Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Australian case involving "Ripoff Report" shows sentiment for increasing search engine and service provider hosting liability for user generated content

A court in Australia has imposed downstream liability on Google for returning unfavorable search results on a plaintiff, Janice Duff.  Jeremy Malcolm has a detailed story today on Electronic Frontier Foundation here. The title of the story is telling, “Liability Hammer Comes Down on Google but Hits Users”.  (I thought of the 1981 novel “Lucifer’s Hammer”.) The story includes a link to a PDF of the opinion from the Australian court.  The complaint starts with the fact that searches returned unfavorable results from Ripoff Report (recent report examples  as well as undesirable autocomplete suggestions. You can try the search “Janice Duff Ripoff Report”) and get back the report from Ripoff as of right now. But I can get the same result from Bing.  Janice Duffy has her own blog on the case her (also returned by both Google and Bing).  As a consumer myself, I would be underwhelmed (but I’m in the US).  Is truth an absolute defense to libel in Australia?  Kitty Kelly says it is not so in Britain.

Here is an explanation of Ripoff Report’s apparent policy on dealing with complaints.

Presumably Section 230 protects Ripoff Report in the US.

EFF points out that Australian common law has more precedence for this kind of decision than US law, in that any “disseminator” can be held liable for republishing defamatory information.  That sounds like exposure to liability merely for passing hyperlinks, which is rare in the US.  But EFF points out that a search engine is not really a publisher, it is more like an instant card catalog (like what we used for term papers when I was coming of age).

Australia’s counterpart to Section 230 is much weaker than in the US, vanishing when a complaint is received by a search engine or other hosting site.

European “Section 230 law” seems limited to “passive hosting” and there is pressure in Europe to remove search engines from liability shield.

One has to admit, with many searches, some information from the sites is shown and effectively “published”.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ted Koppel makes waves with predictions of a cyberattack and prolonged national catastrophe

I got my subscription copy of Time Magazine (Nov. 3) in my mailbox today, on the way to the High Heels race, and there was good news and bad news in it.  The upbeat part concerned the promise of fusion power.  The downer was a story on p 60, “9 Questions” of former Nightline anchor Ted Koppel (link) , largely concerning his new book “Lights Out: A Cyberattack,  A Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath” published by Crown.  Salon has a more detailed account of his grim remarks here. Napolitano (former Homeland Security Secretary) is quoted as saying that such an attack has an 80% chance or more of happening eventually.

I’ve covered the security of the power grid in many posts, many of them written in 2013 when I visited Oak Ridge.  Personally, I think much bigger threats come to the grid from big solar storms or possible EMP strikes, even from off the coast (which would not always require nuclear weapons).  I’ve reviewed “One Second After” and noted that NORAD should have been able to stop such attacks.

Shouldn’t the power grid be inaccessible from the Internet and hackers?  Koppel points out that the biggest risk would be sabotage of a connection through one of the smaller companies with weaker security.  I’m actually vaguely familiar with how the Texas grid (one of three major grids) works from a couple of mainframe job interviews in the late 80s.  From my own career, I know that most companies do have internal vulnerabilities (like with the management of elevations) that a determined internal saboteur could exploit.

Koppel points out that eccentric or cultist enemies like North Korea or ISIL (or Iran) may be more dangerous than large established states like Russia and China.

Koppel’s claims do raise personal moral questions.  We are indeed technologically dependent in a way that may undermine our ability to depend on one another personally and give us a false sense of independence.   I wouldn’t be much good in a world radically different from what I live in now, created by an enemy’s indignation.

Update: Nov. 1

I've started reading, and Koppel mentions a 2015 defense contract with Raytheon to harden Cheyenne Mountain defenses against EMP.  I'll get into this when I do the book review, but it is rather curious that I have recently found Raytheon ads around the DC Metro, such as this one on Halloween at the Mt. Vernon Station on the Yellow Line.  A Raytheon balloon or blimp was involved in a serious accident in Maryland at Aberdeen last week, story

Monday, October 26, 2015

Partisanship can destroy individual lives, especially of those not socially wired; we still have a "debt ceiling" debate

Is partisanship and the bickering that comes with it one big force that drags our economy down?  I think it has to be.  If we had real bipartisanship, maybe the stock market would typically track about 200 points above where it usually trades. If Donald Trump wants to make the country great again, he should take on partisan loyalties.

In the past week, there’s been more underground chatter on the debt ceiling, and how it tempts both “sides” (along party lines) into Cold War-style mutually assured destruction, and into playing chicken, because of the perceived benefit of blaming the other side for a catastrophe.  You can check the Monday morning editorial “Dump the Debt Ceiling” by Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post here. It strikes me that the brinkmanship on an issue like this tracks with how “masculine personalities” (in Rosenfels-speak) sometimes perceive getting things done – with the “Always Be Closing” mentality that migrates to bullying and making threats that cannot be carried out.  That’s how the Army used to treat recruits in Basic Training, especially during the days of the draft (“I need some volunteers!”)

It also speaks to the practical problem of getting elected and staying in office.  Many conservatives, especially, think they have to serve only their most eccentric constituents.  Gerrymandering certainly aggravates this tendency. They have to play to intellectual stupidity, to the lowest common denominator.  Intellectual honesty is the privilege of those who don’t have real responsibilities for other people, in their view.  This tracks to how the family values debate plays out (my review Saturday of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s book) and eventually even to the politics of technology and the acceptance of user-generated content without gatekeepers.

