October 23, 2007

Hard To Believe [6:05 am]

Hard to believe that hotels are having a hard time accepting that wireless internet is a requirement of so many travelers. I was at a Ritz last month, and you don’t want to know what I had to pay to get internet access — despite the criminally high cost of the room in the first place! Some hotels dip toes into brave new digital worldpdf

Many such hotels are trying to catch up with a population that is more comfortable with technology than ever. The $133-billion lodging industry’s cutting edge sees a business opportunity in traveling lawyers pining for high-speed Internet access, twentysomethings looking for a place to plug in their iPods and vacationers preferring YouTube over the boob tube.

But although the trend is gathering steam, it’s a tricky proposition for an industry that is more Flintstones than Jetsons.

“We’re a business that’s still trying to come to grips with the toaster,” complained John Burns, president of Hospitality Technology Consulting in Scottsdale, Ariz. “If you have to turn the knob to make it lighter or darker, we have to think about that.”

Still, customers want what they want. In a survey of business travelers this year, 58% said free high-speed Internet access was “very” or “extremely” influential in determining where they stayed — triple the proportion from five years earlier.

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But, He’s A Rockefeller! [5:57 am]

Companies Seeking Immunity Donate to Senator

Executives at the two biggest phone companies contributed more than $42,000 in political donations to Senator John D. Rockefeller IV this year while seeking his support for legal immunity for businesses participating in National Security Agency eavesdropping.

The best government money can buy….

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Cellphones and Privacy [5:54 am]

Privacy Lost: These Phones Can Find You

Two new questions arise, courtesy of the latest advancement in cellphone technology: Do you want your friends, family, or colleagues to know where you are at any given time? And do you want to know where they are?

Only two?

“There are massive changes going on in society, particularly among young people who feel comfortable sharing information in a digital society,” said Kevin Bankston, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation based in San Francisco.

“We seem to be getting into a period where people are closely watching each other,” he said. “There are privacy risks we haven’t begun to grapple with.”

But the practical applications outweigh the worries for some converts.

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October 22, 2007

*Shock* — Really Sorry I Missed This One!! [6:07 pm]

Traffic shaping, or network neutrality problem? You decide: Comcast Blocks Some Internet Traffic (pdf) [via Machinist]

The principle of equal treatment of traffic, called “Net Neutrality” by proponents, is not enshrined in law but supported by some regulations. Most of the debate around the issue has centered on tentative plans, now postponed, by large Internet carriers to offer preferential treatment of traffic from certain content providers for a fee.

Comcast’s interference, on the other hand, appears to be an aggressive way of managing its network to keep file-sharing traffic from swallowing too much bandwidth and affecting the Internet speeds of other subscribers.

[...] Comcast’s technology kicks in, though not consistently, when one BitTorrent user attempts to share a complete file with another user.

Each PC gets a message invisible to the user that looks like it comes from the other computer, telling it to stop communicating. But neither message originated from the other computer — it comes from Comcast. If it were a telephone conversation, it would be like the operator breaking into the conversation, telling each talker in the voice of the other: “Sorry, I have to hang up. Good bye.”

[...] Comcast’s interference affects all types of content, meaning that, for instance, an independent movie producer who wanted to distribute his work using BitTorrent and his Comcast connection could find that difficult or impossible — as would someone pirating music.

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Letting the EU Do The Heavy Lifting [11:28 am]

Since we can’t (won’t?) keep our own house in order: Microsoft Accepts European Antitrust Ruling (also Microsoft Concedes in European Antitrust Case - also this)

The Microsoft Corporation agreed today to obey crucial parts of a 2004 antitrust ruling upheld by an appeals court last month, European regulators said today, cutting royalties for rivals and handing information over to open source developers.

The software company said separately that it would not appeal the decision, dropping a challenge of a European Commission order that found it guilty of monopoly abuse three years ago.

