Friday, January 31, 2014

Yelp and Angie's List defamation case involving home repair contractor ends in draw with zero award, but still a warning about online review posting activity

A Fairfax County jury ruled today that both the contractor Chrsitopher Dietz and customer Jane Perez, who had written scathing reviews on Yelp, had defamed each other than that the net award was zero.  The verdict was a draw.
But legally, the case may set a precedent for the idea that an ordinary customer may indeed be liable for unfavorable comments about a contractor or business.  The problem remains that ordinary customers may not have the resources to defend themselves against SLAPP suits.  But smaller contractors may also generally not have the financial strength to file such suits anyway.
The Washington Post has a story by Justin Jouvenal here  
WJLA has a similar brief report but says that the case can affect what people post online. Perez has taken down the Yelp posting, but the Angie’s List posting (which might not be as graphic) will still be the subject of a further hearing.  WJLA showed pictures of what Perez claims was unfinished work in the townhouse. 
Another case in Virginia involving anonymous reviewers needs to be watched closely.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

"Traffic Jam" now tests "radical hospitality" of people. was well as politicians; can a technological culture be ready for everything?

NBC Nightly News, in its “Making a Difference” segment, documented much of the good Samaritan activity when motorists were stuck for more than 24 hours on freeways around Atlanta (and also Birmingham) with just three inches of snow.

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There were cases reported in some media of people being taken in by strangers.

Is this the “radical hospitality” of the New Testament?  It was more or less expected in Biblical times.
I talked about a sermon on this topic delivered right before Hurricane Sandy; the posting appears to be Oct. 30, 2012; it didn’t hit very hard where I live despite the predictions.  (Neither had Irene in 2011.)  The derecho in June 2012 was worse.  This latest situation in Atlanta, the “Traffic Jam” (it seems as though Reid Ewing’s 2010 California freeway video -- or musical short film -- is prescient of political mess-ups, whether intentional as in New Jersey with Gov. Christie or just poor planning in the south)  seems to have been easily preventable.  Nevertheless, some day there could be a catastrophe so widespread that ordinary people would be expected to house others – not just family. (Actually, after Katrina, people were housed in Texas, and a few hundred came to DC.)  Imagine what happens if part of the country has a crippling power incident because of a major solar storm or possibly terror EMP (or radioactivity dispersion) attack.  Or what if there is major East Coast tsunami from the Canary Islands volcanoes – that is at least possible. (By the way, California’s undoing may not be earthquakes, but running bone dry.)

We have become dependent on technology, which actually provides solutions to many problems and may bring us to be “alone together”, or sometimes really be together.  Can we really prevent catastrophes if we are careful enough about our infrastructure?  Or do some of us (me) need to learn to find alternative purpose if “something happens.” Unpreparedness for it could make us targets for people or enemies with certain kinds of agendas.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

More on "email interview" invites, and a note on plagiarism

I still get a lot of requests to interview people, review books, and the like. 
Even with my measured level of “public success”, I can appreciate what a hiring manager going through resumes deals with. The fact is, even with non-spam, there are so many emails that with most of them I get as far as two seconds on the subject line, and maybe ten seconds to look at the message if I even open it.  Imagine if I were a manager filling a position.
The problem with a lot of what I get is that it is too “narrow”.  What doesn’t work, for me at least, is “playing victim”, or claiming that some group of self-help steps will make your life all right, or that there is some formula to save the world.  No, some trick to avoid being seen by the NSA will not, by itself, get my attention either.
I simply don’t like to be recruited, and I don’t recruit people.  This sounds like the old “winning converts” v. “winning arguments” – a debate within the Libertarian Party of Minnesota around 1998.  Those days of ballot-access petitioning, which women were better at than men, come to mind.
Of course, some people would see my original focus as “narrow”.  In the 1990s, the “gays in the military” issue (leading to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, repealed in 2011) seemed very narrow to most people in a world – pardon me, a country, the US, for some other countries like Israel have it -- without compulsory military service.  But the big issues blew right out of this core like blossoms:  forced intimacy, social cohesion, participating in sharing risks, and even “being scoped”.  A lot of that energy has moved over to debate on key Internet issues today (like downstream liability).  9/11 and various other crises (including financial) have certainly given value to my original attention to this issue.
One other thing.  There has been a case where a blog posting of mine just mentioning the now ended CWTV series “Smallville” (Jan. 13, 2014) got plagiarized.  The blog that plagiarized might be viewed as a spam in some circles, or it might not be.  I can imagine rationalizations for what was done.  To find more details on my take on it, go to my new “” site, which is accessed on my “” main page (Jan. 28). 
Actually, I’ve seen plenty of snippets of my movie reviews on other sites before (finding them when I Google my name with the name of a movie in a “long tail” search – as compared to a head search), and never paid much attention until yesterday.
What’s clear is that “selling yourself” on the Internet is a variable experience.  Some people have to make a living on the web, and are very sensitive to copyright infringement, and may go close to the line in committing it themselves.  They may say that they have families to support when I don’t.  Other people might benefit from the exposure that “plagiarism” gives them.  That’s particularly the case if people have income from other sources (including conventional investments in securities) that they can plow into self-publishing to say exactly what they want.  In this sense, capitalism is still a good thing for free speech.  But the rules seem to lie in the beholder.   
On the “email interview” invitation, Washington Post columnist Tim Lee recently tweeted that he gets them and that high school English teachers are assigning interviews as homework.  He thinks this is not a good idea, for a teacher implicitly to invite journalists to help high school students do their thinking for them on theme assignments.  I agree.  I wondered about this when I substitute-taught, and people found my writings online.  Would I be copied for homework assignments?  Maybe I was.  But there is “turn it in” software