A danger for me is that, since I landed the way I did from the eldercare situation, with some “moral vulnerabilities”, my own life priorities become part of someone else’s bargaining chip.  That would be petty shameful, given my lack of normal participation in schemes of social support (the “Lots of helping hands” idea).  Of course, there are plenty of ways for me, like anyone else, to “screw up” in a world of normal respect for personal responsibility.  But I’m not of much use to anyone in a world where law and order has broken down and contractual promises don’t have to be kept – most of all by government itself.  No wonder the Second Amendment debate is so double-edged.

Update: Oct. 27

The President and Congress appear to have a deal to avoid a default (I say "appear").  Vox (Ezra Klein) discusses partisanship here, and it isn't pretty.  It plays on anti-intellectual, "family first" fears. I want to think I'm above such irrationality, better than that, and indeed such an attitude is dangerous in practice.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Washington Post has insert today on the "Digital Divide"

The Washington Post print version has a special insert Thursday, October 22, 2015, “The Digital Divide: Special Report”, which appears to follow up on its Oct. 8 Forum, announced here.
I was unable to find the insert online early Thursday.

To me, the most interesting article was Brian Fung’s “Who’s not online – and why”, on p AA2.
Many people, often of lower income in rural areas and “off the grid”, lead local, decentralized lives and find little “use” for it. I noticed this driving on back roads east of the Blue Ridge yesterday, encountering a town called Syria (picture yesterday), with a men’s dorm, very local stores and businesses, a scene that might be in one of Clive Barker’s other “dominions” in the Imajica.

The insert also had pieces on the need for teachers, and on “black activism”, especially on Twitter. There is also material on the idea that the Internet should be viewed as a utility.  Therefore, criminal sentences that ban access to electronics are indeed crippling (although my first low-wage job after my layoff at the end of 2001 did not require compute use!)

I remember when I returned "home" from Minnesota and simply worked on my websites in the basement, I did not try to teach my mother (turning 90) to use a computer.  She did gradually learn to use cell phones available at the time (2004). I probably didn't want her to grasp the potential "danger" of my "self-promotion" in search engines.  The mentality of her generation had been that families are into things together.
I’ve noticed a certain superficiality – in the silly scheme to make money that are constantly pushed, especially on Twitter and email lists – it’s a sign of our inequality and inability to provide substantial jobs that don’t depend on hucksterism or manipulation of others.  There is also, ironically, a promotion of the idea of “everybody’s beautiful in their own way” – I remember the song whose words said that back in 1970 (curiously, while driving into Indianapolis to start a work assignment – and not believing it.  There is the facility to find support for real need, and that to “need” may be culturally OK, when it wasn’t in my generation.  (Think of the popularity of “Go Fund Me”).

Therefore, the Internet may in time bring back a bit of acceptance of interdependence – even given the “alone together” paradigm.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Journalism is becoming a "dangerous" profession with low pay at entry

Here’s a telling op-ed on p A23 of the New York Times, Wednesday, “Journalism: It’s a Tough Assignment”, by Hector Tobar, link here. Online, it’s called “Who’d Be a Journalist?”

Newspaper jobs are down 10% and may well pay a minimum wage.  Even local television reporters in some markets start at $18000 a year.

The work can be dangerous.  The op-ed talks about the shootings of three television reporters near Roanoke, VA, as well as reporting in Mexico.

It also is exacting as to fact-checking, spelling names, and getting stories in on time without mistakes. Foster Winans had covered these points well in his 1988 book “Trading Secrets” by St. Martin’s Press.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

ICANN proposal to gut private domain registration for "commercial" domains stirs concern

Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a story by Jeremy Malcolm, report that domain name registration companies are asking ICANN  (now meeting in Dublin, Ireland) for forbearance in publishing personal information from domain name owners, in order to comply with data privacy laws in many countries.  The story is here.

ICANN does allow currently  Private/Proxy registration services, as explained here.  BlueHost, for example, explains its policy here.

But the EFF story links to an earlier story about a proposal to by ICANN to disallow private registration for domains intended for commercial purposes.  Large entertainment companies may seek this change to make it easier to pursue copyright and trademark claims.

Private registration is intended in part to protect individual domain owners from possible trolling or stalking, possibly from people with unusual sensitivities to usually innocuous topics (like vegan diets).  The risk can be mitigated, however, by taking out a land-address box with a UPS store or similar service.
It appears from my own WHOIS check that my two Wordpress domains at BlueHost are private.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Amazon sues some individuals for paid fake reviews, as well as websites sponsoring them; question about the ethics of online "sales culture" emerge

Major media outlets report Monday morning that Amazon is going after services that offer or pay for fake positive reviews of products (or book or films) sold on Amazon.  It is going now after some individual reviewers as well as sites (such as, which reported sells odd jobs and gigs) that apparently facilitate the activity.  CNN Money has the story here.  The suit says that Washington State consumer protection laws are violated.  BBC has a similar story here.

The individual defendants are listed as “John Doe’s” in the suit, so I’m not sure how exposed they really are.

