April 17, 2008

The Price We Pay [4:34 pm]

For being unable to construct a meaningful dialog about privacy: UK advertising-tech fight shows complexity of privacy battle (pdf)

The opposition probably won’t stop Phorm. British officials have affirmed its legality. But the underlying story is a cautionary tale. As marketers try to pinpoint Internet advertising more effectively, Phorm’s experience indicates how deeply privacy perceptions matter.

Phorm and NebuAd have a high bar to acceptance, because their technologies sound intrusive.

Maybe — or maybe they *are* intrusive, even if they are legal in the eyes of UK law (pdf). How would *you* know?

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DNA Dataveillance [4:00 pm]

U.S. to Expand Collection Of Crime Suspects’ DNA (pdf)

The U.S. government will soon begin collecting DNA samples from all citizens arrested in connection with any federal crime and from many immigrants detained by federal authorities, adding genetic identifiers from more than 1 million individuals a year to the swiftly growing federal law enforcement DNA database.

The policy will substantially expand the current practice of routinely collecting DNA samples from only those convicted of federal crimes, and it will build on a growing policy among states to collect DNA from many people who are arrested. Thirteen states do so now and turn their data over to the federal government.

[...] Although fingerprints have long been collected for virtually every arrestee, privacy advocates say the new policy expands the DNA database, run by the FBI, beyond its initial aim of storing information on the perpetrators of violent crimes.

They also worry that people could be detained erroneously and swept into the database without cause, and that DNA samples from those who are never convicted of a crime, because of acquittal or a withdrawal of charges, might nonetheless be permanently retained by the FBI.

“Innocent people don’t belong in a so-called criminal database,” said Tania Simoncelli, science adviser for the American Civil Liberties Union. “We’re crossing a line.”

She said that if the samples are kept, they could one day be analyzed for sensitive information such as diseases and ancestry.

No “could” about it, really. Once the technology becomes cost-effective, you can probably bet on it.

And it’s interesting whose records get a lot of effort, and those that don’t - Record-Keeping Bill Is Criticized As ‘Anemic’ by Watchdog Group (pdf)

Citing “significant deficiencies” in the preservation of e-mail by the White House and federal agencies, House Democrats yesterday introduced legislation to strengthen and modernize electronic record-keeping requirements. But a private watchdog group called the bill inadequate and issued a report describing federal record-keeping as antiquated and chaotic.

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It Names Itself [3:57 pm]

The Smart Money Watches You Watch Videos (pdf)

Knowing exactly how a video becomes popular can be critical to selling advertising associated with it. The audience for video is growing rapidly; in February, U.S. Internet users viewed more than 10 billion online videos, a 66 percent increase over the same month in 2007, according to ComScores Video Metrix service. Advertisers, meanwhile, spent $554 million on online video promotions last year, compared with $398 million in 2006, according to Jupiter Research. Still, many marketers have been reluctant to place big bets on ads paired with video, largely because it has been difficult to measure the ads effectiveness.

“When youre a manager of a brand, the idea of risking a significant amount of money to understand this new social-media world is very challenging,” said Troy Young, chief marketing officer of VideoEgg, an advertising network that places ads on video clips. A video might gain popularity because it was linked to in a blog or incorporated into a social-networking profile and circulated among friends, he said. The tracking tools can help an advertiser figure out whether the video is reaching the desired demographic and, therefore, whether it should buy ad space related to that video.

Online publishers such as CBS Interactive and advertising agencies such as Hill Holliday now use video-tracking services to help plan their ad strategies. Video creators, both amateur and professional, are starting to use these measurement tools to get a better view of which clips are most popular on which Web sites.

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A Tricky Line [6:34 am]

Consumer preferences or consumer protection? Where do you draw the line? Warning on Storage of Health Records

Under the current system, individuals can request their own health records, but it is often a cumbersome process because information is scattered across several institutions.

As part of a push toward greater individual control of health information, Microsoft and Google have recently begun offering Web-based personal health records. The journal article’s authors describe a new “personalized, health information economy” in which consumers tell physicians, hospitals and other providers what information to send into their personal records, stored by Microsoft or Google. It is the individual who decides with whom to share that information and under what terms.

But Microsoft and Google, the authors note, are not bound by the privacy restrictions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or Hipaa, the main law that regulates personal data handling and patient privacy. Hipaa, enacted in 1996, did not anticipate Web-based health records systems like the ones Microsoft and Google now offer.

The authors say that consumer control of personal data under the new, unregulated Web systems could open the door to all kinds of marketing and false advertising from parties eager for valuable patient information.

