November 30, 2007

Facebook Retrenches [11:15 am]

Facebook Retreats on Online Tracking

Within the last 10 days, more than 50,000 Facebook members have signed a petition objecting to the new program, which sends messages to users’ friends about what they are buying on Web sites like Travelocity.com, TheKnot.com and Fandango. The members want to be able to opt out of the program completely with one click, but Facebook won’t let them.

Late yesterday the company made an important change, saying that it would not send messages about users’ Internet activities without getting explicit approval each time.

See also The Evolution of Facebook’s Beacon

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Here We Go! [11:13 am]

Google to bid for U.S. mobile airwavespdf

Google Inc said on Friday it will bid for coveted mobile airwaves in a move that could pit the Web search leader against U.S. wireless service providers.

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November 29, 2007

More Control = Less Volunteerism? [11:03 am]

This should be quite the fight: News Web sites seek more search controlpdf

Currently, Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and other top search companies voluntarily respect a Web sites wishes as declared in a text file known as “robots.txt,” which a search engines indexing software, called a crawler, knows to look for on a site.

The formal rules allow a site to block indexing of individual Web pages, specific directories or the entire site, though some search engines have added their own commands.

The new proposal, to be unveiled Thursday by a consortium of publishers at the global headquarters of The Associated Press, seeks to have those extra commands — and more — apply across the board. Sites, for instance, could try to limit how long search engines may retain copies in their indexes, or tell the crawler not to follow any of the links that appear within a Web page.

The current system doesnt give sites “enough flexibility to express our terms and conditions on access and use of content,” said Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers Council, one of the organizations behind the proposal. “That is not surprising. It was invented in the 1990s and things move on.”

[...] News publishers complained that Google was posting their news summaries, headlines and photos without permission. Google claimed that “fair use” provisions of copyright laws applied, though it eventually settled a lawsuit with Agence France-Presse and agreed to pay the AP without a lawsuit filed. Financial terms haven’t been disclosed.

Wade said ACAP could thwart future legal battles and make Web sites more comfortable about putting more material online, including scholarly journals and other items requiring subscriptions.

[...] Like the current robots.txt, ACAP’s use would be voluntary, so search engines ultimately would have to agree to recognize the new commands. Search engines also could ignore them and leave it to courts to rule on any disputes over fair use.

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November 28, 2007

A Few More Details [8:13 am]

In this horror story that I posted on last week: A Hoax Turned Fatal Draws Anger but No Charges

But a St. Charles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman, Lt. Craig McGuire, said that what Ms. Drew did “might’ve been rude, it might’ve been immature, but it wasn’t illegal.”

In response to the events, the local Board of Aldermen on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure making Internet harassment a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and 90 days in jail.

“Give me a break; that’s nothing,” Mayor Pam Fogarty said of the penalties. “But it’s the most we could do. People are saying to me, ‘Let’s go burn down their house.’”

[...] Shortly before Megan’s death, the Meiers had agreed to store a foosball table the Drews had bought as a Christmas surprise for their children. When the Meiers learned about the MySpace hoax, they attacked the table with a sledgehammer and an ax, Ms. Meier said, and threw the pieces onto the Drews’ driveway.

[...] The police learned about the hoax when Ms. Drew filed a complaint about the damage to the foosball table. In the report, she stated that she felt the hoax “contributed to Megan’s suicide, but she did not feel ‘as guilty’ because at the funeral she found out Megan had tried to commit suicide before.”

Let’s all review that again — they “filed a complaint about the damage to the foosball table.”

Later: an Anderson Cooper interview

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More on Kevin Martin’s Day [8:09 am]

Cable Industry Wins Compromise on F.C.C. Plans

In the face of a lobbying blitzkrieg by the cable television industry, the Federal Communications Commission drastically scaled back Tuesday evening a proposal by the agency’s chairman to more tightly regulate the industry.

[...] [A]fter the recent lobbying barrage, Mr. Adelstein, who is up for renomination soon, began to express reservations about the proposals.

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November 27, 2007

Wow! (updated) [4:22 pm]

Of course, 2008 is a ways away yet, but it will be interesting to see how this goes: Verizon Wireless promises openness to any softwarepdf

Verizon Wireless promised on Tuesday to allow its customers to download any application they want to their cell phones by the end of 2008, appearing to cave in to demands by Web search leader Google Inc.

