Friday, August 30, 2013

Can someone be sued as a "nuisance" for attracting destructive hecklers? VA women's clinic case could actually matter on the Web

This blog is not the normal place for comments on the “right to life” debate as it is usually conducted, but I wanted to note the closing of the NOVA Women’s Healthcare clinic in Fairfax City, VA.  The history of the clinic includes a lawsuit against it by its own landlord, Eaton Place (Virginia, not in Toronto!), in part because it attracted daily protesters whom the landlord says bothered other tenants in the building.  The Washington Post staff had written a detailed report on July 14, 2013 here  and has an editorial sympathetic to the clinic in the paper today (Friday August 30, 2013).
Ken Shepherd has a “News Buster” account of the matter, including stories of vomiting patients, hereA major point of controversy was that both local regulations and state law imposed regulations on the facility appropriate for full surgical facilities, but not enforced against private clinics that offer less “controversial” (read, “morally objectionable”) services.   I might have run into “regulations” with my own recent dental implant surgery, but fortunately the monitoring during my sedation was simple and not intrusive.  
It’s very disturbing that someone could be liable for the traffic he or she (or “it”) attracts.  Imagine suing a gay tenant in an apartment because a past visitor returned illegally and damaged the premises or robbed.  (We used to think about this possibility back in the 1970s in NYC.  On at least two occasions previous “tricks” returned and rerang the intercom, partly because of economic need.  One person stole cash from a wallet but did not harm anything.)
The idea also applies to the Internet, potentially.  A particular client in a shared hosting environment could, because of public controversy, attract hackers or denial of service attacks, and other clients on that server might want the controversial website owner held responsible, or at least shut down as a "nuisance". This is a dangerous variation of the theme of downstream liability.  In any case, state laws could vary a lot on this matter.  But apparently such liability is possible in Virginia.

As for the debate on abortion, I’ve always felt that it is a psychological surrogate for something deeper, the idea of giving every “living soul” (as my father called it) a chance.  Some people confuse the issue with contraception, imagining that the latter practice denies a pre-established “soul”  a chance to lie.  (Physics doesn’t support that idea.  In fact, it takes some time after conception, even after birth, for a “soul” capable of “free will” to develop;  see  Books blog, June 1, “I Am a Strange Loop” by Douglas Hofstadter).  Some bring into the debate the matter of euthanasia, and make pious claims about serving the needs of the severely disabled (as in the Terri Schiavo case in Florida, where the family was eager to personally care for her but feared that many other families would not have been).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Senders of texts to drivers could become liable for car crashes in NJ; reputation sundering could become a crime i CA (like NJ); maybe also CDA230 complications?

An appeals court in New Jersey has ruled that it is possible for someone who sends a text message to someone he or she know is driving to share legal liability for injuries or property damage from an accident.  CNN has the story, by Ben Brumfield and Chris Boyette, link here
However the court ruled that in the particular case the sender, who often sends large volumes of text, had no particular way to know the recipient was driving, even if the recipient answered. The plaintiffs had argued that the texter was in the car “electronically” but the court did not agree.
Theoretically, the concept would sound like it could apply to cell phone calls themselves.
CNN legal experts downplayed the practical importance of the ruling today on the New Day show.
In California, a state senator has introduced a bill to make posting Internet “revenge porn” a misdemeanor.  People lose jobs and are unable to find other ones when they are impersonated, or lewd pictures of them are plastered on the Internet.  To be an offense, the defendant (often a jilted lover) would have to show intent to inflict harm or emotional distress.
The San Jose Mercury News story is here.

The bill is SB255 and was proposed by Anthony Cannella, a Republican from Ceres. The only other state with such a law right now is New Jersey.  Could the concept extend to more extensive business reputation damage?  If so, the recent state attorneys' general proposal to take Section 230 downstream liability protections away from providers with respect to state criminal codes could become even more relevant, if states want to hold service providers as sharing criminal responsibility in these cases   
Pictures: random: Hoboken, NJ;  along I-5 north of San Diego CA (mine, from trips)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Music company takes on Internet law guru Lawrence Lessig in silly copyright fight; defendant may get damages if original claim found frivolous

Internet law professor and writer Lawrence Lessig is in a legal battle with Liberation Music, which had sent a DMCA takedown notice when his YouTube video showed a few brief clips from a presentation of “Lisztomania” by the French band Phoenix.
Lessig claims fair use, and, in a manner atypical with cases, was threatened with a suit when he resisted the takedown notice. So Lessig and EFF are suing back, claiming a frivolous or abusive claim, allowing a counterclaim possible under 512(f) but rarely successful in practice.
Arstechnica has a story by Joe Mullin here.
The case could be compared to Lenz v. Universal, where Universal had backed down after a DCMA replay.
BBJ Morning Buzz (Boston) has a story on the Lessig matter by Galen Moore, here
People often make videos of drag shows in bars, which are usually pantomimed to music. I’ve always wondered if people could face DMCA if they put these (or Karaoke performances) on YouTube   I almost never make music recordings in public, except at outdoor demonstrations and then only very brief excerpts.  Yet, there are a lot of possibly “illegal” music (including classical performances) on YouTube that seem to stay up for years.  

Update: March 3, 2014

Liberation Music will compensate Lessig and change its policies, according to a confidential settlement, here

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Pen register info or metadata won't stay "Under the Dome" or behind "The Wall"

There may be little or no Fourth Amendment protection against government’s getting your “pen register” data (or metadata) from a list of phone numbers, web sites visited or searches entered, but they can certainly tell investigators a lot about your affairs.  Timothy B. Lee gives a detailed and lucid explanation this morning on the Washington Post Switch Blog, following some of the work done by GWU law professor Daniel Solove (Books blog July 23), link here
The biggest practical risk to consumers in western countries is secondary suspicion if they are already under investigation for something else.  This could be particularly the case if someone tries to frame someone else online, or a true virus infection of one’s personal computer causes a criminal investigation (such as child pornography, where I have covered false prosecutions on my Internet Safety Blog, such as on July 23, 2013 and Feb. 3, 2007).