Monday, January 27, 2014

Major "defamatory review" lawsuit by a contractor against a former customer goes on trial today in northern Virginia

A major case in Fairfax County, VA went to trial today (Monday), and may have an impact on review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List. 
The case is between Christopher Dietz, a contractor, and Jane Perez.  The latest story seems to be in the Washington Post, by Justin Jounvenal, over a suit by Dietz demanding $750000, link here
It is difficult or even impossible to determine from the news stories who is factually correct, but the fact pattern reported in news accounts is rather intricate and obviously could damage the contractor’s reputation permanently.  Truth is a defense to libel, but in practice the threat of having to defend oneself against ill-founded suits could deter many people from reviewing companies online, so there is a risk that contractors can bully customers into silence. Some people would say these are SLAPP suits, as I noted in an Oct. 13, 2013 posting about an ACLU gathering in Alexandria, VA.  One observation to bear in mind is that a civil case is determined by a preponderance of the evidence (51%), not “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
The civil complaint is worth reading, here.
It’s possible for the threat of loss and cost of defense to create financial, credit, or even security clearance problems for a defendant in such cases.
ABC News has a report dated Dec. 7, here

Apparently negative reviews were posted on both Yelp and Angie’s List. Perez is reported to have countersued (amount not specified in the media). 
Forbes has a balanced account, with some advice to consumers writing reviews, Jan 7, in a piece by Caroline Meyer.

Local contractors are probably much more affected by bad reviews than are huge companies.  The issues (free speech, online reputation, defamation law as it has developed) have very different impacts on small businesses and individuals in the digital age, where digital reputation lasts forever. Apparently Perez, a retired Air Force officer, has found that the litigation affects her job hunt and clearances, according to the WJLA report tday.  
This is apparently not the same case as Hadeed, discussed Jan. 9 in conjucntion with anonymous reviews, not an issue in this case.
I don’t personally post reviews on Yelp or Angies List, but I do belong to Angies as a member.  There is a dispute with one contractor who charged much more than an insurance company would pay after the 2012 derecho for some roof damage.  However, this sort of problem may be more likely when there is massive damage in an area and a homeowner needs work done quickly. 
As a general rule, I tend not to discuss incidents or disputes of economic significance if they are still open. On the other hand, discussion of the factual (especially chronological and “forensic”) details of past incidents where harm occurred can be helpful and very illuminating for others.  

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Aaron's Law still making little progress, maybe given the distraction of the Snowden scandal

Critics of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act are noting that very little progress on Aaron’s Law has been made. I found a proposed text Zoe Lofgren’s bill, but cannot find an HR number for it, and the links on her own database give 404’s.  Essentially the proposal would mean that mere violation of a company’s terns of service, absent some specific circumvention of technological security, would not constitute a crime.  The write up with a draft from June 20, 2013 is here. (Earlier link Feb. 5, 2013 is gone.)

Jaikumar Vijayan has an article in Computer World noting the lack of progress more than one year after Aaron Swartz’s suicide on Jan. 11, 2013, link here
It should not be a crime, it is said, to lie about age to get a Facebook account. 
It still appears that the documents that Swartz wanted to make freely available actually belonged to the public domain.  Various agencies wanted to be able to charge fees to access what amount to public legal and research documents (even laws).  These were documents that it would not have been copyright infringement to reproduce verbatim on a website (Jan 15), 20140.
One wonders if the government will start searching cloud backups for infringing items, over various pretexts.  