Later, Chairman Martin, having an otherwise not-so-great day (pdf), doesn’t miss the chance to try to make sure Verizon sticks to its plans:

I was pleased to hear the announcement by Verizon Wireless of its plans to introduce a new option for customers throughout the country–an option that will allow customers to use any device and to use any applications that they choose on the Verizon Wireless network. As I noted when we adopted open network rules for our upcoming spectrum auction, wireless customers should be able to use the wireless device of their choice and download whatever software they want onto it. I continue to believe that more openness—at the network, device, and application level—helps foster innovation and enhances consumers’ freedom and choice in purchasing wireless service. As I said at the time, I had hoped that our auction rules would ultimately encourage all of the wireless industry to adopt a more open and consumer-friendly industry approach. Today’s announcement, along with the Open Handset Alliance’s previous announcement of an open platform capable of working on multiple networks, is a significant step towards fulfilling these goals. I am optimistic that Verizon Wireless’s commitment along with the upcoming spectrum auction will ensure an exciting new era in wireless technology for the benefit of all consumers.

Later: Verizon Plans Wider Options for Cellphone Users; also Verizon To Open Its Wireless Networkpdf

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The NYTimes Plants Its Stake In The Ground [8:23 am]

Regulating Cable

In 1984, cable companies convinced Congress that they were mere minnows that needed to be exempted from many regulatory requirements so they could compete against the titans of broadcast television. That may have been true back then, but now cable companies are media titans, and they should be regulated. Today the Federal Communications Commission can take an important step toward that goal.

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November 26, 2007

If You Really Care, Snailmail [12:03 pm]

Another datapoint on what some are calling the pending demise of email: Constituents’ E-Mail on XM Deal Not Well Receivedpdf

A check by The Washington Post of 60 people whose names were attached to identical, anti-merger e-mails instigated by the National Association of Broadcasters, a major opponent of the merger, produced mostly unanswered phone calls and recordings saying the phones were disconnected. Of the 10 people reached, nine said they never sent anything to the FCC, and only one said she remembered filling out something about Sirius but did not recall taking a position on a merger.

The responses raise questions debated a lot in Congress and at federal agencies lately: Are the hundreds of millions of narrow-interest e-mails that deluge official Washington each year a useful measure of public sentiment? Are they even being sent by real people?

The torrent, made possible by Web lobbying techniques, is subverting the process it was meant to influence, some experts said.

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Every Move You Make …. [12:00 pm]

Cellphone Tracking Powers on Requestpdf

Federal officials are routinely asking courts to order cellphone companies to furnish real-time tracking data so they can pinpoint the whereabouts of drug traffickers, fugitives and other criminal suspects, according to judges and industry lawyers.

In some cases, judges have granted the requests without requiring the government to demonstrate that there is probable cause to believe that a crime is taking place or that the inquiry will yield evidence of a crime. Privacy advocates fear such a practice may expose average Americans to a new level of government scrutiny of their daily lives.

Such requests run counter to the Justice Department’s internal recommendation that federal prosecutors seek warrants based on probable cause to obtain precise location data in private areas. [...]

The issue is taking on greater relevance as wireless carriers are racing to offer sleek services that allow cellphone users to know with the touch of a button where their friends or families are. The companies are hoping to recoup investments they have made to meet a federal mandate to provide enhanced 911 (E911) location tracking.

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The French Propose A Solution [9:27 am]

French Pact Aims to Fight Unauthorized Downloading

The three-way pact among Internet service providers, the government and owners of film and music rights was drafted by a commission led by the chief executive of FNAC, a big music and film retailer in France. The industry has called for action against illicit downloads, which are cutting into its sales.

Under the agreement, service providers will issue warning messages to customers downloading files illegally. If users ignore those messages, their accounts could be suspended or closed altogether.

“We run the risk of witnessing a genuine destruction of culture,” President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a speech endorsing the deal.

[...] An independent authority, supervised by a judge, will be set up and put in charge of deciding when to issue electronic warning messages to Internet users.

The deal also creates obligations for film and music companies to make their works available online more quickly and to remove technical barriers like those that make music tracks unreadable on certain platforms.

The international recording industry hailed the move.

[...] Consumer groups and politicians in France, however, have said the deal, which was signed by several companies on Friday, is too restrictive.

The question is, of course, what are the institutions that will be in place to cope with appeals of the determinations of these “authorities,” who will, of course, stay completely above the fray.

