posted about 4 hours ago on techdirt
So far, we've featured ~THE GREAT GATSBY~ and The Great Gatsby Tabletop Roleplaying Game in this series of posts about the winners of our public domain game jam, Gaming Like It's 1925. Today, we move on the pair of games that were tied as winners in the Best Remix category: Art Apart by Ryan Sullivan and There Are No Eyes Here by jukel. Both games were obvious contenders for the category, and ultimately it proved too difficult to choose one over the other, because they are so intriguingly similar yet completely different. Both could be described as "art puzzles", and both remix multiple public domain works, but neither clearly rises above the other. Art Apart is the more straightforward of the two: it's just a plain old jigsaw puzzle game using a series of paintings from 1925 and a fairly unpolished interface. But while this meant our judges didn't expect much from it at first glance, it proved to be a very pleasant surprise: carefully made, easy to use, employing a great selection of paintings complemented by public domain background music, all put together with an elegance that drew people in and had them solving entire puzzles when all they intended to do was poke around for a few minutes. In the process, they got to spend some time closely examining and appreciating five paintings that entered the public domain this year. There Are No Eyes Here is the more abstract of the two games, which is fitting since it focuses on a single artist: Wassily Kandinsky, the pioneer of abstract art. Kandinsky's works made an appearance in one of last year's winners, which explored a series of paintings he created in 1924, and this game picks up the following year with five Kandinsky paintings from 1925. While Art Apart is a traditional jigsaw puzzle, There Are No Eyes Here is about custom-made manipulations of its subject works: the player finds the elements of each painting that can be clicked to trigger animations in which Kandinsky's abstract shapes and forms begin shifting around, eventually unlocking the next painting in the series. Our judges noted that, to the artistically-inexperienced, the game was a perfect invitation to study this seminal artist's work with a level of attention to detail they might otherwise never have given it. So there you have it: two games, both remixing multiple paintings and turning them into puzzles, both doing it completely different ways. One more traditional, one more abstract, both successful at making the player take time to admire and enjoy some of the 1925 work that now belongs to us all — and both well deserving of the Best Remix award. Play Art Apart and There Are No Eyes Here in your browser on Itch, and check out the other jam entries too. Congratulations to both designers for the win! We'll be back next week with another game jam winner spotlight.

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posted about 21 hours ago on techdirt
I've been somewhat amazed at the response to Facebook's decision in Australia to first block news links, in response to a dangerous new law, and then to cave in and cut deals with news organizations to pay for links. Most amazing to me is that otherwise reasonable people in Australia got very angry at me, insisting that I was misrepresenting the tax. They keep insisting it's not a tax, and that it's a "competition" response to "unfair bargaining power." Except, as I've discussed previously, there's nothing to bargain over when you should never have to pay for links. The links are free. There's no bargaining imbalance, because there's nothing to bargain over. And, it's clearly a tax if the only end result is that Google and Facebook have to fork over money because the government tells them to. That's... a tax. Anyway, that's why I'm happy to see The Juice Media, an Australian outfit that is famous for making hilarious "Honest Government Ads", usually for the Australian government (but sometimes for elsewhere) has put out a new "ad" about the link tax in which they explain how it was a fight to take money from one set of giant rich companies, and give it to another set of giant rich companies, and not to do anything useful in between: It's worth watching. It also highlights some of the other awful aspects of the "code" which will give news organizations more access to data, as well as advance notice of algorithmic changes that no one else gets -- allowing them to better hijack attention away from anyone else. The whole deal is dangerous and corrupt, and no one should be supporting it.

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
Summary: With the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the large social media companies very quickly put in place policies to try to handle the flood of disinformation about the disease, responses, and treatments. How successful those new policies have been is subject to debate, but in at least one case, the effort to fact check and moderate COVID information ran into a conflict with people reporting on violent protests (totally unrelated to COVID) in Nigeria. In Nigeria, there’s a notorious division called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad, known as SARS in the country. For years there have been widespread reports of corruption and violence in the police unit, including stories of how it often robs people itself (despite its name). There have been reports about SARS activities for many years, but in the Fall of 2020 things came to a head as a video was released of SARS officers dragging two men out of a hotel in Lago and shooting one of them in the street. Protests erupted around Lagos in response to the video, and as the government and police sought to crack down on the protests, violence began, including reports of the police killing multiple protesters. The Nigerian government and military denied this, calling it “fake news.” Around this time, users on both Instagram and Facebook found that some of their own posts detailing the violence brought by law enforcement on the protesters were being labeled as “False Information” by Facebook’s fact checking system. In particular an image of the Nigerian flag, covered in blood of shot protesters, which had become a symbolic representation of the violence at the protests, was flagged as “false information” multiple times. Given the government’s own claims of violence against protesters being “fake news” many quickly assumed that the Nigerian government had convinced Facebook fact checkers that the reports of violence at the protests were, themselves, false information. However, the actual story turned out to be that Facebook’s policies to combat COVID-19 misinformation were the actual problem. At issue: the name of the police division, SARS, is the same as the more technical name of COVID-19: SARS-CoV-2 (itself short for: “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2”). Many of the posts from protesters and their supporters in Lagos used the tag #EndSARS, talking about the police division, not the disease. And it appeared that the conflict between those two things, combined with some automated flagging, resulted in the Nigerian protest posts being mislabeled by Facebook’s fact checking system. Decisions to be made by Facebook: How should the company review content that includes specific geographical, regional, or country specific knowledge, especially when it might (accidentally) clash with other regional or global issues?In dealing with an issue like COVID misinformation, where there’s an urgency in flagging posts, how should Facebook handle the possibility of over-blocking of unrelated information as happened here?What measures can be put in place to prevent mistakes like this from happening again? Questions and policy implications to consider: While large companies like Facebook now go beyond simplistic keyword matching for content moderation, automated systems are always going to make mistakes like this. How can policies be developed to limit the collateral damage and false marking of unrelated information?If regulations require removal of misinformation or disinformation, what would likely happen in scenarios like this case study?Is there any way to create regulations or policies that would avoid the mistakes described above? Resolution: After the incorrectly labeled content began to get attention both Instagram and Facebook apologized and took down the “false information” flag on the content. Yesterday our systems were incorrectly flagging content in support of #EndSARS, and marking posts as false. We are deeply sorry for this. The issue has now been resolved, and we apologize for letting our community down in such a time of need. Facebook’s head of communications for sub-Saharan Africa, Kezia Anim-Addo, gave Tomiwa Ilori, writing for Slate, some more details on the combination of errors that resulted in this unfortunate situation: In our efforts to address misinformation, once a post is marked false by a third party face checker, we can use technology to “fan out” and find duplicates of that post so if someone sees an exact match of the debunked post, there will also be a warning label on it that it’s been marked as false. In this situation, there was a post with a doctored image about the SARS virus that was debunked by a Third-Party Fact Checking partner The original false image was matched as debunked, and then our systems began fanning out to auto-match to other images A technical system error occurred where the doctored images was connected to another different image, which then also incorrectly started to be matched as debunked. This created a chain of fan outs pulling in more images and continuing to match them as debunked. This is why the system error accidentally matched some of the #EndSARS posts as misinformation. Thus, it seems like a combination of factors was at work here, including a technical error and the similarities in the “SARS” name. Originally posted to the Trust & Safety Foundation website.

