posted about 1 hour ago on techdirt
For this week's awesome stuff of interesting crowdfunding projects, we take a quick dive into solar powered chargers. There are a ton of solar power projects on Kickstarter and other crowdfunding platforms out there -- some more ridiculous than others. Here are four more interesting ones that really just focus on charging up your personal devices. Solarpod Pyxis The Solarpod Pyxis is a decent looking 5,000 mAh battery that charges in the sun. They claim the entire battery charges in 4.5 hours, only slightly slower than charging it directly via USB (also an option if you want it). The battery can then be used to charge your phones and tablets and such. They also tossed in 32GB of memory (and an SD card slot) which is a nice add on. Gidgi Okay, how about the Gidgi, which is really a phone case/wallet that also happens to include some solar cells as well. As they note, this way the phone charges any time it's out of your pocket in the light (which I guess assumes you'll be leaving your phone out somewhere to charge it during the day). Looks a little bulky to me, but might be right for some folks. Solar Socket This is for installing in your home. The Solar Socket is a small solar panel and battery that you install on your home (battery size varies based on which model you get), and then you put in a wall socket that has some USB ports that allow you to charge directly off the solar powered battery. Consider it a simpler way of using solar energy without converting your entire house. The Sun Strap And, finally, we've got the Sun Strap. The problem with some of those other solutions is that you have to be willing to leave the devices out in the sun somewhere for long enough that the charging is actually useful. But how many people sit in direct sunlight for that long? The Sun Strap focuses on getting a solar charge while you're out walking around by putting the solar cells on a strap that goes on your backpack straps. As they note, there are other solar backpacks out there, but putting the panels on the strap just seems... nicer (and a lot less expensive). That's it for this week. Go get some sun.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 15 hours ago on techdirt
As a whole bunch of folks sent in, over in the UK, a guy named Philip Danks has been sentenced to 33 months in prison for camcording Fast and Furious 6 and then uploading it to the internet. As is all too often the case, the UK authorities more or less let the movie industry, in the form of FACT (the Federation Against Copyright Theft) run the entire investigation. FACT employees were involved in all facets, including controlling most of the interview after Danks was detained. If that seems... questionable, you have a point. As TorrentFreak now notes, while 33 months may seem extreme, part of the reason for the long sentence was that Danks didn't seem to take the hint: FACT report that following his arrest in 2013, Danks continued to both sell and distribute illegal copies of movies. He was assisted with uploading by Michael Bell, his sister’s former boyfriend. The Court sentenced Bell to a 12 month community order with 120 hours unpaid work. That does seem particularly shortsighted if you wanted to avoid getting into further trouble. Either way, 33 months still sounds rather extreme. Skimming through UK sentencing guidelines, apparently camcording and uploading Fast & Furious 6 is criminally equivalent to a "series of assaults on children" or "protracted neglect and ill-treatment" of a child. That doesn't seem exactly equivalent. Meanwhile Fast & Furious 6 brought in $789 million worldwide, which makes it in the top 50 movies of all time in terms of revenue. It ranks 31st all time in terms of its opening week's performance. Given all that, I'm curious how much "harm" Danks could really have done to the movie. Sure, it seems clear that he violated copyright law, and so it's legitimate to assume some sort of punishment is reasonable. But 33 months in jail when it's hard to see how any actual harm was done? How does that make any sense at all?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 16 hours ago on techdirt
The ODNI continues to comply with court orders from FOIA lawsuits but its compliance is in letter only. Declassifying documents the way the ODNI does isn't helping further the debate on privacy vs. security or making the government's arguments for surveillance dragnets any more clear. Two more documents were released late Friday, with one of them being more about what it doesn't include than what it does and the other potentially leading to irreversible eye damage. First up, the FBI's report on the maintenance and use of [REDACTED] databases. About the only thing surviving the redaction knife is a few footnotes which indicate this document has something to do with the pen register/trap and trace bastardization that turned a targeted surveillance technique with a low legal barrier to entry into a broad, untargeted dragnet with a low legal barrier to entry. (PDF link.) But this is how most of the "declassified" report looks. Right-margin barely large enough to contain the exemptions. The unexpected use of black in a sea of white redactions. All of the above is in addition to several pages that were withheld in their entirety, without even being given the chance to be redacted into uselessness. What remains is mainly footnotes. One supplies a description of PR/TT surveillance pulled directly from the US code. One references CALEA (Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act). One footnote points out that the FBI is not allowed to "affirmatively search" content gathered incidentally by this program, unless, of course, (truck-sized loophole ahead) it needs to "prevent harm to national security." In total, the document is of zero value to anyone anywhere. No information was freed, nor will it be -- not if intelligence officials have the final say for redactions. The redactions can be challenged, but that's in EPIC's hands. The second document, a declaration in support of the PR/TT program by CIA director George Tenet, contains more readable info… but just barely. There's a lot of redactions in here as well but the main struggle is reading the remaining text which looks like it was rolled off a myopic, 75-year-old mimeograph. (PDF link.) Most of Tenet's declaration revolves around threats the CIA was tracking, none of which are allowed past the censor, despite it being a decade later. The name Al-Qaeda appears every so often, and there's hints of a discussion revolving around surveillance tactics and government actions related to the 9/11 attacks, but most of this information is withheld as well. Interestingly, Tenet notes that the CIA (and other agencies) have picked up signals that signal a "US strike" in the "next four months," possibly in conjunction with the 2004 elections. It also cautions that being too effective may be accelerating terrorists' attack plans, with detainments and other factors possibly causing terrorism leaders to believe their operations are compromised. Tenet declares all the redacted surveillance programs to have been essential in disrupting terrorists' plans and/or possibly pushing attack timetables forward, noting that the PR/TT has been invaluable in lots of things that are completely redacted. In conclusion, please give the NSA/FBI PR/TT dragnet privileges. So much for transparency. Even a discontinued surveillance program is subject to page after page of complete redaction, including documents discussing threats over a decade old whose attacks and plans were either thwarted or never came to fruition. The word "declassify" generally is taken to mean a release of information previously withheld, but in the ODNI's hands, all it means is the release of as little as possible. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 17 hours ago on techdirt
Butter is an awesome addition to nearly any breakfast food (except for cereal, but who knows, have you tried it on cereal?). One of the only problems with butter is that sometimes it's not as spreadable as you'd like it to be. Sure, you can buy special tubs of butter-like substances that are more spreadable, but sometimes you just want a cold pat of real butter on your toast. Here are a few suggestions that could make your life with butter everything you've ever dreamed. Some folks adamantly recommend that everyone should NOT store their butter in a refrigerator. Room temperature butter is obviously more easily spread, but some people just don't like the idea of butter going rancid slowly on a kitchen table. [url] Which edge of a butter knife have you been using all your life? If you said the serrated edge, try the other side when spreading butter. Maybe there is no wrong way, but there's more than one way to use a butter knife. [url] If you want to buy a butter knife that's specifically designed to spread butter better than any other butter knife, throw some bucks at the Stupendous Splendiferous ButterUp knife. It's just a bunch of holes in the knife that act like a grater, so you can scrape off buttery bits, even off a cold stick of butter. [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 19 hours ago on techdirt
America has long held the position as the world's foremost imprisoner of its own citizens. Around 2 million people are incarcerated in America, giving us nearly one-fourth of the world's total prison population. Spending any length of time in prison is a good way to destroy your future. But even if you never spend a day inside -- or even end up facing charges -- there's a good chance you'll still be facing a bleak future should you ever have the misfortune to be booked. Over the past 20 years, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. As a result, the FBI currently has 77.7 million individuals on file in its master criminal database—or nearly one out of every three American adults. Between 10,000 and 12,000 new names are added each day. This master database is accessed by thousands of employers running pre-hire background checks, as well as by banks and landlords. One moment of stupidity, even if it never results in time served, could derail someone's life. Arrests are damaging, even if it's ultimately determined that no criminal activity occurred. How many thousands of people are being turned down for loans or rejected by landlords simply because a cop made up BS charges to arrest a photographer or deployed handcuffs instead of responsible crowd control? When Precious Daniels learned that the Census Bureau was looking for temporary workers, she thought she would make an ideal candidate. The lifelong Detroit resident and veteran health-care worker knew the people in the community. She had studied psychology at a local college. Days after she applied for the job in 2010, she received a letter indicating a routine background check had turned up a red flag. In November of 2009, Ms. Daniels had participated in a protest against Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan as the health-care law was being debated. Arrested with others for disorderly conduct, she was released on $50 bail and the misdemeanor charge was subsequently dropped. Ms. Daniels didn't anticipate any further problems. But her job application brought the matter back to life. For the application to proceed, the Census bureau informed her she would need to submit fingerprints and gave her 30 days to obtain court documents proving her case had been resolved without a conviction... She didn't get the job. This is one case out of thousands. Exacerbating law enforcement's enthusiasm for making meaningless arrests is the fact that no one involved in maintaining the criminal database is interested in making sure it only contains convicted criminals. Documentation of arrests aren't removed when charges are dismissed and information on cleared individuals is seldom forwarded to the FBI by local PDs. And it's not as though false arrests are the exception to the rule. According to research done by the University of South Carolina, it's more of a coin toss -- 47% of respondents who were arrested were never convicted and 25% were never even charged. This callous disregard for the falsely arrested places the burden on those harmed by law enforcement's wrongful actions to clear their names, which in our criminal justice system is an