As broadcasters pursue their digital future, new legal issues arise to greet their entry into the on-line world and to add to the challenges posed by the new media. Over the last few years, we’ve have written extensively about music rights and their impact on webcasters, broadcasters, and other digital media companies. We’ve talked about patent law issues that have faced digital media companies. And we’ve discussed other content issues, like FTC online sponsorship disclosure requirements, that have arisen from time to time. But the one issue that now seems poised to dominate the legal conversation in coming months (or years) is that of privacy. This past week, we saw Pandora announce that it has received a subpoena from a Federal grand jury in connection with an investigation into the use of information collected from various mobile apps, and whether users of these apps were aware of the use of their private information. Other companies apparently received this same request. This investigation is but the tip of the iceberg on privacy issues facing media companies operating in the digital world – challenges coming from the courts and from legislative and administrative initiatives in Washington.
Everyone knows that one of the great benefits of the Internet and the many services available on-line and through mobile apps, is the ability to personalize so as to provide a unique listening or viewing experience for every user. Instead of being limited to the linear programming that a broadcast service provides to all users at the same time, users can tailor their digital media experience to give them what they want and, as wireless broadband penetration increases through smart phones and other devices, almost whenever they want it. In some cases, the costs of providing an individualized service, because of bandwidth needs, royalties and license fees and for other reasons, the cost per each additional listener is often higher than that incurred by the traditional media. And online users thus far have been unwilling to tolerate the commercial advertising load that a traditional media experience might provide. To meet these higher marginal costs, and the lower spot loads, many digital media companies have looked to personalization of advertising to allow for higher advertising rates on the theory that advertising will be more efficient if you can guarantee that it will be targeted to reach its intended audience – geographical, demographic or based on expressed interests. As digital media companies have sought to refine the targeting available through their advertising, privacy issues have arisen.