September 28, 2007

Yes, But … [12:08 pm]

We need language to decide what we mean by “privacy” first: Google sees urgent need for global privacy rules

National regulators need to agree on a basic set of global privacy protections for the Internet within the next five years, a senior executive with Google said Monday.

Peter Fleischer, the companys global privacy counsel, said three quarters of countries had no Internet privacy standards at a time when the amount of sensitive personal and financial data on the Web was soaring.

Google–itself criticized for the threat it poses to personal privacy–says the companys business agenda, the world economy and the Internet could suffer unless more is done to ensure basic privacy on the Web.

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Bradley Whitford On YouTube; Playing The Digital Advocacy Game [8:20 am]

Bradley Whitford states his case on YouTubepdf (note that he says some are some surprisingly harsh things - “You can’t out-hypocrit a Republican.”)

Whitford, a Democrat best known for his role as the president’s deputy chief of staff on “The West Wing,” decided to put together a short video for the Courage Campaign opposing a California proposition that would alter the state’s electoral map and would likely benefit Republicans.

There was no set designer, no fancy music, no high production values, no crew. Courage Campaign Chairman Rick Jacobs arrived with a camera at Whitford’s house last week. By Monday, their video, which calls on voters to fight the Republican-backed initiative, was up on YouTube, collecting a steady stream of hits.

“I think there was one cut in it,” said Whitford, who called it one of the easiest productions he’s ever done. He joked, “During the entire video I was wearing neither socks nor shoes.”

Consider the possibilities for actors with a message:

[...] In many respects, YouTube has become the Wild West of digital communication. Anybody can post, but being discovered is usually a matter of luck. Politically active stars have a clear advantage: They’re bound to get noticed simply on name recognition alone. More interesting, they can do so almost totally beyond the reach of campaign finance and contribution laws, as well as candidates and parties themselves.

“It’s a full-service way of expressing yourself on camera politically,” said Whitford, one of the first stars to capitalize on the new medium.

Note: the campaign to change how California allocates electoral votes is having its own problems — GOP electoral initiative dealt major blows - pdf

Related: Law Firms Go a Bit Hollywood to Recruit the YouTube Generation

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Net Neutrality and the Verizon Texting Fight [8:05 am]

Corporate propriety yields to free speechpdf

The company’s treatment of Naral sparked renewed discussion Thursday about the limits of free speech when large corporations control communications networks.

It also reignited debate over what’s known in policymaking circles as net neutrality: the question of whether telecom providers have a right to treat various forms of content differently or whether they must adopt a neutral stance toward everything in cyberspace.

The telecom industry has lobbied aggressively in recent years to be given the right to have the last word on anything crossing its networks. Bills addressing the matter were introduced in Congress last year but didn’t get anywhere.

Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, a leading advocacy group for net neutrality, said Verizon’s temporary blocking of Naral’s messages highlighted the need for legislation that prohibited telecom companies from asserting control over online or wireless content.

“The fundamental democratic principles of free speech, privacy and open communication are too important to be entrusted to these corporate gatekeepers,” he said in a statement.

Related: A look at the expanding role of texting — The Day After, Warning System Draws Wide Praise at St. John’s

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MPAA Testing The Law [6:53 am]

Hollywood studios go after two piracy sitespdf

The Motion Picture Assn. of America has filed suit against two Web sites that it claims are allowing Internet users to view pirated films, many of which are still in theaters.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday on behalf of the major studios, seeks to shutter cinematube.net (http://cinematube.net) and ssupload.com (http://ssupload.com) from further infringing on the copyrights of the MPAA members.

The sites feature links to hundreds of titles, including such recent releases as “Resident Evil: Extinction,” “The Brave One” and “Good Luck Chuck.”

Seems to me that a “taste” test would give prosecutors other grounds for prosecution — “Good luck Chuck?!?!”

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September 27, 2007

OT: John Harvard Ready For Halo 3 [12:12 pm]

From the Boston Globe: Prank and sense: Harvard statue hit - pdf

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Doubleclick Hearing Today [8:47 am]

An Examination of the Google-DoubleClick Merger and the Online Advertising Industry: What Are the Risks for Competition and Privacy?; CNet reports Microsoft, Google square off in Washington

Senior executives from both companies are scheduled to show up before a U.S. Senate panel on Thursday afternoon to argue their respective cases for why Google should–or should not–be allowed to purchase DoubleClick for $3.1 billion. The acquisition was announced in April but is still undergoing a review by the Federal Trade Commission and regulators in Europe and Australia.