“Paid reviews” have been talked about and controversial for years.  This whole problem seems like the inverse of the “bad reviews” problem on Yelp! and sometimes Angie’s List, sometimes resulting in defamation litigation against reviewers.  But plaintiffs say they depend on reviews to keep business and Angie’s List seems particularly aggressive in promoting this model – I get its magazine and emails regularly).

There’s a third side of this triangle, that sellers (like me) who “float” on current assets and do relatively little to directly sell or promote are somehow cheating the system (by depending on search engines and somewhat word of mouth, as well as the incidental benefit of social media working), even behaving as to threaten the jobs of people who have to sell for a living.

I could go down another chain of reasoning here, that I have described parts of before.  That is, how people who are “different”, like me (and who demonstrate asymmetric influence on others), is a moral question as well as one of public policy.  While I acknowledge a few periods of OCD (especially in 1964, 1976-77, and late 1991), a big issue for me has been indeed to accept the intrusions of other people and meet their “real needs”, and even find satisfaction in doing so.   There are numerous episodes in my life that delve into this problem in a different and nuanced way, adding up to a rather ironic narrative in my own books.  A common theme is that I don’t find a lot of meaning just in “helping” directly, which relates to the idea that I am very picky about whom I would be intimate with and share my life with.  If I were less selective, and able to share my life in a more “conventional” way, many of these incidents or episodes would not play out the way they did.  (The heterosexual model for self-transformation complicates this and often falls down on its face along the way.)  I would be fitting in and doing more than just “paying my dues”.  And I maintain that my life might have gone this way if I had been more physically competitive as a male when young.  “It is what it is,” I say.

But a lot of pressure today, at least indirectly, seems to be to bolster the public esteem of “others” with “disabilities” and then sell the fame that results from doing so.  (That really wasn’t possible when I was growing up, but it seems not only politically correct, but even socially demanded today with the way some people use social media.)  It’s something I can’t bring myself to do.  I don’t want to be “famous” by “pimping” someone else’s cause, no matter how deserving or politically expected.  Yet I also realize that some of the objections to my own mindset in the past seemed to have to do with what “I would like to see”.  Admittedly, this could be disturbing to some people who have their own issues.  In my case, it played out in military service in an unusual way, setting up my own involvement with DADT decades later.

I’ll leave the “visitor” to ponder Jennier Weiner’s Sunday op-ed in the New York Times, “The Innocence of Playboy”, here  I can remember, at church in the 60s, hearing Playboy defiled for presenting women as “play things”.  Frankly, over the 70s and 80s, many of their articles were intellectually interesting and on important stuff.  There was “Penthouse”, too, and another smaller competitor, “Oui”, had some very interesting articles on UFO’s and cattle mutilations, which helped inspire my 1994 Colorado strip where I had my epiphany and decided to write my book.  Weiner, in the meantime, gets into the “superficiality” of what we want to see in other people who would be close to us.  She mentions the agenda (as it happened) of those 1961 Tribunals at William and Mary, and later Tailhook (right before Bill Clinton’s time): leg shaving.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Suit against Aurous streaming service brings back downstream liability, site-blocking and pre-emptive screening for copyright infringers

Mitch Stoltz offers as disturbing report (for Electronic Frontier Foundation) about new litigation in Florida (filed Oct. 12) against a new streaming company Aurous which uses Bit Torrent which the major music and movie studios think is an open invitation to piracy. Joshua Brustein has another story on Bloomberg here.  The Verge (part of Vox) argues that Aurous’s legality is “questionable”, here

A curious twist in the argument is the “Would-a Could-a Should-a” idea that Aurous could have built copyright filters into its service. After all, YouTube does it, right? 
The suit also demands that all third-party services pre-emptively block Aurous.  That goes against the idea of DMCA Safe Harbor already in the law

Friday, October 16, 2015

Good chance "we" have found an alien mega-structure 1500 light years away; why life is inevitable

There has been some news recently about possible “life on other worlds”.  First, the same weekend that Matt Damon’s movie “The Martian” premiers, NASA announces if found intermittent running salt water on Mars, in a few spots, probably near the equator in the daytime sun when it can reach 80F.

More recently, astronomers found an unusual pattern of objects blocking light from a star, a bit larger than our Sun, close to 1500 light years away, but about the same distance from the center of the Milky Way in a similar spiral arm.  There is a lot of speculation that the objects could be components of a Dyson Sphere, which would be an array of reflectors capturing all of the Star’s energy for a civilization, probably inhabiting several planets and moons after having terraformed them.  The Independent has one such account here   And the Atlantic has a provocative piece by Ross Andersen here 

 There are possible natural explanations, like unusual swarm of comets.  There is a question of how much mass would have to be mined to build the megastructure.  Maybe a whole planet would be sacrificed.  It sounds like our own mountaintop removal problem.

If it is a Dyson Sphere, we see it as it looked 1500 years ago.  It could be completed and maybe completely obscuring the star today.  If there were one such structure every 2000 light years, that could mean over 100 of them at our distance from the center of the galaxy.

There is another vague story that NASA hadn’t found any evidence of Type 2 or 3 civilization in about 500 galaxies, but they are so far away we’d be looking back in time millions and billions of years.  In my view, there is a good chance this is an alien structure, maybe good for a Ridley Scott movie. To quote a friend, "I will accept nothing less"
The lesson on Earth is that life seems to arise where it can.  And it may grow sentient when it can.  Indeed, dolphins and orcas evolved separately from us and are older than us by millions of years, having been elephant-like creatures that returned to the ocean for “free fish”.  They may have “distributed consciousness” as well as individualism.  Their existence raises ethical questions about our responsibilities to respect other sentient lives maybe as conscious of things and of themselves and their social groups as we are.