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
As you'll recall, last summer there was a whole performative nonsense thing with then President Trump declaring TikTok to be a national security threat (just shortly after some kids on TikTok made him look silly by reserving a million tickets to a Trump rally they never intended to attend). Trump and his cronies insisted that TikTok owner ByteDance had to sell the US operations of TikTok to an American firm. The whole rationale about this was the claim -- unsupported by any direct evidence -- that TikTok was a privacy risk, because it was owned by a firm based in Beijing, and that firm likely had connections to the Chinese government (as do basically all large Chinese firms). But how was that privacy risk any worse than pretty much any other company? No one ever seemed to be able to say. Eventually, after Trump blocked both Microsoft and Walmart from doing the deal, he "approved" a non-sale, but "hosting" deal with Oracle, whose founder/chair, Larry Ellison, and CEO, Safra Catz, were both big Trump supporters. It quickly came out that TikTok's investors deliberately went hunting for a company that they knew Trump liked, and that's why they asked Oracle. But, part of the announcement of the "deal" was that Oracle would make sure that US TikTok users had their data protected, and that Oracle would keep that data outside the hands of the Chinese government. That seemed somewhat rich, considering that Oracle's initial rise to being a tech giant was built almost entirely on its close connections to the US government, and specifically the intelligence agencies. But it's become even more rich now that the Intercept reports that Oracle actually has a lucrative business helping repressive law enforcement in China do surveillance work. The long story is absolutely full of totally shocking -- but somehow not surprising -- details. It starts off by noting that Oracle hosted a presentation on its own website, literally describing how it helped police in Liaoning province better sort through all of the surveillance data they collected: Police in China's Liaoning province were sitting on mounds of data collected through invasive means: financial records, travel information, vehicle registrations, social media, and surveillance camera footage. To make sense of it all, they needed sophisticated analytic software. Enter American business computing giant Oracle, whose products could find relevant data in the police department’s disparate feeds and merge it with information from ongoing investigations. So explained a China-based Oracle engineer at a developer conference at the company’s California headquarters in 2018. Slides from the presentation, hosted on Oracle’s website, begin with a “case outline” listing four Oracle “product[s] used” by Liaoning police to “do criminal analysis and prediction.” One slide shows Oracle software enabling Liaoning police to create network graphs based on hotel registrations and track down anyone who might be linked to a given suspect. Another shows the software being used to build a police dashboard and create “security case heat map[s].” Apparent pictures of the software interface show a blurred face and various Chinese names. The concluding slide states that the software helped police, whose datasets had been “incomprehensible,” more easily “trace the key people/objects/events” and “identify potential suspect[s]” — which in China often means dissidents. And, yes, if you're wondering, apparently Oracle is helping police in Xingjiang, where there has been ongoing genocide happening against Uyghur Muslims. In marketing materials, Oracle said that its software could help police leverage information from online comments, investigation records, hotel registrations, license plate information, DNA databases, and images for facial recognition. Oracle presentations even suggested that police could use its products to combine social media activity with dedicated Chinese government databases tracking drug users and people in the entertainment industry, a group that includes sex workers. Oracle employees also promoted company technology for China’s “Police Cloud,” a big data platform implemented as part of the emerging surveillance state. Several Oracle materials imply that the company has gone substantially further than marketing to Chinese police, which operate as part of the country’s Ministry of Public Security: One presentation detailing Oracle’s database and data security products contains a slide titled “Oracle and the national defense industry.” That title is followed by a list of multiple Chinese military entities, including the People’s Liberation Army, China National Nuclear Corporation, and China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation. Defense entities are also the apparent target for two additional Oracle Chinese-language presentations, the most recent of which is dated 2015, and for events called the “People’s Armed Police Force–Oracle Cloud Computing Exchange Forum” and the “Oracle Xi’an Aviation and National Defense Industry Informatization Seminar” listed in Chinese on Oracle’s site. Yikes. So the whole blasted pitch about taking control over TikTok was about keeping the data away from the Chinese, while at the very same time, the same company is helping Chinese law enforcement scan through tons of surveillance data to better suppress its people? If you're wondering how Oracle responded to the report, it had a spokesperson claim that the examples in these documents were "theoretical" pitch decks to show how the technology could be used, not how they were being used. But as the article notes, that appears to not be true, and the presentation makes it clear that it's talking about an actual case study, and even points out that the police supplied their own data, which they then analyzed with Oracle's technology. The article is quite long, but turns up a shocking number of smoking guns: Some of the Chinese-language presentations on Oracle’s site are labeled “CONFIDENTIAL,” despite being publicly available. It is easy to see why someone might have wanted to keep them hidden. Taken together, they show an extreme willingness to aid in the construction of the surveillance state. One Chinese-language presentation, for example, promotes “Oracle’s recommendation: a more complete platform to meet the needs of public security big data processing.” [....] Another pitch depicts a broad array of sensitive citizen data being converted into ones and zeros, including DNA, mental illness records, and other medical information. Still other documents from China boast that Oracle technology can help police trawl internet activity to “analyze potential suspected criminal behavior among hundreds of millions of netizens,” capture license plate data from “tens of thousands of cameras,” and analyze call records to build out criminal networks, then link them to fingerprint and facial recognition images. Of course, it's not clear if the Oracle TikTok deal will ever happen. It seems that no one was much interested in it beyond the headlines, and the Biden administration doesn't seem keen on enforcing the executive order that created the need for Oracle to step in. And, honestly, after reading this report, perhaps that's much better for the privacy of Americans using TikTok.

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
New rules for social media companies and other hosts of third-party content have just gone into effect in India. The proposed changes to India's 2018 Intermediary Guidelines are now live, allowing the government to insert itself into content moderation efforts and make demands of tech companies some simply won't be able to comply with. Now, under the threat of fines and jail time, platforms like Twitter (itself a recent combatant of the Indian government over its attempts to silence people protesting yet another bad law) can be held directly responsible for any "illegal" content it hosts, even as the government attempts to pay lip service to honoring long-standing intermediary protections that immunized them from the actions of their users. Here's a really bland and misleading summary of the new requirements from the Economic Times, India's most popular business newspaper: The guidelines propose additional responsibilities on social media companies. These include verifying users through mobile numbers, tracing origin of messages required by a court order and building automated tools to identify child pornography and terror-related content. All these requirements come under the ambit of under due diligence. This sounds like pretty reasonable stuff. But it isn't because it goes much farther than what's summarized here and turns a whole lot of online discourse into potentially illegal content. (a) belongs to another person and to which the user does not have any right to; (b) is grossly harmful, harassing, blasphemous, defamatory, obscene, pornographic, paedophilic, libellous, invasive of another's privacy, hateful, or racially, ethnically objectionable, disparaging, relating or encouraging money laundering or gambling, or otherwise unlawful in any manner whatever; (c) harm minors in any way; (d) infringes any patent, trademark, copyright or other proprietary rights; (e) violates any law for the time being in force; (f) deceives or misleads the addressee about the origin of such messages or communicates any information which is grossly offensive or menacing in nature; (g) impersonates another person; (h) contains software viruses or any other computer code, files or programs designed to interrupt, destroy or limit the functionality of any computer resource; (i) threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states, or public order, or causes incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence or prevents investigation of any offence or is insulting any other nation. (j) threatens public health or safety; promotion of cigarettes or any other tobacco products or consumption of intoxicant including alcohol and Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS) & like products that enable nicotine delivery except for the purpose & in the manner and to the extent, as may be approved under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940 and Rules made thereunder; (k) threatens critical information infrastructure. The new mandates demand platforms operating in India proactively scan all uploaded content to ensure it complies with India's laws. The Intermediary shall deploy technology based automated tools or appropriate mechanisms, with appropriate controls, for proactively identifying and removing or disabling public access to unlawful information or content. This obligation is not only impossible to comply with (and is prohibitively expensive for smaller platforms and sites/online forums that don't have access to AI tools), it opens up platforms to prosecution simply for being unable to do the impossible. And complying with this directive to implement this demand undercuts the Safe Harbour protections granted to intermediaries by the Indian government. If you're moderating all content prior to it going "live," it's no longer possible to claim you're not acting as an editor or curator. The Indian government grants Safe Harbour to "passive" conduits of information. The new law pretty much abolishes those because complying with the law turns intermediaries from "passive" to "active." Broader and broader it gets, with the Indian government rewriting its "national security only" demands to cover "investigation or detection or prosecution or prevention of offence(s)." In other words, the Indian government can force platforms and services to provide information and assistance within 72 hours of notification to almost any government agency for almost any reason. This assistance includes "tracing the origin" of illegal content -- something that may be impossible to comply with since some platforms don't collect enough personal information to make identification possible. Any information dug up by intermediaries in support of government action must be retained for 180 days whether or not the government makes use of it. More burdens: any intermediary with more than 5 million users must establish permanent residence in India and provide on-call service 24/7. Takedown compliance has been accelerated from 36 hours of notification to 24 hours. Very few companies will be able to comply with most of these directives. No company will be able to comply with them completely. And with the government insisting on adding more "eye of the beholder" content to the illegal list, the law encourages pre-censorship of any questionable content and invites regulators and other government agencies to get into the moderation business.

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
If ever there were a stupid, unconstitutional notion that appears to be evergreen, it must certainly be attempts at outright banning games from the Grand Theft Auto series. While a certain segment of public officials have long sought to blame video games generally for all the world's ills, the GTA series has been something of a lightning rod for attempted censorship. Honestly, it's not totally impossible to understand why. The game is a violent, humorous parody of modern American life and pop culture, taken to such extremes so as to artistically point out the flaws in our society. You know... art. Art which is protected by the First Amendment and thus protected by attempts at government censorship. Which doesn't keep public officials from trying to ban it anyway. The most recent example of this is one Illinois lawmaker suggesting the entire state ban sales of the game because of an uptick in car-jackings in Chicago. An Illinois lawmaker has a new response to the recent surge in carjackings around the Chicago area -- banning a popular video game. State Rep. Marcus Evans said during a press conference Monday morning in south suburban Olympia Fields that video games are contributing to the carjacking surge across the area.  Evans said he plans to introduce a bill to ban sales of the game in Illinois. "'Grand Theft Auto' and other violent video games are getting in the minds of our young people and perpetuating the normalcy of carjacking," Evans said. "Carjacking is not normal and carjacking must stop." Unfortunately, artistic takes that reflect our society are normal and, in fact, celebrated. And while an uptick in crime is certainly a cause for worry, it's also worth noting that the last GTA game came out in 2013. Why the series is now a suddenly responsible for an increase in car-jackings goes unexplained by Evans, but seems to represent a massive flaw in his logic. Evans is getting much of this from a local anti-violence activist, Early Walker. Walker agreed with Evans' conclusion about the game, in which players steal cars as part of a larger plot of organized crime. "Representative Evans and I have researched and concluded that these very young offenders of carjacking are greatly influenced by the Grand Theft Auto video game," Walker said. "I truly believe that there is bipartisan support in Springfield to ban this game from being sold in Illinois." Fortunately, it could have the support from literally every citizen in the state of Illinois and it still wouldn't matter. Banning the game would be plainly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court codified video games as protected speech protected from government bans in 2011. A fact, actually, that Illinois lawmakers should damned well be aware of. So, this is either grandstanding to accomplish nothing, or it's an admission that Illinois has elected incompetent buffoons to its state government. Neither conclusion is particularly encouraging.

