Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Federal court will rule whether US Copyright Group movie downloading litigation can proceed with defedants in large groups

A federal court in Washington DC heard arguments on June 30 as to whether the U.S. Copyright Group can group defendants for copyright infringement lawsuits regarding allegedly illegal downloading of up to six films, now including “The Hurt Locker”.

There is a story by Mark Hefflinger in DMW (Digital Media Wire) Daily (web url) here.

The ACLu argues that grouping defendants, regardless of geographical location and otherwise unconnected, violates their due process rights.

Electronic Frontier Foundation appeared in court today and has a brief account of what it calls a “predatory lawsuit” here. USCG is swinging for the fences at $150000 per infringement in order to get defendants so settle out of court for something like $2000 per person or per infringement.

As far as I know, all the alleged illegal activity involved P2P and probably BitTorrent. However parents could be on the hook for what their kids did, and people might be liable for what roommates or anyone with access to their computers did. What if a computer were hacked and then did illegal downloading at the behest of a hacker?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Part II of "It's Not About You"

Twenty-two years ago yesterday, Tuesday June 28, 1988, I sadly drove away from a condo in Dallas I had lived in happily for three-plus years and moved back to the DC area for a new job, less renumerative, after getting caught up in the hostile takeover wars of the late 80s. I haven’t lived in a home I own since then, but I built my life back, wrote and published a book (“Do Ask Do Tell”), moved to Minneapolis, had six interesting years, but then on Friday August 22, 2003 had another sad day driving away from a good life.

I understand the point that if you choose to “stand alone”, then your standing in life (at least in some particular episode) can expire, if there is no access to “grace”. You play “Mother May I” and take steps backward to “pay your dues.”

In 1993, I was particularly struck by a particular aspect of the debate over gays in the military. Being allowed to serve, while still having a “private life”, was viewed (by me, at least, at the time) as a form of “equality.” The emphasis in my own thinking was on equal sharing or responsibilities – and of risks and uncertainties (which are not quite the same things).

Of course, we all know how the perception of equality developed since then, not just the gay marriage debate (which sprung forward in Hawaii about the same time that the military debate did) but from the whole idea of openness, which now is taken for granted in a world of social media. When Mark Zuckerberg, at age 19, hit the enter key on his dorm computer in February 2004 to launch his innovation, be probably had no real concept of “privacy” and “reputation” as earlier generations (including my own) had come to perceive it. The sudden appearance of social media gave us a “before and after” apperception of both equality and privacy.

Today, equality in life station can mean equal responsibility in trans-generational responsibility, or “generativity” as a part of “sustainability”. I’ve covered before how some people (not always on the religious right) translate that into the idea of “the natural family” as a source of personal identity.

But one observation is inescapable: equality would mean accepting personal challenges personally thought unthinkable. (See my review of Joshua Ramo’s “The Age of the Unthinkable” April 12, 2009). A few times, I have been confronted with situations where intimacy is desired from me in situations that one would have previously considered inappropriate, possibly suggestive of harassment, at least beyond the parameters of voluntary consent. I detailed some of these on a blog posting here July 25, 2007 about an incident in substitute teaching. I did not welcome the idea that somewhat incapacitated students would see a 60+ year old man in bathing gear. Yet, that may be what “role modeling” can comprise. Conservatives have sometimes indulged in columns about father-son relationships where sons learn that bodily appearance normally changes (or even “deteriorates”) with advancing age, and that is not supposed to undermine love within a family. Yet setting up such situations sounds plainly dangerous. But “equality” may demand stepping up to family role modeling situations even from those who have not had their own children (or, who like me, have felt humiliated by conventional socialization), as being part of a community.  It may mean accepting openness to some intimacy beyond the usual concept of consent. Family responsibility goes way beyond what can follow a chosen act of intercourse.

See also June 15 posting. Is Rick Warren's "It's not about you" a variation fo Robin Williams's "It's not your fault" in "Good Will Hunting"?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Boucher Bill could severly impact today's Internet business models, affecting small publishers

During the Potomac Tech Wire Digital Media Conference East at Tyson’s Corner VA Friday (reported here then, June 25), concern was expressed about a Senate draft, created in May, of a bill (link here) originated by Virginia Representative Rick Boucher (D) (and no relation to my name, which sounds similar). It's already called "The Boucher Bill", although Boucher has introduced related legislation in the past, according to search engines.

This purports to be a bill “to require notice to and consent of an individual prior to the collection and disclosure of certain personal information about that individual.” The draft is still in discussion and apparently it has yet to be formally introduced. It does not appear to have an HR number yet.

There is an analysis of the bill by Tanya Fosrsheit on the web site of the Info Law Group, dated May 12, 2010, with link here.

The bill tends to suggest that, for example, that companies or other entities serving advertisements to web viewers would have to seek opt-in permission before gathering information that could be used to market other products or services to users to that computer (which the company probably believes to be the same or related persons). Already, websites that offer ads that plant cookies are generally advised or required by publishing services to have privacy policies that advise viewers how certain kinds of data might be collected, but generally they don’t have an opt-in or op-out. For example, this blog page has a Privacy Policy displayed conspicuously (even if the print font is small) at the very bottom of this page.

Marketing companies do aggregate information regarding viewing “preferences” of visitors as an abstract notion – admittedly that can imply probably relevant information about a viewer (even sexual orientation, for example). However, the information does not by itself comprise “PII” or personal identifying information (a term particularly relevant, for example, to recent Census operations and particularly guarded by Census, particularly, by oath in collection, and generally required to be guarded by financial institutions and usually retailers from improper disclosure). The information represents an entity that demonstrates a certain pattern of interests as a potential consumer.

The greatest security problem for web users, apart from possible disclosure of PII to hackers by companies with inadequate encryption and security, probably comes from the fact that various data companies sell reports on individuals, including information like home address (rather than mail box) or home phone, to parties that may have hostile intentions (of impersonation or stalking), compared to credit reporting companies, which at least are supposed to require legitimate membership of interests to whom they sell credit reports. The sort of information acquired by advertisers from web users generally does not represent this kind of risk to ordinary users. However, a few companies have, of course, promulgated malware that does indeed try to obtain PII from users later from keystrokes. Anti-virus software and anti-spyware is intended to intercept these efforts. In some cases, interception of information, as parents watching minor children, may have an ethically or legally permissible purpose.

