Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Another take on an "Opposing Viewpoints" database: what it it were linked to social media?

I have long supported the idea that people need to understand how others feel about issues and the way these play out.  This is related to how people feel about other people, both in groups or tribes and as individuals.

There is a series of books from a Michigan publisher called the “Opposing Viewpoints” series, described on my Books blog Sept. 19, 2006. I have a contribution in the book on Teenage Sexuality. 

The newspaper “USA Today” often presents its editorial in the format “our position” and “opposing view.”

I have, over the past few years, mostly offline, worked on the idea of developing a “Dewey decimal-like” coding system for the many major public policy issues, and then matching positions and opposing viewpoints in a relational database.

We’ve seen many issues where two sides seem to “talk past” one another.  These include the debt ceiling, gay marriage, and most recently how to combat online piracy.  All of these issues fit (in a somewhat concentric way) into a system of statements that have to do with the autonomy of the individual and the importance (or lack thereof) of the individual’s accepting the need to meet the real needs of others in a group before he is heard from as an individual.   For example, music would have no value without specific people listening to it, and feelings, however intense in a religious or artistic setting (as with music) only become relevant relative to others.

Coding would have to take into account the each belief’s relation to “individualism”. I have to add right now that I’m struck, from the tone of the recent GOP debate, how “compassionate conservatism” expects people to “care” for each other within an authoritarian structure that definitely prefers some personalities over others.

Any “statement” depends on other statements that the speaker believes. To some extent, the statements may fall into the pattern of a deductive “proof”. The numbering or coding of statements in a database would reflect this logical sequencing.

What if social media (Facebook) could link to such an automated database and relate the statements and views to demographics or to what people “like”?  Leslie Stahl's interview of Mark Zuckerberg last night on CNBC (reviewed today on my TV blog) has me wondering. 


From an Access Database offline: a statement about conscription:


 From another try just with hard-coded hyperlinks:

Here's from another attempt, on a Unix system with MySQL, with contrasting statements about trademark dilution:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Worried about privacy? It's not so easy to ditch an online service with "stickiness"

So are people really going to “give up Google” right after Leap Day?  It sounds like a child’s giving up an imaginary playmate, which I once had to do (“giving up Back!”)

Cecilia Kang has a front page story in the Washington Post Feb. 28 on the worries of some “heavily invested users”, who feel jeopardized when on March 1 Google starts sharing information across all its own applications, with its “unified privacy settings”, which will lead to much more comprehensive profiles of users, especially their search habits. “This stuff is important,” the company says. The link is here

The Post’s online caption calls it a “hairy choice,” looking for a bit of Nair (maybe to make way for gold latex body paint). 

To me, this makes no difference, as I am the only person who uses my computers.  But I’ve noticed that ads on most major sites appear to be related to my surfing habits, the contents of recent blog postings (everybody sends me advertisements for online reputation companies and eldercare issues), and particularly my location when I travel.  (This was really true when I went to Texas in November.  Everybody knew where my travel laptop was. )

The geo-location a bit worrisome, if someone knows you aren’t home.  But generally I’m not too concerned.  All of my postings are public (whether on blogs, Facebook or Twitter). None are restricted.   And none contain personal information in the usual sense.  None would create a problem if I were a Google or a Facebook employee.  But they might create a real issue if I had taken on a second career as a life insurance agent, tax advisor, or financial planner.  And a “fiction work” that I posted online (it was fiction) got me in real trouble as a substitute teacher back in 2005. 

As the article notes, online service providers make it difficult or “sticky” to leave.  You can convert from Blogger to Wordpress, or to a flat site, but you might lose all your search engine placement. (This can be an issue if a blogger decides to join forces with other investors or larger companies.)  It’s not so easy to leave Facebook; you can’t transfer “friends”.  You can’t get out of a cell phone contract too easily, either.

Electronic Frontier Foundation has an article on how to remove your YouTube and Search history, here

Was it Eric Schmidt who said, "If you have something to hide, maybe you shouldn't be doing it". Tell this to the fictional characters of "Days of our Lives" (except Will).

Below: notice, on Feb. 29, Mozilla started inviting users to try "Do Not Track"

Monday, February 27, 2012

Silicon Valley slowly evolving its standards for "do not track", tiered by entity; note CFP conference on the issue

The New York Times has an important Business Day article (Feb. 27) by Tanzina Vega, “Opt-out provision would halt some, but not all, web tracking”, link here. The “Do not track” mechanism supported by browser vendors would allow effective tracking by "first party publishers" (including most newspapers, Blogger, etc) but not by "third party publishers" like ad networks like DoubleClick and various others.

Even so, if most users were to take advantage of the provision, Internet companies fear that their business models could be seriously affected, possibly making publishing platforms like the one this blog is on much less lucrative and eventually jeopardizing our free-entry system for speakers. But other studies claim that tracking accounts for only a small fraction of Internet advertising revenues.

Tracking is, in practice, mainly a concern for people who user computers shared by others.  It can be a concern for mobile users if they fear stalking or the possibility others could know when they aren’t home.  For many adults, however, it obviously doesn’t present a problem.

Somini Sengupta has an article (link)  in today’s NYT “Scrutiny of Facebook threatens its top asset”.  It’s even a bigger issue in Europe, where providers must delete every bit of consumer data at user request. 
Of concern to all such companies are proposals (and maybe startups) to allow consumers to classify their information in “data lockers” and sell permission to use it.  There could be questions eventually about the rights to post photos that contain images of others, or to mention others who are not public figures. 

The Digital Advertising Alliance has a statement about its “Self-Regulatory Statement for Online Behavioral Advertising”, link, dating to 2009, which it says has drawn commendations from regulators.  Note the trademarked advertising icon to imply compliance with the code.

Rainey Reitman has a story for Electronic Frontier Foundation, dated Feb. 23, “White House, Google, and other advertising companies commit to supporting Do Not Track”, here.  EFF emphasizes that the debate on DNT must deal with both “technology” and “policy”.

