January 26, 2008

Amazon Ratings Games [2:14 pm]

Author Faults a Game, and Gamers Flame Back

To exact their revenge, gamers have turned their vitriol on Cooper Lawrence, an author who appeared to mischaracterize the game when she said: “Here’s how they’re seeing women: They’re seeing them as these objects of desire, as these, you know, hot bodies. They don’t show women as being valued for anything other than their sexuality. And it’s a man in this game deciding how many women he wants to be with.”

[...] Irate gamers have flooded the page on Amazon.com selling Ms. Lawrence’s most recent book, “The Cult of Perfection: Making Peace With Your Inner Overachiever,” sending its user-generated rating into oblivion.

By Friday afternoon 412 of the book’s 472 user reviews were the lowest possible rating, one star. Another 48 ratings were for two stars. Only 12 of the ratings were for three stars or higher. In addition, 929 Amazon users had tagged the book with the keyword “ignorant.” Tied for second place with 744 tags were “garbage” and “hypocrisy,” while “hack” and “hypocrite” tied for fourth place with 710 votes. Gamers have also attacked the book on the Barnes & Noble Web site.

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January 25, 2008

OT: Degrading Political Discourse [12:02 pm]

Just in case you were wondering which political party is always ready to take the lead in the race to the gutter — and I know plenty of otherwise prudish folks who will happily snigger when talking about this 527: Citizens United Not Timid [via BroadSheet]

Later: More from Broadsheet — Life’s a bitch, and so are all the anti-Hillary slogans

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Murdoch: “Never Mind” [9:22 am]

Wall St. Journal to Continue Its Charges for Web Content

For months, Mr. Murdoch, who took control of the paper in December, has vacillated publicly over whether to maintain its subscription firewall. But officials at his company, News Corporation, say that this time, a decision has actually been made to keep it — for now, at least.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Mr. Murdoch said that the pages on WSJ.com “giving the greatest insights, that will still be a subscription service,” according to Reuters.

People at News Corporation who have been briefed on the matter confirmed that the policy had been settled, in general terms.

Well, in general terms, I’m sure lots of things can be said. The real question is what, specifically, is going to happen, and that seems to be up in the air still.

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January 24, 2008

Ventner and Synthetic Organisms [3:03 pm]

Scientists Take New Step Toward Man-Made Life

Some activist groups say Dr. Venter is going too far, too fast, this time, and that the entire field of synthetic biology needs outside regulation to prevent the introduction of dangerous organisms, created either by evil intent or by innocent error.

“The fact that he’s pushing ahead with this without any societal oversight is very worrying,” said Jim Thomas, a program manager at the ETC Group, an activist group based in Canada. He also said it was worrisome that Dr. Venter was applying for very broad patents that could give him a near monopoly over the field of synthetic organisms.

Dr. Venter said the synthetic biology field has been discussing ethics and safety steps since it started and that his work had been reviewed by ethicists.

Patent lawyers, too, by the way….

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A Transparent Ploy By The WaPo [8:58 am]

Any connection between The Washington Post putting this article on its front page and Dick Cheney bullying Congress into capitulating over telecom amnesty? (pdf): Terrorism Probe Points to Reach Of Web Networkspdf

Analysts said it also provides a glimpse of the growing threat posed by radical networks that have sprung up as a result of the Internet. One of the men, Syed Haris Ahmed, told authorities that they got to know extremists through Web forums and chat rooms, and they uploaded their D.C. surveillance video to “Jihadi people” online.

For a terrorist organization, “it doesn’t matter anymore where your location is, and how many visa requirements” a country has, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, which researches Muslim extremists and their online activity. “Being on the virtual network, [terrorists] have people virtually all over the world.”

[...] The heart of the government’s case became clear last week: 12 hours of FBI interviews with Ahmed. During the questioning, agents informed Ahmed that they had e-mails, videos and other materials linking him to suspicious activity, according to transcripts released in court. The Pakistani-American college student acknowledged that he and his friend had been in contact with foreign extremists and had discussed attacking targets in the D.C. area and elsewhere, transcripts of the interviews revealed.

See also Jay Rockefeller’s unintentionally revealing comments

Later: The LATimes summarizes the state of play through Friday — Senate spy bill still shields telecomspdf

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Updated: Games With Statistics [8:48 am]

And an example of French leadership? Digital Music Sales Up Worldwidepdf

Record companies’ revenue from digital music sales rose 40 percent to $2.9 billion over the past year, but the growth is still failing to cover losses from collapse of international CD sales, the music industry’s global trade body said Thursday.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, or IFPI, said the increase in legitimate music sales did not come close to offsetting the billions of dollars being lost to music piracy, with illegal downloads outnumbering the number of tracks sold by a factor of 20-to-1.