There is no question that the spontaneous Web (call it 2.0, 3.0, etc) that invites so much user participation and even self-broadcast depends on advertising and on the acceptance of advertising by Internet users as a way of paying for their service, very much as was the case with broadcast television and even radio in past decades. Of course, it’s possible to imagine a marketing model that is much more tied to the content (and less to the behavior of the consumer), and to a relationship between the publisher and marketer. Ten years ago (even during the “dot-com” boom and bust around 2000) that’s pretty much how it was, with operations like LinkShare, where advertisers had to approve of specific sites.

At the conference, speakers expressed the belief that the bill would not get too far in the current form. If it did pass and if the Federal Trade Commission had to enforce it literally, business models upon which blogging and social networking platforms depend would become much less profitable than they are today, and so many speakers might eventually no longer find an outlet.

Pam Horan, of the Online Publishers Association (link), has noted the importance of geocentric information on mobile devices, which is really not PII, although in “Tom Clancy” scenarios people could be tracked down with it. I found her video on a Washington Post link given here Friday; I couldn't find it on the OPA site.

Wendy Davis had a story June 5 in Online Media Daily that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (link ) had said “Boucher bill stikes at the ‘Heart and soul of today’s Internet offerings”, story here although I could not find that story on IAB’s press releases.

Not everyone interprets the bill so negatively. Steve Igo of the Kingsport (TN) Times writes “Boucher bill would protect privacy of Internet users” here. But San Francisco station KQED has a story by Martin Kaste (link)  which shows how a site that helps people who buy Ikea furniture ("Ikea fans") would be severely affected. (By the way, Ikea is good for other things besides furniture, like gravlax, according to a tweet I got—rather like lutefisk from MN.)

I’ll take up this bill with my own congressman (Moran, VA) and I welcome comments that I could share with him on this bill.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Senators propose giving president "Internet stop switch" (Lieberman's PCNAA bill)

There has been a lot of scuttlebutt about the proposal in Congress to give the President an “Internet kill switch” lately, and some of this seems related to the bill S. 3480 introduced on June 10, 2010 by Independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. That is the “Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010”, or PCNAA, with govtrack link here. The Congressional Research Service apparently has not yet provided a summary there. But the critical language seems to appear in sections 248 and 249 of the bill.

Declan McCulagh had a commentary on CNET that day, “Senators propose giving president emergency Internet power” (and he doesn’t mean the old Washington Senators baseball team.) He starts bluntly, “A new U.S. Senate bill would grant the president far-reaching emergency powers to seize control of or even shut down portions of the Internet.” The link is here.

There was an earlier bill, S 773, introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller in April 2009, a “Cybersecurity Act of 2009”, which was said then to provide a “kill” mechanism, at least indirectly by proposing a security czar and giving him various authorities. But CNET writes that under PCNAA “Any company on a list created by Homeland Security that also "relies on" the Internet, the telephone system, or any other component of the U.S. "information infrastructure" would be subject to command by a new National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC) that would be created inside Homeland Security.” There is a limit on the ability of the government to order Bushie-style (or Nixonian) warrantless wiretapping.

For entrepreneurs, especially small ones (not just “industrialists” like the Facebook CEO), such powers could be devastating. But the idea of such a bill raises a question about standards of responsibility in Internet use just as it could, at least, in automobile use. Should individuals be required to master Internet security or the ability to use anti-virus software properly? Or should at least small “commercial” businesses?

There are risks, that “enemies” can commandeer home users for destructive denial-of-service attacks, or to embed steganographic messages. But the real threats to a cyber breakdown probably come from possible compromise of hidden connections between critical infrastructure, like the power grid, and the Internet, nexus points normally not findable to people. (Some of this was covered in a CNN special last winter.) Vulnerability could increase in the future with the development of a “smart energy grid” as part of going green. Other possible threats could involve runaway transactions threatening the financial system, but these might not incorporate the home user much.

A “kill switch” could mean that the means of self-promotion that we have come to believe as essential to life (but they weren’t until about a decade ago) , could suddenly come to an end without warning, and the companies affected could have a hard time getting going again after an emergency.

Quick Note: I must have jinxed the Washington Nationals baseball team (aka "Senators") by naming my GLBT blog post about Baltimore gay pride on June 19 "Washington at Baltimore".  This time, Baltimore is the real city,

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"Professional" bloggers can get dooced for relatively "private" email and social media postings

Mainstream newspapers do hire or contract with bloggers to write about specifically “liberal” or “conservative” beats, and sometimes such bloggers lose their contracts when newspapers learn of their other writings, even on relatively private listservers (or, obviously, in social media like Facebook, even with settings turned on).

Howard Kurtz has a story in the Style Section C of the Washington Post on Saturday June 26, “Post blogger resigns after messages leak”, about blogger David Weigl, who resigned and apologized after some apparently inappropriate remarks made on a listserver about individuals including Druge, Ron Paul, and Rush Limbaugh. The link for the story is here.

The battle over online reputation continues, even for “professional” bloggers.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Digital Media Conference (East) 2010 covers marketing and social media hard, warns about Boucher bill

The Digital Media Conference East had its seventh annual conference today, still June 25, six months after Christmas Day, this year on a Friday. It was held at the McLean Hilton (in Tyson’s Corner VA), which looks a little less palatial than the Ritz Carlton. But since it is smaller it is simpler to park and walk and carry stuff to the event. Go to this link to see the complete schedule and names of all speakers.

The conference opened with a panel briefly presenting “top digital media trends”, this most important of which (mentioned right off the bat) was mentioned on this blog yesterday, more self-policing by Internet marketing businesses.

Then Kelly Day, of Discovery Communications in Silver Spring, presented the topic “The Value of Brand in a Google World.” She went on to discuss branding and video production, and the use of video to provide synergy with text content, as well as an identity for the media publisher. She showed clips of two videos from Discovery-owned TLC, “The Sauce Boss” (cooking), and “Conception Story”, about a Virginia couple’s struggle to have children (ironically, I had written about both the AFI Silverdocs festival, to which Discovery is a major partner (on my movies blog) and about a CNN documentary about gay surrogate parenting yesterday on my TV blog. Her motto was “Brand + Science + Scale”.

