Living With Your Digital Identity

A famliar problem, with an interesting turn as to where the burden falls to remedy the “discrepancies:” New ID System May Block Voters [pdf]

A new statewide database designed by Secretary of State Bruce McPherson to authenticate voter registrations has blocked otherwise valid registrations because of computer glitches, slight discrepancies in spelling or incomplete applications.

The problems have required registrars to contact voters — a time-consuming process that is already taxing some counties facing elections next month.

[…] The new database system was installed to meet the requirements of the Help America Vote Act, the 2002 federal law designed to avoid the voting irregularities cited in the 2000 presidential race. Since the start of this year, voters in all states have been required to provide their driver’s license number, other state-approved identification or the last four digits of their Social Security number when they register to vote or change their information.

Voter information is checked against records with the federal government and state motor vehicles department. Under an agreement negotiated by McPherson and the U.S. Justice Department, California is one of nine states that use the standard of an “exact match,” in which the records must be the same to the letter, according to a national survey by the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit group in New York City. Thus, “Robert Smith” and “Rob Smith” would not be considered a match.

Ashley Snee Giovannettone, spokeswoman for McPherson, who oversees elections, said a sampling of statewide registrations found that 74% were immediately verified. She said state election law requires county officials to resolve the discrepancies for the others, which might mean fixing a typo or contacting the voter to obtain missing information.

Datapoint: Life in the Music Biz

Minding the Peas [pdf]

The man they call Will.I.Am has one of the busiest hard drives in hip-hop these days, and he carries it with him in a case marked “Will’s Travel Kit.” Last weekend, the leader of the Black Eyed Peas slid behind the keyboard of a computer in the mobile music studio that follows him on tour, loaded up the drive and clicked through a directory of his dizzying workload.

[…] But the hard drive is more than music projects. Will clicked on a video file: “This is the Adidas campaign I did for the World Cup,” he said, bringing up an image of kids playing soccer on a dusty field with their kicks keyed to a pulsing, Latin-flavored soundtrack. “And this one is a short film I did with Snickers; they’re doing films because TiVo is killing commercials.” The vagaries of the advertising world are important to Will because the Black Eyed Peas are corporate America’s leading hip-hop partner and proud of it.

[…] The Peas have a rare spot in hip-hop. Separate in themes and vibe from the gangsta scene that long dominated rap, the group found it hard in the 1990s to capture a mass audience. While they were waiting for “positive” hip-hop to make its mark in America, they toured the rest of the world, which most rappers ignore or find unwelcoming.

“The world caught on before the United States caught on, and the beauty of being able to travel the world was that we turned around that whole concept that you have to be big here first,” Taboo said. “In Vietnam, we can go and get big audiences, and we’ve been going there for so long. A lot of other hip-hop groups don’t even go. And that helps with the advertising too. We have a global audience … we travel, and our name travels.”

TorrentSpy Suit News

Sue Google, not us, Torrentspy tells Hollywood

In its filing Monday seeking to dismiss the case, Torrentspy argued that the MPAA might as well have sued Google, since Google does what Torrentspy does, only better. Torrentspy is a search engine that helps visitors find torrent files, which are often music or movie files stored in an easily shared file format.

“There is nothing alleged to distinguish defendants’ website from that maintained by Google,” Torrentspy said in its filing. “Everything alleged about defendants’ website is true about Google, and even more so, because Google outperforms the allegations in the complaint,” the filing reads.

Torrentspy argues that its site doesn’t contain any copyright works or links to copyright works, does not promote copyright infringement and can’t be held liable for the actions of visitors once they leave its Web site. The MPAA suit charges the company with secondary copyright infringement., Torrentspy said.

The MPAA’s charges against Torrentspy go beyond the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion against Grokster, Torrentspy said. In that decision, the Supreme Court ruled that someone who offers a tool and promotes the use of that tool to infringe copyrights is liable for the user’s infringement.

A Draft Telecomm Bill

US House lawmakers offer bill to aid telcos’ video [pdf]

U.S. House Republicans on Monday offered legislation aimed at easing the path for telephone carriers like AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T – news) and Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ – news) to enter the subscription television business.

