Sunday, December 30, 2012

Search engines are paying more attention to content substance than just to link popularity; good for small publishers?

The PR Factor offers an article (Aug. 9, 2012) on “AdAge”, by Yarom Galai, about how search engines (especially Google’s) are placing more emphasis on uniqueness and depth of content rather than just links and popularity.  The title is “How Google’s ‘Penguin’ update will change publishing, for the better”, link here.

Is this a good development for people who like to publish for any audience?  The article says “focus more on Facebook than Google”.  Does that mean to focus content on specific lists of audiences who know you?  I would think it’s the opposite.  I would say, offer original content for all, but try to add something new and original with each posting, rather than just aggregate the work (and links) of others.  Try to say something constructive that you don’t think anyone else has said in that next movie or book review.  Also, try to focus on specific points or details that you don’t think that many other speakers have yet covered, but that you think others are going to want to know about soon.  (I can see how the “Fiscal Cliff” could generate those opportunities for writers.)
There is an obscure way that tax negotiations in 2013 could affect small publishers and their relationships with big service providers. That is, the “carve out” for small businesses using S-corp filings and the like.  There could develop more concern (both within the iRS and within service providers themselves)  in determining just which publishers are “profitable” in an accounting sense, than in the past. 

Somehow this PR article showed up on my smartphone yesterday when I was searching for stuff about the fiscal negotiations.  

Saturday, December 29, 2012

"Fiddling" Congress still is working on FISA extension; practical implications for ordinary citizens seems minimal

Apparently, while Congress is supposed to be working on the Fiscal Cliff under emergency year end conditions, it has been working on other things, like surveillance." 

The Business Insider reported early Dec. 29 that the Senate has approved a five-year extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).  The law appears to allow the government to tap into communications (including emails and probably social media under privacy settings) with foreign nationals suspected of terrorist activities, especially when Americans are abroad.  It is less clear that it would apply at home (without a warrant). 

The link for the “Agence France Presse” story is here.

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has supported the bill, and admitted that it sometimes could listen in on calls to American citizens at home.  She claims several major attacks have been stopped by the warrantless searches.

It is probably unlikely that Americans ordinarily are wiretapped, except by happenstance or unusual coincidence.  Yet, once I walked into a bar in Baltimore and overheard a dangerous conversation. The “Ice Man” scenario can sometimes happen.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Publication of gun owners online (based on permits) in NY State causes controversy

A small newspaper in suburban Westchester County, NY published the names and home addresses of holders of permits for handgun and other weapons in its coverage area, going all the way into New Jersey and Connecticut.  The “outcry” was reported today by David Goodman in the New York Times on p. A17 (website url here ). 
The link  (“Where are the gun permits in your neighborhood”?) at “Lohud” Journal News (Gannett) is  here.    The maps are divided by county and are color coded as to the aging of the gun permits.

The site does not say that the address actually has a gun, just that there is a permit.
A North Carolina television station had published a similar list in July.

The information is available manually from public record and available (apparently with no restrictions) under Freedom of Information Act provisions. (Whether personal purchase decisions should be available sounds like a good policy question, but "licenses" have always been public -- to the chagrin of libertarians.)   But an ethical and perhaps a legal question remains on almost cost-free Internet distribution of information (maybe intended as a shaming online "scarlet letter") that could lead to targeting of people. One comment at the Times notes that criminals can also figure out from the maps who is unarmed (although that says nothing about security systems, cell phone access, camera systems,  and other weapon-free measures).  Is the law going to change in this area?  We’ve seen similar concerns over no-consent photos of people in bars and discos. 

There has been some blowback, publication of names and addresses of the newspaper management.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Details on Sandy's aftermath will increase debate on effectiveness of volunteerism, preparedness, "personal responsibility"

On Saturday, December 22, 2012, the New York Times ran a detailed story by David M. Halbfinger, Charlges V. Bagli and Sarah Maslin Nir, about the “truth” about Sandy devastation and the real needs of residents and property owners. It’s On Ravaged Coastline, It’s Rebuild Deliberately v. Rebuild Now”, link here.

The article has detailed maps of the New Jersey, New York City , Long Island and southern New England coastlines, as to the extent of damage. 
Generally, most damage in New Jersey was within a mile of coastal water. Much of it was on the coastal isthmuses.  But some was along bays and rivers going inland, and the largest was in an inland but low lying area near the meadowlands, Hoboken.  Except for Hoboken, much of the property belonged to higher income residents and tended to be insured.

New York City and near Long Island are another matter.  The inventory of low-lying areas of Staten Island and Brooklyn are not complete, and losses were extensive, as we know, in the Rockaways, other areas of southerm Queens, and Long Beach.  The resort area of Fire Island was heavily damaged.  Except for Fire Island, many of the homeowners were “blue collar” and working class.
The windspeeds where the eye moved onshore were “only” about 80 mph, and most of the severe damage occurred more than 40 miles away, from storm surge combined with tide, not from wind.  This kinds of damage could have happened from a  cold-core “Noreaster”  in the “wrong place” at high tide.  It’s not as clear that it really couldn’t happen without climate change.  Nevertheless,  lower and medium income residents in the New York areas said they had never experienced anything like this in decades, but had always “tolerated” smaller flooding.
So where does this leave the issue of volunteerism and shared goals vs. “personal responsibility” as discussed here Nov. 17?  It’s mixed.  In most of the New Jersey areas, this is sounding like a problem locals should solve themselves with engineering (which could need federal help) and careful building codes.   New York is a different matter.  As widely reported, the worst hit areas depended on volunteers, some of them from Wall Street firms, and government and institutional response was slow and badly insufficient for a long time.  This involved people with fewer resources and less opportunity to anticipate a disaster like this on their own, and a public infrastructure not ready to handle it. If I had been living in Manhattan at the time in the Village, I might have been without power for a number of days myself.
It strikes me that a disaster like this makes us ponder how we should handle the policy debate over the “fiscall cliff”.  The basic, centrist answer is that the safest thing is to do a little of everything (tax hikes, care outs, gradual benefit slowdown, increased eligibility ages, and “doing the math”).  That means you can’t protect any one person or group from some sacrifice and some harm.  You can try to prevent smaller groups or individuals from big harm or catastrophe, which really can happen if Congress is so paralyzed that it can’t do anything.  But that is what some “deconstructionists” want:  a world where people have to take care of one another, as the government and public infrastructure withers away.  It’s a scary thought.  

