August 14, 2006

Dataveillance: How (and Why) It’s Done [10:19 pm]

Advertisers Follow the Traces Left Behind by Internet Users

Still, just how personal even “anonymous” information can be was shown vividly last week as a list of three months of search queries from 657,000 AOL customers began circulating online. Collectively, a person’s Web searches, it turns out, can create an eerily intimate portrait — one that some privacy advocates say should never be assembled and stored in the first place.

Still, Web companies continue refining their techniques. Advertising on search engines is already a $14-billion-a-year business because the ads can be so closely tied to what people are looking for. Yahoo’s system is meant to use search queries and other actions to select ads people see while checking their e-mail and reading other pages.

AOL is working on a similar system to display ads for products related to a person’s Web search history. MSN from Microsoft just introduced technology to do the same. And other companies use systems that bring together information about users from across many sites.

Internet companies call this behavioral targeting, and it is based on the insight that knowing what people do online can be more valuable to a marketer than knowing how old they are or what they do for a living.

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OLGA.NET Takedown — Again [8:28 am]

Slashdot’s story

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Degrading The Language [8:19 am]

Dahlia Lithwick’s Teen terror argues that prosecuting Columbine-style high-schoolers under terrorism laws degrades the law in important and destructive ways.

There is a difference between terrorists and angry schoolboys, and using stiff anti-terror laws to ratchet up penalties and punish juveniles as adults blurs an important distinction. As Michael Greenberger, a law professor at the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security recently told USA Today, charging troubled teenagers as terrorists “cheapens the war on terror.” There’s a profound difference between fundamentalist Islamic terrorism and domestic terrorism like Timothy McVeigh’s attack in Oklahoma City. And there’s a vast difference again between both of those things and juvenile plots to shoot the cool kids in study hall. Charging all three classes of offenders as “terrorists” only serves to blur the already porous legal definition of terrorism. It suggests that the lonely kid who posts bomb threats on his MySpace page is the moral equal of Mohammad Atta.

But that lonely kid can nevertheless prove to be a lethal kid, and as Columbine’s Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris and D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo all proved, the mere fact that you’re in high school and suggestible hardly matters when your victim is dead of a gunshot wound. While it’s clear we shouldn’t be using terror laws to prosecute teen death threats, the striking parallels between fundamentalist terrorists and alleged school shooters offer some intriguing insight into the policy strategies for addressing both.

[...] Still, it may well be the case that the best legal analogy we have for teens plotting a repeat of Columbine in this country is religious terrorism. In both cases the offenders are alienated and grandiose, bitter and vengeful. And while we shouldn’t use laws fashioned for terrorists to try high-schoolers with homemade bombs, we should really consider the parallels between them in creating laws to deter and punish both.

Unsurprisingly, those who have already internalized the rhetorical shift disagree.

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The Economics of Fiber To The Home [8:04 am]

As Verizon also gets rid of that pesky copper connection, with its legacy regulatory requirements for common carriage: Verizon Is Rewiring New York, Block by Block, in a Race for Survival

Building a whole new state-of-the-art network is a laborious and expensive process that Verizon says it must undertake to fend off rivals like Comcast and Vonage, which are moving fast into the phone business. As Verizon replaces more of its old copper network with more durable fiber lines, the company also expects to save billions of dollars in maintenance costs.

Verizon will spend about $20 billion by the end of the decade to reach 16 million homes from Florida to California. But it is in New York City where Verizon has the most at stake, because New Yorkers are some of the nation’s biggest buyers of video, Internet and phone services. The company plans to spend about $3 billion to reach the city’s 3.1 million homes and apartments.

With such a high concentration of potential customers, competition is fierce — and Verizon has been losing ground. Time Warner Cable, Cablevision and others are stealing about 1,000 Verizon phone customers a day, and their discounted services are making it hard for Verizon to win them back — another reason to get the fiber network up quickly.

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Surveillance Society: Participation and Backlash [7:59 am]

A couple of stories from today’s papers:

  • First, a deployment of cameras — Plan for Cameras at New York Clubs Raises Privacy Concerns

    [City Council Speaker Christine C.] Quinn’s political career has thrived on her support of gays and lesbians, but she surprised and angered some members of that core constituency when she proposed last week that the city’s 250 nightclubs be required to install security cameras at their entrances and exits.