entirely uphill battle. In October 2012, Jose Gabriel Hernandez was finishing up dinner at home when officers came to arrest him for sexually assaulting two young girls. Turns out, it was a case of mistaken identity. In court documents, the prosecutor's office acknowledged that the "wrong Jose Hernandez" had been arrested and the charges were dropped. Once the case was dismissed, Mr. Hernandez assumed authorities would set the record straight. Instead, he learned that the burden was on him to clear his record and that he would need a lawyer to seek a formal expungement. "Needless to say, that hasn't happened yet," says Mr. Hernandez, who works as a contractor. Mr. Hernandez was held in the Bexar County jail on $150,000 bond. He didn't have the cash, so his wife borrowed money to pay a bail bondsman the nonrefundable sum of $22,500, or the 15% fee, he needed to put up. They are still repaying the loans. Notably, there are no corresponding negative results for police who arrest the wrong person. It's always an "honest mistake" even when nearly half of their arrests never result in convictions. It's the citizens who need to spend their time and money (which, given the economic background of those most likely to be arrested, are generally commodities in short supply) trying to convince potential employers, landlords and banks that they're not actually criminals. The difference a false arrest can make in one person's life is devastating. According to the Wall Street Journal, someone with an arrest on their record is only half as likely to own a house and twice as likely to be below the poverty line by age 25. Ballooning law enforcement budgets have combined with bad ideas like zero tolerance policies and "broken windows" policing to turn arrests into a near inevitability, especially for citizens who aren't white… or document police activity… or engage in First Amendment-protected speech. There's no path guaranteed to keep your record from being blighted by a trumped-up charge or an arrest that leads nowhere. To those who control your future -- employers, landlords, banks, college admission offices -- it all looks the same when the background report comes in. The FBI is barely interested in ensuring its criminal database only houses data on criminals and local law enforcement agencies seem to be totally disinterested in clearing those wrongfully charged. Once again, the public is expected to do the legwork if it ever hopes to climb higher than the lowest rung in our nation -- guilty even if proven innocent. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 22 hours ago on techdirt
My understanding is that there was once a theory that America's public universities were havens of free speech, political thought, and a center for the exchange of ideas. I must admit that this seems foreign to me. I've always experienced universities primarily as a group-think center mostly centered around college athletics. That said, if universities want to still claim to be at the forefront of idea and thought, they probably shouldn't be censoring the hell out of what their students can access on the internet. Yet, as btr1701 writes in about, that's exactly what Northern Illinois University appears to be doing. Northern Illinois University enacted an Acceptable Use Policy that goes further than banning torrents, also denying students access to social media sites and other content the university considers “unethical” or “obscene.” A discussion on the ban was brought to Reddit by user darkf who discovered the new policy while trying to access the Wikipedia page for the Westboro Baptist Church from his personal computer in his dorm room. The student received a filter message categorizing the page as “illegal or unethical.” It seems possible to continue to the webpage, but the message warns that all violations will be reviewed. While sites that only potentially violate the policy, such as the Wikipedia page for stupidest church in America, are still accessible after the warning, other sites that NIU has deemed offensive, defamatory, or threatening remain. These, oddly, include pornography sites, for some reason. It also includes social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIN, the latter of which seems like an especially odd choice since it's primarily a job networking site and I'd think that would be the kind of thing a university would want their students to be doing. Granted, this usage policy applies to staff as well as students, but that's the entire problem with a catchall filtering system like this: you block too much good along with the "bad." But where this really goes off the rails is NIU's apparent attempt to stifle political discussion on their campus. Perhaps one of the most controversial of the terms is the restriction on political activities such as surveying, polling, material distribution, vote solicitation and organization or participation in meetings, rallies and demonstrations, among other activities...Isn’t it obvious that an institute of higher learning should be the last place to put a huge block in the information pathway? It's not just obvious, it seems like the antithesis of what a public university ought to be doing. Forget the social media and pornography sites for a moment. Turning the filters up to the point when Wikipedia pages are blocked is insane. That site is a go to resource for, well, everyone, but probably especially for students. And the ban on political activism and traffic suggests NIU is turning a blind-eye to the important role that universities have always played in political thought and activism. Shame on NIU for trying to strangle the internet access their students rely on as they learn and become adults. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted about 23 hours ago on techdirt
The folks over at EFF have yet another story of patents gone wrong. This time it's from a guy named Peter Wolf, who owns a company called Photocrazy, that takes photos of sporting events like running and bike races, and then offers to sell people their photos by matching up their bib numbers. This kind of thing has been around forever, but because Peter Wolf paid a lawyer and said some magic words, he got some patents (specifically: 6,985,875; 7,047,214; and 7,870,035). Here's the primary claim in the 875 patent: 1. A process providing event photographs of a sporting event for inspection, selection and distribution via a computer network, comprising the steps of: taking photographs of at least one participant of a sporting event along at least one point of a course or field thereof; associating identifying data with each photograph taken, wherein the identifying data is selected from at least one of: a number corresponding to a number worn by a participant, a participant's name, a code acquired from a component worn by a participant, and a date and time, including hour and minute the photograph was taken; informing the sporting participants of the identifying data; transferring the photographs to a computer network server; cataloging each of the photographs in a web-site server according to the identifying data; accessing the server at a location other than the sporting event and searching for a photograph of a particular sporting event participant utilizing the identifying data; and displaying the photograph of the sporting event participant for inspection and ordering. Or, as EFF's Vera Ranieri summarizes: In plain English: Take photos of a race, tag and sort by bib number and date, and search for photos based on that tag via the Internet. That’s it. This, of course, is the problem with many patents these days. You could take nearly any half-competent programmer, explain to him what you wanted to do, and they could build you a system like this without any trouble at all. Because there's nothing tricky here at all. It's just putting together a few basic obvious ideas that were really only limited in the past by the underlying technology not being ready. But now that it is... one guy has patents to block anyone else from implementing such an obvious idea. These patents aren't promoting the progress, they're hindering it. It seems likely that under the Alice v. CLS ruling, this patent is not valid. Wolf is suing a small (mostly part time!) photography company called Capstone for doing some of this. While it's already likely that the patents are invalid, with Capstone, because of how it works, and because of the Limelight v. Akamai ruling, it's likely that Capstone itself isn't even infringing (that ruling said that if separate parties do separate parts of the claim, you can't say that the original party "induced infringement" because there is no direct infringement). But, still, as we've discussed many times, patent lawsuits are crazy expensive. And Capstone is a tiny company: Capstone doesn’t have a widely-distributed podcast that it can use to drum up the backing of thousands of fans and supporters. Its owner’s own attempt to crowdfund the defense raised only about $5,000. And although Capstone’s business has been profitable, the owner tells us that because of the patent lawsuit and the costs his company is facing, his business faces the very real prospect of shutting down. Recent reforms have been helpful to reduce costs for some defendants. For example, the Inter Partes Review (“IPR”) program now being implemented at the Patent Office promises to be a much cheaper way to determine validity.  One problem though, is that it is still too expensive for businesses like Capstone. An IPR costs $23,000 in filing fees alone, and requires paying lawyers and often experts as well.  Ranieri notes that the US Patent Office is accepting comments about dealing with post-grant challenges, and now might be a good time to highlight that it's impossibly expensive for small businesses being sued over questionable patents: EFF previously advocated for reduced fees for IPR filings by small businesses and others without the ability to fund patent challenges. Unfortunately, the PTO ignored our request. However, the PTO is currently accepting comments regarding the post-grant challenges such as the IPR process. We encourage the public, especially small business owners, to let the PTO know by September 16 that the costs are still too high for many, and absent a lower cost, patent trolls will continue to assert dubious patents against companies they know can’t afford to do anything but settle. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
We've long-argued that red light cameras, those little flashy things that ticket you for going through a stop light, have always been way less about safety and almost entirely about generating revenue for municipalities. And, while we've covered how corrupted the money-flow of these systems can be, you just have to admire the brazenly "Chicago-way" story of how the windy city got into bed with camera peddlers. The former chief executive officer of Redflex, a major red light camera (RLC) vendor, has been indicted on federal corruption charges stemming from a contract with the City of Chicago. On Wednesday, in addition to former CEO Karen Finley, government prosecutors also indicted John Bills, former managing deputy commissioner at the Department of Transportation, and Bills' friend Martin O'Malley, who was hired as a contractor by Redflex. Now, I can tell you as a native of the area that city officials getting indicted on corruption charges along with the company bribers barely registers as news here any longer. Hell, we send governors to prison like it was the official retirement plan for the office. The charges in this indictment, however, are a special brand of sleazy. Redflex sold the city on the cameras, hired O'Malley as a contractor for $2 million dollars, and O'Malley then sent much of that cash directly back to DoT official John Bills, like some kind of monetary boomerang. Redflex then got into the act directly, because why the hell not. Via Redflex employees, Bills also acquired a Mercedes and a condominium in Arizona. A May 2014 affidavit written by an FBI special agent suggests that Bills likely used some of this money to purchase and store a boat, buy a car, pay for an addition to his Michigan cabin, pay for his girlfriend's mortgage, pay his own mortgage, pay his kids' schools, and hire a divorce attorney over the course of several years. To be fair to Bills, it costs