Air-breathing intelligent creatures on a world with oxygen and water probably would resemble us.  They’d be likely to be biped, have similar organ systems, and about our mass in relation to the planet. Buy they could be based on other theoretical models for RNA and DNA coding, some of which may provide faster evolution than we had.  Would any alien civilization have an “economy” with money like ours?  Would it have recessions and boom?  Maybe Clive Barker’s “Imajica” gives us a view of what living on another planet as a human could be like.

The progression toward life seems to be nature’s way of opposing entropy.  “God” creates, or allows other beings to develop with the ability to make choices, that affect the future. Deciding to have children or not to have children is almost a God-like choice, because it affects what the gene pool will have in future generations after one is long gone.  Consciousness and free-will seems to arise from the “entropy shield” of a living being, but once it exists, it’s a good question for physicists what happens when the body decays and is gone.

Yet, I did not look at “things” this way when I was a young adult, and deciding what mattered in other people to me. I was an only child.  My parents’ marriage will not have a representation in the future.

Second picture, by Vedexent, Wikipedia attribution link for a design of a Dyson Sphere, under Create Commons Share-Alike 3.0 license.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

How can bloggers really use their posts to increase sales? Also, a note on travel

I saw a post by prolific novelist and author Derek Haines (Australia and Switzerland, his site here on how to sell self-published books, using blogging as a tool, shared here from Twitter.

He starts out by suggesting a blog on some practical consumer issue (how to get cheap fares) to draw readers, and then by putting ads or Amazon widgets on the blog. Along those lines, it seems right now that the widgets he's talking about are available only to Wordpress, not to Blogger (where Amazon seems to have dropped support in August 2015).  I'm still looking into this.

I like better the plan of a blog that continues the substance of the issues you deal with in your book(s), even if fiction.  That could mean multiple blogs.

Anyway, Haines also distinguishes between marketing and "selling".
I know, that because of the nature of my “Do Ask, Do Tell” series, I’ve made my text free online for those who want it.  Do I undermine sales?  In the practical world of non-fiction and policy, probably not, because people buy policy books when they want to anyway.  (But the last part of DADT-III is indeed “fiction”).

What I don’t think is terribly effective is just setting up a site to sell the book (probably designed by a third party) and leaving it at that.  I think you need to continue following the issues that drove you to write.
By the way, since Haines mentioned travel, I’ll add that travel and staying wired keeps getting a little more difficult.  Now the FAA doesn’t want travelers to pack lithium batteries in checked luggage, story

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Twitter stumbles, and comparison to Facebook provides insight into what people now expect out of social media

There is some hype now on Twitter’s layoff of over 300 people, and why Twitter is apparently struggling, especially when compared to Facebook.  Timothy B. Lee weighs in on Vox with a missive here.

The biggest point (apart from friendliness to 3rd-party app developers) seems to be the usefulness of the newsfeed.  Facebook uses a proprietary (read “patented” with USPTO, presumably) algorithm (and one unique enough to deserve a patent, despite all the controversy about software patents) to prioritize other friends’ or “followee’s” posts into a news feed based on user behavior.  (It would be a good question if “do not track” interferes.) 

Twitter right now serves tweets in reverse chronological order, although it is working on refinements. 

I’ll add that I shoot my tweets over to Facebook (to increase audience) and about 30% of these don’t get into my own personal news feed, although they (usually) show up on timeline (although that can take a few minutes). 

My own social contact lists are small:  38 friends on Facebook, and 275 followers on Twitter (following 339).  Many of my Twitter followers are other self-published authors pushing books and some companies in the self-promotion business.  The end result is that I don’t see a lot of tweets that I want to see unless they are addressed to me (some users allow both private Messages and direct tweets, and I allow both).   The news tweets (from companies like Vox) get overrun by the self-promotion tweets. 

I make most of my tweets about news stories, or about quirky little stories or incidents (not overly personal) that I think will interest readers.  Only rarely do I try to “sell directly” through tweets or Facebook postings, as I would expect this to be annoying, so I’m surprised to see the volume of silly deals on Twitter.  (“It’s hard out here for a pimp.”) I would rather comment on, or read about, something of substance.  But, yes, a stray female tabby cat coming to your house and wanting to have her babies is “news to share”.

Many of my own tweets do get favorited or get answered. 

There are perhaps ten individuals (followed) whose Twitter feeds are interesting enough that I frequently glance at them.  Generally, I’ll make a point to look up the feeds of people who I know actually say something original every day, and don’t just push sales.  Some (not all) follow me.  At least one is conscious of the idea of "My Twitter Life".  And another seems to on the verge of becoming a comic-con character. 
Tim Lee makes the point that Twitter works well for journalists who want to see all the news as it breaks.  But most “average” social media users are much more interested in persona news among their friends or connections than in the “outside world” which they may perceive as beyond their control (except for “solidarity”).