But the trade group said it welcomed efforts by French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who has proposed a clampdown on those who violate copyright laws.

Sarkozy called in November for Internet service providers in France to automatically disconnect customers involved in piracy.

Later: The NYTimes version raises an interesting angle — Digital Music Sales Grow, but at Slower Rate

In the meantime, the recording industry is broadening its search for revenue. The trade group plans to step up a campaign to hold Internet providers responsible for stopping piracy over their networks, Mr. Kennedy said. It is lobbying the United States government to recognize a form of copyright that has provided musicians with a steady royalty stream in Europe and elsewhere.

The IFPI Digital Music Report for 2008 [local copy] makes the Sarkozy plan a centerpiece of its argument that ISPs should “take responsibility” (shades of AT&T, which is cited for its position!) for illegal content on their networks. However, there doesn’t seem to be any discussion of this US lobbying cited in the NYTimes article.

But we do get to see this sort of thing, repeated throughout:

After years of prevarication in this discussion, the French government’s decision to “seize the day” is deeply refreshing. It shows an urgency of approach that is badly needed in every market where music is today being massively devalued by piracy.

In Europe, we look to the European Union to capitalise on the momentum created by the Sarkozy Agreement. The moment for EU legislation to be drawn up has already arrived. There must be obligations on the ISPs to warn, suspend and eventually disconnect infringing users and to apply filtering measures. This should be achieved by agreements, backed by legislation where necessary. At the same time, we as an industry will not be shy to use legal action to force ISPs to act when dialogue fails but I would like to think that they now understand that meaningful voluntary action is a more attractive option than coercion – we have always advocated that!

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“Children and Foreigners” [8:44 am]

A story that brings back Larry Lessig’s characterization of a “threatening” collection of Internet innovators: Va. Student’s Snow-Day Plea Triggers an Online Storm — pdf

[A] phone call to a Fairfax County public school administrator’s home last week about a snow day — or lack of one — has taken on a life of its own. Through the ubiquity of Facebook and YouTube, the call has become a rallying cry for students’ First Amendment rights, and it shows that the generation gap has become a technological chasm.

It started with Thursday’s snowfall, estimated at about three inches near Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke. On his lunch break, Lake Braddock senior Devraj “Dave” S. Kori, 17, used a listed home phone number to call Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the county system, to ask why he had not closed the schools. Kori left his name and phone number and got a message later in the day from Tistadt’s wife.

“How dare you call us at home! If you have a problem with going to school, you do not call somebody’s house and complain about it,” Candy Tistadt’s minute-long message began. At one point, she uttered the phrase “snotty-nosed little brats,” and near the end, she said, “Get over it, kid, and go to school!”

Not so long ago, that might have been the end of it — a few choice words by an agitated administrator (or spouse). But with the frenetic pace of students’ online networking, it’s harder for grown-ups to have the last word. Kori’s call and Tistadt’s response sparked online debate among area students about whether the student’s actions constituted harassment and whether the response was warranted.

Kori took Tistadt’s message, left on his cellphone, and posted an audio link on a Facebook page he had created after he got home from school called “Let them know what you think about schools not being cancelled.” The Web page listed Dean Tistadt’s work and home numbers.

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Ongoing (Online) Real Estate Speculation [8:12 am]

From Jon Postel to this: Porn sells; Satinpanties toopdf

The real estate investors packing the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles this week dont have to worry about interest rates, exploding mortgages and foreclosures. The addresses they buy and sell are on the Internet, where a good name might attract millions of people and pull in big bucks from advertising.

As with real-world property speculation, the Internet domain name business is built on limited supply and high hopes. It has booms and busts, rising corporate powers and rookies who wished theyd bought in the 1990s. Two of the biggest practitioners, Oversee.net and Demand Media Inc., are based in the Los Angeles area and have collectively received more than $450 million in venture capital investment to fuel domain name buying sprees.

The bidding paddles flew Tuesday and Wednesday in the hotel ballroom at DomainFest, a yearly gathering of participants in this highly specialized and lucrative business.

Individual speculators and deep-pocketed companies snapped up domains such as Porn.net for $400,000, Bookmarks.com for $300,000, Alimony.com for $75,000, Butcher.com for $50,000 and Satinpanties for $10,000.