The Social Media Track was probably the most important of the day, and it started with a panel on “the State of Social Media”. There were two major sessions on advertising or marketing and social media. Many interesting points were made. Facebook, for example, has master “mapping social relationships” of a two-way type, but other sides, like LinkedIn, have master one-to-many relationships. Consumer relationships depend more on the concept of “web of trust” and “admiration”, were as business-to-business relationships are more strictly “technical”.  Marketing today is much less about technical gimmicks (like pop-ups, which have become objectionable and intrusive), than with blending selling with legitimate, informative content and video (reinforcing a point made in Discovery's presentation). Marketing today also represents a real shift from the dot-com boom and bust; we don't have "" as we once did (not as a retail store -- it is there as an information site, encouraging commerce indirectly -- that is "the point".)

But the most serious topic of the say came up in three sessions, the Boucher bill, which started getting talked about in early May. This bill would restrict the ability of advertisers to collect information from web visitors without very conspicuous consent, and some people maintain that the Bill could gut the “free content” and low barrier to entry web as we know it today. I will look into the details on this bill and report on another posting soon. Here is one account of it May 12 by Washington Post technology writer Cecilia King; more references will follow on this blog soon. One speaker expressed the viewpoint that the rules in the "bricks and mortar" world regarding misuse of PII (personal identifying information) and mail promotions (as when credit reporting companies sold info in the pre-Internet days) is sufficient already; and by and large Internet marketing companies are not really using PII; they are creating their own identifiable market-to units. Another expressed the view (or hope) that the Boucher bill won't go far.

There was a symposium called “Content in the Cloud” and the protection of intellectual property rights. At the end, there was a warning that the mass "spamigation" lawsuit by the US Copyright Group could force innocent P2P users to defend themselves based on flimsy evidence that they had infringed. I wrote about that here on March 31. Today, this was the only meeting on the “Law & Technology Track”.

NPR (National Public Radio) presented its COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) strategy, which makes heavy use of XML, to place the same content in various media, including Audio, iPhone, and Android. It also allows bloggers non-commercial embedding, as long as certain protocols are followed to ensure that sponsors get proper credit in the embeds.

During the lunch break, Comcast explained its Xfinity brand and its Spotlight service for flexible advertising applications invoked in web-like manner from web tv or cable-box technology.

As a whole, the digital media business still seems focused on versatility and monetization, which, in terms of “karma”, is needed to support the “free content” and “free entry” environments of the Internet. Sometimes it overlooks the existential side of attempts to regulate (as with the Boucher bill above), or even sudden practices by business, such as at least one homeowner insurance company’s plans to surcharge users of social media.

There is still a perceived dichotomy between "self-publication" (or self "broadcast" or "self-promotion") which seems now to have a less positive foothold as a motive for social media use, and actual social interaction, which is perceived as more indispensible and less vulnerable to motivational challenge.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Marketing group will help data collection companies self-regulate

A group called the Better Advertising Project will help implement a new system (“Ghostery Software”) to track and report on data collection by marketing companies of web behavior by consumers. The group explains its mission in a brief statement here.  

A story in the Wall Street Journal today (June 24) on p B2 (“Marketplace”), “Group to police web privacy abuses; new system to track the trackers of consumer habits is attempt at self-regulation,” link here.

The Federal Trade Commission says it will endorse more regulation of Internet marketing if the industry doesn’t come up with clear methods to police itself, give consumers opt-outs (at least – some say there should be opt-in), and show consumers what they are doing.

The effort is important strategically because in the long run, "free entry" web publishing is dependent on successful and ethical Internet marketing busienss models.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Federal judge rules for YouTube in litigation with Viacom

A federal judge has ruled that publishing services like Blogger, YouTube, Wordpress, and social media are protected by the DMCA safe harbor provision as long as they follow proper takedown procedures upon receiving credible complaints from copyright holders. One version of the news is on a site called “Threat Level”, link (web url) here

According to the ruling, the service provider’s immunity (under the safe harbor provision) is not jeopardized if it knows or reasonably suspect that it may host some infringing material. This could be appealed and could run into issues with other decisions like MGM v Grokster, if its entire business model were predicated upon likely infringement.

Viacom (which owns Paramount) had claimed that YouTube lacked protection under the DMCA because it knew or should have known that much material was infringing.

The ruling came from U.S. District Judge Louis L. Stanton of New York.

Google's official blog entry on the case ruling is here. The company wrote "This is an important victory not just for us, but also for the billions of people around the world who use the web to communicate and share experiences with each other."  The Judge recongizned that many service providers suspect that their services could attract infringers, but such providers only lose the protection of the DMCA safe harbor when they fail to act properly on complaints or when they actively encourage infringement (as with so-called "piracy sites"). On the other hand, Viacom and other large media companies complain that they should be compensated (as a fidicuiary matter) whenever their content is used, and service providers make this impossible in practice.

It would be interesting to wonder if the ruling has some implications for Section 230 application as well.

In either a DMCA-safe-harbor or Section 230 situation, if service providers had to review material for copyright violations (or for libel, for example), it would mean the end of spontaneous self-publishing on the Web as we know it today!!

The case is Viacom v. Youtube with a reference document here.

Soldiers generally are left alone as to personal Internet use; Debate erupts on whether president should have emergency power to pull plug on civilian Internet use

I had a random conversation on the Metro this morning (triggered by a newspaper headline about McChrystal, previous post) with a young Army officer, going to work at the Pentagon, in neat fatigues. Although he could not be specific, it appeared that he worked in the area of military cybersecurity or cyberwarfare.

We talked about Facebook and privacy controls, and also the “pre publication review” supposedly expected of all publications or Internet postings by people with sensitive jobs. However, he said that normally the Army does not restrict of monitor Facebook, social networking, or blogging by soldiers done on their own time with their own computers, even if (as President Clinton even admitted in 1993), a soldier is on duty “at all times and in all places”.  Many soldiers blog from combat zones, providing first-hand "Hurt Locker" journalism, although commands vary on how much of this they alive.

However soldiers do get in trouble if they compromise security or specifically misbehave on the web.

Obviously, gay soldiers might violate “don’t ask don’t tell” on Facebook, but it seems that often when soldiers do so, nothing comes of it in practice. In its review of how a repeal of the policy would work, the Pentagon would clearly have to consider both military and personal computer use.

Apparently McChrystal did have to resign today. The whole incident provides a lesson in the “viral” nature of today’s media where even relatively obscure (previously) journalists can bring someone down.

A discussion with someone apparently engaged in preventing cyberwarfare brings up another issue, a proposal (or bill to be introduced) giving the president the power to cut ordinary people off from the Internet in a cyber emergency. It sounds all too easy to abuse. America’s soapbox has a thread on this issue here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

McChrystal Controversy: Internet business models and "conflict of interest"

First, here is Michael Hastings’s article from Rolling Stone, due to hit newsstands on June 25.

