January 31, 2006

Here We Go [10:38 pm]

Staving off EPIC 2014: Newspapers take aim at Google in copyright dispute

A group representing global newspaper publishers has launched a lobbying campaign to challenge search engines like Google that aggregate news content.

The move comes as the newspaper industry’s traditional business model is under pressure with advertising spending shifting away from print and towards the Internet.

The Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, whose members include dozens of national newspaper trade bodies, said it is exploring ways to “challenge the exploitation of content by search engines without fair compensation to copyright owners.”

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Beyond Schadenfreude [10:35 pm]

Theater owners thrilled about burst ‘Bubble’

The dismal debut of Steven Soderbergh’s experimental film “Bubble” has sparked a gleeful response from the nation’s theater owners, who were less than enthused about its simultaneous release in both theaters and on cable.

In an unusual comment on the fortunes of a specific film, National Association of Theater Owners president and CEO John Fithian issued a statement Sunday saying “the movie has performed very poorly” and that despite media attention surrounding the film’s experimental release strategy that “generated tens of millions of dollars in free publicity … it failed in theaters.”

The movie, released through billionaire Mark Cuban’s 2929 Entertainment, earned just $70,664 from 32 theaters during its first weekend.

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Yahoo Channeling a PCWorld Article on IPR [6:37 pm]

Hollywood vs. Your PC: Round 2 [pdf]

As we move to a world where all entertainment is delivered digitally, the battle over copyright protection is turning into a full-blown war. And consumer rights may end up being the biggest casualty as media companies hunker down and try to redefine what users can and can’t do with the content they’ve paid for and the hardware they own.

[...] [E]ach additional option brings a new battle, new restrictions, and even new dangers for unsuspecting users. Copy protection included in Sony BMG audio CDs allowed virus writers to co-opt the system and sneak onto users’ PCs. Satellite and HD Radio, which promise higher-quality audio and more content, may become difficult for listeners to record if the music industry has its way. And TV fans are finding that cable stations are limiting their ability to time-shift shows; pending federal legislation may curtail their rights even more.

Worse, since we last looked at this battle in 2002, technology firms, which once struck a balance between the rights of content owners and the rights of users, have sided more and more with Hollywood as they strive to secure the content they believe will help sell their products.

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January 30, 2006

LATimes Net Neutrality Article [9:19 am]

Web’s Fate May Hinge on ISPs’ Neutrality [pdf]

Courts and regulators, meanwhile, are taking a powder. The Supreme Court last year cleared the way for liberalized regulation of cable Internet service, and the FCC responded by taking the same position on DSL. Consequently, the battle has shifted to Congress, where critics of the phone and cable companies are trying to prevent a provision protecting network neutrality from being deleted from a revision of telecommunication law currently under consideration.

[...] Neutrality supporters were also unnerved when SBC Chairman Edward Whitacre complained that popular Web services were essentially freeloading on his network. “For a Google or a Yahoo or a Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes for free is nuts!” he groused to BusinessWeek in November. Whitacre, who is chairman of AT&T, evidently overlooked the charges paid by Web services for the bandwidth they consume, as well as connection fees paid by consumers.

An AT&T spokesman says Whitacre was simply arguing that AT&T is spending so heavily to build a high-capacity network that it needs new sources of revenue to help cover the cost. “AT&T is not going to block access to any service or degrade customer service in any way, shape, or form,” James Cicconi, the company’s executive vice president for external affairs, told me. But he says AT&T shouldn’t be barred from selling premium treatment to any service wishing to get digital bits to customers faster than its rivals.

Critics of this viewpoint say that allowing network providers to offer such preferential treatment leaves the system open to abuse: What would stop AT&T, which owns the broadband phone service CallVantage, from degrading Vonage’s service to make its own seem better? Vonage customers whose calls suddenly sounded lousy would be inclined to blame Vonage and move their business to AT&T instead. (To be sure, AT&T hasn’t been accused of such activity.)