Other examples where metadata could matter could be in background investigations, as for security clearances or even gun purchases.

It seems, then, “you” are known by your associations.

Lee’s analysis of using metadata to deduce the status of a personal relationship (like in divorce litigation, maybe even gay divorce in the future, or perhaps child custody) is interesting.  But some relationships still occur pretty much “off the grid” (or “behind the Wall”, to refer to a fantasy film I saw last night and reviewed this morning under Movies).  Maybe telepathy is real, and can’t be kept “under the Dome”.  By the way, from the recaps, that latter show sounds like it finally got interesting;  I need to get caught up.  

There was a small report today on WJLA-7 that some small business lenders are looking at the credit worthiness of Facebook Friends' lists in deciding on loan desirability for some applicants.  This is certainly a new wrinkle on the online reputation deate. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Volunteerism: it takes some critical mass from an individual to work

In “retirement” I do get lots of “unsolicited” appeals for “volunteerism”, which includes some relatively low wage job “offers” with apparent social impact.

I do, as part of managing an estate, make certain regular contributions monthly to certain groups, some of which came from my late mother’s interests, to which I have added my own.
But it is typically very difficult to respond to specific appeals for specific causes that keep coming all the time.

Back in the 1990’s I had some volunteer experience with AIDS related and social organization. I don’t need to “name names” or get into detail to make my point.  While some of it worked out well, in a couple of cases I got feedback that “interim” or “bench player” volunteering wasn’t working out because I wasn’t “with it” on what various people (more within the organizations than the clients) “needed”.  True, I’m not a joiner.

On the other hand, my volunteer effort with the Oak Lawn Counseling Center in Dallas in the 1980s was successful (I was a “baby buddy”) even if a bit on own terms.  There was a real crisis then, with serious personal and political, as well as maybe clinical, implications.  Real friends and loved ones were dying, and the community itself could be “shut down” if the “right wing” had its way.  In my own mind, there was enough critical mass for me to allocate a lot of time and effort to it.
Later, the same was true of the “gays in the military” issue but I became more of an individual operator and “journalist”, a trend which would expand to other issues up to this day.

But not every issue works out this way.  I have not personally experienced the gay marriage issue this way, even though I understand how others do.

I can go back in history, before AIDS, to about 1980, when there was a small “Cuban refugee crisis” which got a lot of publicity in Dallas.  The gay community believed that many Castro refugees were gay, and pushed the idea of recruiting volunteers, especially people who could board refugees in their homes.  I checked into this and found that what they really needed was people who could spend most of their time with the refugees, which wasn’t possible for people with ordinary jobs.  The Catholic Charities in Dallas tried to get active, and then announced it excluded gays from volunteering.  The gay angle did not play out, but the national security issues did.  A lot of refugees then were reported as getting into trouble with the law, something a lot of “volunteers” would not be able to handle.

A few weeks ago, I got a land line phone call from Save the Children, one of the charities handled by the “estate”.  The caller described a sponsorship opportunity whereby apparently an individual child would benefit from a particular donor.  I recall this from the past, and in the 1970’s had participated.  The caller talked about the idea of getting other people to join.  I did cut her off a bit, as she said she could send a package.  That package never arrived.  But I got another call asking to confirm that I had “volunteered” for this.  I hadn’t.  I said, send the package.  It never came.  My feeling about something like this is, now, is like this:  If “you” (French impersonal) correspond with a specific child and develop an attachment, you should be prepared for a real relationship, including long term support, and possible visitation to a non-democratic or dangerous third-world country.  It takes “commitment” and “courage”, not just conscience money or “feel goodism”.  Maybe you should be prepared for the possibility of becoming an adoptive parent.

NBC Washington (NBC4) runs a series called “Wednesday’s Child” that could raise some of the same questions in a domestic context.

Some countries, especially Russia right now (indirectly over the gay issue) resist the idea that people in “richer” countries should adopt some of their disadvantaged children – after all, they want to retain population.  Yet, it seems that the need to find adoptive parents after international crises could explode suddenly, as with Syria, and become a sudden public issue and raise new moral questions for everybody who might be capable of acting.  The same could be true if a horrible catastrophe affected a major part of the U.S.  (Katrina might have come close; imagine a huge power grid disaster, tsunami, nuclear attacks, etc.)
Or what could become more needed is regular “radical hospitality”, readiness to house people, looking all the way back to the Cuban Refugee issue of 1980, which did fizzle out.
Volunteerism today is often very bureaucratic.  A museum in Washington, when I visited it, approached me about volunteering once a week.  I looked at the website and it wanted a formal application, and references.  I’m not about to put on a suit or uniform to join anyone’s agenda or play anyone’s role at age 70. 

And hit-or-miss “standby” volunteerism, like delivery or giving people rides in less “safe” neighborhoods can entail certain risks, including the ability to protect a client if someone dangerous is encountered. 

I have a lot of work to do right now, as I have outlined in recent posts.  But I need to get through this, so I can be ready for this. 

Music and chess can be places too start.  I can see the good, for example, in directing chess tournaments inviting underprivileged teens, but I need to be more competitive in the game myself, at least to the point of being able to play .500 ball in USCF-rated chess again.  I’ve added a lot to my plate since I was that competitive in the past.  

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Why webmasters sometimes need to run their own user interfaces (including credit cards under PCI); advice on "solicitations"

Here’s a little note on business.  An independent filmmaker recently communicated to me why he (or his small company) prefers to sell DVD’s of a new film exclusively for about six months before putting the film on Amazon (including Instant video rental) and Netflix.  He says that his personal earnings is triple the amount per DVD sold that it could be with any Internet retail operation, or even conventional studio distribution.  This helps in business relations with investors.