Wikiepdia attribution link for track of Sandy. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas: How to meet the "real needs" of others?

After I “retired” at the end of 2001 (from my 31-year “professional” IT career) I started getting a lot of entreaties and pressure from people regarding what should be expected from someone like me.  Specifically, a lot of parties tried to recruit me, if I would only give up my self-created, low cost soap box. The tone of these approaches resembled the pressure that I used to get as a boy and a teen, to “conform” to the shared goals of others, and not get noticed too much for being different, particularly when I did not quite measure up as a fighting man or contingent guerilla fighter.

The estate left after my mother’s passing at 97 at the end of 2010 would seem to leave me (now 69) in reasonably good shape.  There are many ways for me to get into trouble, and I can come back to that.  But I do wonder about questions now:  why am I so insistent on being “noticed” now for my content (as I discussed here Oct. 17), and not doing more directly (and “personally”) for others?

There are specifics that can be said.  The “house” (“Drohega” from “The Thorn Birds”) could shelter an entire family with children.  I could give more “time” to people with specific needs.  I won’t go on with the obvious examples (starting with Sandy, Newtown, cancer, veterans, hospices, underpaid caregivers,  Alzheimer’s, even HIV, etc).   Indeed, we hear about this every January with the upcoming “national day of service” on MLK weekend.   But I think that, for me, for service to really do other people good, it has to be related to the substance of my own life, with what I can personally accomplish.  What I find that hit-or-miss volunteering with organization, while it may add to standby social capital, doesn’t do that much for those who need it.  Sometimes I’ve found that organizations want me to cowtow to their own personal ego struggles, and sometimes they have clients who have much less legitimate need than others.   This kind of experience did work out for me in the 1980s with AIDS, because relatively speaking I had a lot to add then with the clinical aspect.  This has become much less so since then.  I’m not the sort of person who likes to ask other people for money for causes. I don’t “convert” people to religious or any other set of beliefs.   And I don’t think I can accomplish much by picking up a hammer and driving a few hundred miles (see comment on the TV blog, reaction to both me and Anderson Cooper with respect to Katrina, Aug. 29, 2007).

For the effectiveness to come from me, I really have to get my own projects done (up to some semipro level where others can really work with them).  I would expect  all of this to relate to music, media, or even chess, but I would have to be good at these to function as a role model.  (“Winning” a rated chess game again  -- even with the “two bishops” -- recently helps.)  So it’s not easy to break away, and get involved in a lot of very short term efforts or solicitations that really don’t go anywhere.

The nature of the approaches that have come my way since “retirement” is quite remarkable.  Some are quite personal and seem to invite me to become involved in situations in which I would have previously been unwelcome.  Some of this came up unexpectedly during the substitute teaching.  A lot of it concerns “OPC”, that is, “other people’s children”.  Some of it considers openness to sharing emotions with people who cannot comprehend what is really happening except in a very “momentary” way.  Compassion and love are really not the same things for me.

All of this loops back to an essential problem for those of us who grow up “different”.  We want to accomplish our own agendas and be noticed for them, regardless of the “real needs of other people” immediately around us.  Of course, no content distribution can be “productive” until real human beings benefit from it.  Modern society and globalization technology gives those who are “different” more leverage because of the potentials of asymmetry (again, the idea of world where bishops are better than knights).   This may all seem to come from the Internet, but it was actually starting to happen as I grew up in the Fifties.  Music was always a way to do this.  In the nineteenth Century, Beethoven really practiced asymmetry!  In fact, I often see classical music as a predictor of the course and effect of future innovation.

The moral hazard is that the “outlier” will take advantage of the previous sacrifices of others, and produce unusual economic, cultural, and psychological imbalances.  A major example, of course, is provided by the way society has tended to react to male homosexuality, even when private – seeing it as a major psychological  (and possibly judgmental) distraction to “normal” people from sexual and emotional “complementary” l commitment necessary to form and raise families – a view that, when looked at closely – seems nebulous and irrational now in an era that emphasizes individualism.  But, yup, it was really about having kids and maintaining lineage.  I can, of course say, that as the “outlier” ready to “step on your toes” I’m “keeping you honest”.  Oh, I’d really like to get interviewed on AC360!

The moral responsibility of the person who is different – and of those around him – is for me “the central issue”.  It’s the moral dimension that interest me.   I resist trying to evade it with appeals to immutability, which (even when scientifically supported now)  seem like cop-outs and which don’t work consistently when applied in different areas. 

