Facebook Retrenches

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

More Control = Less Volunteerism?

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.

A Few More Details

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

More on Kevin Martin’s Day

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.

Wow! (updated)

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

The NYTimes Plants Its Stake In The Ground

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.

If You Really Care, Snailmail

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.

Every Move You Make ….

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.

The French Propose A Solution

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.