‘First!’ The people battling for celebrity attention on social media

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Right now in Kent, England, Anthony is almost certainly checking actor Jamie Dornan’s Twitter feed. The 22-year-old French teaching assistant has probably also got one eye on Dornan’s Instagram stream, although the actor posts there less frequently, and Facebook page

Anthony relentlessly follows and checks (and then re-checks) virtually every action the 50 Shades of Grey star takes online. He spends up to 15 hours per day keeping tabs on Dornan’s social media activity

In the quest to be first to Like, comment or respond to Dornan’s online activity, and to bring news to Dornan’s other fans via the Jamie Dornan Online fan site, Anthony is a social media monitoring machine. In France, Anthony’s “co web,” Laura, a 25-year-old childcare worker, puts in the same kind of hours in pursuit of reaching Dornan’s posts first Read more…

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Verizon Won’t Stop Tracking Users, But At Least You Can Opt Out Now

The saga of last year’s privacy controversy over Verizon’s user-tracking behavior continues on. The latest chapter involves the wireless carrier magnanimously deciding Friday to let subscribers opt out of the program, the New York Times reported.

Not that the idea came purely from the goodness of its heart. As the NYT noted, the decision came less than a day after the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation wrote to Verizon’s chief executive, Lowell C. McAdam, to question his company’s behavior.

Next thing you know, Verizon agreed to let people jump off the good ship “Privacy Fail.”

Shhhh! We’re Tracking You

The fiasco started last year, when a tweet by the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Jacob Hoffman-Andrews pointed out Verizon’s user-tracking tactics—primarily because few, if any, people realized what the wireless operator was doing.

Hoffman-Andrews cited an Ad Age article about Verizon’s advertising business that mentioned the company’s use of PrecisionID, a tool developed by Verizon’s data marketer, Precision Market Insights. Its website describes PrecisionID as “a deterministic identifier matched to devices on Verizon’s wireless network powering data-driven marketing and addressable advertising solutions…”

The system works by tacking on snippets of code—sometimes called “perma-cookies” or “supercookies”—to mobile traffic headers moving through Verizon’s cellular network. This “UIDH” identifier allows the carrier to track its subscribers’ mobile browsing activity for advertising purposes. Ad Age’s Mark Bergen wrote, “Precision packages the request as a hashed, aggregated and anonymous unique identifier, and turns it into a lucrative chunk of data for advertisers.”

See also: Why Verizon Is Tracking All Your Mobile Web Traffic

In a Google AdSense world, user-tracking may not seem that outrageous. The difference: Google makes no secret of its ad-targeting behavior, and people knowingly accept those terms in order to use the search giant’s free services. Verizon Wireless subscribers pay (sometimes hefty) subscription fees, but they apparently didn’t know they were being tracked.

Instead, they became unwitting participants in a program whose security remains in question. As the NYT points out, Verizon must secure those unique identifiers or supercookies, to ensure external attackers can’t get their hands on them.

Verizon “Takes Privacy Seriously” (Kinda)

Even if people knew about the program, they would have had no way out until now. The company offered no mechanism to decline participation, like it does with other advertising initiatives. It makes sense, in some ways. If no one knows they’re being tracked, where’s the need? Another possibility: Putting something out there might trigger unwanted attention, and Verizon only puts it out there because it’s forced to now.

That is, of course, not the way the carrier positions its decision. According to its latest press statement:

Verizon takes customer privacy seriously and it is a central consideration as we develop new products and services. As the mobile advertising ecosystem evolves, and our advertising business grows, delivering solutions with best-in-class privacy protections remains our focus.

We listen to our customers and provide them the ability to opt out of our advertising programs. We have begun working to expand the opt-out to include the identifier referred to as the UIDH, and expect that to be available soon. As a reminder, Verizon never shares customer information with third parties as part of our advertising programs.

The announcement looks like a concession, and a minor one at that. Because if it was serious about privacy, then Verizon would have made user-tracking opt-in, i.e. turned off by default and only activated with consent. Instead, the program is opt-out, indicating it may be turned on by default. That would put the onus on users to be aware and proactive enough shut it down.

Earlier in January, the Electronic Frontier Foundation began a petition against Verizon and Turn, a partner that makes digital marketing software. The digital rights group seeks punitive federal action for the lack of consumer disclosures over the tracking activity. The petition received more than 2,000 signatures as of Friday.

