Live Streaming – The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Listen up parents: live streaming is the latest trend that you need to get your heads around. Not only are there privacy issues that you need to understand so you can keep your kids safe but live streaming may just explain why your Internet usage is spiraling upwards!

To ensure we’re are all up to speed, I am going to start at the very beginning.

Streaming is when video footage or audio is watched (or listened to) online without having to download the entire file first. There is no file to download, just a continuous stream of data. Good examples are Internet radio and television broadcasts.

Now there are two types of streaming – on demand streaming and live streaming. On demand streaming is when the user chooses to watch content that has previously been recorded, for example Catchup TV and YouTube videos. Live streaming is different – footage is shared online as it happens – just like live TV.

Live streaming apps have been around for about 10 years with platforms such as Google Hangouts On Air and Twitch but it wasn’t until the launch of Meerkat and then Periscope this year that live streaming really gained mainstream traction. Meerkat and Periscope are both mobile apps that enable users to live stream (or share footage) over Twitter.

Clearly there are some huge benefits to live streaming. Large companies can live stream events to customers and staff, universities can live stream lectures, churches can ensure their parishioners get their weekly sermon and citizen journalists (with Twitter accounts) are even more empowered. But there is a darker side to live streaming and it’s all about privacy.

A quick five minutes on Meerkat and I have viewed a Swedish kitchen, moments of a Christian conference in Sydney, a suburban road in London with residents in full flight and someone’s holiday. All interesting if you are a people watcher, but each stream was full of unwilling subjects blissfully unaware their image was being streamed across the Internet. Strike one for live streaming.

Strike two – geo tagging. While being able to hone in on location specific footage can be amazing for information in a crisis or for a market read, it can also be devastating for the uploader. Periscope can even pinpoint the street from which a user is streaming. I don’t need to spell out what this could mean if there was a jilted ex-lover or disgruntled parent without access involved. Users need to actively turn off their location sharing services to prevent this information being available.

Online harassment and bullying – call me a Negative Nellie but yes, this is happening on Meerkat and Periscope – strike three. Whilst both platforms say shared content is verified and checked, I am aware of too many cases of inappropriate behaviour of both abuse and bullying. Meerkat and Periscope also both prohibit ‘pornographic or overtly sexual content’ as well as ‘explicitly graphic content’ but I can tell you that it exists. Periscope says that if such footage is reported it will be taken down but clearly they can’t keep up with the high volume of content!

Copyright issues – a clear strike four. At a recent financial conference in Silicon Valley, attendees were banned from using Meerkat. Sensitive company information was being shared ‘off the record’ so it made complete sense. Twitter has been doing the rounds of conferences and concerts for years now, however live streaming made possible by either Meerkat and Periscope provides greater depth and first-hand experience of a situation. So if you want to protect your company’s intellectual property, your latest creative idea or a music artist’s original creation, be careful before you live stream.

If your teens are already embracing live streaming it might just be time for a chat. It is essential that we teach our children that protecting the privacy of ourselves and, equally importantly, others is a responsibility that comes with Internet use.

Good luck! Isn’t parenting grand?

Alex x

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