Mossberg Asks

Free My Phone — and Google answers? Google unveils cell phone software and alliance

Google officially unveiled Android, the new mobile phone software, during a press conference Monday morning. Thirty-four companies have said they will join the Open Handset Alliance, a multinational alliance that will work on developing applications on the Android platform. Members of the alliance include mobile handset makers HTC and Motorola, U.S. operator T-Mobile, and chipmaker Qualcomm.

The Android platform consists of an operating system, middleware, a user-friendly interface, and applications. Consumers should expect the first phones based on Android to be available in the second half of 2008, Schmidt and others said on the conference call.

The Android software stack is expected to provide handset makers and wireless operators an open platform they can use to develop innovative applications. The new software will compete directly with smartphone software from other companies like Apple, Microsoft, Nokia, Palm, and Research in Motion. Unlike some of these mobile operating systems, Android will not be tied to a specific device. Instead, the software will be able to work on a broad array of devices from handset makers such as Motorola, HTC, Samsung, and LG just to name a few.

(also Google sends Android to conquer mobile world and Google Enters the Wireless World)

Sampling’s Murky Status

With a nice case review: Why hasn’t Diddy tried to save music sampling?

Why would Combs, one of the biggest names in hip-hop, fail to defend sampling? Maybe it was simply inadvertence. Maybe it was a strategic decision (albeit a very bad one, as it turned out). Or maybe it was more calculating. Combs and his label can afford to pay for samples. Many aspiring artists and their fledgling labels—the next generation of would-be moguls hungry to unseat Diddy—cannot. Maybe Diddy cares more about the benefit of reduced competition than defending the work of the artist and the technique that helped create his empire. Tell us, Diddy, what were you thinking?

Gotta Love Librarians

Librarians Say Surveillance Bills Lack Adequate Oversightpdf

A little-remarked feature of pending legislation on domestic surveillance has provoked alarm among university and public librarians who say it could allow federal intelligence-gathering on library patrons without sufficient court oversight.

[…] “It is fundamental that when a user enters the library, physically or electronically,” said Jim Neal, the head librarian at Columbia University, “their use of the collections, print or electronic, their communications on library servers and computers, is not going to be subjected to surveillance unless the courts have authorized it.”

Under the legislation, the government could monitor a non-U.S. citizen overseas participating in an online research project through a U.S. university library, and gain access to the communications of all the project participants with that surveillance target, said Al Gidari, a lawyer with the Perkins Coie firm who represents the Association of Research Libraries and the American Library Association.

The bills, which would replace a temporary law amending the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, would not require the government to demonstrate “probable cause” that the foreign person targeted is a terrorist or a spy or to let the FISA court, which grants surveillance warrants, know that the tap will be on a library.

Groping Toward the Next Music Business Model

Getting Along Famously

In an interview with Rolling Stone published earlier this year, Bob Dylan commented that “the relationship between a performer and the audience is anything but a buddy-buddy thing.” The role of the Dylan fan, he suggested, is to appreciate Dylan music. This seems out of step with the pop zeitgeist. While the impact of digital technology on record labels gets more attention, it also affects the fan-star dynamic: online social networking tools promise us more interaction, or a more direct connection (to use the buzz terms of the moment), with artists. This version of the “buddy-buddy thing” has obvious appeal — so much so that the birth of a company like Buddylube seems almost inevitable.

Buddylube was founded last year by two music-industry veterans who spotted a new need in the marketplace. The founders, John Eaton and Jonathan Cohen, started an artist-management firm in 2003 and of course noticed the online world’s potential to forge a “direct connection” between client bands and their fans, Eaton says. Cohen discovered Snapvine, an online network built around Web voice-mail technology, and Eventful, whose services include a way to vote for (or “demand that”) a particular artist come to your city or town. They added these features to the MySpace pages of client bands like Mudvayne and HellYeah, and fans loved them. Along the way, they noticed that many so-called Web 2.0 start-ups were scrumming to be the next MySpace — or at least to drum up enough of a user base to build a profitable business model. One way to do this, they figured, was to be associated with music stars. “The artists need promotion,” Eaton summarizes. “And all these new technologies of social media need artists.” So what if there was “a one-stop shop” — a Jiffy Lube, if you will — for celebrity-centric social media?


E.U. Seeks Data on American Passengerspdf

American travelers’ personal data would for the first time be exported to all European Union states by airline carriers flying to Europe under a proposal to be announced this week.

