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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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Pawn shops -- like scrap metal dealers and junkyards -- are "closely regulated" businesses. What this means is they are compelled to track acquisition information and make it available for law enforcement to view without a warrant. The nexus of these businesses to criminal activity is undeniable. But that doesn't necessarily mean everything law enforcement demands, it gets. Some demands exceed the diminished Fourth Amendment protections afforded to these businesses. The "closely regulated" language comes from the US Supreme Court. In a decision affecting a New York junkyard owner, the Supreme Court found that: A business owner's expectation of privacy in commercial property is attenuated with respect to commercial property employed in a "closely regulated" industry. Where the owner's privacy interests are weakened and the government interests in regulating particular businesses are concomitantly heightened, a warrantless inspection of commercial premises, if it meets certain criteria, is reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. A decision in the New York Supreme Court (People v. Keta) seemingly went against the US Supreme Court's precedent. It narrowed the broad exceptions to the Fourth Amendment somewhat, with the presiding judge (Vito J. Titone) noting: "Our responsibility in the judicial branch is not to respond to these temporary crises or to shape the law so as to advance the goals of law enforcement, but rather to stand as a fixed citadel for Constitutional rights." But "advancing the goals of law enforcement" still seems to be the goal. Officers are free to inspect acquisition records without a warrant, as well as seize stolen goods in plain sight, but most other actions (including searches of safes, etc.) still require additional paperwork. In order to expedite police inspections of pawnbrokers, New York legislators passed a law making it even easier for law enforcement check in on "closely regulated" businesses. RCNY §21-03(a) and (b), §21-04(a) and (c), §21-07(a)-(f), and § 21-08, promulgated as a result of Local Law No. 149 require pawnbrokers and dealers in second-hand merchandise to create electronic transaction records and upload the same to a web-based electronic transfer service designated by the NYPD known as Leads Online, who then makes those records available to the NYPD. Because this law compels (sort of…) the upload of information to a database that can be accessed at will by law enforcement and other entities, it does not conform to the standards set by the NY Supreme Court's Keta decision. [T]he foregoing statutes fail to prescribe limits for the review of the records required to be disclosed and, in fact, in requiring the daily disclosure of those records seem to vest with the NYPD the unbridled discretion which even the court in Glenwood TV, Inc., would invalidate a statute authorizing warrantless searches (103 AD2d, 322, 330). [...] Specifically, at this stage, it is hard to fathom how the foregoing statutes - bereft of any standards on the frequency of searches, setting virtually no limit on how said searches will be conducted and thus, conferring unfettered discretion upon the defendants suffer from the very afflictions the court in Keta held afflicted VTL § 415-a(5) - can, in light of their facial unconstitutionality born by this record, be constitutionally applied. The court mentions the "means to an end" approach the NYPD is rather fond of. Simply having on-demand, warrantless access to on-site inspection of "closely regulated" businesses' records wasn't enough. It wanted to enjoy the same privileges without leaving the office. Now, these "inspections" -- along with others permitted under the same set of statutes -- have been halted until further notice. This compelled database of acquisition information is the centerpiece of another lawsuit against the city and the NYPD. It appears from the allegations made in this suit that the NYPD expresses a certain irritation with those that don't opt-in to the online database. (The law requires creation and storage of electronic records, but does not actually mandate the use of Leads Online by affected businesses, stating only that "such electronic record may include real-time sharing or accessing of such records in an electronic format and/or through use of an internet website designated by the police commissioner.") Plaintiff here alleges that Defendants have “effectively singled out Gem from other pawnbrokers and secondhand dealers and have done so with malice and bad faith.