Readers of the Comics Curmudgeon will recognize this article’s author, which is certainly related: Five ho-hum domain names and their curious stories (pdf)

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January 23, 2008

Something A Little Closer To Home [4:45 pm]

From MIT’s student paper, The Tech: RIAA Sends Institute 19 Settlement Letters Alleging Infringementpdf

The RIAA identified alleged infringers by looking at their IP addresses. Since the RIAA cannot obtain the names of people connected with the IP addresses without a court order, it instead sent its demand letters directly to MIT and requested that the Institute forward the letters to the community members. MIT complied with the RIAA’s request and has forwarded the letters to the computer users corresponding to those addresses.

These requests come as part of the latest wave of 407 RIAA letters sent to college students from universities across the country this month. The RIAA has sent thousands of such letters in batches since February 2007. This is the third time that the RIAA has sent letters to groups of MIT affiliates: 23 letters were sent in May 2007, and 30 were sent in September 2007.

By asking for settlements in these letters, the RIAA avoids ordering costly subpoenas that force universities to release the identities of alleged infringers and following up on those subpoenas with copyright infringement lawsuits. The letters also, according to the RIAA, “provide students the opportunity to resolve copyright infringement claims against them at a discounted rate before a formal lawsuit is filed.” [...]

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Searches and Digital Devices [4:42 pm]

A provocative little article [via Machinist], suggesting that, under current precedent, an iPhone may be considered a container (see also the Boucher postings here): The iPhone Meets the Fourth Amendment by Adam Gershowitz

Imagine that Dan Defendant is stopped by the police for driving through a stop sign. The officer thinks that Dan looks suspicious, but has no probable cause to believe he has done anything illegal, other than driving recklessly. Nevertheless, because running a stop sign is an arrestable offense and the officer is suspicious that Dan might be involved in more serious criminal activity, the officer arrests Dan for the traffic violation.

Under the search incident to arrest doctrine, officers are entitled to search the body of the person they are arresting to ensure that he does not have weapons or will not destroy any evidence. The search incident to an arrest is automatic and allows officers to open containers on the person, even if there is no probable cause to believe there is anything illegal inside of those containers. For instance, a standard search incident to arrest often turns up drugs located in a small container such as a cigarette pack. Yet, Dan does not have a cigarette pack in his pocket; instead, like millions of other technophiles, Dan is carrying an iPhone.

The officer removes the iPhone from Dan’s pocket and begins to rummage through Dan’s cell phone contacts, call history, emails, pictures, movies, and, perhaps most significantly, the browsing history from his use of the internet. In addition to finding Dan’s personal financial data and embarrassing personal information, the police also discover incriminating pictures of stolen contraband, emails evidencing drug transactions, and internet surfing of websites containing child pornography. Is all of this evidence admissible even though Dan has only been arrested for a traffic infraction and there was no probable cause (not to mention no warrant) to search the contents of his iPhone? When one considers the breadth of information located in Dan’s iPhone, it would seem shocking that officers need no suspicion whatsoever in order to search through that information. Yet, that conclusion appears to follow from longstanding Supreme Court precedent laid down well before handheld technology was even contemplated.

This essay demonstrates how the full contents and multiple applications of iPhones can be searched without a warrant or probable cause under existing Supreme Court precedent. The essay also offers approaches courts and legislatures might adopt to ensure greater protection for the soon to be pervasive iPhone devices.

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Slate Looks At A Patent Alternative [2:23 pm]

Should the government start handing out prizes for science breakthroughs?

Right now, senators, inventors, and tech companies are squabbling about how to reform the patent system to encourage more innovation. Some version of the embattled patent-reform legislation is expected to pass next month, and stakeholders are preparing for a gory fight over all sorts of itty-bitty nitty-gritties, such as how to calculate damages for patent infringement.

Meanwhile, some scholars and politicians are proposing something far more radical: They want to junk, rather than just rejigger, the patent system. Instead of handing out patent monopolies, they say, the government should offer cash prizes for inventions. In an ideal world, this would lead to cheaper products and motivate more research and development in fields that are unprofitable but socially valuable—such as new treatments for diseases that affect poor people. This solution may seem extreme, but targeting certain elements of the idea to particular inventions would be both politically feasible and entrepreneurially effective.

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AT&T Still Talking Trash [2:15 pm]

AT&T looking at Internet filteringpdf

CEO Randall Stephenson told a conference at the World Economic Forum that the company is looking at monitoring peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, one of the largest drivers of online traffic but also a common way to illegally exchange copyright files.

“Its like being in a store and watching someone steal a DVD. Do you act?” Stephenson asked.

Tim Wu has already offered up free advice on why this looks like a suicidal proposal for ISPs. It’s hard to believe that AT&T hates network neutrality as much as Wu suggests, but the only other explanation is that AT&T is expecting to eventually get complete and total immunity in their operations, period — now that’s a nightmare!