The title is “The Runaway General: Stanley McChrystal, Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan, has taken control of the war by never taking his eye off the real enemy: the wimps in the White House.” Supposedly Hastings, pretty young and prim himself, got the chance to interview McChrystal because of disruptions to flights caused by the Iceland volcano.

Salon has a take on this (Alex Pareene, “How volcanoe booze got the McChrystal story, and how Rolling Stone lost it”, link here  ), explaining the wayward path to Rolling Stone’s online publication of the issue, even to the point of commenting on the Huffington Post. (Salon writes “The Huffington Post's business model is, of course, built around appropriating the content of others, making all of this a bit rich.”)  Note: the Rolling Stone article didn't come up directly to me this evening from Bing, but I had no trouble finding it.

Huffington’s latest article today (June 22) is “Michael Hastings:… General’s decision to talk to me showed ‘recklessness’”, link here.

My personal interest in all of this could be summarized as “conflict of interest.” Can you ethically bite the hand that feeds you?

I faced a situation back in the 1990s, when I was working for a company that specialized in selling life insurance to officers of the US Military. Since I was going to write a book about (in large part) “don’t ask don’t tell” and would have to present myself as morally unfit to serve in the view of some (even though I had actually served in the Army without incident 1968-1970), I felt that I should not be earning my living from that customer, and that certain other conflicts could exist. So I took advantage of a corporate merger and transferred to a job in another city away from that customer base. But later I would be challenged as to whether I could live up to this kind of thinking.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Family values debated, in areas ranging from Facebook privacy to the family bed

Slate has a column today (noted on MSN) by Farhad Manjoo talking first about wider iPhone availability but soon migrates to answering a question from “Curious” on monitoring your kids on Facebook.

Curiously Manjoo admits not to being a parent and probably not expecting become for a decade or so, but goes into the idea of spying on your kids through their “friends” on Facebook. You can tell if they’ve written on your kid’s wall and vice versa. But don’t “friend friends”. He also says that many more mature kids will give you access to their profiles. But he also suggests that you may want to hide some material from your kids yourself by hiding “the photos and videos I’m tagged in”. It’s interesting how families are backing away from letting the parents or kids become public persona.

He also says you could install spyware, but a tech-savvy kid will catch you (especially if he installs Webroot Spysweeper).

And AOL offered a “Parent Dish” article by Monique El Faisy on “the family bed” today, link here. Pediatricians question the safety of the practice, but some people think it leads to better family bonding later. It would seem to contradict the social values of an individualistic culture like ours (pun: “yours, mine and ours”). But law professor Daniel Solove, in his book “Understanding Privacy” (in relation to social media, discussed in my Books blog Nov 5, 2008) points out that earlier western societies (much like those of developing countries today) had little notion of bodily privacy as families (even different ones) often shared intimate spaces together.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

MSN provides panel discussion on social media and "the former right to privacy"; will Section 230 come into question?

MSN has a “Play it Forward” (“Play It 4-Ward”) video with a wide-screen panel discussion with Laura Swisher, Peter Eliasberg, Rachel Armstrong, and Andrew Keen (“Digital Vertigo”, “The Cult of the Amateur” [the latter reviewed on my Books blog June 16, 2007), hosted by Peter Hoffman, on “the former right to privacy”. The link is (web url) here. Social media here includes everything: Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, Blogger, Wordpress, even the capability to have conventional sites like my It really incorporates all of the social, publication, and self-broadcast (or self-promotion) components.

The question is, when someone else puts up on the spot in social media, particularly with videos or photos of you in public that you didn’t know were taken, do you have recourse? Who is responsible, the poster or the social media company?

Armstrong felt that this is a social issue, not a legal one. The fundamental problem is that people in different communities have different standards of social acceptability. If you’re an Olympic swimmer, you should realize that it you do a bong hit at a party, someone might take a picture of you and post it,

Rachel and Laura felt that there should be a “technological watershed”: pictures taken before the age of the Internet should be off limits for posting without permission.

Keen feels that social media companies should be held responsible, because they make such enormous profits on other people’s content. He says we need a new “creative class” to monitor content and provide a conduit to its being posted.

Eliasburg pointed out that we have laws now (Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act) which generally protect media companies. Individual posters might be held liable for defamation or invasion of privacy, but a posting of someone taking a drink in a public place isn’t really an invasion of privacy generally. The problem is the ease with which images and content get posted and the lack of supervision, compared to the past. Yes, uncontrolled self-promotion comes into play. (In his 1997 novel “Sacrament”, author Clive Barker had thrown around the term “self-promoting queer”.)  Eliasburg admitted that maybe there should be a legitimate debate in Congress as to whether Section 230 should be changed (he didn't call it that), but if it were repealed, the "free entry" system allowing ordinary people to post content without supervision would come to an end, and we would have to go back to an older world where "getting published" is a big deal and requires the approval of third parties (who usually need to be able to make money with your content, so you have to be compete in a more conventional manner first).

And there is another problem, the varied social standards. If you’re in the Army and someone posts a picture of you dirty dancing in a gay bar, that might be a problem (until “don’t ask don’t tell” is repealed). If you teach in a Christian school, again, the same problem. So I wouldn’t take a job where it’s a problem. But I did have my own “implicit content” problem (see July 27, 2007 on this blog).

But I have to disagree with Keen to a point. If a soldier gets discharged for being openly gay because of a Facebook picture, even posted by someone else, it’s the DADT policy that is at fault; not Mark Zuckerberg or his company.


Along these lines, the Prince Georges County MD school district has promulgated rules saying that students, teachers and employees may not post pictures or videos taken on school property even from home and even with their own computers on their own social networking profiles, blogs or websites.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Supreme Court allows employers to monitor personal use of company devices, but within workplace-related reasonableness; indrect implications for online reputation policy?

The Supreme Court, in City of Ontario, CA v. Quon has decided that employers may monitor personal use of employer-supplied cell phone, Blackberry, notebook and similar devices, as long as the monitoring has a reasonable work-related purpose. The link for the opinion is (web url) here.

The case is important because some employers expect employees to keep such devices on their person at all times, so they do permit some personal use. Kennedy wrote that individuals should indeed consider buying their own devices for personal use, but in some cases it may not be reasonable for an employee to carry his own gear and his employer’s simultaneously, as when going through airports on business trips.