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 152.) Plaintiff further alleges that pawn brokers who choose not to use Leads Online are subject to additional onsite inspections for “administrative purposes,” and that Plaintiff has experienced continual visits to its stores, warrantless searches, holds on jewelry, criminal summonses and over all harassment. (Id. ¶¶ 36–133.) Defendants raise no argument as to this element of Plaintiff’s selective enforcement equal protection claim, instead relying on the fact that the NYPD is permitted to perform administrative inspections. The Court finds that Plaintiff’s detailed description in its Amended Complaint of the actions taken beyond mere administrative inspections, including various in-store visits from the NYPD, statements made to Gem employees, subsequent requests for jewelry holds, and the seven misdemeanor summons received, (see id.), are adequate to demonstrate at the pleadings stage a malicious or bad faith intent to injure Plaintiff. The Court therefore finds that Plaintiff has stated a plausible claim for violation of the Equal Protection Clause and Defendants’ motion to dismiss is, therefore, denied. This lawsuit was filed before Local Law 149 was passed and enacted, suggesting there was a pre-legislation push by the NYPD to move these records to an online database. As of this point, the lawsuit is still ongoing, having survived the city's motion to dismiss. The codes cited in the lawsuit don't specify anything more than the sort of records to be maintained. In accordance with the new law, these records are to be maintained electronically, but nothing specifically mandates the use of an online database. As the court sees it here, this demand to participate in the online collection of these records -- which can be perused at the sole discretion of law enforcement officers and others with access to the database -- falls dangerously close to being a "general warrant." Compelled production of records during periodic inspections and/or suspicion of illegal activity is one thing. Providing at-will "inspections" with no corresponding guidelines turns "close regulation" into a prime fishing spot for law enforcement, who will no longer be participating in periodic inspections and searches, but rather trolling databases simply because they have unfettered access to the information. Obviously, this has its parallel in the recent incident involving Motel 6's faxing of guest information to local law enforcement nightly. Motels and hotels are businesses that are subject to routine inspection of collected records, but nothing about this sort of regulation demands proactive measures on the part of the businesses involved, other than the collection and maintenance of the required records. The rest is dependent on law enforcement not abusing these privileges, which wander outside the protections of the Fourth Amendment -- supposedly in the "public interest," i.e. fighting crime. The necessary limitations -- and there are only a few -- are subverted by instantly-accessed, central collections of this information. The Supreme Court may have lowered the Fourth Amendment standards for these businesses, but New York's highest court stills sees at least a minimal amount of privacy implications in this sort of regulation. These are in place to help law enforcement combat theft, but these noble ends are not a justification for "by any means necessary" approaches. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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National security apparently means "securing" the nation at the expense of citizens' security. New Snowden documents published by The Intercept show massive amounts of dicking around in the coding of popular anti-virus software by the NSA and GCHQ. The list of antivirus products not affected would be much, much shorter than a list of those that have been. Much of what listed here involves the NSA and GCHQ monitoring threats reported to these antivirus makers (by intercepting email messages, naturally), obviously in hopes of finding something temporarily exploitable. But in other cases, the efforts went much, much deeper. The GCHQ obtained a warrant to reverse engineer Kapersky products because it felt the company's software was "obstructing" its hacking attempts. “Personal security products such as the Russian anti-virus software Kaspersky continue to pose a challenge to GCHQ’s CNE [Computer Network Exploitation] capability and SRE is essential in order to be able to exploit such software and to prevent detection of our activities,” the warrant renewal request said. “Examination of Kaspersky and other such products continues.” The warrant renewal request also states that GCHQ reverse engineers anti-virus programs to assess their fitness for use by government agencies. Not only did the GCHQ seek permission to tear apart a legitimate security product for its own ends, but it also asked for an exception to UK copyright law in order to do so. GCHQ’s success as an intelligence agency is founded on technical knowledge and creativity. In particular this may involve modifying commercially available software to enable interception, decryption and other related tasks, or “reverse engineering” software (this means to convert it from machine readable code into the original format, which is then comprehensible to a person). These actions, and others necessary to understand how the software works, may represent an infringement of copyright. The interference may also be contrary to, or inconsistent with, the provisions of any licensing agreement between GCHQ and the owners of the rights in the software. Recognizing this could potentially cause a problem if its efforts were discovered, GCHQ explicitly asked that it be granted permission to engage in copyright infringement in the name of national security. There