It’s by no means clear that the phone and cable companies will win the coming battle on Capitol Hill, as well-equipped with lobbyists and war chests as they are. Vonage, EBay, Google, Amazon.com and other online companies have launched their own joint lobbying effort to oppose them. The Internet’s very future may hang in the balance.

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January 28, 2006

Travesty [4:56 pm]

This should make for some interesting law review papers: Mich. court: Downloading porn is making it

MUSKEGON, MI, United States (UPI) — A Michigan appeals court has ruled that downloading child pornography from the Internet can be charged as ‘making’ the material.

Making or manufacturing child pornography is a felony in Michigan with a potential sentence of 20 years in prison. The court upheld the position of the Muskegon County prosecutor in the case of former Egelston Township Treasurer Brian Hill, the Muskegon Chronicle reported.

Hill is awaiting trial. The court ruling has put his case on the docket, although the issue is likely to be decided by the state Supreme Court.

His lawyer argued that downloading pornography should be charged as possession, which carries a maximum penalty of four years.

‘It’s groundbreaking law in the area of computers and pornography,’ said prosecutor Tony Tague. ‘This decision will provide a tool to prosecutors across the state, particularly in curbing and prosecuting child pornography.’

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January 27, 2006

Ugh — Makes Me Itch [4:34 pm]

Texas A&amp:M defends their trademark — one that I can’t find in the USPTO database (just DEAD entries), but what do I know: Trademarking your territory [pdf]

The Twelfth Man may have to work overtime going back and forth between Seattle and College Station to support two football teams.

With the Super Bowl approaching, the Seattle Seahawks’ own 12th Man flag caught the attention of Texas A&M fans who watched the Seattle team advance during the NFL playoffs.

A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne said the Office of Collegiate Licensing is working on having the Seahawks cease and desist their use of the trademark.

“We had similar situations with the Buffalo Bills and the Chicago Bears, and they responded quickly with our requests to stop using our Twelfth Man trademark,” Byrne said in his weekly update address. “But Seattle has been slow-rolling us.”

“Threepeat, threepeat, threepeat.”

Whoops — there’s ser # 1948306, reg #74560726 for jewelry, and “entertainment services, namely organizing and conducting intercollegiate sporting events” — don’t see exactly where professional sporting events enters into it…”

Later, from a Seattle paper: Seahawks’ ‘12th Man’ angers A&M

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Look; Music Marketing Has Changed [4:14 pm]

My god. This is chilling — on the face of it, this is an article about how new distribution makes for reduced costs of marketing music; but the examples given are all about closed distribution architectures — who can’t make money with a monopoly channel? Music marketing gets digital tune-up [pdf]

While the music industry has suffered sales declines and been forced to reevaluate its business models, one area that has benefited is marketing, where costs have increasingly been underwritten by new partners in the technology sector.

“The overall marketing dollars may or may not be the same, but the money’s not just coming out of labels’ pockets anymore. There are many new partners who want exclusive content and are willing to pay for it,” one music executive said.

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An Election Must Be Coming Up in LA [8:24 am]

L.A. City Attorney Sues Video Game Maker [pdf]

The city attorney’s office has sued the makers of “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” for allegedly hiding pornographic material inside the video game, officials said.

Rocky Delgadillo said his office sued Rockstar Games and its parent company, Take-Two Interactive, for making misleading statements in marketing the game and engaging in unfair competition.

Later: Sex, boys and video games [pdf]

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Another Modest Proposal [8:19 am]

From Inside Higher Ed: Everything to Everyone

What I think we%u2019re after is something more straightforward, but nearly impossible to achieve. In this dream scenario, every author would make his or her work available in a digital form that is searchable but cannot be redistributed, in a widely compatible format, marked with the same kinds of metadata. We wouldn%u2019t need Google Book Search, because these book %u201Cfootprints%u201D would all be online and available for searches just as Web sites are. But this is certainly an unreasonable and prohibitive request to make of authors, at least right now. For all intents and purposes, this is what Google seems willing to provide for us, with the promise of some ad revenue in return. As a less than perfect version of that ideal, it%u2019s quite good.