a lot of money to keep your side-piece living happily while you divorce the mother of your children and update that sweet cabin-pad. Oh, it should also be mentioned that Redflex employees sent Bills on a couple of vacations over half a decade, and by "couple" I mean seventeen. This all adds up to 23 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, bribery, and some additional charges thrown in because screw these guys. And it's not as though these stupid cameras all this corruption paid for actually, you know, worked. The Chicago Tribune's reporting indicates that something like 13,000 bogus tickets were issued to city residents via Redflex cameras, which were dropped in 2013 due in part to this scandal. But, hey, don't worry, guys. Redflex is all over this problem. "Last year we announced aggressive leadership changes, industry leading compliance policies and procedures, and a distinction between our past and present," Jody Ryan, a spokeswoman, wrote to Ars. "Redflex Traffic Systems is moving forward. Since we announced these changes we have signed, renewed, or executed over 100 contracts. Redflex has cooperated fully with the investigative authorities while maintaining the integrity of our customer programs. Our focus is on making a life-saving difference in the communities we serve across the country." Except their cameras don't do any of that and nobody is going to trust anything coming from the company or city officials about the effectiveness of the cameras, either, what with the details on how the Chicago bid was won by Redflex being revealed. It turns out that Bills actually coached Redflex on how to win the bid, rigged the voting order so that members of the evaluation committee Bills had convinced to vote for Redflex would vote first (indicating broad support to other members), and then had the company hire his buddy, O'Malley, as the Chicago account manager for Redflex. When it comes to Chicago politics, contracts, and the like, this is as Chicago as it gets. However, given that the whole red light camera thing is a money-making scheme to begin with, the whole concept reeks of corruption. Kill these things off now, please. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I'm not one who gets tied up in particular philosophies or philosophical movements, so I have to first say that until someone on Twitter pointed this story out to me, I had no idea who Stefan Molyneux was. I was vaguely aware that there were folks supportive of anarcho-capitalism, but I tend to find people who identify too much with philosophies, rather than realities, a bit tiresome. Either way, Molyneux, who writes and speaks frequently about being against "state" violence and has spoken out about how he doesn't support intellectual property law, apparently chose to make use of the DMCA to take down a bunch of videos from "TruShibes" an account that apparently has mocked Molyneux and apparently hypocritical actions/statements he's made. As I type this, this is what TruShibes' YouTube account looks like: In going through a whole bunch of commentary on this, there appears to be an awful lot of personal animosity going back and forth between certain people who don't like each other very much, so beware that when you read some of the source documents or view some of the video discussions, they assume a level of knowledge with many of the players that you may not be familiar with. For example, this video by "anarchocap" appears to be the most thorough, but is fairly confusing at the beginning if you don't know who anyone is. The key point, however, is that a guy working for Molyneux's "Free Domain Radio," named Michael DeMarco, has admitted that he issued the DMCA notices on behalf of Free Domain Radio not because of any legitimate copyright reasons, but because he claims that some of the people who had called in to Molyneux's talk show had been harassed. Apparently, there was another account, FreeDomainDamon, that was using Molyneux's videos to highlight details of his callers. However, it appears that TruShibes was not doing that, but was rather calling out activities that TruShibes found to be hypocritical by Molyneux, with a specific focus on him supposedly bullying callers. In that video above, there's also a clip of Molyneux basically saying he doesn't support intellectual property law. That video also highlights a post on Molyneux's Facebook page in which he declares "IP must die" in response to an article by Mark Cuban on reforming patents. So it's always interesting when people claim to not support intellectual property laws at all, but then abuse them for their own benefit. Furthermore, Molyneux went on to Joe Rogan's podcast and flat out admits that the DeMarco did this for reasons that had nothing to do with copyright. It's at about 50 minutes into the linked clip. Specifically, he says: Molyneux: So there was a guy... I won't say troll, because that will poison the well. There was a fellow out there. Rogan: A gentleman. Molyneux: A gentleman of trolly persuasion. I do these call in shows, and people talk about philosophy and ideas and whatever. And he had gotten some of those calls, and through means I don't pretend to understand, you know doxxing -- where you start revealing people's personal information -- he got pictures of their kids, he found out where they lived... Rogan: What?!? Molyneux: He had just done stuff where he was... Rogan: So someone called in and he got pictures of their kid? Molyneux: What can I tell you? Rogan: Why would he do that? Molyneux: Can I pretend to know why people do this, no. [....] Molyneux: So, everyone uses my stuff and I don't care about it. You can do a search on YouTube for my stuff and everybody who said 'I'd really like to reuse your stuff' I'm like 'hey, go for it.' Right? But we had a number of listeners who called in and said, 'listen, this guy is doing some pretty creepy stuff with my personal info here, I'm not comfortable with this.' So we used that mechanism to take that down. It's got nothing to do with copyright or anything like that, I just felt that listeners were being acted against in a negative way. A significantly negative way, so that's what we did. It's got nothing to do with copyright or anything like that. People use my stuff all the time. Now, Molyneux's position that the trolling/harassment was a problem is a perfectly reasonable argument to make. But YouTube has a process for dealing with harassment and cyberbullying, and it's not abusing federal copyright law to silence those videos. And, while it's unclear if FreeDomainDamon was actually bullying Molyneux's readers, from everything that people have been presenting online in various forums, it seems pretty clear that TruShibe was not doing that, but was merely critical of Molyneux. However, thanks to multiple copyright claims against TruShibe's YouTube account, the entire account has been taken down. It does seem odd for someone who claims to be an anarchist and against "state violence" to then use copyright law to take down critical videos. I can understand the desire to avoid having listeners intimidated or harassed, but abusing copyright law seems like the wrong way to go about it. Not that it seems likely this will lead to a lawsuit, but the very fact that Molyneux flat out admits that this "had nothing to do with copyright" while using copyright law to silence a critic suggests that he may have opened himself up to DMCA 512(f) claim for "materially misrepresenting" his copyright claim with regards to the videos (many of which would have a strong fair use claim as well. Either way, if you're going to go around claiming that you're against intellectual property and an "anarcho capitalist," it's going to look pretty sketchy when you use a federal law like copyright to censor someone else's speech that is critical of you.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Over a year ago, Tim Karr had an interesting and important post about openness on the internet. While much of it, quite reasonably, focuses on authoritarian governments trying to stomp out dissent online, he makes an important point towards the end about how the fact that content online is ruled by various "terms of service" from different private entities, rather than things like the First Amendment, can raise serious concerns: And the threat isn't entirely at the hands of governments. In last week's New Republic, Jeffrey Rosen reported on a cadre of twentysomething "Deciders" employed by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to determine what content is appropriate for those platforms -- and what content should get blocked. While they seem earnest in their regard for free speech, they often make decisions on issues that are way beyond their depth, affecting people in parts of the world they've never been to. And they're often just plain wrong, as Facebook demonstrated last week. They blocked a political ad from progressive group CREDO Action that criticized Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's support of the Keystone XL pipeline. This case is just one of several instances where allegedly well-intentioned social media companies cross the line that separates Internet freedom from Internet repression. And it actually goes beyond that to some extent. As well-intentioned as these companies might be, the example above shows that they'll cave on issues all the time. "Hosting your political movement on YouTube is a little like trying to hold a rally in a shopping mall. It looks like a public space, but it's not -- it's a private space," writes Ethan Zuckerman of MIT's Center for Civic Media. "And your use of it is governed by an agreement that works harder to protect YouTube's fiscal viability than to protect your rights of free speech." Zuckerman compares the social media executives to "benevolent despots" who use their corporate terms of service -- not the First Amendment -- to govern their decision making about content. In many ways, it may be even more complicated than Karr and the people he quotes describe. First off, even if you have a company that claims it will respect a right to free expression, it's not their decision alone to make. As we saw, for example, with Wikileaks, when there's strong pressure to silence a site, the downstream providers can get antsy and pull the plug. Upstream hosting firms, data centers and bandwidth providers can all be pressured or even threatened legally, and usually someone somewhere along the line will cave to such threats. In such cases, it doesn't matter how strongly the end service provider believes in free speech; if someone else along the chain can pull things down, then promises of supporting free speech are meaningless. The other issue is that most sites are pretty much legally compelled to have such terms of use, which provide them greater flexibility in deciding to stifle forms of speech they don't appreciate. In many ways, you have to respect the way the First Amendment is structured so that, even if courts have conveniently chipped away at parts of it at times (while, at other times making it much stronger), there's a clear pillar that all of this is based around. Terms of service are nothing like the Constitution, and can be both inherently wishy-washy and ever-changeable as circumstances warrant. This issue keeps coming up. A few months ago, Jillian York wrote a powerful piece about how we run a risk in treating private social media spaces as if they're public: The trouble with private companies controlling our speech is that they are subject not only to shareholders, but also to governments. Many of the most popular social media companies – most notably Twitter, which once called itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party” – profess a commitment to free expression. But in their efforts to provide access to their services to users around the world, these companies often face an unfortunate choice: to avoid being blocked by a government’s censorship apparatus, they must sometimes agree to take down content, at least in a given country. [....] In any case, when a company unnecessarily complies with censorship orders from a foreign government, it sends the message to users that profit is more important than free speech, something that all of the aforementioned companies count amongst their values. Furthermore, by making the company – and not