That means that his website has to take credit cards, and meet certain standards for security in collecting personal information, or at least financial credit card information. (Use https, for openers.) The PCI Security Standards Council is explained here. Throw into that the ability to process Paypal (which I don't use right now), or even bitcoin.  But using those payment systems still require some middleman payment (or, as novelist Thomas B. Costain called it, "The Moneyman").  
I’ve never required (or even allowed) users to log on to my own domain.  (To comment on my blogs, you log on to Google, and I let one of the world’s biggest Internet companies deal with the security issues.)   For comments to my “doaskdotell” site (Aug. 22), I just let people send me emails, and I post them.  (A lot of people really did this.)  That could change in the future, given the feedback I got from this filmmaker, since I contemplate a similar project myself.

In the early days of my first book in 1997, people just contacted me by email and sent checks (in a couple of cases, cash)   The world wasn’t so automated then.  I didn’t put the book on Amazon until January 1998 (right after coming home from the hospital from my convenience store accident) when getting feedback from visitors (in rehab) that I should.  I was na├»ve in those days.  

There’s another little matter to mention today.  That is how I handle “unsolicited calls”.  On landlines (which I don’t publish) I get a lot (left over from my mother) which Comcast Xfinity identifies and most of them are robo calls.  I don’t pick up.  Registering with the FTC’s “do not call” doesn’t do much.   On the cell phone, the volume is lower, but I don’t like to take the time to listen to cookie cutter pitches.  Ditto, I’m pretty good at recognizing spam “as a human being” missed by email filters.   The same for spam comments (which usually get filtered out).   In my circumstances, I don’t have time for a lot of charity pitches – I know this sounds harsh – but there are so many of them, and no one party is more “deserving” than any one else until I say so!  More about that soon. 

One Saturday afternoon in June, while I was at a film festival, I got an unsolicited call about one of my books.  If I understood properly, the message said a major NYC publisher was interested in the 2002 book.  The message was marked urgent.  Now, I never “got around” to calling back, because I didn’t believe it.  It sounded “too good to be true”.  It sounded like it could be a scam.  Major companies don’t make approaches like this on weekends, and they generally don’t want old non-fiction books.   The hysterical marking of the message as “urgent” on a Saturday afternoon seemed rude and inappropriate. 

What could have been true, though, was that a publisher could have wanted one of the specific essays in the book, like the one on “Bill of Rights II” or one on “narcissism, affiliation and polarity”, or even one on self-publishing.  In fact, one of the essays (from 2004) on my “” site was picked up by a trade publisher for its “Opposing Viewpoints” series (Books blog, Sept. 19, 2006). 
The moral of the story is this.  If you call, make sure you are convincing. Be specific as to what you have to offer.  Don’t make a cookie cutter approach that you make to many people.  If you have a legitimate opportunity and make it sound routine, then I will behave like anyone else flooded with input (“resume fatigue) and forget it after the first five seconds.   Everyone loses when an opportunity is lost because of careless presentation: the employer, the teammates, the client, the customer.  Remember the lessons of “The Apprentice”.  As Donald Trump warns, if you’re careless and inconsiderate, “You’re fired.”   

Friday, August 23, 2013

Digital ad networks put pressure on social media companies to prescreen for offensive materials, parallel to the CDA 230 problem

Digital advertising networks are facing dilemmas that could parallel the debate over widespread downstream liability for ISP’s, according to a Washington Post story Friday, August 23, 2013, by Hayley Tsukayama, on p. A14, “A digital ad dilemma for social media: Top sites struggle to address advertisers’ fears of offensive content”, link (website url) here
Some advertisers, including parts of Nissan, have refused to advertise on Facebook when their ads wound up on profiles with offensive content. But it is very difficult for ad networks or for social media or service providing companies to predict reliably that a particular profile or blog could never contain content offensive to particular advertisers.  (They all do this, to some extent, including Google, with its PSA's.) That parallels the idea that service providers (like YouTube) can’t presecreen user posts for violations of law (copyright, criminal threats, child pornography, trafficking) very reliably – an idea that has come up again with recent challenges to Section 230 (Aug. 9).
There is an inverse problem, that bloggers and profile owners see offensive ads on their pages, sometimes from less than legitimate companies overseas.  For example, I would have no way of knowing in advance that a company whose ads were placed on my sites was completely legitimate or not involved in some sort of scam.  But ad networks usually give the publishers or speakers the ability to fine tune allowable ads. I’ve never (yet) heard of calls that bloggers or social media profile owners should be held legally responsible for ads that show on their sites. But you never know.
User cookies determine what ads a visitor will see  Webroot used to mark some of the well known cookies (like Doubleclick) as spyware, but it doesn’t do as much of that now (in my experience).  But the content of a blogger’s postings or social media content also seem to affect the ads he sees everywhere (at least it does in my experience) as well as his location.  I haven’t turned off tracking, and the ads seem to know where I am (like Dallas, Charlotte, New York, LA, etc). 
The article points out business model problems for social media companies and service providers, both with the practical (and perhaps unrealistic) prescreening expectations of ad networks, and with “do not track”.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

As my "Do Ask Do Tell III" book approaches, website "restructuring" and "presence simplification" looks likely

Recently (Aug. 20), I discussed the next “formal” book in my series, “Do Ask Do Tell III”, on the Books blog.  Once that book is formally “published”, it is likely I will do some “restructuring” of my web pages and sites.  I wanted to take a few minutes to lay out the work ahead.
But it’s useful to sketch out the history of my “presence” the past sixteen years.  It has changed a lot with the “winds of war and peace” so to speak.