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Web 3.0 could become more like the pre-WWW world in worst case scenarios, with no network neutrality, some warn

Today, I made a major posting on my Network Neutrality Blog about some analysis of the possible consequences of the recent DC Appeals Court ruling. It’s unclear right now how the FCC will proceed, but I wanted to note that there are some dire predictions about how the lack of neutrality could recreate a world where only larger companies can reach an audience with their media.
For example, the Huffington Post has an article (Jan. 15, 2014) by Betsy Isaacson on what the Web 3.0 world could soon look like, (website url) here , not even Web 1.0, more like “Zero”.
The problem is that telecommunications companies could require ordinary publishers on the web to pay “ransom” to get reasonable access for users, unless Congress or the courts further intervene.  Don’t count on Congress.
But maybe there is a “silver linings playbook”, where you don’t have to be as perfect or rich as Bradley Cooper to be noticed online. Companies that host blogs and videos (Google, including Blogger and YouTube, Wordpress, Tumblr, Vimeo, etc) could obviously negotiate with the telecoms for their users.  So would the big social media companies (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Myspace, etc).  A better question would be whether conventional (whether shared or dedicated) web hosting companies (like Verio, GoDaddy, BlueHost, Network Solutions, etc) could do so for their clients.  Somehow, that idea makes the Loudoun County Partway (in exurban northern Virginia) an important literal metaphor. Suddenly, politicians in northern Virginia, around Austin Texas, Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, Boston, and Silicon Valley have a job to do.
There is still an element in our culture that believes you should prove you can sell to others before you are heard from, because that is supposed to prove you have to provide for others.  Ponder that. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Case of hip hop site ("Dajaz1") suggests that suits for merely linking to copyright-infringing items are possible; why did the government keep the papers sealed so long?

There is a disturbing case concerning the “hip hop blog” website Dajaz1.  The federal government (specifically, customs under ICE) seized it and then held it in secret for about a year waiting for details of RIAA complaints.  There is a typical story on Digital Trends here.  The story goes back to May 2012 (when I was prancing around in California) but it still sounds urgent to me.  
What seems striking to me is not only the secrecy, and the government’s willingness to keep a domain shut down on possibly unfounded copyright allegations while waiting so long for detail, but also the fact that the site was pursued for posting “links” to “pre-release” tracks, which might have been authorized by the plaintiffs. It would appear that the company did not actually copy the videos or music to its own servers. 
Can someone be sued for copyright infringement for a mere hyperlink?  The question comes up with embeds, which are effectively links.  Suits for embeds of infringing youtube videos don’t seem to happen, but could they?
It's interesting to note that now, when people make comments on YouTube videos, they can cause them to become embedded in their own Google+ feeds.  If the video is infringing, theoretically the Google+ member could be pursued as a co-infringer.  This sounds like a ridiculous lawsuit and even "prosecution", and yet the government has kept it under wraps!
Dajaz1’s own statement (about the finally unsealed documents, here)confirms this concern, giving an analogy to how the New York Times, under this theory, could be sued for linking to an announcement of a concert where the promoters haven’t “paid their dues”. 
Before, I’ve considered the idea that it is possible to be sued for libel for merely linking to a libelous item, although such suits (even in a SLAPP world) seem rare in practice. 

See a related posting Nov. 30, 2010 when dajaz1 was mentioned. 
Note that on this blog, and several others, the archive list was moved to the bottom because the “javascript” code would not work without a wider column to display post names.  

Monday, January 20, 2014

More strategic planning, and some of it needs to be in plain sight

I want to recap the upcoming work that visitors will see, along with some behind-the-scenes stuff.
I’ll be processing any tweaking of proofs of my DADTIII book, which I now expect to appear on e-commerce sites in a few weeks
In the meantime, I am posting some critical detailed footnotes about some specific episodes in my life on my new “Do Ask, Do Tell Notes” site, and it will go into a few items with a degree of candor I have not used before.