is a risk that in the unlikely event of a challenge by the copyright owner or licensor, the Courts would, in the absence of a legal authorisation, hold that such activity was unlawful and amounted to a copyright infringement or breach of contract. The purpose of this warrant is to provide authorisation for all continuing activities which involve interference with copyright or licensed software, but which cannot be said to fall within any other specific authorisation held by GCHQ and which are done without the permission of the owner. In other words, GCHQ doesn't have specific authorization to violate copyrights or licensing agreements, but for this particular effort, the warrant would act as a blanket permission slip to engage in this illegal activity. And, in doing so, it stretched an intelligence law to cover its violation of intellectual property laws. GCHQ obtained a warrant for reverse engineering under a section of British intelligence law that does not explicitly authorize — and had apparently never been used to authorize — the sort of copyright infringement GCHQ believed was necessary to conduct such activity. The spy agency instead relied on the Intelligence Services Commissioner to let it use a law pertaining only to property and “wireless telegraphy,” a law that had never been applied to intellectual property, according to GCHQ’s own warrant renewal application. Eric King, deputy director of U.K. surveillance watchdog Privacy International said, after being shown documents related to the warrant, “The secret reinterpretation of powers, in entirely novel ways, that have not been tested in adversarial court processes, is everything that is wrong with how GCHQ is using their legal powers.” On top of that, the type of warrant it obtained was only to be used for foreign surveillance, but supporting documentation notes GCHQ would also be performing its reverse engineering to support "police operations" and the domestically-focused National Technical Assistance Centre. When it comes to national security efforts, laws just don't apply, it would appear. The NSA and GCHQ's efforts are completely indistinguishable from those of cybercriminals. While these agencies may have "good" on their side -- at least in terms of not wishing specific harm to non-targets -- the end result is the same: a less secure computing world. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We already wrote a long and detailed post about the DOJ gagging Google for over four years, preventing it from telling Jacob Appelbaum about the government's §2703(d) Order for his Gmail info (a &sect2703(d) order is like a subpoena, but with less privacy protections -- which is why the government is a fan). The gag was finally allowed to be lifted on April 1st of this year, despite most of the key moments happening in the early months of 2011. However, as part of the agreement to finally unseal this document, the DOJ apparently required parts of it to be redacted. Perhaps that's understandable, but some of the redactions are so ridiculous as to be laughable -- starting mainly with trying to make sure that every judge and every DOJ employee in the documents is hidden away. Throughout the document, you see examples like this: Of course, amusingly, sometimes they redact the phone numbers, and sometimes they don't. So I'm sure that's useful. And, really, what sort of court system do we have when the judges get to have their names redacted: And, of course, there are plenty of pages like the following: But the truly hilarious redactions come elsewhere. For example, despite being mentioned throughout the document without redactions, the name "Wikileaks" is redacted when mentioned in the headlines of stories and URLs. I mean... really. The redactions of those URLs? What's that about? Does anyone honestly think that people can't find those articles? For what it's worth: WikiLeaks demands Google and Facebook unseal US subpoenas Twitter, Wikileaks and the Broken Market for Consumer Privacy Yeah, that really stopped me, DOJ! And this even extends to the exhibits of publicly available web pages, which the DOJ still needed redacted. This has to be my favorite: Now watch as I blow your mind and link to: DOJ subpoenas Twitter records of several WikiLeaks volunteers and share the following screenshot I just took: Even more amazingly, in the released documents, they redacted things in the article: Now watch as I wave my magic wand... and unredacticus! And then there's the fact that Appelbaum's own name is redacted repeatedly for no damn reason, since everyone has already admitted that it's him. This includes on public tweets, like this one: It's like they're not even trying: And this: And there's an exhibit with the first of those two "tweets" redacted again: Yeah, that's Wikileaks' Twitter account, which is kinda obvious from the background and all. But here you go: The second one -- despite the claim in the document -- does not actually appear to be a tweet at all. However, it was stated by another of the individuals who the DOJ targeted with the Twitter Order, Rop Gonggrijp -- not on his Twitter account, but rather in a blog post about being targeted. They even want Wikipedia redacted. I wish I were joking. And that one even tries -- but sometimes fails to redact each mention of Wikileaks even in the references and links at the end. I mean, really: All of this should raise plenty of questions. Beyond just the ridiculousness of the original gag order, it now appears that the DOJ is abusing the redaction process for no good reason at all. In some cases, it's clearly to avoid having any of the DOJ team or the judges criticized publicly -- because what kind of democracy or due process is there if we have transparency. In other cases, it just seems... to be for no reason whatsoever except "because we can." That's not how the judicial system is supposed to work. We have public courts for a reason.