Here is a 90-minute panel discussion by CFP Conference (Computers, Freedom and Privacy,  link),“Do Not Track, Yea or Boo”,  on YouTube, from August 2011. It’s moderated by Jim Parker, Director of Information Policy Studies at the Cato Institute.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Florida law firm sues ratings site, saying reputational rights trump Section 230

Electronic Frontier Foundation is reporting of a lawsuit filed against a site that hosts individual comments about lawyers by a Florida law firm.

Previously, I’ve covered stories about medical providers who try to force prospective patients to sign “gag orders” before receiving treatment.

The site being sued is “Lawyer Ratings Z” (the “Z” is part of the name), link here. The site home page banner has a caption “Where you are the judge!”

The plaintiff  is called “Florida Probate Lawyer”, link here, with the name “Adrian Philip Thomas, P.A.” (As an aside, my own probate issues in Virginia were very simple.  But that's not always the case for many people.  Remember that great "meeting scene" in the middle of the 1980 film "Body Heat"?)

EFF’s story is here

Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act  (encompassing the "Communications Decency Act", the censorship provisions of which failed in the Supreme Court) would indeed seem to protect the site from downstream liability for any defamation.

Without the legal protection from downstream liability for user behavior, the site could not exist.  Some people say that without Section 230, Facebook, Yelp, and maybe even Wordpress and Blogger (where this posting is housed) could not exist.  I would be inclined to agree with that supposition.

There was a similarly spirited action against Yelp by a dentist in California recently.

Is there a constitutional claim “reputational  rights”, in the sense that the public does not check up on false claims against a party, and that even many employers judge job applicants based on online reputation, sometimes of the wrong person?

This is a paradigm problem that people didn’t see fifteen years ago as search engines were turned loose.
Online reputation is rapidly growing as a public issue that has been poorly thought through.  In the past year, ordinary users have shown increasing concern.

A recent study found that 44% of Facebook users had deleted comments or postings and even defriended people over reputational issues, especially as Facebook implements “Timeline”.

On perhaps three occasions, with my legacy sites, I was asked to remove a little material (at least names) some years ago. In all of these cases, there were specific unusual circumstances not likely to recur with others. 

By the way, don't confuse Section 230 with DMCA Safe Harbor.  They're for different problems but have similar effects in removing "barriers to entry". 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Obama administration pushes for privacy bill of rights but keeps it voluntary, for now

The White House has proposed a privacy “bill of rights” for Internet users, as stated in a Reuters-Yahoo (Jasmin Melvin) news story this morning, link here. The rights would include consumers’ ability to control the kind of data collected.

Nevetheless, Ceclia Kang reported Thursday, on p. A12 of the Washington Post, that the privacy guidelines and implicit “bill of rights”, while stronger, would be managed by voluntary consortium-like groups within industry, as in this story.  This seems to be Silicon Valley’s “last best chance” to avoid stronger regulation in the law.

Tracking, which affects advertising that users see, may be a sensitive issue in families (or workplaces) where multiple persons use the same computer; it is much less sensitive for computers used by one adult person, probably less sensitive in the mobile environment.

Jon Brodkin has an essay in Ars Technica, Feb. 22, on the difficulty of enforcing privacy standards (or their circumvention), and the history of P3P (Platform for Privacy Preferences Project), from 2003, here

The White House has also recently announced a $10000 prize to Internet app developers to provide an application that connects business and government, story here

Monday, February 20, 2012

Challenges to "those who are different" (me): Outlierage, Part I (general aspects)

I want to continue here a discussion I started Feb. 4, about points I would make in my planned video on “how sustainability culture may affect those who are different.”  

I particularly want to share some specific impressions that I have evolved, about how people have perceived me and my work, now that I am 68.

There is a bit of bifurcation in my thinking. Some of the “feedback” is directly connected to my sexual orientation, but the larger purview of it is not.  Some of the concerns could well apply in a world that fully accepted same-sex marriage and parenting.

The most important feedback element is that I don’t seem to experience much emotional attachment for “other people” just as “people”.   I seem aloof, indifferent.  Yes, I don’t warm up to the cause or the needs of someone thrust in front of me, either in person or (more often) by the media.  There was a time when aloofness was a virtue (I remember a particular conversation about this in Dallas in the early 1980s with a “boyfriend” who happened to have just finished his PhD in clinical psychology).  But now, the feedback (as in one particularly angry email from Australia a few years ago) is that my postings show lack of “empathy”.

There are some natural explanations for this observation.  When I was growing up (largely in the 50s), people were perceived as having a natural life span.  From the seventh decade of life, deaths from heart attacks, cancer, or degenerative diseases seemed to be accepted as part of nature, not worthy of a lot of personal or social attention.  There was not much that could be done to prolong life, compared to today.  Very few people became noticeably senile or developed disabling dementia.  Therefore, the idea of developing emotional bonds with people in this area of need did not come up.  It was something that stayed in families.  I was an only child exposed to less of this than those in other families.

There was also, even in the fifties, a wide divergence in the way “church” was experienced.  Mine (The First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC) would have been considered liberal politically for its day (Dr. Pruden had been very progressive on racial matters back in the 40s). The culture of the membership stressed academic excellence and the cultivation of art and classical music, but relatively little of collective professions of faith, such as prolonged “singspirations” or public professions common in other more evangelical churches.  I would be surprised, in my adult life, of the public nature of faith in many other churches, especially when I lived in Dallas in the 1980s (even with MCC Dallas). 

Even so, the sum result was a perception that I was unresponsive to others who should benefit from connection to me: that is, from women in general when I was growing up (I had no interest in the usual aspects of courtship), and then lack of “emotion” during my mother’s eldercare, which sometimes caused heated reactions from a couple of hired caregivers. 