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The $64 Question [8:55 am]

What other clever ideas around these characters have been lost because of Disney’s claim on them, and because of its need for “brand management” through the use of cultural icons? The Line Between Homage and Parody

Yes, Disney made this movie. Creating a hit was the primary goal, but this $50 million film also serves the company’s continuing effort to find clever ways to make its animated icons more accessible. Since Disney doesn’t exactly lay out its playbook, “Enchanted” offers a rare window into the company’s thinking about how one of the world’s most powerful brands is best managed.

When Robert A. Iger took over as chief executive two years ago, one question was how his Disney would approach a portfolio of franchises spanning from the 1920s (Mickey Mouse) to today (Buzz Lightyear). Would he keep the classics in one corner and the new guys in another? Mix everybody up and give Tinker Bell a new hairdo? Or find a way to bridge the gap?

[...] Modifying the classics, much less poking fun at them, has long topped the sacrilegious list at Disney — something that has served the company well. Tight control of its characters has allowed Disney to build a $35.5 billion theme park, consumer products and cable television business on their backs. Cinderella, to put it mildly, is one hard-working woman.

[...] “You have to hand it to Disney for making fun of some of their iconic moments,” said Ms. Sarandon in a television interview.

BUT this is still Disney. The studio nixed scenes that it felt crossed the line into crass. For instance, a run-in between Giselle and a hooker was cut, Mr. Josephson said, and a scene where three poisoned apples magically appear in a toilet was rewritten; they now appear in a soup pot.

And Disney executives, it should be noted, do not necessarily agree with Ms. Sarandon’s word choice. “It’s not a parody and it’s not making fun of anything,” Mr. Cook said. “It’s a giant love letter to Disney classics.”

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Catching Up …. [8:45 am]

hoover dam and lake mead from the visitor's center

Hi, everyone:

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my in-laws in Las Vegas, a city that I haven’t been to in over 30 years. While I expected that there would be some changes, I was amazed by just how much.

We also took a trip to see Hoover Dam and, again, it’s amazing how much has been changed there — not so much the dam itself (although post-9/11 security does make for its own differences), but the Bureau of Reclamation has put a great deal into making it a quite entertaining tourist attraction, even for those not particularly interested in monumental engineering feats.

Anyway, I’ll be catching up on the news over the next couple of days (and it *is* nearing the end of the term!), so I hope you’ll bear with me.

The picture here gives you a sense of how much the southwest drought has affected the level of Lake Mead

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Kevin Martin’s Uphill Battle [8:21 am]

F.C.C. Chief Seeks Votes to Tighten Cable Rules

The five-member commission is set to vote on Tuesday on a report, proposed by Kevin J. Martin, the agency’s chairman, that would give the commission expanded powers over the cable industry after making a formal finding that it had grown too big.

After news reports this month that Mr. Martin supported the finding — along with the commission’s two Democrats — the cable industry heavily lobbied the commission and allies in Congress to kill the proposal. Those efforts may be paying off.

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BSA In The News [8:20 am]

And a hidden cost of using proprietary software is revealed: Software makers’ tactics against piracy questionedpdf

The BSA is well within its rights to wring expensive punishments aimed at stopping the willful, blatant software copying that undoubtedly happens in many businesses. And its leaders say they concentrate on small businesses because that’s where illegitimate use of software is rampant.

But technology managers and software consultants say the picture has more shades of gray. Companies of all sizes say they inadvertently run afoul of licensing rules because of problems the software industry itself has created. Unable or unwilling to create technological blocks against copying, the industry has saddled its customers with complex licensing agreements. In that view, the BSA amasses most of its bounties from small businesses because they have fewer technological, organizational, and legal resources to avoid a run-in.

In Gaertner’s case, some employees had been unable to open files with the firm’s drafting software, so they worked around it by installing programs they found on their own, breaking company rules, he said. And receipts for legitimate software had been lost.

“It was basically just a lack of knowledge and sloppy record-keeping on my part,” said Gaertner, who ended up with a settlement that cost him $40,000.

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November 21, 2007

MoveOn Moves Into Some Really Deep Water [8:12 am]

And some interesting questions about roles and expectations: Latest target of MoveOn: Facebookpdf

At issue is Facebook’s new advertising program that lets its members notify friends about movies they rent, items they auction and movie tickets they buy at partner sites elsewhere on the Web.