After my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book came out in 1997, I immediately set up a website to provide supplementary materials. It was called “”, as named after the business name for my self-publishing entity, “High Productivity Publishing”.  Despite the “smallness” of the business that hosted me, it turned out to be reliable for a long time, but had to be moved to a larger company, Verio, in the chaotic days of late 2001.  In the early days, I mirrored most of the postings on Hometown AOL, which eventually closed its service around 2008, as I recall.  AOL gave no reports or statistics. 
In late 1999, I opened a site called, naturally, “”, to promote the idea of a film based on the book.  To be honest, the early versions of this site were rather crude, but this was still rather early in the development of the web as we know it today.

The “hppub” site was built around the three books (and an extra set of core essays).  Originally, it comprised mostly running footnote files keyed to the chapters of the books.  Later sidebar topics were added.  About a year after my 1997 book came out, I did start making the text available in an “it’s free” mode (I call it “Reid-ing” now) – with the idea that people who did not want to pay or could not could still learn about the material and endure its influences.  Books sales were fair but OK with the first printing, but rather slow in later “print on demand” mode as the material got older and seemed overpriced (maybe Kindle can change that).  Around 2003, I started adding some more “conceptual” essays to the “doaskdotell” site, and these were less directly related to the books.  I sometimes called these essays "Editorials", which sounds pretentious now but didn't them; they tended to get unwieldy to maintain as time passed.  I also added screenplay treatments and drafts.
In 2005, I brought all the material from hppub over to “doaskdotell” to have one site. The traffic (and numbers) seemed to move over to it pretty quickly, and “hppub” was closed quickly.
I had also been experimenting with a “java starter” environment on a site called “” since late 2002.  I had wanted to set up a database of “opposing viewpoints” which had been outlined manually on “doaskdotell”.   The company operating it failed to continue supporting it, and in 2006 that site was closed, and replaced with a resume site by the same name, hosted by Network Solutions.

It would sound as if my original "hppub" and "doaskdotell" sites, with mostly text files n plain HTML, should have been the easiest to maintain forever.  Technically, I ran into a problem.  I wrote the content in Microsoft Word, and the 2002 version of Word had a serious bug in the way it generated hyperlinks within its XSL.  Files would become corrupted and turn everything into hyperlinks, and have to be fixed manually inside HTML code. Or hyperlinks would get "off course".  Later versions of Word seem to have fixed this, but in the future I would probably use a Web package (like Expression Web) to manage the text before export.  For a long time, I often edited "doaskdotell" directly through Front Page, which also got complicated, until Microsoft abandoned the whole concept of "Front Page Extensions".  But all these technical diversions complicated my web history, even when working with flat files.  Still, I had a big advantage in that my content loaded quickly.
In the meantime, I moved my experimentation with SQL over to Unix and set up another small site after my nickname, “”  I also placed a few conceptual essays there and started a “Technical-Legal Confluence” blog in Wordpress, with an arrangement where the Wordpress software is hosted in the space of the site, rather than used in free blogging mode.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of 2006, I also started using “Blogger”.  I found it very easy to use, and by the end of 2006 I had created the sixteen blogs, which the visitor can navigate to very easily from my Blogger Profile (left side of the page).   These blogs have not been linked (yet) to other domain names, and are hosted free, which exposes them to certain “due process” risks, so to speak – which have not affected me but have sometimes affected other bloggers.   Depending on a “free service” may sound controversial, and it is; but a paid hosted service can fail suddenly, as I have found out at least twice.

With Blogger, I did implement Adsense; previously I had used Linkshare occasionally on my flat sites (curiously travel industry websites boycotted me, maybe afraid of political controversy).  The income wasn't that important.  There were certain advantages to being "commercial" as well as disadvantages.  Of course, during a period when I depended on retirement income and Social Security and was home with a very elderly mother, a little extra earned income was nice.  
I think I have created at least one new posting a day since mid-March 2008.  Blogs have an enormous advantage in aggregating similar postings automatically with labels (on the PC, but not in the mobile environment), a function of underlying SQL.  Splitting the material among a number of blogs offers some advantages of emphasis, and some disadvantages, since some postings can logically fit in more than one blog.  For example, most of my “TV movie” reviews go on my Movie Reviews blog, because the aggregations of films are more useful.  But I have also set aside the reviews of some films and television series for the “Films on Major Challenges to Freedom”.  The point of this blog was to separate out films which call attention to existential threats to our way of life, ranging from terrorism to severe natural disasters, including pandemics. But the decision to place a review there can be arbitrary.
Blogging, to a point, made it much easier to keep current with an enormous range of issues, which in my own architecture of thought, were ultimately connected, especially to underlying mega-problems of fairness and sustainability.  By 2007 or so, I had already found that maintaining “topical” or “editorial” essays (in flat HTML) on the “doaskdotell” site would become unmanageable. I already had two major tomes on gay marriage by 2005, but history would race faster than I could reasonably maintain them.  Blogging solved that.  Same with some other issues, like the military gay ban (or “don’t ask don’t tell”, which had gotten me started) and later filial responsibility laws.  Likewise, the issues around Internet censorship and later downstream liability kept shifting, with issues like CDA, COPA, SOPA-ProtectIP, CISPA, trademark dilution claims, copyright and patent trolling, DMCA Safe Harbor, and most recently a new threat to Section 230.  Blogging could handle this forever.

