The EU To Go Where MA Could Not?

Harsh Words for Microsoft Technology – NYTimes.com

The European Union’s competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, delivered an unusually blunt rebuke to Microsoft on Tuesday by recommending that businesses and governments use software based on open standards.

Ms. Kroes has fought bitterly with Microsoft over the last four years, accusing the company of defying her orders and fining it nearly 1.7 billion euros, or $2.7 billion, on the grounds of violating European competition rules. But her comments were the strongest recommendation yet by Ms. Kroes to jettison Microsoft products, which are based on proprietary standards, and to use rival operating systems to run computers.

“I know a smart business decision when I see one — choosing open standards is a very smart business decision indeed,” Ms. Kroes told a conference in Brussels. “No citizen or company should be forced or encouraged to choose a closed technology over an open one.”

The speech can be found here (local pdf)

This is a news topic?

What’s going on? American Exception – Unlike Others, U.S. Defends Freedom to Offend in Speech

Some prominent legal scholars say the United States should reconsider its position on hate speech.

“It is not clear to me that the Europeans are mistaken,” Jeremy Waldron, a legal philosopher, wrote in The New York Review of Books last month, “when they say that a liberal democracy must take affirmative responsibility for protecting the atmosphere of mutual respect against certain forms of vicious attack.”

[…] Harvey A. Silverglate, a civil liberties lawyer in Cambridge, Mass., disagreed. “When times are tough,” he said, “there seems to be a tendency to say there is too much freedom.”

“Free speech matters because it works,” Mr. Silverglate continued. Scrutiny and debate are more effective ways of combating hate speech than censorship, he said, and all the more so in the post-Sept. 11 era.

[…] Mr. Steyn, the author of the article, said the Canadian proceedings had illustrated some important distinctions. “The problem with so-called hate speech laws is that they’re not about facts,” he said in a telephone interview. “They’re about feelings.”

“What we’re learning here is really the bedrock difference between the United States and the countries that are in a broad sense its legal cousins,” Mr. Steyn added. “Western governments are becoming increasingly comfortable with the regulation of opinion. The First Amendment really does distinguish the U.S., not just from Canada but from the rest of the Western world.”

I’ve been out of town for a while and I am always surprised what constitutes news in the town I grew up in, but what is the Times playing at here?

The Economist on Behavioral Targeting at Your ISP’s

Watching while you surf (pdf)

IS IT a worrying invasion of privacy for web surfers, or a lucrative new business model for online advertising? A new “behavioural” approach to targeting internet advertisements, being pioneered by companies such as Phorm, NebuAd and FrontPorch, is said to be both of these things. The idea is that special software, installed in the networks of internet-service providers ISPs, intercepts webpage requests generated by their subscribers as they roam the net. The pages in question are delivered in the usual way, but are also scanned for particular keywords in order to build up a profile of each subscriber’s interests. These profiles can then be used to target advertisements more accurately.

The LATimes notes that Groups appeal to Congress on ISP snooping (pdf)

Variable Pricing == DRM-Free?

Labels eye variable pricing for digital sales (pdf)

Arguably the No. 1 item on record labels to-do list for the year is, “Establish variable pricing for digital downloads.”

As luck would have it, the No. 1 item on the to-do list of digital music services not named iTunes is converting their library to digital rights management-free sales. So it comes as no surprise that the labels have made an openness to variable pricing a prerequisite of any DRM-free licensing negotiations.

That digital music sales are not yet compensating for falling CD revenue is no secret. Whether experimenting with the price of digital music will make any difference remains to be seen.

Krugman on the Digital Economy and IPR

Op-Ed Columnist – Paul Krugman – Bits, Bands and Books, Paying for Creativity in a Digital World (pdf)

Now, the strategy of giving intellectual property away so that people will buy your paraphernalia won’t work equally well for everything. To take the obvious, painful example: news organizations, very much including this one, have spent years trying to turn large online readership into an adequately paying proposition, with limited success.

But they’ll have to find a way. Bit by bit, everything that can be digitized will be digitized, making intellectual property ever easier to copy and ever harder to sell for more than a nominal price. And we’ll have to find business and economic models that take this reality into account.

It won’t all happen immediately. But in the long run, we are all the Grateful Dead.

Missing the Point

Cellphone Tracking Study Shows We’re Creatures of Habit — The opening line shows just how out of it a report can be:

News flash: we’re boring

New research that makes creative use of sensitive location-tracking data from 100,000 cellphones in Europe suggests that most people can be found in one of just a few locations at any time, and that they do not generally go far from home.

“Individuals display significant regularity, because they return to a few highly frequented locations, such as home or work,” the researchers found.

That might seem like science and mountains of data being marshaled to prove the obvious. But the researchers say their work, which also shows that people exhibit similar patterns whether they travel long distances or short ones, could open new frontiers in fields like disease tracking and urban planning.

I can think of a few others….

The Nature letter: Understanding individual human mobility patterns (Nature 453, 779-782 (5 June 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature06958; Received 19 December 2007; Accepted 27 March 2008)

My Tax Dollars At Work

Tracking the Trackers: Investigating P2P copyright enforcement. And what do you think they conclude? From the technical report: Challenges and Directions for Monitoring P2P File Sharing Networks – or – Why My Printer Received a DMCA Takedown Notice

Abstract— We reverse engineer copyright enforcement in the popular BitTorrent file sharing network and find that a common approach for identifying infringing users is not conclusive. We describe simple techniques for implicating arbitrary network endpoints in illegal content sharing and demonstrate the effectiveness of these techniques experimentally, attracting real DMCA complaints for nonsense devices, e.g., IP printers and a wireless access point. We then step back and evaluate the challenges and possible future directions for pervasive monitoring in P2P file sharing networks.