The hearing could mark a turning point in Google’s relationship with Washington. It is the first time that Congress has seriously scrutinized the fast-growing company’s business strategies, and the first time that a proposed acquisition by the company has encountered such concerted political opposition.

It also represents the result of months of private lobbying and public agitation against the merger by Google’s most dangerous business rivals. No stranger to antitrust issues, Microsoft has ordered its legendary army of lobbyists to torpedo the deal, and AT&T, Yahoo and Time Warner have also expressed concerns.

Later: NYTimes coverage — Senators Scrutinize Google’s Bid for Ad Firm

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Whistling Past the Graveyard (updated, again) [8:42 am]

“Markets, the solution to all problems!” Nice to see that Tim hasn’t lost his fire: Verizon Rejects Messages of Abortion Rights Group

Timothy Wu, a law professor at Columbia, said it was possible to find analogies to Verizon’s decision abroad. “Another entity that controls mass text messages is the Chinese government,” Professor Wu said.

Jed Alpert, the chief executive officer of Mobile Commons, which says it is the largest provider of mobile services to political and advocacy groups, including Naral, said he had never seen a decision like Verizon’s.

“This is something we haven’t encountered before, that is very surprising and that we’re concerned about,” Mr. Alpert said.

Professor Wu pointed to a historical analogy. In the 19th century, he said, Western Union, the telegraph company, engaged in discrimination, based on the political views of people who sought to send telegrams. “One of the eventual reactions was the common carrier rule,” Professor Wu said, which required telegraph and then phone companies to accept communications from all speakers on all topics.

Some scholars said such a rule was not needed for text messages because market competition was sufficient to ensure robust political debate.

“Instead of having the government get in the game of regulating who can carry what, I would get in the game of promoting as many options as possible,” said Christopher S. Yoo, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “You might find text-messaging companies competing on their openness policies.”

Riiiiiight

Update: Verizon Reverses Itself on Abortion Messages
(later version)

The LATimes also looks a little deeper into the issues: Corporate propriety yields to free speechpdf; also NARAL’s case for net neutralitypdf

After NARAL’s complaint reached the national media, Verizon Wireless did a quick about-face, reversing itself on Thursday. The company blamed “an incorrect interpretation of a dusty internal policy” and asserted that it has “great respect for this free flow of ideas.” Nevertheless, by demonstrating how much power network operators wield over speech, Verizon Wireless and AT&T have strengthened the case for rules that keep the Internet free from their control or anyone else’s.

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Data Services Or Communication Services? [8:29 am]

Will this fight over taxes begin to resolve this piece of regulatory doublethink? Clash over Internet access tax heats uppdf

A monthly phone bill of $50 now includes as much as $10 in taxes. And some in Congress warn that consumers soon could be hit with similar assessments for high-speed Internet access.

For nearly a decade, the lines carrying the Internet into homes and businesses have been a virtual tax-free zone. But that could change Nov. 1 when a federal ban on Internet access taxes expires.

Almost everybody agrees that the politically popular moratorium should be extended to encourage continued investment in the high-speed lines crucial to making new online activities possible, particularly video. But changing Internet usage has complicated the issue, threatening to derail an extension and raising the specter of local officials engaging in a land-rush-like race to enact new taxes for surfing the Web.

[...] [As] phone and TV services increasingly are delivered over the Internet, state and local governments worry that more of their tax revenue will disappear because of the federal moratorium. They oppose the permanent extension championed by McCain and a slew of lawmakers, along with Don’t Tax Our Web, a coalition of major telecommunications, computer and Internet companies, including AT&T Inc., Google Inc. and Time Warner Inc.

Instead, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the National Governors Assn. and other local government groups want to narrow the definition of Internet access put in place in 1998, which could be interpreted to cover anything delivered online, and to make the extension temporary in case technology again overtakes the law.