Facebook allows its members to opt out of the ad system, called Beacon. But MoveOn.org contends the program violates users’ privacy by requiring them to opt out rather than voluntarily opt in. “The sole reason for this new feature is to serve corporate advertisers and make it easier for them to micro-target Facebook users with ads,” MoveOn .org spokesman Adam Green said. “Breaching privacy is against the type of community Facebook should be striving for.”

MoveOn.org is buying ads, organizing a “protest group” and circulating an online petition to pressure Facebook to allow its more than 55 million users to change its opt-out method.

[...] Not everyone agrees. Longtime MoveOn.org member and online advertising network executive Scott Rafer is so enraged, he’s moving on from MoveOn.

“If they wish to go after consumer privacy rights legislation, then fine,” he said. “When they are trying to get a bunch of people together to stage a sit-in at a for-profit start-up in Palo Alto, then give me a break, get me off your e-mail list. Even if this does turn out to be the right cause, it’s the wrong organization.”

See also Anita Ramasastry’s first pass at Facebook’s “Fan - sumers”: Do Social Ads Violate Users’ Privacy?

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A Horror Story [7:56 am]

When *adults* play with matches: How to punish a cyber-bullypdf

Megan fell apart. She went to her room, tied a cloth belt around a support beam in her closet and hanged herself.

Perhaps the only shock that could rival Megan’s death was the news (given to her parents by a neighbor) that Josh had never existed — he had been created by adults who lived nearby. These neighbors, supposed friends of the Meier family, had apparently laid the trap in retaliation for Megan’s treatment of their own daughter, the girl who had created the secret MySpace page with Megan.

[...] There are many disturbing aspects of this story, but two are of particular concern to a lawyer. First, Tina and Ron Meier were told that they had no clear legal recourse — either criminal or civil. It is not a crime to be cruel and immature. [...]

[...] A second disturbing aspect of the case is that the alleged culprits did not even face public scrutiny or stigma for their actions. The local newspaper refused to publish the name of the family responsible for the e-mails out of consideration, it said, for their young daughter. Other news outlets, such as Fox and CNN, followed suit, running stories that also withheld the names. In other words, simply because they had a child, the alleged perpetrators were given the benefit of anonymity.

[...] This week — more than a year after Megan Meier’s death — the names of the neighbors were finally disclosed in published accounts. The disclosure was largely the result of pressure from bloggers, who do not feel bound by the rules of mainstream newspapers and networks and who have been meting out their own form of Internet justice. The neighbors are Lori and Curt Drew, according to news reports.

The Drews’ daughter was certainly dealt a bad hand by her parents. However, the media puts itself on a slippery slope when it starts to protect accused wrongdoers on behalf of their progeny, offering a free pass for alleged predators who procreate.

It seems clear that the Drews did not want to kill Megan or even hurt her physically. They are not the first to be grotesquely transformed by a new technology that offers easy availability and anonymity to its users. Yet, if cyber-traps are to be deterred, there must be avenues to guarantee both forms of private relief and public record.

Megan never knew the true identity of those who trapped her, but the people of Dardenne Prairie have a right to know.

Related — a letter from the subject of an earlier article on the “scrubbing” of John Dillinger’s reputation via litigation over the “rights of publicity” — pdf:

My purpose in granting interviews is to bring attention to the fact that John Dillinger never killed anyone. Those individuals who take the position that he did, and who then try to prosper from it, are likely to find themselves facing litigation.

[...] Please don’t interpret this to mean I am upset with the writer of the article. She is an accomplished professional and did what she felt was necessary to provide both sides of an issue. Unfortunately, I felt I was placed in an unflattering light and appeared to be someone who was unreasonable and quick to resort to litigation. I always try to reason with individuals and explain both my position and the law before resorting to legal action. Lastly, I only resort to litigation when individuals refuse to stop calling John a murderer and/or to take corrective measures to clear up the harm they have caused. Thank you for your time.

I’m sure the Drews feel the same way

Later: The Boston Globe picks up another LATimes’ article (pdf): Girl’s suicide after online chats leaves a town in shock - pdf

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November 20, 2007

Second Thoughts [10:30 am]

Pay Me for My Content

INTERNET idealists like me have long had an easy answer for creative types — like the striking screenwriters in Hollywood — who feel threatened by the unremunerative nature of our new Eden: stop whining and figure out how to join the party!