[…] The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to hold a hearing on the proposed legislation on Thursday. The panel’s Republican leaders had tried to win support from the top Democrats on the committee, but failed.

Later: ZDNN has this unhappy note on the bill: Net neutrality fans lose on Capitol Hill

A November draft of Barton’s bill (click here for PDF) explicitly said broadband providers “may not block, or unreasonably impair or interfere with” Internet access. The final version (PDF), on the other hand, simply gives the Federal Communications Commission the authority to set rules and publish violations.

Later: Reactions — New broadband bill draws fire

An Inflammatory Look At Gaming And Governments

Global Gaming Crackdown

American gamers aren’t likely to face dictatorial decrees to limit their play time, but within the next few years the courts will begin to examine how laws relating to taxes, copyright, and speech will apply in virtual worlds. In the near future, the IRS could require game developers to keep records of all the transactions that take place in virtual economies and tax players on their gains before any game currency is converted into dollars. “It’s utterly implausible that it won’t happen,” says Dan Hunter, who has coauthored law review articles like “The Laws of the Virtual Worlds.” A trickier issue is whether an avatar can be defamed: Will we see potion merchants suing for in-game slander, much like eBay sellers have litigated over negative feedback?

In the United States, virtual worlds could eventually have the same legal status as another lucrative recreation industry: pro sports. The NHL isn’t exempt from federal legislation like labor, antitrust, and drug laws. But inside the “magic circle,” on the field of play, sports leagues are given great latitude to make judgments, even though jobs, endorsement contracts, and the value of team franchises hang in the balance.

For example, the government lets referees police behavior in a hockey rink that would normally be the purview of local prosecutors. (Try high-sticking your mail carrier to experience the difference.) But the government still reserves the right to get involved. It should be the same in games. If your thief character picks the pocket of a nearby avatar, the local district attorney won’t prosecute. But if you hack into the player’s account to loot his virtual goods, you end up in the slammer.

Denmark Considering Joining France

Denmark next in line to challenge Apple, DRM

Apple’s problems in Europe look to be getting worse, not better. Following on the heels of France’s legislative push for DRM interoperability comes word that Denmark is thinking along the same lines. Reportedly, Maersk and the country’s largest telecommunications company, TDC, are speaking out in favor of such interoperability. Maersk and TDC are not only two of largest companies in Denmark, but they are amongst the largest and most powerful in Europe. Both also operate online music ventures.

Earlier posts: France Moves “Forward” (updated), The French Keep Pushing, Followup: France’s Digital Interop Bill, Those French!

MythTV Gets Some Ink

Yet no discussion of the degree to which this innovation, celebrated in this article, is vulnerable to a host of ongoing regulatory initiatives, starting with the mentality behind the broadcast flag: MythTV Invades Realm of Cable and TiVo [pdf]

In 2002, amidst a bulky, advertising-laden digital television experience, programmer Isaac Richards took matters into his own hands — he began to build his own digital video recorder system from scratch.

Now known as the MythTV project (http://www.mythtv.com/), Richards’s effort to create DVR systems from commonly available computer components and the Linux open-source operating system, is gaining traction on the Internet.

[…] The MythTV project is centered on the idea of creating a low-cost home entertainment control unit that can be almost anything the user would like it to be. Software modules, once installed, can provide an array of bells and whistles to use.

For example, a video module within the MythTV software may control playback while music and DVD management programs store media libraries to use later. An Internet software module might allow the unit to use a Web browser, make VoIP-based telephone calls, videoconference and access podcasts. Additional features include full access to MythWeather, a free weather-tracking plug-in that uses MSNBC’s weather links for its information; and MythNews, a live news link hooked into an auto-updating Internet feed and CD and DVD importing features.

“I Paid For This Microphone …”

So I get to decide what gets said — apparently: Phone, Cable Trade Fire Over Ads [pdf]

AT&T Inc. yesterday accused cable television companies of suppressing public debate by refusing to air ads that urge lawmakers to make it easier for phone companies to get into the TV business.

Time Warner Cable shot back that it was under no obligation to carry its competitors’ ads while Comcast Corp. said it rejected the spots because they were riddled with false and misleading claims.