I come back, then , to the question, “What do you want from me?”  That was a painful question during the last years of taking care of Mother, but it was also a painful question early in my life, particularly the college years (and earlier in middle school).  Some of it seems to be, you wanted me to “pay my dues” and go through the same rites of passage and tests as everybody else.  That was rather a lot of the mentality of the male-only military draft during my own youth.  You wanted me to take my turns with accepting the risk of manhood, to protect others, from enemies if necessary (which sounds suddenly like NRA mentality today).  You wanted me to have the skills it took to not only take care of myself and hold down a job (and that I did) but also to look after others, with some degree of complementarity.  And with some degree of real emotion and faith in shared purpose, which is dicier.  I can speculate, of course, that the feeling and emotion would come with the prerequisite skills and capability.  That would normally lead to the interest (even necessity) of raising a family of my own.  (We can have a layered discussion of how that ought to work in a modern world that accepts same-sex marriage, but in practice that came too late for me, that was not a valid path in my generation).  When one starts a family, one has a personal and generative, not just "professional" stake in the future after he or she is gone -- and accepts the idea of not wholly predictable differential sacrifice. One puts his own skin in the game -- as long as one still has it.  

As I’ve noted before, I made a kind of truce with all this, pretty much operating as a “team of one”.  That was possible throughout most of my adult life (more than it could have been before the 60s), but the capacity of “another me” (sci-fi movies, please) to do so in the next generation could be compromised by sustainability concerns and by a resurgent emphasis on the “common good”.  The recent NRA flap is indeed an iceberg;  we can have the same discussions about the Internet.  I cannot dismiss Wayne LaPierre so easily.

During the recent (until the end of 2010) period of eldercare, I sometimes found myself pressured to behave in a more proactive and assertive manner with respect to other provider in taking care of Mother.  This would have been much easier to deal with, emotionally, we I in a home I had bought and developed myself and in a “marital” relationship preferably with sequel.  Looking back farther into my own past, it seems to me that this might have been possible if I really believed others would or “had to” do the same.  This was a very disconcerting train of thought to follow. 

I get the idea that it is important and vital to find emotional value on providing for others, even for some people who are not always intact.  I’ve said that my concern with the “affiliation value” of the other person goes down when what I give comes from my own set of expressive skills – but we can’t always count on that “luxury” in a sustainable world where we have to be prepared to live together, not always on our own terms of choice.  Generally, in a “democratic” society, we’re supposed to learn this value of constructive attachment through “family first”.  That means loving people in your orbit because they’re family, even flesh and blood, not because you are personally dazzled by them. 

That observation, however, takes us back to the “recruiting” problem.  If my emotional and expressive life is to be subdued by the real needs of others, there is a real risk that it will be wrongfully exploited, for morally illegitimate ends.  I don’t like the idea of being on the “wrong team”.

Indeed, it seems that in general the New Testament somewhat plays down the idea of family for its own sake, and places a lot of value on reaching out to people around, “neighbors”, unconditionally and uncritically.  We can see this in stories like “The Rich Young Ruler” (with its scoffing at pandering to upward affiliation, and its natural extension to looking at the differences between motherly, fatherly, familial and neighborly love – as in a 1972 sermon given by Reverend Sanks at the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC).  Jesus seems to accept essential inequality, of capability, as inevitable.  There will always be “the poor” and there will always be those less capable than others.  This is not just about the modern embracement of diversity and different ability.  Salvation is for all.  Other stories contribute to the mix, like the Prodigal Son, and particularly the workers in the vineyard.  And, indeed, the religious model for natural marital procreation does not always work perfectly that way in the Bible, considering how Jesus himself was to be conceived.  Joseph did not choose to be a father just through the usual consummation of marriage vows. 
I think that the capacity to bond to others with due respect for just plain need is a survival skill.  For I am presently left in the uncomfortable position of “watching my back” (maybe to the cackles on both the far Left and Right). There are a lot of ways to “lose”.  It can come from criminal or indignant acts by others.  It can come from the neglect of Congress, some of whose more radical  (“Tea Party”) members would rather see the country go down into chaos to prove an ideological point (the scary criticism made of my book – as I noted yesterday).  It could from gross disasters, either terrorism or nature.  Now, cataclysm is less likely here than in many other areas of the country, but I can’t be complacent.  The biggest dangers do come from climate change (meaning bigger and unprecedented storms like wildfires, derechoes and tornadoes, even in areas too high for flooding), and unprecedented solar storms.  In the past, the dangers could come from fuel shortage and peak oil, but very recent changes in the domestic energy picture (Pickens) can change that.  For me, the scariest threat of all probably has to do with the vulnerability of the power grid.  I woudn’t have much to offer a world with no power for a year.  You get where this is headed. 

Likewise, in the demographic area, I see there is much more that can be done to prolong the lives of the elderly, and that can be done for those with many other medical issues, but only if others will personally bond with them.  This was not an idea that was apparent (given older medical technology) when I was growing up.  So it is hard to see, at age 69, another act for me after this one if some sort of calamity, whether medical (the usual) or external (like crime, war or disaster) occurs.  When something “bad” happens, there is no way to make it “all right” after the fact.  My own personal impression of Salvation in my own case is to start over, probably in simple poverty, on another world, because I will have come to nothing on this world.  Salvation for grace?  How can that work if I can no longer do anything?

So, that’s why, at a certain element level, it’s important to become a capable social being when you’re young.  I really didn’t.  Afterwards, there is only truce, d├ętente, accommodation, assimilation, or grace.  But it is no longer “about you”. "Personal responsibility", the way we have talked about it as political libertarians, has become an inadequate concept.  