Correlated with this observation (about diffidence) was what friends in high school had called “my physical weakness”.  I was way behind other boys in competitive “athletic” activities, and in some areas of physical coordination.  I resented the idea of being pushed into activities like football, which I perceived as “dangerous”.  I was right about some of this – look at the recent medical controversy over head injuries for football players.  I would overcome some of this, becoming able to bat a pitched softball and actually innovating a form of “back yard softball” with carefully constructed rules for the boys in the neighborhood (we had very big back yards with “outfield” fences) where I could perform (as well as a couple of clever “board games”).  Eventually I would develop some competitiveness over the chess board.

My father made a big issue of the “form” with which I did household chores, and made a lot of the idea of “formation of proper habits” and “learning to work”.   While I understand people need to learn work habits in the home before they are successful in a (market-driven) workplace, his concern seemed to be partly moral and ideological.  There was a concern that someone like me could become a “mooch”  (like the Ayn Rand character of that name) or “parasite” on the sacrifices of others.  This became especially evident when I went through the Army draft and Basic Training, after graduate school, in 1968 (where “form” is everything).  I remember the “joy” the day I passed the PCPT test in Special Training, still.   I actually improved quite a bit on these matters in Basic and learned a great deal from the experience, an idea that might be lost on today’s generation of young people.  I remember well the resentment of less fortunate recruits over the way the draft and assignment to combat exposure (during the Vietnam era) had been managed, and some of it was directed at me (“too much education…”) .  The discrediting of US foreign policy and the Vietnam war as it would play out in the early 1970s (with Watergate) would cover up the moral questions over how sacrifices are shared.

I had developed an interest in piano, which I started taking in early 1952 (at age 8), as well as an ear for classical music and an interest in composition.  (How did I have time to write by hand a full length romantic piano Sonata at age 16 and enter it into composition?)  I was pretty good by the time I was a senior in high school; I could play some of the Rachmaninoff Op. 32 Preludes (like the concluding D-flat Major triumph) pretty well.  But I did not stay in the game to make the cut professionally.  Why?  In the days of a hovering conscriptive draft and stereotyped expectations about competitive, sometimes self-sacrificing and fungible masculinity,  I was “the boy who plays”.  And in the moral view of my father’s world, I hadn’t “paid my dues”.   I would experience a mild hearing loss in my right ear after a day on the rifle range (“coaching” with inadequate ear plugs), further “paying my dues”. 
The same idea would occur decades later with my self-published books and Internet web publishing activity, mostly according to the values of a Web 1.0 world (as it was around 2000). In recent years, we’ve seen political debates over how the need to “protect children” from inappropriate content (COPA),  counter piracy (COPA) and contain online reputational damage and cyberbullying could bring back those “downstream liability” (that is, “I must become my brother’s keeper”) provisions into cyberspace that would end the era of “free entry” and amateurism on the web that basically gave me a second career as my mainframe world petered out after Y2K.   I would find people approaching me with unsolicited proposals for employment situations that would require giving up my own self-directed political speech on the web in order to sell their message and to “help other people” (as specific individuals in need).  That seemed to be a turnaround from the world of social combat that had driven me way back in the 50s.  Could I really “trust” them anyway?

Nevertheless, in retrospect, it seems as though the Internet might have evolved in a much more controlled way, without allowing for unsupervised, capital-less self-publication because of liability issues (without the “protection”, however indirect, of Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor).  Indeed, the speed with which the Web and its personal enablement grew precluded too much moral cogitation.  One could, instead, say to “someone like me”, something like this, “We don’t want to hear from you until you are responsible for other people”.
I have to come back to look at my purposes, and attitude toward others.  I’ve tended to take the “personal responsibility” idea (like the Ron Paul banners in this year’s GOP debates) rather literally. True, people (often their “whole families”) who got into underwater mortgages at one time tried to get something for nothing (but so did the banks and their minions of hucksterizing middlemen).  They sinned. They bear some moral responsibility for their own predicaments. But that shouldn’t mean that I find practically zero emotional value in helping them; but that is the way, without a viable way of “personal social competition” for myself, my own attitudes toward others who “stumble” has evolved. 
There’s a general paradox in Christianity, especially, about how personal responsibility plays out.  The Gospels don’t pretend that the world can be “fair” as we understand it today and seem to recognize that inequality and poverty are inevitable, and that some sort of political order and authority is necessary, even if wrongheaded.  So it says that, along with individual self-fulfillment, expressiveness, or “peak experience” , people must always be willing to share themselves with a “neighborhood” (almost in a mathematical or physics sense) of others, regardless of larger political or environmental circumstances beyond one’s control. (The paradox is that one is responsible only for the evil that one can “see”, even given the speed of light.)  That leads to some of the comments that sustainability will require locality of living (although that can be challenged – look at the public health hazards with southeast Asian” neighborhood” poultry practices).   It also requires locality and immediacy of attachment, in contradiction to the idea of becoming a Global Netizen.  (Indeed, Facebook represents a kind of intermediation, encouraging expression through concentric circles of “friends” rather than passively waiting for interaction after global self-broadcast, which in my case really worked in the late 90s.)
What this has meant for me, sometimes in recent years, is resistance to the idea of my drawing attention to myself, and indirectly others, through unsupervised broadcast, when I don’t accept “immediate responsibility” for others.   (After all, I never made a baby and procreated the responsibility, right?)  That is what led to the idea that I wrote about before, “The Privilege of Being Listened To”.  My mother, a few years ago, after I had come back (but before her final decline) used to beg me to “keep a low profile”  (about William and Mary and gay matters) and once scraped an SLDN sticker off my car.  But she never understood how I was using search engines (in the old Web 1.0 way) to keep my audience. And I “didn’t tell”. 
Imagine, back in the time of developing the Constitution, what politics could have been like if voting power had depended not on property, but on the number of dependents (that is, need).  Maybe on other planets that really happens.
Hence, one can tie together all my parents’ values about personal and work “habits”.  This wasn’t just about making a living for myself (which I did for decades in a very stable and lawful fashion, compared to the experience of many people); it was about being prepared to allow others to depend on me, not just financially, but in “up close and personal” circumstances that, in an unpredictable world (“on the outside”) might not always result from personal “choice” (might not follow the kernel of “personal responsibility” as libertarians explain it today).  You still had “to live”, and you still had to be prepared to accept the presence of others, and be of use to them.  "Tribes" had to look after their own survival "collectively".  This was about a lot more than not having unwanted or “stupid” conception.  And “salvation” depended on “neighborly” behavior, not on the goodness or evil of the rest of the world (hence the real lesson of “Sodom”).  You would become your brother’s keeper.  My mother used to be concerned about the effect of my publicity on “my family” when I hadn’t created one.