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
I've said over and over and over again that content moderation at scale is impossible to do well, and one of the biggest reasons for this is that it's difficult to understand context. Indeed, I've heard that some content moderation policies explicitly suggest that moderators don't try to take context into account. This is not because companies don't think it's important, but the recognition that understanding the context behind every bit of content, would make the process so slow as to be absolutely useless. Yes, it would be great if every content moderator had the time and resources to understand the context of every tweet or Facebook post, but the reality is that we'd then need to employ basically every human being alive to be researching context. Low level content moderators tend to only have a few seconds to make decisions on content, or the entire process slows to a crawl, and then the media will slam those companies for leaving "dangerous" content up too long. So tradeoffs are made, and often that means that understanding context is a casualty of the process. And, of course, that leads to some ridiculous (and hilarious) results. Here are three recent ones that came across my radar. First, someone marketing a tabletop roleplaying game discovered that when they tried to purchase ads on Facebook and Instagram marketing their TTRPG, they had their entire account shut down because they used the word "supplement." Pro Tip for #TTRPG marketing: if you wanna do a Facebook or Instagram promotion DO NOT put the word "supplement" anywhere in the ad description or their filters will give you constant headaches by blocking and disabling your business account.No, you can not DRINK the RPG... — 𝙳𝚆 𝙳𝚊𝚐𝚘𝚗 is doing a ZineQuest (@DW_Dagon) February 23, 2021 The confusion here is not hard to figure out. First off, lots of roleplaying games have "supplements," or variations/adjustments/add-ons. However... "supplements" also refer to dietary supplements, a market filled with often highly questionable things that people put into their bodies with promises of... well... all sorts of things. And, making matters even worse (as I just discovered!) there's actually a dietary supplement called "RPG" so the Google searches are, well... complex. And, to make matters even more complex, you may recall that a decade ago, the Justice Department got Google to hand over $500 million for displaying ads for non-approved drugs and supplements. So, I'm sure that both Facebook and Google are extra sensitive to any advertisement that might contain sketchy drugs and supplements -- and thus the rules are designed to be overly aggressive. To them, it's worst case, you shut down an account advertising a role playing game... which is better than having the DOJ show up and confiscate $500 million. That's not to say this is a good result -- but to explain what likely happened on the back end. Next up, we have Kate Bevan, who wrote about another content moderation fail on Facebook: Well done, Facebook. Someone commenting "beautiful puss" on a picture of a cat in a cat group is not "violating community standards", you absolute thundering planks 🙄🙄 — Kate Yes, I've seen the viral cat thing Bevan (@katebevan) February 23, 2021 Again, the context here seems fairly obvious. Commenting about a picture of a cat and saying "beautiful puss" is... um... referring to a cat. Not anything else. But, again, in these days when companies are getting sued for all kinds of "bad" things online, you can see why a content moderator having to make a decision in seconds might get this one wrong. Finally, we've got one that hits a little closer to home. Many of you may be familiar with one of our prolific commenters, That Anonymous Coward (or TAC, for short) who also is a prolific Twitter user. Or was until about a week ago when his account got suspended. Why did his account get suspended? Because of a reply he made to me! Chris Messina had tweeted following the news that Facebook had blocked news links in Australia, by noting that angry Australians were giving bad reviews of Facebook's app in the Australian Apple iOS App Store. And I tweeted, wondering if anyone actually looks at the reviews for apps like Facebook: Does anyone actually sign up (or not sign up) for Facebook... based on the appstore reviews?!? https://t.co/IuikumdWeR — Mike Masnick (@mmasnick) February 20, 2021 If you look below that tweet there are a few replies, including this: What kind of reply could have possibly violated the rules? Well, here is the offending tweet from TAC: Reading that in context, it's not at all difficult to see that TAC is mocking people who believe all of those nonsense conspiracy theories. But, right now, Twitter is extra sensitive to conspiracy theories on the site, in part because reporters are highlighting each and every "Q" believer who is allowed to spout nonsense as if it's a moral failing on the part of the companies themselves. So it's perhaps not surprising, even if ridiculous in context, for Twitter to say a tweet like that must violate its rules, and demand that TAC remove it, claiming it violated rules against spreading "misleading and potentially harmful information related to COVID-19." In this case, TAC appealed... and was (surprisingly quickly) told that his case was reviewed... and the appeal was rejected. That feels a bit ridiculous, but again highlights the impossibility of content moderation at scale. Technically TAC's tweet is repeating the kinds of disinformation that social media websites are getting attacked over. Of course, it should seem fairly obvious to anyone reading the tweet that he's mocking the people who make those false conspiracy theory claims. But, how do you write a policy that says "unless they're referring to it sarcastically"? Because once you have that in place, and then you get to a point where you have terrible, terrible people saying terrible, terrible things, and then when called on it, they claim they were just saying it "sarcastically." Indeed, when the "style guide" for the Nazi propaganda site "The Daily Stormer" was leaked, it explicitly told writers to write horrific things with plausible deniability: "it should come across as half-joking." And later in the same document: "The unindoctrinated should not be able to tell if we are joking or not." That's not to excuse the decisions made here, but to explain how we get to this kind of absurd result. Obviously, it seems to me that all three of these cases are "mistakes" in content moderation, but they're the kind of mistakes that get made when you have to do moderation on millions of pieces of content per day, in a short period of time, or else governments around the world threaten to impose draconian rules or massive fines on you.

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
On the one hand, it's understandable that US phone companies companies don't want to maintain aging copper phone networks in the wake of sagging usage. On the other hand, traditional phone networks are very much still in use (especially among vulnerable elderly populations), many of these DSL lines remain the only option consumers can get thanks to spotty US broadband deployment, and much of the phone and DSL infrastructure was heavily subsidized by American taxpayers. Oh, and as Texas just realized, many of these older copper phone lines still work during disasters, when internet voice services don't. As such, there are numerous regulations that prevent these companies from just severing these lines completely. But US telcos, tired of traditional phone and residential broadband service, want to shift focus. So instead of a responsible transition plan (one that might mandate even coverage of wireless or fiber broadband upgrades they don't want to perform), many of these companies are simply letting the networks fall apart. And refusing to repair the lines when they fail. In large part because they know US state and federal regulators will (usually) be to chickenshit to actually do anything about it. In California, a report requested by the government found the same thing throughout the state. The April 2019 report, only just released after regional incumbents AT&T and Frontier tried to block it, found that as customer rates skyrocketed for both AT&T and Frontier, both companies increasingly cut back on infrastructure upgrades, repairs, and maintenance over the last decade. The report also found that AT&T has increasingly engaged in "redlining," or the act of failing to meaningfully upgrade lower income and minority communities at the same rate as more affluent neighborhoods: "...AT&T's investment policies have tended to favor higher-income communities, and have thus had a disproportionate impact upon the state's lowest income areas. For example, the weighted average 2010 median annual household income for... areas that had been upgraded with fiber optic feeder facilities to support broadband services was $72,024, vs. only $60,795 for wire centers without such upgrades. Using 2010 US Census data, we find a clear inverse relationship between household income and all of the principal service quality metrics. Wire centers serving areas with the lowest household incomes tend to have the highest trouble report rates, the longest out-of-service durations, the lowest percentages of outages cleared within 24 hours, and the longest times required to clear 90 percent of service outages. The opposite is the case for the highest income communities." This lack of reliability of infrastructure, combined with steadily skyrocketing prices, runs in stark contrast to what we should actually be doing in the face of a global pandemic and climate destabilization. And of course it's far from the first time these two companies have been found to be utterly neglecting their networks. It's why a 90 year old man just had to take out a $10,000 newspaper ad just to get AT&T to finally upgrade his aging DSL line to fiber. And it's far worse in places like West Virginia, where Frontier's apathy toward its own customers (or basic upgrades and maintenance) is fairly legendary. Again, this is what natural monopolies do in the face of limited competition and regulatory capture. Obtain a regional monopoly, do the bare minimum to keep that business afloat (while you focus on other ambitions like mindless media mergers), then throw a few thousand in PAC donations at local politicians so they pretend that none of this is happening. The answer now is: what will California regulators actually do about it? And even in one of the most "progressive" states in the nation, the answer will be jack shit. It's fairly trivial for AT&T and Frontier to simply claim these networks don't matter because they're old, or to try (as AT&T does in the link above) to insist any data that suggests they're anything less than the pinnacle of corporate responsibility is fraudulent.