On the new medias blog, I’ll be providing some summaries of media activity in some specific areas (like DADT itself, the marriage issue, censorship and liability issues on the Internet, and infrastructure security).
I have a manuscript of a novel and of at least three feature screenplays that I think are workable.  After finishing all work on the DADTIII  book, I expect to set up a formal review and 3rdparty edit of the novel in order to get it submitted.  Part of the review consists of looking at all my older manuscripts back into the 1980’s (as well as “The Proles” from my Army days in 1969) and showing the changes in plot threads, and the ways in which the stories overlap (almost as if part of a soap opera).  I don’t  have a “Sami” but I do have something like a “Will and Sonny” although the circumstances are very different than in thre NC Soap “Days of our Lives”.
I have put up most of music online “piecemeal”, but I would like to set up an effort to record the 1962-1974 “Third Sonata” (it was done crudely on DAT tape in 1991). That will require Apple and Sibelius sofeware upgrades  and the help of others.
I also will make an informal documentary video, outlining the “book” I would write if I were to start over and not add on to a series.
All of this is a lot of work.  The nature of the material requires open (“everyone”) mode of publication of much material (like the blogs and Twitter feed).  Whitelists are effective in reaching a known significant audience, but it is not sufficient to attract new friend and potential “consumers”.  Speaking out  on issues requires that my real identity be known and open to some generic degree (as Facebook and many other sites now require anyway), even if some would say that identification (as opposed to anonymity) could increase security risks.  You cannot be effective as a victim or as “Mr. Nobody” (iike the movie); people have to know you (Oh, like Donnie Darko).  
There is, of course, a lot of communication that is private and more specific as to some possible sensitivities, of a business nature or involving specific other parties. These remain out of sight and are not posted to “whitelists” at all.  

My own communications are tuned to my knowledge of various parties' interests and situations. This kind of selective selling cannot be accomplished by usual commercial cookie-cutter marketing. I know, it doesn't help other people make a living on commissions. 
Again, there is something to self-instantiation – becoming one’s own “java constructor” – without experiencing the risks of taking care of others in the meantime, an activity that in a real world is not always and should not necessarily derive from the “Axiom of Choice”.  I see some issues coming that will probably compel more attention from me than I have been giving them (or others) in the past three years, since my mother’s passing. But I cannot be effective in person (let alone in a “relationship”) without doing my homework (“les devoirs”, or “la terea” or “deberes”) first, and some of it is in public more, like at a Wifi cafĂ©.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

NSA, Cybercriminals in murky tug of war that sounds like string theory; the "implicit content" problem, and chess theory!

The New York Times is reporting Saturday (story by David C, Sanger and Claire Cain-Miller here) that the president did not give big Internet and technology companies the reassurance they wanted that the government would never degrade their security layers in order to do back door spying.

Google had considered moving all of its servers overseas after the Snowden leak, and it’s hard to say how that might have affected the services if offers, including Blogger.

And Microsoft is irked that the government exploited known security holes (especially on “zero day”) to spy overseas.

At the same time, another report in the Times, on the Target breach, shows how much damage very determined criminals can do.  Putting this all together, NSA’s tactics could, inadvertently, make some consumers or businesses (perhaps even utilities)more vulnerable to attacks from criminals or even rogue states or cyberterrorists.  At least as of now, the president doesn’t seem to have answered this idea.
The notion that the world is a dangerous place does feed the idea that people need to accept socialization and fit into patterns where their actions meet the real needs of others, first of all “their own”.  Some of us, like me, don’t fit into this too well, and are sometimes affected by policies intended to send message to “society” for people to “get with the program”. 
I’ll be covering a lot of difficult topics soon on my new “footnotes” blog (in support of my DADT-3 book).  Some of the material will be disturbing, some might seem self-deprecating or even (in an implicit content sense) enticing, given the lack of obvious commercial motivation.  It write, in large part, to record the “experience” of someone who is different and lead other to ponder to consequences, both to sustainable civilization and to individuals along the way, of policy and commercial choices whose consequences are Janus-faced and, like many sharp chess positions (yes, the Sheshnikov), very hard to assess.  I do get questions as to why I won’t go down some specific road to make money with one specific, scope-limited commercial activity.  (Why won’t I help salespersons make their commission money, or sit in their seats in my turn?)  I feel, at age 70, past the point of no return.  I have only my own contribution to make to progeny.  I can never bargain away my own goals.   

