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Over the last few years, Russia has really been ramping up its efforts to censor the internet to hide content it doesn't like. As is often the case when the government gets the power to censor, that censorship starts spreading farther and farther. The latest? Apparently in the effort to hide a single archive of a site that the Russian government doesn't like, the entire "Wayback Machine" from the Internet Archive has been blocked: The Russian government has blocked the Internet Archive, the San-Francisco-based website that provides the popular Wayback Machine, which allows users to view archived webpages. The decision to ban the Internet Archive appears to be the work of Russia's Attorney General, meaning that police determined that the website contains extremist content. Rublacklist.net says police targeted the Internet Archive because of a saved webpage called “Solitary Jihad in Russia,” a short text that claims to offer information about the “theory and practice of partisan resistance.” At one point, the text states that Islamic sharia law “must be instituted all across the world.” According to the website Rublacklist.net (a censorship-monitoring project operated by the Russian Pirate Party), the page in question* on the Internet Archive was added to Russia's official registry of banned websites on June 23, 2015. Because the Internet Archive uses https, some Russian ISPs will have to block the entire website in order to comply with the blacklisting, since encrypted traffic won't allow them to differentiate between different pages of the same site. According to TJournal, users of mobile Internet provider Yota were unable to access the page, the Wayback Machine, or the Internet Archive on June 25. As you hopefully already know, the Wayback Machine is a tremendously useful tool for looking up archived versions of websites. It is a kind of library of our internet history. Of course, as the article at Global Voices notes, part of the reason the entire site is getting blocked is due to the use of HTTPS. While some might argue that this is a reason why sites shouldn't go to default HTTPS, I'd argued the opposite: it shows the value in HTTPS in that it makes censorship much more difficult such that when it occurs, the results are so ridiculous that it hopefully leads to greater pushback on the ridiculous attempts to censor.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Yesterday, we wrote about taxi drivers in France going absolutely insane in protesting the fact that they don't like competition from Uber. They took drivers hostage, set fires and flipped cars over -- basically reminding everyone that "hey, Uber drivers aren't nearly as fucking crazy as taxi drivers." But here's the amazing thing: the French government apparently has decided to appease these modern day luddites: France ordered a nationwide clampdown on UberPOP on Thursday, siding with taxi drivers who blockaded major transport hubs in angry protests against the popular online ride-sharing service. Not only that, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, rather than call out the taxi drivers, pretended that it was the fault of "both sides" Prime Minister Manuel Valls condemned the violence and incidents "on both sides" as the government sought to take a tough stand on the protests while backing the drivers' case. "They give a deplorable image to visitors to our country," he said during a visit to Colombia, adding that all available legal measures would be taken to halt the UberPOP activity. The French bureaucrats are now telling law enforcement to seize cars from Uber drivers. Really. In a toughening of the French stance, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve ordered Paris police to issue a decree banning UberPOP and said cars defying the order would be seized. "The government will never accept the law of the jungle," he said in a television declaration on Thursday evening. Again, as most users of Uber and other such services will tell you, the experience tends to be a lot better than crappy cab experiences. And European bureaucrats sit and wonder why they can't have more innovative internet companies starting up there. Perhaps they should look at situations like this and how they respond to innovative companies that disrupt legacy, monopoly services by providing something that the public actually wants.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We just got done talking about how, after logging 1,011,338 autonomous miles since 2009, Google's automated cars have had just thirteen accidents -- none of which were the fault of the Google vehicles. By and large the technology appears to be working incredibly well, with most of the accidents the fault of inattentive human drivers rear-ending Google's specially-equipped Lexus SUVs at stop lights. But apparently, the fact that this technology is working well isn't quite interesting enough for the nation's technology press. A Reuters report making the rounds earlier today proclaimed that two self-driving cars from Google and Delphi Automotive almost got into an accident this week in California. According to the Reuters report, Google's self-driving Lexus "cut off" Delphi's self-driving Audi, forcing the Audio to take "appropriate action." This apparently got the nation's technology media in a bit of a heated lather, with countless headlines detailing the "almost crash." The Washington Post was even quick to inform readers that the almost-crash "is now raising concerns over the technology." Except it's not. Because not only did the cars not crash, it apparently wasn't even a close call. Both Delphi and Google spokespeople told Ars Technica that both cars did exactly what they were programmed to do and Reuters apparently made an automated mountain out of a molehill:"I was there for the discussion with Reuters about automated vehicles," she told Ars by e-mail. "The story was taken completely out of context when describing a type of complex driving scenario that can occur in the real world. Our expert provided an example of a lane change scenario that our car recently experienced which, coincidentally, was with one of the Google cars also on the road at that time. It wasn’t a 'near miss' as described in the Reuters story." Instead, she explained how this was a normal scenario, and the Delphi car performed admirably. "Our car did exactly what it was supposed to," she wrote. "Our car saw the Google car move into the same lane as our car was planning to move into, but upon detecting that the lane was no longer open it decided to terminate the move and wait until it was clear again."In other words, As Twitter's Nu Wexler observed, the two cars did exactly what they were programmed to do, though that's obviously a notably less sexy story than Reuters' apparently hallucinated tale of automated automotive incompetence.Breaking: Self-driving cars avoid accident, doing exactly what they are programmed to do — Nu Wexler (@wexler) June 26, 2015 Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The UK's short-lived, awkward relationship with its Freedom of Information law appears to winding its way towards an acrimonious divorce. Not fully implemented until 2005 and disowned by its co-creator (former PM Tony Blair) in his memoirs only five years later, it has apparently now reached the point of irreconcilable differences: those being the public's interest in what their representatives are doing and their representatives' extreme disinterest in sharing their feelings emails and documents. Not that it ever was a fully-functioning Freedom of Information law (it was pre-sabotaged by automated email deletion programs before it ever went into effect), but it was at least somthing. But, sadly, it appears the UK government's "embrace" of transparency is every bit as sincere and warm-hearted as its embrace of free speech. Michael Gove, the justice secretary, is considering making it more difficult to procure information from government bodies, including allowing officials to count “thinking time” when calculating how much it costs to retrieve information. One plan is to make it easier for ministers to veto publication of certain documents… Another is to change the way the cost of finding information is calculated so that officials can more readily turn down requests. The first aspect would hand final veto power over to acting prime ministers. This is viewed by Gove and others as "needed" because the government was unable to prevent Prince Charles' correspondence from being released to The Guardian. As is almost always the case with contested open records requests, some embarrassment resulted from the publication of the released documents -- which showed that member of royalty pushing his personal perspective on issues like defense spending… or homeopathy... on a variety of legislators. The second aspect is more related to Michael Gove's own FOI problems. Gove has previously been investigated for using personal email accounts to conduct official business. The 90-day automatic email destruction policy the UK government instituted is somewhat helpful in keeping the public uninformed, but what if someone wants to retain these official records longer for personal reasons, but doesn't feel particularly compelled to share them with FOI requesters? Well, that's where the discussion of fees comes into play. Currently, citizens can request anything as long as the costs incurred by government bodies doesn't exceed £600. Considering many files are stored electronically, can be easily searched and resulting documents sent electronically, costs of fulfilling requests continue to decrease. So, Gove and others are suggesting a couple of changes: lowering the £600 cutoff point and/or padding invoices. The latter would see such intangibles as "considering" potential document releases billed at an hourly rate. Redaction efforts would also be billed. If these changes are put into effect, FOI releases will slow to a trickle and some requests will meet with an almost un-challengable refusal, thanks to executive veto power. David Cameron promised a "complete revolution in transparency" during his term. Depending on your opinion of Cameron, this is either the antithesis of his goal, or exactly what he had in mind. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For the globe trotters out there, you know how frustrating it can be keeping track of all of the special adapters you need for charging your different devices. The Twist Plus World Charging Station aims to solve that issue in one compact device. You simply twist through your 4 choices of plug types and you're set to charge in over 150 countries. There is built-in fuse protection to protect your devices and you no longer have to look for multiple outlets to charge all of your devices as this one plug will charge a Macbook and 4 USB devices. It's available for 33% off in the store with free shipping. Happy travels! Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written a few times about Theresa May, the UK's Home Secretary, who seems to have scarily authoritarian, anti-democratic and anti-free speech views. While she insists that the UK isn't a surveillance state, she can't tell you why, because revealing the secrets of the UK surveillance state might put the public at risk. Since late last year, she's been pushing strongly for outlawing thought crimes, which would allow her to prevent people from sharing their views on the internet or at events, if she deems them to be too extreme. After the recent election, the plan to move this forward has gone into effect, with David Cameron gleefully announcing that just obeying the law will no longer stop the UK government from harassing you. Now, if it doesn't like you or what you believe, you will be silenced. Given all that, it is absolutely terrifying to read Theresa May's recent speech given at the Metropolitan Police's counter-terrorism conference. Given the audience, perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that May would go off the deep end of Orwellian craziness -- but it's still fairly astounding to see what she actually said. It honestly reads like a bad novel or bad movie script where an editor or producer would scribble on the page "no real person talks like that." Theresa May does, apparently. Here are some of the lowlights. Time and again we are seeing what we are now up against: the powerful allure of propaganda pumped out by ISIL and others to recruit and brainwash British men and women, the access social media and modern communications give terrorists to vulnerable people, and the desire of those terrorists to poison others against our values and our way of life. And so we begin with FUD. This popular idea that because ISIS is pretty good at using social media, it's that social media that is the problem. While there are lots of news stories out there claiming that ISIS' social media usage is drawing recruits, actual research into what's going on paints a much more nuanced picture that suggests that while social media is one tool that is used for recruiting, there is almost no evidence to suggest that the social media campaign is successful in "brainwashing" men and women to support ISIS. Rather, the hype about ISIS and social media is overblown. Most of the recruitment actually comes from within existing social circles. It may use the internet, but it's not happening because of the internet. Lots of studies have certainly found that social media plays a part, but it doesn't suggest that merely silencing social media will help. A RAND study found no evidence "that the internet accelerates radicalisation or replaces the need for individuals to meet in person during their radicalisation process," and it also "didn't find any supporting evidence for the concept of self-radicalisation through the internet." While other studies, such as those from the Soufan Group and the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, show more support for radicalization on the internet, and also note that social media is just one component that pushes those who are already marginalized into deciding to take that step. In other words, these are often people on the edge already, and it's not clear that censorship is likely to help, other than making these people feel more marginalized. May goes on to detail various attacks in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, drumming up more fear. And, it's true, that the world is a dangerous place and many people are trying to cause harm. But to think that the answer to that is more surveillance, silencing free speech and making the marginalized feel more marginalized... well, that seems like an approach destined to fail. But it's the approach May supports wholeheartedly, as she gleefully talks about the approach taken by her government. First, she really enjoys kicking people out of the country if she doesn't like them: We made it easier to get rid of undesirable foreign nationals, including terrorists and terror suspects. [....] Since August 2013 I have deprived 10 people of their British citizenship on the grounds that I do not consider their presence in the UK to be conducive to the public good. Think about that latter statement for a second. Because a government official decides that she doesn't think your presence in the UK is "conducive to the public good" she can simply strip their British citizenship. I'm sure that doesn't anger those folks and encourage them to join forces with those who hate the UK at all... And, of course, the censorship: Our Internet Referral Unit takes down terrorist-related content from the internet, and since February 2010 we have removed more than 90,000 pieces of material – currently removing around 1,000 pieces a week. Again, because making content that marginalized groups are reading disappear doesn't make them feel more oppressed and more angry at all... And, of course, she's been actively expanding her powers in these areas: We introduced a new power to temporarily seize the passports of people suspected of travelling to engage in terrorism overseas, and since it came into force I can confirm that we have used this power and it has proved effective.... We extended the Authority To Carry provisions, and we are refusing airlines authority to carry to the UK people who have been excluded or deported from the UK or who are using invalid, stolen or lost travel documents. And then, of course, she eagerly draws in all sorts of institutions -- including schools -- to have a responsibility to be trying to sniff out those darn terrorists in their midst: And from 1 July the new statutory Prevent duty for specified authorities will commence. Once this has been fully implemented it will require local authorities, the police, prisons, probation services, schools, colleges – and yes, universities too – to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. The end result? The UK is locking up tons of people on charges of terrorism, despite no actual terrorism happening there: Mark Rowley, the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, summed up that workload earlier this year when he said that terrorists are being arrested at a rate of almost one every day. You'd think with so many terrorists, at least a few more attacks would get through. Or is this all just a bit of a "rounding up the marginalized people" exercise? Hilariously, at the end of the speech, she says that the best way to counter this threat is to highlight the "positive vision" of the UK and its "values." So the Government has announced a new counter-extremism strategy to protect people from extremism in all its forms: non-violent and violent, Islamist and neo-Nazi. At the heart of that strategy sits a positive vision of Britain and our values, and an open offer to work in partnership with all those determined to eradicate extremism. Considering she just spent most of the speech advocating censorship, kicking undesirable people out of the country and greater and greater surveillance powers, it seems that those "values" are pretty clear. And, as she makes it clear in the very next paragraph, apparently the "value" of letting those marginalized people speak out is not included: I want this partnership to reclaim that debate…. to defeat their poisonous ideology… and deny them the opportunity to spread messages of hate and division. None of this, of course, is to defend ISIS or its media propaganda machine, which at the very least has been effective in getting its message out. But the idea that the way to counter this is through censorship, surveillance and threats, rather than direct engagement seems to muddle the message of claiming the UK is about freedom and democracy, doesn't it?Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For a few years now, we've been covering the proliferation of the FBI's own plots, in which they basically set up a fake terrorist plot, and use their own undercover agents or (preferably) informants (generally former criminals who get paid and/or favors such as reduced sentences) to go out seeking young and gullible individuals to convince to "join" the plot (a plot that has no connection to reality). Then they stage a big arrest and an even bigger press conference about how they "stopped" a terrorist threat. We've written about examples of this over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. Apparently, a huge chunk of the FBI's resources goes toward manufacturing these kinds of fake plots, which help generate scary headlines, but rarely seem to do much other than putting young, gullible folks in jail. The Intercept has now published a story of one of these cases that is so extreme and so ridiculous that it should make you angry. It is the story of the "Fort Dix Five" -- a case that Chris Christie led the prosecution of while he was a US Attorney before becoming governor. This case was part of his fame and his "tough on terror" bona fides. Now, as Christie prepares his presidential campaign announcement, the case against the Fort Dix Five is a big part of his biography: In a 2012 speech to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Christie recalled his success in the “uncovering of a plot to kill American servicemen and women,” telling a packed audience at the New York Hilton Hotel that he helped send to prison a group of “Muslim men practicing with semi-automatic weapons and screaming about jihad against the infidels.” Today, both the Republican Governors Association and the New Jersey Republican Party list the Fort Dix case as “one of Christie’s finest moments” under his biography. Except, as the Intercept writeup details, despite putting three brothers away for life, there was no evidence against them. There was one friend of theirs, who liked to make up stories and brag a lot, who talked about an idea to shoot people at Fort Dix, but no indication at all that the other participants (mainly the three Duka brothers) knew about this plot at all. And then the fifth member of the "Fort Dix Five", upon hearing about the "plot", immediately went to the police to tell them about it. The Intercept has also published a short film about the Duka brothers (narrated by their younger brother) that is worth watching: The video shows clips of the footage the FBI got on the brothers, none of which ever has them discussing a plot against Fort Dix -- and actually tends to just show them messing around or even pushing back while the two FBI informants pushed them to get more involved in plots, which the brothers mostly ignored. Even the story of how the brothers came to the attention of the FBI is somewhat ridiculous. After a ski vacation in the Poconos, in which the brothers also did some horseback riding and went to a shooting range, they tried to make a DVD of some of the video they shot to give to everyone who went on the trip as a memento. In the video, while at the shooting range, some of the brothers say "allahu akbar" leading the guy making the DVDs at Circuit City to alert the feds. Despite the two FBI informants pushing to try to get the brothers engaged in a plot for a year -- mainly by pressuring the one show off guy who kept saying he had talked to them about it -- there is no evidence of any actual plot whatsoever. One of the informants and the one show off guy both admit that the brothers had no role in the plot. Eventually, the FBI set up a fake gun buy -- as the brothers were fans of guns, but as non-US citizens couldn't buy guns legally. It's pretty clear in going through with the plan to buy some guns, they broke the law, but it had nothing to do with a terrorist plot at all, and so the charges left them baffled. But in the end it didn't matter: Delivering Shain’s sentence, the culmination of a terrorism case that had lasted over two years, Judge Kugler said, “It’s not my place or desire at this time to review all the evidence … Suffice to say this defendant was in the middle of this plot. I’m realistic, I remember that they weren’t being taped 24 hours a day seven days a week.” Brushing off the lack of direct evidence, Kugler added: “That there isn’t more explicit evidence does not concern me and obviously didn’t concern the jury either … I cannot deter this defendant, because of his belief system, from further crimes.” Equally as disturbing is the way they included the fifth member of the "Fort Dix Five," Serdar Tatar, a friend of the Dukas who the braggart guy, Mohamad Shnewer, dragged into the "plot" to prove to the FBI informant that he could pull together people to pull off an attack. Except Tatar -- who wanted to become a police officer -- went to the police instead. And still got included in the charges. Omar apparently felt more comfortable approaching Tatar than the Duka brothers and began courting the 23-year-old. He told him of the plot to attack Fort Dix and openly asked for his help: he needed the pizza delivery map. Tatar, who had since left his father’s pizza shop and moved to Philadelphia, was working at a 7-Eleven when Sgt. Dean Dandridge of the Philadelphia Police Department came by for his daily coffee. On November 15, 2006, Tatar told Dandridge that he believed Omar might be planning a terrorist attack. Neither Tatar, nor Dandridge, had any way of knowing that Omar was an informant. Dandridge left Tatar’s information with the FBI, expecting the bureau’s agents would be in touch soon. For three weeks, Tatar waited for the FBI to contact him. In the meantime, he recorded at least one conversation with Omar, so that when the authorities did reach out, he would have information to give them. The full story and the video are infuriating. Yes, the FBI should be looking out for people looking to perform acts of terrorism and such, but in case after case after case we don't see them doing that. We see them setting up elaborate theater productions. In many of those cases, after lots of pressure, at the very least, the gullible and troubled individuals make some sort of statement to agree to participate in the "plot." This case -- as high profile as it is -- is even more exceptional in that 4 of the 5 participants never agreed to take part in any plot at all, with three of them not even knowing there was a plot. The story is a complete travesty and raises serious questions about what the FBI and Chris Christie were doing, other than padding their resumes.