See also F.T.C. Chief Balks at Intel Inquiry

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LATimes Editorial Channels Terry Fisher [10:13 am]

Or, at least the evolution of where his original plan might be today: A tech-entertainment trucepdf

The new content filters are a double-edged sword. They are critical to the efforts by tech and entertainment companies to turn the Internet into a profitable content distribution network. But they could give copyright holders too much control over what is and isn’t a fair use of their works, while encouraging them to withhold their content from the Web instead of profiting from it.

[...] There are good business reasons for websites to use the new technologies. For starters, major advertisers don’t want their pitches running alongside bootlegged videos. But Hollywood would be ill-advised to use the filters to bottle up its works, particularly the advertiser-supported ones. The Net is notoriously leaky, and blocking content on one set of sites won’t stop it from reaching users by other means. A better use of content-identification systems is to track how many times a song or video is viewed or downloaded, then use that information to split the advertising revenue generated by those files between its producers and its distributors. The Web presents a huge pool of opportunity, and content owners need to jump in and compete instead of waiting for all the pirates to be swept from the waters.

For more on Terry Fisher’s Promises to Keep, see this earlier entry.

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Sin City As Troubling Testbed [9:14 am]

From Casinos to Counterterrorismpdf

This city, famous for being America’s playground, has also become its security lab. Like nowhere else in the United States, Las Vegas has embraced the twin trends of data mining and high-tech surveillance, with arguably more cameras per square foot than any airport or sports arena in the country. Even the city’s cabs and monorail have cameras. As the U.S. government ramps up its efforts to forestall terrorist attacks, some privacy advocates view the city as a harbinger of things to come.

[...] “You could almost look at Vegas as the incubator of a whole host of surveillance technologies,” said James X. Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology. Those technologies, he said, have spread to other commercial venues: malls, stadiums, amusement parks.

And although that is “problematic,” he said, “the spread of the techniques to counterterrorism is doubly worrisome. Finding a terrorist is much harder than finding a card counter, and the consequences of being wrongly labeled a terrorist are much more severe than being excluded from a casino.”

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“We Have Met The Enemy, And He Is Us” [6:58 am]

Google’s Purchase of Jaiku Raises New Privacy Issues

Petteri Koponen, one of the two founders of Jaiku, described the service as a “holistic view of a person’s life,” rather than just short posts. “We extract a lot of information automatically, especially from mobile phones,” Mr. Koponen said from Mountain View, Calif., where the company is being integrated into Google. “This kind of information paints a picture of what a person is thinking or doing.”

In practical terms, Jaiku’s mobile application allows users to broadcast not only their whereabouts, but how the phone is being used, even what kind of music it is playing.

The information opens up a world of new mobile services for regular users, beyond the world of early adapters familiar with Jaiku.

[...] All this opens serious questions about privacy, and about whether people are prepared to be constantly traceable, even if only by friends. Mr. Koponen said Jaiku was aware of this and was working hard to allow users to limit the information they share, without making the service too complicated.

“To date, many people still maintain their illusion of privacy,” he said in an e-mail message.

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Ideologies in Competition [6:55 am]

Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web

Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies want to place on the new digital collections.

The research libraries, including a large consortium in the Boston area, are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort aimed at making their materials broadly available.

[...] “There are two opposed pathways being mapped out,” said Paul Duguid, an adjunct professor at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. “One is shaped by commercial concerns, the other by a commitment to openness, and which one will win is not clear.”

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October 21, 2007

We’ll See [6:28 pm]

In Search of Wireless Wiggle Room

I RECENTLY watched a YouTube clip of a young man removing the memory chip from his iPhone with his teeth, in an attempt to “unlock” the device for use on a network other than the AT&T system for which the phone was exclusively sold. His gyrations were a particularly vivid reminder of the limits imposed on cellphones by the companies that run national wireless networks in the United States.

But there are signs that the existing order in the wireless world may finally be changing.