Waiting for fair use to shield this expanding range of uses is slowing the innovation in information, knowledge, and culture the Internet seems ready to facilitate. And every time it does, we risk a court setting a retrograde precedent that cements digital culture into place for good. We need a new statute that acknowledges and accommodates the common sense recognition that search is good, that it requires incidental copying, and that it should not be left to individual, competing publishers to make their work part of the public trust.

In a moment when we are handing content owners much more control not only over the use of their work but over access to it, we need to make a parallel commitment to ensuring and expanding access of a different kind, as an aggregate collection of all things thought and written that can be easily explored. And, we need to let fair use protect the activities it%u2019s designed to protect, instead of letting it fray as it stands in as the only protection against a locked and licensed digital world.

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January 26, 2006

Another Shakeout Prediction [8:39 am]

Industry predicts online music consolidation

Music industry chiefs gathered at this week’s Midem conference in Cannes are warning that a ’shakeout’ is looming in the digital music market.

There are currently around 355 downloads stores worldwide, but with Apple’s share of the market rising to 83 per cent, many of the smaller operators will soon be forced out or absorbed by a larger rival.

‘I don’t imagine all these services can last,’ said Gabriel Levy, head of music in Europe for RealNetworks. ‘Some will go out of business or be consolidated.’

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January 25, 2006

“Got nothing up my sleeve” [10:37 am]

Talk about trying to confuse the issue — seriously, what possible good could come of this? Unless, of course, the EU gets to dictate the terms of the license (when pigs fly): Microsoft to license some source codes in EU case [pdf] (note the nice, lame photo)

Microsoft Corp.’s (Nasdaq:MSFT - news) top lawyer said on Wednesday that the U.S. software giant would offer licences for some of its source codes in a bid to comply with antitrust requirements set by the

European Commission.

“We will also license the Windows source code itself,” Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith told a news conference. He added he did not know what percentage of the company’s source codes would be licensed.

See also Microsoft lags in antitrust compliance, U.S. says

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Hoist By Their Own Petard? [8:51 am]

When worlds collide: Avast, ye pirates! [pdf]

Is the leader in the global fight against movie piracy a pirate too? That’s exactly what director Kirby Dick is charging. He says the Motion Picture Assn. of America made a bootleg copy of “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” his angry broadside against the organization’s film rating system.

The MPAA has admitted that it duplicated the documentary without the filmmaker’s permission — Dick had submitted his movie to its rating board in November. But the Hollywood trade organization said that it did not break copyright law, insisting that the dispute is part of a Dick-orchestrated “publicity stunt” to boost the film’s profile.

[...] The filmmaker said that when he asked MPAA lawyer Greg Goeckner what right his organization had to make the copy, Goeckner told him that Dick and his crew had potentially invaded the privacy of the MPAA’s movie raters.

“We made a copy of Kirby’s movie because it had implications for our employees,” said Kori Bernards, the MPAA’s vice president for corporate communications. She said Dick spied on the members of the MPAA’s Classification and Rating Administration, including going through their garbage and following them as they drove their children to school.

“We were concerned about the raters and their families,” Bernards said. She said the MPAA’s copy of “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” is “locked away” and is not being copied or distributed.

The standard the MPAA is using for itself appears to be at odds with what the organization sets out for others: “Manufacturing, selling, distributing or making copies of motion pictures without the consent of the copyright owners is illegal,” the MPAA’s website says. “Movie pirates are thieves, plain and simple…. ALL forms of piracy are illegal and carry serious legal consequences.”

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The Maze of IP [8:45 am]

Note that Mr. Glickman has phrased his position in such a way that the goal is “reasonable cost” rather than rethinking the notion that maybe one ought to be allowed to make a copy of one’s own DVD — the developing rhetoric of “licensed” content in the entertainment business: Seeking Ways to Fill All Those Tiny Screens

But like the digital-audio boom in the late 1990’s, this new video territory raises old questions of copyright infringement and users’ rights. For example, to “rip” a commercial DVD you must bypass copyright protection that may be in place.