Despite their warnings, Dr. Mandl and Dr. Kohane are enthusiastic about the potential benefits of Web-based personal health records, including a patient population of better-informed, more personally responsible health consumers.

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April 16, 2008

Darwin Online [7:47 pm]

Darwin’s private papers get Internet launch (pdf)

The first draft of Charles Darwin’s “On The Origin Of Species” is among a wealth of papers belonging to the intensely private man who changed science being published on the Internet on Thursday for the first time.

Comprising some 20,000 items and 90,000 images, the release on http://darwin-online.org.uk is the largest in history, according to the organizers from Cambridge University Library which holds all the Darwin papers.

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A Network Design Problem [2:06 pm]

How the heck do you engineer this? Consumer groups urge “do not track” registry (pdf)

Two consumer groups asked the Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday to create a “do not track list” that would allow computer users to bar advertisers from collecting information about them.

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Comic Heroes, Creators and Compensation [9:32 am]

Joe Simon, a Creator of Captain America, Still Fighting for Comic Book Artists at 94

For Mr. Simon and Mr. Kirby, though, the biggest blow came when they were dismissed from the series, which had been selling a million copies a month, in a dispute over royalties. The team moved to Detective Comics today DC Comics, but Captain America stayed with Timely, the forerunner of Marvel Comics.

It’s a tale worthy of its own comic and one of many inspirations for Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay”: On the frontier of a new industry, writers and artists creating scores of characters, but publishers profiting from them.

These days creators have learned from the past by self-publishing or otherwise securing the rights to their progeny. But some of the founding fathers of American superheroes are still seeking justice. [...]

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Anthropology and Product Development [8:36 am]

Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?

[Jan] Chipchase is 38, a rangy native of Britain whose broad forehead and high-slung brows combine to give him the air of someone who is quick to be amazed, which in his line of work is something of an asset. For the last seven years, he has worked for the Finnish cellphone company Nokia as a “human-behavior researcher.” He’s also sometimes referred to as a “user anthropologist.” To an outsider, the job can seem decidedly oblique. His mission, broadly defined, is to peer into the lives of other people, accumulating as much knowledge as possible about human behavior so that he can feed helpful bits of information back to the company — to the squads of designers and technologists and marketing people who may never have set foot in a Vietnamese barbershop but who would appreciate it greatly if that barber someday were to buy a Nokia.

[...] This sort of on-the-ground intelligence-gathering is central to what’s known as human-centered design, a business-world niche that has become especially important to ultracompetitive high-tech companies trying to figure out how to write software, design laptops or build cellphones that people find useful and unintimidating and will thus spend money on. Several companies, including Intel, Motorola and Microsoft, employ trained anthropologists to study potential customers, while Nokia’s researchers, including Chipchase, more often have degrees in design. Rather than sending someone like Chipchase to Vietnam or India as an emissary for the company — loaded with products and pitch lines, as a marketer might be — the idea is to reverse it, to have Chipchase, a patently good listener, act as an emissary for people like the barber or the shoe-shop owner’s wife, enlightening the company through written reports and PowerPoint presentations on how they live and what they’re likely to need from a cellphone, allowing that to inform its design.

[...] This is when I voiced a careless thought about whether there might be something negative about the lightning spread of technology, whether its convenience was somehow supplanting traditional values or practices. Chipchase raised his eyebrows and laid down his spoon. He sighed, making it clear that responding to me was going to require patience. “People can think, yeah, monks with cellphones, and tsk, tsk, and what is the world coming to?” he said. “But if you wanted to take phones away from anybody in this world who has them, they’d probably say: ‘You’re going to have to fight me for it. Are you going to take my sewer and water away too?’ And maybe you can’t put communication on the same level as running water, but some people would. And I think in some contexts, it’s quite viable as a fundamental right.” He paused a beat to let this sink in, then added, with just a touch of edge, “People once believed that people in other cultures might not benefit from having books either.”

[...] As a joke, Chipchase sometimes pulls out his cellphone and pretends to shave his face with it, using a buzzing ring tone for comic effect. But there’s a deeper truth embedded here, not just for people in places like Kenya or Buduburam but for all of us. As cellphone technology grows increasingly sophisticated, it has cannibalized — for better or worse — the technologies that have come before it. Carrying a full-featured cellphone lessens your needs for other things, including a watch, an alarm clock, a camera, video camera, home stereo, television, computer or, for that matter, a newspaper. With the advent of mobile banking, cellphones have begun to replace wallets as well. That a phone might someday offer a nice close shave suddenly seems not so ridiculous after all.