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Lest it be left behind by other countries bullied into submission by US trade agreements, the Canadian government has now expanded copyright terms for recording artists from 50 years to 70 years. (It was previously passed, but has now received the Official Royal Assent.) While not as obnoxiously long as the terms afforded to songwriters (life plus 50 years… which will probably be life plus 70 before too long…), it's still a needless expansion that does little for living artists while carving another 20-year hole in the public domain. While one would expect a less-than-balanced perspective from a trade-focused entity, Billboard's "coverage" of the ruling sounds like it was written by the recording industry itself. Two months after the Conservative government’s Economic Action Plan 2015 for Canada included its intention to amend the Copyright Act from 50 years to 70 years, the bill has been given royal assent and is now law. That ensures that songwriters will enjoy copyright royalties from early works well into their senior years. Now songs such as Buffy Sainte-Marie’s "Universal Soldier" -- released 50 years ago this August -- are no longer in danger of entering the public domain. Yes, it's the much-dreaded "public domain," which has repeatedly traveled several decades back in time to destroy nascent creative efforts. This "severely limited" time frame only extends to sound recordings. Songwriters and composers will continue to be rewarded for their creative efforts for 50 years after they're no longer able to cash royalty checks BECAUSE THEY'RE DEAD. Music Canada -- the RIAA of The North -- applauds this decision. In extending the term of copyright in recorded music, Prime Minister Harper and the Government of Canada have demonstrated a real understanding of music’s importance to the Canadian economy. Thank you. We are thrilled to see Canada brought in line with the international standard of 70 years. Except it's not really a "standard." "Standards" tend to be a bit more static. This "standard" keeps edging up periodically, mainly because of Mickey Mouse, the best unofficial lobbyist the recording and motion picture industries have ever had. It's only a "standard" because the US has kowtowed to the entertainment industry and then passed this bullying along to other countries, using secretive trade agreements and both carrot and stick. A "standard" of $500 weekly protection payments, as "agreed upon" by baseball-bat wielding thugs offering oblique threats would be similarly as "legitimate" as this supposed "international standard." As Billboard goes on to note, national treasures like Anne Murray, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young would have faced the ghastly prospect of (their labels) being unable to exploit recordings from more than fifty years ago without this two-decade protection bump. Well, they likely would have continued to see royalties (life+50), but Music Canada's main patrons, not so much. This is a win for record labels. It does next to nothing for the names listed above, other than ensure another twenty years of repackaged, decades-old songs -- not exactly the sort of "creative effort" people imagine when they talk about the advantages of copyright protection. All this does is give certain corporations the ability to wring a few more dollars out of recordings made more than 50 years ago. It will have zero impact on creative efforts going forward. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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As the French government feigned shock and indignation at revelations that a spy agency would spy on world leaders, it went ahead and continued pushing its new surveillance bill through the legislature. Yet also today, the lower house of France’s legislature, the National Assembly, passed a sweeping surveillance law. The law provides a new framework for the country’s intelligence agencies to expand their surveillance activities. Opponents of the law were quick to mock the government for vigorously protesting being surveilled by one of the country’s closest allies while passing a law that gives its own intelligence services vast powers with what its opponents regard as little oversight. But for those who support the new law, the new revelations of NSA spying showed the urgent need to update the tools available to France’s spies. This is the hypocrisy inherent to all countries housing intelligence agencies (which is, pretty much, ALL countries). Government leaders express indignation that their spy partners would use their powers to spy on them, while the agencies under their purview do exactly the same thing. On top of that, concern is rarely expressed about their own citizens, whose data and communications are being swept up not only by foreign intelligence agencies but also by domestic surveillance programs. That's the thing that will happen. France will widen its (already-expanded) surveillance net because a) government and b) the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Never let an attack on free speech prevent you from introducing your own chilling effect. And never let a tragedy go to waste. These are hallmark government moves, easily understandable when you realize most governments prize power expansions above all else. This is the thing that won't happen: France should respond to the U.S.’s “contempt” for its allies by giving Edward Snowden asylum, the leftist French daily newspaper Libération declared on Thursday. France would send “a clear and useful message to Washington, by granting this bold whistleblower the asylum to which he is entitled,” editor Laurent Joffrin wrote (translated from the French) in an angry editorial titled “Un seul geste” — or “A single gesture.” While Snowden has applied to several countries for asylum (presumably France is one of them), it's doubtful the French government will follow through with a suggestion from an "angry, leftist" newspaper. As much as it claims to be righteously angered by the latest revelations, it is likely in no hurry to strain its "Five Eyes" relationship with a powerful ally. (It will, however, continue to antagonize American tech companies with protectionist trade laws and batshit-crazy court decisions…) If the French government actually issues an asylum invitation to Snowden, I'll order a proper chapeau from some non-Amazonian online retailer and eat it. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Here on Techdirt, we often write about laws, particularly stupid ones. A new law that is being considered in Hong Kong, to encourage people to make apologies, seems to fit the description nicely. Here's the background, as given by the consultation paper seeking input on the idea (pdf): In 2010, the Working Group on Mediation of the [Hong Kong] Department of Justice recommended, amongst other things, that the question whether there should be apology legislation dealing with the making of apologies for the purpose of enhancing settlement deserves fuller consideration by an appropriate body. In 2012, the Secretary for Justice established the Steering Committee on Mediation (“Steering Committee”) to further promote the development of mediation in Hong Kong. The Regulatory Framework Sub-committee set up under the Steering Committee has been tasked to consider whether there is a need to introduce apology legislation in Hong Kong. After reviewing the report prepared by the Regulatory Framework Sub-committee, the Steering Committee recommended the enactment of apology legislation in Hong Kong. Here's why it's under consideration: The main objective of the proposed apology legislation is to promote and encourage the making of apologies in order to facilitate the amicable settlement of disputes by clarifying the legal consequences of making an apology. Apologizing after some mishap might be taken as a tacit admission of guilt, which could indeed have "legal consequences", since the fear is naturally that doing so will be used against the party making the apology. As a result, people often restrain their natural instinct to say sorry. The consultation documents points out that's likely to exacerbate the situation: It is unfortunate that this is the perceived legal position as regards apologies, for the heat of the moment so commonly found in a dispute could have been extinguished (or at least reduced) by an apology or an expression of sympathy or regret, thus preventing the escalation of the dispute into legal action or making it more likely for the legal action to be settled. Ironically, then, fear of the legal consequences of apologizing can mean that disputes are more likely to end up in court than they would had somebody quickly apologized. So apology legislation clarifying the legal effect of saying sorry makes a lot of sense, despite my erroneous initial thoughts. No wonder, then, as I learned from the consultation document, that similar laws are already found quite widely around the world -- in 57 jurisdictions to be precise. Moreover, it seems that the idea was first introduced in the US: Our research indicates that the first apology legislation was enacted in Massachusetts in 1986. The trend then spread to other states in the United States. At present over 30 states in the United States have apology legislation. Characteristics of the legislation vary. Some deem an apology not to be an admission of liability while others only limit the admissibility of an apology in court for certain purposes. It is noted that most of the apology legislation in the United States covers partial apology (i.e. apology that does not include an admission of fault) only and is targeted at civil actions against the health care profession or involving some other aspects of personal injuries only. Clearly I owe the lawmakers of Hong Kong an apology for misjudging their eminently sensible legislative project. Sorry. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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There's apparently something of a chocolate war going on in Europe, where rival confectioneries all go around trying to trademark silly aspects of their products while everyone else blocks them. Cadbury reportedly kicked all this off some years back, attempting to trademark the color purple (seriously), before Nestle came in and objected, getting the trademark overturned. The most recent edition of this sweet-war is Nestle's consternation over not being able to trademark the Kit Kat bar's four-bar shape. This probably requires some brief background. See, the UK is the birth-place of the Kit Kat bar. Back in 2013, Nestle decided that the candy had developed a distinction through its shape such that the four-bar shape deserved its own trademark (there was no attempt made on the two-bar fun-sized version). Nestle initially went to the Office of Harmonization of the Internal Market (OHIM), which essentially assigns trademarks for the EU, in 2012. But in 2013, the UK declined to confer a trademark on the Kit Kat shape. The reason for declining was that four bars of chocolate weren't a distinct enough thing to warrant its own mark. Cadbury is the one objecting to the Kit Kat shape trademark and they've kept up the pressure, despite Nestle's appeals. The latest development is likely the penultimate nail in this issue's coffin, however. Confectionery giant Nestle's attempt to trademark the shape of its four-finger KitKat bar in the UK does not comply with European law, a senior European Court lawyer has said. The opinion of the advocate-general effectively ends Nestle's attempts to trademark the snack. That's because the courts generally listen to the advocate-general on these matters, not to mention that the UK has already been predisposed to denying the trademark and the fact that every next EU entity that gets involved seems to have a different opinion likely means the UK courts will simply affirm the denial of the trademark. Now, it's perhaps worth noting that we, the Techdirt staff, have had some discussions about this case previously and there's been some disagreement about it. Some of us think that the Kit Kat shape is indeed distinct enough to warrant a mark. Others, including myself, do not. My reason is pretty simple: I tend to see trademark as chiefly a way to keep consumers from buying one product when they had intended to buy another. With that in mind, I've never heard of anyone buying a Kit Kat bar outside of the wrapper that covers up the shape, so I think the idea of getting a trademark on the shape is kind of dumb. That said, I should note the UK court didn't take to that line of thinking, asserting only a lack of distinction in the shape. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Jurassic World raked in over a billion bucks in less than 2 weeks by digitally re-creating some enormous (and sometimes fictional) dinosaurs. A few folks are actually working on re-animating prehistoric animals and other ancient organisms, but do we really need to bring these species back? Perhaps we should work on preventing an artificially-created extinction event of our own before we try to reverse the effects of the last one? An impact event that left a 110-mile-wide crater off the Yucatan coast of Mexico is most likely the cause of the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. That impact happened 66 million years ago, and it took a couple of million years for the ocean biosphere to recover its diversity afterwards. [url] A mass extinction occurring over 200 million years ago might have had a few contributing factors -- perhaps bacteria (aka methanosarcina) produced a world-changing amount of methane? Volcanoes might have also been a contributing factor, too, but we may never really be certain what actually happened that many millions of years ago. [url] We're headed for another mass extinction event, and the 'Sixth Great Extinction' is probably already underway. Species are dying off at a rate that's over 100 times higher than 'normal' -- are we only concerned when the next 'great extinction' also includes humans? [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Somewhat surprisingly to me, the tale of the now infamous eBook, "A Gronking To Remember" continues to develop. Yes, this whole thing started when a book purportedly written by a woman named Lacey Noonan, which details one housewife's sexual liberation at the sight of Patriots tight-end (heh) spiking a football, was taken down off of Amazon. The speculation at the time was that the cover of the book was the cause of the takedown, with the NFL being the likely complainer, as the cover features Gronkowski in full uniform. We learned later that the NFL wasn't actually the reason for the takedown. Instead, it was the photo of that couple embracing had apparently been appropriated from the wider interwebz without permission by the author or whoever designed the cover. That couple, choosing to remain anonymous, was suing not only the author but Amazon and Apple as well for selling the work on their respective platforms. So, what have we learned since? Well, to start with, Lacey Noonan is a dude. Greg McKenna to be specific. Which, whatever, there's no reason a guy can't write sex-fics about a housewife wanting to nail a football player, but it was a surprise. We've also learned that the New England Patriots did indeed complain to Amazon about the appearance of the team's uniform on the cover, but it turns out Noonan/McKenna removed The Gronk from the cover and republished the book again, with the image of the anonymous couple still in place, we assume. We've also learned that Amazon has an automated system that checks the works authors seek to publish for pure plagiarism or insanely offensive material. That last bit is becoming an issue in the case, as there are some suggesting that if Amazon can scan the text to omit plagiarism, why can't it run facial recognition software to search for unauthorized images on the covers? And if that question actually sounds reasonable to you, go get your head checked because you are insane. Checking text against a database of fiction is one thing. A very impressive thing, actually. But saddling Amazon, who isn't the publisher in this case, as they offer a self-publishing platform to sell works, with the responsibility to scan faces on bookcovers and then go seek out those people to ensure permission has been granted is crazy-pants. Not only is it operating under the theory that everything is infringing first until it's proven not to be, but it's asking the wrong party to be responsible for the wrong things. Nobody, for instance, is asking brick and mortar bookstores to police bookcovers. Amazon's argument in their brief is exactly on point. "If Amazon were to be denied summary judgment in the present case, (1) Amazon would be forced to closely examine every aspect of every book an author sought to self-publish through KDP and CreateSpace (and Audiobook Creation Exchange), (2) Amazon‟s costs would likely increase substantially, (3) the prices Amazon charges to its self-publishing customers could rise significantly, (4) some authors and independent publishers might no longer be able to afford to publish their works, and (5) Amazon would likely be inhibited from allowing authors to self-publish potentially controversial works." In other words, asking Amazon to pretend it's a publisher, when it isn't, would be a great way to kill self-published books. Which means a massive chill on speech and art, all in the name of not holding a self-publishing author responsible for what he or she publishes. Expect this to get tossed quickly under section 230 grounds. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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A modest attempt at patent reform (mainly targeting egregious patent trolling practices) is making its way through Congress these days at the usual glacial pace. However, even if it does eventually make it through, there is still a tremendous amount left to do on patent reform. Derek Khanna, who famously wrote the wonderful House Republican Study Committee report urging major copyright reform -- which so upset Hollywood that favors were called in to get the entire report retracted and cost Khanna his job, has now tried to write a similar report on patent reform. This one is for Lincoln Labs -- a think tank trying to present more free market/libertarian ideas into the technology policy arena. As Khanna notes in this new paper, it's unfortunate to see many conservative groups have come out against patent reform, often based on a misuse of the word "property." Recently, several conservative organizations— many of whom receive funding from industries with vested interests—have tried to preempt any form of patent reform by arguing how patent reform would violate their “property rights.” Nothing could be further from the truth: janitors do not have “property” in how to clean a building; Apple does not have “property” in rounded rectangles and “slide to unlock”; Amazon does not have “property” in one-click checkout; Priceline does not have “property” in the concept of reverse auctions; Microsoft does not have “property” in squiggly lines when you mistype a word; Smuckers doesn’t have “property” in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, anymore than a known patent troll has a “property” in the entire practice of podcasting; certainly no one ought to have “property” in the concept of the hyperlink; and we should probably all agree that no one ought to have “property” in the idea of exercising a cat by using a laser pointer. Instead, as we've noted for years, patents are a form of a monopoly right, and for those who claim to support the free market, you'd think they'd be very concerned about a slew of government granted monopolies (being granted at an ever increasing rate these days -- to the tune of hundreds of thousands a year). Khanna also points out, rightly, that this massive rise in patent monopolies is a form of crony capitalism, used to keep out competition and to hold back free markets. He compares it to other highly regulated markets where it's quite obvious the regulations have little to do with the stated purpose, but now are designed mainly to protect those who already are in power. As Khanna points out in the report, "more patents" does not equal "more innovation." If there are too many patents, it will only serve to clog the field and limit a vast amount of innovation. Thus he suggests there'a "curve" of patent optimality, and it's important to consider that in designing a patent system. While the chart is a bit of a broad generalization (especially since different areas of innovation appear to react differently to different levels of patenting), the point is rather important, because too many people simply assuming that more patents automatically means more innovation. So how do we reform all of this to make the system work better? He has a bunch of suggestions (some of which are already being considered): Increase patent quality requirements: There's a lot of detail in the report about how this can be done, and it's incredibly important. The incentive structure of the current patent system today encourages allowing crappy patents, which is why a huge number of patent applications are eventually approved. One important sub-suggestion in this arena is in fixing the "prior art" setup. Right now, patent examiners are not allowed to do crazy things like search the internet for prior art. Instead, they focus on older patents and journal articles. But in lots of areas, such as programming, that misses tons of prior art. Make patent applications accessible and require them to actually teach: Patent system supporters will often tell you that the true purpose of the patent system is to "disclose" the invention so that others can use it (either by license during the patent term or by anyone after). But, for many (especially in the software field) that's a joke. The patents almost never reveal anything useful at all in those fields. Khanna suggests a higher standard such that the patents actually do need to be useful to others in the field. That would be tremendously helpful. Reduce or eliminate business method and design patents: A large number of the worst patents are "business method" patents that are often just patenting common sense. There is no reason for this. Design patents are so similar to trademark law that most of the reasons for design patents can and should be covered by trademark law instead. Create an independent invention defense: This is my own personal favorite and the most important fix in my own list of recommendations. The idea that someone who came up with an idea entirely on their own isn't allowed to make use of their own invention seems like a much bigger "property rights" violation than invalidating bad patents. This would solve many of the worst problems of the patent system today, since so many shakedown efforts have absolutely nothing to do with copying, but just multiple people coming up with similar concepts. Loser pays: Also known as fee-shifting, this is a key component to patent reform that is currently on the table today to scare off frivolous patent suits