I just reamed an ITN producer who emailed me this clip about Google seeking a patent for using background noise in audible search requests and wanted to talk to me “off the record” (why he’d offer that, I don’t know; bad reporters’ reflex) to find out what “worries” I had about privacy and security. Note well that he didn’t ask me what I thought of the technology — whether I thought it was good or bad, how I thought it could be used positively or negatively, what its potential is. No, he showed his bias clearly by asking me to tell him what was wrong with it. Is that how a journalist should operate?

He called me and I challenged him about what was wrong with this. I want Google to know where I am so when I ask for pizza, I don’t get a treatise on the history of pizza. If Google can hear the background when I search for “Raptor” and realize whether I’m in a noisy stadium or a quiet museum, I want it to guess well whether I want jocks or dinosaurs. What’s wrong with that? I ask back. Some people will think it’s “creepy.” I asked him to define creepy. The word is imprecise, emotional, and lazy, used not to elicit facts but quotable opinions. Is that how a journalist should operate?

Thus we see the sprouting of another incident of Luddite reporting on technology with a Reefer Madness touch of sensationalism, just like the Wall Street Journal’s What They Know series and last week’s Consumer Reports moral-panic survey on Facebook.

What gets me angry — besides lazy journalism — is the danger this presents to the freedom of the web. These alleged journalistic endeavors will be used to set public policy and to try to regulate and limit the freedom of the net.

I find that creepy.

  • It has become the default of (bad) technology reporting. Every move Facebook or Google makes is analysed by its creepiness factor. The problem for Google is that they made a rod for their own back with “Don’t Be Evil”.
    After the WiFi collection issues, Buzz, Kenya and iPhone security issues the (bad) technology reporters have a bloodlust. Worst still is when the non-tech reporters try to cover these issues in binary terms – evil, not evil.
    It’s a problem. A problem I know how to avoid by reading writers I trust. I don’t have the answer for everyone else, just a hope it will get better.

  • Paul Bradshaw

    I find the whole experience of being approached for broadcast interviews very depressing. Any attempt to get to the ‘truth’ of an issue seems to be an accidental byproduct of the factory-like recipe: take two people to play the roles you want on two extremes of an issue (if they’re too moderate, find someone else), and set them to fight as if each view is equally representative and factual. It’s noise and fury, signifying nothing.

  • I just find it interesting that Fear and Panic are the first
    reactions and I can’t help but blame news outlets for a lot of this. Everyone
    is so keen to create a negative and frightening story every time Google,
    Facebook or Microsoft makes any advances in technology (notably, it only seems
    to get this reaction when it’s one of the major companies) – and they are

    No news outlet outside tech-focussed sites seem to report on
    the benefits and how the technology could help us live our lives better, they
    just go straight for the Horror Story.

    It makes me glad that I got into technology at a young age
    and have learnt about it by trying things out for myself because if I was new
    to the idea of social networking and smart technology and I was relying on the
    media to educate me, I’d stay well clear.

  • woke

    > These alleged journalistic endeavors will be used to set public policy and to try to regulate and limit the freedom of the net.

    Why should tech reporting be any different from other journalism?

    When “change the world” is an acceptable goal, that’s what folks are going to try to do.

    No, journalists are not qualified to identify good changes.

  • This is the issue that affects much of media.  Bias. It has been accepted for decades, if not centuries, that different newspapers will prefer different political parties and will skew the reporting to reflect that.  The paper one reads (if you still read dead trees) will usually reflect your political stance and how you vote – certainly in the UK.
    Strangely there are still many who believe that editorials in traditional media are more worthy than blogs, which are ultimately editorials by unsponsored individuals. No less coherent or knowledgeable, necessarily. But by not having a behemoth organisation behind the writer, the opinions are for many less relevant.
    And so it goes with new technology.  If one wants to believe Google is evil, one will self-filter news and articles to focus only on those that conform to one’s world-view.  Ditto Apple.  Ditto Facebook. Ditto the internet. Mobile. Location…
    It is frustrating, therefore, for those of us who ‘get’ technology, to see the myths being repeated time and again by, as you say, lazy journalists.
    I haven’t self-filtered the various stories to focus on this one that agrees with me, have I?!  and heaven forbid that I should ever find a newspaper or site that agreed with me completely…. sometimes one needs naysayers and the small-minded in order to rant and vent….

    • An individuals maturity to digest information comes from a genuine curiousity to learn… intelectually, decisions weighing the pro’s and con’s of topics are made.  Opinions that are educated in this way form the norms that edit the mob intelectually when challenges are made in any form of the media.   For the discerning academic ….

  • Hey Jeff I heard A GREAT INTERVIEW WITH YOU AT THE SYDNEY WRITERS FESTIVAL (oops caps lock by accident) with some really good questions asked and answered. 

    You have been a big influence on me in the few times I have encountered your content, keep up the good work!!

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