I had pretty good numbers on the blogs most of the time until late in 2012 (the best time was during the financial crisis at the end of 2008, and the Obama election).  Numbers have slowed partly because people do more surfing on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, and are more tied to “whitelisted” friends or followers (like listserver or forum members) than they were a few years ago.
I get new pressures to prove I can sell books, media in fixed and finite form, an idea that contradicts the process of journalism and continuous commentary.  I discussed this pressure Aug. 20 on the Books blog.  But I also would like to spend a lot more time on my music, novel manuscript, and be able to produce a film.  And I need to practice what I have preached in the way I interact with (and even value) other people.  So I don’t have time to continue this dispersed presence forever.  It’s a mathematical certainty that it will be finite.  I would like to simplify it so that other parties could work on it, before or after I am gone.  On some of the smaller blogs, many posts have tended to be just short commentaries on major news stories that are not always as directly relevant to "the Matrix" as was some earlier material, and some of them seem to recirculate older stuff.  It might be better just to have an inverted list of important news links, or even work it into Reddit.  (Just Twitter or Facebook isn't quite enough, since these posts get intermixed with my own wisecracks.)  
The original concept, of driving a web presence off of books, in the way of ongoing notes keyed back to the books, was successful for me originally back in 1998. I would like to return to that concept.  The core presence consist of the books, which the reader is asked to pay for if she can, but can still access.  The books will be accompanied by a few new conceptual (segmented) essays that outline the material functionally (along the areas of my own experience:  Sustainability, personal rights in terms of relationships (“gay equality” included), and freedom of personal expression and self-distribution.  There are running notes, in blog form, keyed to the books (and key essays), and an inverted list or “key file” makes it possible to access the postings (possibly using a tabulation technique) in subject sequence as well as reverse chronology in blogs.  The core blog is hosted with a domain name, and full professional support is available to me from an established ISP.  Therefore, the product is more “sustainable”, particularly if something “happens” to me or it I travel overseas for an extended period.

In such an environment, I would try to keep the three main media blogs (Movies, Books, Music-Drama) as they are now, but preferably hosted “professionally”.  I don’t know whether there could be a conversion to Wordpress, which some people like better – it appears it may be easier to host Wordpress “internally” with most ISP’s but that could have changed by the time I do this.  I would like the experience and the interface with pre-conversion materials as “seamless” for the visitor as possible, but just how to do this remains to be seen.

There is obviously a lot of old and redundant material on my sites.  Much of it may be marked as such, given a date and notation of whether it is current, and pointers to newer material.  I don’t like to just delete old files and leave a mess on the search engines.    

Did I become "just a blogger" in early 2006, after the blowup in my substitute teaching "subcareer" partly over my web and screenplay content?  Had I passed the point of no return?  I do think I've provided a valuable journal, an annotated history of almost "everything" related to personal autonomy in the past eight years.  But the strategy will have to become more focused. 

Older ideas about employer blogging policies have been clobbered by social media and "digital doppelgangers"

The NBC “Today” show this morning (Thursday, August 22, 2013) had a brief discussion of “protecting your reputation online”.
The “gals” pointed out that most employers Google or Bing applicants’ names, as do most dates.  And the big hooker for many people is not what they post, but what others post about them.

I’ve never run into that, probably because I’m “older”.  I’ve been flamed in forums a couple of times, but in circumstances where it was real obvious that the dart thrower had real problems himself.  (I remember an incident on AOL’s “Movie Grille” back in 2000 where someone was offended by my libertarian interpretation of the book and film “A Perfect Storm”. It got wild.)
“Today” pointed out there is a real problem with “digital doppelgangers”, people with the same name as you online, particularly if you have a common name.  Atlantic has a story on it here.  Unfortunately, employers, and sometimes lenders, don’t always unscramble duplicate names correctly, and there is no regulation in the area.  I don’t’ have a lot of problem with it because I have an unusual spelling for an eastern European last name and can use a less than obvious nickname for writing.

The advice was, beyond hiring a reputation management company, to put your own stuff out, preferably on your own site or blog, to make what you want to say about yourself come to the top.

Back in 2000, I had posted a white paper, reinforced by an announced “site persistence policy” on my own site, suggesting that employers would probably start announcing blogging policies and not allow people with direct reports to blog (in “everyone” mode) without supervision at all, because of possible hostile workplace problems.  I even got a question about this proposal from a Wall Street Journal editor in early 2002 (shortly after my own layoff).  During that period, now-famous mommy blogger Heather Armstrong got famous for getting “sacked” (or “dooced”) for blogging about her software company employer in early 2002.  This notion of having “blogging policies” for workers long preceded social media as we know it today.  The tables have turned, and people almost have to promote themselves online, because if they don’t, others will.   I’ve never replaced my own “blogging policy” on my “” but I see I will have to address it as my next book comes out.  Stay tuned. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Public websites can be blocked from specific parties, according to court ruling on CFAA

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a story about CFAA, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, about the authority of the owner of a website that is publicly available to block access from a specific other party or person.  It’s possible to do this technically by blocking IP addresses under “HTA Access” in Apache server, for example.
In a court case where Craigslist had sent 3Taps a cease-and-desist and then blocked its IP access, the court ruled that access to a public access can be revoked at the discretion of the website owner or publisher in this manner. 

“3Taps” has a statement about the matter that the visitor sees when accessing the site, here

But EFF argues that it should not be a crime to access the site from another IP address.  Parties often change IP addresses for a variety of legitimate reasons, or may have multiple telecommunications services, or may move.  Apparently the Court did rule that it's illegal for a user to "hide" an IP address or even manually disobey a cease-and-desist.  The EFF story by Hanni Fakhoury is here

It would sound possible for this case to matter in some unusual situations, such as stalking, building unauthorized fan sites, or possibly causing DOS or unusually high volumes against a site (enough to disrupt other users or increase costs) or advertisement fraud.   Some consultants in the ad business expect website operators to watch for such activity.  That goes against the usual courtesy in the physical publishing world, where a publisher has no right to know who has purchased his book or borrowed it at a public library.  But the government might try to claim such a right, and as we know from recent news stories, that can be a problem!

This ability (to block access to an entire user) is totally distinct from the idea of disabling or removing a specific user's account from a site requiring login, lke social media, a forum, etc. (as for a TOS issue). 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sportsmanship in baseball affects its role in building "social capital": the Strasburg Incident last night in Atlanta

After reviewing a music CD (by a distant friend) last night, I checked baseball and learned about the fiasco in Atlanta where Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg was ejected after three straight wild pitches following a hit batsman (the previous inning). MLB’s video of it is here.