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Wonder What The License Will Look Like [8:26 am]

Because you know that putting appliances out there that have the DVDCCA algorithms will tempt a lot of reverse engineering: Coming soon — a DVD burner for movie downloadspdf

The technology opens the door for download services from the likes of Amazon.com Inc. and Wal-Mart Inc. to let customers burn movies they buy to DVD, then watch them on television or portable DVD players. Those services still represent only a fraction of the revenue generated by movie rentals and sales.

“It removes the last real obstacle toward on-demand movie purchase,” said Van Baker of Gartner Inc. “You dont have to go to a store anymore. You can just log on, say “I want this for my library, and away you go.”

[...] Jim Taylor, a Sonic Solutions senior vice president, said consumers would need special DVD burners and recordable discs that use its technology, although the discs would play on standard DVD players. Those products probably won’t appear in stores until early next year, he said.

Electronics manufacturers such as Pioneer Corp. and PC maker Dell Inc. have announced support for the technology.

The major Hollywood studios have insisted on anti-piracy protection identical to that offered on DVDs before they would permit online movie services to let consumers make copies of mainstream movies.

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September 26, 2007

The Strike Looms [8:01 am]

Online work emerges as big issue in Hollywoodpdf

The Web series reflect the networks’ headlong drive to harness the Internet and lure a young, and increasingly elusive, audience. Yet the online rush has heightened tensions between the major studios and networks and the unionized actors and writers who fear being shortchanged by this new digital frontier.

To handle much of the Web work, networks are relying heavily on nonunion scribes and guild writers who are quietly working outside of union contracts. In some cases, networks and television studios have created separate nonunion companies to create original online entertainment on shoestring budgets.

They also have launched digital studios that serve as “farm teams” for new concepts on the Web that might one day get drafted for the major leagues of prime time.

The issue of how to compensate talent for work distributed online is central to contentious contract talks with writers — and could trigger the first major strike in Hollywood in nearly two decades.

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The Times’ Freakonomics Blog Discussion on The Music Industry [7:53 am]

Whats the Future of the Music Industry? A Freakonomics Quorum

But the music industry of today looks almost nothing like the music industry of 20 years ago. There are a ton of reasons, most of them having to do with digital technology. If you are a young journalist starting out today, you may still aspire to get a big publisher to give you an advance and widely publish your book; but if you are a young musician starting out today, do you want to get a big record advance or do you want to sell the music yourself, like these folks do, and like Jane Siberry does? If you are a record label, what do you do about illegal downloads, and do you keep putting out “albums” that nobody buys or do you instead try to release only individual songs, as many people seem to prefer?

It strikes me as ironic that a new technology (digital music) may have accidentally forced record labels to abandon the status quo (releasing albums) and return to the past (selling singles). I sometimes think that the biggest mistake the record industry ever made was abandoning the pop single in the first place. Customers were forced to buy albums to get the one or two songs they loved; how many albums can you say that you truly love, or love even 50% of the songs — 10? 20? But now the people have spoken: they want one song at a time, digitally please, maybe even free (yikes: big can of worms, which is addressed ably below).

So what really happened to the music industry, and what will it look like in five or ten years?

See also Amazon Digital Music Store Goes Online and Amazon Launches a Music Store, Not a Service

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A Look At LA’s Public WiFi Project (update) [7:47 am]

Will Wi-Fi connect in L.A.?pdf

During the last six months, the prospects for delivering free high-speed wireless Internet service throughout metropolitan areas went from a sure bet to a sucker bet.

Even as Los Angeles explores building a free or low-cost citywide Wi-Fi system, cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Houston are delaying or pulling the plug on similar plans.

[...] But don’t expect cities to pull out completely, industry analysts said.

With more Wi-Fi products coming on the scene — such as T-Mobile USA’s Wi-Fi cellphones and Apple Inc.’s iPhone and new iPod Touch — demand for citywide wireless broadband connections should grow. Wi-Fi networks are much faster, more efficient and cheaper to build and operate than cellular systems.

“We’ve gone from one end of the hype meter to the other,” said Craig Settles, an Oakland-based author and communications industry consultant. “We’ll balance this out sooner or later.”

Los Angeles may well become the city to watch as it goes through a laborious process to determine whether a wireless broadband network is needed — and how the service would pay for itself.

Later: Tim Wu, in Slate, explains why it’s been so problematic — Where’s My Free Wi-Fi?