The Washington Post has a front page story today Friday, June 18, “Company cell? Your boss can eavesdrop, justices say; Reasonable review of phone, computer communications allowed,” link here.

Justice Kennedy did make the interesting observation that "Cell phone and text message communications are so pervasive that some persons may consider them to be essential means or necessary instruments for self-expression, even self-identification That might strengthen the case for an expectation of privacy."  Curiously, it could strenghten the case of an expectation of "right of publicity" too.

An indirect conclusion from his statement might be that employers are limited in their ability to monitor what employees say on their own blogs or on Facebook on their own time, as long as they don’t betray confidences or commit specific intellectual property violations (like copyright infringement or libel). It’s conceivable that their reasoning could cast aspersion on the practice of vetting applicant “online reputation” as a legitimate workplace practice. So there could even exist an indirect effect on the privacy-and-social-media debate.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Websites promoting anorexia and bulimia: do they test the limits of free speech?

On Thursday night June 17, ABC “World News Tonight” with Diane Sawyer presented a story that some will find as a reason to erode freedom of speech on the Web. The story title is “Pro-Anorexia Websites Send Convoluted and Deadly Messages, Study Finds: A Large Review of 'Pro-Ana' Websites Finds Deadly Advice Alongside Dangerous Support”, link here.

Supposedly search engines had suppressed these sites a few years ago, but a quick check tonight found many showing up, as well as this ABC news story. There is even a pro-ana blog on blogger here.

The film “Lucky Ducks” by Tracey Jackson (movies blog, April 9, 2010), about her daughter, pointed out that poor people have very few eating disorders, and this comment makes anorexia and bulimia sound self-indulgent. The HBO film “Thin” (TV blog, Oct. 14, 2007) had examined the agony of a family of a girl in treatment.

In discos, men tend to be lean (from exercise and popularity), but 6 feet and 160 pounds is a healthy kind of lean.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gender imbalance in college: it may have affected me back in 1961

The Washington Times today has a big Commentary Section piece, “Big man shortage on campus: quiet affirmative action for the boys,” by Charlotte Allen, link here.

This title refers to the huge majority of female enrollment in undergraduate studies (the article says 57% -- and the University of Phoenix says that 67% of its students are female!). And then it quickly presents us with the fact that many colleges can legally reduce admission standards by gender, now for boys, to equalize gender enrollment.

What’s interesting to me is how this maps up to an incident earlier in my life. When I attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA in the fall of 1961, there were about twice as many boys as girls, and admission standards for boys were lower.

One social consequence was that boys could have a harder time finding dates. Another is that they were not on an even keel in the classroom with female students, which was not a good thing psychologically or socially.

On Nov. 28, 2006 I depicted how my semester there ended abruptly on Nov. 28, 1961. Had the social climate at the school been more balanced, maybe this needn’t have happened to me at all.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

"It's not about you" -- it's about the family? You pay your dues, and life still isn't fair. But that's the only way to be free

A lesser known writer gets a reader’s attention with a good story, and a “story” often begins with some sort of new situation, where there is great anticipation. Something is found with significance that keeps expanding, like a universe.

I can pick up on a humid Saturday in early August 2005, as I drove to King of Prussia Mall near Philadelphia, with a song from “Hustle & Flow” in my head, to meet actors Gregory Smith and Chris Pratt from Everwood. I gave my elevator speech about COPA, EFF, and “don’t ask don’t tell”, but what matters here is a driving idea in Everwood. That is, a piano prodigy Ephram (played by Smith) loses out on a chance to go to Julliard over a dispute with his father, over the consequences of something that happens as Ephram comes of age and tries to “live a life” rather than be “right” and become “just” a successful artist.

I had my own nine years of piano, and did not make it my life’s work; to some extend my relationship with my own father was a factor, but also was a factor that was somewhat the converse of Ephram’s problem.

One could say that part of my problem, as I have outlined before, was that I didn’t “pay my dues” (even though did "pay my bills"). That’s the way I experienced it, but I think there is something deeper.

My parents and my upbringing culture of that world was trying to compel me to become a social creature before I was an individual with something to say or communicate – even through originally composed music, where one can hide behind abstraction. I experienced parcels of that, identifying with and “suffering” with the Washington Senators baseball team as they lost – where the city, the team was more important than me. But of course, it’s the family that is to be more important.

One of the paradoxes of Christianity is that one must lose oneself to find oneself. When you are part of “something” (call it “the natural family” [and its manifesto!], the Kingdom, whatever) you get a set of keys, or you get plugged in to the power grid. No one can run forever on their own batteries. Yet, you then have a legitimate shot to go out into the world and become yourself. But you have to understand the world is not always “fair” and you may have demands of affection placed on you that don’t fall onto others.

There are some important wrinkles in this kind of thinking, that used to be unwritten law or "hidden curriculum" back in the 1950s. One is that part of the moral requirement on "you" to be attentive to people depends on their needs within the family or social unit context, not on the choices you made.   You can still be responsible for people without having intercourse and making a baby. (Think about the movies made about people expected to raise their siblings' children.)  You are required to learn the interpersonal and labor-intensive skills to be able to form and maintain (and actually live within rather than without) a social unit before you enter "public life" on your own.  Another is that you accept the idea that your public reputation can affect others in the family.  The idea that one can broadcast knowledge that proves one is "right" (the "Everwood" problem for "Ephram") without a real life or real relationships with others disturbs some people (that's the "privilege of being listened to" problem).  But maybe the most important idea is that when one is other-centered or at least family-centered, "sacrfice" is no longer just that. So some moral theorists are saying now that everyone should learn to deal with family intimacies, being a role model, caregiving, and raising children, regardless of whether they have their own. Intergenerational responsibility becomes an important component of "sustainability", especially locally. But even that statement invokes individual "rules" rather than community-centeredness.

Now, of course, this kind of system is easily abused, into tribalism or a patriarchal society that, while stable, puts people in their places so that people don’t have to feel about others who have “broken the rules”. And we all know that Christianity isn’t supposed to work that way (but sometimes it does; look at some of the religious right).  It's easy to come up with examples of abuse, ranging from the Taliban to organized crime.

Once you’re out on your own (pun indeed), you run into the “pay your dues” problem, because you come to see how much of what you have can depend on the unseen and often involuntary sacrifices of others. (Remember the Vietnam era draft, and how we rationalized student deferments?) Call it karma. Pretty soon you find yourself working on new rules of engagement, looking for deeper levels of fairness, for “equality” as a dynamic rather than static political and social concept.