I believe that a few of the Nats players know me or of me and might see my content.  So I tweeted that this was not the time for “road rage”, but to turn the other cheek, and simply win the game.  I had attended a Nats game Aug. 5 and seen them lose to Atlanta at home, and in this disappointing season, the Nationals have been totally dominated by the Braves, now 4-11 after finally winning last night’s marathon.  (La Roche’s “pop up” homer was “rather skimpy at that”, to quote a joke from boyhood summers in Ohio following the Senators lose to the Indians in the 1950’s.)  In fact, if you subtract their games with Atlanta, the Nats are 56-51 this disappointing season.

The Strasburg video is disturbing.  The initial hit batsman seems motivated by “protectionism” indeed, following the incidents last week and Friday night with Atlanta pitchers and sophomore 20-yearold prodigy Bryce Harper.  It might even sound like a familiar topic – bullying.  Harper has shown the character not to lose his temper (religious upbringing seems to matter in a positive way, doesn’t it), but not everyone else has.  The wild pitches might be unintentional.  His anger or need to play the “social capital” card might have shortcircuited a brain circuit that determines his release point.   The brain momentarily forgets how to pitch, much as a person could forget how to tie a bow-tie by hand. So this may be a “neurological malfunction” bike a wardrobe malfunction.  Hopefully, that’s how MLB will see it and there won’t be any more discipline.  Hopefully he’ll be OK in a couple days and be able pitch after a short, essentially missed start.  I recall Strabsburg’s funny commercials in 2010, one that mentioned back waxing, as if Steve Harvey were ready to put him on his talk show.

What does this say about sportsmanship?  Character?  The only obviously satisfactory answer to an outrage would be Donald Trump’s idea, just win.   But throwing at batters in baseball is serious, not only because of the obvious individual hazard, but because deliberately causing a disabling injury to an opponent is an unfair way to win – just as is using PED’s, performance enhancing drugs.  Baseball’s value in enhancing social capital or eusociality, in letting people experience the idea that sometimes their emotional and even physical well-being, is undermine by “revenge” behavior   

Friday, August 16, 2013

SLAPP: where is progress on federal law? Is recent "AIDS denialism" case an example?

The SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) problem deserves being followed, still.  
On April 15, 2013.  Public Citizen reported on a lawsuit against a South Carolina person by an Ohio company, Med Express, when she refuse to remove a negative review from EBay after a snafu over a customer service issue (a postage due amount).  The company wanted to keep a perfect “reputation”.  Paul Alan Levy has he story here.  If Ohio had an effective SLAPP law, of there was effective federal law, this wouldn’t happen.  EFF followed with an article April 25 by Adi Kamdar here

This summer, there is some disturbing noise on the web about a lawsuit by Clark Baker (Los Angeles, CA) against a Jeffery Todd DeShong in Texas, when DeShong created a couple of websites apparently intended to criticize or discredit Baker’s activity centered around apparent denials that HIV (or HTLV-3, or the appropriately scientifically identified retrovirus) causes AIDS.   (Do suits get filed in the state of the defendant, or the plaintiff?  Is this a matter of plaintiff’s forum shopping?  Apparently, there are some rules regarding subject matter and personal jurisdiction, a typical link from Nolo here; this case appears to be federal possibly based on the complaint amount.) Various news stores on smaller web sites (it doesn’t seem to have hit the main media yet) suggest that Baker claims that pharmaceutical companies make out big on AIDS medications and that people are unfairly prosecuted for transmitting HIV.  Well, it’s true that any defendant deserves representation, and it’s certainly possible that some drug companies behave wrongfully with respect to HIV.  But then the stories go on to say that DeShong is sued for disparaging Clark when DeShong attacks the theories of AIDS denial, and that DeShong’s use of two “reverse domain names” amount to trademark infringement. 
 The text of the lawsuit is here, and a typical  blog-posting story from the most mainstream site I could find, Techdirt, byTim Cushing, is here.   It would be good to see this covered on Huffington (I couldn’t find it there yet).

Public Citizen has a link on the case here,(note the mention of a Texas anti-SLAPP law on the "motion to dismiss" comment), and Bloomberg has a brief description inside this long article about many i.p. cases, here..  There is a link on Facebook to a report that apparently gives the plaintiff's side of the story, here
As for the “reverse domain name” problem, news stories say that ICANN accepted DeShong’s name use.  The practice of making domain names to parody or criticize another party is controversial in that it could mislead consumers in a “branding” sense.  But some courts have accepted the practice.  I’ll look at this again soon on my Trademark Dilution blog. 
But columns are saying that the suit is based on the idea of silencing criticism.  The defendant “should not be allowed to say that AIDS denialism is a hoax” (from Cushing, above).  That’s where SLAPP comes in.
First of all, the “opinion rule” is often useful in defamation cases.  It’s too bad that English does make the “subjunctive mood” as clear as do other languages, like French.
But there is no question that the overwhelming weight of scientific “opinion”, accepted as medical fact, is that HIV (or very similar retroviruses) causes AIDS.   It cannot be defamation to repeat what is accepted medical fact.  The logical inference that follows is that any entity (company, organization, or person) whose operation appears based on denying this fact may itself be called into question as to its motives and effectiveness. 
AIDS denialism (or HIV denialism) was common in the gay press in the 1980’s shortly after the announcement of the identification of HTLV-3 (aka HIV) in 1984 by (ironically maybe) the Reagan administration.   Some gay activists later told gay men “don’t take the test”.  I was living in Dallas at the time, and the epidemic there hit peak about two years later than in NYC and CA.   There was a horrible political climate in Texas then, and very draconian state legislation (HR 2138, proposed by the "Dallas Doctors Against AIDS")  that would have banned gay men (and lesbians) from most occupations was proposed.  It did die in committee.  The climate actually settled down a bit once a virus as identified and a test was announced, because it was possible to quell the right-wing theories of possible “secondary” transmission to “bystanders”.   I do recall that there was some denialism in a weekly paper called “The New York Native” published by Charles Ortleb (to which I subscribed my mail), and I do recall Duesberg.  There were wild theories about Plum Island and an arbovirus, African Swine Fever, which all fizzled.  There were theories about bizarre bacteria (particularly for KS) and fungi, which turned out just to be agents of “opportunistic infections”. 
In sum, it sounds as though this case should be viewed as a “SLAPP” example. It is important to remember that none of the cases would be impacted by the recently discussed proposed weakening of Section 230 of the 1996 CDA;  that would apply only to criminal laws.  But imagine a world in which service providers had to field SLAPP civil suits!   Just don't "imagine me naked."   