that are just designed to shake people down. Speed up the patent approval and rejection process: Unfortunately, the report doesn't have much in the way of details as to how this would be done -- but I would argue that if most of the other recommendations were put in place, this wouldn't be much of a problem, because there would be a lot fewer bogus patent applications to deal with. Couple the US patent system with other systems to encourage innovation: The key idea here: look for things like the famous "x prizes" to incentive big bang innovations, rather than patents. This is an idea that's been out there for a while, and has support from a number of Nobel Prize winning economists. The UK just recently endorsed this idea as well. It's also pretty non-partisan, seeing as the biggest supporter of such an idea in Congress is Senator Bernie Sanders. It's a really good report and well worth reading. It is lacking a couple of my own favorite suggestions, though. I still think we need to go beyond just an "independent inventor's defense" to the point that independent invention is seen as a sign of obviousness. Patents are only supposed to be granted if the invention is considered "non-obvious" to a person who is "skilled in the art." If we're seeing multiple people "skilled in the art" coming along and inventing the same damn thing, that certainly seems to suggest obviousness to me. Thus, if there is widespread independent invention within a short time frame, without any evidence of knowledge or copying, it should stand to reason that any such patents are invalid. This would clear out a ton of the problem patents. It's unfortunate that some free market supporters have hijacked the story of patents to pretend that they're about the free market, when they're really about the opposite. Papers like Derek's hopefully move things back in the other direction.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The recording is old news. Last century. Dead. The Access versus Ownership debate should have finished 10 years ago, but we're still bickering. Access models (eg. streaming) are not supposed to replace Ownership models. They're supposed to power a new reality, a new age for the Music business, in which the record industry possibly has no place. "The Music industry" has become synonymous for the recording industry, just as it was synonymous for sheet music publishers prior to the rise of the recording companies. With new technology, come new companies, and the old companies move into the background. The new Music industry will likely not consist of those that depend on the recording (eg. major labels, or even Spotify), but those that apply technology to change what it means to listen to or interact with Music, just as the recording did in the 20th century. Even the creative process will have to change. Interactivity Prior to the invention of the record, Music was far more participative than it has become throughout the age of mass media and mass consumption. Back then, if you wanted to hear your favourite song, you better know how to play an instrument, or have a member of the household who sings well, or you're simply not going to hear it. That sounds extremely restrictive given our current reality, but it also gave Music certain characteristics that made it richer: Music was participative Music was mostly a social experience Music was more intimate Music sounded a little bit different every time Music belonged to everyone I believe these are natural characteristics of Music, that got temporarily pushed into the background in the age of Mass Media and Western individualism. Entertainment and Culture became passive, and the ownership of Culture became less ambiguous, economically. A Creating Class arose, and a Consuming Class. The companies selling the output of the Creating Class benefited from the passiveness of the Consuming Class, because you couldn't consume high margin products while you create. The KLF's Bill Drummond about Recorded Music The KLF's Bill Drummond about what the recording took away from Music. From 1:23. Quote below. "As the technology to record music evolved through the twentieth century, it sucked in and seduced every form of music around the world. They all wanted to become recorded music. They all wanted to become this thing that could be bought and sold. And that narrowed the parameters of what music could do and be. And it took away from music a big part of what can make music powerful, which is about music being about time, place, and occasion." Brian Eno about Recorded Music Ambient-pioneer and creator of the famous Windows 95 start-up sound Brian Eno said of Music in 1996: "Until 100 years ago, every musical event was unique: music was ephemeral and unrepeatable and even classical scoring couldn't guarantee precise duplication. Then came the gramophone record, which captured particular performances and made it possible to hear them identically over and over again. […] I think it's possible that our grandchildren will look at us in wonder and say: "You mean you used to listen to exactly the same thing over and over again?"" Introducing Interactivity The recording is not the end of the line for Music. Every medium is a transition to the next medium. Most people call performed music "live music" —  some people call recorded music "dead music" The Media evolved and spawned Computers, the Internet, Video Games. The latter a highly Interactive example of Culture that went on to give birth to MMORPGs, where large Communities of players Interact and define their own Meaning, participatively. A particularly good example of the aforementioned elements coming together is Minecraft, a world-creating game where players work together to build whatever they can dream of. Deadmau5 uses this to enter a digital world of fan art and interact with his fanbase. Imagine what that's going to look like with the unstoppable momentum Virtual Reality currently seems to have. The Consuming Class has become the Creating Class: Consumption and Creation are becoming, in part, synonymous. Why is Music still static by default? Why am I not being offered more ways to interact with Music? Look at the gaming industry. It's a 1,000 times easier to get someone to pay to unlock a 'special ability' than it is to sell them a piece of content. Intimacy and Immediacy The old Music industry is not interested in creating Intimacy. It's hard to scale. The dominance of the recording industry's model depends on hundreds of thousands of well-timed sales, and a long-tail that provides income until 70 years after the death of the Creator. Yet the fact that we carry computers in our pockets that are more powerful than the PCs on our desks a few years ago, and always connected to the Internet, offers amazing opportunities for Intimacy and Immediacy, ones that fans are happy to pay for. It means that Kevin Kelly's theory of a 1,000 True Fans will become increasingly easy to apply for a growing number of Creators. The rise of Intimacy and Immediacy will benefit those Creators who work with small teams, who are open about their creative process, and involve their fanbase early on in this process. This enables them to secure funds through crowdfunding, as opposed to trying to secure investment from large corporations, whether recording companies or brands. One can create dynamics of social competition within a fanbase. Who can recruit the most new fans, or active members? Who are the most valuable contributors to the Creator's wiki? Who spend the most money on merch and who have the most complete collection? The ones that rank highest, get access to perks. A weekly 1 hour video chat with the top 10, weekly 10 minute preview of what you're working on for the top 50, 20% discount on merchandise for the top 200, etc. An app that has a great idea for how to get people to actively discover new Music, engage with it, and feel part of the artist's success is Tradiio. It gamifies Music discovery and lets users invest virtual coins in songs they believe in. This helps artists rise to prominence on the platform and earn rewards. If this platform evolves from a reward-based game, to a real economy where users can purchase coins and artists can cash out, it would be a good example of the type of company the new Music industry will be made up of. Just to mention some other exemplary companies for music's future: look at Smule and Sonic Emotion. More on Games The Gaming industry got into the same mess, at the same time, that the Music industry got into, brought about by the fact that what they thought was their product could suddenly be communicated through networks at zero cost. A whole new Gaming industry emerged with the arrival of connected devices: smartphones. Instead of charging money for the game, they made the game free to play and highly social, and instead charged for a limited set of actions. Treat money-poor, time-rich fans as well as the money-rich, time-poor, because it's the former that provide value for the latter. Music needs a new format that's feature-oriented, rather than content-focused. The content remains central to the experience, but the interaction around the content is what brings in the money. Likewise, playback of recorded music will remain important in the future, but perhaps not as the part of the industry that rakes in the most important part of Creators' incomes. Examples There are countless examples of companies pioneering the future of Music. From aforementioned Tradiio, to ones started by game developers, Music business serial entrepreneurs, and artists themselves. First let's start with an example from another part of the entertainment industry. Example: Affectiva & Portal Entertainment The former is an emotion analysis startup spun out of MIT Media Lab in 2009. The latter is a studio which produces 'movies' for interactive devices. According to a recent article on Wired, using Affectiva's software, Portal Entertainment is creating a horror series that's "exactly as scary as you want it to be": "The software will read your emotional reactions to the show in real time. Should your mouth turn down a second too long or your eyes squeeze shut in fright, the plot will speed along. But if they grow large and hold your interest, the program will draw out the suspense." Imagine applying that to music… Some companies are already closing in on that. Example: Inception, by Hans Zimmer and RjDj Music producer and film composer Hans Zimmer collaborated on an app for the Inception movie, with RjDj, a company that specializes in Context Aware Music and Augmented music, founded by one of the co-founders of last.fm, Michael Breidenbruecker. Hans Zimmer on the project: "There's a thing I've been searching for and I've been working on forever now, is a way to get beyond recorded music. To get beyond 'you just download a piece of music and it's just always the same'." The application they made draws information from the world around the user, and transforms it into fantastic music. It seems as if you're being immersed in dreamlike worlds, as happens in the movie. They continued their collaboration and made another app for The Dark Knight Rises. RjDj also created a Reactive Music game called Dimensions, which owes its name to the trippy effects of the Augmented Music that make it feel like you've just crossed into another dimension. The game is free-to-play, and offers in-app purchases to unlock new experiences or further augment existing ones. I asked two of the people behind RjDj whether people are ready for adaptive music. This is what they had to say. Michael Breidenbruecker: "I think many of them are ready. Apps like Inception or Dark Night Rises show that people are really into this sonic experience. The problem is how this is presented packaged. I can tell you from experience that not many people hear the difference between 5 hours of generative music and 5 hours recorded music. So really... no one cares if your music changes all the time through an algorithm and never sounds the same or if [it] is a preproduced track. Music has to have a reason why it is dynamic and not linear... that's why we sync it to real life." Robert