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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Looking for Meaning in Walking Out on the Internet Treaty

Message, if Murky, From U.S. to the World


Terry Kramer led the United States delegation in Dubai.

At the global treaty conference on telecommunications here, the United States got most of what it wanted. But then it refused to sign the document and left in a huff.

What was that all about? And what does it say about the future of the Internet - which was virtually invented by the United States but now has many more users in the rest of the world?

It may mean little about how the Internet will operate in the coming years. But it might mean everything about the United States' refusal to acknowledge even symbolic global oversight of the network.

The American delegation, joined by a handful of Western allies, derided the treaty as a threat to Internet freedom. But most other nations signed it. And other participants in the two weeks of talks here were left wondering on Friday whether the Americans had been negotiating in good faith or had planned all along to engage in a public debate only to make a dramatic exit, as they did near midnight on Thursday as the signing deadline approached.

The head of the American delegation, Terry Kramer, announced that it was “with a heavy heart” that he could not “sign the agreement in its current form.” United States delegates said the pact could encourage censorship and undermine the existing, hands-off approach to Internet oversight and replace it with government control.

Anyone reading the treaty, though, might be puzzled by these assertions. “Internet” does not appear anywhere in the 10-page text, which deals mostly with matters like the fees that telecommunications networks should charge one another for connecting calls across borders. After being excised from the pact at United States insistence, the I-word was consigned to a soft-pedaled resolution that is attached to the treaty.

The first paragraph of the treaty states: “These regulations do not address the content-related aspects of telecommunications.” That convoluted phrasing was understood by all parties to refer to the Internet, delegates said, but without referring to it by name so no one could call it an Internet treaty.

A preamble to the treaty commits the signers to adopt the regulations “in a manner that respects and upholds their human rights obligations.”

Both of these provisions were added during the final days of haggling in Dubai, with the support of the United States. If anything, the new treaty appears to make it more intellectually challenging for governments like China and Iran to justify their current censorship of the Internet.

What's more, two other proposals that raised objections from the United States were removed. One of those stated that treaty signers should share control over the Internet address-assignment system - a function now handled by an international group based in the United States. The other, also removed at the Americans' behest, called for Internet companies like Google and Facebook to pay telecommunications networks for delivering material to users.

Given that the United States achieved many of its stated goals in the negotiations, why did it reject the treaty in an 11th-hour intervention that had clearly been coordinated with allies like Britain and Canada?

In a Dubai conference call with reporters early on Friday, Mr. Kramer cited a few remaining objections, like references to countering spam and to ensuring “the security and robustness of international telecommunications networks.” This wording, he argued, could be used by nefarious governments to justify crackdowns on free speech.

But even Mr. Kramer acknowledged that his real concerns were less tangible, saying it was the “normative” tone of the debate that had mattered most. The United States and its allies, in other words, saw a chance to use the treaty conference to make a strong statement about the importance of Internet freedom. But by refusing to sign the treaty and boycotting the closing ceremony, they made clear that even to talk about the appearance of global rules for cyberspace was a nonstarter.

It may have been grandstanding, but some United States allies in Europe were happy to go along, saying the strong American stand would underline the importance of keeping the Internet open.

A version of this news analysis appeared in print on December 15, 2012, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: Message,If Murky, From U.S. To World.

On Instagram, a Thriving Bazaar Taps a Big Market

On Instagram, a Thriving Bazaar Taps a Big Market

Instagram, the picture-sharing application that Facebook bought earlier this year, has not yet figured out a way to make money. But some of its users have.

Services like Prinstagram let people turn their Instagram images into prints, wall calendars and stickers.

These entrepreneurs have realized that they can piggyback on the popularity of Instagram, which has more than 100 million users, and create their own businesses, some of which have turned out to be quite profitable. They join a long line of innovators who have found creative ways to build new services on top of existing sites and platforms.

Services like Printstagram, for example, let people turn their Instagram images into prints, wall calendars and stickers. A group of designers are building a digital picture frame for Instagram photos. Some early users of the service are leveraging their expertise and sizable followings and starting consulting agencies, advising big-name brands on how best to use Instagram themselves.

And others have simply realized that the app is a great place to post photos of things they are trying to sell. Jenn Nguyen, 26, who lives in Irvine, Calif., has 8,300 followers on Instagram, where she posts images of lavishly made-up women who are wearing her brand of false eyelashes.

“When we post a new picture of someone wearing our lashes, we instantly see sales,” she said.

Ms. Nguyen is part of a wave of entrepreneurial Instagrammers who have transformed their feeds into virtual shop windows, full of handmade jewelry, retro eyewear, high-end sneakers, cute baking accessories, vintage clothing and custom artwork.

Those who want to sell things on Instagram have to resort to surprisingly low-tech tactics. Instagram does not allow users to add links to their photo posts, so merchants have to list a phone number for placing orders, or hope their followers will type the Web address of their store into a browser.

Shoppers seem willing to put up with that hassle. Ms. Nguyen said that during a recent holiday sale, she offered Instagram followers a coupon for 35 percent off their orders. That day, she said, she netted 100 orders, about $4,000 in sales, up from her usual $500. In her photo captions she mentions her online store and highlights products that are new or soon to be sold out.

Most of the people taking this sales approach are small-scale entrepreneurs and artists, looking for another way to find customers for their consignment shops and jewelry businesses. Hundreds of larger companies and big-name brands have accounts on Instagram, but only a few have taken steps toward actually selling there. Bergdorf Goodman, the luxury retailer, has posted photographs of women's shoes and jewelry alongside telephone numbers for the store.