This sort of thinking could apply in a world that accepts same-sex marriage and parenting. Would someone whose main source of pleasure comes through fantasy accept and standby a lifelong partner with inevitable problems of aging, and be able to be "lived with"?  On the other hand, "upward affiliation" occurs in the heterosexual world, too, Masters and Johnson notwithstanding.
Of course, how this came across to me, was that my parents (my father) seemed to be supporting an authoritarian world, like today’s China.  I used to have a phrase, “just for authority”.  But others could turn on me and ask, what did I want to use my “freedom” for?  To express my own personal contempt for the “unworthy” or the “fallen”?   They could make the case, that if I wanted an audience for my music (in the 50s and 60s) or writings (today), I should have a personal stake, or “my own skin”, in the lives of others around me, even if I still had to “mind my own business” (another ethical paradox).  To allow otherwise, to move to hyper-individualism, was to provide a backdoor for the re-emergence of fascism.  (Hitler, after all, had once been a social outcast an unappreciated “artist”.) All of this comports with general Vatican ideas (indeed, Santorum’s comments and “subsidiarity”) about how “things are supposed to me” (even my Mother used to remark on “what was meant to be”), including an openness from everyone to complementarity and intergenerational responsibility (including tending to new life). With some issues (such as the "demographic winter" debate), there is some natural tension (and potential for conflicting priorities) between a narrow idea of "personal responsibility" and "the greater good".

There is a conservative "principle" that government will be less intrusive if people take care of one another personally, within families and surrounding but neighboring communities. A corollary is that people sometimes must accept responsibility for others under local circumstances other than those of their chosing, and that they, in a real world, can experience need themselves and sometimes must allow others to be responsible for them.  People can't "reject" others forever just to suit their own agendas.  Some interdependence must follow from freedom. 
Although “they say” you shouldn’t give away your screenplay ideas on the web, I will say something here about my “Do Ask Do Tell: The Manifesto” script.   The film (it needs to be shot 2.35:1) opens in black and white with the protagonist’s (me) own script “The Sub” about how he gets in trouble as a substitute teacher when a charismatic student shows a personal interest in him after the student has saved his life after a cardiac arrest at school.  It switches to sepia color where “I” am in some sort of institution which I cannot identify.  It may be a hospital, jail, or the afterlife, or dream (“Inception”).  To get out of my situation ( with the help of a slightly modified Guide from my “own life” whom I suspect may be an angel, although that leads to another twist) I must perform certain tasks that involve showing mastery of work-related skills necessary in some time zones of history (going back to the Colonial Williamsburg era), and also show interpersonal skills helping children master them.  Eventually, I receive (with minimal cosmetic damage) some surgery I need (the “grey’s anatomy” part) and can attend the “Tribunals” that I missed earlier in life, with others from my life some of whom (because of their apparent ages) have apparently already been through it.  The Tribunals allow me to experience being and (temporarily) young again and to go back to earlier “time zones”, leading back to re-experiencing the 1961 Tribunals which I had “skipped”.  In the course of all this, I make telepathic contact with a particular character, also a musician, who enables everyone to replay the “historical” highlights of what really had happened “behind the scenes” with my Life on Earth.  Finally, I learn how I got there, and what the implications will be for “everyone” when I “go back”.

Just one more incidental item this President’s Day “pseudo-Holiday”.  On the area of online reputation, which can be mediated by others, here’s ("eHow") how to “unGoogle yourself”, link

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Romney donor said to bully critics with threats of frivolous litigation; another copyright troll in Florida in trouble quickly

Although GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney may himself hold moderate views on many issues and intend a middle course if elected, some of his supporters may not be so circumspect.  Glenn Greenwald has a long piece in Salon about the reported activities of Idaho billionaire donor Frank VanderSloot, at this link.
This report includes apparent cease-and-desist letters or other communications suggesting impending litigation, sent to major publications and sometimes individual bloggers that have made critical comments, which normally could not seriously be considered libel or defamation because of the “Opinion Rule”.    Some publications, however, have made more specific allegations, as detailed in the Salon article. The major link is here.  Apparently Forbes, Mother Jones, and at least one blogger have removed articles from online websites after receiving “threats”.  The blogging incident seemed to involve vague comments about the businessman’s activities being anti-gay, partly because of the well-known animus of the LDS church to gays.
The article was particularly critical of the “rich” bringing frivolous suits against those it suspects cannot afford to defend themselves, a kind of legal bullying.  Some of the publications, like Forbes, obviously can defend themselves.

Of course, all of this is well known in the copyright area, with the trolls like Righthaven, but has been less common with defamation and political campaigns.  Possibly, though, intimidation could run counter to FEC rules.  (Curiously, there is a plot thread on the daytime soap “Days of our Lives” right now dealing with this problem.)

Electronic Frontier Foundation mentions a new, recent example of copyright trolling in Florida without giving much detail as to the purported offenses of the defendants. Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that 27 cases have been halted because a plaintiff’s attorney was reportedly practicing law without a license, here.     