See earlier posting from 2004 on a similar topic; see also The Merchants of Cool.

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Digital Course Packs [8:09 am]

Publishers Sue Georgia State on Digital Reading Matter

The lawsuit, which may be the first of its kind, raises questions about digital rights, which are confronting many media companies, but also about core issues like the future of the business model for academic publishers.

Indeed, as the printed word is put in digital form, holding onto rights seems to many like climbing up the slippery sides of a glass. The case centers on so-called course packs, compilations of reading materials from various books and journals. The lawsuit contends that in many cases, professors are providing students with multiple chapters of a given work, in violation of the “fair use” provision of copyright law. The publishers are seeking an order that the defendants secure permissions and pay licensing fees to the copyright owners.

[...] [I]n 1992, Princeton University Press and others sued Michigan Document Services, a photocopying service, which was producing course packs for University of Michigan students without permission from the copyright holders. The business was eventually found to be in copyright infringement.

“Georgia State’s activity seems identical with Michigan Document Services’ activity,” said Susan P. Crawford, a visiting professor at Yale Law School.

But she pointed out that unlike Kinko’s and Michigan Document Services, Georgia State was not making money from the electronic course packs.

Yet, she added: “It’s difficult to argue that this is a truly noncommercial use. Georgia State may be a nonprofit institution, but its students pay a lot of money for course materials, and would presumably pay money for the materials being provided to them by the university.”

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Taking A Page From the RIAA? [8:03 am]

And building her fan base: Potter fan faces Rowling in court

The author of an unofficial Harry Potter encyclopaedia broke down as he faced JK Rowling in court in a battle over the right to publish his book.

Steven Vander Ark said his only goal was to celebrate Rowling, sitting in front of him, who he called a “genius”.

Rowling had earlier told the court his plans to publish The Harry Potter Lexicon amounted to “wholesale theft”.

She is suing Mr Vander Ark and his publisher RDR Books in New York for copyright infringement.

Asked whether he still thought of himself as part of the Harry Potter fan community, Mr Vander Ark struggled to speak through tears.

The fact that this got to court suggests, of course, that there are strongly-held (and possibly reasonable differences of) opinions on both side of this question (or at least questions of both fact and law to be heard), but it’s been interesting to note that, where there are newspapers that post comments along with the article, most observers see this as a David and Goliath fight, as opposed to one of punishing a venal thief. Whether the tears are real or not, the battle for public opinion here appears to be going as well for Rowling as it has for the RIAA.

See also Sued by Harry Potter’s Creator, Lexicographer Breaks Down on the Stand

Later: this APWire article doesn’t help Rowling implores NYC judge to block publication of guide (pdf)

A three-day trial over an unauthorized Harry Potter encyclopedia ended Wednesday with a flash of anger from J.K. Rowling.

The British author returned to the witness stand and told a judge that if he allows the fan-written lexicon to be published, it will clear the way for countless rip-offs of her books, as well as those by other authors.

”I believe the floodgates will open,” Rowling said, her voice rising. ”Are we the owners of our own work?”

[...] The discussion Wednesday seemed to both delight and dismay the judge, who began the day by urging the two sides to settle out of court.

Patterson likened the trial to the story Charles Dickens told in ”Bleak House,” a novel about the pain caused by endlessly drawn-out lawsuits in the 19th century British judiciary system.

Patterson predicted a similar fate for the Potter case. He said it involved unresolved areas of American law and was almost certain to end in years of appeals.

”I think this case, with imagination, could be settled,” Patterson said.

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April 15, 2008

Competing in Court [8:28 am]

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Promotional Piracy [8:21 am]

A look at the economics of piracy [via Slate]: Promotional Piracy (with a nice reference list)

Unauthorized reproduction of goods such as software and music can displace sales. At the same, because word-of-mouth communications alert those yet to experience a product to its existence and characteristics, individuals who copy may serve a marketing function. A simple model takes both business stealing and promotional e ects into account and uncovers the sensitivity of piracy’s overall profit impact to the presence and shape of conceivable relationships between product valuation and personal piracy cost. Piracy may be good or bad for business, with much hinging on the sign and curvature of this relationship. Key predictions help demystify observed differences in anti-piracy measures, such as between the markets for computer games (high protection) and office software (low protection).