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Section 230 weakening could get personal for me, but "battle" is just beginning

Debate on Section 230, particularly the proposal by states to remove the immunity to downstream liability specified in state laws, will heat up this fall, probably quickly.  And inevitably the point will come up that one of the main casualties of weakening Section 230 could be self-publishing, especially when done for “vanity” or “fame” purposes and when it doesn’t pay its own way. 

There was an industry called “subsidy” publication in the books business in pre-Internet days, but for the most part it was expensive, impractical for new authors, and did not have a good reputation.  

In the Internet age, the counterpart is called “user generated content”, and apparently its contribution to the bottom line of Silicon Valley is considerable.  But it doesn’t make much money for the writers as it does for the companies.   Advertisers apparently find that it provides an effective way to reach consumers, maybe more effective than traditional broadcast and print media. So, of course, many jobs and a lot of shareholder value is in the balance.  In the meantime, steady jobs in legacy media get harder to keep.  This isn’t just about piracy.  As we learned from the SOPA debate, it’s about new forms of no-cost competition, and a culture that values other things besides financial competitiveness which, in our system, you really need to be able to take care of “real” other people (like in families).

The First Amendment does protect “most” individual speech, but does it protect a “right” to low-cost global distribution of the speech?  That question became relevant once the Web 1.0 environment established before 2000 showed that previously unknown people could become “famous” with original content through free search engine exposure.  Previously (at least before the mid 1990’s), people had to go through competitive hoops to “get published” in a meaningful way.

 But was the “right” to “free” distribution guaranteed by the Bill of Rights?  I can be facetious and suggest that the question could be the subject of a “” or “” video.  (You know who I mean!  What in life is really free?)  The Supreme Court weighed in indirectly on these questions with the censorship portion of the CDA (Communications Decency Act) in 1997, and then COPA in various opinions (2002, 2004, and finally the district court trial settled in 2007).  The Court tended to accept the progressive position that it should be, because otherwise moneyed, economically privileged interests could control what is said publicly. 

There is, however, in conservative thought, a conjunction between “competitive success” (economically) and actually having responsibility for others.  There is some validity to this intellectual nexus. 

Once I had put my work out the way I did, “subsidizing” it with my own other resources, rather than expecting it to sell on its own, I started getting pressure in various ways.  One has been recent pressure from publishers to actually prove I can sell it (old as the books are) rather than just let people find it  (It was still common, fifteen years ago, for people to set up very simple websites to sell books and try to get people to pay.  I went the other way, offering the books free online in HTML for people who wanted to see it but didn’t want to pay. )  I’ve also gotten a lot of pressure to become involved in other parties’s personal matters to prove I can “take care of people”, participation that would have been completely unwelcome two decades ago.  Maybe self-publishing is like having babies.  It creates a presumption that you are accountable for others.  

Having done “what I did”, there is no going back, lifetime.  I cannot simply give it up and join one specific cause because that cause addresses real human needs, real and valid as they are for some people.  I cannot peddle or solicit for “other people’s causes”, however worthy.  Yet I understand the implications of that statement.  Society used to be predicated on people’s being willing to be approached by others to buy things.  Commissions were important.  Sales culture was part of a larger social structure where people were capable of working together and of showing solidarity against common dangers or enemies. Even libertarians like Charles Murray have written about the loss of “social capital” and eusociality among many people, as the culture has turned hyperindividualistic for so many people, to the point that it’s only “my message” in the media that matters, even to the point that popularity no longer matters.

I do have concerns about the “sustainability” of the presence that I have built up over the years, for a variety of reasons, but Section 230 issues certainly could become a big deal for me personally.   I’ll be giving more narratives about what strategies I intend as I approach publishing another book.   But “imagine” the message that seems to be “sent” to someone in my potential situation.  It is something like this. Earn “the privilege of being listened to” by providing for others first.  That loops back to the reality that I led the life I did, which was productive in its own way, without ever experiencing even “normal” personal jealousies, because approaching relationships in a conventional way (heterosexual dating leading to family and children) as humiliating, because I was non-competitive physically.   And I came to have a curious, paradoxical psychological investment in the “moral” interpretation of people (like me) who weren’t “making the team” in a conventionally competitive manner.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

New proposal to weaken Section 230 could "balkanize" web publishing by state, but look at it carefully

Friday, I learned of a proposal, sent in a letter to Congress, by state attorneys general, to remove some of the protections of Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, also known as the Communications Decency Act, the censorship portion of which was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997.  Specifically, the states want the law not override state laws when dealing with potential liability of Internet service providers and website operators for content posted on their sites by customers or third parties.
This proposal has the possibility to pose an existential threat to open self-publication on the Internet as we know it, because the service providers could be exposed to possible criminal liability for activities of users that they cannot realistically monitor in advance. I wrote a posting here Friday with my own share of scare headlines.  It’s important to assess carefully just where we are with this possibility and what the law would mean.  As a starting point, the Center for Democracy and Technology has reply to Congress which is a good answer, link here I would like to expand by adding some additional perspectives.
It’s important to note that right now, it is still “only” a proposal.  It has not been introduced in either House of Congress yet, let alone been aired in hearings.  It will take some time for this to happen. Will there be a continued outcry in the Internet community, and maybe another blackout like what we saw with SOPA?  There could be. 

