2003 April 18

(entry last updated: 2003-04-18 14:35:45)

  • Offtopic: A little humor before I leave for the holiday weekend: What Economists Do With Their Time [Flash – don’t click on the leader of the free world link!] – Apologies to the Sloan School and Happy Patriot’s Day!

  • Offtopic: Jack Balkin’s April 17 posting is a great read. (I’ll get a permalink once his blog tool updates…)

  • This week’s Electronic Business discusses the coming battle between consumer electronics companies and the cable companies for control of the digital living room – and identifies a gap in the current cable compatibility specification. Given the cable industry’s behavior in the past, I know who I would like to have run things this time around – the question is how to get it to happen.

    The cable industry’s fear of losing its lock on STBs [ed: set top boxes] when PODs [ed: point of deployment boxes – the new format] are rolled out is leading to a new strategy: controlling the next-generation digital portal to your living room, the home media center. Charter Communications has an alliance with Digeo Inc., Kirkland, WA, a cable media center provider. (Investor Paul Allen controls both Charter and Digeo, at least at the time of this writing.) Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which collectively control the cable service to more than 40% of U.S. homes with cable television, also have teamed with residential gateway companies.

    …Chip suppliers such as Broadcom Corp., Irvine, CA; TeraLogic Inc. (now owned by Oak Technology Inc., Sunnyvale, CA); Cirrus Logic Inc., Austin, TX; and the chip division of Motorola clearly want a bigger stake in the emerging digital living room. But so far such companies have been keeping mum, because they don’t want to offend the powerful cable gatekeepers.

    These chip makers should stand squarely with their traditional TV set and computer allies when the POD deal heads toward the FCC for approval. This may be their last real chance to create a standardized platform and head off further cable industry control over access to the television-based portal into the home.

  • Donna’s put together some thoughts on Ed Felten’s Slashdot interview.

    A small story to relate to Donna’s suggestion that it’s time to talk about “real-world” effects. I spent last week in Augusta, Georgia visiting my mother and attending the Master’s golf tournament. The Thursday round was rained out and my Mom took a couple of my sister’s friends from the Atlanta appellate court to lunch. During lunch, we got into the standard discussions of who does what, and my MIT position led to a question about my opinion of the US’s competitive posture in re technological innovation.

    Well! With an opening like that, I raised the topic of the perverse effects of elements of the current IP legislative regime upon certain kinds of inquiry, as well as the effects of recent patent policy upon openess in the academic community (e.g., this controversy) – and they got very excited about the issues. Granted, these were lawyers, but I was surprised by how much of an effect this discussion had upon them.

  • Andrew Orlowski, who generally spews The Register’s weltanschauung with the best of them, has a thoughtful piece today, stemming from the Pew Internet report that’s been getting all the buzz lately. Well worth a read, especially leading into a long Easter/Patriot’s Day weekend.

    In case you missed the Pew Study, here’s the paragraph from the summary that has gotten a lot of ink:

    Pew Internet Project tracking data show a flattening of the overall growth of the Internet population since late 2001. Internet penetration rates have hovered between 57% and 61% since October 2001, rather than pursuing the steady climb that they had showed in prior years. One possible explanation for this leveling trend is that the number of people dropping offline roughly equals the number of newcomers who come online each month. The lack of growth might also be tied to a struggling economy that leaves some families worried about household finances. Or it may be that we have reached a point where the adoption curve has peaked and the market is no longer working to bring online new groups of Internet users. Whatever the reason, it merits continued surveillance.

  • Seems like it’s a law day all around. Over at ZDNet, we have Law and sausages, wherein we find:

    But instead of moves to limit this wave of control and criminalization, the industry seems keen to encourage it. You may remember Palladium, Microsoft’s fuzzily described initiative to lock up the PC architecture. You may remember the Trusted Computing Platform Alliance, TCPA, which was a 200-member group to create a somewhat more open approach to the same thing. Well, the TCPA board of directors (guess who) decided unilaterally to abandon that and set up the Trusted Computing Group, TCG. The old TCPA members weren’t consulted about this, but they’re welcome to join the new group–under the new group’s rules. Microsoft has said previously that Palladium would become the next version of the TCPA standards–looks like they found a way to do this without having to OK it with the members.

    Or with you. There is no independent consumer or academic input to the TCG. And while eminent cryptographers such as Whitfield Diffie have said that the Microsoft approach “lends itself to market domination, lock-out and not really owning your own computer,” and Ronald Rivest–founder of RSA Security–has called for full and open public debate, it’s hard to see how this can take place when cryptographic research is rapidly becoming criminal, and big companies like Microsoft, Intel, IBM, HP et al are free to impose security –which will be automatically backed up by laws such as the DCMA–at will.

    …While computer security remains in the hands of commercial interests intent on criminalizing and locking their customers into terrified, powerless compliance, the real risks are going unchecked and unnoticed.

  • eWeek has caught wind of the super-DMCA and has a couple of articles today:

    Note that Peter’s piece calls for more involvement by IT professionals.

    It seems to me, however, that engineers hear the word “law” and think “the way the world behaves.” Legislators hear the word “law” and think “how we’re going to make the voters and campaign contributors happy.” When legislators’ declared laws conflict with engineers’ discovered laws, one can’t expect the politicians to apologize and change. They’re more likely to compound their original errors.

    Enterprises already strive to guide the creation of laws that affect the taxes they’ll pay or the competition they’ll face. Enterprise professionals should likewise seek involvement in processes that redraw the IT playing field.

  • In case you missed this, here’s the Billboard rundown:

    Madonna Has Choice Words For Music Pirates:

    The Madonna camp is looking to clamp down on online peer-to-peer piracy of her new Maverick album, “American Life,” by flooding file-sharing networks with decoy files. Those who download tracks from such services as KaZaA are greeted by the voice of Madonna asking, “What the f*** do you think you’re doing?” The new album is due April 22; the title track is No. 37 this week on the Billboard Hot 100.

    And if you need more on Madonna, see this New York Times article: Madonna’s Real Art: Getting Attention

  • Provocative piece on privacy in the digital age: The paradox of privacy:

    “Dragging all human behavior into the public is literally totalitarian,” said Bob Blakely, chief security and privacy scientist for IBM’s Tivoli Systems. “If you erode privacy, you erode liberty, because people don’t tolerate things going on in front of them that they don’t approve of.”

    … Ultimately, though, business, government and individuals are going to have to agree to a compromise. Companies will likely have to take consumers’ objections more into consideration when it comes to collecting or selling personal data. The legal fees and fines that come with misusing data will also help whip businesses into line, said John Tomaszewski, chief privacy officer at CheckFree, which specializes in payment systems.

    Conversely, individuals will likely have to submit to the fact that data about them is floating about, other experts at both the Almaden and RSA conferences said. One person’s invasion is another’s convenience. The differences of opinion often boil down to indefinable, but significant, personal biases. The fact that security experts often disagree shows that there is a long way to go.

    “It is going to take some time to play out because we don’t fully understand the requirements,” said Robert Morris, director of IBM’s Almaden lab. “The scientists haven’t engaged enough the with the policy makers.”