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posted 1 day ago on techdirt
So, here's where we're at in the Fifth Circuit: cops can literally set a person on fire and walk away from it. Judge Don Willett's incendiary comments opposing qualified immunity notwithstanding, civil rights litigation still remains a sucker bet in the Fifth Circuit, where cops are granted judicial forgiveness more frequently than they are in any other judicial circuit. Here's the latest depressing read from the Appeals Court, which can't talk itself into removing this shield from officers who tased a suicidal man after he covered himself in gasoline, turning a potential suicide into an actual homicide. Some cops seem to feel suicide threats should be converted into self-fulfilling prophecies. The cops involved here -- all Arlington, Texas police officers -- turned a distress call from a family member into the very thing the family members were hoping to prevent. From the opinion [PDF]: On July 10, 2017, Gabriel Anthony Olivas called 911 and reported that his father was threatening to kill himself and burn down their house. Corporal Ray, Sergeant Jefferson, and Officers Scott, Elliott, and Guadarrama of the Arlington Police Department responded. Behold the thin blue line that stands between suicide and threats to burn a house down. Guadarrama and Elliott, at least, and maybe Jefferson as well, noticed that Olivas was holding some object that appeared as though it might be a lighter. Guadarrama, followed in short succession by Jefferson, fired his taser at the gasoline-soaked man, causing him to burst into flames. Corporal Ray and Officer Scott arrived at the scene at about this time. When they entered the house, they found Olivas engulfed in flames. The fire spread from Olivas to the walls of the bedroom, and the house eventually burned to the ground. The officers at the scene were able to evacuate the family members who had remained in the house, but Olivas was badly burned and later died from his injuries. With results like these, it's a wonder why anyone bothers calling the cops. If the family wanted their father dead and their house burned down, they could have accomplished that by doing nothing. Hell, they might possibly have prevented it. After all, the family had more at stake and would have been more willing to de-escalate. But the cops got involved and the rest is QI history. The question comes down to what a "reasonable" officer would have done under these circumstances. But the court decides in favor of the less-reasonable officers, despite them being warned against doing this by other, more reasonable officers at the scene. Upon entering, Officer Guadarrama detected the odor of gasoline. A woman directed the officers to a corner bedroom on the east side of the house. There they found Gabriel Eduardo Olivas (“Olivas”) leaning against a wall and holding a red gas can. After turning his flashlight on Olivas, Officer Elliott allegedly shouted to Sergeant Jefferson and Officer Guadarrama, “If we tase him, he is going to light on fire.” The court says it doesn't matter than the man was burned to death as a result of being tased. The only thing that matters is whether or not he deserved to be tased. The court says the dead man earned his tasing. The unfortunate byproduct of his tasing -- his death, the family home burning down -- can't be held against the officers who set him on fire. Olivas posed a substantial and immediate risk of death or serious bodily injury to himself and everyone in the house. He was covered in gasoline. He had been threatening to kill himself and burn down the house. He appeared to be holding a lighter. At that point, there were at least six other people in the house, all of whom were in danger. Under this line of thought, the force deployment was reasonable. That at least one other officer on the scene felt otherwise doesn't matter. The fact that Olivas appeared to have the capability of setting himself on fire in an instant and, indeed, was threatening to do so, meant that the officers had no apparent options to avoid calamity. If, reviewing the facts in hindsight, it is still not apparent what might have been done differently to achieve a better outcome under these circumstances, then, certainly, we, who are separated from the moment by more than three years, cannot conclude that Guadarrama or Jefferson, in the exigencies of the moment, acted unreasonably. Even if it could reasonably be foreseen that tasing a man covered in gasoline would result in serious injury or death, it was not unreasonable to tase him because of the threat he posed. That following through on this act turned the threat into a reality apparently has no bearing on the outcome. The only thing that matters is whether it was legally permissible to tase him. Everything else is just noise, according to the Fifth Circuit.

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posted 2 days ago on techdirt
For regular readers of Techdirt, Monster Energy is one of those companies that need only appear in the headline of a post before the reader knows that said post will be about some ridiculous trademark bullying Monster is doing. The company has a reputation for being about as belligerent on trademark matters as it could possibly be, lobbing lawsuits and trademark oppositions as though the company lawyers had literally nothing else to do with their time. And, while many, many, many of these bullying attempts fail when the merits are considered, the fact is that the bullying still often succeeds in its goal to use the massive Monster Energy coffers to bully victims into either submission or corporate death. The really frustrating part in all of this is how often Monster Energy attempts to trademark bully companies that aren't remotely competing in their market. One recent example of this is Monster going after MPT Autobody in South Carolina. For disclosure, one of the founders of MPT reached out to me personally to inform me of exactly what was going on. Based on our conversation and what I can see in public records, the order of events appears to go something like this: MPT Autobody submits an application to trademark its name and branding (pictures will be below) Monster Energy opposes the application, citing that MPT's branding in part includes a stylized "M" and the color "green" and will therefore confuse the public into thinking it's associated with Monster Energy After consulting with a lawyer, MPT Autobody drops the application, intending to simply do business without the trademark Despite that, Monster Energy then sends a C&D notice, arguing that the continued use of "M"s and "green" constitutes copyright infringement, along with a demand that MPT pay Monster Energy's attorney's fees I have embedded the entire C&D notice below so you can go see the details for yourself. That said, let's start with a couple of facts at the top of all of this. Monster Energy does not have the right to block other companies from using the letter "M" in their branding. Monster Energy also does not have the right to block other companies from using the colors green or black in their branding. Monster Energy also generally does not have the right to block other companies from using green or black "M"s in their branding. And, yet, simply because Monster Energy sponsors some auto race activities, its letter claims exactly that and, as a result, it includes in its letter the following pictures as to what will confuse the public. Now, if any of that branding out in the wild brings to mind Monster Energy, you need help. And keep in mind that for all of Monster Energy's reference to its sponsorship of trucks and cars, it is not in the autobody industry. Given that, there is a hell of a high bar to climb to prove that any of this is infringement. All of which may end up being besides the point. MPT is going to have hefty bills on its hands if it wants to fight this out, even as it seems to be trying to play nicely with Monster Energy as much as it can. For instance, the company's site now has a disclaimer on it, noting that they are not affiliated with Monster Energy. The company is also looking into the potential of using a different shade of green on branding, though it's anyone's guess if that would satisfy Monster Energy. The trademark app has been withdrawn. But trademark bullies are never satisfied with that sort of thing. Instead, they want to grind their victims into the ground. Here's hoping that doesn't end up being the case with MPT Autobody.

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posted 2 days ago on techdirt
Ben Smith has a fascinating piece in the New York Times about how independent investigative journalism is flourishing in Russia, despite an oppressive (and literally murderous) autocrat in power. There are a bunch of interesting points in the article about the various techniques they use -- some of which raise interesting ethical dilemmas -- but what caught my eye is just how vital it turns out the internet is to these organizations to be able to do what they do. Indeed, Smith points out that this is the flip side to the current moral panic in the US and elsewhere about "alternative media" and social media being the death of journalism: There’s a tendency in parts of the American media right now to reflexively decry the rise of alternative voices and open platforms on social media, seeing them solely as vectors for misinformation or tools of Donald J. Trump. Russia is a potent reminder of the other side of that story, the power of these new platforms to challenge one of the world’s most corrupt governments.... The new Russian investigative media is also resolutely of the internet. And much of it began with Mr. Navalny, a lawyer and blogger who created a style of YouTube investigation that draws more from the lightweight, meme-y formats of that platform than from heavily produced documentaries or newsmagazine investigations. The other interesting tidbit is that these independent investigative reporting outfits are not just figuring out how to break astounding stories, but also how to build up support and a business model -- again, using the internet. Mr. Badanin, who modeled Proekt on the American nonprofit news organization ProPublica, said he had begun to see another sign of intense interest: financial support from his audience. About a third of the budget that supports a staff of 12, he said, now comes from donations averaging $8, mirroring the global trend toward news organizations relying on their readers. In Russia, some of this is still nascent. For instance, a colleague in Russia, Anton Troianovski, tells me that there’s a cafe near the Kurskaya Metro station where you can add to your bill a donation to MediaZona, which was founded by two members of the protest group Pussy Riot to hold the Russian justice system to account. But the protests against Mr. Navalny’s imprisonment also seem to be driving support for independent media, a phenomenon that The Bell, another of the new independent websites, christened “the Navalny Effect.” Of course, the article does end on something of a dark note -- with many of the journalists Smith spoke to saying they fully expect a Putin crackdown on their efforts before long. And, of course, that's nothing new in Putin's Russia. But, it's still fascinating, for at least this moment in time, to see these operations springing up, breaking very big stories, and actually being able to thrive thanks to the internet. Perhaps if news organizations elsewhere focused more on building a supportive audience instead of whining to the government about how evil Facebook and Google are, they'd find support as well.