the government issuing the orders – the “bad guy,” it becomes harder for users within a country to fight back, and less clear to users that the governments seeking censorship are the real enemy. And now this issue is coming up again in a slightly different context, with the decision of various social platforms this week to block the video of James Foley (or even linking to it). Glenn Greenwald has now chimed in on the subject as well, and makes the key point about how, even if you understand the reasons for why these companies chose to do it (and, it might not even be "valuing profit over free speech"), it creates a real challenge for free speech when someone (anyone) gets to decide what is and what is not allowed: Given the savagery of the Foley video, it’s easy in isolation to cheer for its banning on Twitter. But that’s always how censorship functions: it invariably starts with the suppression of viewpoints which are so widely hated that the emotional response they produce drowns out any consideration of the principle being endorsed. It’s tempting to support criminalization of, say, racist views as long as one focuses on one’s contempt for those views and ignores the serious dangers of vesting the state with the general power to create lists of prohibited ideas. That’s why free speech defenders such as the ACLU so often represent and defend racists and others with heinous views in free speech cases: because that’s where free speech erosions become legitimized in the first instance when endorsed or acquiesced to. The question posed by Twitter’s announcement is not whether you think it’s a good idea for people to see the Foley video. Instead, the relevant question is whether you want Twitter, Facebook and Google executives exercising vast power over what can be seen and read. Given all of this, it seems like it would be good to have some sort of even safer "public space" online. Karr, in his piece from last year, suggests that companies that want to be supporters of an open internet be much more transparent about their moderating decisions, allowing for public review: To be more accountable to users, these platforms should adopt publicly transparent processes allowing a full view of every decision to block content. And these sites should invite feedback from users as a check against abuses. I like that idea, though I can see how it would be difficult to implement in practice. But, really, an even bigger question is how do we set up a space on the internet that isn't prone to such issues. I'd hate to think that it would need to be hidden away in the "dark web" like the infamous Silk Road market, but I'm not sure how else one would create such a truly safe harbor that is impervious to outside attempts to block. York hopes that companies will "stand up" against such censorship requests, but it always seems like there's a weak link somewhere in the chain. It would be great if everyone agreed to protect the speech, but when complainants can go to ISPs asking for filters, to upstream providers, to server hosting companies, to domain registrars and more, you would need to build a top to bottom wall of organizations totally committed to free speech. I'm not sure that's possible. And that leaves us with quite a conundrum if you're looking for a true venue for free speech online. It's almost technically not truly possible.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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So we were just writing about how the White House appeared to be going with a security by obscurity tactic in denying an Associated Press FOIA request concerning the security behind Healthcare.gov. Specifically, the request was denied because the White House claimed that revealing such info might help hackers. As we noted, if revealing the basic security plan you're using will help hackers, then you're not secure and chances are you've already been hacked. Of course, perhaps the reason why the cybersecurity is so awful is because the White House's "cybersecurity coordinator," Michael Daniel, not only isn't a cybersecurity expert but thinks that's a good thing. I wish I was joking. After spending a few minutes talking about all his training at Princeton and the Kennedy School at Harvard taught him to communicate well and "break down problems" he dismisses the need for actual technical knowledge. You don't have to be a coder to really do well in this position. In fact, actually, I think being too down in the weeds at the technical level could actually be a little bit of a distraction..... You can get taken up and sort of enamored with the very detailed aspects of some of the technical solutions. And, particularly here at the White House... the real issue is to look at the broad, strategic picture and the impact that technology will have. Now there is some truth to the idea that it's important to be able to look at the bigger picture, but when you're talking about cybersecurity, part of the way that you can look at the bigger picture is to actually understand the technology. That's not "a distraction" it's part of the core and necessary knowledge to then do the job of a cybersecurity coordinator. People who don't spend much time with these things view cybersecurity and technology as a kind of "magic." But it's not. Nor is technology economics, but Daniel thinks it is: But the other issue in my mind is that at a very fundamental level, cybersecurity isn't just about the technology but it's also about the economics of cybersecurity. Why companies choose to invest the way they invest. It's about the pscyhology of cybersecurity. You know, one of my sayings is that 'expediency trumps cybersecurity every time' meaning that people will prioritize convenience over being secure many times. So you need to have the understanding of those kinds of factors: the psychology, the economics, the broad policy, the politics with a little p, in addition to the technology. So you need to be more of a generalist than having a lot of expertise particularly in the technological side. Yes, in addition to the technology. All of those things are important, but they're mostly useless if you don't understand the underlying technology. He's then asked what are the biggest challenges and... after talking about how important it is to understand the psychology and economics (more important than the technology) he admits that he doesn't actually understand the psychology and economics. Because, apparently, he wants to make sure that he has none of the job qualifications for the job. There are a few [challenges] that I can identify. One is that we don't actually truly understand the economics and psychology behind cybersecurity. We know that a huge number of intrusions rely on known fixable vulnerabilities... We know that intruders get in through those holes that we know about that we could fix. The question is, 'Why don't we do that?' That clearly leads me to the conclusion that we really don't understand all of those economics and psychology well enough. So there you have it folks. The White House's cybersecurity expert doesn't have the technological expertise, but insists it's okay because he's focused on the economics and psychology of the fact that people don't patch their computers -- and then admits he has no idea why that happens. This doesn't make me feel any safer.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've been writing up some of the new political efforts to try to put some limits on money in politics, including Larry Lessig's Mayday SuperPAC, Represent.us' satirical campaign for the "most honest politician," Gil Fulbright, and also CounterPAC, a SuperPAC that tries to get politicians to take a pledge not to accept dark money. They're all moving forward with their goals, and two new commercials have come out that are worth highlighting. First, Represent.us has teamed up with Mayday in their effort to promote Jim Rubens, the (generally considered to be a long shot) candidate for Senate in New Hampshire. They've sent "Gil Fulbright" to New Hampshire to "campaign" for Rubens' opponent (and former Massachusetts Senator) Scott Brown. The ad is well worth watching: In case you can't watch it, here's a basic transcript of the text stated by the exceptionally honest Gil Fulbright: I'm a career politician and this is an unprovoked attack on Jim Rubens. And I'm in it! You see, me and my buddy, Scott Brown (shows picture of Brown making the "call me" sign), we want to take your tax dollars and hand them out to the cronies and lobbyists who bankroll our political campaigns. But this Jim Rubens guy? He wants to stop corruption in Washington. He thinks it's his job to help the people of New Hampshire. Career politicians like me? We've got a sweet thing going on. Do not let Jim Rubens screw that up. This is a bit different from some of Mayday's earliest commercial spots which I thought were a bit weak. Frankly the first few radio ads (which, for some reason seem to have disappeared from Soundcloud where they were) sounded a little off. Lessig is a great presenter, but I'm not sure he's the best radio voice. Though, the latest TV commercial for Ruben Gallego (which also uses Lessig's voiceover) is stronger than those first few radio ads: Finally, CounterPAC has also launched its first TV ads, including this one involving a sky diver, calling on Georgia Senate candidates Michelle Nunn and David Perdue to pledge to deny dark money in their campaigns (they also have a nearly identical ad targeting Alaska Senate candidates Mark Begich and Dan Sullivan). The production value of the ad is a bit weak, and it kind of buries the point of the ad, which is unfortunate. Either way, we're seeing the first steps of these efforts to try to limit the impact of money in politics and it will be worth watching how these various campaigns work out.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Not this again. A few years ago, the US military blocked access to a bunch of news sites, including the NY Times and The Guardian, in an attempt to block military members from reading the news because some of the news included the leaked State Department cables that Wikileaks had released in conjunction with those news sites. Last year, the Defense Department blocked all access to the Guardian after it started reporting on the Ed Snowden leaks. And now, The Intercept reports, the military has also banned access to The Intercept. Of course, no one in the military will know that the public knows about this, because they're apparently not allowed to read about it. Oddly, this time around, rather than just putting in a filter to block such browsing (though that's there too), the military has distributed the ridiculous memo above, telling people to avoid visiting the website. I guess that's so they know "not" to visit the site from a personal computer or device as well. A (not surprisingly) confidential source told The Intercept just how nutty this directive is: “Even though I have a top secret security clearance, I am still forbidden to read anything on the website,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject. “I find this very disturbing that they are threatening us and telling us what websites and news publishers we are allowed to read or not.” As we've said in the past, this is just silly. And, yes, I know the rationale that defenders of this kind of ridiculous argument will make. There are rules about how classified material is handled, and if a classified document gets on a computer when it's not supposed to be there, it's a massive horrible emergency and creates a huge mess for the IT folks. But let's take a step back from that and deal with reality. As we've noted, when it comes to things like non-disclosure agreements in corporate settings, there's always a clause that says if the same information becomes public through other means (i.e., not the signing party releasing it), the information is no longer considered confidential and subject to the agreement. That is a sensible, reality-based policy. If classified documents are being reported on in the press, they're publicly available. Continuing to pretend that they're still classified is just ridiculous. It means that those in the military are suddenly less informed about issues that they often need to know about. I can't see how that makes any sense at all.