Thomas: "I think Inception especially proved that if the experience is delivered in a way that makes sense, perhaps within a bigger conceptual framework, then millions of people can understand it and really like it. As for people understanding the depths and details of how reactive music changes. It is very very easy to lose a huge part of the audience here. I think its fair to say that only musicologists and very serious music listeners could pick out the ways in which detailed generative music is changing for instance. Making a reactive music experience meaningful requires that the listener can tangibly feel that the change in the music is linked to his / her activity or life in some direct and hopefully emotionally powerful way. Often making linear music is about manipulating the emotional state of the listener into particular states of mind over time for dramatic effect. Reactive music poses a different set of possibilities - what if the music is manipulated by them / their emotional state? As a composer this is totally different - its like using a sniper rifle instead of a shotgun - you can make your music hit exactly the right spot for the moment." Adaptive soundtracks are actually quite common in games, where the Music transforms depending on the player's absolute and relative position (it's called Dynamic Music). Some developers are chucking all the other game elements aside to focus fully on that. Example: Proteus Proteus has been described as a non-game. The game (or 'game') was developed by one developer and one sound designer, and places you on a mystical island. There's nothing there to kill, no need to score points, and you can't die. All you have to do is to wander around the island to discover new areas and to enjoy the way objects around you influence the soundtrack. This is the literal embodiment of the phrase 'soundscape'. The changing seasons, different weather conditions, time of day, and varying ecosystems all have an impact on the Music. I asked David Kanaga, the game's sound designer, whether this is something anyone could do, in order to understand whether this could become a more mainstream medium for Music: "Yes, anyone could do it. It's maybe even more natural than writing static music in a way. That said, very few people are doing it, and maybe it takes years of UNLEARNING, which maybe means everything needs to be played again, to stop fixating on what's successful and beautiful in recorded music, in Sgt. Peppers and Pet Sounds, to find the play aspect of those and to move on, to stop admiring recordings.. improvise only, this is the tactic that i've been practicing myself to try this unlearning.. no serious learning is needed, really, but the UNLEARNING is totally necessary." Example: Biophilia, by Björk In recent years many artists have taken to releasing albums as apps. Björk had a particularly interesting take on it, releasing her album as a 3 dimensional galaxy that can be navigated and interacted with. The app even became part of MoMa’s collection. Through the use of in-app purchases, the user can unlock new parts of the galaxy, which provide new Music to Interact with. Example: Don't Be Scared LP, by DJ Vadim Ninja Tune veteran DJ Vadim released an 'immersive album', which allows users to interact with different elements of the song, recomposing it according to their own wishes. What better way to create a sense of Intimacy between your fans and your Music. Example: Central Park (Listen to the Light), by BLUEBRAIN Then there's Bluebrain, a musical duo that produced their own apps, location-aware albums, one of which can only be used in New York's Central Park. In a way it's similar to Proteus, except in this case, the soundscape is mapped to physical locations rather than virtual. Example: Weav Recently a new music startup by one of the creators of Google Maps started making waves: Weav. Weav's aim is to simply make music elastic. Unlike Spotify's new feature which picks songs that match your tempo while running, songs on Weav's platform will actually adjust to your pace. The team created tools for musicians to create dynamic music: you don't just write the song, you also program rules for it to recompose itself and adjust to different tempos. Co-founder Lars Rasmussen: "We believe that as our lives become increasingly digital, and as our increasingly powerful mobile devices play greater and greater roles in our lives, having a song that can change and adapt -- in real time -- to what you are doing will become increasingly important. And delightful. This is why we built Weav." Conclusion If you're waiting for disruption in the music industry, don't look at the big platforms like iTunes or Spotify. They belong in the Age of the Recording. Look at platforms that offer actual Interactivity, Immediacy, Intimacy, and Involvement. Now more than ever can Creators help give shape to future formats of Music, and to new ways to connect the listener to the Music. Imagine Music in the Age of the Internet of Things. Music may be static, but it doesn't have to be. And the relation between Creator and Fan certainly shouldn't be. Bas Grasmayer (@basgras) is a music startup consultant, and former Product Lead of Zvooq, the leading music streaming service in Russia & CIS. He’s best known for his thesis The Answer is the Ecosystem: Marketing Music through Non-Linear Communication and has previously spoken at conferences such as Amsterdam Dance Event, European Lab, Midem and Sochi Winter Music Conference.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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It's been mere days since Dylann Roof forced his name into our lives by walking into an historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, praying with several black members of the church, and then brutally shooting most of them to death. As you can imagine, whenever a tragedy such as this occurs, the country enters into a rare moment of somber seriousness, finally choosing to discuss difficult topics that we've been otherwise avoiding and coming together united to build a better life for our collective futures. Just kidding, we're talking about flags, y'all! With only the briefest respite provided by some in the media choosing to inject video games into this tragedy for no reason at all, most of our time has been spent discussing the Confederate battle flag. In case you're not sure, yes, this is indeed crazy. Not that the idea that a treasonous symbol of failure like the Confederate Navy Jack flying over the capital of a state in Lincoln's union isn't absolutely asinine. It most certainly is. But for our attention to be diverted from the deaths of living people to a stupid symbol from a war won long ago while the bloodstains have barely dried in that church makes absolutely no sense at all. And just when you think this couldn't get any more stupid, Apple gallops to the rescue by losing its mind in its own App Store. Many large US companies, like Walmart and Amazon, have already banned the sale of any Confederate flag merchandise as a reaction to the recent events. Now, it appears that Apple has decided to join them by pulling many Civil War wargames from the App Store. As of the writing of this story, games like Ultimate General: Gettysburg and all the Hunted Cow Civil War games are nowhere to be found. Apple is famous for reaching for the axe rather than the scalpel when it comes to political issues (like rejecting Hunted Cow's Tank Battle 1942 for depicting Germans and Russians as enemies), so this move doesn't come as a great surprise. Just so I have this straight, because a racist killer murdered nine people in South Carolina, I, here in Chicago, can't play a Civil War simluation and kill Confederate soldiers? How does that make any sense? Well, it's likely that Apple didn't bother to think any steps beyond noticing that the Confederate battle flag was included in the game, therefore the ban-hammer was brought down. In fact, Apple has told game developers as much when communicating with them about the ban. It's looking like Apple has pulled everything from the App Store that features a Confederate flag, regardless of context. The reasoning Apple is sending developers is "...because it includes images of the confederate flag used in offensive and mean-spirited ways." No, it didn't, you dolts. It's history. That flag actually did exist in the context of the time period of the game. And the result is predictable: everyone is mocking the hell out of Apple as we speak. Popehat was helpful, as always: Apple announces that all banned Civil War wargames will be restored, with this redesigned Confederate flag: pic.twitter.com/IkDtHunpLZ — Popehat (@Popehat) June 25, 2015 While others tried to helpfully show Apple how this has been handled by others far, far better: Hey Apple, let me show you a thing: pic.twitter.com/paSgpNLw01 — Stephanie G. (@SigmaRue) June 25, 2015 In other words, we're all adults here, or close enough, so let's not simply try to pretend the bad thing from history never happened. Unfortunately, Apple doesn't do nuance, so instead we end up with two banned historical games that were simply too accurate for the iOS platform. Bet you they're still available for Android, though. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Okay, there are some legitimate gripes one can have about driver-on-demand services like Uber even if I think many are overstated. You can complain that you don't like the way the company runs its business. You can question the company's commitment to privacy. You can question the company's hardball tactics with politicians and journalists. You can even question the impact that the company has had on the market. These are all legitimate areas to explore, though the deeper you go, the more you're likely to realize that most of the complaints are exaggerated. However, the really crazy kneejerk anti-Uber sentiment tends to be ridiculous, and frequently driven by cab companies that just don't like the competition. For those who use Uber, the service is almost always significantly better, more convenient (and these days, often cheaper) than traditional cab service. That's what happens when you're enabling competition in a previously limited market. But some folks still are going absolutely nuts over Uber, and France appears to be ground zero for the craziest of the crazy anti-Uber folks. We'd already mentioned that French officials had raided Uber's offices not too long ago, but today cab drivers decided to "protest" Uber by... showing that they're a bunch of violent hooligans. At least that seems to be the message cab drivers are sending with today's violent anti-Uber protests. French taxi drivers blocked the entrances to Paris’s major airports and train stations, while disruptions were also reported in other cities, including Marseille and Aix-en-Provence in the South. In Grenoble, near the border with Italy, taxi associations burned tires on the highway, while in Paris, police officers in riot gear used tear gas to disrupt the protests. The anger from French taxi drivers is the latest in a series of challenges confronting Uber, which has been accused by taxi associations and some policy makers of breaking national transportation laws and of creating unfair competition to traditional taxis. The ride-booking service faces regulatory scrutiny in many of the countries in which it operates. If the fire situation didn't already give you a clue, these protests quickly went beyond mere protests, to true modern Luddism, with taxi drivers starting to flip cars and setting more fires. Paris . No Comment pic.twitter.com/81fIIoGYcc — La Gazette du Taxi (@LaGazetteduTaxi) June 25, 2015 Of all people, Courtney Love was in Paris and found herself held hostage because of the violent attacks: they've ambushed our car and are holding our driver hostage. they're beating the cars with metal bats. this is France?? I'm safer in Baghdad — Courtney Love Cobain (@Courtney) June 25, 2015 Originally, this morning I was just going to write a post about London's silly move to make Uber drivers pass a special test akin to the infamous "The Knowledge," but then France cabbies went and did this sort of overreaction. So here's the question: what do these cabbies think they're accomplishing here? If Uber wasn't a service that people wanted to use, then there wouldn't be a problem. But it is something they want to use, and it's a service they like. Getting violent, flipping cars, setting fires and terrorizing passengers is going to do what exactly? Suddenly get everyone to think "why, yes, I'd rather pay extra money and take a ride with these sociopaths?" Yes, Uber can be a bit brash in how it carries itself, but the way to deal with that is to provide a better service. Flipping cars and setting fires does not appear to be doing anything related to that.