And This *Isn’t* A Privacy Concern?

Billboards That Look Back

Billboards are a different story. For the most part, they are still a relic of old-world media, and the best guesses about viewership numbers come from foot traffic counts or highway reports, neither of which guarantees that the people passing by were really looking at the billboard, or that they were the ones sought out.

Now, some entrepreneurs have introduced technology to solve that problem. They are equipping billboards with tiny cameras that gather details about passers-by — their gender, approximate age and how long they looked at the billboard. These details are transmitted to a central database.

Behind the technology are small start-ups that say they are not storing actual images of the passers-by, so privacy should not be a concern. The cameras, they say, use software to determine that a person is standing in front of a billboard, then analyze facial features (like cheekbone height and the distance between the nose and the chin) to judge the person’s gender and age. So far the companies are not using race as a parameter, but they say that they can and will soon.

The goal, these companies say, is to tailor a digital display to the person standing in front of it — to show one advertisement to a middle-aged white woman, for example, and a different one to a teenage Asian boy.

“Equal Pay For Equal Work”

Hoo-boy — this is going to be a tough one when the negotiations start up: The Star of Grand Theft Auto IV Finds a Somewhat Small Paycheck

That is because the contracts between the actors’ union and the entertainment industry make little or no provision for electronic media like video games and the Internet. It is a discrepancy that is expected to dominate negotiations between Hollywood and the guild this summer, with many predicting an actors’ strike to parallel the writers’ strike last year, which revolved around similar issues.


“Obviously I’m incredibly thankful to Rockstar for the opportunity to be in this game when I was just a nobody, an unknown quantity,” Mr. Hollick, 35, said last week over dinner in Willamsburg, Brooklyn, shortly after performing in the aerial theater show “Fuerzabruta” in Union Square. “But it’s tough, when you see Grand Theft Auto IV out there as the biggest thing going right now, when they’re making hundreds of millions of dollars, and we don’t see any of it. I don’t blame Rockstar. I blame our union for not having the agreements in place to protect the creative people who drive the sales of these games. Yes, the technology is important, but it’s the human performances within them that people really connect to, and I hope actors will get more respect for the work they do within those technologies.”

Rockstar declined to comment for this article, but it is an issue that has been hanging over the video game industry for years. On the one hand, through both creative and technical ambition, game makers are infusing their wares with more realistic characters and stories than ever. On the other hand, the $18 billion United States game industry has steadfastly refused to pay royalties to voice and motion-capture body actors along the lines of other entertainment media.

I’ll Believe It When I See It

And I still won’t believe it. After all, Word “saves” files as HTML, too — unwieldy, horrible HTML that is essentially useless if you want to edit or revise the file — unless you use Word to do it (side note: another example of the NYTimes-as-Microsoft-cheerleader): Open-Source File Format Is to Be a Part of Microsoft Office

Microsoft was set to announce Thursday that it would make the interchangeable document format of a competitor available in its own market-leading Office 2007 software during the first half of 2009.

The company, under pressure from European regulators, national standards organizations and its own government clients, said it planned to give customers the ability to open, edit and save documents in Open Document Format — the main competitor to the Microsoft Word format — through a free update.

With the update, consumers will be able to save text documents in ODF format and adjust Office 2007 settings to automatically save documents in the rival format

Dataveillance Abroad

‘Big Brother’ database for phones and e-mails (pdf)

A massive government database holding details of every phone call, e-mail and time spent on the internet by the public is being planned as part of the fight against crime and terrorism. Internet service providers (ISPs) and telecoms companies would hand over the records to the Home Office under plans put forward by officials.

The information would be held for at least 12 months and the police and security services would be able to access it if given permission from the courts.

The proposal will raise further alarm about a “Big Brother” society, as it follows plans for vast databases for the ID cards scheme and NHS patients. There will also be concern about the ability of the Government to manage a system holding billions of records. About 57 billion text messages were sent in Britain last year, while an estimated 3 billion e-mails are sent every day.

Hoo-Boy

A test of “the customer is always right:” Cisco File Raises Censorship Concerns (pdf)

Cisco Systems, seeking to penetrate the Chinese market, prepared an internal marketing presentation in which it appeared to be willing to assist the Chinese Ministry of Public Security in its goal of “combating Falun Gong evil cult and other hostile elements,” according to a translation of a document obtained by congressional investigators.

The Cisco presentation will take center stage today at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the Global Internet Freedom Act, which aims to defeat Internet censorship. The Washington Post obtained a copy of the presentation, the authenticity of which was confirmed by Cisco.