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Panspermia isn't a crazy idea, especially when we seem to keep finding extremophiles that can survive in very harsh environments. The components of life may be traveling between planets or solar systems at a non-zero rate, seeding the universe with living materials. That said, life is still relatively fragile, but there may be some optimism in finding living specimens elsewhere than Earth. (First, though, we have to make sure we're not the ones contaminating our own solar system.) Here are just a few links on various organisms that might survive a trip in space -- without a space ship. The International Space Station (ISS) may have microorganisms living on the outside of the station, and evidence of sea plankton has been found on the exterior surface of the ISS. No one knows exactly how sea plankton could have gotten on the ISS, but contamination on interplanetary objects (eg. comets, asteroids, etc) could spread life farther than previously suspected. [url] Astrobiology researchers are just starting to figure out which known organisms can survive the harsh conditions of space. Spore-forming bacteria (eg. Bacillus pumilus SAFR-032) have been seen to survive in simulated space environments, and similar organisms could support lithopanspermia theories suggesting an extra-terrestrial origin of life as we know it. [url] Biologists can make very tiny space suits for insects if they really wanted to. In order to study live insects in a scanning electron microscopes (SEM), biologists can coat bugs with a polymer film that protects them from drying out in a vacuum chamber (and lets them live while they're being bombarded with charged particles). [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Every so often this sort of thing pops up where people suddenly think it's a good idea to "end anonymity" online. We've discussed this in the past, and it's always the same basic argument -- one that conflates anonymity with "bad things" that people say online. There are all sorts of problems with this, but it starts with this: anonymity also allows people to reveal all sorts of good things online as well and plenty of people say and do horrible things with their names attached. And yet... the arguments keep on coming. Here, for example, is law professor Danielle Keats Citron in the NY Times arguing that the First Amendment shouldn't protect trolls online, and the way to deal with it is to "revoke the privilege of anonymity: Intermediaries — usually the websites where trolls post comments — can step in to revoke the privilege of anonymity, or even remove abusive speech that violates their community guidelines but when trolling turns into cyberharassment or cyberstalking, the law can and should intervene. Meanwhile, a Washington Post article by Kevin Wallsten and Melinda Tarsi talks up their "research" which (the headline suggests) says we should do away with anonymous comments entirely. The reasoning? Their study showed that people liked websites less when they had anonymous comments. To shed light on whether anonymous comments actually matter for how people feel towards the media, we conducted a survey experiment in which Internet users were exposed to varying amounts of media criticism in an anonymous comments section attached to a hypothetical news story from USA Today. Specifically, our subjects were randomly assigned to a “media praise” condition (where comments used positive adjectives to describe the high quality of the outlet’s reporting), a “media criticism” condition (where comments used negative adjectives to address the low quality of the outlet’s reporting), a “mixed” condition (where half of the comments were drawn from the “media praise” condition and half were drawn from the “media criticism” treatment) or a “no comments” condition (where the comments section was left empty). We then asked our participants to rate the overall news media and USA Today on a “feeling thermometer.” Consistent with the concerns of the “no anonymity” movement, we found strong evidence that anonymous posts shape the attitudes of news audiences. Specifically, we found that Internet users became significantly more negative towards the news media and USA Today when exposed to a story with an anonymous comments section. Somewhat surprisingly, we found that this pattern of negativity held even when the anonymous comments praised the media’s reporting. Below is a graph showing the average rating of USA Today and the news media in each experimental condition: Of course, that focuses just on a comment section in which the focus is on cheering on or complaining about the reporting. What about all of the useful conversations and discussions that are enabled because of the anonymity? That gets totally ignored. As we've noted over and over again in our weekly highlighting of the most insightful and funniest comments -- as voted on by the community here -- it's quite common to see anonymous comments come out on top. And that's because many of our commenters -- both anonymous and not -- often join in on the conversation, rather than just drop two cents about whether they like or dislike the article itself (which the study above presumes). Thankfully, at least some are pushing back on this silly idea of banning anonymity. Gabriella Coleman has a great NY Times piece about the important values of anonymity and even how it enables those marginalized by society or victims of crimes to speak out where they otherwise wouldn't be able to do so: But we should also consider what we would lose were we to ban, or even discourage, the use of anonymity on the Internet. Debates about trolls routinely conflate anonymity with incivility but a broader look at online activities reveals that public good can come when users can hide their identity. For example, medical patients and mothers discuss sensitive issues (be they clinical or related to parenting) in pseudonymous forums, allowing for candid discussions of what might otherwise be stigmatizing subjects. Anonymous activists rely on the web for whistle-blowing or to speak truth to power without fear of retribution. And, in a strange twist, victims of hate crimes use anonymity to speak out as well: anonymity can empower those who seek consolation and justice to speak out against assailants enabled by the same processes. Anonymous expression has been a foundation of our political culture since its inception, underwriting monumental declarations like the Federalist Papers. At its best, it puts the attention on the message, rather than the messenger. Yes, some people abuse anonymity, but many use it wisely. And yes, some people are obnoxious online. But confusing the two things and assuming that anonymity automatically leads to obnoxious behavior is just wrong. We wouldn't be the site we are today if we didn't make it easy for anyone to comment, anonymously or not. The contributions in our community from people who choose to remain anonymous are often insightful, witty and educational. Are there some people who abuse the privilege? Sure. But focusing on the few bad players and wiping out a powerful tool because of it seems incredibly short sighted.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When antitrust stories make headlines—as the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger has—even well-intentioned analysis often confuses harm to competitors with harm to competition. Viewing antitrust law through a "competition" lens, as opposed to a "competitors" lens, is not intuitive: consumers are harmed not by being denied access to existing services, but by being denied new ones. In antitrust law there is a debate, known as Schumpeter-Arrow—based on the initial intellectual adversaries, Joseph Schumpeter and Kenneth Arrow—which concerns whether monopoly power leads to innovation. On the pro-monopoly side, Schumpeter believed that companies with market power have economies of scale and financial stability, which allow them invest more capital into R&D. By contrast, more competitive firms have to focus their energy—and money—into maintaining their competitiveness. On the other side of the debate, Arrow argued that monopolists have no incentive to innovate. Anti-monopolists breach the gospel that competition begets innovation. Consumers will gravitate towards companies that are offering new and better services. In reality, each view holds some validity, depending on the specific market at issue. In some markets, market power might have a more positive effect on innovation. For example, in certain markets—usually referring to patents—many believe that monopolies are sometimes necessary. The most commonly mentioned market of this nature is the development of new pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceutical companies claim they need the promise of a monopoly on their work if they are going to invest enormous research dollars into a new drug (whether or not this is actually true is another discussion for another day). In most other markets, however, monopoly power is likely to do more harm than good. For example, in the market for Internet services, the Schumpeterian view that companies with dominant market power will invest their profits into is both implausible and disproven. As Brendan Greeley wrote in Business Insider: The utterly consistent position from the ISPs has been this: Guarantee us a higher income stream from a more concentrated market, and we'll build out new infrastructure to reach more Americans with high-speed Internet. A decade ago, this argument had at least the benefit of being untested. A graph published by the National Communications and Telecommunications Association confirms that consolidation has not resulted in increased infrastructure expenditures. Using inflation-adjusted dollars, it is clear that infrastructure investment has actually declined: In sum, with experience as a guide, we know that monopoly power is harmful in the broadband industry. In addition to monopolization of Internet service, ISPs can also exert market influence over the content that flows over those networks. But the Arrow-Schumpeter model is limited. It simply answers the question of whether less pipe manufacturers results in better or worse pipes. It does not take into account whether there will be less or more water, or what the quality of the water will be. In the network infrastructure industry, where monopoly power means control of networks which operate the Internet, monopoly harm is amplified. In addition to residential broadband, the other crucially important network is wireless. They are not mutually exclusive. Verizon is both. And, it has been reported that Comcast "might try its hand at mobile phone service." Verizon and Comcast have been able to use not just their existing monopoly in Internet service and wireless data to obtain and to maintain monopolies in television, phone service, and other content markets. Competition would disrupt the incumbents' monopolies in all of these markets. These markets all exist on the Internet, and yet, the status quo allows Comcast and Verizon to charge separately for these markets. In other words, the Internet is, or, could be, people's television and phone service as well. There already are Internet-based video and phone service alternatives. For phone service, Skype, Google Voice, and other free alternatives already exist. For "television," there are also numerous services available. YouTube, Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime all have a vast array of content, with different pricing models and delivery methods. Despite the fact that free or low-cost services are available for video, phone calls, and texting, consumers are still forced to pay individually for cable television, data plans, and calling/texting service. The Internet, in addition to being a gigantic market on its own, hosts the market for everything else. Advertising, banking, and mail are all done online. And entire industries like social media, servers, and coding have been created as a result of the Internet. Perhaps the best example of the Internet's ability to transfer data for free is WhatsApp. Originally valued at 1.5 billion dollars, Facebook purchased the app for a total of $19 billion. In 2013, WhatsApp saved consumers $33 billion that they would have otherwise had to pay their cell phone carrier. In addition to ISPs and wireless