I have to wonder about this.  I wouldn’t generally expect my friends to share “very” personal news, and there is only so much to gain by sharing pictures of pets or vacations, or even baby showers.  I have some friend for whom I would just as likely prefer not to learn personal details of their daily lives (and generally I don’t).  That’s how it has always been.  Except that now we can all be “alone together.”

Here's another question:  I do send my tweets (which turn out to be only those not directed to a specific Twitter account) to both my doasdotell domain and to Facebook.  Many people think it's "rude" to send tweets to Facebook (article), because Facebook is more "personal" and has lower volume.  I don't really use it that way (most of my posts, although they have some travel pictures, are not really that "personal").  But sometimes I do make posts only on Facebook.  Likewise, my YouTube comments go to Google+.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Today marks a 10-year anniversary of a bizarre, disturbing event when I was "subbing"

It was ten years ago, Thursday, October 13, 2005, that a very bizarre incident occurred why I was substitute teaching, eventually leading to my resignation (although I worked in other capacities for the Fairfax County School System in 2006, and returned as a sub for a while in the first part of 2007).
The details are explained here in an earlier posting, July 27, 2007, with in turn a link to a Wordpress blog posting that shows the actual forensics.
I had told an interning teacher Wednesday October 12 during break about my “do ask do tell” site, in conjunction with newspaper editorials running then about campaign finance reform and free speech (and the possibility that blog posts could be viewed as “campaign contributions).  Then on Thursday afternoon, I got a sudden cell phone call (many generations earlier of phone technology) after school (at 3:41 PM EDT, interrupting my writing a review on my legacy DADT site of the 1927 movie "The Most Dangerous Game", which we had watched at school that day,  lasting 90 seconds -- I remember that much detail!) that I was no longer to come to that school.  History really got complicated, as I eventually did return. The whole sequence seems dependent on a number of improbable situational coincidences over several months in 2005, going back to June.  
The principal at the school was concerned about one specific item on my websites which apparently had been discovered earlier.  I was able to determine that the item had not been accessed that week until Thursday morning, but that the principal had actually requested my banishment at the end of the day Oct. 12.  Since it is very unlikely that the teaching intern could have known about this issue. It must have been a problem already.

But the incident is interesting and disturbing for another reason.  I was able to analyze what happened on my ISP log files because at the time (ten years ago), search engine arguments could be logged, and connected to IP address that had requested them.  Privacy concerns seem to have led Google and probably some other search engine companies no longer to allow search arguments to be viewed.  Indeed, seeing the search arguments helps a webmaster know what attracts visitors to his or her site.  Sometimes the interests expressed in search arguments are quirky and understandably, some people would not want them connected to their own IP addresses.  But this suppression of search arguments would work even without https.

By the way, yesterday I did complete a little day trip, and one of the destinations was a park in Winchester, VA where supposedly some UFO’s have been sighted.  What I found interesting was a motorbike trail pit, with its unusual geometry.  It reminded me of a “volunteer” job at the Metrodome, working in fast food for the first time in my life ever, in February 2003, during a biker “rodeo” at the now torn-down stadium. I had become a prole.  

Monday, October 12, 2015

Wisconsin gun downstream liability case could set precedents in Internet liability cases, too

I don’t usually cover the Second Amendment “debate” on this blog, as it is usually farther away from speech and technology issues. 
But there is a lawsuit in Wisconsin against a gun shop claiming downstream liability for a wrongful death after what was apparently technically a legal gun sale, even if possibly in bad faith.  The detailed story by Erik Eckholm is here

The parallel issue in the free speech world would be downstream liability for service providers for harm done by otherwise lawful content posted by users.  That gets into the DMCA Safe Harbor and especially the Section 230 issues. 
For example. Reasoning along with the plaintiffs in the gun case above, would Facebook or YouTube be liable for a wrongful death or suicide that follows on to cyberbullying because it provides a platform that it knows many immature end users will leverage to bully or harm others.  Or would good faith efforts to enforce reasonable T.O.S. be enough.  But I do see a legally dangerous parallel here. 

Update: October 13

The plaintiff police officers did win their case with the jury today, story

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Fundamental disparities in perception about copyright law among major circuits

Electronic Frontier Foundation has a valuable discussion by Michael Barclay of what can be copyrighted.  In particular, if a content provider has “infinite” choices in arranging subcomponents of an object, is a particular arrangement copyrightable?

In a case involving Yoga, the Ninth Circuit recently said No.  But the Federal Circuit in Washington DC, ruling in a suit against Google by Oracle (that company I remember seeing on the 101 south of San Francisco) about the use of java API’s (Application Program Interfaces) went along with this theory.  And EFF said that the Federal Circuit shouldn’t have gotten the case; it wound up there indirectly because of the Federal Circuit’s hegemony over patent.  The link for the story is here.  The Supreme Court has so far declined to hear the case, requiring Google to make a fair use argument on a future trial on the merits (Verge story). 

What I see in all of these stories is a dangerous idea:  companies try frivolous litigation claims out of what seems desperation because they feel pressured by investors. Again, this makes you wonder about underlying business models, that seem to come under increasing pressure out of common social concerns.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Journalist in CA convicted of "hacking" under same law used against Aaron Swartz; may not have been tech-savvy enough

So is it possible for an ordinary person or journalist to be wrongfully convicted of or framed for hacking?