This month, despite the opposition of companies like Verizon, the Federal Communications Commission reiterated that its coming auction of wireless spectrum would include rules intended to give consumers more choices in the phones they can use. These “open access” auction rules have already received considerable attention, but the commission also faces other decisions that will significantly affect the availability and the price of wireless service.

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October 19, 2007

Feeling The “Chill” and Fighting Back [10:58 am]

Standing Up To Takedown Noticespdf

On a chilly February day, Stephanie Lenz decided to show her family and friends what her bouncing baby boy could do. She plopped 13-month-old Holden, then learning to walk, on the floor, cranked up Prince’s song “Let’s Go Crazy” and whipped out the digital camera.

In the 29-second YouTube video that resulted, Holden smiles and bobs up and down to the music. According to Universal Music Publishing Group, he also helps his mom commit a federal crime: copyright infringement.

In June, Universal, which owns the rights to Prince’s song, sent a notice to YouTube requesting the video be taken down but did not take action against Lenz. On the contrary, Lenz sued Universal for abusing copyright law.

[...] [R]ecently — in part because of backlash among users and advocacy groups who say copyright holders are abusing the law and wrongfully taking down content — the challenges to these copyright claims also appear to be increasing.

“These companies are trying to shoot a mouse with an elephant gun,” said Gigi Sohn, director of Public Knowledge, a public-policy think tank that focuses on intellectual property. “They like to accuse their customers, the music fans and TV fans out there, of not respecting the law, but I don’t think they respect the law.”

ChillingEffects website

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Glenn Greenwald On A Roll [8:08 am]

The Weekly Standard mentality and the Senate Intelligence Committee

Every now and then, a right-wing pundit says something that illustrates the underlying mentality of their movement so vividly that it is worth pausing and briefly examining. In responding to one of my posts on telecom amnesty, The Weekly Standard’s Michael Goldfarb explains the obligations of patriotic corporate citizens in America:

[I]f federal agents show up at a corporate headquarters for a major American company and urgently seek that company’s officers for assistance in the war on terror, the companies damn well ought to give it as a matter of simple patriotism, whether the CIA wants a plane for some extraordinary rendition or help in tracking terrorists via email. . . . [T]o expect a company to resist a plea from the government for help in a time of war is ridiculous.

So when “federal agents” come knocking at your door and issue orders, you better “damn well” obey — you had better not “resist” — otherwise we’ll lose our freedoms. As always, the heart of “patriotism,” in the Weekly Standard worldview, is blind faith in our Leaders.

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Media Consolidation Redux [7:50 am]

The waning months of the Bush Administration is likely to be peppered with even more of these administrative moves, since Congress is completely deadlocked (except when posturing over testosterone levels): Plan Would Ease Limits on Media Owners

The head of the Federal Communications Commission has circulated an ambitious plan to relax the decades-old media ownership rules, including repealing a rule that forbids a company to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city.

Kevin J. Martin, chairman of the commission, wants to repeal the rule in the next two months — a plan that, if successful, would be a big victory for some executives of media conglomerates.

[...] “This is a big deal because we have way too much concentration of media ownership in the United States,” Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, said at a hearing on Wednesday called to examine the digital transition of the television industry.

“If the chairman intends to do something by the end of the year,” Mr. Dorgan added, his voice rising, “then there will be a firestorm of protest and I’m going to be carrying the wood.”

Remember, this is the same FCC that’s actively worked to circumvent the Administrative Procedures Act when it suits them.

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Seeking Consensus, Or Strong-Arming Outsiders? [7:44 am]

Pre-empting the DMCA’s Safe Harbor provisions: Media companies in copyright pact, Google absentpdf

A coalition of major media and Internet companies Thursday issued a set of guidelines for handling copyright-protected videos on large user-generated sites such as MySpace.

Conspicuously absent was Google Inc., whose YouTube site this week rolled out its own technology to filter copyrighted videos once they’ve been posted.