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A Little Action [7:49 am]

Groups seek to shield minors’ Web data (pdf)

A coalition of medical groups and child advocates called Friday for guidelines that would prevent Internet companies from tracking the behavior of minors online, contending that many adolescents are divulging more than they realize and aren’t digesting complex privacy policies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Assn. were among those asking the Federal Trade Commission to encourage the Internet industry to stop profiling young Web surfers by monitoring the sites they visit and the interests they list on social networks such as MySpace and Facebook.

Just as the government has restricted the amount and nature of television commercials aimed at children, the FTC should step in when interactive ad systems gather sensitive information from minors, the groups said in a filing Friday.

It came amid a flurry of responses to an agency proposal for voluntary guidelines on a burgeoning form of online advertising known as behavioral targeting, a market expected to be worth billions in a few years.

Other nonprofit groups expressed alarm at the rapid consolidation of the largest online ad companies and about Internet service providers beginning to share their vast amounts of data with marketers.

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Waiting on the Supremes [7:47 am]

Indecency cases stuck in legal limbo at FCC (pdf)

After Bono, Cher and Nicole Richie used expletives on live award show broadcasts in 2002 and 2003, the FCC adopted a near zero-tolerance policy for the f-word and the s-word. Broadcasters complained that the commission had reversed its own precedent of not issuing fines if the words were unscripted and isolated or, in legal terms, “fleeting.” Congress then upped the ante, responding to the public outcry over Jackson’s Super Bowl incident by increasing the maximum each station could be fined for an incident tenfold, to $325,000.

Facing the prospect of multimillion-dollar fines if an expletive slipped passed their censors, the major TV broadcast networks banded together to challenge the FCC. A panel of judges on the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York sided with them last year, throwing out the FCC’s tougher fleeting expletives policy, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.”

Since then, the FCC’s indecency enforcement has nearly ground to a halt. [...]

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Reshaping the Distribution of Fashion [7:40 am]

In a world where copyright holds little sway: Net-a-Porter’s Natalie Massenet, still the rebel of retail (pdf)

Beyond creating just one impressive site, she reinvented the way we shop. [Natalie] Massenet paved the way for luxury online, and now all designers have e-tail sites, including Marni, Yves Saint Laurent and Stella McCartney. Following her lead, department store sites evolved into mini-magazines with trend reports and blog posts. She also proved to shoppers that buying clothing online could be easy.

[...] Now, Massenet is on the cusp of the next retail leap: collapsing the six-month runway-to-rack cycle to just hours.

[...] Net-a-Porter was started with $1 million, and after eight years, business is booming. In 2006, the site had revenues of $73.9 million. Los Angeles is the second biggest market in the U.S. because it’s “paparazzi-free shopping,” Massenet says, and it has some of the largest single orders, including one for $40,000.

Now that the Internet has come of age, runway photos travel around the world at lightning speed, and copies of garments land in stores before the designer originals. So, earlier this year, Massenet shortened the time it takes for a dress to travel from the runway to your closet from six months to 48 hours, when she struck a deal with Halston to sell two looks from the fall collection the day after the show on Net-a-Porter. Although she won’t say how much inventory there was, it sold out in 45 minutes.

[...] “THE fashion cycle is outdated,” Massenet says, dressed in a sparkly, black Burberry Prorsum skirt, and sipping tea near the bank of computers that is sending luxury out to 150 countries.

“In the last five years, the consumer is more educated than ever. She gets to see the runway shows at the same time as the buyers and the editors, yet we are still treating her as if she hasn’t seen them — telling her what’s happened and making her wait six months to buy it in the stores. We’re telling her it’s all about pointy-toed shoes next season, when what’s in the stores now is round-toed shoes.

“You can’t tell the customer that it’s about two different things. She’ll skip the round toe and go straight to the pointy toe, because that’s what’s coming next.”

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Working Through The Mechanics [7:32 am]

And facing some realities: Competing with the pirates (pdf)

Darren Feher, NBC Universal’s chief technical officer, said his company wouldn’t even have experimented with a method for online distribution “unless it met this definition of perfect.” Like much of Hollywood, NBC Universal was using only Microsoft’s Windows Media software for streams because it included digital rights management technology that set limits on copying and playback. But in the past 18 months or so, the studio shifted its strategy and focused on getting its programming in front of the largest possible audience. That meant switching from Windows Media, which didn’t work on millions of Macs and other non-Windows devices, to the ubiquitous Flash, which works on a variety of operating systems and devices. Other major networks and TV studios have made the same choice.