The data, including names, telephone numbers, credit card information and travel itinerary, would be sent to E.U. member states so they could assess passenger risk for counterterrorism purposes, according to a draft copy obtained by The Washington Post. The European Commission proposal would allow the data to be kept for 13 years or longer if used in criminal investigations and intelligence operations. It would cover all passengers flying into and out of Europe, not just Americans.

More Net Neutrality Positioning

Groups Press FCC on Comcast, Net Neutralitypdf

Several consumer groups are challenging federal regulators to stop Comcast from interfering with Internet traffic on its network.

The groups, including Free Press, Public Knowledge and Media Access Project, filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission to take action against the cable giant. Comcast has been criticized for interrupting Internet access to subscribers who are using popular programs like BitTorrent to download and exchange songs, movies and software programs.

The petition, filed Thursday, will serve as the first test of the FCC’s position on the issue of net neutrality, which has become a hot-button topic among technologists and policymakers in Washington. Net neutrality refers to measures that would bar Internet providers like Comcast and phone companies from giving preferential treatment to content on their networks.

The five-member FCC has said it supports the concept, but has not been pressed to enforce it. The agency has also said Internet providers have the right to manage their networks.

Niche Envy in Social Networking

Widgets Become Coins of the Social Realmpdf — giving my privacy away, one drop at a time.

To a consumer, the process is essentially a quid pro quo. In exchange for using a widget, which might be a game or an interactive tool, a user must agree to allow the designer of the widget access to the information on their social-networking profiles. Ad companies can then mine personal data from the profiles and target their messages. So, for example, if someone says his or her favorite band is the Shins, that person is considered likely to buy a Shins T-shirt and music by similar bands.

“Advertising and sponsorship are clearly where the money’s coming from,” said Steve Anderson, founder of Baseline Ventures, which invests in tech start-ups, including widget developer Weebly. “Advertising on a widget allows you to pull together things like age, demographics, geographic information, and the new holy grail: who users’ friends are.”

(The entry title is a reference to Joseph Turow’s Niche Envy)

An Exhibitionist Culture?

Yours For The Peeping

Like the clothes Marc Jacobs designed for his own label and for Vuitton this fall — skirts bunched into the waistbands of pantyhose at the back, see-through dresses with bras and panties sewn onto them — Graft’s peekaboo interiors are a sly commentary on a culture that continues to find new ways to display ever more intimate, and mundane, details of domestic life. In a YouTube world, one’s home is no longer one’s private retreat: it’s just a container for the webcam.

In New York City, where the streetscape is being systematically remade by glassy towers like the W, which have been spreading like kudzu in the seven years since the first two terrarium-like Richard Meier buildings went up on the West Side Highway, the lives of the inhabitants are increasingly on exhibit, like the performance art wherein the artists “live” in a gallery for 24 hours and you get to watch them napping or brushing their teeth.

It’s not always a pretty picture.

[…] Jeffrey Cole, the director of the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication, has been researching teenagers and their digital communities, where the glass house metaphor feels most urgent, and most dangerous.

“My experience is that teenagers, and teenage girls especially, don’t know that on Facebook they’re living in a glass house,” Professor Cole said. “They are lulled into a feeling that in their networks it’s just them and their friends who only have their best interests at heart. And who will always have their best interests at heart. They have very little sense of permanent record. I think essentially we have no privacy, or we have fewer and fewer areas we can retreat safely into.”

Related, on Twitter: The Global Sympathetic Audience

Mr. Ashcroft Offers An Opinion (updated)

Uncle Sam on the Line — more sophistries, ultimately hinging, of course, on 9/11

At the outset, it is critical to understand what the immunity provisions the administration and Congress have negotiated actually do. This is not “blanket immunity,” as it is sometimes caricatured by its opponents. The Senate bill would confer immunity in only two limited circumstances: if the carrier did not do what the plaintiffs claim; or if the carrier did do what the plaintiffs claim but based on explicit assurances from the highest levels of the government that the activities in question were authorized by the president and determined to be lawful.

Longstanding principles of law hold that an American corporation is entitled to rely on assurances of legality from officials responsible for government activities. The public officials in question might be right or wrong about the advisability or legality of what they are doing, but it is their responsibility, not the company’s, to deal with the consequences if they are wrong.

To deny immunity under these circumstances would be extraordinarily unfair to any cooperating carriers. By what principle of justice should anyone face potentially ruinous liability for cooperating with intelligence activities that are authorized by the president and whose legality has been reviewed and approved by our most senior legal officials?

