May 2, 2007

Updated: Keeping Secrets [1:25 pm]

Or not: Geeks Will Not Be Silenced: Breaking: Digg Riot in Full Effect Over Pulled HD-DVD Key Story - Gizmodo

The power of Web 2.0 is in full effect over at Digg, where users are revolting over Digg’s decision to pull a story (that netted over 15,000 diggs) and reportedly boot a user for posting the HD-DVD AACS Processing Key number, which would allow someone to crack the copy protection on an HD-DVD. The front page (along with two and three) of Digg consists entirely of stories flaunting the number or criticizing Digg for its actions.

See also Digg.com Attempts To Suppress HD-DVD Revolt. Also see Ed Felten’s AACS Plays Whack-a-Mole with Extracted Key and Digg Users Revolt Over AACS Key.

The NYTimes’ How a Number Became the Latest Web Celebrity

“It’s a perfect example of how a lawyer’s involvement can turn a little story into a huge story,” said Fred von Lohmann, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online civil rights group. “Now that they started sending threatening letters, the Internet has turned the number into the latest celebrity. It is now guaranteed eternal fame.”

See also EFF’s 09 f9: A Legal Primer

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“Security” … At The Expense Of Essentially Everything? [1:03 pm]

Spying on Americans

For more than five years, President Bush authorized government spying on phone calls and e-mail to and from the United States without warrants. He rejected offers from Congress to update the electronic eavesdropping law, and stonewalled every attempt to investigate his spying program.

Suddenly, Mr. Bush is in a hurry. He has submitted a bill that would enact enormous, and enormously dangerous, changes to the 1978 law on eavesdropping. It would undermine the fundamental constitutional principle — over which there can be no negotiation or compromise — that the government must seek an individual warrant before spying on an American or someone living here legally.

To heighten the false urgency, the Bush administration will present this issue, as it has before, as a choice between catching terrorists before they act or blinding the intelligence agencies. But the administration has never offered evidence that the 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, hampered intelligence gathering after the 9/11 attacks. Mr. Bush simply said the law did not apply to him.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s hearing page for May 1, 2007 - Open/Closed Hearing: FISA

Later (2007 May 09): the LATimes tries to thread the needle: Wise-up intelligence - pdf

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A Coast-to-Coast Debate on Content [12:55 pm]

From the NYTimes: Making a Killing

Most of us who chose careers in this field were seduced by cinema’s spell at an early age. We know better than anyone the power films have to capture our imaginations, shape our thinking and inform our choices, for better and for worse. At the risk of being labeled a scold — the ultimate in uncool — I have to ask: before cashing those big checks, shouldn’t we at least pause to consider what we are saying with our movies about the value of life and the pleasures of mayhem?

From the LATimes: The FCC’s not our mommy and daddy - pdf

AT THE BEHEST of Congress, the Federal Communications Commission issued a report last week on “violent television programming and its impact on children” that calls not just for expanding governmental oversight of broadcast TV but extending content regulation to cable and satellite channels for the first time. The FCC also recommended that some shows be banned from time slots when children might be watching and that cable and satellite operators be forced to offer “a la carte” service in which subscribers would pick and choose among individual channels.

Despite its sober tone, the study rests on the demonstrably false idea that violent TV breeds violence in reality, and it also fails to take seriously the vast increase in child-friendly programming and parent-empowering viewing tools. The result is a list of recommendations to Congress that seems as comically and absurdly detached from contemporary America as an episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”

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Selling Vista In Asia [8:53 am]

Vista: Too Pricey for Emerging Asia? - pdf

Although the costs of a dual-core processor, added memory, and graphics processors may not be prohibitive for users in the Americas or Europe, any additional cost on a PC can have a substantial impact in emerging geographies like China, [Technology Business Research's Allan] Krans said.

“As a result, TBR believes many Chinese consumers may have chosen either pirated versions of Vista that sell for as little as US$1, or free versions of Linux that are offered free of charge,” the analyst added. “Although Vista contains enhanced antipiracy technology, press reports indicate that illegal copies of Vista were readily available in China, and piracy remains quite prevalent in the country.”