To some extent, the move was a concession to reality. By the time a television show was offered online — typically the day after it aired — the original broadcast had already been recorded and redistributed widely. The networks needed to combat this bootlegging with a legitimate, free alternative that could recapture and monetize some online viewers. Nevertheless, the networks and studios pressed for more protection even as they made more content available in more places on the Net.

[...] Regardless of the improvements, some studios remain skittish enough about piracy that they won’t make certain types of content available without some additional protection against copying — for example, ad-supported downloads that could be transferred to a portable device, or feature films in high definition. But Feher said those capabilities will come soon enough, once the business-model and bandwidth hurdles are overcome. Besides, the underground market for video online is already brimming with high-definition bootlegs made from over-the-air broadcasts. The networks are already competing with that, ready or not.

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The Cultures Behind The Conflicts Over The Next Generation of Distribution [7:16 am]

Bridging the Gap, the Sequel

Only 350 miles separate the two California business cultures, and technology and entertainment executives are worlds apart. But they are circling each other once again, trying to figure how best to combine forces to get movies, videos and other programming to homes and cellphones.

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April 14, 2008

This Should Be An Entertaining Trend [11:57 am]

He Wrote 200,000 Books (but Computers Did Some of the Work)

Philip M. Parker seems to have licked that problem. Mr. Parker has generated more than 200,000 books, as an advanced search on Amazon.com under his publishing company shows, making him, in his own words, “the most published author in the history of the planet.” And he makes money doing it.

Among the books published under his name are “The Official Patient’s Sourcebook on Acne Rosacea” ($24.95 and 168 pages long); “Stickler Syndrome: A Bibliography and Dictionary for Physicians, Patients and Genome Researchers” ($28.95 for 126 pages); and “The 2007-2012 Outlook for Tufted Washable Scatter Rugs, Bathmats and Sets That Measure 6-Feet by 9-Feet or Smaller in India” ($495 for 144 pages).

But these are not conventional books, and it is perhaps more accurate to call Mr. Parker a compiler than an author. Mr. Parker, who is also the chaired professor of management science at Insead (a business school with campuses in Fontainebleau, France, and Singapore), has developed computer algorithms that collect publicly available information on a subject — broad or obscure — and, aided by his 60 to 70 computers and six or seven programmers, he turns the results into books in a range of genres, many of them in the range of 150 pages and printed only when a customer buys one.

If this sounds like cheating to the layman’s ear, it does not to Mr. Parker, who holds some provocative — and apparently profitable — ideas on what constitutes a book. While the most popular of his books may sell hundreds of copies, he said, many have sales in the dozens, often to medical libraries collecting nearly everything he produces. He has extended his technique to crossword puzzles, rudimentary poetry and even to scripts for animated game shows.

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In Europe, a Push to Take Away Piracy Suspects’ Internet Access - New York Times [11:40 am]

In Europe, a Push to Take Away Piracy Suspects’ Internet Access

Prodded by the music industry and government, some Internet service providers are reluctantly exploring the adoption of a shunning ritual as 21st century punishment: banishing errant online users.

But even as service providers test “three strikes” warning systems that can result in the disconnection of Internet users who are thought to have illegally downloaded copyrighted music or movies, resistance is building.

Lawmakers in the European Parliament, in a symbolic vote Thursday, expressed their opposition to the approach, which has been championed by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and explored by governments of other countries. Consumer groups are also fighting such proposals.

“It’s a breach of our civil liberties,” said Christofer Fjellner, a Swedish legislator in the Parliament who sponsored the vote.

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Playing Whack-A-Mole [11:39 am]

Off New York Streets, Film Piracy Is Online

In a neighborhood full of blankets and sidewalk “offices” with everything a shopper might find in a boutique uptown, Ms. Hyman was coming up empty-handed. “We tried to buy DVDs,” she said, “but we could only get one woman to come out into the street, and she had them stuffed into her jacket.”

And that was a good thing, because as director of the mayor’s office of special enforcement, it is Ms. Hyman’s job to eliminate the rampant market in pirated DVDs of first-run movies.

[...] But New York may not be the best barometer of piracy. Worldwide and on the Internet, video piracy remains rampant. The movie industry has devised new ways to fight piracy, and has pushed for antipiracy laws and run ads to discourage pirates.

[...] But technology is helping those who wish to stop movie-sharing. Various technologies, which the industry prefers not to discuss, allow law enforcement to pinpoint which theaters have been used to create a pirated copy. As more theaters use digital projection, even the screen used can often be identified.

A number of companies have developed technologies to identify pirated files, as well as the Internet protocol addresses of individuals who download those files.

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