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Some of the best apps on the web are made with Ruby on Rails, and with this BaseRails Ruby on Rails Training online course, you'll learn what you need to know to build your own app. The 7 courses teach you how to build 4 different apps, and how to gather data through an API and use that data to build your own custom app. For 92% off of this 2 year subscription, you will have access to 30 hours of content and any new courses and demos as they are added. Note: We earn a portion of all sales from Techdirt Deals. The products featured do not reflect endorsements by our editorial team.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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While propaganda is everywhere, we've been exploring lately how Putin's Russia has been taking Internet disinformation to an entirely new level. Numerous whistleblowers and media reports have spent the last year or so unearthing Russian Internet propaganda factories, where armies of sockpuppets get paid 40,000 to 50,000 rubles ($800 to $1,000) a month to create proxied, viable, fake personas -- specifically tasked with pumping the internet full of toxic disinformation twenty-four hours a day. Unlike some similar campaigns by the U.S. Russia originally didn't try very hard to hide these operations' existence, but that's already changing. As numerous writers have discovered (myself included), even pointing out that these operations exist will grab you a heaping helping of anonymous troll scorn. If you still haven't perused it, this recent New York Times Magazine breakdown of Russia's troll armies is essential reading. In light of Putin's not-so-gentle treatment of critics, the bravery some of the program's whistleblowers continues to be impressive. Lyudmila Savchuk worked at the Russian Internet bile factory for two months, ultimately leaving after finding the work morally repugnant. She's since been leaking a treasure trove of information about the program, including clandestine videos showing some of the program employees at work. She's also spearheading a lawsuit against The Agency for Internet Studies, which was finally dragged into court this week after missing the first court hearing. The company's specifically being sued for underpayment and a number of labor violations, since it unsurprisingly wasn't keen on providing employees with traditionally-necessary paperwork. Amusingly, a representative for "The Agency" hoped to settle with Savchuk, but she's apparently having none of it:"The agency is now seeking to avoid public scrutiny by offering to compensate her. Yekaterina Nazarova, defending, told the Petrogradsky district court judge the agency was ready to settle with Savchuk, who had asked for a symbolic sum of 10,000 roubles (£118). Nazarova offered to wire the sum to Savchuk’s account, then quickly left the court without speaking to the press. Savchuk said: “I am very pleased, they pretended they don’t exist at all and now they have come out of the shadows for the first time – we saw their representative. But I will feel that I won only after the troll factory closes completely."The problem is that the operation Savchuk's trying to shut down operates under a spiderweb of various companies with an endless variety of names across numerous different industries (including construction) -- all of which are protected by the Russian government. As such, it's going to be a Sisyphean and dangerous game of legal whac-a-mole; one you'd hope Savchuk survives.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you want to know how misguided this lawsuit it, just read the subheadline: IN a South Australian-first, internet giant Google is being sued by an Adelaide academic who claims she has been defamed by a US-based website it links to. Do you see the problem here? Health researcher Janice Duffy is obviously intelligent, but she's been trying to hold Google responsible for Ripoff Report's actions for nearly six years now, draining what's left of her savings and leaving her to crowdfund her self-represented last stand against Google in the South Australian Supreme Court. What she claims has happened as a result of the allegedly defamatory posts at Ripoff Reports is genuinely awful. Dr Duffy said she had been unemployed since she was forced to leave her SA Health position in 2010 after her colleagues learnt of the false claims about her on the website, and she believed she had not been able to find work since because of it. She said that she had since suffered intense depression and often contemplated suicide because of the situation, but was determined to have Google remove the links and seek compensation through the court action. But her assertions take a turn for the quixotic when she mentions other options considered and discarded. Dr Duffy said the website [Ripoff Report] charges people up to $10,000 per page to remove offending material, but she could not afford this as she had spent all of her savings and superannuation fighting Google in court. I would never encourage someone to cave to borderline extortionate demands -- and Ripoff Reports is far from the paragon of online virtue -- but if she had the money at her disposal and spent it all targeting the company that returns search results, rather than the company hosting the material or, better yet, the person who wrote the posts, it's tough to be wholly sympathetic. But she's going to keep fighting, sunk cost fallacy be damned. What little she does have going for her in this quest to make Google pay for its refusal to delist allegedly defamatory content without a court order is her native country's rather dubious court decisions and the lack of Section 230-esque protections, which brings the prospect of winning within the realm of imagination. On her personal blog, she posits this rhetorical question: I still cannot figure out why Google would pay three law firms, two barristers and a QC literally hundreds of thousands of dollars rather then just remove the links to the defamtory content. That is all I wanted, for them to be removed. And yet, here I am almost 6 years and a couple of dozen removal notifications later facing a trial. The answer, of course, is that this case -- while deeply personal to Dr. Duffy -- isn't just about her. Ceding this ground would allow others less suitably injured to use Google as their own personal reputation management firm. It would allow copyright holders to provide even flimsier justifications for link delisting. And it would open Google up to several similar lawsuits from parties who find it easier to target Google for alleged slights, rather than the authors of defamatory posts. This is why Google's fighting so hard and this is why it really shouldn't be fighting this battle at all. In its defence, Google claims its activities do not render it “a publisher at all, or in the alternative, the publisher of the matters complained of’’. The legitimate target(s) of a defamation suit include: 1. The person who uttered the defamatory statements. All else is simply pray-and-spray litigation. Different laws in different countries will raise or lower the effectiveness of this praying/spraying, and certain countries are willing to overlook logic simply to bash large American companies, but in terms of legitimate lawsuits, the only party that should be listed as a defendant is the defamer. There are discovery routes towards discovering the true identities of anonymous/pseudonymous parties. And yes, this option will increase expenditures. But targeting the biggest, most publicly available names -- no matter how distantly "involved" -- isn't exactly a money saver either, as Janice Duffy has discovered. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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You just knew it was going to happen. Not long ago, Dylann Roof walked into a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, prayed with several parishioners there for some time, and then proceed to shoot most of them dead. So many of these stories are horrific not only for the violence that gets perpetrated, but because we're typically left with the most vexing of questions: why? Why did two Colorado teenagers shoot up their school? Why would a young man walk into an East Coast elementary school and shoot children? Why? The South Carolina massacre is different in that respect. We know exactly why Dylann Roof killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He did it because he was a racist, bigoted, self-aggrandizing fool who actually thought that differences in appearance equated to differences in humanity and saw heroes in those who would oppress their fellow humans. Oh, also video games, if you ask Martin Luther King III and Bill O'Reilly, obviously. "Look at video games," King said during the segment. "Our children play video games and 7 out of 10 of them are violent. Some of our movies are very violent, and we want to see more and more violence." O’Reilly agreed with King, noting that there needs to be more pushback, more people need to argue that it’s "not a good thing to devote your leisure time to violent pursuits." This has to end. With the available evidence continuing to demonstrate that any link between violent media and real-life violence being tenuous at best, the rush to drag an entertainment medium into the discussion of a self-admitted racist killing blacks simply because they were black is absolutely insane. There's no wondering the why here. There's no linking video games to this tragedy. The conversation doesn't belong in any relevant discussion about Dylann Roof. And it's not like O'reilly really wants entertainment mediums saddled with the responsibility for what evil people do. You'll notice that O'Reilly (and it isn't just him, I can assure you) is happy to bring up his own constitutional rights to free speech when challenged but have no issue dragging an art form and entertainment medium into the spotlight after a tragedy that had nothing to do with video games. And, look, this isn't a Fox News or Bill O'Reilly problem. Plenty of major news outlets are happy to placate older adults that need a tight little box to put tragedies in, something that can be blamed. Video games apparently are destined to fill that role until these idiots retire and the next generation of news people are in place, because those people will have grown up gaming if the statistics and demographics are any indication. So I guess we just wait them out. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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No one seriously believed it was just US law enforcement agencies using repurposed war gear to track cellphone users, did they? An investigation by the British news channel Sky News claims to have found evidence of fake cellphone towers operating in London and elsewhere that acts similarly to devices known as IMSI catchers, the most famous of which is manufactured under the brand name StingRay. The results of Sky News' GDMK Cryptophone-enabled cell tower wardriving can be found in this file, which supposedly uncovered more than 20 cell tower imposters in London alone in a three-week period. We've still got the UK beat on nomenclature, though. IMSI catchers are pretty much always referred to as "stingrays" (actually a product name trademarked by manufacturer Harris Corporation). Due to the lack of official acknowledgement or FOA-ed documents, we're stuck with the clunky "ICT hardware," as produced by manufacturer Datong.