“Ubiquitous Personalization”

A concept I’ve been working on with a bunch of students to think about the implications of networked machines watching our every move: Don’t Call It Spyware

Back in 2002, Gator was one of the most reviled companies on the Net. Maker of a free app called eWallet, the firm was under fire for distributing what critics called spyware, code that covertly monitors a user’s Web-surfing habits and uploads the data to a remote server. People who downloaded Gator eWallet soon found their screens inundated with pop-up ads ostensibly of interest to them because of Web sites they had visited. Removing eWallet didn’t stop the torrent of pop-ups. Mounting complaints attracted the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. Online publishers sued the company for obscuring their Web sites with pop-ups. In a June 2002 legal brief filed with the lawsuit, attorneys for The Washington Post referred to Gator as a “parasite.” ZDNet called it a “scourge.”

Today Gator, now called Claria, is a rising star. The lawsuits have been settled – with negligible impact on the company’s business – and Claria serves ads for names like JPMorgan Chase, Sony, and Yahoo! The Wall Street Journal praises the company for “making strides in revamping itself.” Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that Microsoft came close to acquiring Claria. Google acknowledges Claria’s technology in recent patent applications. Best of all, government agencies and watchdog groups have given their blessing to the company’s latest product: software that watches everything users do online and transmits their surfing histories to Claria, which uses the data to determine which ads to show them.

[…] The spyware wars are over – and spyware has won.

So, What’s Changed?

Worth exploring exactly *why* they’re so sanguine: Media revolutionaries team with old guard

[…] With a recent series of small but consistent steps, the TV and film world has put itself squarely on the often-painful digitalization path traveled by the music industry over the last five years.

Yet at the Digital Entertainment and Media Expo conference, held in the shadow of MGM’s tall office tower here this week, it’s utterly clear how much has changed. A similar event five years ago would have been peopled primarily by technologists promising to overturn the hegemony of old-media dinosaurs, with record label executives looking like the hunted, if they were in attendance at all.

Today, old-guard media feels far more in control of this particular technological cycle, even if it is one of chaos and change. […]

[…] There’s plenty of chaos and change to go around. But the digitalization of Hollywood and its TV siblings is underway, and already taking a very different path than its musical predecessors.

UK Review of IP

U.K. reviewing intellectual-property laws

Chancellor Gordon Brown has asked Andrew Gowers, former editor of The Financial Times, to lead an independent review into intellectual-property, or IP, rights in the United Kingdom. The Labour Party manifesto in the last election included a commitment to “modernize copyright and other forms of IP so that they are appropriate for the digital age.”

According to the U.K. Treasury, this review will consider how well businesses are able to negotiate the complexity and expense of the copyright and patent system, including copyright and patent-licensing arrangements, litigation and enforcement. It will also look at whether the current technical and legal IP infringement framework reflects the digital environment and whether provisions for “fair use” by citizens are reasonable.

Learning In Action

Grateful Dead to Allow Free Web Downloads [pdf]

What a short, strange trip it was. After the Grateful Dead angered some of its biggest fans by asking a nonprofit Web site to halt the free downloading of its concert recordings, the psychedelic jam band changed its mind Wednesday.

Internet Archive, a site that catalogues content on Web sites, reposted recordings of Grateful Dead concerts for download after the surviving members of the band decided to make them available again.

Band spokesman Dennis McNally said the group was swayed by the backlash from fans, who for decades have freely taped and traded the band’s live performances.

Marketing QoS

Ah, the joys of market solutions; and don’t miss the unfortunate selection of airline pricing as somehow something that ISPs should be able to emulate: Executive Wants to Charge for Web Speed [pdf]

A senior telecommunications executive said yesterday that Internet service providers should be allowed to strike deals to give certain Web sites or services priority in reaching computer users, a controversial system that would significantly change how the Internet operates.

William L. Smith, chief technology officer for Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp., told reporters and analysts that an Internet service provider such as his firm should be able, for example, to charge Yahoo Inc. for the opportunity to have its search site load faster than that of Google Inc.