Yet, you want to matter. You want the world around you to make moral sense. In my case, something inverted but totally logical happened: I was made to believe I was gender-noncompetitive as a teen, so I had a reason for “upward affiliation”, to believe I could become “sensitive” to the best people, but also to identity those who “were there” but who “shouldn’t be” (sometimes by rather arbitrary and superficial visually-driven criteria). Later in life, in recent years, some time after my books came out and somewhat in response to my “free entry” and “self-promoting” web activity, I found people pushing me toward allowing others to see me as a role model, and, based on what happened earlier in life, I found myself quite repelled.

I could go on a screed about “morality” here: when you take liberties with things, someone else some day will have a responsibility dumped in his life that he didn’t pick and that undermines his own purposes or sense of value. But remember, if life is to be “free” it can’t be completely fair. Morality shouldn’t be about avoiding unwanted emotion and never venturing outside the zone of consent. Sometimes you have to jump in the pool and get wet. Sometimes you have to give the help in the locker room, even with 60-year-old gams. If you're free to communicate your own notions of moral perfection, you could be nudging others back towward fascism, Maoism, or some other "ism".

Now, where does my movie go? That is, where does the story go? Well, one place is the self-broadcast issue, which loops back to another theme: your music lives forever, even if you don’t. But a community-based morality says, your music means nothing until YOU mean something, to other people. The claim is on You, not your works. (OK, that takes me to the rogue screenplay – and it’s embedded “story” -- discussed on my July 27, 2007 posting.)

The other obvious “ESPN zone” is gay rights. There’s a parallel between the moral debate over “personal autonomy” and the debate over (roughly speaking) LGBT equality. They are like Venn diagrams: there is a lot of common territory, but they aren’t quite the same things. Then the story goes back to the Cold War days and my debacle at William and Mary (and a later stint at NIH, trying to shelter me from the Cuban Missile Crisis). The story jumps to 1993 because of the obvious link to the arguments that led to “don’t ask don’t tell” for gays in the military, but it also swallows the natural family: as an only child, it seems others though I had imposed the death penalty on my own lineage. Pundits from the religious right love to make a lot of masculinity as an "achievement" (as in Nicolosi's book, on my Books blog Jan. 21, 2009), but you wonder if their real purpose (in making this point) is social cohesion and familial love, or to find an excuse to put people away, or at least "in their place".  When I did come out (a second time), I would have to focus enormous energy on my own psychic needs, apart from those of others.

P.S.: To do honor to Warner Brothers, owners of the "Everwood" series, enjoy their musical logo YouTube here.  Notice: it's in 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Debate over childlessness and population demographics links to debate on speaking with anonymity

Back on May 16, 2010 the Washington Post had run a story by Annys Shin about a new “culture clash” in Washington, between childless adults and parents with children, in public spaces. The story referred to the return of families with young children to urban areas, with link (web url) here.

I remember back in 1983, at an old President’s Health Club in Dallas, that a toddler was playing on an outdoor jogging track. I complained to the parent, who said that the child had as much right to be there as I did. Now, health clubs quite reasonably don’t allow children (at least pre-teen) in some areas so that adults can work out safely, without endangering either their own or other people’s children. She was overrules.

The story boils the culture clash down to young parents remembering how they were before they had children. It’s more than that, though.

In numerous workplaces, the childless get the last pick on work hours, or are sometimes expected to do on-call duty for those with kids. (Yes, Tory Johnson, jobs guru on ABC News, says that this practice is wrong.)

Back in 2000, Elinor Burkett wrote a book “The Baby Boon: How Family Friendly America Cheats the Childless”, and quotes proponents of perks for parents as dismissing the relative “injustice” of the perks as part of “living in a community.”

But in 2008 Phillip Longman (“The Empty Cradle”) and David Gray published a piece “A Family-Based Social Contract” (link), opined that government policy still cheats families, and wrote at one place “The same point applies to low-paid caregivers and educators, most of whom could increase their incomes simply by getting out of the “nurturing business.” Indeed, as a rule, the adults who sacrifice the most to create and mold precious human capital retain only a small share of the public good they create. Those who devote themselves full time to raising their children receive no wages, and no additional support from government in old age.”

In other words, according to Longman, the childless get a free ride on OPC, “other people’s children.” Back in the 1990’s, there were a number of movements like the “Child Free Network” and “No Kidding,”, which had prompted an angry comment from Allan Carlson, author of “The Natural Family: A Manifesto” (2007): “These (No Kidding!) people are copping out on the future, refusing to accept the standard obligation for responsible membership in our society. I would describe them as childish, immature and irresponsible” (see the Books blog, Sept. 18, 2009 (Carlson) and March 28, 2006 (Longman).  See also my "Issues Blog" March 8, 2009 and Feb. 20, 2008.

All this brings us back full circle to another Washington Post article on Sunday morning, today, June 13 (Pride Sunday, ironically), by Post Ombudsman Andrew Alexander, “Still loose with anonymous sources” , p A13, link here  He starts out by mentioning the seemingly trivial story about a clash in a public park over “other people’s children” as quoting a woman who wanted to be identified by her first name only because she didn’t want to be publicly pilloried as “hostile to children.”

Alexander goes on to criticize the Post and other newspapers as too loose in protecting anonymity, as a cultural thing: it seems that we still have vestigial cultural remains of the notion of “keeping a low profile” to protect your own (others in your own family), which can go way beyond just your own children, which you might not have.  ("Why draw attention to yourself," some family members say; after all, you can make contributions to Wikipedia essentially anonymously.) It gets juicy. But, turn this around, and we have a youth and now even baby-boomer culture of self-broadcast in public (something almost essential in many career fields, even if done in a "responsible" way), confounding older notions of accepting the interdependence of established social ties, most of all “the natural family” or Carlson, Longman, Jennifer Roback Morse, and similar social conservatives.  Some of the problems with "online reputation" deal with the perception that people's reputations are linked through families and other associations.  The recent debate over Facebook privacy controls seems to carry this conflict into the technology of social media.

