Turner Barr, with the Coliseum in Rome in the background. Image Source: Around the World in 80 Jobs.
Recent leaks about the PRISM project revealed that the American government's National Security Agency scans private correspondence on the Internet in the name of public security; this revelation rightfully awoke concerns over the future of the Web. PRISM was exposed by a Gen Y whistleblower, Edward Snowden. Today, Snowden was about to leave Hong Kong by private plane to seek asylum in Iceland. This was arranged via connections with WikiLeaks people. The US government, however, filed an espionage charge against Snowden and demanded his arrest in order to extradite him. This kind of international incident marks a new era, in which the Internet is becoming a battleground over who has the right to exploit information online.
"A bus drives past a banner supporting Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee who leaked top-secret documents about sweeping U.S. surveillance programs, at Central, Hong Kong's business district, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. Image Source: AP / Kin Cheung / CTV.
Some may find the exploitation of the Web on security grounds defensible. But a new aspect of the same phenomenon further demonstrates the problem at hand. The Web, imagined in its early days by enthusiasts as a bastion of free speech and communications for small people everywhere, has the potential to become the biggest surveillance apparatus the world has ever known. Worse, corporations - new and old - have begun skimming enormous profits off the acquisition and manipulation of Big Data. The Web was supposed to be an equalizer. It was supposed to level the playing field, not tilt the balance against the individual.
You might think that building your own business online or sharing your bright ideas on the Web right out in the open means that no one would be brazen enough to steal those ideas and turn them into big business with big profits elsewhere online. In fact, there is no safety in mass exposure. Consider Gen Y entrepreneur and blogger, Turner Barr. Barr graduated from UC Berkeley in 2007, just in time for the recession. Barr, like many people during the recession, took to the Internet and set up his own Website, on which he blogged about the opportunities he created for himself:
After the recession hit in 2008 I was at a crossroads. I had graduated school with the typical guidance a young American gets “Go to the best school possible, get the best job possible that makes the most money, and then get a huge untenable mortgage and live the American dream”. But what is that dream? How can you decide what you want to do if you haven’t had the experience yet to know what would make you fulfilled? From Hallmark, from University, from your parents who grew up in a different time with different expectations with different opportunities presented to them?
Barr traveled the world looking for jobs and blogged about his experiences on a site entitled, Around the World in 80 Jobs. You can see an example of one of his jobs here.I had been on the road for over a year and had finally taken the plunge to solve these tough life questions by starting a youth hostel in Cali, Colombia, when I woke up to find Lehman Brothers and AIG go belly up. And as they went belly up, so did the economy, my little capital and my dream of living overseas. But like our forefathers before us, when times get tough, you can sit around and play spread around the blame, or you can man up and make shit happen. I try to live by the latter.
Image Source: Turner Barr (left) / Adecco (right) / StylewalkeR.
So far, so good. Then this week, Barr published a post on his blog: "How I Got Fired from the Job I Invented," in which he outlined how a Human Resources company, Adecco, stole the title of his blog and its concept, and even hired an actor play a Barr doppelganger. According to Barr, they pumped out Gen-Y-targeted promotionals, borrowed Barr's idea for their own site (here) and other HR sites (here) and Youtube (here). Their focus was on the 'perspective of young people.' StylewalkeR reports on how this mess unfolded:
Adecco is the world’s leading provider in HR solutions” and currently running a competition called “Around the world in 80 jobs” as part of the initiative “Adecco way to work”
The problem is: “Around the world in 80 jobs” is also the name of a website by blogger Turner Barr from Washington. He is actually doing what the title depicts: Travelling the world and working in different jobs, blogging and about it, posting videos and pictures. Turner has been doing this since 2011. Adecco registered the trademark in April 2013.
Barr is upset: “Recently, I was both astonished and demoralized to find that my entire brand, image and web personality was swiped for use in a marketing campaign …
without ever being asked for permission or acknowledged. The video for their marketing campaign was particularly creepy for me, as even my age and personality didn’t escape the level of detail spent on creating this doppelganger.”
Turner Barr takes to Youtube to describe his predicament. Video Source: Youtube.
Ironically, this rip-off is almost identical to the plot of the seminal Generation X film, Reality Bites (1994). In that case, the (fictional) corporate offender was a television network. It is fascinating that the big companies which profit most from jealously-guarded copyright enforcement take the most liberties with personal information and original small projects initiated online by people who do not have the legal clout to fight back when their intellectual properties are stolen. It is likely that many big companies are combing the Web for original material from unpaid and unmentioned private blogs, forums and personal sites.
Below, see some of the online reaction to Adecco's marketing rip-off of Barr's idea, indeed, of his whole online life. At the time of writing this post, Barr's post, "How I Got Fired from the Job I Invented," was not loading on his site and Adecco's Youtube Barr doppelganger promo had been marked 'private' on Youtube. Presumably the parties are talking. Or perhaps Barr's site is overloaded or suffering a DDOS attack. Whatever the case, let us hope that the beleaguered blogger stands his ground. (Hat tip on this story: Jennifer James McCollum.) The matter is being discussed on Twitter right now at #makeitright and #80jobs.
Image Source: Facebook via StylewalkeR.