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Local DC area reporter temporarily intimidated out of "fronting" her stories on underage drinking; does reporter intimidation happen often in the U.S.?

Although the reach of shield laws for journalists (and bloggers) has been a policy controversy, reporters in the US rarely face personal reprisals for their stories.  But Wednesday Paul Fahri reported (link) in the Washington Post, Style, p. C1, that WUSA (CBS affiliate, channel 9) local reporter (Andrea McCarren) was temporarily relieved from reporting (or "fronting") on-air her investigation of underage drinking, and police activities in Washington to close it down, after taunts and bullying, especially at her kids’ schools.  Taunts included Facebook postings.

Station WUSA reported this morning that she is back on the air “fronting” her stories on “Wasted, Young and Using”, with link (and videos) here.

The story is remarkable in a number of contexts.  A school system should have been able to deal with any bullying, which apparently is not limited to “anti-gay” problems.  It’s a sign that the bullying problems is out of control in many schools. 

Furthermore, for the past few years, media have been reporting that employers often disqualify applicants when they find evidence of underage drinking and drug use from social media sites.  Parents, kids, and school systems don’t seem to be connecting the dots. 

Even so, I think employers themselves are out of control in the way they gather inaccurate or misleading “evidence” of applicant behavior from social media, about incidental behavior that may be less important than generally thought.

When I worked as a substitute teacher (and could see birthdates on attendance records), I once (in 2007) saw a student whom I knew as only 16 in a bar.  He recognized me.  The only action I took was to mention it to the bar management privately on my next visit.  But fake-id’s seem to be common (as has also been reported in the media, with police busts of fake-id rings).   But because of recent events reaching the national media, teachers are likely to come under more pressure to report such incidents officially, even if they see them in their own lives, away from the classroom.

It's worthy of note that sometimes reporters have been removed from coverage over perceived "conflicts" that would affect objectivity.  An open lesbian was relieved of duties in a Tacoma, WA paper in 1996 in a case that a court allowed.

Some people have criticized the media for covering Whitney Houston and other celebrities (when alive) with serious drug problems and then not intervening to help them. CNN aired a quarrel between Nancy Grace and Lew Abrams over this point.

This incident led to a "news story about a news story" that indeed leads bloggers like me into a lot of correlated areas.

Update: March 27

Check the Washington Post March 26, story by Paul Fahri, about Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School's pulling copies of its student newspaper over this incident, here

Picture: Blue Blazer Still, in Catoctin Mts Maryland, site of a famous raid during Prohibition.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Can recipes be copyrighted? Chess moves? Play-by-plays? Movie plots?

Some questions have come up on Twitter recently about copyright and a few hobby or specialty items.
Can you copyright the list of ingredients of a recipe?  It seems not.  Here is what the US copyright office says (link). So it sounds like, if you’re a restaurant or bakery in business, you can make a protected trade secret out of the ingredients that makes your food yummy for customers.  Coca Cola does that.  But if you’re the (Ohio) Kipton Community Church with a mimeographed handbook of recipes in the 1950s (like what I found in my mother’s estate), probably not.

A book of recipes, though, a cookbook (like one from a Texas restaurant about southwestern cooking that generated a lot of buzz around the time of Y2K), can be copyrighted as a “work”, for its expression and format.

Here’s another source from “Open Source Cook”, here

What about a chess game?  The move record is simply a news event, a set of facts, and can’t be copyrighted.  A book on openings or endgames, as a work, can.  What if somebody busts a favorite opening with a new move in a critical variation?  (I can think of plenty of examples from the Sicilian Defense, and a particularly notorious gaffe by John Watson in the Winawer French back in 1984.)

Here’s a column on the subject from Techdirt, link

I would think the same would apply to play-by-play accounts of NFL and MLB games.  They are historical facts.

Actually, the Dallas Chess Club published a tournament book in 1984 containing an embarrassing loss by me where my Queen was trapped by force before it was even attacked.  (I’ve only seen that situation about twice in publishing openings; there’s a trap like this in a Saemisch King’s Indian; but I’ve seen it happen in the English and in the Benko Gambit (to White in both cases).

What about reviews of movies or television shows?  Here’s a reference that pretty much sums it up, link, in talking about “Fair Use”.  The basic rule is, you can’t compete with the original work. 

Is the plot of a movie itself copyrightable?  The movie, or screenplay (even spec script, which is an outline) would be.  What about a narrative summary in detail, after the fact, as there are many of these on Wikipedia an imdb.  My impression is that plots alone aren’t protected, although movie studios might fear bloggers giving away “endings” and reducing box office or sales potential.  But plots are often adapted and generic.  The popular TV show “Revenge” is supposedly adapted from the classic Dumas novel “The Count of Monte Christo”. 

Even so, movie studios have a “third party rule” in receiving new scripts or treatments (a treatment is a written work and might be copyrightable).  Even loglines must go through agents – and all of this sounds unrealistic in the age of the Internet.

So if you have a killer screenplay with a plot trick that has never been done before, keep it quiet, and don’t post it on a blog or Facebook if you want to protect it.  Copyright law can’t protect an idea or plot twist.
And for my latest script, “Do Ask Do Tell: Manifesto”, I think I finally have the “killer concept”.  Have you really counted the people in your home?

Baseball prospect for Nationals draws attention for "childish" tweets

Right after media reported a story about social media “friends” and college sports, the Washington Post Sports columnist Jason Reid writes that the Washington Nationals’s 19-year-old slugging prospect (still not above AA in the minors) needs to “grow up”.  The team, and maybe sportscasters, are worried that his tweets about rooting interests in other cities’ professional teams will “go viral”.

The link ("Bryce Harper needs to grow up") is here, and contains a rather lengthy video with sportscasters about teenage prospect Twitter and Facebook behavior.

