February 7, 2017 Last Updated 8:06 am

President finds his words repeated back to him in court; Digital overtakes TV in France

Morning Brief: Senate to vote today on the nomination of Betsy DeVos, a test of whether the Congress can act as a separate third branch of government, or merely a rubber stamp for the new president

The law is a tricky thing sometimes. It excuse the most egregious behavior on a technicality, but can just as easily assign blame to actions that were not literally authorized. This is the unique territory we are entering with the new regime, and some astute observers today are writing about what it all means.

Specifically, can what you say casually on the campaign trail be used in court? What are the responsibilities of government agents when carrying out orders that may, or may not be legal? Can they be liable should they take their duties too far, are too aggressive?

Journalists and publishers know they are in new legal territory, as well. Every day we create a paper trail, one that means little in ordinary times, but can become dangerous when the government suddenly turns to suppressing the media.

The Washington Post, Fred Barbash and Derek Hawkins:

Trump’s loose talk about Muslims gets weaponized in court against travel ban

In court papers, Washington and Minnesota’s attorneys general have pulled out quotes from speeches, news conferences and interviews as evidence that an executive order the administration argues is neutral was really motivated by animus toward Muslims and a “desire to harm a particular group.”

His words, the two states say in their brief, show “that the President acted in bad faith in an effort to target Muslims.” The courts, they say, “have both the right and duty to examine” Trump’s “true motives.”

The states offer a multitude of exhibits, starting with a December 2015 release from the Trump campaign calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

The Baltimore Sun, Chris Edelson:

Ordinary Americans carried out inhumane acts for Trump

The men and women who reportedly handcuffed small children and the elderly, separated a child from his mother and held others without food for 20 hours, are undoubtedly “ordinary” people. What I mean by that, is that these are, in normal circumstances, people who likely treat their neighbors and co-workers with kindness and do not intentionally seek to harm others. That is chilling, as it is a reminder that authoritarians have no trouble finding the people they need to carry out their acts of cruelty. They do not need special monsters; they can issue orders to otherwise unexceptional people who will carry them out dutifully.

This should not be a surprise. The famous Milgram experiment and subsequent studies suggest that many people will obey instructions from an authority figure, even if it means harming another person. It is also perfectly understandable (which does not mean it is justifiable). How many of us would refuse to follow an instruction from a superior at work? It is natural to want to keep one’s job, even if at the price of inflicting cruelty on another human being, even perhaps a child.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: What will we do? This is not a hypothetical question.

The gathering of personal data from customers has become a major profit center in the tech business. Whether the tech company involved wants to gather, organize and monetize that data is something that is, it seems, completely up to the company involved.

Apple has made it something of a point of differentiation to position itself as a guardian of their customer’s data, but what if the policy shifts, what if a few too many bad quarters in a row leads to a change in attitude?

At Vizio, the FTC says, the company collected a “mountain of data” and turned it into gold, all without telling their customers what they were doing. The case against the TV set maker has now been settled, with Vizio making a $1.5 million payment to the FTC and an additional civil penalty to New Jersey of $700K. Pretty much a slap on the wrist. Will it be enough to stop others from venturing down the same road?


What Vizio was doing behind the TV screen

Starting in 2014, Vizio made TVs that automatically tracked what consumers were watching and transmitted that data back to its servers. Vizio even retrofitted older models by installing its tracking software remotely. All of this, the FTC and AG allege, was done without clearly telling consumers or getting their consent.

What did Vizio know about what was going on in the privacy of consumers’ homes? On a second-by-second basis, Vizio collected a selection of pixels on the screen that it matched to a database of TV, movie, and commercial content. What’s more, Vizio identified viewing data from cable or broadband service providers, set-top boxes, streaming devices, DVD players, and over-the-air broadcasts. Add it all up and Vizio captured as many as 100 billion data points each day from millions of TVs.

Vizio then turned that mountain of data into cash by selling consumers’ viewing histories to advertisers and others. And let’s be clear: We’re not talking about summary information about national viewing trends. According to the complaint, Vizio got personal.

The Senate is set to vote today on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as education secretary, with the vote expected to be 50-50, with the vice president to cast the deciding vote in her favor. The vote is a test on whether someone so obviously unqualified to be in the cabinet can actually win confirmation due strictly to partisan politics. The vote, I fear, will be a litmus test for the Congress, are they willing to stand up and be an equal branch of government. I fear not.

The Washington Post, Emma Brown:

Senate to vote today on confirmation of Betsy DeVos

DeVos has faced an unprecedented wave of popular backlash and partisan opposition: Since the Education Department was established in 1979, nominees to lead it have always been easily confirmed, often on voice votes or with unanimous support. The closest confirmation vote for an education secretary was 49 to 40 in 2016, in favor of John B. King Jr. Jr., who served during the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency.

But DeVos is unlike previous nominees in that she has no personal or professional experience in public education or elected office.

A Michigan billionaire and major Republican donor, she has spent three decades using her wealth and political clout to advocate for alternatives to public schools, particularly taxpayer-funded vouchers to help parents pay tuition for private and religious schools. She also has advocated for a loosely regulated variety of charter schools.

When TNM first began publishing the most common asked questions came from European publishers who could see what was happening in the US and wanted to know if they could expect the same to happen in their market. Would the iPad catch on? Would they need to launch a digital edition app? Should it be interactive or a replica edition?

What we saw was that the UK was a year or two behind the US, but the French and Italian markets seemed further behind.

A new report today says that digital advertising has now surpassed television in France, according to a new report from Pwc (PDF). The report also shows that social networks are the big beneficiaries of growth in digital advertising – again, just as in the US.


Digital media overtakes TV in French ad spend – study

Digital media has narrowly overtaken TV in the French advertising market, based on the 2016 ‘e-pub’ report conducted by PwC (in partnership with UDECAM) and presented by SRI (Les Regies Internet). As a share of media spending, digital advertising increased to 29.6 percent in 2016, up 2 percentage points from 2015, moving ahead of TV advertising, which was at 28.1 percent in 2016 versus 27.8 in 2015.

Home page photo: Paris by Matthias Ripp used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

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