The charges are the latest in a long series of broadsides between phone companies, which want to offer TV without having to get thousands of franchise agreements at localities all over the country, and cable companies, which believe their rivals should have to secure local agreements just as they did.

Both sides have launched media campaigns to sway lawmakers debating whether to grant phone companies state or national franchises. The Federal Communications Commission is also studying whether local authorities are “unreasonably” denying franchises.

What’s Your Privacy Worth?

Increasingly, it depends on what you mean by “privacy.” Unfortunately, the definition seems to be more than a little mutable: E-Commerce Report: Pssst! You Can Get It Cheaper Over There

IT’S the kind of thing that can make bargain hunters rejoice: merchants that follow consumers to competing stores and show them a better deal just as they are about to check out. In the mall, that would be considered stalking. Online, it’s an idea that has been around for several years but has failed to catch on.

Now Barry Diller’s company, IAC/InterActiveCorp, among several others, is giving this kind of shopping software a revival. The company recently introduced Pronto, a software application that a user downloads at Pronto.com. Once a user clicks on one of the 50,000 merchants in its database, Pronto silently monitors all of a user’s activity on a product page, then shows deals from other merchants on the same items, or similar ones, until it finds a better deal. Then it sends a message prompting the user to click away.

[…] Pronto’s software, which works on Windows machines (but not Macs), connects users to Pronto’s database of 50,000 merchants, which it has built by scanning and cataloging retailer’s Web pages. The software is activated when a user clicks on a specific product page on a retailer’s site, then it scrolls a window over the bottom right-hand side of the computer screen with alternative retailers and prices for the same product.

Someone shopping for a Canon PowerShot SD 450 on CompUSA.com, for instance, could be shown a window saying they could save up to 29 percent at other retailers, like Abe’s of Maine or newegg.com. After clicking on that window, a larger page covers most of the screen with details on the other merchants’ offerings and links to those products. For items like teak benches or gas grills, which come in so many variations that apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult, the software will return suggestions of similar products listed by those names. Users may also set up the system so that it alerts them when prices for a particular item fall below a certain threshold.

When someone buys from a merchant that Pronto has suggested, the merchant pays Pronto a commission, typically from 5 to 15 percent of the sale. That’s a different approach from other companies, like WhenU and SmartShopper, which are paid by sites each time someone clicks on their links.

[…] Still, privacy-sensitive shoppers may feel uneasy about installing such software on their computers, since it essentially watches someone’s surfing habits and stores information about them.

WhenU’s software stores that information on the user’s computer, not the company’s servers. Others, like Smartshopper.com, say they track users anonymously, meaning they do not collect personal information. Pronto collects a user’s e-mail address so it can send sale alerts, among other things. Pronto also gives users the option to clear the system’s product history file, in case they are shopping for items they do not want Pronto to keep in its records.

Will merchants will feel comfortable having a service whisk away customers just as they are ready to buy? Executives of the shopping software companies are unapologetic.

“If you’re a merchant and you’re not competitive, you don’t want an educated user, that’s for sure,” said Ziv Eliraz, vice president of strategic alliances for SmartShopper, which is based in New York. Mr. Eliraz added, however, that he had heard no complaints from merchants about his service.

Related: Twilight of Tax Privacy

A Parody Fight

Both Sides in Parody Dispute Agree on a Term: Unhappy

“I’m a fan of parody myself, I watch ‘Saturday Night Live,’ I read The Onion, it’s funny. But when it gets too close to something that could be misconstrued as ours by someone looking for help. I take issue with that,” he said. Mathew D. Staver, the president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, maintains that its only concern was to get the logo removed. On Friday, Exodus dropped its case against Mr. Watt.

But Tamara Lange, a senior staff lawyer with the A.C.L.U. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Project, said that the point of the initial letter from Liberty Counsel was clearly not just about the logo. “It’s no surprise that they are backtracking now that their scare tactics didn’t work. The original letter from them was an attempt to make Justin take down his criticism.”

Mr. Watt said he was mainly happy that his message made an impression. “It’s bothersome that you could market in some way that you really target a minority group that already is underprivileged. It’s marketing in such a way to make someone feel bad about who they are.”