Circumventing the encryption on a copyrighted disc violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. The Motion Picture Association of America is among the industry groups that have sued software developers for creating programs that can decrypt and make unauthorized copies of DVD’s. But DVD conversion programs are still on the Internet - some are stored on international file servers - and consumers freely trade tips online about how to convert DVD movies into portable video files.

The Motion Picture Association has said it is looking for legal ways to deliver content for new types of devices.

“As an industry we recognize the need for more innovation in the area of portability and copyright protection,” said Dan Glickman, the chairman and chief executive of the association. “We want people to be able to enjoy movies on various home entertainment devices without infringing on copyright laws, and we will continue to look for ways to marry those concepts so people can get movies hassle free at a reasonable cost.”

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NYTimes Looks at the Surveillance Society [8:39 am]

A couple of articles at the NYTimes on a very timely subject

  • A Growing Web of Watchers Builds a Surveillance Society

    There are important distinctions, of course, between government prying and the emerging web of consumer surveillance. But they share a digital universe that facilitates and rewards watching. Spam, spyware and identity theft are only a taste of how exposed we have all willingly become as we enjoy the benefits of the networked world.

    If the American public seems a bit confused about the raging debate of security versus civil liberties - Bush/Cheney versus the A.C.L.U. - it may be because the debate itself has been outpaced by technology. In our post-9/11, protowireless world, democracies and free markets are increasingly saturated with prying eyes from governments, corporations and neighbors. For better and worse, free societies are fast entering the world of total surveillance.

  • The New Security: Cameras That Never Forget Your Face [pdf]

    The camera network - using software from 3VR Security Inc., a San Francisco company that makes surveillance technology - already knew what the houseman looked like; facial recognition algorithms had built a profile of him over time. With a couple of mouse clicks, managers combed through hours of videotape taken that night by the hotel’s 16 cameras, and found every place he had been - including the back entrance he slipped out of, three hours into his shift. He became 1 of 10 employees dismissed from the hotel since 3VR’s surveillance package was installed last June.

    Until recently, the only place where an employee could have been caught that easily was in a Hollywood script. Digital spy cameras can instantly pick people out of crowds on the television show “24.” But real-world video surveillance was stuck in the VCR age, taking countless hours to sift through blurry black-and-white tapes. Stopping a problem in progress was nearly impossible, unless a guard just happened to be staring at the right video monitor.

    But surveillance companies, using networks of cheap Web-connected cameras and powerful new video-analysis software, are starting to turn the Hollywood model into reality.

  • Making Connections, Here and Now [pdf]

    MORE and more cellphones know exactly where their owners are at any given time, and software developers are trying to leverage that ability to bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds. These programs aim to “browse” the physical space around you, connecting you to people, places and unexpected bits of information.

  • After Subpoenas, Internet Searches Give Some Pause

    Kathryn Hanson, a former telecommunications engineer who lives in Oakland, Calif., was looking at BBC News online last week when she came across an item about a British politician who had resigned over a reported affair with a “rent boy.”

    It was the first time Ms. Hanson had seen the term, so, in search of a definition, she typed it into Google. As Ms. Hanson scrolled through the results, she saw that several of the sites were available only to people over 18. She suddenly had a frightening thought. Would Google have to inform the government that she was looking for a rent boy - a young male prostitute?

    Ms. Hanson, 45, immediately told her boyfriend what she had done. “I told him I’d Googled ‘rent boy,’ just in case I got whisked off to some Navy prison in the dead of night,” she said.

    [...] The government and the cooperating companies say the search queries cannot be traced to their source, and therefore no personal information about users is being given up. But the government’s move is one of several recent episodes that have caused some people to think twice about the information they type into a search engine, or the opinions they express in an e-mail message.