I’ve always believed in the idea of “Karma” – that one can “keep score” on someone, as to whether he or she “paid the dues” and really earned his recognition without undue dependence on others.  I think a lot of people, particularly in socially conservative cultures, believe that – but they do see family as a way of regulating the individual in his journey through moral challenges, as if on a board game.  Yet, it seems that the Gospels tend to dispel even the idea of “karma” in the sense of it being a school grade that a person gets on this life or some sort of moral score that well-orders him in a rank compared to others.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Amazon cracks down on fake ("Argo") or contrived reviews

Amazon is cracking down on nepotism and “review farming” of its products, according to a Sunday (December 23, 2012) front page story in the New York Times by David Streitfeld, link here.  The title is “Giving Mom’s Book Five Stars? Amazon May Cull Your Review”. And that doesn't just refer to the movie "Argo". 

I guess some people really do buy books or DVD’s based on in-house reviews.  One person has reviewed over 25000 books.  I prefer to do my reviewing media on my own sites, although I do give star numbers on Netflix (and I haven’t heard that Netflix will implement a similar policy.)  I often look for reviews of books and movies online, but I typically look at other blogs and at newspaper review, and, yes, Roger Ebert.
I will mention here a particular 2006 review  (link)  of my first book by “Fed Up with Amazon”, who titled her review of me “Incoherent”.  I had addressed some of her comments in my Jan. 2, 2007 posting here (“I  Have a Screed”), and her question about “why we should care about what he thinks” is answered by the first chapter, the whole William and Mary Expulsion event.  Now that, as I have written, was linked to the “gays in the military” debate 35 years later by the “privacy in circumstances of forced intimacy” argument, but over time I’ve come to see that link as more about social cohesion (not just “unit cohesion”) and social capital.
I went back today and looked at my text on “deconstruction” (from Chapter 5 in the 1997 book) – maligned in her review.  Indeed, back in the 1990s, libertarian “ideology” often said that  federal (libertarian) elected officials would become dedicated to dismantling programs that aren’t authorized by  the Constitution, so the term does describe what libertarians said “we” wanted.  I think, however, you have to be careful what you wish for.  You might get it, or officials might try.  For evidence, look at the Tea Party and how, over ideology, it almost drove the nation into default on the summer of 2011 and could do so again in 2013.  In some scenarios that could mean that some social security beneficiaries in circumstances like mine suddenly no longer get benefits.  (I’ve talked about that on the retirement blog.)  Imagine what it would be like if someone like Sarah Palin (John McCain’s running mate in 2008) really got into the White House.  So yes, we’ve seen politicians take this idea to heart – maybe they’ve even read my passages online and felt “inspired” – and the results were not what I had intended.  Remember, it was Karl Marx who predicted that the state would gradually wither away.  That as in 12 grade government class!  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Commenting, following has moved from blogs to Facebook and Twitter; a note on "Summly"

I have indeed noticed a change in reader and visitor behavior in recent months.  True, my own page visits are down, and there are fewer comments.  And people generally don’t seem to sign up as followers of blogs.

Instead, it seems as though the energy of commenting and following has moved to Facebook and Twitter, especially during the past year, at least in my own experience.  I have to admit that I do the same thing myself.  It’s easier to comment on who the Washington Nationals should re-sign (like LaRoche and Morse) on Facebook (the MASN thread) than look for blogs on it (although I guess I could check MLB).  It’s easier to get into conversations with people angry at Piers Morgan over his positions on gun control on Twitter than anywhere else. 

I do realize that over time, I will need to look at how my content is organized, spread out, and drawn together – especially the latter, so readers can find info on the things I know that really attracts them because I cover it and not many sources do (these topics include filial responsibility laws, and protecting the power grind from solar storms and EMP, particularly).  

All of this is what we expect in the change from the Web 1.0 world (which was so good to me) to the Web 2.0 and 3.0 planets of today.  I guess people need to learn to live in transition zones (or termination zones) of tidally locked alien planets. 

This is a good place to mention a text and news summarization service for some mobile devices, "Summly", created by the newest teen innovator, the Brit Nick D'Aloisio, as discussed on Piers Morgan tonight.  I'll have to see how that fits into my world.  I like to create original text, not massage that of others. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New FTC rules on children's privacy probably don't present a downstream liability hazard, but will be expensive for some small app developers

The new rules from the Federal Trade Commission regarding how COPPA (The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998) is interpreted when applied to third-party situations, probably do not represent a significant danger of third party downstream liability to social media sites, blogging plaftorms and shared hosting providers.

I wrote about the rules Wednesday (December 19) on my COPA blog (motivated by the now unconstitutional Child Online Protection Act).  There was a concern that when a site like Facebook allows its hooks to be embedded in other sites that collect information about minors, the third party site (Facebook) could be held partially liable if the other site collected information without parents’ permission.  That information could include geolocation (as from a cell phone or digital image) or even IP address parameters widely available on server logs and used to track Web reporting statistics.  The FTC has decided, according to the most recent accounts, that a company like Facebook is liable only when it knows that a partner site is acting inappropriately.  This sounds like a “don’t ask. don’t tell” policy that might become unstable.  Or call it “Hear no evil, see no evil.”

Websites accepting programmed advertising might also have become liable if the FTC didn’t insist on “actual knowledge”.  So the FTC seems to have respected the basic advertising business model for the user-generated content on the web, for now.