The Nationals’s pitchers report to Spring Training this week, and the hype about Strasburg, Zimmermann, and their acquisitions will continue.  With the Nats’ young pitchers doing so well during the last month of 2011, why did they trade away their youth for veterans?  I wish they had picked up Fielder. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Some university coaches require athletes to friend them; more on Section 230 and chat site

Today, television station WJLA in Washington DC mentioned that a few college football or basketball teams have coaches that require that players friend them on Facebook and/or allow them to be followed on Twitter.  The Maryland legislature is considering legislation to ban this practice at the University of Maryland, but it also happens in North Carolina.

There have been a few cases where government or university employers have demanded the Facebook logons and passwords as part of the application process.

In another matter with Facebook, I’ve noticed that sometimes people are offended by the posts of others because of not grasping the context or purpose of the post.  A friend recently posted  on his own public Facebook page a parody of a fictitious Fox poster that would be perceived as offensive to African Americans, in order to make fun of Fox for the views of its news staff.  At least one person was offended, complaining that the post simply made “offensive attitudes” held by others seem more credible, and found this a matter of gratuitous publication, and defriended my friend.   There is a view that is emerging, that the repetition of slurs made by others “to show how bad they are” actually is going along “with the enemy” and is really just a kind of self-indulgence.

One other matter, WJLA tonight made a report on the dangers of minors using “Chatroulette” and noted that Section 230 protects the site, as if it were wrong that the site owner shouldn’t be liable for what the posters do.  Demands for playing “brother’s keeper” keep coming back.  More about this if I can find out more specifics. 

Picture: Massey Building in Fairfax VA, where I got my "sales tax license" in 1997 when I self-published my first book.  A gay marriage rally was held nearby today. 

Start-ups envision letting consumers "sell" the rights to use their personal information from "data lockers"

Here’s a new wrinkle in the online privacy debate, the idea that consumers should be able to set up “data lockers” for their personal information (bringing back memories of high school).  The idea is that a consumer could “sell” his information to websites or search engines, who would benefit from the targeted advertising experience, that could one day extend to Internet or even cable TV.  But a typical “price” would not be much, probably less than $5 per site.  So Facebook would have to pay you (a pittance) for the right to send you targeted ads. 

Could consumers then litigate if information in a locker had been used without payment? 

Could the concept extend to photo images, especially if tagged after being taken by others in public, as at bars or discos?  Could this affect news sites or even blogs?

How would "do not track" be impacted, or browser capabilities to restrict tracking?

Patricio Robels has a discussion on “Ecoconsultancy” Feb. 13 here

The New York Times, in an article Feb. 12 by Joshua Brustein,  (“Start-Ups aim to help users put a price on their data”) discusses a number of startups predicated on the idea, such as “Personal” here; “Everything in life isn’t meant to be social”.  (Actually, it should read, “not everything in life is meant to be social”).  A more direct attempt come from “The Locker Project” (“Singly”, link.) And “Connect Me” aims to become “your reputation card, all the social proof you need” (here) requires allowing popups and certain scripts to run).  

Monday, February 13, 2012

According to new book, sites have been shut down by ICE for infringing hyperlinks (without hosting the content themselves)

Today, a new book by Rebecca MacKinnon, “Consent of the Networked”, arrived, and I wanted to note one major point made on page 103 right now on this blog, before review.

MacKinnon is discussing the shutdowns of some sites about a year ago by ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, under existing law (which I have generally supported).

One site, “” (called “Splash”) is reported to have been shut down despite having implicit  permission in emails from employees or rights holders (and resellers) to use the content. So there is a due process issue here.

Worse, a few sites seem to have been seized for merely linking to infringing content, when they did not actually host the content. These include “” and “”.  One of these discussed the way to order the material from iTunes.  Major search engines, of course, link to infringing sites and do not get taken down (because they are not “dedicated” to infringement).

It’s particularly dangerous if the government takes or sanctions private actions against sites or blogs for links only. This would certainly raise a question about embeds.

I had believed that links alone cannot constitute infringement; they are considered like bibliographic footnotes.  I thought this had been settled in 2000. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

How "broad" is piracy problem?

A prominent NYC venture capitalist, unable to watch a Knicks game legally from Time Warner because of a contract dispute, simply streams it illegally.  And the entertainment industry calls him a “pirate”.

In the meantime, a noted entertainment lawyer admits, Hollywood really doesn’t know if the sky is falling.  Remember, in the nice Disney film, Chicken Little’s own online reputation gets smeared when he blogs as such.

Most of the theft doesn’t take place to get around availability problems, the industry says.  I would even disagree.   Still, a lot of classic films don’t have rentable DVD’s yet (like “Saratoga Trunk”, the last time I checked).

The New York Times Business Day story (“The Piracy Problem: How Broad?) by Jenna Wortham and Amy Choznick is here  (Thursday Feb. 9). 

The story reminds us that the YouTube-Viacom case is still under appeal, and it could bring back another battle on downstream liability if YouTube loses, although Google is taking some responsibility, as far as practical with automation, with Content ID.
A Viacom executive said that Silicon Valley executives don’t have the same respect for artistic or motion picture content, normally covered by copyright, as it does for technological innovations normally covered by patent. 

Yet, it’s hard to say the most bold ideas in media and technology are either.  Mark Zuckberberg’s ideas about the power of social networking technologies are more a vision than either content or invention. Jimmy Wales’s idea of indexing knowledge is likewise more like a vision. I fall closer to the latter category.   Probably Steve Jobs fits the idea of “hard core” innovation that meets anyone’s idea of deserving intellectual property rights protection (or so would Bill Gates).

This is mine: “Lake Effect Snow”.  It can't possibly infringe. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Wikipedia founder weighs in on SOPA/PIPA take-down

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, has a major op-ed in the Washington Post, where he explains how Congress finally had to pay attention to “the people”, one at a time, as content creators, rather than just listen to specialized arguments over SOPA from Silcion Valley and Hollywood.  The link (for "We are the media and so are you") is here.  (The title reminds me of an occasion in 1981 when, after a road trip that led to a complaint from a client, my manager said "When this hits the streets, so will you.  But it never hit the streets.)