That’s the line I spouted when I was part of the birthing celebrations for the Web. I even wrote a manifesto titled “Piracy Is Your Friend.” But I was wrong. We were all wrong.

[...] To help writers and artists earn a living online, software engineers and Internet evangelists need to exercise the power they hold as designers. Information is free on the Internet because we created the system to be that way.

[...] Affordable turns out to be much harder than free when it comes to information technology, but we are smart enough to figure it out. We owe it to ourselves and to our creative friends to acknowledge the negative results of our old idealism. We need to grow up.

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“Signature” Song? [9:05 am]

Seriously — Red Hot Chili Peppers Sue Showtimepdf

Members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers have sued Showtime Networks and others over the new television show called “Californication,” the same name used by the band for their Grammy-nominated 1999 album.

The suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court today (Nov. 19), sets out claims under federal trademark law and state unfair competition law. The complaint alleges that the composition entitled “Californication” and the album achieved “extraordinary critical and commercial recognition.”

“‘Californication’ is the signature CD, video and song of the band’s career,” band frontman Anthony Kiedis said in a statement. “For some TV show to come along and steal our identity is not right.”

Later: the complaint [via TMZ]

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November 19, 2007

Internet Obsession [12:36 pm]

In Korea, a Boot Camp Cure for Web Obsession

Compulsive Internet use has been identified as a mental health issue in other countries, including the United States. However, it may be a particularly acute problem in South Korea because of the country’s nearly universal Internet access.

It has become a national issue here in recent years, as users started dropping dead from exhaustion after playing online games for days on end. A growing number of students have skipped school to stay online, shockingly self-destructive behavior in this intensely competitive society.

Up to 30 percent of South Koreans under 18, or about 2.4 million people, are at risk of Internet addiction, said Ahn Dong-hyun, a child psychiatrist at Hanyang University in Seoul who just completed a three-year government-financed survey of the problem.

They spend at least two hours a day online, usually playing games or chatting. Of those, up to a quarter million probably show signs of actual addiction, like an inability to stop themselves from using computers, rising levels of tolerance that drive them to seek ever longer sessions online, and withdrawal symptoms like anger and craving when prevented from logging on.

To address the problem, the government has built a network of 140 Internet-addiction counseling centers, in addition to treatment programs at almost 100 hospitals and, most recently, the Internet Rescue camp, which started this summer. Researchers have developed a checklist for diagnosing the addiction and determining its severity, the K-Scale. (The K is for Korea.)

In September, South Korea held the first international symposium on Internet addiction.

Somehow, I’m not convinced that the problem lies with the network….

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Living in a Surveillance Society (II) [12:12 pm]

The Picture Of Conformitypdf

All this surveillance, monitoring and eavesdropping is changing our culture, affecting people’s behavior, altering their sense of freedom, of autonomy. That’s what the experts say: that surveillance robs people of their public anonymity. And they go even further, saying that pressure for conformity is endemic in a surveillance culture; that creativity and uniqueness become its casualties.

While there are benefits to surveillance — the sense of security, the ability to view crime scenes — the loss of autonomy represents the downside of our surveillance-heavy culture, says Jeffrey Rosen, a George Washington University law professor and author of “The Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom in an Anxious Age.”

“You need a sphere of immunity from surveillance to be yourself and do things that people in a free society take for granted,” says Rosen. Things like going to the park or to the market. The loss of such autonomy is one of the “amorphous costs of having a world where there’s no immunity from surveillance.

“This will transform the nature of public spaces in ways we could hardly imagine,” he says. “People obviously behave differently when they’re unsure about whether they’re being observed. We know this from personal experience.

“I’m not at all suggesting that Orwell’s ‘1984′ is around the corner,” he continues. “But things will change, and some of the changes will be good and others will be bad.”

[...] In fact, we can be watched and tracked from so many different angles in so many different ways that hints of the Panopticon are hard to ignore. That was the invention of the 18th century British economist Jeremy Bentham, who conceived of the Panopticon as a circular prison in which warders could see prisoners at all times.

The Panopticon would create in the inmate a sense of “conscious and permanent visibility,” and yet he “must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so,” wrote philosopher Michel Foucault in his 1975 book, “Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison.”

Today, says [Harvard social psychologist Shoshana] Zuboff, we operate within an “information Panopticon.”

“In our modern dematerialized world, you don’t have to build a building to have permanent surveillance over individuals and their behavior,” she says. “You can do it with an information system.”

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