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posted 2 days ago on techdirt
Yet another report has shown that US consumers aren't getting the broadband speeds they're paying for. Researchers from broadband deal portal AllConnect dug through FCC data on broadband speeds and found that about 45 million Americans aren't getting the speeds that broadband providers are advertising. Fiber and cable broadband providers appeared to have the toughest time providing the speeds they advertise, with those subscribers getting around 55% of the speeds they were promised. Satellite and DSL providers generally offer crappy speeds, but at least, the report found, those speeds were delivered more consistently. The firm noted that consumers just aren't getting accurate data on what speed is available, or how much speed they'll get. Something that's kind of important during a pandemic in which broadband is key to education, employment, health care, human connection, and opportunity: "Having dependable internet is crucial right now, and with so many options available, it is important to have information like this to help consumers make the right choice for their needs. Being able to compare various aspects of internet service like reliability and speed helps make those decisions a little easier,” Layton adds." Granted this has been a problem for the better part of this decade. And it's another problem (much like patchy availability and high prices) federal regulators haven't done enough to seriously address. Speed data ISPs provide to the FCC is notoriously unreliable, and the FCC historically doesn't do enough to verify availability and speed claims. It only takes a few minutes perusing our $350 broadband availability map, which all but hallucinates competition and throughput, to realize there's a chasm between what the US government and industry claims exists, and what actually exists. Every year, the FCC is mandated by Congress to release a report detailing the status of the U.S. broadband industry. If broadband isn't being deployed on a "timely basis," the agency is supposed to, you know, do something about that. But every year, sometimes regardless of party, the agency, swaddled in dodgy data, pretends this isn't a problem. Why? Because we've fused extremely politically powerful telecom monopolies to our government surveillance apparatus, and holding these companies accountable is bad for political careers. Of course ISPs aren't just engaged in false advertising when it comes to speeds. They also routinely use a bevy of misleading fees and surcharges to covertly jack up their advertised rates post sale -- to the point where your advertised cable or broadband bill can be as much as 45% higher than advertised. And again, aside from the very occasional suggestion by regulators that ISPs could maybe do better or be more transparent, nobody much does anything about it. After all, who wants to risk losing Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Charter campaign contributions by doing the right thing?

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posted 2 days ago on techdirt
Having spent two and a half decades writing about innovation, one of the things that's most fascinating to me is how little most people can envision how innovation can have a positive effect on our lives. Perhaps it's a lack of imagination -- but, more likely, it's just human nature. Human psychology is wired for loss aversion, and it's much easier to understand all the ways in which technology and innovation can backfire to take away things we appreciate. History, however, tends to show that the positives of many innovations outweigh the negatives, but we're generally terrible at thinking through what those benefits might be. Part of the reason is just that it's impossible to predict the future. There are just too many variables, and too much randomness. But, part of it might also be our general unwillingness to even try to imagine positive futures. But imagining positive futures is one tool for actually getting us to move in that direction. Even by suggesting what interesting innovations and societal changes might happen can inspire individuals, organizations, institutions, and movements to try to make what was first imagined into reality. And we sure could use a bit of positive thinking these days. This is the story of how we attempted to help create more positive visions of the future -- specifically around artificial intelligence. As some of you may recall, a few years back, we did a fun project, called Working Futures to use a (more fun) type of scenario planning to explore possible futures for work -- and then turn those scenarios into entertaining science fiction. As many people know there are all sorts of concerns about what the future of work might look like. We're living in disruptive times when it comes to innovation, and in the last few decades, it's created a massive shift in the nature of employment, and there are many indications that this trend is accelerating. Historically, similar shifts in work due to technology have also been disruptive and frightening for many -- but all managed to be worked out in the end, despite fears of automation "destroying" jobs. However, simply saying that "it will work itself out" is incredibly unsatisfying and, even worse, provides little to no guidance for a variety of different stakeholders -- from actual workers to policy makers trying to put in place reasonable policies for a changing world. The Working Futures project was an attempt to deal with that challenge. We created a special scenario planning deck of cards, and ran a one-day session which helped us build a bunch of future scenarios. We gave those to science fiction writers, and eventually released an anthology of 14 speculative future stories about the future of work (which is rated quite highly in Amazon reviews and on Goodreads as well). Late last year, some people associated with the World Economic Forum and Berkeley's Center for Human-compatible AI (CHAI) reached out to us to say that they had been engaged in a similar -- but slightly different -- endeavor, and wondered if we might be able to lead a similar scenario planning process. The two organizations had already been working on a series of events to try to imagine specifically what a "positive future" for AI might look like. We all know the doom and gloom and dystopian scenarios. So this project was focused on something different: explicitly positive futures. The end goal was to take some of these positive AI future scenarios and use them as part of a film competition from the X-Prize Foundation (not unlike our Working Futures project, but with films instead of written fiction). They asked if we could take an approach similar to what we had done with Working Futures and run a workshop for around 90 attendees -- including some of the top economists, technologists, science fiction writers, and academics on this subject in the world -- and... they said they'd already invited people for the event just two weeks later. It turned what would normally have been a quiet time in December into a frantic mad dash as myself and Randy Lubin (our partner in our various gaming endeavors) had to put together a virtual event. We've obvious done scenario planning events -- including ones about the future of work. And even Working Futures was designed to be generally positive. But what WEF and CHAI were asking for was even more extreme, and required a real rethinking of how to put together a scenario planning program. Traditional scenario planning doesn't put any conditions on the potential scenario outputs -- so creating scenarios where the goal is for them to be explicitly positive presented a few challenges. Challenge 1: Directing scenario planning towards a desired style outcome is a pretty big departure from how you normally do scenario planning (starting with driving forces, and following those wherever they may lead). There are risks in doing this kind of scenario planning, because you don't want to preset the end state, or you lose the value of the open brainstorming and surprise discoveries of scenario planning. Challenge 2: Something we had discovered with Working Futures: explicitly "positive" futures sometimes feel... boring. They make for a tougher narrative, because good stories and good narrative usually involves conflict and tension and problems. That's much easier in a dystopian scenario than a utopian one. And if the end result of these scenarios is to drive useful story-telling, we had to consider how to create scenarios that were both interesting and "positive." Challenge 3:: With Working Futures, we did the scenario planning in a large room in San Francisco, and we had a custom card deck that we had made and printed, that everyone could use as part of the scenario planning process, to experiment with a variety of different forces. In this case, we had to manage to do the workshop via Zoom. This was a separate challenge for us in that while we've all done Zoom meetings (so, so, so many of them...) throughout the pandemic, for good scenario planning, you want to make use of smaller groupings, and we hadn't had as much experience with Zoom's "breakout room" feature. This presented a double challenge in itself. We had to create a series of exercises that people could follow -- meaning with enough scaffolding in the instructions that they could go off into groups and do the creative brainstorming, but without being able to easily see how they were all doing. And, we had to keep the whole thing interesting and exciting for a large group of very diverse people. In the end -- somehow -- we succeeded in overcoming all three challenges, and created a really amazing workshop. The feedback we got was astounding. The key ways that we worked to overcome the challenges and to create something useful was a realization that we'd start with a few more "broad" ideas to get people thinking generally about these kinds of distant future worlds, and with each exercise we'd focus more and more narrowly, building on the work in earlier exercises to help craft a variety of scenarios. The very first exercise was more of a warmup, but one that was still important to get creative juices flowing: figuring out new abundances and scarcities in such a world. To me, this was a key idea. When we think about big, disruptive changes brought on by technology, they often involve new "abundances." Cars make the ability to travel long distances "abundant." Computers make doing complex calculations abundant. The internet makes information abundant. Yet, the more interesting thing is how each new abundance... also creates new scarcities. For example, the abundance of information has created a scarcity in attention. As you think through new abundances, you can start to recognize possible scarcities, and it's almost always those new scarcities where you find interesting ideas about business models and jobs. So we had participants explore a few of those (here's one example that came out of the exercise): In the second exercise, we asked the breakout groups to build a "qualitative dashboard" to guide humanity in this new, positive future. We assumed that there would be a focus on optimizing certain aspects of life, and we asked the teams to develop a "dashboard" of qualitative concepts that should be optimized, and from there what quantifiable measures might be used to see if society was reaching those milestones. Here's one example: Of course, recognizing that whenever you try to "optimize" a particular value, it almost inevitably leads to unforeseen consequences (usually from focusing and optimizing too narrowly on a small number of quantitative values, and missing the bigger picture), we then had the teams present their dashboard to a different team, and had those other teams provide an analysis of what might go wrong with such a dashboard. How might optimizing on one of these items go badly awry. The third exercise was, in part, an attempt to deal with the problem of a utopian world being too boring. We had the teams focus on figuring out what was "the final hurdle" to reaching that "positive" future, and we used a tool that we've used a few times before: news headlines. We asked the breakout groups to effectively write a narrative in four headlines, starting with a negative headline demonstrating a major hurdle preventing society from reaching that positive future. Then the second headline would note some positive development that might, possibly, overcome the hurdle. The third headline was a setback: in the form of some kind of resistance effort that might block the hurdle from being cleared, followed finally by the last headline: a story that showed evidence that the hurdle truly had been overcome. From there, we started to really focus in. The headlines created a sense of this "world" that each group was inhabiting, but we wanted to look more closely at what kind of world that was. The fourth exercise explored what were the new essential institutions, participatory organizations, and social movements in this new world. The idea here was to think about what would life actually look like in this world. Would there still be "jobs" or would your daily activity look radically different? Again, mindful of both the potential "boringness" of utopia, as well as the fact that perfection is impossible, in the middle of this exercise we introduced something of a "shock" to the worlds that were being built -- telling participants that a major earthquake had struck, with millions of people wounded, possibly dead, trapped or missing -- and with major infrastructure disrupted. We asked the teams to go back and look at the institutions, organizations, and movements they'd just discussed to see how they reacted and how well they handled this shock (and if new such groups formed instead): The final exercise of the workshop was designed and run by WEF's Ruth Hickin, diving in even deeper, and asking participants to explore specific individuals within these scenarios. Each person was assigned a future persona, and had time to explore what that persona might think about this world -- and then had each of the participants take on that role, and have a discussion with the others in their group, in character, trying to answer some difficult questions about their obligations to society, and whether or not they could find meaning in this future world. While Randy and I planned the whole event in two frantic weeks, making it actually work required a bigger team of incredibly helpful people. Caroline Jeanmaire at CHAI and Conor Sanchez at WEF helped organize everything, and gave us great feedback and guidance throughout the project design. The two of them also helped keep the event running smoothly, following a very detailed run of show to make sure breakouts happened in a timely and clean manner, and that we could re-assemble everyone for the group discussions in between each of the breakouts. They also brought together a group of facilitators who helped guide each of the breakout discussions and keep everyone on track. Another incredibly handy tool that made this all work was Google Slides. Between breakouts, we'd assemble everyone and discuss the next exercise, including an example slide. Then each breakout room had their own set of "template" slides that had the instructions (in case they hadn't quite followed them when we explained them), an "example" slide to get inspiration from, and then the template slides for them to fill out. It turned out that this had multiple useful features. Perhaps most importantly, it helped us record the brainstorming in a way that would live on and which could be used later for the X-Prize competition. But it also allowed us to "peek in" on the various tables while the exercises were happening, without having to jump into their Zoom breakouts, disturbing everyone. As the breakouts were happening, I would flip between the different group slides, and see if any of the groups appeared to be struggling or confused, and then we could send someone into that breakout to assist. In the end, as noted, the event turned out to be a striking success. We've received great feedback on it, and are exploring possibly running it again (perhaps in a modified version) in the future. Randy also wrote up a post describing some more of the nuts and bolts of the workshop if you want more details about how we pulled off the whole thing. From my end, the biggest takeaway was that a well-crafted event could create truly brilliant and inspiring ideas for what the future might look like, and it was somewhat humbling to see how our framing and scaffolding was embraced by such an eclectic and diverse group to generate such fascinating futuristic worlds and scenarios. Hopefully, some of these futures will inspire not just films or stories about this future, but will also inspire people to work to make something like those futures a reality.