[…] Even more important than the inherent unfairness of requiring companies to second-guess executive-branch legal judgments are the acute dangers to which it would expose the country. One of our nation’s most important comparative advantages over our adversaries is the creativity and robustness of the private sector. To cut ourselves off from that advantage would amount to a form of unilateral disarmament.

Yet if we allow the litigation to continue, that is precisely what we will do. The message that will be sent to American companies is that they can be exposed to crippling lawsuits for helping the government with national security activities that they are explicitly assured are legal. The only rational response would be for companies to adopt an attitude of extreme wariness, even in the most urgent or clear-cut situations. To put the matter plainly, this puts American lives at risk.

If I had any confidence that my government would actually ‘fess up to their own wrongdoings in this matter, I would be willing to listen to a debate over his construction of this situation. BUT, I have no confidence of that and, without the opportunities for discovery that these lawsuits afford us, I am afraid that the scope and extent of this Government’s misapplication and misappropriation of power will be made harder and harder to find.

And, frankly, I think that it’s time that the corporations that have benefitted from getting us to rely on them to take care of us start planning to question our Government when it shows up with assurances of “legality.” Assuming that the Government is the law is like assuming that the police are the law — we know that’s problematic on a host of levels, and maybe it’s time to get firms that act as agents of the Government to remember that they are no more above the law than anyone else, and start adopting practices accordingly.

Because otherwise you can expect to see demand for encryption tools that will take the issue to a whole new level, since we will have to assume that our service providers are spying on us all the time — which may not be a bad assumption for a closed society, but one that will be particularly destructive for an open one.

And I really don’t think Mr. Ashcroft should have tried this point:

Members of both political parties in both houses of Congress have already been briefed extensively about the activities underlying the current lawsuits. Obviously, not all 535 members of Congress can have equal access to such sensitive information; the risk that the information will be compromised is simply too high. But the intelligence committees are recognized authorities on these issues and proper repositories of these secrets.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has voted 13-2 to grant immunity to telecommunication carriers that have been sued for helping the country after 9/11. Unlike most everyone else, this committee had the necessary and relevant facts when it rendered judgment. […]

All that says to me is that it’s time to get rid of those folks on the Intelligence Committees

Later: then there’s this nugget — NSA Sought Data Before 9/11pdf

Beginning in February 2001, almost seven months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the government’s top electronic eavesdropping organization, the National Security Agency, asked a major U.S. telecommunications carrier for information about its customers and the flow of electronic traffic across its network, according to sources familiar with the request. The carrier, Qwest Communications, refused, believing that the request was illegal unless accompanied by a court order.

Update: the letters in response (including one from Sen Russ Feingold) are not letting him get away with his game — Wiretapping and the Telecomspdf

To the Editor

Re “Uncle Sam on the Line” (Op-Ed, Nov. 5): Former Attorney General John Ashcroft leaves out a crucial point when he argues that telecommunications companies that allegedly cooperated with the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program should be shielded from lawsuits.

Telecom companies that cooperate with a government wiretap request are already immune from lawsuits, as long as they get a court order or a certification from the attorney general that the wiretap follows all applicable statutes.

This immunity provision in current law protects companies that respond to legitimate government requests for assistance. It also protects innocent Americans who expect that their communications will remain private unless the government and the companies are acting lawfully.

If companies that allegedly cooperated with the warrantless wiretapping program didn’t follow the law during the five years that the program was in existence, they should be held accountable. And courts should be allowed to rule on the legality of this program.

If we want companies and the government to follow the law in the future, retroactive immunity sets a terrible precedent.

Russ Feingold
U.S. Senator from Wisconsin
Washington, Nov. 6, 2007

This Is Going To Be Fun

More opportunities for the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse! Publishers See a Way to Track Their Content Across the Net

Copyrighted work like a news article or a picture can hop between Web sites as easily as a cut-and-paste command. But more than ever, as that material finds new audiences, the original sources might not get the direct financial benefit — in fact, they might have little idea where their work has spread.

A young company called Attributor says it has an answer, and a number of big publishers of copyrighted material say Attributor just might be right.

The company has developed software that identifies an electronic “fingerprint” for a particular piece of material — an article, a picture, a video. Then it hunts down any place across the Web where a significant chunk of that work has been copied, with or without permission.

When the use is unauthorized, Attributor’s software can automatically send a message to the site’s operators, demanding a link back to the original publisher’s site, a share of revenue from any ads on the page, or a halt to the copying.

Actually, the article itself describes a perfectly benign approach to using this sort of technology, but that’s just this story, of course. We’ll have to see what sort of temptations come to those with access to this technology.