Or, Smith said, his company should be allowed to charge a rival voice-over-Internet firm so that its service can operate with the same quality as BellSouth’s offering.

Network operators can identify the digital “packets” of content moving through their wires from sites and services and can block some or put others at the head of the stream.

But Smith was quick to say that Internet service providers should not be able to block or discriminate against Web content or services by degrading their performance.

[…] “Prioritization is just another word for degrading your competitor,” said Gigi B. Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, a digital rights advocacy group. “If we want to ruin the Internet, we’ll turn it into a cable TV system” that carries programming from only those who pay the cable operators for transmission.

[…] Sohn said claims of bandwidth scarcity are overblown. The real agenda, she said, is to put rival services at a disadvantage.

Later: Reader Greg Wilson shares this email exchange with Gigi:

From: Gigi Sohn [mailto:gbsohn@publicknowledge.org]

Sent: Thursday, December 01, 2005 7:31 PM

To: Wilson, Gregory

Subject: Re: Internet Data Prioritization

Mr. Wilson –

I don’t disagree with you – I think that consumers should have access to value-added services. The problem, I think, is that neither the Bells nor the cable companies have made it clear that they won’t discriminate against applications or content which compete with their own. It is that requirement that we are looking for. Thanks for writing. Best, Gigi Sohn

On Dec 1, 2005, at 7:54 PM, Wiilson, Gregory wrote:

Ms. Sohn,

I believe that your stance on Internet Data Prioritization is well intentioned, but slightly misplaced. A protocol, Diffserv, was already developed for this very purpose. Paid-for priority over the internet should be a luxury that an Internet consumer should have the right to afford themselves. Technologies such as VoIP and other streaming media formats can falter severely in overcrowded networks without prioritization. I work for a manufacturer of VoIP equipment and even on private network, the data MUST be prioritized in order for it to be reliable. Regular data, however, is usually just fine on these same networks if it is not prioritized because it is bursty and not a constant stream. The problem is not so much in the AMMOUNT of data as it is in the SHAPE of the data flows.

BellSouth has a very valid point in that a new business model must be developed for the ISPs (which are in many cases also the phone companies) to continue to do business on the Internet. VoIP is slowly replacing the traditional land-line in homes all over the world. That revenue stream is quickly dwindling for the carriers and they MUST find another way to keep their businesses alive. That is why they have turned to the Internet. They are not trying, so much, to force regulation upon us, but more so to offer a value-add service. The only stipulation that I could see pushing for here would be to ask Congress for a regulation on a minimum service level for an ISP to provide for non-prioritized service. This minimum should be adjustable (much like the minimum wage is today) so as to compensate for future technology enhancements. This would ensure that the Internet is not “ruined” as you stated would happen.

In implementing such a requirement, we could ensure that a company like Bell-South would not begin to show preferential treatment to certain sites and then force the slow down of others at will. This would simply base-line everyone’s throughput and allow those that pay the premium the extra benefit of quicker, more reliable transmission.

Please don’t just discount these ideas and try to kill the whole project at once. There is value here that needs to be explored (if not tweaked and changed somewhat), so we should not simply cry foul at the whole concept.

Best Regards,

-Gregory Wilson

It’s Been So Successful, After All

And note the continuing “education” through conflation of “infringement” and “theft” in this November 30th press release: Music Industry Files New Lawsuits In Ongoing Enforcement Against Online Theft

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), on behalf of the major record companies, today announced a new round of copyright infringement lawsuits against 754 individuals, including computer network users at 12 colleges.

See, for example, Young ‘prefer illegal song swaps’

Japan’s iPod Tax Dies

For now, anyway: Plan for an ‘iPod Tax’ in Japan Unravels

A plan to charge an “iPod tax,” or royalties on portable digital music players, unraveled Thursday after a government committee failed to reach agreement on the measure.

Japan’s recording industry has been pushing for the tax since the explosive success of Apple’s iPod began about two years ago. The tax would add from 2 percent to 5 percent to the price of portable players.

The proposed tax has drawn attention in Japan, where the committees that help set government policy tend to be stacked with industry insiders who work for corporate interests at the expense of consumers.