Lessig OpEd on Orphan Works Legislation

And people keep trying to paint him as being opposed to all copyright — a critique of S.2913: the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act of 2008. Little Orphan Artworks

The solution before Congress, however, is both unfair and unwise. The bill would excuse copyright infringers from significant damages if they can prove that they made a “diligent effort” to find the copyright owner. A “diligent effort” is defined as one that is “reasonable and appropriate,” as determined by a set of “best practices” maintained by the government.

But precisely what must be done by either the “infringer” or the copyright owner seeking to avoid infringement is not specified upfront. The bill instead would have us rely on a class of copyright experts who would advise or be employed by libraries. These experts would encourage copyright infringement by assuring that the costs of infringement are not too great. The bill makes no distinction between old and new works, or between foreign and domestic works. All work, whether old or new, whether created in America or Ukraine, is governed by the same slippery standard.

The proposed change is unfair because since 1978, the law has told creators that there was nothing they needed to do to protect their copyright. Many have relied on that promise. Likewise, the change is unfair to foreign copyright holders, who have little notice of arcane changes in Copyright Office procedures, and who will now find their copyrights vulnerable to willful infringement by Americans.

The change is also unwise, because for all this unfairness, it simply wouldn’t do much good. The uncertain standard of the bill doesn’t offer any efficient opportunity for libraries or archives to make older works available, because the cost of a “diligent effort” is not going to be cheap. The only beneficiaries would be the new class of “diligent effort” searchers who would be a drain on library budgets.

Congress could easily address the problem of orphan works in a manner that is efficient and not unfair to current or foreign copyright owners. Following the model of patent law, Congress should require a copyright owner to register a work after an initial and generous term of automatic and full protection.

[…] Congress should be pushing for rules that encourage clarity, not more work for copyright experts.

See also H.R.5889

Ideology and Technology

Once they were called hackers; now the term (if Make magazine has its way) is “makers:” This, From That — Maker Faire

“We are grabbing technology, ripping the back off of it and reaching our hands in where we are not supposed to be,” says Shannon O’Hare, who has brought his three-story Victorian mansion on wheels, one of the most prominent examples of the anachronistic style known as steampunk, to the Faire. He is holding forth in a vintage British military uniform and pith helmet, and is gesturing with a hand that holds a sloshing tankard of ale.

“We’ve been told by corporate America that we cannot fix the things we own,” says Mr. O’Hare, who goes by Major Catastrophe and works as a fabricator for the stage and businesses. “All we can do is buy their stuff and like it.” Cars have become too complex to work on under a shade tree, and people have no idea what is inside their cellphones and cameras. “All this technology, and it’s not ours. It’s somebody else’s,” Mr. O’Hare says. “ Make is about taking that back off and making it yours.”

The Power of the Network Effect

The NYTimes well-established pro-Microsoft slant on technology news is particularly evident in this writeup, which seems somehow to indicate that OLPC had been bullying the Redmond firm. But the news also shows that it’s awfully difficult to beat the network effect, even with free software: Microsoft Joins Effort for Laptops for Children

After a years-long dispute, Microsoft and the computing and education project One Laptop Per Child said Thursday that they had reached an agreement to offer Windows on the organization’s computers.

Microsoft long resisted joining the ambitious project because its laptops used the Linux operating system, a freely distributed alternative to Windows.

The group’s small, sturdy laptops, designed for use by children in developing nations, have been hailed for their innovative design. But they are sold mainly to governments and education ministries, and initial sales were slow, partly because countries were reluctant to buy machines that did not run Windows, the dominant operating system.

[…] [T]he alliance with Microsoft has created some turmoil within the project. Walter Bender, the president who oversaw software development, resigned last month. His departure, Mr. Negroponte said, was “a huge loss to O.L.P.C.”

Inside the project, there have been people who, Mr. Negroponte said, came to regard the use of open-source software as one of the project’s ends instead of its means.

CBS Goes All In

CBS in Deal to Buy CNet to Increase Online Ads

On Thursday, CBS announced a $1.8 billion deal to buy the online media brand CNet Networks, home of Web sites like CNet.com (on technology), BNet (on business), GameSpot (on video games), TV.com (on television), and CHOW (on cooking).

CBS has been snapping up small Web sites in the last year or so, including Last.fm, a music Web site it bought for $280 million, according to regulatory filings. It also acquired Wallstrip, which makes irreverent financial-themed Web videos, and DotSpotter, a celebrity gossip site.

But at $1.8 billion, Thursday’s deal for CNet is the biggest by far in its recent Internet expansion, making the network — and therefore Mr. Smith — bigger players in online media.

Also CBS agrees to buy Internet media firm CNET (pdf); and an analysis over at Slate: Network 2.0