Lead photo by Kangrex

YouTube Fired Flash, Clearing HTML5’s Last Obstacle For World Domination

After 10 years, YouTube gave Adobe Flash the heave-ho as its default video player on Tuesday. Instead, the site announced it would default to HTML5 to play its never-ending roster of cat clips, Taylor Swift tributes and movie previews.

A few years ago, the move would have been unthinkable. In 2010, Adobe bragged that as much as 75% of the Web’s videos used Flash. But as of last year, HTML5’s popularity seemed cemented, with more than 80% of the market using it.

See also: Congrats, HTML5—You’re All Grown Up Now

For YouTube, the change seems natural. Around the time Adobe staked its claim, five years ago, the site began offering HTML5 as an option, setting the foundation. Now, in practical terms, most people probably won’t even know the difference. But the change speaks volumes about the state of online videos, its evolution and HTML5’s place in it.

How Flash Started To Dim

Apple usually isn’t the first to bring a new technology to market, but it wastes no time in sending old ones—like floppy disks, CDs, Firewire and others—packing. Flash was one of its most infamous targets.

Co-founder Steve Jobs abhorred it, so the iPhone never supported it. Jobs even went an extra step and posted a polemic damning the technology, in response to Adobe taking aim at the iPad’s lack of Flash support.

The big-screen device was designed for enjoying entertainment—at least those not piped in by Adobe’s standard. Jobs explained, citing Flash’s lack of openness, poor performance, battery drain, lack of touch support and other issues.

We have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it. Adobe publicly said that Flash would ship on a smartphone in early 2009, then the second half of 2009, then the first half of 2010, and now they say the second half of 2010. We think it will eventually ship, but we’re glad we didn’t hold our breath. Who knows how it will perform?

That was in 2010, the year Apple sold nearly 40 million iPhones, and moved almost 15 million of its first iPads. Although the tablet’s momentum has been stalling out lately, back then, its growth and popularity in the market had only just begun. Developers couldn’t afford to overlook such a huge user base, so this war wound up accelerating more activity around HTML5.

Not that there was really a choice. The following year, Adobe killed off Flash mobile development and even joined the HTML5 bandwagon.

Becoming A Streaming TV Star

Unlike Adobe’s aging multimedia technology, HTML5 works on all devices. It also plays into the larger trend to “write once and distribute everywhere.” Developers of all types can just run with HTML5 and know that their videos would play on computers, smartphones and tablets, as well as televisions, i.e. the biggest screen in most people’s lives.

Streaming TV is an area of intense focus for YouTube. The site has become a fundamental part of living room tech, to the point now that most options seem incomplete without it. Google, which bought the video purveyor for $1.65 billion in 2006, knew it would become important; and if it didn’t, then it definitely knows now. The company’s most successful TV product to date, Chromecast, only offered YouTube, Netflix and two Google Play media services when it launched in 2013. But that was enough to rocket it to the top of Amazon’s list of bestselling electronics.

Meanwhile, HTML5’s prominence in TV app development started to come into focus.

See also: HTML5’s “Dirty Little Secret”: It’s Already Everywhere, Even In Mobile

Differing approaches can make development complicated, developers have told me. Roku, for example, uses its own proprietary BrightStar scripting language. For a while, it looked like every TV and console maker would use their own coding languages, making app development across so many different systems a resource-intensive nightmare. Fortunately, most major smart TV and streaming set-top platforms wound up rallying behind HTML5—including those from Samsung, LG, Opera TV and others (though not Roku).

In other words, TV streaming apps have become something akin to glorified Web apps. YouTube’s change in default from Flash to HTML5 plays directly into that.

See also: HTML5 Catches Up To Apple

Not that Flash is entirely dead. It’s still a popular choice for browser-based gaming, apparently even more so than HTML5. The latter can’t handle animations or back-and-forth interactions on its own, requiring other tools like CSS3 and Javascript. But when it comes to video, it’s clear now which one dominates—and that may only scratch the surface.

In emerging markets, developer interest in HTML5 has surged. In places like South Asia, South America, the Middle East and Africa, HTML5 is even more popular than iOS—which means that the technology Apple helped make popular is giving it a run for its money.

Lead photo screenshot from YouTube video by Gilbert Gottfried