    The government has been more aggressive recently in its efforts to obtain data on Internet activity, invoking the fight against terrorism and the prosecution of online crime. A surveillance program in which the National Security Agency intercepted certain international phone calls and e-mail in the United States without court-approved warrants prompted an outcry among civil libertarians. And under the antiterrorism USA Patriot Act, the Justice Department has demanded records on library patrons’ Internet use.

    Those actions have put some Internet users on edge, as they confront the complications and contradictions of online life.

    [...] Privacy is an elusive concept, and when it comes to what is considered acceptable, people tend to draw the line at different points on the privacy spectrum.

    Ming-Wai Farrell, 25, who works for a legal industry trade association in Washington, is one of those who draw the line somewhere in the middle. They are willing to part with personal information as long as they get something in return - the convenience of online banking, for example, or useful information from a search engine - and as long as they know what is to be done with the information.

    Yet these same people are sometimes appalled when they learn of wholesale data gathering. Ms. Farrell said she would not be able to live without online banking, electronic bill paying or Google, but she would consider revising her Web activity if she had to question every search term, online donation or purchase.

    “It’s scary to think that it may just be a matter of time before Googling will invite an F.B.I. agent to tap your phone or interrogate you,” Ms. Farrell said.

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Salon on RIM’s IP Woes [8:23 am]

Entertaining, if sloppy, writeup: Will BlackBerry go out of season?

The fight cuts to the heart of the battle over intellectual property rights in an information economy. With rising competition at home and abroad, companies are desperately trying to stay current by offering new, innovative goods such as hand-helds, downloadable music, and satellite radio, all at sonic speeds of production. But the obsession with novelty is risky business when it is often unclear whether someone else may already own the idea.

[...] In the meantime, Karl Marx would be amused to watch RIM and NTP tear each other apart. Now that capital (like communication) is increasingly virtual, those who think they own the means of production may need to double-check their capitalist credentials. It turns out that it’s no longer enough to invent a product, build a factory and dominate the market as RIM did. A clever investor such as NTP, a company whose sole purpose is to hold patents, may turn out to be your boss.

The internecine ownership arguments are having some concrete trickle-down effects. While Mommy and Daddy fight over patent rights, the BlackBerry-toting spawn are terrified at the possibility of mobile e-mail deprivation. Ontario-based RIM has been so dominant in convincing American overachievers to buy BlackBerrys that the “South Park” creators should think about adding it to their song, “Blame Canada.” If BlackBerrys go dark, so will the mood of much of Wall Street. While this may delight the pen-and-ink crowd, it will likely (if temporarily) cost millions in lost time, reduced efficiency, and therapy bills.

It will also be a significant victory for intellectual property rights. BlackBerry’s classic market success will have been brought to heel by a small U.S. holding company that doesn’t produce a thing, speculating on products that may never exist. In other words, BlackBerry will have been defeated by an idea. Marx would have been proud.

Related, from the LATimes on schadefreude: BlackBerry outage? Oh, the horror [pdf]

There is a giddy schadenfreude that pervades the rest of the cellphone industry. “Wireless e-mail was ushered in by BlackBerry,” says Rip Gerber, chief marketing officer at Intellisync, which bills itself as the second-largest provider of wireless e-mail after BlackBerry. “It was a great first act, but the show goes on. The audience has matured and wants much, much more. Thank you BlackBerry, the market will take it from here.” Others who stand to benefit include Palm Inc., whose line of Treo smart phones is a popular alternative to BlackBerry, and new offerings from Nokia and Motorola.

Soap opera intrigue aside, legal experts say RIM simply has too much invested to let service stop; One way or another, they say, BlackBerrys will remain. (Internet gambling site Youwager.com is giving 2-1 odds that BlackBerry will be shut down in the next three months.) But there is something intriguing about the possibility of technology reversing its forward march. We have never held technology in our hands and loved it and hated it and watched it disappear. There should really be some sort of gizmo to help us weather these feelings we’re having. RIM? Anyone? Anyone?!

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Mutable Definitions of “Evil” [8:19 am]

Google giveth, and Google taketh away: Google Agrees to Censor Results in China [pdf]

Online search engine leader Google Inc. has agreed to censor its results in China, adhering to the country’s free-speech restrictions in return for better access in the Internet’s fastest growing market.