Friday, June 11, 2010

First sale doctrine examined by 9th Circuit

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will consider the “first sale” doctrine in copyright law, with oral arguments having been made on Monday June 7. The case (Universal Music Group v. Augusto) involves Troy Augusto who was sued in 2007 for 26 eBay auction listings for promotional CD’s. The question is specifically whether people can resell promotional CD’s from secondhand stores. These are compact discs that have “not for resale” on them.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a news story dated June 2, “EFF Fights for Your Right to Resell CDs in Monday Hearing; Appeals Court to Consider 'First Sale' Doctrine for eBay Seller”. The link is here. There are two other related cases, Vernor v. Autodesk and MDY v. Blizzard.

I can remember from early days of classical music record collecting that I would occasionally encounter “promotional copies” of records.

In 1998, the Supreme Court had held that the first sale doctrine holds in the "gray market", for goods manufactured in the United States and sold abroad, as in this article by Christopher Miller. That case was Quality King Distributors, Inc. v. L'anza Research International, Inc.

I would wonder what the connection would be between limiting the “first sale” doctrine, and copy-protection of DVD’s (as with the DMCA) and CD’s (as when Microsoft tells customers “do not make copies of this CD) with software cd’s. However Wikipedia's article on first sale discusses the Record Rental Amendment of 1984 and the Computer Software Rental Amendments Act of 1990 both amended Section 109 as dealing with this.  The Clayton Act, commonly studied in American history, deals in part with anti-competitive misuse of copyright law.

Back in the 1960s, I used to exchange reel-to-reel tape copies of friends' records, which was probably illegal but which we justified or "rationalized" by saying we bought lots of original records. I used to make cassette copies of some valuable vinyl records for personal use as insurance against record wear; this was probably legal.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Way to Go, Stephen Strasburg!!

Remember in the pilot episode of “Smallville” in 2001 that the young (freshman in high school) Clark Kent (Tom Welling) wants his “adoptive” father to sign a permission slip for him to play football, and his father at first refuses because he wouldn’t know his own strength. In later years he does play, and physics teachers can have fun making test problems over the parameters of his catching his own forward passes because of his “speed”.

Smallville never experimented (as I recall) with Clark’s playing baseball, let alone pitching; so last night Washington Nationals rookie sensation Stephen Strasburg satisfied our expectations to see Superman in a 5-2 victory for the Nationals over the Pittsburgh Pirates. His first pitch was a ball, but his first strikeout was the third batter. He struck out 14 in 7 innings, at a pace equal to Bob Feller’s 18.

Remember Koufax and Drysdale? Remember the 1954 Cleveland Indians’s four man rotation (Feller, Lemmon, Wynn, and Garcia as I recall). Great pitching is coming back.

How will Strasburg do at the other end of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, against the Phillies?  (They're that good.)

I do remember the 1950s when the old Senators struggled with Ramos, Pascual, and Clevenger. But when they moved to Minnesota, Pascual became an ace.

Remember Walter Johnson?

I remember a Friday in May, 1959 when I pitched a softball "shutout" (4-0) in gym class (with a "one strike rule"). The gym teacher called me "shutout Boushka".  I even hit a ground ball home run (no enclosed field).  The Senators lost in Boston that night, 4-3.  I still got a C in gym.

(Above Picture: from game I attended at Nationals Park in 2008.)

Wikipedia attribution link for new Target Field in Minneapolis, home of the Twins (the Washington Senators until 1960).

Monday, June 07, 2010

Digital overload: multi-tasking and loss of focus, and maybe of socialization

On Monday June 7 the New York Times ran a detailed story (with sidebars) by Matt Richtel, “Hooked on gadgets, and paying a mental price: a toll on family life and studies find a loss of focus” in a series “Your brain on computers: the information addiction”. The New York Times online has a blog with a lot of material and links consolidated in one place (for multi-tasking, yes), “First Steps to Digital Detox”, by “The Editors”, link here.

The Internet (and associated gadgetry like cell phones and iPads) is rewiring our brains, but the rewiring probably has gone on a long time with other media, including television, movies, and even music. In the classical music field, there has, since the time of Bach, developed continuous expressive innovation that certainly rewires the musical ears and brains of repeated listeners, whose ranks could expand in the 1950s with the long playing record, long before CD’s and personal computers.

There is a concern that the constant exposure to random bursts of information will undermine ability to concentrate -- not just to read a thousand page novel like "Atlas Shrugged" but also to sit and concentrate for five hours at a chess game in a tournament (and to calculate endgames exactly).

The brain is prewired to rewire itself – that’s what makes us human, perhaps – or we can debate it in terms about what makes cats and dogs (of about the same intelligence and similar biology) so different. A lot of it has to do with “socialization”. All “more intelligent creatures” have a dichotomy, of whether to stand alone or live in social units. Nature works out different solutions, but for man offers both options. Perhaps that's the heart of our culture war: the need that some parents feel to get their kids to see themselves as family members first. The concerns over "information dilletantes" goes way beyond the issue of cell phones, texting and driving simultaneously. (Although one should support Oprah's "No Phone Zone".)

I just received Nicholas Carr’s book (WW Norton) “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains” and will review it on my Books blog soon.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Facebook's latest privacy changes still raise potential questions and controversies: is "self-broadcast" ultimately at risk?

Earlier this week Facebook greeted users on sign-on with a banner advising them that new Privacy Controls were available.

Facebook’s press release, around June 1, was lengthy and is to be found here. Electronic Frontier Foundation immediately came out with an article and news update by Kevin Bankston, “Facebook privacy changes inspire praise, optimism, and skepticism”, link (web url) here.  The basic concepts of “Everyone”, “Friends” and “Friends of Friends” remain.

There is still a long list to go through in the segmented privacy settings. For example, the concept of being “tagged in” is important. Facebook warns “Keep in mind, the owner of a photo can still share that photo with people you're not friends with, so remove the tag from the photo or video if you don't want that to happen.”

But the most controversial part (and perhaps still a bit fuzzy) has to do with the Public Search options. Facebook writes “’Public search’ on the Applications and Websites page controls whether people who enter your name in a search engine will see a preview of your Facebook profile.” I looked at the preview and saw basic non-private information like pictures of some friends, and favorite interests and movies. As a retiree, I have no issue with this; furthermore, my own experience with the mainstream world of corporate employers suggests that most would see looking at Facebook profiles for “first impressions” is not a good or completely ethical Human Resources business practice. Yet it’s clear that many people in the career counseling (and “online reputation”) field will advise clients not to allow the public (particularly because of some employers, maybe landlords or even insurance companies) see this information . There is a bit of an ethical dilemma here that as a society we need to face.

