August 15, 2005

Opinion Piece on US Broadband Policy [9:17 am]

Channeling Reed Hundt, it seems - but is anyone listening?: Broadband Is Too Important to Be Left to Cable-Phone Duopoly

Competition in the market for broadband Internet access remains alive, despite what can look like a concerted campaign by big business and government to abolish it. The latest such steps were a Supreme Court ruling and a Federal Communications Commission vote that allowed cable and phone companies to block competitors from their networks.

Be glad that competitors are still around: The phone and cable incumbents still fall short of many customers’ needs, and it’s up to other companies to meet them.

But as long as telephone and cable TV lines are the only affordable ways to pipe data to and from a house, any challenger to Comcast, Verizon and their ilk must first go into business with them. The competitor has to rent a phone or cable company’s wires — lines installed under a government-sanctioned monopoly — to reach any customer’s home.

[...] Fortunately, at least one half of the cable-phone duopoly seems to have awakened to the benefits of competition. Not only has Verizon continued to sell access to its lines to other DSL providers, it’s also discussing ways to offer access to the fiber-optic service it has zero obligation to share with anybody. Two providers, EarthLink and Seattle-based Speakeasy, said they’re talking to Verizon about offering their service over Fios lines.

We’d be fools to count on the continued generosity of a Verizon, though. The government needs to do its job as well.

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Real Warblogging [9:06 am]

The New Ernie Pyles: Sgtlizzie and 67cshdocs [pdf]

Since the 1850s, when a London Times reporter was sent to chronicle the Crimean War, journalists have generally provided the most immediate first-hand depictions of major conflicts. But in Iraq, service members themselves are delivering real-time dispatches — in their own words — often to an audience of thousands through postings to their blogs.

[...] Written in the casual, sometimes profane language of the barracks, the entries give readers an unfiltered perspective on combat largely unavailable elsewhere. But they are also drawing new scrutiny and regulation from commanders concerned they could compromise security

In April, Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the top tactical commander in Iraq, published the military’s first policy memorandum on Web sites maintained by soldiers, requiring that all blogs maintained by service members in Iraq be registered. The policy also barred bloggers from publishing classified information, revealing the names of service members killed or wounded before their families could be notified, and providing accounts of incidents still under investigation.

“We don’t have a problem with most of what they write, but we don’t want to give away the farm,” said Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, a military spokesman in Baghdad, who said such guidelines are nearly identical to those required of news organizations that cover the military.

See earlier Internet Communities and Learning in the Military

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Life as an Open Book [8:55 am]

Online Lessons on Unprotected Sex [pdf]

Kiss-and-tell is as old as love itself. Fortunately, most indiscreet paramours limit their blabbing to a few confidants. Not Jessica Cutler. In May 2004, she spilled out the graphic details of her sexual exploits on Capitol Hill on a blog accessible to hundreds of millions of Internet users.

Now a federal lawsuit by one of her past lovers has set up a potentially high-stakes battle between privacy and speech rights and could give new meaning to the idea of safe sex in a wired world.

[...] Steinbuch’s argument is compelling. By any normative standard, he suffered a genuine wrong. As he asserts in his complaint, “It is one thing to be manipulated and used by a lover, it is another thing to be cruelly exposed to the world.”

The law, however, appears to be against him. This is because Steinbuch does not allege that any of the statements about him are untrue. False statements that damage one’s reputation can be actionable as defamation. The essence of Steinbuch’s claim is: You humiliated me by publicizing these true details about my private life.

His case hinges on a century-old privacy tort claim known as “public disclosure of private facts.” In theory, the tort provides a remedy when one publicizes private, embarrassing, non-newsworthy facts about a person in a manner that reasonable people would find highly offensive. But while Cutler’s actions may meet this standard, courts have long been hostile to such lawsuits because of a fear of inhibiting free speech. The Supreme Court has never upheld punishment, based on a privacy theory, for the publication of true information.