[...] Internet attorney Andrew Bridges of the San Francisco firm Winston & Strawn called the guidelines more of a treaty than a contract, noting that the coalition members specifically stated that the guidelines did not preclude any company from seeking legal remedies in a dispute.

The new guidelines require Internet companies to have in place by the end of 2007 filtering software that blocks all content that media companies flag as being unauthorized.

The guidelines also require that user-generated video sites keep their filtering technology up to date, and they call for cooperation between media and Web companies to allow “wholly original” user-generated videos to be posted and to accommodate “fair use” of copyrighted material as allowed under law.

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Building The Infrastructure For Digital Distribution [7:38 am]

Starbucks deal brings Akamai closer to customerspdf

Akamai Technologies Inc. of Cambridge said it had signed a deal yesterday to install server computers in thousands of Starbucks Corp. coffee shops nationwide, in a bid to speed the delivery of music downloads from Apple Inc.’s iTunes Music Store to customers waiting in line for lattes.

It marks the first time Akamai has worked with a bricks-and-mortar retail chain to improve the delivery of Internet-based services to customers in their stores. “With Akamai-enabled servers in our stores, we are able to ensure the highest quality music downloads while providing a very personalized music experience for our customers,” said Ken Lombard, the president of Starbucks Entertainment.

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Murdoch Reads The Writing On The Wall [7:35 am]

But still playing coy: News Corp. may halt WSJ.com fees — pdf

News Corp. will probably end subscription fees at WSJ.com and will open the MySpace social-networking website to developers in a push to add readers and advertisers, chairman Rupert Murdoch said.

A decision on WSJ.com will be made by year-end, Murdoch said yesterday in an interview at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. MySpace plans to open itself to outside developers in the next two months, the site’s chief, Chris DeWolfe, said.

After all, with Google’s most recent earnings report, it’s increasingly clear that being seen online is worth more than any subscription: Google’s Strong Quarter Widens Gap With Rivals

The Internet search and advertising giant, whose shares have risen more than $100 in the last month, said net income in the third quarter surged 46 percent compared with the period a year earlier. Sales rose 57 percent, topping Wall Street’s already bullish forecasts.

The results show that Google is growing roughly twice as fast as the overall online advertising market, which itself is booming, and that it is expanding far more quickly than any large Internet company.

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Living in a Surveillance Society [7:30 am]

The home of George Orwell now leading the way? In Britain, law has long arms, eagle eyespdf

The closed-circuit television camera lurking just down the street from the fast-food restaurant bellows menacingly at the first sign of danger to the flora, or a cast-off cigarette butt or fast-food wrapper, for that matter. “Pick it up,” commands a booming voice from . . . where, exactly?

The CCTV cameras in Gloucester and several other British towns now come equipped with speakers, meaning Big Brother is not only watching, he’s telling you what to do.

“When people hear that, they tend to react. They pick up the litter and put it in the bin,” said Mick Matthews, assistant chief police constable in this old cathedral city of 110,000 in the rolling Cotswold hills.

For all the increased anti-terrorism security measures in the U.S., there is probably no society on Earth more watched than Britain.

[...] But a growing number of people, including some police officers and the country’s information commissioner, are beginning to wonder whether Britain isn’t watching itself too closely.

[...] In a worldwide survey conducted by Privacy International, a London-based civil rights group that monitors government infringement on privacy, Britain was roughly keeping company with Russia and China near the bottom, colored in black on a world map, with the U.S. not far behind, in red.

Britain has no written constitution, no bill of rights, and no privacy act. Its privacy protections are enforced mainly through the European Convention on Human Rights and a limited data protection law passed in 1998.

“In the area of visual surveillance, we are so far ahead of the field that it’s beyond measurement,” said Simon Davies, the group’s director. “If we had a color that moved from ‘black’ to ‘black hole,’ we’d be talking about” Britain.