Friday, January 17, 2014

Obama takes the sting out of NSA surveillance in speech today

President Obama spoke shortly after 11 AM EST Friday morning and announced changes in data collection that he had ordered.
The NSA will not be able to obtain phone pen registers of domestic civilians without court supervision.  However, it appears that a database of the metadata will still exist, but not be usable by the NSA without permission from a third government party.
Normally information can be sought about calls and Internet communications when there is some suspicion, like being within “two degrees of separation” (down from three) from communication with a suspicious agent overseas (like an Al Qeada safehouse).  Obama said that before 9/11, the NSA had information about calls to a safehouse, but did not know that the third party was already in the US and it does need to be able to find that out.

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The text of the president’s speech on the White House site is here
My take: as a practical matter, most of us are at more risk from crime and terror (domestic and foreign) than the NSA, Snowden notwithstanding.  But a lot of intelligence has to do with understanding what makes enemies tick, and connecting the dots that probably don’t ahow up in NSA’s automated processes.  It’s amazing, and frightening, what can show up in fully public posts in social media.   

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Major academic journal publisher monopolizes copyrights of writers and professors

Reed Elsevier, connected to RR Bowker, the company that assigns ISBN numbers for books, owns the publishers of a lot of academic and medical journals, has been sending cease and desist letters to universities preventing them from hosting the work of their own professors, after their work has been published in one of their companies. Reed is claiming it has total control over copyrights, which it does according to the contracts.

Many of these journals are rather expensive to subscribe to online, which goes counter to the “free content” culture of the web (somewhat retreating behind newspaper paywalls).  Visitors can typically read only the abstracts for free.

Professors, in a “publish or perish” culture, have no choice but to submit to these exclusive publishing contracts.

Andrea Peterson has an article in the Switch Blog in the Washington Post, Dec. 10, 2013, “How one publisher is stopping academics from sharing their research”, link here. Sorry about that, the Post now has a paywall. 
The problem makes me think about self-publishing in books.  Most self-publishing companies now offer nonexclusive contracts.  You can compete with them or yourself.  (In the past, pre-Internet, some subsidy publishers claimed complete control of the copyrights for books they published, not good.)  However, authors are often pestered about trying to buy services for mass-marketing their books or films, when more nuanced approaches, involving social media and utilizing “low degrees of separation” (a concept the NSA uses a lot in analyzing metadata!) can sell media to people who are more likely to be interested.  Yet this doesn’t help the publishing companies make profits and keep people employed.  The cultural argument goes deeper her than it looks. 

Public Knowledge has a blog entry on the "You Broke It, You Bought It" idea (actually a composition by Timo Andres) -- rather "You Bought It, You Own It", which doesn't always seem to be true, link here. I do wonder about "private use" copies of images or music, never posted, but backed up in the cloud anyway.  Could a copyright owner troll clouds for infringing images?  I haven't heard of that, but what will happen next?  But there was an obscure, troubling case started by a company named Blizzard.  More on that to come.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Again, there is a fight over keeping "the law" in public domain!

Electronic Frontier Foundation has an important post Jan, 14, 2014 by Corynne McSherry about keeping the text of statutory law and court opinions in the public domain.  The link is here. Federal court opinions generally live behind a clumsy paywall (although some circuits and district courts do publish their opinions) – an issue that led in part to Aaron Swartz’s activity. 
Now a couple organizations trying to make these public legal documents free (Public Resource),  and the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton (link) have been sued by a consortium of standards-development organizations (SDO’s) that claim that these legal texts came from copyrighted private sources. 

Imagine, had either of the two proposed constitutional amendments in the last chapter of my DADT-1 book really been adopted, could I still have copyrighted them?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Are Americans entitled to anonymity, at least for the metadata? Also, chess maps to real life

Do we need a reinforcement of the right to anonymous broadcast speech?  Jed Rubenfeld argues in the Washington Post on Monday, January 13, 2014, p. A17, for it with “A right we need: Anonymity” (print) or “We need a new jurisprudence of anonymity”, link here.
Rubenfeld proposes that the NSA identify a person associated with the metadata identifier of a communication node (cell phone number or IP address) with encrypted codes only, and then only have the ability to identify the party when there is some probable cause, like that cell phone made a call to an Al Qaeda point in Yemen or any similar country.  The trouble with that proposal is that some party has to manage the encryption.  Who else but the NSA (or another government agency)?  That just further compartmentalizes identification, but it still doesn’t completely protect anonymity.
Rubenfeld argues that we have, however, given up a lot of privacy, creating dossiers of ourselves online, which in many fields are becoming necessary to function at all.  However your metadata (the identifiers of your contacts) is not as personal as your content.
Tonight, I went to a lecture on chess pawn structures, given by a local grandmaster.  I am struck how the perception of the way various positional configurations (like isolated or double pawns) are viewed has changed with time and with computers.  Whole new defenses like the Sveshnikov Sicilian go mainstream as dynamics in a position turn out to be more important that appearances or what things “look like”.  Does that correspond to our changes in social issues?  Perhaps there is some lesson, though, that the value of a particular pawn is affected by the position of activity of its neighbors. 