[...] [B]logs are just the tip of the iceberg. In May an Oregon woman sued Yahoo after her ex-boyfriend posted nude pictures of her on the site and Yahoo failed to remove them. Expect more litigation.

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Google Plan Delayed [8:10 am]

Google Library Database Is Delayed

Google said yesterday that it would temporarily halt its program to make searchable, digital copies of the vast contents of three university libraries to give publishers and other copyright holders the chance to opt out of having their protected works copied.

But a publishing trade association called the opt-out offer inadequate, saying it did not address the main concern of its members: the belief that the entire program, the Google Print Library Project, is built on a foundation of purposeful copyright violation.

[...] Patricia Schroeder, the former Colorado congresswoman who is president and chief executive of the Association of American Publishers, the trade group, said that while publishers were “very happy” with the suspension of copying, the program still set a damaging precedent that copyrighted works could be reproduced at will, as long as a copyright holder had not pre-emptively objected.

“That is really turning it on its head,” Ms. Schroeder said. “How is an author even supposed to know that his or her work is being copied?”

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Stateless Protocols and Work-Arounds [8:01 am]

Spyware Heats Up the Debate Over Cookies

Until recently, Internet businesses could track their users freely, using what are known as cookies, tiny text files they embed on the user’s hard drive. Now, with the proliferation of antispyware programs that can delete unwanted cookies, they often cannot tell who has been to their Web site before or what they have seen. And this erosion of control over a tool for gaining insight into consumer behavior has many of them fretting.

[...] Cookies first got a bad name in 1999, when DoubleClick announced that it would use them to identify Internet users and analyze both their offline purchasing patterns and online surfing habits for the purpose of showing them more relevant online ads. That plan died a loud, painful death after privacy advocates objected strenuously, and marketers and publishers have since taken a much more cautious approach.

Even so, privacy advocates deplore cookies and, as software programs like Webroot Spy Sweeper and McAfee AntiSpyware have come on the market, surfers by the millions are apparently knocking the cookies out of service as fast as the programs can be installed. This spring, the online consulting firm Jupiter Research published a report saying that nearly 40 percent of Internet users surveyed regularly erased them.

[...] Among those companies fielding the most calls about cookie deletion are advertising technology businesses like Atlas. Young-Bean Song, the director of analytics for Atlas, said that even if the cookie deletion rates were as high as 40 percent, publishers and marketers could still rely on the data from the 60 percent remaining of a site’s users to gauge the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns and other important statistics.

Perhaps because executives cannot agree on the scope of the problem, solutions have been slow to emerge. Mr. Stuart of the Interactive Advertising Bureau said that if the issue turned out to be as big as some suspect, his organization was likely to embark on an ad campaign to convince online users that cookies were not harmful.

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VoIP, e911 and Privacy [7:43 am]

The FCC’s invite to Big Brother

The FCC warned in the 91-page document released in June that companies “often have no reliable way to discern from where their customers are accessing the VoIP service…There currently are no solutions that allow a provider of portable VoIP services to determine the location of an end user absent the end user affirmatively telling the service provider where he or she is.”

“We intend to adopt in a future order an advanced e911 solution for interconnected VoIP that must include a method for determining a user’s location without assistance from the user, as well as firm implementation deadlines,” the FCC added.

[...] The FCC’s proposal raises a number of questions: Who will have access to the location data stored by VoIP handsets? What rules will govern police monitoring of your moment-to-moment location? Should the federal government really be in the business of compiling a database of every wireless or wired access point in the country? And once such a database is created, what’s to stop the Feds from saying that computer users also must have their locations registered?

<sarcasm>

I don’t know *what* Declan can be worrying about — as this Hiawatha Bray article (bemoaning the “death” of Poindexter’s TIA) indicates, more data & more data mining is *good* for America: A wasted opportunity in the war on terror [pdf]
</sarcasm>

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