Recently, a Japanese press report indicated that Microsoft had only sold 244 legitimate copies of Windows Vista in China in the first two weeks following its release–a claim that Microsoft has denied, according to a CNET News.com blog post.

When contacted by ZDNet Asia, a Microsoft spokesperson declined to reveal Vista shipment figures in the Asia-Pacific region.

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The Pervasiveness of Ringtones [8:38 am]

A look at ringtones at work: A Washington Ringtone Symphony - pdf

I conducted a highly unscientific survey over the past few weeks and found that while image-conscious politicians generally follow Meltzer’s line of thinking, plenty of other prominent Washingtonians do not.

Fox News personality Greta Van Susteren’s phone rings to “Hello Dolly” when her sister calls, the “Twilight Zone” theme song when her brother does, and the William Tell Overture when her producer rings. When her husband calls, her phone belts out the “American Bandstand” theme.

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Some Anger On The Hill Over Rural Broadband [8:32 am]

Lawmakers May Refocus Rural Internet Financing - pdf

Members of a House committee charged yesterday that a five-year, $1.2 billion program to expand broadband Internet services to rural communities has missed many unserved areas while channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidized loans to companies in places where service already exists.

“If you don’t fix this, I guarantee you this committee will,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.) told James M. Andrew, administrator of the Rural Utilities Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “I don’t know why it should be this hard.”

[...] Congress created the rural broadband program in 2002. To date, according to Andrew, 69 loans for $1.2 billion have been approved to finance infrastructure in 40 states. Only 40 percent of the communities benefiting were unserved at the time of the loan, Andrew said.

In September 2005, USDA’s inspector general reported that the broadband program “has not maintained its focus on rural communities” that are without service.

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Online Money: What Is It Good For? [8:26 am]

How does a government react? One response: U.S.: Online Payment Network Abetted Fraud, Child Pornography - pdf

The principal owners of E-Gold Ltd., an online payment system where users convert currency assets into equivalent amounts of precious metals, were indicted last week for allegedly allowing the service to be used by criminals engaged in financial scams and child pornography.

[...] “The advent of new electronic currency systems increases the risk that criminals, and possibly terrorists, will exploit these systems to launder money and transfer funds globally to avoid law enforcement scrutiny and circumvent banking regulations and reporting,” said James E. Finch, of the FBI’s Cyber Division.

Founded in 1996, E-Gold is a unique take on Internet-based payment systems. Its 4 million registered users deposit funds into an E-Gold account and those funds are converted into equivalent amounts of gold and silver that is stored in banks in Europe and the Middle East. The company’s business was designed to appeal to persons engaged in cross-border financial transactions, particularly for persons who prefer the relative stability of precious metals to fluctuations in the value of national currencies. Over the past 24 hours, the system processed a little more than $3.4 million in transactions, according to the E-Gold Web site.

The government charged E-Gold and its parent, Gold & Silver Exchange, with operating an unlicensed money transmitting business under federal law and one count of money transmission without a license under D.C. law.

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Online Advertising and Political Money [8:20 am]

The Post-Money Era

Still, the coming flood may not alter the terrain as much as you might think. That’s because this exponential rise in political money comes at exactly the moment when that money is beginning to count for less and less. The obscene costs of modern campaigning have been driven almost entirely by broadcast advertising, which consumes more than half of your average campaign budget. But even the people who make ads for a living now admit that they are losing their mystical hold over the electorate. This isn’t so much a political phenomenon as a societal one. As a New York ad executive recently told The New York Times, “The dirty secret is, people have been avoiding commercials, bad commercials in particular, for a very long time.” By the end of this decade, according to the Web site emarketer.com, more than one in three households will have TiVo or another digital video recorder, meaning that a sizable chunk of voters will be skipping commercials altogether. (True, a recent study found that a lot of early DVR users still watch the commercials, but that will almost certainly change as more viewers get used to fast-forwarding through them.)