It is also said that in chess, only your own mistakes can beat you, even when you play a grandmaster.  Yet, that is now how “real life” works.  It did for a long time, but not as much now.   

Monday, January 13, 2014

New blogs to support my "DADT III" book -- on Wordpress

I thought I would bring visitors up to date on the “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book and particularly on the incremental website changes that will accompany it.

I do have galley proofs from the publisher, and expect to have completed reviewing them by next week.  I also have to write some answers to general strategic questions for future press releases.

I have developed two new Wordpress blogs, each attached to a domain name, which the visitor (even if brought here by Steven Soderebergh and Godfrey Reggio) can see at my “” site, along with a “Content Navigation Guide”, which will enable the visitor to peruse the books and all the detailed footnotes, accumulated over the years, in a sequence that follows from the actual books (and closely related original essays). 

The two sites will be called “Do Ask Do Tell Notes” and “Bill’s Media Reviews”. So far, I like what I see of Wordpress, although a few features were a little obscure at first.  I still would like it to show the time of my postings, and display the labels and archive lists on the iPad.  Maybe I just haven't found out how yet. 
The “Notes” site will contain detailed footnotes for material that is covered in the books.  They may, for example, update major legal cases involving issues like copyright, surveillance, or service provider downstream liability (Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor), or social issues like gay marriage and the “don’t ask, don’t tell repeal” (which we hope “stays down” whatever future politics brings).  In the beginning, they will provide more chronological details about some specific key incidents in my life (the William and Mary Expulsion, the NIH “hospitalization”, the “Conflict of Interest”, the “Implicit Content” issue that arose when I was substitute-teaching).  They will also try to drill down to “what do “they” want from me?”, “what do I want?” and why is the latter so disturbing to certain other people.  Answering this will require another close-up on my original family life.

The “Media Reviews” will emphasize aggregation by topic.  In the beginning, I expect to cover some older TV series at a high level, many of which no longer air (like “Smallville” and “Everwood”), and some collections of films, TV series and books (intermingled) about hot topics (DADT, NSA surveillance, Wikileaks, and particularly technological sustainability in areas like climate change and stability of the power and communications grid in the face of “enemy” and natural threats (“nature” may be the biggest enemy in the end). In time, I’ll “review” all my own efforts of writing fiction over the years (about 10 novel drafts and 5 feature screenplays) and show how to winnow it down to something manageable. 
I can hardly wait to become a “Visitor” to the Moon in Black and White.  Actually, I would prefer to go to Titan.  Light can take as little as 69 Minutes to get there.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Online reputation means more than ever, with employers, lenders, maybe insurance companies and landlords

Yesterday, as I noted on my COPA blog, the media (Katy Couric) discussed the causes of the teen “knockout game” where people are assaulted on public streets and videos posted on YouTube or social media.  These would violate terms of service and probably get taken down after police look at them.  Nevertheless, speakers noted that many lower income teens do not have the cognitive grasp of what is wrong with seeking Internet fame this way.  People crave attention among their peers, but have no grasp of how this is viewed by the “real world” in which people have to make a living, raise families, innovate, and the like.
It is true, that the capacity for self-broadcast without bureaucratic gatekeepers, facilitated by laws that limit downstream liability (Section 230 and DMCA Safe Harbor, with respect to different perils) has invited a lot of negative behavior.  I can tell that the quality of visits to my blogs has deteriorated over the past three or four years, as more people who are “serious” get intimate news from social media sites (so I often post the links and news items that I want the 70-100 parties who follow me on various sites to see regularly on social media as or instead of my blogs).  
There was another news story recently that can be correlated to this.  Lenders are starting to look at social media profiles for signs of problems – like posts that talk about impending job loss or quitting (there’s one in my Facebook feed right now).  We’ve all heard about employers doing this – and sometimes getting the wrong person.  I wonder if landlords and insurance companies (especially property) are likely to do the same thing, concerned that "gratuitous publication" could attract hazards, even to others.  We’ve even heard about doctors Googling their patients (instead of the other way around).  A decade ago, it was about Googling a prospective date. 