The FTC rules mentioned a “safe harbor” provision, echoing the concept from the DMCA. It’s not clear yet how it would work.

The COPPA debate (as did COPA a few years back) shows that you can only go “so far” to protect children, without vigorous parental engagement.  A similar paradigm problem exists in other areas, like gun control (first posting Tuesday December 18).  The whole issue can dhow a wedge between people who have and who do not have children.

The Los Angeles Times offers this video: 

It mentions the legal expenses faced by apps developers developing products for minors, especially those with special needs. The FTC even admits that each educational app developer would have to spend about $9500 to comply with the law. There is a need to use analytics to figure out how minors interact with the apps, and using statistics-gathering may have trouble not skirting the law. Allen Simpson, vice president of policy at Common Sense Media, (link ) speaks.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

FTC to take a hard look at data brokers, issues subpoenas to nine companies

Consumers may one day need to have access to reports that data brokers collect and resell about them, based on web-surfing habits, according to a Business Day story by Natasha Singer in the New York Times on Wednesday, December 19, 2012. The Federal Trade Commission has issued administrative subpoenas to up to nine data brokerage companies.

The link to the story by Natasha Singer is here

One of these companies is “Acxiom” in Little Rock. AR (link), not to be confused with a public relations firm “Axicom”.  When I worked for Univac, I worked at an account in northern New Jersey in the early 1970s called “Axicom” as part of ‘Transport Data”.  I don’t know if that company is related to either of these now, but I thought that the company collected consumer data.  A couple of other companies are eBureau in St. Cloud, MN (interesting to me because I lived nearby in the Twin Cities for six years), and Inttelius. In Bellevue WA, which sells background reports on people.  PeekYou also analyzes social media “sentiment”.

By and large, many of these companies collect data more on purchasing habits, surfing, and consumption, rather than on trying to analyze the nature of level of someone’s postings on social media, but the latter possibility is obviously on the table in the minds of some people.

“Do not track” could of course inhibit data collection from companies.  Let me note another oddity:  On a few sites (such as CNN and MLB), one of my Windows 7 computers  (converted from Vista) halts for thirty seconds or so to start another service, and it seems to related to tracking ads that I see.  I don’t experience this problem in a Mac environment.  In a mobile environment (I have a Verizon Motorola Droid), a few sites (such as NFL) disrupt my browsing (checking scoreboards) with requests for surveys or ads to view.  I suppose that if I went along with it, data would be collected.  Sports sites seem especially prone to this behavior.

Consumers might find that not only are offers sent them affected, vendors might treat them disparagingly.  Insurance companies could charge higher rates or refuse them, and the same, say, for prospective landlords, or even employers.  This idea could be particularly ominous if it spread to analyzing someone’s social media presence (such as volume of postings in relation to followers or friends, or use or privacy settings).  The FTC might well pay attention to this possibility. But it now seems that "hidden online reputation" can invoke consumption and surfing habits as well as posting activity. 

How could all of this affect college and high school students?

The FTC has its own press release on the issue, here

Here is a hearing by Rep. ED Markey (D-MA), with his owns story on data brokers here

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Instagram re-use of photos could violate rights of people photographed; competitors jump in

There has occurred a recent flap, as Instagram, recently bought by Facebook, apparently has instituted a policy that requires posters to give consent to Instagram’s subsequent reuse of their photos for commercial purposes.

Other photo services, like Picasa as a part of Google, allow users to keep total intellectual property ownership of photos.  It would seem that Instagram and Facebook will probably have to change in this regard.

One obvious problem is that if someone else’s picture is taken and then reused by Instagram, that could result in a violation of that third person’s right of publicity or sometimes a misappropriation of that person’s privacy rights.  Instagram is complicating an already escalating problem with photos of people which could sometimes affect their online reputations, as has been pointed out on Anderson recently but has gotten little legal traction so far.

The Washington Post has a story by Craig Timberg, link here.

And the CNET story by Declan McCullagh points out the possible effect on photo subjects who did not give consent. 

Is it time for us to rethink our attachment to "our fundamental rights", for the good of others?

On Sunday, December 16, 2012 at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, in a sermon titled “Images of Salvation, Good News Proclaimed”, Rev. Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt made of couple of startling statements that go beyond any obvious knee-jerk reaction to the recent tragic events in Newtown, CT.

She drilled down to the way we look at individual fundamental rights (almost reminding me of my own father’s concern of my obsession with “rights” as a teen).  At one point, she said, “Sometimes, we need to give up cherished rights for the sake of others.”  Yes, “give up”, or “sacrifice”.  Later, she got back more on the mark when she modified this statement with. “We need to exercise rights in a way that doesn’t harm others.”

This does go to the “wordmarks” that characterized my first two books (“Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back” in 1997, but more specifically, the little 96-page booklet, “Our Fundamental Rights, and How We Can Reclaim Them: A Psychological Approach”, at the end of 1998. 
I don’t think her comments are to be seen just in the limited context of gun control, any more than are President Obama’s remarks Sunday night from an interfaith service in Newtown, when the president said that “We are all parents for all of our children”, and that would include the childless.  That’s getting closer to the point that concerns me. 

I did, Monday, on the “Bill on Major Issues” blog, make some remarks specifically about the gun issue.  For many middle class people living in populated areas in relatively securable homes, I don’t think that reasonable gun legislation has any significant effect on their ability to defend themselves, their families, and their property.  Most people probably don’t need to own weapons. 