Comment at Machinist: Yes, AT&T is losing its mind (and might filter the Internet)

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More on the Boucher Case [8:59 am]

In Child Porn Case, a Digital Dilemmapdf

On Nov. 29, Magistrate Judge Jerome J. Niedermeier ruled that compelling Sebastien Boucher, a 30-year-old drywall installer who lives in Vermont, to enter his password into his laptop would violate his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. “If Boucher does know the password, he would be faced with the forbidden trilemma: incriminate himself, lie under oath, or find himself in contempt of court,” the judge said.

The government has appealed, and the case is being investigated by a grand jury, said Boucher’s attorney, James Boudreau of Boston. He said it would be “inappropriate” to comment while the case is pending. Justice Department officials also declined to comment.

But the ruling has caused controversy.

“The consequence of this decision being upheld is that the government would have to find other methods to get this information,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “But that’s as it should be. That’s what the Fifth Amendment is intended to protect.”

Mark D. Rasch, a privacy and technology expert with FTI Consulting and a former federal prosecutor, said the ruling was “dangerous” for law enforcement. “If it stands, it means that if you encrypt your documents, the government cannot force you to decrypt them,” he said. “So you’re going to see drug dealers and pedophiles encrypting their documents, secure in the knowledge that the police can’t get at them.”

See earlier The Power of Inconvenience

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OT: One Side Heard From [8:44 am]

This is bound to get some juices flowing somewhere — but the study’s web site offers up a pretty comprehensive picture: Study: Bush, other officials issued hundreds of false statements before Iraq invasionpdf

A study by two nonprofit journalism organizations found that President Bush and top administration officials issued hundreds of false statements about the national security threat from Iraq in the two years following the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The study concluded that the statements “were part of an orchestrated campaign that effectively galvanized public opinion and, in the process, led the nation to war under decidedly false pretenses.”

From the study’s web page: The War Card: Orchestrated Deception On The Path To War

The massive database at the heart of this project juxtaposes what President Bush and these seven top officials were saying for public consumption against what was known, or should have been known, on a day-to-day basis. This fully searchable database includes the public statements, drawn from both primary sources (such as official transcripts) and secondary sources (chiefly major news organizations) over the two years beginning on September 11, 2001. It also interlaces relevant information from more than 25 government reports, books, articles, speeches, and interviews.

Later: Tim Grieve gives us the comments on the report from this afternoon’s White House briefing (there’s also some positioning on FISA, too).

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The *Perfect* Combination! [7:38 am]

Google and Ad Conglomerate Teaming Up

The chief executives of Publicis Groupe, the advertising conglomerate, and Google, the Internet giant, said Tuesday that they would jointly develop an approach to digital advertising that was both creative and technologically savvy, a combination they said is lacking.

Neither Maurice Lévy of Publicis nor Eric E. Schmidt of Google, speaking with the press at Publicis’s headquarters here, would put a value on the partnership, which is not exclusive. But they asserted that the collaboration gave them a “first-mover advantage” in combining the programming knowledge of Google with the creativity of advertising agencies.

The resulting tools and business intelligence would not necessarily be proprietary to the two companies but could help propel the growth of digital advertising, they said.

Who wouldn’t want this?

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So How Gutless *Are* The Democrats? [7:32 am]

I guess we’ll get to see, but it looks like the answer is going to be “pretty much entirely gutless” when it comes to telecom amnesty. This article offers up a pretty clear portrait of Harry Reid’s gutlessness: Democrats Try to Delay Eavesdropping Vote

Senate Democrats concede that they probably lack the votes needed to stop a White House-backed plan to give immunity to phone utilities that helped the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping, and they are seeking to put off the vote for another month.

[...] Advocates for civil liberties fault the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, for what they see as a weak effort to block the White House immunity plan. Mr. Reid opposes immunity, but his decision to allow an initial vote on the Intelligence Committee plan, with immunity, has angered opponents.

“If Senator Reid wanted to win, he would have put the judiciary vote on the floor first,” Caroline Frederickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, said. “It seems as if he wants to lose.”

See Glenn Greenwald’s screed: Will the Democratic presidential candidates adhere to their rhetoric? — pointing out that no one is going to help Senator Dodd block this shameful amnesty. Also, see this later post — Your Harry Reid-led Senate in action

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LATimes Editorial on EMI’s Restructuring Efforts [7:26 am]

How to stop declining album salespdf

The prolonged slide has prompted record companies to package and deliver their products in new ways, ranging from online subscription services to reality TV shows. But these efforts can’t disguise the fact that their main strategy — placing expensive bets on numerous artists and counting on a few hits big enough to cover all the misses — isn’t working anymore.

