Verizon partners with Vice Media. Will spy videos be allowed?

Controversy surrounding Verizon's ban on spy-related news in its short-term tech news site 'SugarString.com' raises questions of censorship in its new partnership with Vice Media. 

Mel Evans/AP/File
This April 7, 2013, file photo, shows the Verizon studio booth at MetLife Stadium, in East Rutherford, N.J.

On Tuesday, Verizon Communications announced a partnership with Vice Media that will broaden the content available on its mobile video service expected to start this year.

The telecommunications company has become increasingly involved in the multi-media news sector over the past several years. Verizon bought AOL, a multinational mass media corporation, in May for $4.4 billion, ABC News reported. AOL’s portfolio of news brands includes The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Endgadget, and AOL.com, among others – all hubs of trending news.

In 2014, Verizon played their hand at news production and created a technology news site called SugarString.com. But the Daily Dot reported one small catch: “In exchange for the major corporate backing, tech reporters at SugarString [were] expressly forbidden from writing about American spying or net neutrality around the world.”

The New York Times reported that the site was shut down in December of 2014.

It’s not surprising that Verizon would take such heavy measures to distance themselves from potential spying scandals. The company has allegedly been turning over phone call records to the National Security Agency (NSA) since the September 11 terrorist attacks, as USA TODAY reported. And, just last year, Reuters reported that Verizon was fined $7.4 million for failing to notify some two million new Verizon phone customers of their privacy rights before using their information for marketing.

At the same time, Verizon has been vocal about what it sees as the outdated regulatory demands of net neutrality. In February, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to impose tough new laws on broadband companies under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, The Guardian reported. Michael E. Glover, Verizon’s senior vice-president, public policy and government affairs, said in a statement the decision would “encumber internet services with badly antiquated regulations.”

But Vice has had no problem reporting on spying and net neutrality. Headlines like “Cable companies are astroturfing fake consumer support to end net neutrality” are sprinkled across the search results for “net neutrality” on the Vice website. The online site even has an article titled “NSA spying will cost US tech titans billions, and that’s just the start” that specifically mentions Verizon.

And yet, Verizon probably isn’t looking for complete ownership of Vice. At least that’s what CEO Lowell McAdam said in January when rumors that the company was poised to buy AOL (a rumor that turned out to be true) were abundant:

“We will be more of a partner with media companies rather than doing an acquisition,” McAdam said as reported by CNET

In the mean time, Vice looks ready to expand its growing list of media partnerships – landing an investment with the television group A&E Networks and striking deals with HBO and the music streaming service Spotify in the past year.

As TechCrunch reported, Terry Denson, vice president of content strategy and acquisition at Verizon, released a statement Tuesday morning supporting the partnership:

“Vice is connecting with an entire generation in a way that no one else is and Verizon will connect consumers to Vice in a way that no one else does by combining Vice’s storytelling with the most compelling mobile video platform.” 

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