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posted 2 days ago on techdirt
Is it too late to force Tennessee to secede from the Union and become some sort of free-floating non-nation we can freely raid to shore up our non-wartime stockpiles of tobacco and country music? To be fair, I'll list Tennessee's positives first. Within the last year, a court struck down a law that forbade the use of entertaining hyperbole by political candidates, and legislators finally passed an anti-SLAPP law with teeth -- the latter of which should head off bullshit like someone suing a reporter for things someone else said. On the other hand, legislators continue to ignore its position as a backwater state in terms of internet access. And legislators are still doing extremely stupid things, like asking federal legislators to bypass the First Amendment and Supreme Court precedent to jail people for burning the flag. Here's the latest broadside against constitutional rights and common sense, via pretty much every member of Tennessee's Republican leadership. Let's go direct to the source of this hideousness, who provides the question this legislative bullshit begs: “Hey Alexa, how do you lose judgment on the pleadings?” https://t.co/k6UgpIvteJ — Daniel A. Horwitz (@Scot_Blog) February 23, 2021 If you can't see the tweet, Tennessee-located First Amendment warrior Daniel Horwitz asks: "Hey Alexa, how do you lose judgment on the pleadings?" Here's what Tennessee Republicans are demanding [PDF]: In light of recent news reports, we want to address the issue of our student athletes kneeling during the National Anthem prior to sports competitions. The National Anthem is a symbol of pride for America. It lifts our spirits toward the ideals upon which our great country was founded: that all are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Written during the Battle of Baltimore, the National Anthem represents not only the freedoms we enjoy as Americans but the ultimate sacrifice paid by many in order for us to enjoy those freedoms. One of those "freedoms" would be the freedom to criticize their government, their nation, the things it stands for, etc. But whatever. During athletic competitions, our student athletes represent not only themselves, but also our universities and all the citizens of this state, many of whom view this form of protest as offensive and disrespectful the very thing our National Anthem represents. Shorter Tennessee reps: we will allow the hecklers to veto this freedom. While we recognize our student athletes may express their own views on a variety of issues in their personal time, we do not condone any form of protest that could be viewed as disrespectful to our nation or flag while they are representing our state universities. When they don the jersey of a Tennessee university, they step out of their personal roles and into the roles of an ambassador for our state. We expect all those who walk onto the field of play to show respect for our National Anthem. This is an expectation you can't demand. Even if they refuse to kneel, you can't make them "respect" the National Anthem. Respect is earned. It can't be mandated. To address this issue, we encourage each of you to adopt policies within your respective athletic departments to prohibit any such actions moving forward. We view this as a teachable moment in which administrators may listen to concem from students but also exercise leadership in stating unequivocally what the National Anthem means to this nation and explain proper times, places, and manners for expressing protest. While we work together to make Tennessee a better place for all our citizens, let's not focus on what divides us but on what unites us which is being an American. Ah. A "teachable moment." In this context, it means "teaching" students who are upset with the status quo to suck it up and get it up any time the flag appears and its theme music starts playing. It means ignoring responses that don't align with Team USA jingoism in order to "unite" everyone under the state Republicans' idea of what's acceptable behavior by student-athletes. And it's clear that any time people like this refer to "divisiveness," they're only concerned that people don't share their views, rather than seeking a way to engage honestly with people whose viewpoints differ from theirs. The nation may be divided, but it can only be united under this plan, which would force everyone to revere the flag the way these ass-hats would prefer they do. Nice work, reps. How did you say you like your mockery? Relentless? Good. Let the shit hit your fans, you insufferable losers. That being said, this won't necessarily be an easy thing to prevent. The government stepping in to tell student-athletes how they can behave is on the wrong side of the Constitution, considering these universities are publicly funded. On the other hand, courts have given some leeway to schools to add additional rights restrictions to extracurricular activities, which means they may be allowed to tell students how to behave during sportsball games, even if they can't restrict their speech elsewhere. Sports participation is voluntary and generally comes with strings attached. But Horwitz isn't wrong. This certainly won't be an easy case for the government to win if this flag-molesting, masturbatorial fantasy becomes a reality. Criticism of the government tends to receive the most First Amendment protection and taking a knee during the anthem cannot possibly be seen as anything other than criticism. Of course, the universities are free to politely decline this ridiculous request. But it would be so much better if they'd send a message of their own stating that they respect their students' rights far more than they respect pandering to the worst aspect of state politicians' voter bases.

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posted 2 days ago on techdirt
The Complete Logo Design In Photoshop Course is an easy and fun, step-by-step, practical approach to Photoshop. You will learn how to create a professional-looking logo using text and images. You'll also learn how to organize your workspace layouts, adjust blending modes on layers, mask easily, alight text, use clone tool, and more. It's on sale for $20. Note: The Techdirt Deals Store is powered and curated by StackCommerce. A portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals helps support Techdirt. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.

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posted 2 days ago on techdirt
I have a few different services that report to me if my email is found in various data breaches, and recently I was notified that multiple email addresses of mine showed up in a leak of the service NetGalley. NetGalley, if you don't know, is a DRM service for books, that is regularly used by authors and publishers to send out "advance reader" copies (known around the publishing industry as "galleys.") The service has always been ridiculously pointless and silly. It's a complete overreaction to the "risk" of digital copies of a book getting loose -- especially from the people who are being sent advance reader copies (generally journalists or industry professionals). I can't recall ever actually creating an account on the service (and can't find any emails indicating that I had -- but apparently I must have). However, in searching through old emails, I do see that various publishers would send me advance copies via NetGalley -- though I don't think I ever read any through the service (the one time I can see that I wanted to read such a book, after getting sent a NetGalley link, I told the author that it was too much trouble and they sent me a PDF instead, telling me not to tell the publisher who insisted on using NetGalley). It appears that NetGalley announced the data breach back in December on Christmas Eve, meaning it's likely that lots of people missed it. Also, even though I'm told through this monitoring service that my email was included, NetGalley never notified me that my information was included in the breach. NetGalley did say that the breach included both login names and passwords -- suggesting that they didn't even know to hash their passwords, which is just extremely incompetent in this day and age. So, from my side of things, this means that the company put me and my information at risk for what benefit? To make my life as a potential reviewer of a book more difficult and annoying, and limiting my ability to easily read a book? DRM benefits literally no one. And in this case, has now created an even bigger mess in leaking my emails and whatever passwords I used for their service (thankfully, I don't reuse passwords, or it could have been an even bigger problem). For those who say that the DRM is still necessary to avoid piracy, that's ridiculous as well. If the book is going to get copied and leaked online, it's going to get copied and leaked online. And once one copy is out, all the DRM in the world is meaningless. Rather than focusing so much on locking stuff up and making it impossible to read, while putting people's personal info at risk, just stop freaking out, recognize that most people are not out to get you by putting your stuff on file sharing sites, and focus on getting people to want to buy your books, rather than putting their data and privacy at risk.