The basic idea of offering Internet access as a public service is sound. The problem is that cities haven’t thought of the Internet as a form of public infrastructure that—like subway lines, sewers, or roads—must be paid for. Instead, cities have labored under the illusion that, somehow, everything could be built easily and for free by private parties. That illusion has run straight into the ancient economics of infrastructure and natural monopoly. The bottom line: City dwellers won’t be able to get high-quality wireless Internet access for free. If they want it, collectively, they’ll have to pay for it.

[...] The lesson here is an old one about the function of government. When it comes to communications, the United States relies on a privateer system: We depend on private companies to perform public callings. That works up to a point, but private industry will build only so much. Real public infrastructure costs real public money. We already know that, in the real world, if you’re not willing to invest in infrastructure, you get what we have: crumbling airports, collapsing bridges, and broken levees. Why did we think that the wireless Internet would be any different?

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From The Pooh Front [7:33 am]

Court Won’t Reopen Pooh Lawsuit

A California appeals court declined on Tuesday to reinstate a long-running case against the Walt Disney Company over royalties it paid for its popular Winnie the Pooh character.

See earlier post

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More Looking Over Your Shoulder Coming [7:16 am]

Microsoft Takes Aim at Google’s Ad Supremacy - New York Times

[AQuantive's Brian] McAndrews has a long-term strategy that boils down to divorcing online advertising from Internet searches. The two have been viewed as a couple, because so many people use portals and search engines as their home base on the Web, but Mr. McAndrews says that model shortchanges advertisers and Web publishers.

Mr. McAndrews’s proposed system, called “conversion attribution,” would track all of the online places where consumers see ads and give advertisers a fuller picture of the various ways that consumers reach them. Tracking is important, because the site that gets credit for prompting a user’s visit is the one that gets paid for it.

Mr. McAndrews contends that search engines, which long have claimed credit for sending people to companies’ Web sites, do not deserve it all.

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September 24, 2007

Are You The Algorithm? Or Is The Algorithm You? [5:54 pm]

An Oracle for Our Time, Part Man, Part Machine

It was the Internet that stripped the word of its innocence. Algorithms, as closely guarded as state secrets, buy and sell stocks and mortgage-backed securities, sometimes with a dispassionate zeal that crashes markets. Algorithms promise to find the news that fits you, and even your perfect mate. You can’t visit Amazon.com without being confronted with a list of books and other products that the Great Algoritmi recommends.

Its intuitions, of course, are just calculations — given enough time they could be carried out with stones. But when so much data is processed so rapidly, the effect is oracular and almost opaque. Even with a peek at the cybernetic trade secrets, you probably couldn’t unwind the computations. As you sit with your eHarmony spouse watching the movies Netflix prescribes, you might as well be an avatar in Second Life. You have been absorbed into the operating system.

[...] In his 1950 paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” Alan Turing foresaw a day when it would be hard to tell the difference between the responses of a computer and a human being. What he may not have envisioned is how thoroughly the boundary would blur.

For example, who really thinks about what’s being offered here? Have we really gotten “past privacy?” Company Will Monitor Phone Calls to Tailor Ads

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Promotion, and Picking The Right Fight [1:56 pm]

Don’t want to win a case against the Girl Scouts, for example: Disney Tolerates a Rap Parody of Its Critters. But Why?

Nickelodeon, part of Viacom, sees the humorous videos as fair use of its copyrighted content. “Our audiences can creatively mash video from our content as much and as often as they like,” said Dan Martinsen, a Nickelodeon spokesman. “By the way,” he added, “that was a very nice edit job by whoever did the SpongeBob mash.” (That laissez-faire reaction, it should be noted, comes from a company whose corporate parent has a $1 billion piracy lawsuit pending against Google, the owner of YouTube.)

Disney’s view is starkly different: any unauthorized use of Disney property is stealing. Still, the company picks its battles carefully. While it closely monitors the Web for infractions, Disney will not discuss how it evaluates potential cases of copyright infringement and declined to comment on the “Crank That” videos.

The fact that the postings have not been removed — YouTube regularly yanks videos that media companies identify as pirated material — highlights the situation mash-ups pose for media companies: are these videos parodies of cultural icons and thus protected under copyright law, or do they trample on intellectual property?