Labels have tried cutting costs and trimming rosters, but it wasn’t until last week that a major record company announced plans to abandon the high-risk, high-reward business model. Guy Hands, a venture capitalist whose investment firm bought out EMI last year, said his label group couldn’t survive if it continued to lose money on new releases. In Hands’ view, EMI needs to become more of a service provider, enabling it to team profitably with acts large and small. And he plans to spend more money finding and developing artists, then trying to build audiences for them using new technology.

Hands offered few details, so it’s hard to judge his plan. Still, at least he’s seeking a fundamental change in the way his company does business. [...]

See earlier EMI Makes Some Hard Decisions and Taking My Ball and Going Home

See also To Cut Costs, NBC Universal Ends Pilots

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Are You Surprised? [7:18 am]

Of course, it’s not the most earth-shattering analysis, yet: Downloading by Students Overstatedpdf

In its campaign urging lawmakers and colleges to take the issue of on-campus illegal file sharing seriously, the Motion Picture Association of America has wielded an array of legal arguments, facts and statistics. It now appears that a central figure in that arsenal was high by a factor of three, galvanizing its opponents who maintain that colleges have been singled out unfairly as havens of downloading activity.

The association often notes that according to a 2005 study it commissioned, 44 percent of the money the industry lost within the United States that year was attributable to peer-to-peer file sharing by college students. It now appears that the figure was closer to 15 percent, or $243 million. Mark Luker, a vice president at Educause, an organization promoting technology use in higher education, said the numbers reflected college students both on and off campus even though college Internet service providers, the target of pressure from both Congress and the MPAA to step up anti-piracy efforts, typically only serve on-campus residents. It would be “reasonable,” Luker said, to divide the MPAA numbers by five, since about a fifth of college students live on campus, leaving the figure somewhere around 3 percent of domestic losses.

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January 22, 2008

Canadian Copyright Reform Fight [10:49 am]

Canadian artists stump for tougher copyright lawspdf

In anticipation of a new federal copyright law, an alliance representing writers, musicians and actors has released a platform [pdf] detailing what they think is best for Canadian artists.

The Creators Copyright Coalition’s report, released Monday, calls for artists to be given the sole right “to produce or reproduce the work or any substantial part thereof in any material form” and “to transfer the work or any substantial part thereof to another medium.”

The group, which includes the Writers Guild of Canada and the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists, also wants Internet service providers (ISPs) to “share in the responsibility” for their online content, and to “share liability” when copyright infringement occurs on their networks.

Michael Geist has a column on some of the provisions of the act under consideration: Copyright reform a threat to privacypdf

The bill, which could be introduced as early as next week, is expected to use the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) as a model. Since its enactment in 1998, the U.S. law has been roundly criticized on privacy, security and consumer protection grounds.

At issue are rumoured provisions in a Canadian DMCA that would provide legal protection for digital locks, often referred to as digital rights management (DRM). Stoddart notes that if “DRM technologies only controlled copying and use of content, our Office would have few concerns.” However, those same technologies can be used to collect personal information that is “transmitted back to the copyright owner or content provider, without the consent or knowledge of the user.”

While there are tools to stop this unwanted form of surveillance, Stoddart warns that Prentice and Verner’s proposed reforms could render their use illegal. In fact, even if they insert an exception for privacy protection into the bill, the tools could still be banned, leaving Canadians with the legal right to protect their privacy but without the means to do so.

For more details, see Plan to modernize copyright law could make everyday habits illegal (pdf); Striking down the iPod tax (pdf); and Canadian netroots rise up against Tory copyright plans (pdf)

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UPDATED: IP == ID? [10:35 am]

SiliconValley.com - EU data regulator says Internet addresses are personal informationpdf

IP addresses, string of numbers that identify computers on the Internet, should generally be regarded as personal information, the head of the European Unions group of data privacy regulators said Monday.
Germanys data protection commissioner, Peter Scharr, leads the EU group preparing a report on how well the privacy policies of Internet search engines operated by Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and others comply with EU privacy law.

He told a European Parliament hearing on online data protection that when someone is identified by an IP, or Internet protocol, address “then it has to be regarded as personal data.”

The hearing press release: Do internet companies protect personal data well enough?; the hearing programme [local copy]; testimony should be available here eventually.
UPDATE: Actually, check here — some stuff is already posted.

Three particularly interesting items from the preceding link:

Saul Hansell weighs in: Europe: Your I.P. Address Is Personal

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