The national information commissioner, Richard Thomas, has warned that Britain is “waking up in a surveillance society,” and has called for greater public discussion of what it really means to make one’s life a virtual open book.

“The U.K. has more CCTV cameras per head of population than any other country in the world, but it’s not only that,” Thomas said. “Every time we use mobile telephones, every time we use credit cards, every time we use the Internet for shopping or a search, every time we interact with the government for social security or taxes or passport checks, every time we go to our doctors or hospitals now, we are leaving an electronic footprint. And this of course is not just a U.K. issue, it is an international issue.”

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It’s Not Just About MP3s [7:15 am]

Patriots get StubHub users namespdf

Seeking to enforce their policy prohibiting ticket resales, the New England Patriots have obtained the names of 13,000 people who sold or bought the team’s tickets using the online site StubHub Inc.

The Patriots obtained the list last week as part of a legal dispute with StubHub, an online marketplace for individual buyers and sellers of tickets, over who can resell Patriots tickets and how. The team, which has taken an unusually strong stance against scalping, has indicated in court that it may revoke the tickets of people who resold on StubHub.

StubHub, which is owned by eBay Inc., yesterday began notifying the 13,000 customers that their names, addresses, and phone numbers had been turned over to the Patriots following a ruling by Superior Court Judge Allan van Gestel.

“We take the privacy of our customers very seriously, so we made every effort to appeal this ruling. Unfortunately, our appeals were not successful,” StubHub said in an e-mail to the customers.

[...] The Patriots sued StubHub last November, alleging the company was encouraging fans to resell their tickets on the website in violation of the team’s policy prohibiting resales and the state’s antiscalping law. StubHub countersued, alleging the Patriots were attempting to monopolize the resale of the team’s tickets.

The LATimes has the APWire version: Patriots win bid to ID fans who used ticket resale sitepdf

The Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based advocacy group, said the court order to turn over the names infringes on the privacy rights of Patriots fans.

“The Patriots, just at the beginning of the season, were filming opposing teams and accused of surveillance, and given a slap from the National Football League about that. Now they’re turning the cameras on their fans, so clearly there is a lack of understanding about what privacy is,” said Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the center.

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October 18, 2007

A WaPo Op-Ed On Verizon’s Cellphone Texting Censorship [5:49 pm]

Can You Hear Us Now?pdf

As the presidents of NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Christian Coalition of America, we are on opposite sides of almost every issue. But when it comes to the fundamental right of citizens to participate in the political process, we’re united — and very, very worried.

Free speech shouldn’t stop when you turn on your computer or pick up your cellphone. But recent actions by the nation’s biggest communications corporations should be of grave concern to all who care about public participation in our democracy, particularly our leaders in Congress.

[...] Whatever your political views — conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, pro-choice or pro-life — it shouldn’t be up to Verizon to determine whether you receive the information you requested. Why should any company decide what you choose to say or do over your phone, your computer or your BlackBerry? Technologies are converging in our communications system, but the principles of free expression and the rights of all Americans to speak without intervention should remain paramount.

This issue is broader than one organization, one company or one topic. The issue is how communications companies can believe they have the authority to block content in the first place.

Of course, I don’t know why they think Congress cares — they’re apparently willing to give them amnesty for other equally egregious arrogations of power.

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OT: A Draft ESD (Meta) Elevator Speech [2:05 pm]

It’s been a surprisingly busy term, and I’ve seen my blog postings decline in frequency accordingly. Teaching a core TPP class, developing another course and my usual research and administrative responsibilities have taken their toll.

Which is not to say that I’m planning to stop, of course. But it does mean that the frequency of off-topic postings might increase from time to time.

Today is one of those times. The MIT Engineering Systems Division has a new director, one who is striving to shape a more coherent, and cohesive, message about what it is to “do” engineering systems. This is the text of a first stab at an “elevator speech” about what ESD is and since I put as much time into it as I did, it seemed only appropriate that I put is somewhere than into an email. So, here it is:

(more…)

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