I’m more concerned about the way other fundamental rights play out – particularly speech and self-expression, and the way this loops back with the degree of connection people really have with others.  The obvious place to start here is to wonder about violence in media – video games, movies, etc.  That debate will surely go on.  But I’m concerned about the way media use is related to our sharing of the relative risks and burdens among generations. 

I became a media person in the years that my former “information technology” career came to a close – through self-publication.  The legal tradition that built up quickly was to facilitate the deployment of user-generated content and self-publication by relieving intermediaries of downstream liability for harm done by users of these networks.  Speech is a fundamental right, but low-cost unsupervised distribution was a right that we invented or evolved.  In today’s environment, it is very difficult for parents to protect their children from all the different kinds of perils, including cyberbullying, pornography, violence, stalking and the like.

I have to admit something else: media for me became a surrogate for “real interaction” with people at some intimate level.  I don’t have the personal “stake” or my own “skin” in the future that others have, because I wouldn’t take the “risk” of having a family. Could that mean that I should have less of a voice now?  This gets complicated and can go in different directions.  I withdrew because conventional social competition as a male in the 1950s as humiliating.  I came to a personal truce with this whole idea and lived a productive life – leading into media and publication – without the usual social contacts and ability to share emotion that people now expect.  (Actually, the expectations of social capital and social solidarity are growing today precisely because of presentation of need in the media, as well as longer lifespans.)  It’s becoming apparent, though, that intergenerational responsibility (including some of it that gets very personal at times) doesn’t wait for pregnancy or just deciding that you want children or a lineage (maybe it does on “Days of our Lives”).  Eldercare, for example, is becoming the responsibility of everyone anyway.  It can be particularly troubling for someone who did not raise his own family.  Of course, how to get everyone “engaged”, as a “policy” matter,  gets complicated.  For example (as just one question), should we encourage same-sex couples  (“Will and Sonny”) and singles to adopt  “Wednesday’s children” just out of the huge volume of need?

Fulp-Eicksataedt also mentioned the idea, “If you have an extra coat and someone else needs one., you give it to him”.  (Actually, a gay club, TownDC, is having a coat donation Dec. 22.)  The Gospels do seem to call for a lot of unconditional, uncritical generosity without much critical screening of the “personal responsibility” of the needy person – like you don’t stop to wonder if the aggressive panhandler at the Metro stop is a scammer.  (We got into that discussion Michelle Singletary’s column about one family’s impact from Hurricane Sandy on Dec. 12, “radical hospitality for those who don’t do the right things”.  Modern classical liberalism – most of all libertarianism – place a tremendous moral (and sometimes legal)  investment in personal responsibility and personal control of one’s own fate (most of all, Ayn Rand’s brand of objectivism).  This development in Judeo-Christian nations in the West has always seemed a bit of a paradox, making the Gospel, at least among early Christians, seem Marxist.  Personal “moral hazard” has become a modern buzzword.

In my own life, I’ve had to come to terms personally with what I always knew intellectually – I can remain distant, aloof, even indifferent when others try to demand my attention.  When I was working in information technology as an individual contributor, I was sheltered from the “social demands” of the real world.  Since “retiring”, I’ve been surprised by what people have approached me with, to get involved in mentoring situations where in the past I was not welcome. (This has happened in conjunction with substitute teaching, and with various unsolicited job calls.)  That is a very difficult sea change.  I cannot make something or someone (perhaps a victim) “all right” and I cannot always share the emotions of other families with any real integrity.  I know someone could look at my circumstances and ask me why I don’t “do more”.  I can only tell you that I need to finish the personal media projects that I have started, without disruption.  It is not as easy to be effective by “grabbing a hammer” and going to the shore, or by sheltering people, as some would think. (I think back to the Cuban refugees n 1980, as well as today’s people displaced by storms, on that one.)  What I do like to think about is solving these problems by preventing these disasters in the first place. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Pundits recommend trimming social media contacts during economic hard times -- a puzzlement? a paradox?

Here’s an off story on NBC Today’s site, “Prepare for the Fiscal Cliff” by purging Facebook friends (and maybe Google+, maybe Myspace, maybe Twitter followers).  Only keep the friends who can take care of you (or that you can take care of) in hard times.

I think the whole idea of the article is a bit hyperbolic, but here is the (Lifeinc) link anyway. 

It’s true, Facebook “Likes” won’t get the power back or clean out mold from the basement, or restore a condemned house. 

I’m rather reminded of Dr. Mehmet Oz, who says (on Oprah and other places) that he doesn’t like to do extensive surgery on people who are socially isolated.  He means, able to love somebody who loves you back.  That’s what he said.  I never thought you love people just to be loved right back!

As in the Singletary article that I mentioned Wednesday, it’s hard to see how far people can go with “Prevent defenses” and how much more interdependence we need to accept. 
But I wouldn’t voluntarily live less than 200 feet above sea level (or a river) right now.  But there isn’t always a choice. And maybe 200 feet isn’t enough.  What of there were a tsunami from the Canary Islands volcano?  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Radical hospitality" means sacrifice, even to help those who didn't do the right things

I’ll have to carry on yesterday’s post about volunteerism with a note about Michelle Singletary’s column on p. A15 of The Washington Post today, “Doing the right thing, even for those who didn’t”.   Online the title is “We are our brother’s keepers” (and sister's), link here.  Life is about a lot more than "fairness", she says. 
This one is worth a real debate.  Michelle describes a letter from a woman whose sibling became homeless after Hurricane Sandy (living somewhere in coastal New Jersey or Long Island)  and wants help. But the sibling had behave foolishly, financially speaking ,and had not insured the property for floods, etc.  The woman would have to sacrifice paying for her own kids’ education to help the siblings; kids – challenging the idea that we should be absolutely responsible for our own kids, if we had them – but then there’s “Raising Helen”, isn’t there!