[...] Because of government barriers set up to suppress information, Google’s China users previously have been blocked from using the search engine or encountered lengthy delays in response time.

The service troubles have frustrated many Chinese users, hobbling Google’s efforts to expand its market share in a country that expected to emerge as an Internet gold mine over the next decade.

[...] To obtain the Chinese license, Google agreed to omit Web content that the country’s government finds objectionable. Google will base its censorship decisons on guidance provided by Chinese government officials.

Slashdot: Google Agrees to Censor Results in China

The NYTimes’ Version of Google in China Won’t Offer E-Mail or Blogs includes this potentially mitigating Google policy:

Google says it plans to disclose when information has been blocked or censored from its new site, just as it does in the United States, Germany and other countries.

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January 24, 2006

Provocative Suggestion [11:36 pm]

Not to mention offering up a way to satisfy my jonesing for a continuation of TWW: Reincarnating The West Wing - Could the canceled NBC drama be reborn on iTunes?

In the days since the ax fell, my mind has been running through fanciful scenarios in which the condemned gets a reprieve. NBC television chief Jeff Zucker is ousted in a palace coup. The fictional election in this season’s storyline becomes so exciting, audiences flock to it. Pigs fly.

Then a more interesting scenario came to me: Why not continue the series on iTunes and cable/satellite pay-per-view? Make the chronicles of the new administration (whoever wins the fictional election, Matt Santos or Arnold Vinick) a download-only experience. I know it sounds absurd, but stay with me for a moment.

Writing in Slate last year, MIT media analyst Ivan Askwith suggested that dead or dying shows might find an afterlife on iTunes. I can think of no current TV show better placed to blaze this new distribution model than The West Wing.

later: followup article - West Wing-ers Unite!

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Correlation, Causation and Commensuration [10:31 am]

Silly Sundance fallout: Cracking the code [pdf]

“Our engineers were thinking that determining whether a movie is good or bad could be similar to determining whether e-mail is spam or not,” said Unspam Chief Executive Prince, 31, who loves the festival and uses it as a recruiting tool. “We had the last 10 years of the festival’s film guides, which are like inputs, and then a bunch of outputs, like how many people saw a film, did it win anything at Sundance, did it have commercial success. If you could figure out the pattern between the inputs and the outputs, then you could actually predict future winners.”

[...] The most entertaining part of Unspam’s analysis is the deconstruction of the film descriptions in the festival’s program written by selection committee members. Prince and his crew came up with two lists: words that “make you golden” or are “the kiss of death.”

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Life in the Spotlight [10:23 am]

Whether you like it or not: I’m Feeling . . . Surveilled [pdf]

Google has the ability to track an individual’s searches — to record where your mind wanders when the boss isn’t looking, what political commentators you read, what you’re thinking about buying and what price you’re willing to pay, even what kinds of fantasies you entertain late at night.

Google is able to know too much, and I guess it’s no surprise that the Bush administration wants in on the action. The Justice Department’s demand to see an entire week’s worth of Google searches looks to me like an attempt by the administration to get its foot in the door, and if I’m right, it’s even more of an Orwellian threat than the National Security Agency’s snooping on phone calls and e-mails. The NSA snooping is illegal and unforgivable, to be sure, but the spooks want access to communications, and when we communicate with another human being we always censor ourselves to some degree. When we ask a question of Google, it’s akin to being in the privacy of the confessional. We lay ourselves bare.

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January 23, 2006

Perils of Database Marketing [9:53 am]

Like This? You’ll Hate That. (Not All Web Recommendations Are Welcome.)

Web technology capable of compiling vast amounts of customer data now makes it possible for online stores to recommend items tailored to a specific shopper’s interests. Companies are finding that getting those personalized recommendations right - or even close - can mean significantly higher sales.

For consumers, a recommendation system can either represent a vaguely annoying invasion of privacy or a big help in bringing order to a sea of choices.

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