There may be a parable in the narrative of Matthew Keys, former producer at KTXL Fox 40 in Sacramento. It’s covered in an Ars Technica story by Cyrus Farivar Oct. 7, here

He was charged and convicted after supposedly handing over credentials to a content management system for Tribune Media, which led to members of Anonymous making changes to a Los Angeles Times story.

But Keys denies the government account, saying that he had not registered his IRC handle, so the hack was done by someone else.

So is this a case of a journalist not technically savvy enough to stay out of trouble, or of someone a convenient political target for the government?

Keys was convicted under the same statute used against Aaron Swarts, and prosecutors want five years in prison.  Theoretically he could get 25 years.  And despite public sympathy for Swartz, with Obama administration has been urging longer sentences under the law.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

European court's objection to Internet companies' data transfer and holding practices could affect business models

The European Union’s highest court invalidated the “safe harbor agreement” between tech companies, the US and the EU, regarding the way large companies like Facebook and Google store intermediate results of user activity, and sometimes move them around to servers from EU countries to the US.  The court believes this would give the US government and NSA to spy on ordinary citizens in the 28 member countries, some of which have stronger privacy protections than expected in the US.  Some of the sentiment toward this decision does come from the history of Edward Snowden.
Internet companies use various data mobility techniques to make their advertising algorithms more efficient, so that they can make profits from user inquiries and particularly from user generated content. Legal constraints from overseas courts have the potential to affect the business model for social media use everywhere, even in the US.
The news story appeared today in many sources.  In the New York Times, it is by Mark Scott and appears in Business Day, link here.
Update: Oct. 11

The New York Times on Sunday, Oct. 11 reports (in a story by Robert Levine) on the activities o student Max Schrems, in Business Day, here

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Section 230 does have the benefit of refining political debate by giving everyone direct input

I want to return to the attack on Section 230 by Arthur Chu (link yesterday), continuing by noting first his invocation of subjunctive mood in characterizing the purpose of the provision:  “the people who dole out the power to publish anything they (the users) want online should bear no responsibility or risk”.  He believes that the powerless and disadvantaged are most at risk by the “power” given to users indirectly by relieving intermediaries the responsibility for any third party review or liability. He also says “I’m no libertarian” and indeed he is not.

I’ve even questioned whether, as a constitutional manner, the right to “self-distribute” at almost no cost is embedded in the free speech concept of the First Amendment.  But Supreme Court opinions on a number of cases (like COPA), while saying there can be no constitutionally acceptable “content-based” restriction on free speech, had tended to imply that distribution facility is connected intrinsically to content, because of the resources of the speakers.

Until the mid 1990s, when the WWW started to become available and desktop publishing made book production cheaper (leading soon to “print on demand”) we were used to a world in which normally, to “get published”, a third party had to find that a large diverse base of people (not just your own choir) had to be likely to become paying customers for your words or images before they could be released to the world.  In one sense, you had to be “popular” to be listened to, which (following the title of my third DADT book) was then perceived as a “privilege”.  In 1990 or so, that was still normal and uncontroversial.

My own perspective on this focuses particularly on how “instant self-publishing” did have the power to change the way political debate is conducted.  Traditionally, people form interest groups, which lobby legislatures to get their way for their constituents.  Most of us feel that political processes based on policy from paid lobbyists on K Street leaves a lot to be desired in terms of intellectual honesty, on all kinds of issues.  Conservatives and libertarians may be a little more aware of this than liberals. 

There is a tendency for advocacy groups and non-profits (and their lobbyists) to present their clients as members of “groups” that are somehow victimized or disadvantaged.  Sometimes the people are, but when arguments are made this way (at a group level) most subtlety gets lost.  Political change occurs with solidarity and organizing, and the willingness of individuals to give up harping on being right about the details.  Socialization becomes its own virtue.  I do get this, and that seems to be where Mr. Chu is coming from.

With self-publishing online, a speaker could make large numbers of other readers aware of the deficiencies in the way established groups had presented issues.  In my own case, the triggering issue was the debate over gays in the military as it “erupted” in 1993, with President Clinton’s presidency.  True, this was about discrimination in the classic liberal sense, but it was an issue with many nooks and crannies, about people living together in intimate spaces not of their choosing, that at the time seemed like an unprecedented issue to consider.  Classical liberal comparisons to Truman’s integration of the military with respect to race in 1948 missed a lot of the point of the debate. A related issue, usually overlooked by both sides, was that men still had to register for Selective Service, and that we could in the future consider the issue in combination with a draft (about which there were discussions after 9/11). Although my book sales were relatively modest (in the hundreds) my free content online (eventual copies of the book for those who didn’t want to “pay”) did make some of these issues known to hundreds of thousands of visitors.  I am fairly sure I had a big impact on getting all the details into the debate over the years.  I made a point of this in my own affidavit for the COPA litigation in the 2000’s.
Over time, visible and effective user generated content on political issues has shifted from personal blogs and websites (and self-published POD books) to comments on news stories on major newspaper or television network sites, and especially to comments on the social media (most of all Facebook) pages for these sites.  These comments, at least the best of them, do get read by the newspaper editors and broadcast network news analysts.  In many issues, the comments add detail and “devil’s advocacy” that is nearly almost overlooked by politicians. This is born out with many issues, including gun control, “black lives matter”, the debt ceiling,  and (especially interesting) paid parental leave. Almost no politicians or major news editorial supporting mandatory paid leave is willing to face openly the idea that the non-parents would have to make personal sacrifices, in doing the work that their leave-taking coworkers got time off from but still got paid for.  Once that is recognized, that has further significant ramifications for our debate about family values and marriage (including same-sex marriage).