More generally from their WWW page:

Although the implications of being accused of copyright infringement are significant, very little is known about the methods used by enforcement agencies to detect it, particularly in P2P networks. We have conducted the first scientific, experimental study of monitoring and copyright enforcement on P2P networks and have made several discoveries which we find surprising.

  • Practically any Internet user can be framed for copyright infringement today.

    By profiling copyright enforcement in the popular BitTorrent file sharing system, we were able to generate hundreds of real DMCA takedown notices for computers at the University of Washington that never downloaded nor shared any content whatsoever.

    Further, we were able to remotely generate complaints for nonsense devices including several printers and a (non-NAT) wireless access point. Our results demonstrate several simple techniques that a malicious user could use to frame arbitrary network endpoints.

  • Even without being explicitly framed, innocent users may still receive complaints.
    Because of the inconclusive techniques used to identify infringing BitTorrent users, users may receive DMCA complaints even if they have not been explicitly framed by a malicious user and even if they have never used P2P software!

  • Software packages designed to preserve the privacy of P2P users are not completely effective.

    To avoid DMCA complaints today, many privacy conscious users employ IP blacklisting software designed to avoid communication with monitoring and enforcement agencies. We find that this software often fails to identify many likely monitoring agents, but we also discover that these agents exhibit characteristics that make distinguishing them straightforward.

While our experiments focus on BitTorrent only, our findings imply the need for increased transparency in the monitoring and enforcement process for all P2P networks to both address the known deficiencies we have exposed as well as to identify lurking unknown deficiencies.

Fun with NSF money!

“Everybody Into the Pool!”

German government supports giving police enhanced surveillance powers (pdf)

Despite strong criticism from the opposition and even its own coalition partners, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government agreed yesterday to give Germany’s police forces greater powers to monitor homes, telephones, and private computers, maintaining that an enhanced reach would protect citizens from terrorist attacks.

But opposition parties and some Social Democrats who share power with Merkel’s conservative bloc criticized the measures in the draft legislation, saying they would further erode privacy rights that have already been undermined, after revelations of recent snooping operations conducted by Deutsche Telekom, one of the country’s biggest companies.

See earlier: Germans Weigh Civil Rights and Public Safety (pdf)

And, of course, today’s Adviser Says McCain Backs Bush Wiretaps (pdf)

Copying and Fashion

The Revolutionary (pdf)

“Designers have been copying Yves Saint Laurent for more than 20 years,” said Keni Valenti, a vintage fashion dealer in New York. As recently as this spring, he said, his downtown loft was a magnet for designers rifling his racks of vintage YSL. Many of them, absorbing the designer’s ideas down to the subtlest details, openly look to him for validation.

“I and a couple of friends would always say, ‘How would Saint Laurent do it,’ ” Mr. Jacobs told Women’s Wear Daily. “It’s a little, funny gauge of a thing being right, a kind of standard for chic, for youth, for sex appeal without vulgarity and with overall beauty.”

Citing Saint Laurent is a long-held tradition. “When Yves was alive, all the huge names in fashion — Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Calvin Klein, Claude Montana — could not help but be affected,” recalled Marian McEvoy, who befriended the designer in the mid-’70s, when she worked in Paris as an editor of Women’s Wear Daily.

“His was a very profound influence,” she said, noting that there was no shame or hesitation in knocking off his most compelling ideas. “If you were a designer at the time, you gave in to that influence kind of joyfully. It was: ‘Hey, that’s a great piece. Let’s copy it.’ ”

In Case You Were Wondering About The Business Model

YouTube puts demographic feedback to work (pdf)

Insight is part of a trend on the Web. The social networking giant Facebook offers account holders a weekly report that, like Insight, is free — and has a similar name, Insights. The information it provides is used by individuals and companies that have Facebook pages and want to hone their marketing.

Before Insight, success on Google Inc.s YouTube was measured primarily in one way: by the sheer number of “views,” or times a video was watched. The data available through Insight include age, gender and geographic location as well as the identities of the Internet sites that viewers came from and where they went after watching a clip. Marketers and advertisers use the data to decide how to target their next round of ads or where bands should tour, said Tracy Chan, product manager of YouTube Insight.

“YouTube is becoming the worlds biggest focus group,” Chan said.

The YouTube data are more specific than what bands typically can get from television and radio, said Ben Patterson, who worked on Weezers digital marketing strategy.

“What’s distinct about YouTube Insight is the immediacy of the information and the discovery element — how viewers found the content,” he said.

Also note that the CA legislature failed to give landline folks what cellphone users already have: Why your privacy still comes at a cost (pdf)

In case you missed it, your elected representatives bowed to intense pressure from phone companies last week and voted to allow them to keep charging whatever they want to protect your privacy.

I’m talking, of course, about the up to $24 a year that millions of Californians are charged to keep their numbers out of the phone book and its electronic cousins.

[…] “In a competitive marketplace, the Legislature shouldn’t be in the business of setting prices for features,” said Jon Davies, a spokesman for Verizon Communications Inc. “They should let consumers decide which ones they want to pay for and which ones they don’t.”

But, hey — amnesty *is* something that the legislature should get into, right?