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September 21, 2007

The DVD Burner Comes of Age? [7:25 am]

The DVDCCA blinks? We’ll have to see, but I doubt it. In particular, the only way that I can imagine that copies can’t be made is by “stamping” the copies with something unique to a particular player — meaning that you might end up keeping a LOT of DVD players around to keep accessing what you paid to download. It will be interesting to see whether the equipment manufacturers got them to give them a way around that, because otherwise the rate of turnover of DVD players among movie downloaders is going to fall dramatically: Downloads of movies get a boostpdf

The organization that licenses DVD security software cleared the way Thursday for movies bought over the Internet to be burned onto a DVD that can play on any machine — a move that could dramatically change the way movies are sold.

Industry executives hailed the decision by the DVD Copy Control Assn. to license software designed to allow content to be burned to one disc but not copied to others.

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September 20, 2007

This Should Be Interesting (updated) [10:25 am]

So, will NBC’s “free” be more valuable than the iTunes distribution channel? As the NYTimes seems to have found, it’s not as far-fetched as it might seem. On the other hand, isn’t it still better to have multiple delivery channels? Or does NBC really believe that they can out-play Apple in this market? NBC to allow free downloading of its TV showspdf (also NBC to Offer Downloads of Its Shows)

NBC will start offering limited free downloads of shows such as “Heroes” and “The Office” as part of its bid to expand the digital distribution of its programs and compete with Apple Inc.’s iTunes Store, the network announced Wednesday.

The new service, dubbed NBC Direct, will allow users to download episodes to computers running Microsoft Windows software for up to a week after the show has aired on television. The file will contain embedded advertising that cannot be skipped.

Seven days after the episode’s TV debut, the digital file will expire.

So, they’re going to sacrifice the media-hungry Mac market, rely upon a locked playback tool *and* count on a set of DRM timebombs? Good luck with that!

Related: CBS aims to be the talk of the Webpdf

Until recently, CBS.com had consisted of what one CBS executive described as “regurgitated television” — full-length streams of shows and scheduling information.

The new, less cluttered website, launched in tandem with the fall season, focuses on attracting communities of fans who want to gab about such CBS shows as “How I Met Your Mother” or “Kid Nation.”

It devotes less space to TV Guide-like programming information and instead provides a forum where viewers can express their views — good and bad — about shows.

“The key lesson from Silicon Valley is respect for the audience,” said Jonathan Barzilay, senior vice president and general manager of entertainment at CBS Interactive.

We’ll see who gets the message

Update: Rupert Murdoch didn’t get to where he is by being foolish: Fox tries new lure for iPod crowd - pdf

Beginning this week, season premiere episodes of seven Fox Broadcasting programs will be made available for free through Apple’s iTunes store, a move that highlights the TV industry’s race to harness the Internet and try out potential business partners.

[...] The deal underscores the television networks’ predicament: They are trying to protect their lucrative businesses at a time when more viewers are catching their favorite shows when they want, thanks to TiVo and digital video recorders.

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MediaDefender Not Meeting The Challenge [10:16 am]

Of course, how could anyone? Leaked e-mails reveal MediaDefender’s antipiracy woes

“We’re still not seeing you guys perform well on Soulseek (peer-to-peer file-sharing community),” a Sony executive said in an e-mail that was viewed by CNET News.com. “Can you please investigate the problem and actually solve it (going on months now). In my most recent search I selected Beyonce(’s) “Beautiful Liar” and was able to download almost everything.

“If you can’t provide a good solution,” continued the Sony executive, “we will either have to request serious credits or pull this network from your services. As it stands right now it’s a waste of our resources at this level of protection.”

So how did the file-sharing hunter become the hunted, apparently attacked by a group calling itself the MediaDefender-Defenders? Give credit (or blame) to a technology battle in which widely scattered file sharers are outmaneuvering entertainment conglomerates.

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September 18, 2007

The Shoe Drops (updated) [12:40 pm]

The Times has come to see that being the authority is worth more to them than the TimesSelect subscription revenue: Times to Stop Charging for Parts of Its Web Site

The Times said the project had met expectations, drawing 227,000 paying subscribers — out of 787,000 over all — and generating about $10 million a year in revenue.

“But our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site, NYTimes.com.

And others get ideas: Murdoch makes case for free WSJ onlinepdf

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