Hard To Believe

Hard to believe that hotels are having a hard time accepting that wireless internet is a requirement of so many travelers. I was at a Ritz last month, and you don’t want to know what I had to pay to get internet access — despite the criminally high cost of the room in the first place! Some hotels dip toes into brave new digital worldpdf

Many such hotels are trying to catch up with a population that is more comfortable with technology than ever. The $133-billion lodging industry’s cutting edge sees a business opportunity in traveling lawyers pining for high-speed Internet access, twentysomethings looking for a place to plug in their iPods and vacationers preferring YouTube over the boob tube.

But although the trend is gathering steam, it’s a tricky proposition for an industry that is more Flintstones than Jetsons.

“We’re a business that’s still trying to come to grips with the toaster,” complained John Burns, president of Hospitality Technology Consulting in Scottsdale, Ariz. “If you have to turn the knob to make it lighter or darker, we have to think about that.”

Still, customers want what they want. In a survey of business travelers this year, 58% said free high-speed Internet access was “very” or “extremely” influential in determining where they stayed — triple the proportion from five years earlier.

Cellphones and Privacy

Privacy Lost: These Phones Can Find You

Two new questions arise, courtesy of the latest advancement in cellphone technology: Do you want your friends, family, or colleagues to know where you are at any given time? And do you want to know where they are?

Only two?

“There are massive changes going on in society, particularly among young people who feel comfortable sharing information in a digital society,” said Kevin Bankston, a staff lawyer at the Electronic Frontier Foundation based in San Francisco.

“We seem to be getting into a period where people are closely watching each other,” he said. “There are privacy risks we haven’t begun to grapple with.”

But the practical applications outweigh the worries for some converts.

*Shock* — Really Sorry I Missed This One!!

Traffic shaping, or network neutrality problem? You decide: Comcast Blocks Some Internet Traffic (pdf) [via Machinist]

The principle of equal treatment of traffic, called “Net Neutrality” by proponents, is not enshrined in law but supported by some regulations. Most of the debate around the issue has centered on tentative plans, now postponed, by large Internet carriers to offer preferential treatment of traffic from certain content providers for a fee.

Comcast’s interference, on the other hand, appears to be an aggressive way of managing its network to keep file-sharing traffic from swallowing too much bandwidth and affecting the Internet speeds of other subscribers.

[…] Comcast’s technology kicks in, though not consistently, when one BitTorrent user attempts to share a complete file with another user.

Each PC gets a message invisible to the user that looks like it comes from the other computer, telling it to stop communicating. But neither message originated from the other computer — it comes from Comcast. If it were a telephone conversation, it would be like the operator breaking into the conversation, telling each talker in the voice of the other: “Sorry, I have to hang up. Good bye.”

[…] Comcast’s interference affects all types of content, meaning that, for instance, an independent movie producer who wanted to distribute his work using BitTorrent and his Comcast connection could find that difficult or impossible — as would someone pirating music.

Letting the EU Do The Heavy Lifting

Since we can’t (won’t?) keep our own house in order: Microsoft Accepts European Antitrust Ruling (also Microsoft Concedes in European Antitrust Casealso this)

The Microsoft Corporation agreed today to obey crucial parts of a 2004 antitrust ruling upheld by an appeals court last month, European regulators said today, cutting royalties for rivals and handing information over to open source developers.

The software company said separately that it would not appeal the decision, dropping a challenge of a European Commission order that found it guilty of monopoly abuse three years ago.

See also F.T.C. Chief Balks at Intel Inquiry

LATimes Editorial Channels Terry Fisher

Or, at least the evolution of where his original plan might be today: A tech-entertainment trucepdf

The new content filters are a double-edged sword. They are critical to the efforts by tech and entertainment companies to turn the Internet into a profitable content distribution network. But they could give copyright holders too much control over what is and isn’t a fair use of their works, while encouraging them to withhold their content from the Web instead of profiting from it.

[…] There are good business reasons for websites to use the new technologies. For starters, major advertisers don’t want their pitches running alongside bootlegged videos. But Hollywood would be ill-advised to use the filters to bottle up its works, particularly the advertiser-supported ones. The Net is notoriously leaky, and blocking content on one set of sites won’t stop it from reaching users by other means. A better use of content-identification systems is to track how many times a song or video is viewed or downloaded, then use that information to split the advertising revenue generated by those files between its producers and its distributors. The Web presents a huge pool of opportunity, and content owners need to jump in and compete instead of waiting for all the pirates to be swept from the waters.

For more on Terry Fisher’s Promises to Keep, see this earlier entry.

Sin City As Troubling Testbed

From Casinos to Counterterrorismpdf

This city, famous for being America’s playground, has also become its security lab. Like nowhere else in the United States, Las Vegas has embraced the twin trends of data mining and high-tech surveillance, with arguably more cameras per square foot than any airport or sports arena in the country. Even the city’s cabs and monorail have cameras. As the U.S. government ramps up its efforts to forestall terrorist attacks, some privacy advocates view the city as a harbinger of things to come.

[…] “You could almost look at Vegas as the incubator of a whole host of surveillance technologies,” said James X. Dempsey, policy director for the Center for Democracy and Technology. Those technologies, he said, have spread to other commercial venues: malls, stadiums, amusement parks.

And although that is “problematic,” he said, “the spread of the techniques to counterterrorism is doubly worrisome. Finding a terrorist is much harder than finding a card counter, and the consequences of being wrongly labeled a terrorist are much more severe than being excluded from a casino.”

“We Have Met The Enemy, And He Is Us”

Google’s Purchase of Jaiku Raises New Privacy Issues

Petteri Koponen, one of the two founders of Jaiku, described the service as a “holistic view of a person’s life,” rather than just short posts. “We extract a lot of information automatically, especially from mobile phones,” Mr. Koponen said from Mountain View, Calif., where the company is being integrated into Google. “This kind of information paints a picture of what a person is thinking or doing.”

In practical terms, Jaiku’s mobile application allows users to broadcast not only their whereabouts, but how the phone is being used, even what kind of music it is playing.

The information opens up a world of new mobile services for regular users, beyond the world of early adapters familiar with Jaiku.

[…] All this opens serious questions about privacy, and about whether people are prepared to be constantly traceable, even if only by friends. Mr. Koponen said Jaiku was aware of this and was working hard to allow users to limit the information they share, without making the service too complicated.

“To date, many people still maintain their illusion of privacy,” he said in an e-mail message.

Ideologies in Competition

Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web

Several major research libraries have rebuffed offers from Google and Microsoft to scan their books into computer databases, saying they are put off by restrictions these companies want to place on the new digital collections.

The research libraries, including a large consortium in the Boston area, are instead signing on with the Open Content Alliance, a nonprofit effort aimed at making their materials broadly available.

[…] “There are two opposed pathways being mapped out,” said Paul Duguid, an adjunct professor at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley. “One is shaped by commercial concerns, the other by a commitment to openness, and which one will win is not clear.”

We’ll See

In Search of Wireless Wiggle Room

I RECENTLY watched a YouTube clip of a young man removing the memory chip from his iPhone with his teeth, in an attempt to “unlock” the device for use on a network other than the AT&T system for which the phone was exclusively sold. His gyrations were a particularly vivid reminder of the limits imposed on cellphones by the companies that run national wireless networks in the United States.

But there are signs that the existing order in the wireless world may finally be changing.

This month, despite the opposition of companies like Verizon, the Federal Communications Commission reiterated that its coming auction of wireless spectrum would include rules intended to give consumers more choices in the phones they can use. These “open access” auction rules have already received considerable attention, but the commission also faces other decisions that will significantly affect the availability and the price of wireless service.