The "purloined letter" got circulate in late summer (although it was rumored in late June), when a lot of people were away, on vacation, maybe unplugged.  "Real life" in remote mountains is healthful, right?  Maybe "The Cat" needs a bell (or at least "another bug").  I was gone myself a bit, but managed to stay connected,  But I missed this. 
But if the law (to except state laws from CDA 230) were to pass, it is unlikely it could be overturned in court, because Congress was under no obligation to pass the CDA law in the first place.  But Internet companies could challenge the laws in many states, particularly those that seem overbroad or frivolous.  The companies would certainly win quickly anti-enforcement injunctions in many states against the worst laws. 
The states claim that their largest concern is underage sex-trafficking (mostly heterosexual).  Remember Ashton Kutcher’s campaign, “Real men don’t buy girls.”  They don’t.  Some states (especially Washington, New Jersey, and I believe Georgia) want “classified ads” sites like Craigslist and Backpage to prescreen “sellers” for certain services with age verification.   The prosecutors, according to some media reports, are also concerned about the way search engines facilitate the sale of illegal pharmaceuticals, possibly including the performance enhancing drugs as in the recent Major League Baseball scandal.  But the major sites most vocal recently in litigation involving Section 230 have been the classified ads sites and the Internet Archive. 
Critics of the proposal point out that many states have rather frivolous laws criminalizing some kinds of Internet speech, such as making fun of law enforcement.  One example occurred in Texas when a teenager was prosecuted when a whimsical Facebook comment was taken literally and out of context and reported to authorities as a “threat”.  Generally, these state laws, as written, apply only to the speaker, and not to the service provider.  But the New Jersey law discussed Friday would have carried criminal responsibility for facilitating the posting of certain ads to ludicrous extremes, such as to Internet cafes and libraries (where “it’s free”).  In most states, however, it is likely that downstream criminal exposure to ISP's would probably exist only when state laws specifically say so, in which case service providers would certainly make legal and constitutional counterattacks.  
Were the states’ “Proposal” (as I will call it) to pass, larger ISP’s, social media companies and publishing platforms (like YouTube, Blogger, Wordpress, or the companies that own them) would sit down with the attorneys general in states to figure out just what exposure they had.  A number of states, most of all California (and Washington, above) have a huge amount of high tech presence, supplying a lot of jobs and revenue to the local economy.  Actually, some of these states are in the “socially conservative” South, including Virginia (the Dulles-Loudoun-Ashburn server farm corridor), North Carolina (Research Triangle Park, and Charlotte), Texas (DFW and Austin), and probably Florida and Georgia (“Braves country”).  I would expect that “negotiations” in states like these would probably go OK.  But there could be real problems in some states, and service providers could wind up not allowing users living in these states to use certain services.  Imagine not being allowed to use Blogger or Wordpress, but being able to use it if you move or rent and office across a state line ten miles away.  (Yes, “Imagine me” well clothed. I’d have to “fake it”.)
It’s noteworthy that “age verification” proposals required by a few state laws were explored in the COPA trial, to which I was a party in 2006 and visited in Philadelphia.  COPA, recall, was a misguided attempt to rewrite the “censorship” prongs of the CDA to require age verification to see “adult materials” on commercial sites.  Some states, as I noted yesterday on my COPA blog, may have their own versions of COPA on the books.  Age verification is simply not feasible right now for small sites, but it would be possible to develop a national system (with the help of an IT contractor like EDS) that would be economical for small sites to use.  I’ve also written that such an effort could mirror a similar idea of a national identity verification system (to prevent fraud and identity theft) by leveraging existing systems within the USPS (which I have already worked with in my own career).  The main public concern, preventing funding of such a development project, is, of course, privacy and the fear of surveillance, as we know from the NSA-Snowden and Wikileaks scandals.  But it’s actually possible that more “well-conceived” security in our infrastructure could actually protect the capacity for free speech by reducing the risk to both consumers and providers.
It is possible that in a few states individual bloggers who allow comments or people who host forums could be exposed to open-ended criminal liability, if states have written their laws in a manner to expose them.  I do monitor comments, but don’t get so many that it is a problem. For other bloggers, it could be a problem.   About three years ago, when I started monitoring, I did remove comments that appeared intended to spread malware or that looked like spam.  And Blogger does pre-screen comments for spam or certain kinds of questionable commercial links (like pharmaceuticals or fake anti-virus software). 

Although not part of "The Proposal", the idea that self-publishers should have insurance or post bond could come back.  (It was floating around a bit in the fall of 2008/)  It's required sometimes overseas, as in Singapore (see International Issues blog, June 4, 2013).  Imagine, then, a world where only rich people speak. Oh, some will say, it's people with "responsibilities".  Like the landowners in colonial America, who wanted voting rights to depend on property?  
Many people have been critical of Section 230 for years, and most of their rhetoric has concerned the criminal, rather than civil area which would pose the greatest financial risk to providers.  People want large providers with deep pockets to make more efforts to “protect children” from libel and cyberbullying, but it is simply not possible in a world where anyone can self-publish anything to prescreen everything before posting.  In the book publishing world, authors have to “indemnify” publishers against litigation costs; and some service providers have indemnification clauses in their own acceptable use policies.  These have so far been rarely enforced.  There are people who are critical of the whole culture of “amateurism” and that it must be balanced with the idea of being able to take care of others, which is not always just a matter of personal choice.  That discussion – which plays up the cultural tension between self-exprssion and having children and families – will come back soon.