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posted 2 days ago on techdirt
Last November, Comcast quietly announced that the company would be expanding its bullshit broadband caps into the Northeast, one of the last Comcast territories where the restrictions hadn't been imposed yet. Of course Comcast was utterly tone deaf to the fact there was a historic health and economic crisis going on, or how imposing unnecessary surcharges on consumers already struggling to make rent wasn't a great look. In some states, like Massachusetts, lawmakers stood up to the regional monopoly, going so far as to push a law that would have banned usage caps during the pandemic. After gaining some bad press for the behavior, Comcast initially delayed the efforts a few months, hoping that would appease folks. When it didn't, Comcast last week announced that it would be suspending the caps until 2022. This, according to Comcast, was to give consumers "more time to become familiar" with the restrictions: "The ISP’s reasoning for the delay, according to the announcement, is that the company realizes that the “data plan was new for [its] customers in the Northeast,” and it wanted to “provid[e] them with more time to become familiar with the new plan.” This isn’t a courtesy the company extended to other states when it expanded the data caps to them (apart from the one or two “free” overage months). But to be fair, there also wasn’t a global pandemic going on during those rollouts." The problem, as we've noted repeatedly, is that these restrictions shouldn't exist in the first place. As such, delaying them is more about managing PR blowback than making any serious concession. There's no technical reason for such restrictions to exist on a fixed line network in 2021. The restrictions don't manage network bandwidth, something that can already be done with existing hardware. Such restrictions aren't financially necessary either; Comcast's flat-rate broadband margins are significant, and any "extremely heavy users" can already be shoved toward business-class tiers. Caps only have two real purposes: (1) to impose covert price hikes on uncompetitive markets without changing your advertised rates, and (2) as an anticompetitive weapon in the streaming wars. As such, it's not entirely clear what Comcast wants these users to "get familiar with." Familiar with getting ripped off by a massive telecom monopoly that not only faces no real competition, but fairly feckless federal regulatory oversight? 83 million Americans have only the choice of one ISP. Federal regulators could either work tirelessly to drive more fiber-based competition to market (and no, neither 5G nor next-gen satellite are magic bullets), or they could step in to hold monopolies accountable in the absence of that competition. Here in the United States, we do neither. At least not consistently.

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
The Supreme Court has done a lot over the years to shield law enforcement officers from accountability. It has redefined the contours of the qualified immunity defense to make it all but impossible for plaintiffs to succeed. Appeals Courts have been hamstrung by Supreme Court precedent, forced to pretty much ignore the egregious rights violations in front of them in favor of dusting off old decisions to see if any officer violated someone's rights in exactly this way prior to this case. Since law enforcement officers are apparently unable to exercise judgment on their own, the courts often grant forgiveness to these poor single-cell organisms who couldn't have possibly known that, say, locking a prisoner in a feces-covered cell for days violated the prisoner's rights. And that's the conclusion the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court reached December 2019 in Taylor v. Riojas. The Fifth Circuit is the worst circuit to bring a federal civil rights violation case. And it's still as awful as ever, even with Judge Don Willett -- who published a scathing dissent in another qualified immunity case -- sitting on the bench. The only good news is that the Supreme Court may be slowly realizing its expansion of the qualified immunity defense is encouraging courts to give law enforcement officers a pass even when it's painfully clear rights have been violated. Almost a year after the Fifth Circuit ruled in favor of prison guards, the Supreme Court reversed this decision. There may have been no case exactly on point, but for the Supreme Court that's not a necessity when there's a clear rights violation. [N]o reasonable correctional officer could have concluded that, under the extreme circumstances of this case, it was constitutionally permissible to house Taylor in such deplorably unsanitary conditions for such an extended period of time. This ruling was part of the Supreme Court's docket dispensation. No full opinion was issued. But it sent a message to the Fifth Circuit. And that message has been reinforced with another remand to the Fifth Circuit -- again for granting qualified immunity when it shouldn't have. (h/t Athul Acharya) McCOY, PRINCE V. ALAMU, TAJUDEEN The petition for a writ of certiorari is granted. The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit for further consideration in light of Taylor v. Riojas, 592 U. S. ___ (2020) (per curiam). The Fifth Circuit handled Prince v. Alamu back in February of last year. Badly. It somehow managed to find that deliberately pepper spraying a prisoner in the eyes in retaliation for the actions of another prisoner was subject to qualified immunity. Above, we held that the spraying crossed that line. But it was not beyond debate that it did, so the law wasn’t clearly established. This was an isolated, single use of pepper spray. And that was enough to give the guard a free pass. As the dissenting opinion noted, the only reason qualified immunity wasn't stripped was because the guard didn't use his fist, a baton, or a Taser. That this involved pepper spray was the only thing separating it from being "clearly established." The Supreme Court is to blame here. It has repeatedly rejected QI cases, telling lower courts they're supposed to read "clearly established" precedent narrowly, rather than find that similar cases (ones not exactly on point) gave government employees enough warning this new and novel violation of rights would be a violation of rights. With this reversal, the Supreme Court is reversing its own instructions. Hopefully this will continue. With enough reversals, qualified immunity will no longer be the accountability copout it has become.

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
More bad news for Stadia. We were just discussing Google's decision to axe its own game development studios. In and of itself, such a move to cut staff like this would be a worrying sign for the platform, especially given just how much growing interest there has been in video games and game-streaming surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. But when it's instead one more indication that Google isn't fully committed to its own platform, alongside the poor reception from the public and concerns about whether it can deliver the gaming experience it promised, these things tend to pile up on one another. I have attempted to drive home the point of just how important the development of trust with customers is for Stadia, given that those buying into the platform are gaming entirely at the pleasure of Google's desire to keep Stadia going. And the hits to trust keep coming. In direct fallout from its decision to cut the development teams, Stadia customers are finding themselves unable to get support for Google's internally developed game. One of the few games that Google actually owns — although it was released first on consoles and PC before making its Stadia debut — was Journey to the Savage Planet. Google acquired Typhon Studios before the end of 2019, and the deal meant that Journey to the Savage Planet was one of the few games that came free with the Stadia Pro subscription. Typhon Studios was the first studio acquired by Google, but with the effective closure of Google’s gaming ambitions, the developers there were let go with everyone else. For users who are still playing on Stadia however — at least the ones who aren’t suing Google — that’s caused a bit of a problem, because there’s nobody around to fix their games. And in the case of Journey to the Savage Planet, fixes are definitely needed. Crashes and glitches appear to be the normal experience for those playing the game. Still others report that the game regularly freezes at the start menu. Worse yet, it appears that some reporting these bugs are being told by Google reps that they are going to work with the now-axed developers to address their concerns. Said axed-developers, however, are telling everyone that will listen that, no, they can't, because they were laid off. Unable to play Journey in single-player or co-op, one user reached out to the game’s publisher, 505 Games. After being told by Stadia’s social team that they would work with the publisher on a fix, the publisher said: Actually, we can’t fix this for you at all. “Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do from our end right now since all of the game code and data on Stadia is owned by Google,” 505’s support staffer said in an email. In a follow-up a few days ago, another 505 Games support staffer suggested the user remind Google that, actually, Google are the ones responsible for publishing everything on Google Stadia. There's literally no way for those now ex-Google employees to make fixes on games when the code resides on Google's systems. And if Google itself cannot fix the bugs, well, then the bugs go unfixed, full stop. All of this comes as Stadia reps are telling people that more games are coming to the platform in a pitch to drive adoption of Stadia among the public. But given the experience that public has with Google's own game, it's hard to imagine many trusting the platform enough to buy in. This has all the earmarks of other abandoned Google projects in the past, where the company never seems to decide whether it is fully invested in the product or not. In the past, that has led to those projects withering on the vine. Why the public should expect something different out of Stadia is an open question.

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
Summary: Chatroulette rose to fame shortly after its creation in late 2009. The platform offered a new take on video chat, pairing users with other random users with each spin of the virtual wheel. The novelty of the experience soon wore off when it became apparent Chatroulette was host to a large assortment of pranksters and exhibitionists. Users hoping to luck into some scintillating video chat were instead greeted with exposed penises and other body parts. (But mostly penises.) This especially unsavory aspect of the service was assumed to be its legacy -- one that would see it resigned to the junkheap of failed social platforms. Chatroulette attempted to handle its content problem by giving users the power to flag other users and deployed a rudimentary AI to block possibly-offensive users. The site soldiered on, partially supported by a premium service that paired users with other users in their area or who shared the same interests. Then something unexpected happened that drove a whole new set of users to Chatroulette: the COVID-19 pandemic. More people than ever were trapped at home and starved for human interaction. Very few of those were hoping to see an assortment of penises. Faced with an influx of users and content to moderate, Chatroulette brought in AI moderation specialist Hive, the same company that currently moderates content on Reddit. With Chatroulette experiencing a resurgence, the company is hoping a system capable of processing millions of frames of chat video will keep its channels clear of unwanted content. Decisions to be made by Chatroulette: Is it possible to filter live content quickly and accurately enough to prevent a return to the "old" Chatroulette?Is the cost of moderation AI affordable given the site's seeming inability to attract or sustain a large user base?If user growth continues, will it still be possible to backstop AI moderation with human moderators? What metrics should Chatroulette consider as measures of success here? Questions and policy implications to consider: Is over-moderation a foreseeable problem, given the challenges of moderating live video streams?Is it possible to attract a more-dedicated user base while still respecting their apparent desire for anonymity?Is it wise to maintain an unmoderated channel given the historical issues the site has had with unsolicited nudity and its exposure to/of minors? Resolution: Chatroulette's new moderation efforts appear to be successfully distancing it from its inauspicious beginnings. However, the site's operating team still wryly acknowledges the reputation for nudity that defined the service for much of the last decade. But the site also points out that only a little more than 3% of its millions of monthly interactions contain explicit material, indicating Chatroulette feels the way forward is offering something that might have seemed boring ten years ago: a predictable and safe random chat experience. Originally published on the Trust & Safety Foundation website.