Michelle takes the compassionate position, much more collective in principle.  It’s almost Biblical.  I’d love  to see opposing  or at least developmental viewpoints on this one, maybe from Cheryl Wetzstein of the Washington Times. 

I have to say, that as somewhat a “singleton” and socially isolated (to the dismay of Mehmet Oz), I’ve had to be very careful all my life about making “mistakes”.  I don’t make as many as people who have more social capital to fall back on.  And the problem is, if I had to “sacrifice” here, I’d never amount to anything, "on my own". I can't tolerate letting others toy with my life (especially the GOP).  

But as we saw from yesterday’s post, even people who did the right things in that area are having a hard time.  Both corporate and governmental bureaucracy seems not to be working (note the NBC news story late yesterday on FEMA trailers).   The LDS Church, for example, has a very good record of taking care of its own, and taking care of others after disasters -0 look at how much LDS chipped in after Katrina. 

There’s something else about the “radical hospitality” issue.  A singleton like me could be forced into sharing his life with others, regardless of making good choices.  That’s a good secondary reason for “family values”.    Not all moral obligations are just about consequences of choices; values when totaled have a bit effect on people, especially those who do need more help (and sometimes those individuals will give up on the idea of law and order altogether because it never "worked" for them).  That gets much harder for someone who stayed out of the game entirely for years because of earlier social humiliation. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Slow recovery of coastal NYC, Long Island raises questions about volunteerism as well as policy

A detailed front page story Monday December 10, 2012 in the New York Times, “Housing agency’s flaws revealed by storm”, by Eric Lipton and Michael Moss, shows the inability of “the system” to protect the lives of the poor or disadvantaged after a major catastrophe, like “Hurricane” Sandy.  The link is here
The article describes how the Housing Authority had placed a lot of people in apartment buildings in low-lying areas.  Salt water from the storm surge badly damaged the underground power, phone and Internet cables; all of this greatly complicated getting food and medicine (as well as heat) to residents on upper floors.  In addition, in the outer buroughs, many of the most vulnerable areas are blue collar neighborhoods, differing from the practice in Florida and other southern coastal states where luxurious condos are built on the beaches.
The piece goes on to describe how “ragtag teams” of “volunteers” tried to help the residents when government agencies or companies could not. 

Some of the severe damage is said to have gone into Zone B in NYC. 

Small businesses in extreme lower Manhattan and in many of the beach areas of Brooklyn and Queens still don’t have reliable Internet restored. 

Much of southern Queens (not just the Rockaways), Brooklyn (not just Red Hook and Coney Island) and Manhattan is low-lying, a fact not immediately apparent most of the time to residents and visitors. 

The housing authority has talked about helping residents develop “grab bags” for evacuations for storms in the future.

It’s not clear from media reports if the major damage to NY and NJ is mainly limited mostly to immediate coastal areas (including isthmuses) and inlets, or whether it goes farther inland than the public would expect. 
And it’s not clear how much good rebuilding efforts (even by volunteers) would to unless there are projects to control storm surges. 

How much good would garden-variety or church volunteerism really do?  It would seem that some of it could come from the tech community, to make the communications systems more robust (even as it is upgraded, say, to FIOS).

Wikipedia attribution link for northeastern Staten Island picture. 

This topic was also addressed here Nov. 17, 2012.  There are some stinging comments about lax volunteerism on a review of an Anderson Cooper broadcast on my TV blog, Aug. 29, 2007, regarding Katrina.  By the way. Anderson says he lives in lower Manhattan  (Greenwich Village?) and was without power a week.  But, of course, he just went to a hotel uptown (or hung out at the Time Warner Center).  That's OK, he's paid his dues overseas.  

NBC News also reports that FEMA is not using available mobile homes.  What, is FEMA waiting for volunteers with their own hammers? 

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Yelp, Wordpress attorneys tell EFF what would happen without (or with a weaker) Section 230

Continuing its coverage of Section 230, Electronic Frontier Foundation today tweeted and and posted interview with Yelp counsel  Aaron Schur,  which can also be reached on a “CDA230 Successes” page. That link also presents  comments by Paul Sieminski , counsel of “Automattic” (it’s spelled with two t’s), owner of Wordpress, which now sponsors over 38 million blogs.  The east access to both is here. The acronym “CDA” refers to the 1996 “Communications Deceny Act”, which was really another section of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, but the “decency” portion was struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997 (as would COPA later).

Both attorneys give similar answers to what might happen were Section 230 to be “repealed” or gutted.  They seem to believe that the sites might still operate, but would have to put in a “safe harbor” system similar to what is used for copyright infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Of course, that idea presumes that, if Congress were to modify 230, it would even put in a “safe harbor” process for libel and similar torts (like false light in conjunction with invasion of privacy, or even cyberbullying). 

The attorneys do say they take down postings (not necessarily whole accounts or whole blogs) if told to do so by “courts of competent jurisdiction”.  Wordpress also says that most of its defamation takedowns come from overseas, where downstream liability protections are weaker or non-existing.  But they still allow blogging from these countries.