I’m reminded of another aspect of my own life. I’ve never been too eager to go out and pound doors or “raise money” for specific candidates, in “solidarity” with other interest groups, or circulate petitions over narrow issues.   That tendency in myself has grown more intense in recent years.  In the early 1980s, when I lived in Dallas, the Dallas Gay Alliance was big on “getting out the vote” in order to protect “our” own interests (which at the time was countering police harassment, sodomy laws, and later AIDS hysteria).  In the late 1990s when I had moved to Minneapolis, I had some experience approaching people and “recruiting” in the ballot access petitioning drives with the Libertarian Party of Minnesota (women were better at this than men).  I even trumped the Phillips neighborhood for a local candidate, over local issues like flood management.  I remember the exercise in “salesmanship” for others well. I strikes me that many churches are like that – evangelism, winning “converts” before winning the “arguments”.

I’m much more a knowledge person than a campaign person. And I have to admit, in terms of personality and sentience, I have more in common with Newt Gingrinch than the other GOP candidates (Okay, maybe Ron Paul).  There are definite dangers to watch out for.  I’d love to play proxy in one of their debates.  I can be polarizing.

Read the Wales piece.  And there may be another “converts and arguments” battle soon with ACTA, the Anti-Counterfeitingg Trade Agreement.  More about that another time.

Picture (above): Try "Uggie" in "The Artist".

P.S.  I posted too quickly. Right after "publishing", the Snail mail came, and included was a Democratic Party fund raising letter from president Barack Obama.  Oh, it's all about who has the most money for campaigns.  (And the Supreme Court just said super-PACs can give as much as they want.)

The tone of the mail package was rather presumptuous. But not as bad as a letter I received in Dallas from Mondale's campaign in 1984 about how much I "owed".  That letter was downright rude.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Your email is fair game for government after 180 days; other AM misadventures with Apple, Facebook

This morning, AOL greeted me with a video from Rebecca MacKinnon, author of “Consent of the Networked”,  with the caption, “Your email is fair game for government after 180 days”. The answer is that the government has the right to see it, maybe without a warrant (I had not heard of this).

She’s talking about the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 (wiki).  The New York Times has an account from Jan. 9, 2011 by Miguel Helft and Claire Cain Miller, “Privacy Law Is Outrun by Web”, here

Leigh Geossl has an op-ed “Facebook admits deleted photos aren’t really removed”, on Digital Journal, link here. It seems that Facebook has been keeping your “digital dirt” in a hidden cache and not emptying the trash.  It agreed to do better.  I don’t have anything incriminating myself, and Timeline didn’t cause me to scramble.

And CNN has a story by Frida Ghitis, "Google knows too much about you," which Google offered on its own iGoogle sign-on news page as a link for its own accountholders, like Bloggers, here

Another misadventure this morning:  Apple reminded me that my “1:1” was about to expire.  But I couldn’t renew except in the Safari browser.  I downloaded that onto my Dell XPS, and then I found that “1:1” requires you purchase an app for your machine. Logically that belongs on my MacBook.  I think a service like this should be server-based, so I can access it from any machine, especially when I am traveling.
Safari in a Windows 7 environment on a modern laptop is very fast, however.  It’s even faster than Chrome, which seems faster than Firefox and IE.  Maybe that’s because of so many add-ons.

Here’s AOL’s video with Mackinnon.  I had to put it at the bottom.  Sorry, I had to delete and reload this posting this morning. The XML code in the embed started to corrupt the alignment of the text below, and I couldn’t get fixing it manually to work. Why do some companies make their embed code so complicated?   AOL's introduces unwanted spacing and re-centering of everything that follows. YouTube's is so simple. 








Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Posting of anti-gay attack in Atlanta by "hiphop" video site raises First Amendment, incitement concerns

CNN is reporting this morning on the First Amendment ramifications of “” of a brutal gang beating in an Atlanta working class neighborhood (the “Pittsburgh area”) of a gay man outside a bar.

The link is here

There is a practical question: do sites like the one named encourage violence for publication, or do they help police track down perpetrators?

Legal contributor Paul Callan spoke this morning on CNN and explained again that the First Amendment protects speech as long as it is not obscene (or child pornography).  He pointed out that if publishing of videos with hate-directed violence (which might well be racial or religious instead of anti-gay) were illegal, then maybe legitimate networks like CNN couldn’t report it or show clips of it.  A similar line of thinking would be used against dissidents overseas.  Indeed, in legal circles, when laws prohibiting disturbing or harmful (to minors -- COPA) content are contemplated, there appears a secondary question with content "about" the issue, which some people have trouble understanding. 

I suspect Jeffrey Toobin will comment tonight on AC360. 

Again, in the US Section 230 may protect the website for secondary liability for what is published if it is inciteful. (There’s an issue with “fighting words”).  There is a case in Italy where YouTube was held secondarily liable for a hate video.

This issue is a toughie, a weighing or principles and practical risks to people. 

YouTube says it takes down hate videos if they are brought to its attention, and that such content violates its TOS agreement. This is an example of "journalistic ethics" with "amateurs".  

I was threatened once on the streets in Minneapolis and walked away unharmed (in 2002); a similar incident happened in NYC in 1977. 

CBS Atlanta has a detailed account of the story here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

DMCA Safe Harbor counter-notification can be hobbled if complainant not identified

In a 2009 video of a conference on domain names and trademark at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Electronic Frontier Foundation attorney Corynne McSherry  mentions that the DMCA Safe Harbor provision has a serious practical shortcoming. Service providers don’t have to notify original posters as to identity of the complainant.  This is significant particularly for mash-up videos where it is possible that more than one party could have claimed copyright infringement.  However, sometime in late 2008 or early 2009, YouTube started notifying account-holders who had complained so that respondents could more easily counterclaim.