All of this suggests a new facility in social media: the ability of users to set posts and tweets to disappear after a certain period of time.  Some users would want that. Should the Snapchat concept apply to texts (or pokes) and tweets?  I wouldn't use it (and a picture isn't worth anything to me unless I can keep it), but some people really just want "conversation", not publication. 
The issue of online reputation grows all the time, and many younger people still don’t get it.  

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Yelp told by Virginia courts to give identities of anonymous posters to plaintiff (Hadeed case); implications for review sites?

A case involving anonymous negative reviews against a Virginia carpet cleaning business may have effect on review sites in general.  The Washington Times, in a front page news story by Kellan Howell and Phillip Swarts, reports that the Virginia Court of Appeals has agreed with a state circuit judge in Alexandria that review site Yelp must turn over the names of seven reviewers.  The link for the story is here
The appeals court agreed that making negative (or perhaps false) comments about a company when the speaker had not behaved as a customer of the company is not protected under the First Amendment. 
The plaintiff (Hadeed Carpet Cleaning and Joe Hadeed) had also argued that the anonymous posters had violated Yelp’s own terms of service.
Review sites has encountered difficulties when a few parties create multiple fraudulent accounts to disparage a particular business.
Section 230 is supposed to protect the site from liability for the actual comments, but it would not protect anonymity of posters, who still can be liable on their own.
What if a business wanted the identity of someone who posted a defamatory comment on my blog?  I would not be able to find it, but the service provider would.  It’s unlikely now, since I have automated comment screening (for spam) and then moderate the comments, and the volume is not that much.  But in the past, until about 2009, I did accept all comments, but found a few of the malicious or trying to sell malware, or spam-like. I removed all such comments from my blogs around the start of 2009, but could have missed one or two.

Update: January 27

There is more analysis of the Virginia appeals court's decision on anonymity, and how Virginia compare to other states.  There is concern that Yelp reviewers could be in real danger in Virginia. The story in Mondaq by Maryanne Stanganelli is here

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Nametag app ups the ante on photography of people in public

The ante is going up for appearing in public places, maybe, as Nametag releases an app that can, using facial recognition software in Google Glasses or some of the latest smart phones, can bring up Facebook profiles of people whose faces it recognizes in public places, or can even check state sex offender registries.  (“Run the other way!, the following video advises.)
There is a story on Venturebeat here
Washington DC ABC affiliate WJLA reported about the product on the midday news today.
Although the Google Glasses part may be a way off, the development on mobile phones could make cell phone photography in public, especially in bars and discos, increasingly more sensitive.  (See my posting on my LGBT blog Dec. 10, 2013.

I frequently see faces that I think I recall from other locations (possibly grown students from my days as a substitute teacher, or possibly from the clubs) at various locations, as in northern Virginia.  I wouldn't want my phone automatically scoping and identifying them.  Would you?  
The back page of the January 2014 issue of “Wired” features a “board game map” to wearable devices.  Remember back in the 1990s, Omni Magazine described a full-body skin contact datasuit.  Imagine the wearer underneath. 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Superbowl in New Jersey heightens over trafficking and Section 230 "responsibility avoidance"

The Washington Times and Associated Press are reporting, in stories by Katie Zizema and Samantha Henry, that authorities are on high alert for sex trafficking, especially of minors, in New Jersey around the time of the Super Bowl Feb. 4.

New Jersey tried to pass a law holding Internet sites that allow ads for solicitation of trafficking responsible, and the law was struck down under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.  Service providers cannot be required (to escape civil and criminal liability, in most cases) to pre-screen user content, because there is far too much (when it is non-selective) to be reviewed before publication. In cases of federal law, they can be held responsible if they know criminal violations occur, but a few states have asked for Section 230 exemptions to be removed for state criminal laws, which might require much more pro-activity than federal law in terms of pre-publication content review to avoid liability.  Again, this is a place where lines cannot be drawn easily, despite Backpage and Craigslist.
I couldn’t find the TWT article online, but I found it on a Pueblo newspaper here. In TWT, it's on page A6 on Tuesday, January 7, 2013 and is titled "State to curb state trafficking for Super Bowl".  The article also mentions that "responsibility" goes both ways;  police will troll Internet ads that could involve forced servitude or minors. The the questions about encryption and "privacy" could come into play. 
In the Section 230 issue, the sides talk past one another.

Picture: Near the New Jersey Meadowlands from an Amtrak train.  