Both attorneys suggest that some censoring must happen when there is insufficient downstream liability protection, and Yelp says that consumers would have much less access to prospective information about substandard contractor (or medical professional) performance.  Before the Internet came along, consumers had to use the Better Business Bureau.

I have thought that blogging and review services could not exist at all without Section 230 protections, and shared web hosting might be much more expensive or harder to get for ordinary people.  

The attorneys also say that they do have terms of service provisions that go beyond the literal requirements of the law. For example, Wordpress does not allow the deliberate publication of identifying personal information (like people’s SSN’s).  They will take down postings that violate TOS when notified. 

Section 230 also protects bloggers who allow comments on their blogs, for liability for what is in the comments, and doesn't seem to be weakened by comment moderation (usually).  I do moderate comments, however, to avoid spam and gratuitous problems, like intentional links to malware.  
On the street, people have talked about downstream liability for years.  I recall a discussion at gay pride in Minneapolis in 2000, at the Libertarian Party booth, when an AOL consultant who said he expected downstream liability to come roaring back as a political issue.  But it has not.  Conservative justices (and the Bush administration) have been more sympathetic to free speech than many expected. 

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Fertik's "Reputation management" company wants to expand into the virtual vault business: good for consumers, or another challenge to speakers and businesses?

The New York Times has a big story in its Business Section today (Sunday, December 9, 2012) about the expansion of Michael Fertik’s company, “” (originally called Reputation Defender).  Fertik, whose life has taken him from New York City to Louisville KY now to the Silicon Valley, wants to offer people the opportunity to manage their own “data vault”, as he expands way beyond his original ideas about online reputation.  My first story about “Reputation Defender” appeared here Nov. 30, 2006, during the first year that online pundits were starting to talk about the effect of “digital dirt”, especially on job seekers. 
The tile of the story (by Natasha Singer) in print is “Your digital Switzerland: An entrepreneur builds a virtual vault to secure personal data”.  Online, the title is “A vault for taking charge of your online life”, link here

The consumer could authorize different sectors of his vault for different kinds of businesses, like health care providers (does that mean “Clear Choice” for me?), banks, insurance companies, ordinary retailers, and media retailers like Amazon.  I just thought of something: if someone wears a pacemaker or Holter monitor (an idea I may use in my screenplay), would this kind of data be there?

One suggestion was that big purchases could go into the “insurance information” vault for coverage purposes.  So could changes in titling or trusts, I suppose.  But the idea sounds to me like it could go dangerous.  People could get “Web FICO” scores on their reputations that could affect insurance rates or availability, employment, or  even leasing an apartment.  For example, could an insurer or potential landlord become concerned that a person could become a target?  Indeed, the end of the news story notes that both Equifax and Trans Union are working out deals with   I didn’t see mention of Experian (the descendant of TRW and Chilton, the company in Dallas that provided my steady work income in the 1980s – in the days that programming the interface to “risk predictor” [Fair Isaacs] employed a lot of programmers). 

There’s a difference between “Reputation Management” and “Reputation Marketing”.

I still think that the “online reputation” issues (as discussed in the last couple of posts about litigation over review postings) could lead to pressure on Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.  CNN discussed this litigation Saturday (several attorneys, including Richard Herman and Avery Friedman) and the general view was that the ambiguity was troubling but in most cases the “opinion rule” and “free speech” would prevail in court.  

Friday, December 07, 2012

EFF reminds Netizens of the importance of Section 230 with a textbook-like illustration

Electronic Frontier Foundation has disseminated an infographic diagram (like you would have seen in a high school government textbook) on why Section 230 is so important for the capacity of ordinary people to self-publish their content on the web.

The link for it is here. It was tweeted yesterday.

Historically, it seems a bit remarkable that Congress, with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, offered downstream liability protections to service providers while at the same time trying to censor speech with the “Communications Decency Act” portion, which the Supreme Court would overturn, 6-3, in 1997.  I actually heard some of the oral arguments on March 19. 1997 (after waiting in the three-minute line in a late winter Washington snowstorm).
The recent lawsuits concerning Yelp postings might stimulate more calls to remove Section 230 protections, as would concerns about cyberbullying and “reputation extortion” that have been aired on some television shows recently (especially by Anderson Cooper, see March 12, 2012 including comments).  One aspect of this discussion to keep in perspective is how things were back in the mid 1990s, when I was writing my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book.  Self-publishing in books was possible then and the cost of desktop publishing  (and “webpress” book manufacturing) had just started to come down, but print-on-demand didn’t exist yet.  It “meant something” to get published, and literary agents had a real presence.  That’s all changed now.  The  Supreme Court has been more supportive of self-distribution and self-publishing (as opposed to the speech itself) than I might have predicted, given the course of both the CA and COPA.  One factor is that “conservatives” have generally felt that unlimited speech is very important to them, too.

It’s also noteworthy that the Washington state has agreed to stop trying to enforce its law against facilitation of sex trafficking (partly over Section 230 issues).  That problem had been discussed here on June 15 in conjunction with a lawsuit brought by the Internet Archive.

In another matter, the SEC has warned Netflix about a public Facebook posting that Reed Hastings, CEO< made regarding the company’s sales performance, without notifying investors through established channels.  Arguably, a Facebook posting in “everyone” mode is public disclosure.  The Business Day New York Times story (Friday December 7, 2012) by Michael J. de la Merced is here.  

Wikipedia attribution link for Mt. Rainier approach.  I was on this road in 1976.  I do know people (including challengers to DADT) who have done the supervised climb (getting up at 1 AM).