companies, television networks and phone companies profit from the existing business model, where television, land line phone service, and cell phone service takes place without the aid of the Internet. Having people pay for each individual thing they do online, in addition to diminishing the incredible power of the Internet, also costs consumers. And harm from monopolization—in all industries, not just network infrastructure—is often underestimated. Rutgers Law Professor Michael Carrier calls this "innovation asymmetry," where existing businesses and business-models are over-valued at the expense of yet-to-be-developed technologies. Carrier notes that new, innovative technologies are often undervalued because they are less tangible, less obvious at the onset of a technology, and not advanced by an army of motivated advocates. First, they are less tangible. [Moreover, the value of new technologies is] difficult to quantify. How do we put a dollar figure on the benefits of enhanced communication and interaction? . . . Second, they are more fully developed over time. When a new technology is introduced, no one, including the inventor, knows all of the beneficial uses to which it will eventually be put. The essential problem is that monopolies prevent innovative technologies from reaching the market. The value of the technologies lost cannot be quantified. Carrier notes examples of new technologies initially being undervalued: Alexander Graham Bell thought the telephone would be used primarily to broadcast the daily news. Thomas Edison thought the phonograph would be used "to record the wishes of old men on their death beds." Railroads were originally considered to be feeders to canals. IBM envisioned only 10 to 15 orders for the computer in 1949. In the Internet context, Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia are just some examples of companies that disrupted the existing marketplace. With Internet service, we have ample evidence of what a more competitive market looks like, and what sort of service consumers could expect with a more open Internet. Many Europeans get Internet at substantially faster speeds for a fraction of the price. In the few cities that lucky enough to get Google Fiber, users get Internet at exponentially higher speeds at much lower costs. The existing business model is based on the dearth of competition in the high-speed residential broadband market, and in the market for wireless data plans. In the former, Comcast-TWC dominates; in the latter, Verizon and AT&T dominate. In both of these industries, the incumbents have a substantial infrastructure advantage over their rivals, which creates an insurmountable barrier to entry, preventing significant competitors from entering the marketplace. The incumbents further solidify their position by through frivolous litigation. As Ars Technica documented, potential new ISPs face a blizzard of lawsuits. Another area of litigation which solidifies incumbents' market power is copyright litigation. Copyright is a form of artificial monopoly, which allows the owner to exclude others. The paradigmatic example of copyright in action is professional sports. Football and baseball broadcasts are "blacked out" nationally when a game is available in a local market. Comcast profits from sports both directly, through Comcast Spectacor, and indirectly, through NBC's licensing agreements. When the sword copyright law is given to companies with market power, the result is that incumbents' market power is solidified and compounded. For example, in June, the Supreme Court essentially ruled that TV-streaming service Aereo had an illegal business model because it violated copyrights. Because copyright damages can be exorbitant, the likely result of the Aereo decision is that investment in new technology companies will be chilled. As Carrier put it, "harms from ambiguous standards used as a litigation hammer are exacerbated by statutory damages and personal liability." The result of the competitive landscape is that both wired and wireless companies can exploit their monopoly on the network to receive royalty payments from the content which the network hosts. There is a two-fold result: innovation in content markets is stifled and costs of entering the network market become insurmountable. We have ample evidence that consolidation in network infrastructure has harmed innovation, and that further consolidation will result in greater harms. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Image licensing giant Getty Images has quite a reputation for being something of a copyright maximalist and occasional copyright troll. The company has been known to blast out threat letters and lawsuits not unlike some more notorious copyright trolls. And that's true even as the company just recently lost a copyright infringement suit in which Getty helped in the infringement. A few months ago, we had told you about Getty starting a new program in which it was making many of its images free to embed, saying that it was "better to compete" that way on the internet, rather than trying to license everything. We actually just tried embedding some Getty images ourselves recently. However, it appears that this new program has not dampened the company's enthusiasm for copyright trolling. Nor has the recent lawsuit loss convinced Getty to be any more careful in how it goes about that trolling. The company may soon regret sending a troll letter to Florida-based intellectual property law firm Schneider Rothman, claiming that the company had engaged in copyright infringement by posting images to its site and demanding $380 (while threatening a lawsuit). The lawyers at Schneider Rothman know better than to make use of infringing images, so they scoured their site to figure out what the issue was. And they quickly figured out the problem -- and it appears to be with the sloppy way in which Getty sends out these demand letters: There was a problem, however. We never copied or displayed the Getty image referred to in Getty’s letter. We looked more closely at what Getty was doing and were shocked to discover what was really going on. You see, Getty is apparently using an image recognition system to generate its letters to accused infringers. Getty’s system identified a thumbnail image on our website here. Getty matched the thumbnail to an image more than six times the size on Getty’s site. We are not responsible for the thumbnail. The thumbnail is displayed on our website because we use the Zemanta plug-in for WordPress. Zemanta put it there, something that should have been obvious to Getty. But Getty did not bother to look. If it had, Getty would have seen that we are simply employing web-feed syndication, a common and generally accepted Internet publishing and search engine optimization practice. So, instead, the law firm has gone to court, filing for a declaratory judgment that it does not infringe. It's interesting to note that the lawyers didn't just include Getty as a defendant here, but Zemanta as well (seeking, at the very least, indemnification, on the off chance that Zemanta did not actually license the image). They note that Zemanta appears to have properly licensed the image, and to then try to shake down their law firm for using Zemanta's properly licensed use of the image is quite problematic. Plus, since the use is just a thumbnail and (thank you Perfect 10!) the use of thumbnails is fair use, Getty should have quite obviously known that its threat letter and demands for payment were bogus. The lawyers at Schneider Rothman don't mince words: Getty’s unfair and deceptive practice has caused actual damages to SRIPLAW by requiring SRIPLAW to expend time and money to bring an action to obtain a declaratory judgment that SRIPLAW did not infringe Getty’s copyright. Getty’s unfair and deceptive practice has damaged other individuals and businesses similarly situated to SRIPLAW who received letters from Getty that falsely claimed copyright violations and, because these other individuals and businesses lack the technical or legal knowledge and/or funds necessary to defend themselves from Getty false claims, have instead paid extortion money to Getty that Getty was not entitled to. Unless enjoined, Getty’s unfair and deceptive practice will damage other individuals and businesses who receive letters from Getty that falsely claim copyright violations and demand settlement payments to resolve such false claims. While it's fun to watch the lawsuits with the small-time copyright trolls like Prenda, it will be interesting to see what happens here, though my guess is that Getty will look to quickly settle this matter...Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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These days, in the computer security world, it's pretty well known that if you're relying on security by obscurity, you're not being secure. Somehow that message has not reached the techies working on Healthcare.gov. I guess it shouldn't be much of a surprise, given what a disaster the rollout of that site was, but everyone was claiming that the whole thing was under control these days, since real techies had been brought in to fix things. In fact, everyone was so happy with Mikey Dickerson's miraculous saving of the program that the White House set up a special US Digital Service for him to lead, allowing him to save other US government projects from near certain disaster. But when the Associated Press filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out how Healthcare.gov was handing its security it got rejected because, according to the White House, it might teach hackers how to break into the system: In denying access to the documents, including what's known as a site security plan, Medicare told the AP that disclosing them could violate health-privacy laws because it might give hackers enough information to break into the service. "We concluded that releasing this information would potentially cause an unwarranted risk to consumers' private information," CMS spokesman Aaron Albright said in a statement. Of course, that suggests that merely revealing the security steps the site has taken will reveal massive vulnerabilities -- and, as most people with even the slightest bit of technological knowledge know, if that's the case, then it's likely the site has already been compromised. If revealing the security setup for the site will leave it open to being hacked, we should probably assume the site was hacked a long, long time ago. If they're deploying security right, merely telling the world what they're doing wouldn't increase the risk. The fact that they're afraid it will suggests that the security plan is dangerously weak.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In a world where people are always pushing the idea of "intellectual property" over just about everything, is it really any surprise when people assume all sorts of property-like rights in things that clearly shouldn't have any such thing? In a slightly bizarre lawsuit over the control of a Facebook fan page for the TV series The Game, the creator of the page, Stacey Mattocks, argued that BET effectively appropriated the approximately 6.78 million "likes" the fan page got. The details of exactly how this happened aren't worth getting into, but suffice it to say it was a contract negotiation gone wrong, as BET sought to bring the fan page under its official control. All that matters here is that among the other charges in the lawsuit, Mattocks claims that BET got Facebook to transfer those likes to its official page, which she alleged is a form of unlawful conversion. However, the court has pretty soundly rejected this, noting that there's no property right in Facebook "likes" and thus no property to unlawfully "convert." Based on the record, Mattocks cannot establish that she owns a property interestin the “likes” on the FB Page. As explained in Part I.A, “liking” a Facebook Page simply means that the user is expressing his or her enjoyment or approval of the content. At any time, moreover, the user is free to revoke the “like” by clicking an “unlike” button. So if anyone can be deemed to own the “likes” on a Page, it is the individual users responsible for them.... Given the tenuous relationship between “likes” on a Facebook Page and the creator of the Page, the “likes” cannot be converted in the same manner as goodwill or other intangible business interests. Even if Mattocks could claim an ownership interest in the “likes” on the FB Page,she cannot demonstrate that BET’s migration request was unauthorized or wrongful. After Mattocks breached the Letter Agreement by limiting BET’s access to the Page, BET asked Facebook to migrate the “likes” to the other official Series Page. Facebook then reviewed the FB Page in accordance with its corporate-brand policies and determined that BET’s request was valid. More, as already explained, no substantial evidence shows that BET’s request violated any other legal duty to Mattocks. Either way, it's nice to see a legal ruling that recognizes a lack of property rights in the likes other people give to your page. It would be even nicer if we stopped trying to declare everything a form of "property" when that makes no sense at all.