* *Time to crowdsource a better British nickname. We honestly can't be using "ICT hardware" in the future when further details inevitably leak out. You'd think the Brits would already have this handled, considering the split development of the language (American/English) has necessitated a need for an English-to-English dictionary at this point. Here's what officials don't have to say about the Sky News revelations, which follows on the heels of previous investigations by The Guardian and the Times of London. The only thing on record -- outside of the inevitable refusal to confirm or deny -- is this statement, which implies the public's right to know what law enforcement is up to falls far, far behind law enforcement's need to bust bad guys. “We’re not going to talk about it,” Met official Bernard Hogan-Howe told Sky News when asked for comment. “The only people who benefit [from a comment] are the other side, and I see no reason in giving away that sort of thing." Of course. And then there's this "reassurance," which only states that whatever the police are doing with these devices, it's certainly not as bad as the worst case scenarios envisioned by the most overactively-imaginative. “If people imagine that we’ve got the resources to do as much intrusion as they worry about, I would reassure them that’s impossible,” Hogan-Howe added without providing any evidence to support his claim. But that's OK, because what we do know about IMSI catchers should be scary enough. They force phones to the "dumbest" connection -- 2G -- to better facilitate the interception of calls and texts. They indiscriminately hoover up all call data in the area and can often disrupt normal phone service. Their exisitence is routinely hidden from courts, judges and criminal defendants. And they've been deployed thousands of times by hundreds of law enforcement agencies without a warrant. These are all reason the public should be made aware of the purchase and use of these devices. But because usage isn't as "intrusive" as Hogan-Howe fails to specify it could be, British citizens are apparently supposed to believe everything is perfectly fine. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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When Steam announced its new refund policy, the timing was, perhaps, unfortunate in terms of gauging the response to the new policy. See, the new refund program came on the heels of a similarly new attempt by Steam to offer a platform for modders to charge for mods, which caused a nearly universal backlash from the gamer customers. With that fresh in everyone's mind, it was disheartening to watch some game developers, particularly those on the indie side, criticize and worry over Steam having an actual refund policy for digital games. Not that every last bit of the concern was unwarranted, mind you, it's just that the idea of Steam having essentially zero refund policy was one of those things that sounded like it couldn't even be true, so any adoption of refunds was going to be a win for consumers. Still, the focus of gaming companies appeared to be on how horrible it all was for them, rather than understanding the legitimate reasons why a customer might seek a refund. Here to helpfully demonstrate the why is Warner Bros. and its PC port of Batman: Arkham Knight, which is beginning to look like it was designed to be a very prominent middle finger to PC gamers. In case you haven't kept up on what a complete mess the PC version of the game is, all you need to know is that WB's own instructions on how to play it and what's required for minimal settings will have you blinking in surprise. Here's how WB says you should run the game on a minimum system: Resolution: 1280x720 V-Sync: Off Anti-Aliasing: Off Texture Resolution: Low Shadow Quality: Low Level of Detail: Low Interactive Smoke/Fog: Off Interactive Paper Debris: Off Enhanced Rain: Off Enhanced Light Shafts: Off So, 720p and everything off or low on the details. Okay, that's how you'd typically go about reducing the load on a minimum machine, fine. So what's the now-recommended minimum from WB? OS: Win 7 SP1, Win 8.1 (64-bit Operating System Required) Processor: Intel Core i5-750, 2.67 GHz | AMD Phenom II X4 965, 3.4 GHz Memory: 6 GB RAM Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 (2 GB Memory Minimum) | AMD Radeon HD 7950 (3 GB Memory Minimum) DirectX: Version 11 Network: Broadband Internet connection required Hard Drive: 45 GB available space Look, I don't want to get into some war with the community over what a modern day gaming machine should look like, but that isn't a minimum system by any standard. Not that this is the first game that doesn't run on a decent modern machine (screw you, NBA2K15), but none of this was expected by gamers or WB, which is why they've been promising a patch ever since the port hit the market and everyone started freaking out. But there's no timeline on that patch, of course, and in the meantime the company is essentially suggesting that you better have a better-than-average rig to even run this game at the minimum specs. But even then... With these settings on Min Spec AMD GPU’s, users can expect some minor texture pops, occasional loading symbols during fast-paced scenarios, and some hitches & stuttering when gliding or driving the Batmobile. With these settings on Rec Spec AMD GPUs, users can expect some minor texture pops, occasional loading symbols during fast-paced scenarios, and some hitches & stuttering when gliding or driving the Batmobile. To help alleviate this, AMD users using Rec Spec GPU’s should turn Texture Resolution, Shadow Quality, and Level of Detail to Low. We continue to work closely with AMD to resolve these issues as soon as possible; make sure you have the most current drivers and check back here for updates on when the next driver version is available. Meaning that depending on which GPU manufacturer your machine is using, a min-spec machine and all the settings turned low or off will get you to the point where your game almost works. Woo-hoo! And yet this is where Warner Bros., and Steam, deserve some recognition, because the company is pointing directly to Steam's refund page on the community site to show customers where they can get refunds. If you purchased your copy of the game through Steam and are not satisfied with your experience, you can request a refund at help.steampowered.com (Steam refund policies can be found here: http://store.steampowered.com/steam_refunds). And that's why Steam needed a refund policy. The PC gaming community is very loyal to PC games, but that doesn't change the fact that PC gaming includes variables where consoles do not. Performance and machine specs are the chief amongst them. If for no reason beyond that, the refund policy was overdue, rather than something for developers to freak out about. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've pointed out flying bikes and chainless bikes before, and there seems to be no end to the creativity of bike mechanics. Maybe no one ever forgets how to ride a bike, but bike technology seems to be getting a bit more complex than just balancing on two wheels. We don't quite have Star Wars speeder bikes yet, but perhaps we will soon. The US Army has taken an interest in Malloy Aeronautics -- the company behind a Kickstarter campaign to make a hoverbike. A military-grade version of a hoverbike could be in the works, but it's really not that clear why this hoverbike is better than other quadcopter drones (besides its potential to carry a human rider). [url] DARPA has granted $100,000 to Logos Technologies to develop a hybrid electric motorcycle that runs silently (well, not more than about 55 decibels). This isn't the only hybrid electric bike out there, but it will have a diesel engine that can run on a variety of fuels and 2WD for rough terrain. [url] The RNT from Indian motorcycle maker Hero is a diesel hybrid with 2WD, too. It's a concept vehicle that fits a couple of passengers (or more, if you're creative) and acts as a backup generator. [url] After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Before the FCC's new net neutrality rules went into effect, Sprint surprised a few people by coming out in favor of Title II based net neutrality rules, making them the only one of the big four carriers to clearly and publicly support the shift. Now news reports also suggest that while T-Mobile, AT&T and Verizon continue to throttle customers (unlimited or otherwise), Sprint has announced that just before the rules took effect the company decided to stop throttling its customers entirely, just to be on the safe side:"Sprint, the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier, had been intermittently choking off data speeds for its heaviest wireless Internet users when its network was clogged. But it stopped on Friday, when the government's new net-neutrality rules went into effect....Sprint said it believes its policy would have been allowed under the rules, but dropped it just in case. "Sprint doesn't expect users to notice any significant difference in their services now that we no longer engage in the process," a Sprint spokesman said.Specifics are skimpy as to precisely what Sprint was doing, but it seems likely that the company wasn't entirely sure that it could prove the throttling was necessary due to network congestion. Meanwhile, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile continue to use throttling as a network management practice, but they apparently hope to use semantics to play patty cake with FCC lawyers should the commission have any problems with what they're up to:"T-Mobile spokespeople have been trying to convince Ars that "de-prioritization" isn't actually "throttling." Verizon has also claimed that its own "network optimization" isn't throttling. The tactic is reminiscent of Comcast's claim that its data caps aren't actually "data caps." Regardless of what semantics the carriers use, they are slowing down their customers. T-Mobile's policy is fairly generous, though. As of now, it applies only to unlimited customers who use more than 21GB of data in a month. Those customers are "de-prioritized for the remainder of the billing cycle in times and at locations where there are competing customer demands for network resources."The semantics of the word "throttling" aside, the FCC has made it pretty clear the rules allow ISPs to use throttling as a network management tool to deal with congested networks, carriers just can't use throttling and network management as a pretense to make an extra buck. And as we've seen with AT&T being sued by the FTC and fined by the FCC, regulators are making it pretty clear they won't tolerate carriers that offer an "unlimited" service, then throttle it without making that clear to the end user. Watching the hammer come down on AT&T's throttling of unlimited data plans specifically is likely what prompted Sprint to back off its own throttling practices. Granted, Sprint has bigger problems than the FCC's neutrality rules at the moment. The company continues to lag in last place in most network performance and customer satisfaction surveys, and has struggled to retain customers in the face of AT&T and Verizon's superior networks, and T-Mobile's consumer-friendly theatrics. Sprint currently has to figure out how to repair and substantially expand a last-place network while managing to nab market share from the other three carriers. So far, there's every indication that the company isn't going to be able to do that and compete on price at the same time. New company CEO Marcelo Claure has now suggested several times the company is going to kill one of the few things customers like about Sprint: unlimited data. So while it's great that Sprint's so enthusiastic about complying with the FCC's new net neutrality rules, that won't mean much to consumers if Sprint implodes, or decides to weaken the competitive field by pricing services just like AT&T and Verizon.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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