There is another end-around for copyright owners, which is to try to make bogus trademark claims and misuse the domain name system, which I’ll cover soon on the trademark blog (I have an entry there today). 
McSherry appears at about the 1 hour mark in this video:

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Two NYTimes pieces today show how privacy, online reputation concerns merge; employers and insurers seem blinded

The New York Times Sunday Review has several important op-eds on digital privacy and on the piracy problem today, and one of the most conspicuous is the piece on p 7 by Lori Andrews (a law professor at Chicago-Kent), “Facebook Is Using You”, link here,  with a byline in print “Your digital self can make it difficult to get credit or insurance” (emphasis added).

The main problem that Andrews presents here is “data aggregation”, where consumers find their credit limits lowered or possibly auto or property insurance premiums raised (that part is shadier) based on the behavior of other consumers who use credit with the same establishments (bars?) or (less well documented) based on various Internet behaviors such as “likes and dislikes” noted on social networks, surfing and searching. 
She mentions some companies in the shady business of “spying” on consumers and gathering data. One is Spokeo People Search (link).  Note the tagline, "Not your grandma's white pages."  Another was (in 2007-2008) NebuAd, whose large customers pulled out after controversy  erupted over its consumer tracking practices  (as in this [website url] story on Wired in May 2009).  

Andrews notes that the law, in the area of evaluating online reputation, has not evolved the way it has in the area of credit reporting, where there are legally-driven procedures (however cumbersome) to fix errors. 
Furthermore, most of what has been written about online reputation (as with Michael Fertik’s “”) focuses on material that people post about themselves, especially on large social networking sites, or what others post about them.  Andrews is concerned that the problem gets much deeper, into the ability to track and spy on surfing and searching habits.  Of course, this is what the “do not track” debate” (along with recent browser improvements to opt out of tracking) is all about. Of course, we all know that people sometimes create serious security (in both the digital and real worlds) problems for themselves and sometimes other family members or other cohorts by what they post online (especially when "friends" really are "enemies"), and that (when gratuitous) sounds like a potential insurability problem.  And I've been covering the liability risks (downstream and direct) heavily in recent months. 

There seems to be almost no recourse when people lose job opportunities because of “online reputational” issues, and employers sometimes seem unconcerned as to whether they could have identified the wrong person, or whether allegations by others are even true.  There is a presumption that everyone is absolutely accountable for his own reputation, no matter what.

On the same printed page in the Times today, there is a piece by Somini Sengupta, “Should Personal Data Be Personal?”, link here.   The author points out that Europe is much stricter on privacy than the United States, which has no comprehensive law on the use of online data (even though the US has detailed laws on credit data and health care [HIPAA] info).

Sengupta mentions a new book by Rebecca MacKinnon from New America Foundation (Basic Books), “Consent of the Networked”, with an excerpt on Slate here.  I’ll obtain and review this book soon.    MacKinnon apparently is making the point that, in practice, digital privacy does tend to concern a minority of people due to circumstances beyond their control, and these people the law should protect.  

Even so, the Internet world needs to be able to inform itself about consumers in order to have a viable business model.  Just as with SOPA (downstream liability issues), overplaying privacy concerns about tracking could make it unprofitable for companies to continue offering UGC (user-generated content) publishing services.

In conjunction with this article, it's interesting to note that some people have become much more sensitive about being photographed in public or even at discos in the past six months or so, because of all the attention to the privacy debate, photo tagging, and tracking.   Maybe there's more reason to be concerned than I had thought.  The new Fox sci-fi film "Chronicle" (movies blog, Feb. 5) actually weighs in on this point.

I’ve written before that I came upon the entire online reputation issue from a Web 1.0 environment, back in the 1990s, and saw it as a potential “conflict of interest” issue rather than an existential threat to all potential  source of livelihood.  When I became active online, one could still lead “double lives” online and in real life, and that was somewhat accepted by employers.  That seemed to change around late 2005 or so, particularly once MySpace was popular and Facebook was starting to become visible.  I’ve already documented (July 27, 2007) what I ran into. (And I think there is even more to this now; I think I had been getting assignments canceled at one other place the preceding Spring because of web exposure, but it was all under the table). Starting around early 2006, some career coaches (like Tory Johnson and Mary Ellen Slayter) started talking about "personal online presence and professionalism" and "cleaning up digital dirt", not even questioning the problem (and paradigm shift) from a broader ethical point of view. 
I entered the world of “global citizenship” and “self-broadcast” after a particular epiphany in 1994 (in my own thinking) while “on the road”.  I was already 51 then and understood that fundamental decisions about professional direction might have to stand for the rest of my life.   I could be blackballing myself for life from some things.  But, I might not be around forever anyway.  Still, as my life unfolded (and got into a sensitive eldercare situation), my new (and possibly irrevocable, eventually) self-broadcast strategy was very risky, rather like a gambit in a chess game.  I might have considered becoming a math teacher as early as 2003, but that (given the Web 1.0 world as it was) would have meant my taking everything down.  Then how should I have behaved once social media appeared?  I don’t want any employer or industry to “own” my online presence. 

Had I gone into teaching, I would have faced other questions.  Despite decades of disuses since graduate school, I might have gotten my sharpness in analysis and modern algebra back, enough to teach AP; but I probably (given the climate when “No Child Left Behind” passed) would have been pushed toward lower grades and even special education.  When I didn’t have kids myself, I didn’t really view this as an accomplishment.  I never had.  So this could have amounted to a risky “course-change” too.  I was "needed" but was I "welcome"? The outplacement company had no clue.

Donny Deutsch has a video for AOL on "individual branding" and online presence, which stays forever. He says that Madonna and Donald Trump both have outstanding online brands, Sylvester Stallone doesn't. "You have to be constant as to who you are."  Deutsch worked with Trump on "The Apprentice."