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've seen some unique interpretation of copyright law over the years, but generally the really big companies -- especially content-driven companies -- have semi-decent lawyers. So it's just bizarre and surprising that media giant Thomson Reuters apparently believes that it can license whatever content it wants by merely sending an email and saying that a refusal to respond will be taken as consent that it can use your content. Here's the form letter that Thomson Reuters apparently sent to the Indian site MediaNama, and which it has likely sent to others as well: from: n***********@thomsonreuters.com to: releases@medianama.com date: Wed, Aug 20, 2014 at 6:19 PM subject: Thomson Reuters – use of your website content August 20, 2014 MediaNama MixedBag Media Pvt. Ltd. 20 A Rajpur Road, Civil Lines, Delhi-110054 Dear Sir/Madam, Thomson Reuters – use of your website content Thomson Reuters is a global provider of electronic information, committed to providing our customers with comprehensive, timely and reliable information. Our services include the provision of key financial market content to the largest and most diverse group of financial market participants in the world. Our business customers, who include analysts, fund managers, corporate financiers and traders, watch news and prices on more than 300,000 screens linked to a secure private communications network spanning more than 150 countries. We are writing to seek your consent to use and redistribute certain content from your website (the “Content”), in particular, articles that pertains to companies that have received investment funding from Private Equity firms and other Private Equity related articles, within Thomson Reuters services (the “Services”). For the purpose of this letter Thomson Reuters means the Thomson Reuters Group.1 We may use automated tools in order to identify and obtain such content from your website. As such the Thomson Reuters group shall have the right to use, incorporate and distribute the Content in its Services to its subscribers and to permit such subscribers to use and redistribute the Content. We are aware that you will be receiving numerous requests of this nature and that asking you to give a response in each case would be burdensome for you. We would ask, therefore, that you respond either to the address or e-mail address given below within 14 days of the date at the head of this letter only if you wish to refuse your consent. Otherwise, Thomson Reuters will presume that your consent has been given for the purposes set out in this letter. Performance by Thomson Reuters under this letter will constitute adequate consideration for the purposes of this letter. Please do not hesitate to contact us for any further information; for questions and clarifications, you may contact Maria Nikka De Vera, Research Analyst – Private Equity at n***********@thomsonreuters.com. Yours Faithfully, Kate Brown Head of Content Acquisition – EMEA Reuters Limited 1 “Thomson Reuters Group” shall mean any company from time to time under the control of, controlling or under common control with the entity signing this letter and also includes any third party from time to time authorised by Thomson Reuters. For the avoidance of doubt, Thomson Reuters Group shall also include The Thomson Reuters Corporation and any entity from time to time, that is directly or indirectly controlling, controlled by or under common control with Thomson Reuters Corporation. An entity will be deemed to control another entity if it has the power to direct or cause the direction of the management or policies of an entity, whether through the ownership of voting securities, by contract, or otherwise. Now, some of us don't mind when our content is used in this manner -- and let others freely share it. And, there are cases where I think there's a strong fair use case to be made for things like news clippings and the like -- but India doesn't have a broad fair use structure like the US, so that wouldn't apply here. And, of course, by pushing this bizarre "licensing by failure to respond" setup, it would seem like the company is admitting that it thinks it does need to license the content in question. So here's the question: if we send Thomson Reuters a similar letter, and the company fails to respond, and then we start reposting Reuters stories on Techdirt, how quickly do you think their lawyers would nastygram us?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've been covering some of the more troubling details of police militarization across the US, and specifically what's going on in Ferguson, Missouri over the past couple of weeks. However, we knew fairly little about the actual military equipment being used there. And we know that sometimes scary looking military equipment isn't necessarily so scary when put to use. So it's interesting to read a former Marine's analysis of the military equipment being used in Ferguson, which more or less confirms that it not only looks scary but absolutely is scary. Much of the discussion is about how all those "non-lethal" "riot control" weaponry is actually quite dangerous and potentially lethal. Here are a few examples: There are scattered reports of stun grenade use in Ferguson. Also known as flashbangs or flash grenades, this weapon of choice for American SWAT teams (and Israeli soldiers) originated in the British special forces community more than four decades ago. Ostensibly less than lethal, stun grenades have been known to kill or severely injure numerous victims, and the device was recently in the news for burning a 19-month-old baby in Georgia, resulting in a coma, during one of the thousands of domestic police raids this year. They are designed to temporarily blind and deafen, thanks to a shrapnel-free casing that is only supposed to emit light and sound upon explosion. Nonetheless, the list of casualties is long, and the number of flammable mishaps is disconcerting. In Rise of the Warrior Cop, Balko recounts a story of an FBI agent accidentally lighting himself and his vehicle on fire. [....] These "pepper balls" are lethal; the Boston Police Department banned them after a young woman was killed by one. It passed right through the eye and skull to the brain. She was guilty of being present in a rowdy crowd after a Red Sox v. Yankees game in which the former won. The ACLU condemned the use of such projectiles for the purposes of crowd management back in 1997, following an unfortunate incident in Eugene, Oregon. They even convinced Eugene officials to do the same. It's about time St. Louis County and the rest of the country followed suit. [....] Like the stun grenade, employing wooden pellets as a form of riot control was spearheaded by the British decades ago, mainly in Hong Kong. As the ACLU makes clear, considerable litigation has proceeded in the aftermath of such tactics, including suits brought by protesters in Oakland who bore the brunt of these measures around the beginning of the Iraq War. Longshoremen on their way to work also suffered and sued accordingly. As a result, the Oakland police department caved and beating residents with wooden projectiles as a means of crowd management was rendered illegal. There's a lot more in the article as well. But here's the bit that really stood out for me. After posting a picture of militarized police moving down the street looking pretty scary, the former marine, Lyle Jeremy Rubin, explains how they're more well armed than the actual military in Afghanistan: What we're seeing here is a gaggle of cops wearing more elite killing gear than your average squad leader leading a foot patrol through the most hostile sands or hills of Afghanistan. They are equipped with Kevlar helmets, assault-friendly gas masks, combat gloves and knee pads (all four of them), woodland Marine Pattern utility trousers, tactical body armor vests, about 120 to 180 rounds for each shooter, semiautomatic pistols attached to their thighs, disposable handcuff restraints hanging from their vests, close-quarter-battle receivers for their M4 carbine rifles and Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights. In other words, they're itching for a fight. A big one. It's a well-known horror that the US military greets foreign peoples in this fashion as our politicians preach freedom, democracy and peace. It's an abomination that the police greet black communities in the States with the same trigger-happy posture. Especially on the occasion of an unarmed teen's death by cop. He also discusses the general rule that people repeat in our comments all the time: "never point a weapon at anything you do not intend to shoot." And yet, of course, in pretty much every picture of the police here, we see them pointing weapons. And sometimes worse. Here's some video of a police officer in Ferguson not just pointing a weapon at some people livestreaming the protests, but telling the livestreamers that "I will fucking kill you." When the streamers ask him for his name, he says "Go fuck yourself." And, again, remember that this is not in response to any terrorist threat, but to some protests after a fellow police officer killed an unarmed teenager. While that particular officer has since been suspended, it seems worth questioning this particular approach to policing. Actually, isn't it about time we rethought the entire way that this country handles policing?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As Mike recently mentioned, there is a heated debate throughout the internet and the country over whether or not social media and content sharing sites like Facebook and YouTube should be actively taking down videos of American journalist James Foley being beheaded by ISIS/ISIL. The issue, which I've chosen to write about here before, is even more important and serious than perhaps it appears on the face for most people. Mathew Ingram's post dealt with many good aspects of the debate, some of which we'll discuss, but I think he leaves out a large part of the equation. More on that in a moment. Let's start this off by reiterating that this is a subject that needs to be dealt with openly, honestly, and with the kind of seriousness the loss of a journalist to a group like ISIS/ISIL deserves. It is, in that context, incredibly easy to understand why family members of Foley, or his friends, might request the images and video of his death by beheading be removed. It’s easy to understand why the victim’s family and friends wouldn’t want the video or screenshots circulating, just as the family of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl — who was beheaded on video by Al-Qaeda in 2002 — or businessman Nick Berg didn’t want their sons’ deaths broadcast across the internet. And it’s not surprising that many of those who knew Foley, including a number of journalists, would implore others not to share those images, especially since doing so could be seen as promoting (even involuntarily) the interests of ISIS. No doubt. The actions taken in that video were as barbaric as can be imagined, glorifying the murder of a non-combatant strictly for being a kafir. An infidel. A non-believer. It takes a stone-heart to watch the video and not wince, cringe, cry. For those close to Foley, it must be agonizing. It's also necessary. After Ronan Farrow compared ISIS content to the radio broadcasts in Rwanda that many believe helped fuel a genocide in that country in the 1990s, sociologist Zeynep Tufekci argued that