September 12, 2007

Street View and Canadian Privacy Law [5:34 pm]

Canada says new Google map could break privacy lawpdf

Google Inc introduced street-level map views in May, giving web users a series of panoramic, 360-degree images of nine U.S. cities. Some of the random pictures feature people in informal poses who can clearly be identified.

Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart wrote to Google in early August asking for more details. She said if the Street View product were expanded to Canada without being amended, it could well violate privacy laws.

The images were produced in partnership with Canadian firm Immersive Media Corp, which says it has taken similar street level pictures of major Canadian cities.

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IPR In Automobiles [4:46 pm]

Germans See Imitation in Chinese Cars

It’s hardly surprising that a car that bills itself as the “ultimate driving machine” would inspire imitation. But to BMW, the CEO, a Chinese sport utility vehicle, is less respectful homage than brazen knockoff.

Charging that the CEO is a copy of BMW’s popular X5, the company has filed suit to prohibit its sale in Germany by the Chinese carmaker Shuanghuan Automobile.

That did not prevent Shuanghuan’s European importer from showing off the CEO on Tuesday at the Frankfurt Motor Show.

It was a vivid illustration, on the show’s first day, that the struggle over intellectual property rights between China and the West — a battle that has ranged over products from designer handbags to computer chips — now extends to cars.

“We did not like it,” BMW chief executive, Norbert Reithofer, said curtly in an interview here.

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More Fallout from the “Wardrobe Malfuction” [10:30 am]

“Decency forever,” it appears: Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl striptease back on center stagepdf

The case is being argued at a time when the Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement regime regarding broadcast indecency is in a state of flux. The government is considering whether to take the profanity case to the Supreme Court. At the same time, Congress is working on a legislative remedy.

[...] Meanwhile, in July, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the “Protecting Children from Indecent Programming Act,” sponsored by Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark. The act would require the FCC “to maintain a policy that a single word or image may be considered indecent.”

Such a law would neatly encompass both suits. But if it passed, it would not be retroactive. The American Civil Liberties Union said the bill “could have serious and damaging effects on the First Amendment.” A companion bill is said to be in the works on the House side.

With Congress occupied by Iraq and other pressing issues, it is hard to say whether the bill will become law, but it has bipartisan support, and Congress has been eager to pass tough broadcast indecency laws in the past. Regardless, indecency enforcement at the agency is in a holding pattern. The FCC has not proposed a fine since March of 2006.

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A Look At The Communication Package Deals [8:13 am]

Just in case you haven’t been paying attention: Your loss of privacy is a package dealpdf

The all-you-can-eat packages of voice, video and Internet services offered by phone and cable companies may be convenient, but they represent a potentially significant threat to people’s privacy.

Take, for example, Time Warner Cable, which has about 2 million customers in Southern California. The company offers a voice-video-Net package called “All the Best” for $89.85 for the first 12 months.

But for anyone who has the wherewithal to read Time Warner’s 3,000-word California privacy policy, you discover that not only does the company have the ability to know what you watch on TV and whom you call, but also that it can track your online activities, including sites you visit and stuff you buy.

Remember all the fuss when it was revealed last year that Google Inc. kept voluminous records of people’s Web searches, and that federal authorities were demanding a peek under the hood? Multiply that privacy threat by three.

Internet, TV, phone — it’s hard to imagine a more revealing glimpse of your private life.

“All your eggs are in one communications basket,” said Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego. “If a company wants to, it can learn a great deal about you — and it probably wants to.”

More often than not, it’ll also want to turn a fast buck by selling at least a portion of that info to marketers.

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Returning to the Boomer Demographic, Again [8:01 am]

The Graying of the Web

Older people are sticky.

That is the latest view from Silicon Valley. Technology investors and entrepreneurs, long obsessed with connecting to teenagers and 20-somethings, are starting a host of new social networking sites aimed at baby boomers and graying computer users.

[...] “Teens are tire kickers — they hang around, cost you money and then leave,” said Paul Kedrosky, a venture capitalist and author of the blog “Infectious Greed.” Where Friendster was once the hot spot, Facebook and MySpace now draw the crowds of young people online.

“The older demographic has a bunch of interesting characteristics,” Mr. Kedrosky added, “not the least of which is that they hang around.”

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Complexity as the Culprit? [7:59 am]

So what, exactly? It’s not our fault, then? There’s a weird fatalism that underlies this article, and its conclusion that the solution is more robust components is almost certainly not how we’re going to resolve the problem of architecting and maintaining a complex system, but it does offer one flavor of how the public is being trained to think about this issue: Who Needs Hackers?

Yes, hackers are still out there, and not just teenagers: malicious insiders, political activists, mobsters and even government agents all routinely test public and private computer networks and occasionally disrupt services. But experts say that some of the most serious, even potentially devastating, problems with networks arise from sources with no malevolent component.

Whether it’s the Los Angeles customs fiasco or the unpredictable network cascade that brought the global Skype telephone service down for two days in August, problems arising from flawed systems, increasingly complex networks and even technology headaches from corporate mergers can make computer systems less reliable. Meanwhile, society as a whole is growing ever more dependent on computers and computer networks, as automated controls become the norm for air traffic, pipelines, dams, the electrical grid and more.

“We don’t need hackers to break the systems because they’re falling apart by themselves,” said Peter G. Neumann, an expert in computing risks and principal scientist at SRI International, a research institute in Menlo Park, Calif.

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