Without spontaneous amateur voices, the detail we need in robust debate gets lost.  Making it becomes a matter of belonging to the right club, and succeeding the social pecking orders of whatever affiliations a particular individual has (families, labor unions, non-profit PACS, political parties, churches).  And the world becomes even more partisan.  But it will not include “parlour timocracy”. (And that reminds me, how emerging artists and musicians use the spontaneity of the Internet to build their careers.)

Indeed, the CNN documentary last night "#Being 13"  (TV blog) pointed out the double irony, that kids are aggressive on social media for local reasons:  they know they have to make it in tie world of immediate social combat to be heard by the larger world. 
I am someone who wants to “get it right”.  But I do see that some people see “Staying Alive” (especially if you’re John Travolta) as  more important than “being right”.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Repeal Section 230? A "modest proposal" by Arhtur Chu of Crunch

Arthur Chu, a “Crunch Network” contributor, has authored a controversial proposal (Sept. 29. 2015) on Techcrunch, and it seems rather obvious: Repeal Section 230 (or “Mr Obama: Tear Down this Liability Shield”, link here.  The picture of Brandenberg Gate in Berlin (which I visited in 1999) makes for a silly analogy to Reagan and Gorbachev. The comments (about paid negative reviews on Yelp!, etc) are certainly telling.  Chu does make the interesting point that originally Section 230 had an intention rather like a pineapple upside-down cake, or a baseball “inside-out” swing.  That is, it was supposed to make it easier for intermediaries to screen for TOS violations without discretionary liability.  It is true that harassment is against most reputable intermediaries’ terms of service, but many are lax in doing so.  However, some could argue that YouTube has been rather pro-active.
And, predictably, Electronic Frontier Foundation has its rebuttal on Oct. 2, by Danny O’Brien, well reasoned, here.  O’Brien discusses countries that don’t offer much of any protections to intermediaries, and shows that intermediary liability exposure doesn’t prevent online harassment or revenge or cyberbullying.
O’Brien summarizes Chu’s modest proposal (like Jonathan Swift) by saying “To Chu, it seems that an Internet that worked the same way as a letter to the editor – where only those who reached certain standards of editorial acceptability would have a voice – would be a better Internet” – to which EFF “respectfully” disagrees.  This is an argument against amateurism (Book Reviews, regarding Andrew Keen, June 26, 2007).   Imagine, as I have asked here before, if any self-published material had to prove it could sell on its own to stay up (to pay for the extra liability exposure).

I've also noted the potentially dangerous parallel of arguments like Chu's (for greater liability exposure and bonding) with arguments for gun control (the nexus between First and Second Amendments in the libertarian's world).  If we can live without self-defense, maybe we can live without self-motivated self-published and unedited speech.  

In fact, Section 230 makes everything I do possible now.  Otherwise, I would have to make myself “popular” with other people to sell to them to have a voice.  It gets wordy to go through it, but ponder a world where people have to compete so brutally to even be heard.  (This is behind a lot of “sales culture” today, including cold-call techniques that have become objectionable to many in today’s world of self-sufficiency.)  I do understand how the “left” and much of the community of faith sees social “radical solidarity” (with those less fortunate and intact), as demanding personal engagement from everyone, a kind of intentional communalism (and “radical hospitality”), as then necessary.  That’s how it would come full circle in my own life.

I don’t know whether Chu’s article carries any real weight or is going anywhere with politicians.  Remember, in 2014, 49 states attorneys-general wanted to exempt state laws from Section 230 impact. Would Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and Wordpress even exist in Chu's world?  Even print-on-demand leads to interesting and disturbing questions. 

Saturday, October 03, 2015

"No Notoriety" movement in the media would have limited effect, is not a substitute for problems with guns, mental illness, and even inequality

“Refusing to name killers is just a placebo for our gun illness”, reads a print headline in the Style section of the Washington Post Saturday morning, for an essay by Philip Kennicott. Online, the title is “Refusing to say a killer’s name is no more than symbolic empowerment,” link here

This piece is about the “No Notoriety” movement (link ), which encourages media to refrain from naming perpetrators of mass events, because their motives seem to be to seek fame at death, after they’ve concluded they have nothing to live for. The Post has another front page story that goes into that.  (CNN will present the "No Notoriety" argument Sunday morning Oct. 4.)