in some cases social platforms probably should remove violent content, because of the risk that distributing it will help fuel similar behavior. But others, including First Look Media’s Glenn Greenwald, said leaving those decisions up to corporations like Twitter or YouTube is the last thing that a free society should want to promote. And Greenwald is right, in part because the entire concept of a platform like Twitter lends itself poorly to being policed by overseers, but also because we don't need hosts of user-generated content scrubbing the decks for us. Some will say that such despicable acts have no place on Twitter, but ISIS/ISIL has been posting videos to Twitter of beheadings of non-Americans for months without much outcry. Others might suggest that Twitter should actively police their users and disallow extremist groups from the platform entirely, but who gets to decide which group is too extremist to be heard from? And still others will claim that allowing the video to be seen gives ISIS/ISIL exactly what they want and moves their message into the public's eye when it might otherwise be hidden. I say that's a good thing. “I say to America that the Islamic Caliphate has been established,” Abu Mosa, a spokesman for the terror group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), told VICE Media in a video interview posted online Thursday. “Don’t be cowards and attack us with drones. Instead send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq. We will humiliate them everywhere, God willing, and we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House,” he added. Abu Mosa was featured in Vice Media's outstanding reporting from inside ISIS/ISIL. But the claim that they will raise their flag over the White House is only one half of the threat; the video of James Foley is how they intend to behave once they've done so. Now, will ISIS/ISIL ever actually achieve this? Likely not, of course, but that isn't the point. Whatever your opinions on the Middle East, on the War on Terror, on the Iraq War, whatever your politics, one must acknowledge that if America truly has any enemies in this world, and we do, then ISIS/ISIL must be counted amongst the most grave of those threats. Think back to the year 2000 and ask yourself how much the average citizen knew about Al Qaeda. The answer should be "very little." So, when the attacks came, the most horrific the American public had ever seen, they came out of seemingly nowhere. Sure, people may have known the name "Osama bin-Laden", but they didn't know what his group was about in detailed form. They didn't know the history. They may not have been able to pick out Afghanistan on a globe. If we're to avoid that history repeating itself, the American public should at least be granted the option of viewing material that highlights exactly who the enemy of secular freedom is and what they are about. Both are on display in the video of ISIS/ISIL beheading James Foley. If the actions of the barbarians in this world are of importance, and they are, then hiding them from the cowering masses does nothing to serve those masses. Does ISIS/ISIL want their video to be seen? Of course, because they think their actions will frighten us into inaction and retreat. It's important that the public not be denied the opportunity to disabuse them of that foolish notion. There is a battleground here and that reality must be dealt with on reality's terms. Burying our heads in the sand must not be an option. James Foley went to the battleground in an attempt to give us a glimpse of the reality that is occurring there. It dishonors him to erect an opaque sheen of censorship before the price he paid. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The European Court of Justice's awful "right to be forgotten" ruling is continuing to memory hole perfectly factual stories -- but publications like the BBC are bringing them back to light. Google has informed the BBC of 12 more stories that it is removing from its index thanks to requests from individuals who'd prefer that their history no longer be accessible to the public. While Google does not reveal who is making the request, it's often not too difficult to figure it out -- even though Google is now warning the BBC that sometimes the requester's name may only be in the comments. Two stories relate to the high-profile case of a British woman found guilty of running "one of Europe's biggest prostitution rings" in 2003. Other stories taken down covered a wide range of incidents. Google removed a 2002 story concerning a dispute between two Somerset families over the ownership of a wire-haired terrier called Wellie. Another removed story concerns a car thief branded an "idiot" by his own barrister, while yet another features an 18-year-old Bristol student convicted of drink-driving after crashing his Mini into the steps of his university campus. Some of the other listed, but memory-holed articles: A man cleared of a stabbing in London in 2010 The jailing of a former Daily Mail employee who threatened to hack the newspaper in 2000 A 2009 diary entry from the BBC's then-Jerusalem correspondent Tim Franks on the merits of hummus A 2005 page of appeals from those looking for family members missing after the Asia tsunami A selection of readers' comments on the terror threat posed by al-Qaeda in 2005 I'm still trying to figure out what good this effort accomplishes. Deleting factual things makes no sense. Allowing people to go back and erase perhaps embarrassing things from their past may have a visceral appeal, but it's just silly. People do embarrassing things that they later regret. It's a part of life. Part of maturing is being able to admit that you did silly things in the past and that you learned from them. Trying to disappear them down the memory hole seems to highlight how an immature person remained immature.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has long been the leading advocate in condemning the prominence of "he said/she said" journalism in the mainstream media. This kind of journalism is driven by a complete distortion of what it means to be an "objective" journalist. Bad journalists seem to think that if someone is making a claim, you present that claim, then you present an opposing claim, and you're done. They think this is objective because they're not "picking sides." But what if one side is batshit crazy and the other is actually making legitimate claims? Shouldn't the job of true journalists be to ferret out the truth and reveal the crazy arguments as crazy? Rosen's latest calls out the NY Times for falling into the bogus "he said/she said" trap yet again. This time it's on an article about plagiarism and copyright infringement charges being leveled from one biographer of Ronald Reagan against another. We wrote about this story as well, and we looked at the arguments of both sides, and then noted that author Craig Shirley's arguments made no sense at all, as he was trying to claim ownership of facts (something you can't do). Furthermore, his claims of plagiarism were undermined by the very fact that he admitted that competing biographer Rick Perlstein's quotes were different. Shirley claimed that "difference" in the quotes showed that Perlstein was trying to cover up the plagiarism, but... that makes no sense. Of course, when the NY Times reported on this, it did the "he said/she said" thing, providing no enlightenment whatsoever to the public who was reading it about whose argument actually was legit, and whose was ridiculous. Reporter Alexandra Alter played the false equivalence card: Mr. Perlstein, 44, suggested that the attack on his book is partly motivated by conservatives’ discomfort with his portrayal of Reagan. Mr. Shirley is president and chief executive of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, which represents conservative clients like Citizens United and Ann Coulter. But Mr. Shirley and his lawyer contend that Mr. Perlstein paraphrased original research without properly giving credit. “The rephrasing of words without proper attribution is still plagiarism,” Mr. Shirley said in an interview. As Rosen notes, this is the "easy" way out for a journalist. Actually figuring out who's right takes work, and hell, you might be wrong. So why take the risk: You’re safer because you could be wrong if you choose, so why choose? You’re safer because even if you’re not wrong you can be accused of bias, and who needs that? You’re safer because people will always argue about [fill in some bitterly contested narrative here] and you don’t want to be a contestant in that. In the middle is safe. Neither/nor is safe. Not having a view of the matter is safe… Right? But, as Rosen notes, thanks to the internet these days, newspapers are increasingly having trouble with this kind of lazy "safe" journalism. Because the public will call them out when they avoid reporting the truth, favoring a false narrative instead. In this case, the NYT's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, (whose job it is to examine whether or not the NY Times is best serving the public) called the paper out for this weak effort in response to complaints from the public. She directly notes the problem of this he said/she said journalism: By taking it seriously, The Times conferred a legitimacy on the accusation it would not otherwise have had. And while it is true that Mr. Perlstein and his publisher were given plenty of opportunity to respond, that doesn’t help much. It’s as if The Times is saying: “Here’s an accusation; here’s a denial; and, heck, we don’t really know. We’re staying out of it.” Readers frequently complain to me about this he said, she said false equivalency — and for good reason. So I’m with the critics. The Times article amplified a damaging accusation of plagiarism without establishing its validity and doing so in a way that is transparent to the reader. The standard has to be higher. As Rosen further points out in his blog post, the ability of the public to weigh in may be changing the equation here. The "easy" and "lazy" response of just doing he said/she said journalism won't cut it because you'll get called out on it. Journalism should be about reporting what's true, not just what people say is true. The continued use of he said/she said is actually "reckless behavior that may easily blow up in its face." Rosen even points out that the BBC is now specifically retraining its reporters to stop inserting "false balance" into stories where there's an underlying truth and an attempt to distort it. It seems amazing that this even needs to be repeated, but it's been that way for so long in many publications. Hopefully, the ability of the public to call it out will make more lazy journalists and editors recognize what used to be the "safe" move is no longer so safe.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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In the US, over half of the mobile phones people are using are smartphones, so it's not surprising that there's a nascent market for smart devices trying to take advantage of this existing user base. Wearables like smartwatches and smartglasses are nifty gadgets, but there could be other smart-things that might be hanging around necks or strapped to our arms in the near future. One feature for all of these smart accessories could be personal protection -- allowing the wearer to signal to friends/family/police in an emergency situation. Here are just a few examples (that are available for pre-order or need some crowdfunding love). A portable panic button that connects to your smartphone could be psychologically calming. This particular button lets your friends track your location while you're going down a scary dark alley. (But maybe try to avoid going to dangerous places in the first place, okay?) [url] Smarter jewelry could be a more fashionable take on wearables -- and they can also track your location 24/7. At least it looks nice, but how many more gadgets in your life do you want to charge on a regular basis? [url] If you really want to feel safe, how about a can of pepper spray that also connects to your smartphone? This smartphone accessory also takes a picture of your attacker right before you spray him in the face.... [url] If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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