Monday, January 06, 2014

EFF summarizes efforts to weaken Section 230 by opportunistic politicians in 2013

Electronic Frontier Foundation, as part of its “2013 in Review” series, offers an editorial perspective on attempts to chip away at or even eliminate Section 230 protections of Internet service providers and publishing platforms from downstream liability for what users post, without pre-screening which would be impossible, The piece, by Adi Kamdar, is here
The author discusses, foremost, the request by state attorneys-general to remove Section 230 protections from cases involving state laws.   There is a Section 230 provision for federal criminal law, especially child pornography, but liability exists only if the ISP actually knows that a legal violation has happened.  It does not have to pro-actively screen (although the possibility of screening for digital watermarks for known illegal images would sound feasible).  However, state laws, particularly in Washington and New Jersey, were so loosely worded as to leave places like Internet cafes or Starbucks open to criminal liability for what users did.
The article also discusses the case involving “The Dirty”, a gossip site, covered here Nov. 21, 2013. 

Some policy makers, at the state level, sound oblivious to the significance of the downstream liability protection, or don’t see user-generated conduct as connected to fundamental free speech rights when balanced against “collective” harm to the community (especially minors and especially women) because of the actions of some bad actors.  Everyone’s speech rights should be connected to having or sharing actual responsibility for others, they say.  

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Sacking of firearms columnist by publication raises questions about "conflict of interest" in workplace after consumers make "threats"

The front page story “Banished for questioning the gospel of guns” in the New York Times Sunday, by Ravi Somaiya, link here certainly has disturbing implications for the idea of personal free speech and the workplace and the idea that it can cause a “conflict of interests”.
Dick Metcalf can no longer write for “Guns & Ammo” after he wrote a column called “Let’s talk limits”, arguing for some moderate gun control regulation.  “Constitutional rights have always been regulated,” Metcalf wrote.  Despite the public mood following Aurora, Sandy Hook and other tragedies, the magazine got subscription cancellations, threats, and dropping by sponsors, the latter as long as Metcalf was associated with the magazine.   So, he was “fired”.  It’s not apparent if he was an employee or syndicated columnist, but others seemed to perceive him as “working for” the magazine, which may not have been correct.
I wondered if this circumstance had a parallel to my own “conflict of interest” in the 1990’s when I was authoring my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book.  I was working for a relatively small life insurance company that specialized in sales to military officers, when I decided to enter the debate on gays in the military after President Clinton (with some clumsiness, in retrospect) tried to lift the ban – leading to the long history of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  When the company was bought by a bigger one with a broader base, I wound up transferring and moving to Minneapolis, removing any potential conflict. Later, when my mother needed coronary bypass surgery, I was pressured to consider coming back, which I did not do.  It may sound far out, to wonder if it was possible that my staying there could actually cause a loss of business, but the idea is parallel.  It is significant that I did not make underwriting decisions about customers and did not have direct reports.
It seems that people in many jobs have to dedicate their entire social media and online presence to the political interests of their own employers and not their own.  I just heard recently about a case where someone was told by an employer not to reveal on social media that he or she worked for a particular merged company undergoing possible anti-trust litigation.  

Friday, January 03, 2014

NSA previews quantum computing in its cryptography research; facial, body recognition next; a moral paradox?

So, here we are with all the rumors that the National Security Agency has built a quantum computer, which could break any encryption key.
It is a rumor, and, yes, the NSA seems to be working on it.  How much could it mean to ordinary Americans?
Timothy B. Lee has an article in the Washington Post Switch Blog where he interviews MIT physicist Scott Aaronson, where he discusses the concept.  One idea is that some cryptography, like lattice-based, is very difficult to break with anything. Another is that quantum computing might be useful to private business in defining better encryption.

Could hackers use it to bust any home user? Not now.  For one thing, a quantum computer would be much more sensitive to the environment than ordinary laptops, tablets and phones.  Ever worry when driving with your gear in your car about getting close to high tension power lines or power stations?  Maybe you would with this kind of computer. 
Christopher Barnatt explains quantum computing here: Note the discussion of the D-wave.
The transcript of the MIT interview is here
One idea of quantum mechanics, and more properly relativity, seems morally relevant.  That is, observes can affect what they watch and gawk at.  That feeds into the idea that other people’s relationships can affect you.  Or, more properly, other people’s isolation can affect you, if it gives them the “freedom” to monitor and judge you.

Sorry, Tim Lee, “qubits” are not the same as “binary bits”.