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
We recently announced the winners of our third annual public domain game jam, Gaming Like It's 1925. Now, just like last year, we're dedicating an episode of the podcast to looking at each of the winners a bit closer. Mike is joined by Randy Lubin (our partner in running the jams) and myself (with some unfortunate audio issues that I apologize for), to talk about all these great games that bring 1925 works into the present day. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt.

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
A bunch of New York City law enforcement unions have been suing to block the side effects of the repeal of 50-a, an ordinance passed in 1976 that exempted police departments and other agencies (like fire departments) from disclosing information about misconduct to the public. For more than 40 years, the bad law remained in place. It took nationwide anger of the killing of another black man by a white cop to get it taken off the books. In response, a bunch of unions presiding over the New York City's police and fire departments lawyered up, hoping to continue withholding this information. The legal battle has reached the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. And the Appeals Court doesn't find the plaintiffs' assertions about "irreparable harm" credible. The unions claim the repeal of 50-a (and the consequent release of disciplinary records) violates agreements they have with the city -- one that says findings in favor of officers/employees will be removed from employees' disciplinary records. The Appeals Court [PDF] points out that the unions can't just decide the public employees they represent don't have to follow the law. [T]o the extent that this claim implicates records that must be disclosed under FOIL, the NYPD cannot bargain away its disclosure obligations. The Appeals Court affirms everything the district court already told the unions. "Irreparable harm" is not only not foreseeable, it's not even remotely credible. The Unions assert that law enforcement officers will have fewer employment opportunities in the future if records of the allegations against them that prove to be unfounded or unsubstantiated are disclosed, even though each record will reveal the outcome of the investigation. But the District Court noted that future employers were unlikely to be misled by conduct records that contained “dispositional designations” specifying that allegations of misconduct were unsubstantiated, unfounded, or that the accused officer was exonerated. As the District Court also noted, despite evidence that numerous other States make similar records available to the public, the Unions have pointed to no evidence from any jurisdiction that the availability of such records resulted in harm to employment opportunities. No harm foreseeable there. Unfortunately, that sort of means employers like the NYPD aren't all that selective in their hiring processes. Multiple allegations -- even if they ultimately resulted in exoneration -- should be a red flag. And the NYPD should definitely know this because its internal review process clears bad cops all the time, ensuring they can continue to engage in misconduct without fear of reprisal. The same goes for the equally wild claim that disclosing these records will result in physical harm to officers. We also address the Union’s more general assertion of heightened danger and safety risks to police officers. We fully and unequivocally respect the dangers and risks police officers face every day. But we cannot say that the District Court abused its discretion when it determined that the Unions have not sufficiently demonstrated that those dangers and risks are likely to increase because of the City’s planned disclosures. In arriving at that conclusion, we note again that many other States make similar misconduct records at least partially available to the public without any evidence of a resulting increase of danger to police officers. The unions' argument only makes sense if they are asserting that New York City residents are far more prone to acts of violence targeting law enforcement officers following the release of public records than people living elsewhere in the company. And if that's the argument, it hasn't been preserved for appeal so... The Appeals Court hands out even more rejection along state law lines. Simply asserting "diminished" employment opportunities on the presupposition of "damaged reputations" is not enough to engage state constitutional protections. There's also nothing in the unions' equal protection assertions since (despite the best efforts of a bunch of idiotic legislators at both state and federal levels) police officers and first responders are not a protected class. Everything the unions argued is "without merit." That's the final call. (Note: It may not be the final call. But this doesn't look like the sort of the thing the Supreme Court is interested in entertaining.) 50-a is gone. The records can be made public. And if cops think it will hurt them to hand over records showing they've been exonerated will result in harm to themselves and their careers, they're not going to find any sympathy from the courts, much less the general public they've been hiding records from for years.

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
You'll recall that after the Trump FCC effectively neutered itself at telecom lobbyist behest in 2017, numerous states jumped in to fill the consumer protection void. Most notable among them being California, which in 2018 passed some net neutrality rules that largely mirrored the FCC's discarded consumer protections. Laughing at the concept of state rights, Bill Barr's DOJ immediately got to work protecting U.S. telecom monopolies and filed suit in a bid to vacate the rules, claiming they were "radical" and "illegal" (they were neither). And while the broadband industry had a great run during the Trump era nabbing billions in tax breaks and regulatory handouts, that era appears to be at an end. Earlier this month the Biden DOJ dropped its lawsuit against California, leaving the industry to stand alone. Now a Judge has refused the broadband industry's request for an injunction, allowing California to finally enforce its shiny new law. Worse (for the broadband sector), Mendez also made it very clear that while the case isn't over yet, the broadband industry isn't likely to win. He was also less than impressed by the broadband industry's claim that because the broadband industry has tried to behave as it awaits a legal outcome, that this somehow meant net neutrality rules weren't necessary: "I have heard that argument and I don’t find it persuasive,” said Mendez. “It’s going to fall on deaf ears. Everyone has been on their best behavior since 2018, waiting for whatever happened in the DC Circuit [weighing the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality]. I don’t place weight on the argument that everything is fine and we don’t need to worry." As we've noted a few times, there's a misinformed refrain in some tech policy circles that goes something like this: "the internet didn't immediately implode in a rainbow, therefore net neutrality's repeal must not have mattered." That's wrong for several reasons. One, ISPs are still violating net neutrality, they're just being more clever about it (see: AT&T only charging you broadband overage fees if you use a competitor's service). Two, the only reason ISPs behaved half as well as they did is because they were awaiting a federal legal ruling, and worried about running afoul of state net neutrality rules. Three, killing net neutrality didn't just kill "net neutrality," it dismantled the FCC's consumer protection authority over everything from anticompetitive behavior to billing fraud. If you're applauding the government ignoring the public and neutering itself because some Comcast lobbyists told it to, you might not be half as clever as you think you are. As you might expect, a coalition of broadband industry policy and lobbying organizations like US Telecom were quick to complain about the ruling, whining that it creates a haphazard patchwork of state protections: "A state-by-state approach to Internet regulation will confuse consumers and deter innovation, just as the importance of broadband for all has never been more apparent,” a coalition of broadband industry organizations said in a joint statement. “We agree with the Court that a piecemeal approach is untenable and that Congress should codify rules for an open Internet." Of course the only reason we're now looking at a fractured, state-by-state approach to consumer protection is because the broadband industry keeps suing to dismantle popular and modest federal rules. The industry sued (successfully) to kill the FCC's flimsy 2010 rules, despite the fact that had giant loopholes and didn't even cover wireless. Then, when the Wheeler FCC passed tougher rules (but still arguably thin by international standards), the industry sued again. When they lost that case, they got the Trump FCC to ignore the public and kill the rules, using an ocean of sleazy tactics--including paying firms to use fake and dead people--to pretend it was a good idea (something the press and some telecom policy wonks seems oddly intent on forgetting). The industry has long proclaimed that it wants Congress to pass consistent rules to end this ongoing game of regulatory ping-pong at the FCC. Yet the industry knows full well that our gridlocked Congress is so slathered with telecom campaign contributions that's never going to happen. If a federal net neutrality law does get passed, it's extremely likely it will be ghost written by AT&T and Comcast. As a result it's inevitably going to include numerous loopholes and caveats, while pre-empting any tougher, more consensus-driven state or federal solutions. This exact same gamesmanship, it should be noted, is playing out simultaneously surrounding efforts to pass meaningful broadband privacy rules. While the industry is likely to appeal any looming loss dragging this case out for much longer than needed, it likely isn't going to matter. There's every indication that the Biden FCC is going to restore net neutrality. But that can't happen until the Biden administration and Congress finally get around to appointing and seating a third Democratic FCC Commissioner, breaking the current 2-2 partisan Commissioner gridlock. While policy wonks, the press, and the public are clearly fatigued by the endless legal skirmishes surrounding net neutrality, there's only one reason they continue: a broadband industry that has fought tooth and nail, using every gross tactic in their playbook, against even the most modest consumer protection guidelines. If the heavily monopolized US telecom industry truly wants to put this issue to bed, it could perhaps stop spending millions of dollars every year to dismantle even the most modest attempts at state or federal oversight.

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posted 3 days ago on techdirt
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