop capabilities. Or does it? The American military refused the software's services after it found the technology failed to identify or misidentified over 40 percent of its test trials.

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