Instagram is a compelling medium “because a photo translates to any language,” said Liz Eswein, one of the founders of the Mobile Media Lab, a digital agency focused entirely on helping companies figure out their Instagram strategies. “It's easier to get lost in the shuffle on other networks” like Facebook and Twitter, she added.

Ms. Eswein, Brian DiFeo and Anthony Danielle formed the company in March after realizing that their collective Instagram followers - nearly 850,000 - and understanding of the service could be valuable to companies like Nike, Delta, Samsung and Marc Jacobs who were hoping to reach fans of their brands. Now Mobile Media Lab runs promotions and special campaigns for those clients and others.

“We aren't saying ‘Click here and buy this product' - it's more about putting the image in their head and introducing them to a product within the service,” said Ms. Eswein. In that way, it's closer to traditional advertising, Mr. DiFeo said: “It's classic marketing. You see an ad on a billboard, or on a bus as it goes by, on TV and now, in an Instagram post. It sticks.”

The mini-industries cropping up on and around Instagram are fueled by the service's explosive growth. In April, Instagram had 25 million users. Eight months later it has quadrupled that figure and amassed more than five billion photos. In October, the mobile service had 7.8 million daily active visitors, according to comScore, more than Twitter's 6.6 million.

Both Facebook and Instagram declined to talk about how Instagram might make money directly. But analysts suspect that Facebook will try to weave advertising into the Instagram app at some point, much as it has with its own app.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 15, 2012, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Thriving Bazaar on Instagram.

A Political Brawler, Now Battling for Microsoft

A Political Brawler, Now Battling for Microsoft

Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times

Mark Penn, who is charge of “strategic and special projects” at Microsoft, has been criticized for his negative advertising tactics.

SEATTLE - Mark Penn made a name for himself in Washington by bulldozing enemies of the Clintons. Now he spends his days trying to do the same to Google, on behalf of its archrival Microsoft.

Since Mr. Penn was put in charge of “strategic and special projects” at Microsoft in August, much of his job has involved efforts to trip up Google, which Microsoft has failed to dislodge from its perch atop the lucrative Internet search market.

Drawing on his background in polling, data crunching and campaigning, Mr. Penn created a holiday commercial that has been running during Monday Night Football and other shows, in which Microsoft criticizes Google for polluting the quality of its shopping search results with advertisements. “Don't get scroogled,” it warns. His other projects include a blind taste test, Coke-versus-Pepsi style, of search results from Google and Microsoft's Bing.

The campaigns by Mr. Penn, 58, a longtime political operative known for his brusque personality and scorched-earth tactics, are part of a broader effort at Microsoft to give its marketing the nimbleness of a political campaign, where a candidate can turn an opponent's gaffe into a damaging commercial within hours. They are also a sign of the company's mounting frustration with Google after losing billions of dollars a year on its search efforts, while losing ground to Google in the browser and smartphones markets and other areas.

Microsoft has long attacked Google from the shadows, whispering to regulators, journalists and anyone else who would listen that Google was a privacy-violating, anticompetitive bully. The fruits of its recent work in this area could come next week, when the Federal Trade Commission is expected to announce the results of its antitrust investigation of Google, a case that echoes Microsoft's own antitrust suit in the 1990s. A similar investigation by the European Union is also wrapping up. A bad outcome for Google in either one would be a victory for Microsoft.

But Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., has realized that it cannot rely only on regulators to scrutinize Google - which is where Mr. Penn comes in. He is increasing the urgency of Microsoft's efforts and focusing on their more public side.

In an interview, Mr. Penn said companies underestimated the importance of policy issues like privacy to consumers, as opposed to politicians and regulators. “It's not about whether they can get them through Washington,” he said. “It's whether they can get them through Main Street.”

Jill Hazelbaker, a Google spokeswoman, declined to comment on Microsoft's actions specifically, but said that while Google also employed lobbyists and marketers, “our focus is on Google and the positive impact our industry has on society, not the competition.”

In Washington, Mr. Penn is a lightning rod. He developed a relationship with the Clintons as a pollster during President Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign, when he helped identify the value of “soccer moms” and other niche voter groups.

As chief strategist for Hillary Clinton's unsuccessful 2008 campaign for president, he conceived the “3 a.m.” commercial that raised doubts about whether Barack Obama, then a senator, was ready for the Oval Office. Mr. Penn argued in an essay he wrote for Time magazine in May that “negative ads are, by and large, good for our democracy.”

But his approach has ended up souring many of his professional relationships. He left Mrs. Clinton's campaign after an uproar about his consulting work for the government of Colombia, which was seeking the passage of a trade treaty with the United States that Mrs. Clinton, then a senator, opposed.

“Google should be prepared for everything but the kitchen sink thrown at them,” said a former colleague who worked closely with Mr. Penn in politics and spoke on condition of anonymity. “Actually, they should be prepared for the kitchen sink to be thrown at them, too.”

Hiring Mr. Penn demonstrates how seriously Microsoft is taking this fight, said Michael A. Cusumano, a business professor at M.I.T. who co-wrote a book about Microsoft's browser war.

“They're pulling out all the stops to do whatever they can to halt Google's advance, just as their competition did to them,” Professor Cusumano said. “I suppose that if Microsoft can actually put a doubt in people's mind that Google isn't unbiased and has become some kind of evil empire, they might very well get results.”

Nick Wingfield reported from Seattle and Claire Cain Miller from San Francisco.

A version of this article appeared in print on December 15, 2012, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Political Brawler, Now Battling for Microsoft.