I would tend to agree with Kennicott.  I think the effectiveness of the idea is limited.  I would agree with  President Obama, that voters need to communicate that they may want more thorough background checks for gun owners, to say the least.  But members of Congress and of legislators of many states don’t seem to believe it.  Some of the GOP candidates (Bush) say “stuff happen” and “people commit crimes, guns don’t”.  Even Trump talks about mental illness now. It is true that "No Notoriety" does attempt to reduce the likelihood of copycats. 
So sometimes perpetrators of events like this do have a “message”, however warped.  Ted  Kaczynski thought he was attacking depending on technology (and some of his “manifesto”, published by the Post and Times in 1995, actually gives cogent criticism of “socialization”.  More recently, it seems that Elliot Rodger  (I mention the name) wanted to convey the idea that other contemporaries of him were actually weaker than him and shouldn’t be able to find love or have children if he couldn’t.  If that idea took hold, it could become socially disruptive for some people.  It sounds like something out of Nazi Germany.  But hardly anyone will read “My Twisted World” even though it is easy to find (free) online.  No one who values a democratic society can take such thinking seriously.  (This thinking style was an issue when I was a patient at NIH in 1962.) In the latest incident in Oregon, Mercer (I’ll repeat the name) seemed to harbor a similar style of thinking, but it also seems that he identified with Flanagan in Virginia, as reported by CBS News here   (Salon gives some links to Mercer's 4chan exchange through a New York Times article, here.) There is an idea that a hypercompetitive world like ours gives some people no real chance. 
There is always talk about remembering and honoring victims.  For younger people, I get it; but I would have trouble with that idea (“honor”) for myself at age 72 if I was taken down by someone else disgruntled by my own apparent level of “privilege” in some sort of future incident. (The bringing in of the topic of religious persecution will seem relevant to some people.)  There would be a lesson from it, but it would not be honorable for me, given my own life narrative.  I would be paying for someone else's wrong (but disillusionment), whatever the idea of Grace. 
But the implications of “inequality”” can get very personal.

Update: Oct. 13

Ashton Kutcher's "A Plus" has an article "Cure the contagion: How different storytelling could save lives and stop mass shootings", link here.

Friday, October 02, 2015

News organizations sometimes chase amateur video of violent events

Eyewitnesses who take images of violent events and post them on social media are often chased by reporters, according to a “Style” section story in the Washington Post today by Paul Fahri, link.  The question is posed as “journalists or vultures” and the journalists are compared to paparazzi. 

I’ve never witnessed a violent act in progress, so I’ve never had original footage (which would like wind up as evidence with police anyway).  The problem would be particularly relevant to allegations of police shootings.
CNN’s Drew Pinsky last night also pointed out another problem, with people on social media egging on troubled people to carry out violent urges that they display (in relation to the incident in Oregon Oct. 1).  This would normally violate a site’s TOS but would not itself be illegal (usually) unless it provided direct aid or instruction.
It’s worthy of note that at least one university-based student reporter got into physical danger during the riots in Baltimore last April.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Respect my personal independence, please (because "It's hard out here for a pimp" anyway)

Just a personal checkpoint as, here we are again, in the last quarter of the year. And with the possibility of something like another Sandy on the horizon.

I became a “professional amateur journalist” starting about 18 years ago, with the self-publication of my first book, while an individual contributor in an IT workplace (through the end of 2001). 
It has gradually become less credible to do “anything else” with the rest of my life (I’m 72 now anyway), largely because of the accretion of the “online reputation issue”. It is simply impossible to go out and “pimp” someone else’s cause or product and be paid to do so publicly.

I do get hounded about why I don’t become more aggressive selling physical copies of books, or ad space – a few of the calls are actually rude.  I realize I am benefiting somewhat from the left-wing no-no (and that doesn’t mean a Max Scherzer or MadBum no-hitter) of “inherited wealth”.  So the “morality” of my setup could be challenged, and, due to some ambiguities regarding trusts and various documents, maybe the “legality” although that’s remote.  As far as the SEC is concerned, I’m using my own money, and don’t have to produce for investors in the usual sense.

I would actually like that to change in the future, if I were to get money for a film.

But I also often field challenges.  I’m a long way now from the mainframe IT job market that used to pay my way, and given the way W-2 consulting works, my publicity would be problematic.  I’ve talked about why becoming a teacher “failed”.

But I do get calls and entreats (some unwelcome and even disruptive) about why I won’t go out and sell life insurance, financial services, do tax preparation, etc.  The calls can be combined in a “Frankenstorm” manner with the idea that I am in a quasi-inherited house, and could morally be expected to help support those in need, an idea that is likely to grow with the publicity over the Syrian (and Central American and even LGBT) refugee and asylum crises.  If I spent twelve years earning a good income in IT in the life and financial services business (from 1990-2001) and credit business (1981-1988) and even health care (other times), shouldn’t I be expected to go out and prove I can sell it?

There’s another thing, solidarity.  In fact, maybe sometimes “radical solidarity” (like “radical hospitality”) is necessary. I don’t "join in" by giving others a lot of emotional empathy, directly.  I don’t want to use Donald Trump’s words too much here (I’m not concerned about copyright or trademark either), but you can see where I’m heading.  A lot of people deal with practical hardships and bad luck (as well as the results of bad choices – it can be hard to parse these) by skill in fitting in to social hierarchies.  So I get pestered (in various incidents) as to why I won’t do the same, as to why I can't be bargained with.  No, “turning it over to God” and getting “born again” doesn’t cover personal failure, even some misfortune or happenstance contributed to the bad end result. I can't honor playing victim for its own sake, and I can't make "you" all right.  I can't find meaning in just any unconditional grace.  My father used to say, "To obey is better than to sacrifice", because he saw sacrifice as just that, not really honorable.  
As I’ve said before, I need to “finish my own work” before I can negotiate social expectations – which could become considerable in the near future for good reason, some having to do with external, even international events.  I have  to ask people to respect my independence.  That’s all.