Another controversial question has to do with whether a Facebook profile will or should get picked up by public search engines. The default for adults is yes. However Facebook writes: “Until their eighteenth birthday, minors don't have public search listings created for them, and the visibility of their information is limited to friends of friends and networks, even if they've chosen to make it available to everyone. This does not apply to name, profile picture, gender and networks, which are visible to everyone so real world friends can recognize them.”

Presumably, Facebook can control whether a public search engine can create an entry from your profile at all. At least, that’s what the wording of the new policy means to me, taken literally. (The Supreme Court could have fun with this one.) Most mainstream adults would find that the service would not be particularly useful without a public search presence, or would they? There is a still a philosophical question about how many people one can “know” and how one should come to be known publicly. But there is a strategic risk here: if various business and government entities believe that Facebook and similar services can prevent a member from have a public search presence at all from their social media information, these same interests could pressure “ordinary” individuals (e.g. “ordinary people”) to become less “public” in order to control otherwise unbounded risks and uncertainties. That could pose a long term threat to social media (and to many individual strategic self-promotion or self-broadcast plans).

Let me also say that sometimes it is hard to see where to make changes; the font size on some links is not very conspicuous.

The privacy settings could be important in some unusual ways to some members of the United States military, at least until “don’t ask don’t tell” is finally completely repealed. The Pentagon might in time develop administrative guidelines as to how servicemembers should use privacy settings.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

House is starting to ponder anti-SLAPP bill in Judiciary Committee; NY Times reports that serious SLAPP suits still occur in some states

Dan Frosch has an important story in the New York Times, front page, on Tuesday June 1, about SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) lawsuits against Internet posters for “criticisms” of the services or products of some companies. The title of the story is “Venting Online, Consumers Can Land in Court”, link (web url) here.

The article summarizes how SLAPP was around even before the Internet (it has particularly been used by real estate developers in some communities, as with as famous eminent domain case on the Texas Gulf Coast), but the power of the Internet has allowed “ordinary people” got get into trouble when they hit the Enter button on their home computers.

The problem is that many of the lawsuits are meritless, but it can cost a person hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend a meritless case in a state that does not have an effective anti-SLAPP law (which California does). Sometimes cases are resolved without cost if the poster removes the material (and has it removed from search engine caches), but a plaintiff could get heavy handed and demand that the person not post at all.

Another issue is that the way the material is presented affects the likelihood of a suit. Many people post negative comments about products of companies (or particularly about inadequate customer service) online, especially on message boards, sometimes on blogs, without any consequences. Truth is an absolute defense to libel, and the postings are less likely to result in litigation if the truthfulness is easily proved, or if there has been widespread reporting by others of similar problems. People won’t get sued (I wouldn’t think) for discussing the Toyota accelerator problems online because there is so much coverage in the media, or the same for the oil spill. It’s safer if a poster can refer to a link from an “establishment” media company to verify facts.

What may be more likely to lead to trouble is social media pages designed to attract a lot of attention. The Times story refers to a Facebook page set up to complain about an auto towing company in Michigan, which does not have anti-SLAPP legislation. The particular page in the story was “Kalamazoo Residents against T&J Towing”, link on Facebook is here. The NY Times story reports that a judge has been asked to dismiss the suit, and that the poster is countersuing.

In fact, ABC News has a story from May 28 2010, "Could Student's Facebook Page Topple a Towing Company?: 'Kalamazoo Residents Against T&J Towing' Page Attracts More Than 12K People", by Ki Mae Heussner, link here.

Litigations have occurred because of tweets, or entries on Yelp, particularly those that attract large followings. The Times story refers to a threatened (but not materialized) suit by a Florida car dealership for negative comments on Twitter.

As noted here before, some doctors are very concerned about reputation damage from consumers, and a group called Medical Justice has helped them craft consumer policies regarding online posting (which has been termed a “medical gag rule” by some).

First Amendment lawyer Marc Randazza has a recent blog posting (at “The Legal Satyricon”) about SLAPP suits here (posting by Christopher Harbin).

I have discussed problems with personal computer software, ranging from automatic updates to automated backups and anti-virus and firewall programs. Generally, I state what happened on my computer, and try to find similar accounts from other users on the Web and give links. My page request counts for these postings are usually considerably more than average (sometimes quickly, from Next Blog), even if they are not astronomical by Web standards. Blog readers tend to be very interested in knowing about consumer experiences about specific items (such as security software) and tend to visit sites of bloggers whom they know to provide such comments regularly.

On the other hand, I tend not to get around to discussing billing problems with various companies, even though it seems that I nearly always have a hundred dollars or so of credit card charges that I think can be legitimately questioned.

Defamation law recognizes “the Opinion Rule”, which means you don’t get punished for stating an opinion, just for stating false information as “fact”. The towing case may have been a marginal application of the rule. But you won’t get in trouble for writing a movie review and giving the stinker film “one star” because that’s just an “opinion”.

In 2009. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced H.R. 4364 the “Citizen Participation Act of 2009”, “To protect first amendment rights of petition and free speech by preventing States and the United States from allowing meritless lawsuits arising from acts in furtherance of those rights, commonly called "SLAPPs", and for other purposes”, modeled after the California law, govtrack link here. The last action occurred April 26, 2010, “Referred to the Subcommittee on Courts and Competition Policy” (link here) of the Judiciary Committee. I don’t see any hearings scheduled on the problem yet but I will keep tabs on it.  I would expect to see more written about this at libertarian think tanks like the Cato Institute, and I'll keep tabs on it there, too.

Yahoo! enters social networking "wars"

Cecilia Kang writes on p A8 of the Washington Post on Tuesday June 1 that Yahoo! will convert its email subscriber base into a social networking service with the news story “Yahoo! to jump into social networking: based on e-mail contact lists; subscribers will have choice of opting out”, link here.

Yahoo! has lagged behind companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Google, all of which are so strong in their own markets that a more “cosmopolitan” service company like Yahoo! starts to lose its identity. Users like its news coverage, especially Finance and Sports (although why not just go to for the national pastime).

The move will complicate the “privacy controls” debate as the story would leave us behind that Yahoo! has not been forced to think through the privacy settings issue the way Facebook has. It also enriches the “online reputation” debate (especially with respect to job or gig hunting), as users need to decide how to focus and integrate their online presence among the various service providers. Yahoo!’s move may draw attention away from the “delete” or “expiration date” (even “abstinence”) proposals that have been advanced by Mayer-Schonberg and others who fear that some people could be put in a position where they are forced out of social media altogether.