Popular Idol Group AKB48 Enters ISP Business

Japan, the broadband Internet country is having new Internet connection service under the name of AKB48, Japan’s most popular girls group.

On the top image, one of the most popular member Yuko Oshima is “breastfeeding” a baby and the caption says “will you make a baby with me?”

The ISP offers free application AKBaby (AKB + baby), which compose baby face from AKB48 member and you. You upload your face and choose an AKB48 member, you will get the baby photo with the member.

The provider costs 1,480 yen monthly. You also need either optical or ADSL internet connection by NTT East or NTT West. (It is possible that enthusiastic AKB48 fans could want multiple memberships, but I could not find information if you can subscribe only AKB48 Net part without NTT contract.)

As a member of AKB Official Net, you will enjoy the following rewards,

  • Internet connection service (of course!)
  • AKBaby application explained above
  • advanced distribution of AKB48 movies
  • right to purchase a special e-mail address with your favorite member’s sub domain (e.g. yourname@atchan.akb48.ne.jp, atchan is one member’s nickname)
  • AKB48 official fan club member contents, including 1) right to request song and 2) queuing tickets for AKB48 theater booking

AKB48 is known by its election business, where they hustle fans into purchasing more than one CDs to push their favorite member up on the inside-group ranking (Wikipedia English). That is well designed voting entertainment such like The US presidential nominating caucuses and primaries. AKB48 does not reach any political achievement, but I see similarity in collecting huge money from supporters.

In May, there was a report that one fan bought 5,500 of the same CD for “voting”. Although some say that this 5,500 CD story is a fake, there are many anecdotes on 2-channel and other sites that AKB fans buying 10-100 CDs to support his girl and get a special treatment such like hand-shake with her.

In September, nation-wide real-estate agent chain Apa Man Shop introduced AKB48 apartment [J], where the lessee can listen AKB48 members’ (recorded) voice in their flat.

It is becoming more and more convenient for Japanese AKB48 fans to show their loyalty for their Oshimen (a generated word on this AKB48 phenomenon means “A member you support”).

Japan Gov. Requests The Internet To Delete False Disaster Rumors

Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications(MIC) announced [J] that they had requested four Internet related organizations to delete “false rumors” on online bulletin boards “to keep safety and peace of mind in disastrous area”.

The four organizations are, Telecommunications Carriers Association(TCA), Telecom Services Association(TELESA) [J], Japan Internet Providers Association(JAIPA) and Japan Cable and Telecommunications Association(JCTA).

On the request [J, pdf], MIC stated, “false rumors around the Eastern Japan earthquake and the nuclear plant accident are circulated over word-of-mouth, e-mail and online bulletin boards”, and asked web site owners “to take voluntary action such like erasing information violating the laws and against public order and morals.” Interesting thing is that the request says “please take prompt countermeasures with due considerations to freedom of expression“. So they are at least aware what they are requesting.

There are, of course, immediate reactions on web. Some said that government is taking advantage of the disaster to gain control over the internet. But there are also opinions that Japanese government is so confused and too naive, unskilled on the Internet to expect that this kind of order will have any meanings. I feel that might be true, though it cannot be excused.

Japanese Government Allows ISPs to Target Ads by Browsing History

Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (総務省) working group recently published an opinion stating that certain network monitoring technologies (Deep Packet Inspection) can be used by Internet Service Providers to serve targeted advertising to users, but only after the user has been clearly notified of these practices. This news made the top page of Sunday’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

As all user communication with websites and other internet services travel through the user’s Internet Service Provider, these Providers theoretically can monitor or even modify these messages. ISP’s often do a simple version of this, looking only at the headers of packets (including the sender and the recipient of the information), in order to operate firewalls or to slow down certain types of traffic, such as file-sharing. Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) is a variant of this method whereby the ISP inspects the actual messages being transmitted, including online purchases or search terms, rather than just the headers. Proponents argue that such technology can lead to better targeted and thus more effective advertising.

Naturally, such technology can also lead to privacy concerns. In the past, US Congressional concerns hampered the widespread use of similar DPI-based targeted ads by NebuAd. Such case law from the United States, as well as similar cases in Europe, were also reviewed in the Japanese Ministry report.

The report (PDF, summary PDF, both in Japanese) is the second recommendation from the Workshop on Various Issues Related to IT Services Considering the User’s Perspective (利用者視点を踏まえたICTサービスに係る諸問題に関する研究会), finalized after a public comment period. The report considers the implications of technology such as DPI-based ad targeting in light of Japanese case law on privacy and telecommunications issues (section II.6, pp. 54-59), and concludes that such technology cannot be used without constituting a breach of private communications if it does not first receive approval from the user (p. 58). However, elsewhere in the report it is stated that an opt-out mechanism must be in place (p. 59), suggesting that the system need not be opt-in.

It will be interesting to follow the public’s response to this opinion and to this type of advertising, if and when they are implemented by ISPs.