    These critics said the cameras would invade their privacy and pose a particular threat to those who are not open about their sexual orientation.

    “It smacks of Big Brother,” said William K. Dobbs, a longtime gay activist, adding that it would even keep some people away from the clubs. “It will have an impact on everybody who enjoys New York nightlife.”

  • Next, RFID credit cards vs. cellphones — Credit cards with radio tags speed purchases but track customers, too - pdf

    Already, 20 million Americans have credit or debit cards that contain radio frequency identification technology chips, or RFID chips. These chips let a cardholder make a purchase by waving the card in front of a contactless card reader, instead of sliding the card through a magnetic reader or handing it to a sales clerk.

    Now cellphone makers like Finland’s Nokia Corp. are building the chips into their phones. That could transform the cellphone into a universal payment device that could supplant the credit card altogether.

    [...] The prospect appeals to many merchants, who hope that the new system will let them ring up sales more quickly and securely than with today’s credit cards or with cash.

    But not everyone is convinced. [...]

  • Finally, actively participating in surveillance for money — Amateurs Get in on the Paparazzi Beat

    Bild has decided to extend the venture and join a growing number of European publications that are taking advantage of cellphone technology to reach new levels of reader interactivity and, some say, invasion of privacy.

    [...] Improved cellphone camera resolution enables the printing of clearer photos in larger formats. Bild has followed its soccer and celebrity photos in recent weeks with sensational car fires, weather pictures and photos of car models not yet on the market. Mr. Fest says it will not be long before a reader-generated picture of a newsworthy event will run on the front page.

    “Amateur photographers are omnipresent,” he said, “and that’s an interesting development. Whether you see them with fear or hope, that depends on your point of view.”

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Intel and Promoting Digital Distribution [7:44 am]

Intel Explores the World of Entertainment - pdf

Little in Kevin Corbett’s schooling as an engineer or his career at Intel Corp. prepared him for his current gig: striking distribution deals for movies, television shows and broadcasts of sporting events.

Yet in the last year, the 42-year-old vice president of Intel’s digital home group has jetted to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Mexico City, London, Cannes and Hollywood as he leads the chip maker’s efforts to secure a starring role in the era of online entertainment.

[...] Intel’s ultimate goal is to sell more personal computers built around its home entertainment technology, which it calls Viiv. Unveiled in January, computers with Viiv (rhymes with “five”) components deliver enhanced video and sound for a more seamless user experience. To spur demand, Intel needed to ensure that buyers of Viiv machines — made by Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and others — would have something to watch.

Corbett’s job isn’t so much to purchase distribution rights the way a television network might. Rather, he tries to persuade studios, networks and Internet portals like Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc. to use Intel technology to pipe programs into homes around the globe.

[...] Nonetheless, Intel is having a hard time defining the leap that Viiv represents. “Viiv is a tough one for consumers to figure out,” said Tim Bajarin, principal analyst with the Silicon Valley consultancy Creative Strategies. “It’s a legitimate platform that is important for overall Intel marketing. But I don’t think they’ve done a good job explaining the true values and virtues of Viiv to the consumer market.”

Some said that even within the company there is some ambiguity as Intel stretches to be more than a semiconductor company.

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The Emerging Outlines of News Corp’s Plans [7:38 am]

Fox to Sell Films Online - pdf

Signaling its ambition to turn MySpace into an entertainment marketplace, News Corp. today is expected to unveil plans to sell downloadable copies of 20th Century Fox movies and TV shows through the popular social network and other Fox Interactive Media websites.

[...] Analysts said the immediate financial effect for 20th Century Fox appeared minor. Customers won’t be allowed to burn the videos to a DVD or transfer them to an iPod — only to Windows Media-compatible devices — which should limit the appeal.

“We’re still in this hazy period where big media companies are not sure of the future, and they want to place a lot of bets on the table,” said Gartner Inc. analyst Allen Weiner.

But more is at stake for Fox Interactive Media, which has faced questions about how it intends to profit from MySpace and IGN Entertainment since it snapped up the Web businesses for more than $1.2 billion last year.

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