In this new world, the most effective political ad makers may be amateurs like Phil de Vellis, the Internet consultant who recently took it upon himself to make a powerful pro-Obama ad, based on a famous Apple spot from 1984, that portrayed Hillary Clinton as Big Brother. The ad, which de Vellis made on his Mac in a single afternoon, ricocheted around the Web, reaching millions of Democratic voters. It cost nothing. “This ad was not the first citizen ad, and it will not be the last,” de Vellis later wrote on the Huffington Post blog. “The game has changed.”

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The Evolving Online Porn Biz [8:10 am]

A profile: Online Pornography - Kink.com - Peter Acworth

It has long been noted that the San Fernando Valley is increasingly populated by strait-laced corporate managers and not by the oily, medallion-wearing men we once assumed. But succeeding on the Web, or simply surviving its escalating demands, has required more sophisticated entrepreneurial types. With the Internet pushing porn discreetly into the homes of conventional consumers, making it more a part of everyday life and less seedy-seeming, the industry has been better able than ever to attract that sort of employee. That is, as pornography becomes a more mainstream product, it becomes an equally mainstream career. If anything, Kink may be an exaggerated example of just how ordinary pornographers will get, despite the wince-inducing grisliness of its content, which even by porn-industry standards is morbidly eccentric.

[...] According to the United States Supreme Court, one measure of obscenity is whether an average adult in the community would deem it obscene. In the Reagan era, federal attorneys often had a video from a Southern California porn studio sent to places like Tulsa or Birmingham and prosecuted the company when it arrived. Thus they could lock in a far-more-conservative community standard than that of Los Angeles. But it has always been unclear what community standard applies to the Web. Moreover, while the Reagan administration fervidly prosecuted pornographers, the Internet sprung up smack in the middle of the Clinton years, a relatively tranquil time for legitimate adult businesses.

Nevertheless, Levine says, the Web masters who first challenged the industry’s reticence about S-and-M weren’t seasoned pornographers accustomed to calculating such risks in the first place. They were “lifestylers” like Acworth and his directors, merely recreating what they saw all the time in underground clubs. “They set out to do what is natural to them,” Levine says, “and the roof didn’t fall in.”

Acworth, in fact, seems to police his content simply by the values of the B.D.S.M. community, laboring to make its playful, consensual spirit transparent. Given the ultimate subjectivity of obscenity law, he told me, he can only rely on his own comfort level. [...]

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Competing Interests: Gun Control and Privacy [8:05 am]

A threat of Federal preemption? Privacy Laws Slow Efforts on Gun-Buyer Data

Momentum is building in Congress behind a measure that would push states to report their mental health records to the federal database used to conduct background checks on gun buyers.

But a thicket of obstacles, most notably state privacy laws, have thwarted repeated efforts to improve the reporting of such records in the past and are likely to complicate this latest effort, even after the worst mass shooting in United States history at Virginia Tech last month.

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Updated: Fallout for Vonage [8:01 am]

New Patent Trial Sought by Vonage

Vonage said that it had filed a motion with a federal appeals court asking it to vacate a March 8 patent infringement verdict that went against the company and in favor of Verizon Communications and to send the case back to a lower court for a new trial.

The Supreme Court ruling on Monday loosened a crucial legal standard making it easier to invalidate some patents on the ground that they were obvious inventions.

Later [2007 May 02]: no such luck - Court denies Vonage bid for patent case retrial - pdf. Although:

The appeals court said Vonage can cite the new Supreme Court ruling as part of its pending appeal of the case.

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“Unhappy?” [7:47 am]

Writers Guild unhappily sits on $20 million - pdf

The Writers Guild of America, West has $20 million in a trust account in Hollywood, which is not the good news it might seem to be.

The money belongs to hundreds of writers, or their estates, whose movies or TV shows were viewed in foreign countries that levy special taxes to compensate authors for the reuse of their work.

The guild’s failure to distribute such a big stockpile of cash has raised hackles in Hollywood, turning what might have been an arcane accounting matter into an embarrassing and potentially costly dispute for the union, which is just about to enter crucial contract negotiations with producers.

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