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Reporter, activity and security guy Jacob Appelbaum has been harassed by the government for years for helping with Wikileaks. We've written before about how he gets detained at the border and is ordered to hand over all of his electronic equipment. A few years ago, we wrote about the ridiculous legal fight in which the Justice Department demanded that Twitter hand over Appelbaum's messages without telling anyone, as part of the still ridiculous grand jury investigation into Wikileaks (which still isn't over!). If you recall, as part of that discussion about the legal fight with Twitter -- in which we gave kudos to Twitter for standing up for its users' privacy -- it also came out that similar demands for information were also sent to Google and Sonic.net in trying to access Appelbaum's details. Sonic.net quickly said that it fought the request -- but Google gave no comment. We found this to be disappointing at the time. However, late last week, it was finally revealed -- four years later -- that Google not only fought the order, but was gagged from talking about it until just recently. Reading through the full set of released documents (300 pages) is quite incredible -- as are Appelbaum's own comments as he reads through the document himself. If you don't recall the big legal fight with Twitter, the DOJ refused to get a warrant, but instead got what's known as a 2703(d) order, which has a much lower privacy protection standard. A warrant, as you know, requires probable cause. A 2703(d) order just requires "reasonable grounds to believe that the contents [of the email] are relevant and material to an ongoing criminal investigation." This whole thing started in late 2010 when the grand jury investigation sent those 2703(d) orders out -- each accompanied by a gag order. Twitter fought the gag order and was able to get a judge to unseal it in early January 2011 for the sake of alerting the users in question, to see if they would protest (which they did, though unsuccessfully). Twitter alerted a few users, including Appelbaum, that the feds had requested information. While many had assumed the feds had used a warrant or a traditional subpoena, it was quickly revealed that it was the 2703(d) process, raising many more concerns. The fact that there were also a number of mistakes in the order raised further concerns. The revelation of this order got a lot of press attention, which the DOJ hated. In fact, that's what much of the (now revealed) argument between Google and the DOJ is discussing. Google points out that the identical order in the identical investigation was made public concerning Twitter's involvement, and thus, there is no reason not to make it public for Google too. The DOJ responds about just how incredibly harmful the press attention of the Twitter order is... though they fail to explain a single way it is harmful, other than that some online internet commenters were kinda mean to them. First, the DOJ insisted that it was important that Google be gagged, and then said that Twitter's ungagging "seriously jeopardized the investigation." The Order should remain sealed at this time. The Order satisfies all statutory and constitutional requirements, and the [REDACTED] subscriber would not have a valid basis for challenging it even if Google did provide him with notice. Furthermore, unsealing and permitting disclosure at this time is not in the best interest of the investigation. Unsealing and permitting disclosure of the Twitter Order has already seriously jeopardized the investigation and the government believes that further disclosures at this time will exacerbate this problem. Of course, the DOJ never actually goes into any detail about how revealing that it was digging for information jeopardized the investigation at all. It just makes these baseless claims. Later, it further argues that unsealing the Twitter order (which it had agreed to allow) was a mistake in hindsight: Indeed, in light of the events that followed the unsealing and disclosure of the Twitter Order, had the government known then what it does now, it would not have voluntarily filed the motion to authorize it. Why is that? Well, the only argument the government seems to make is that once the Twitter Order was public, people got mad and said not nice things about the DOJ. First, it points to this Glenn Greenwald article from 2011, in which he revealed more details of the original Twitter Order, including the name of the magistrate judge who signed off on it. The DOJ presents this as if it's harassment, though read the article and see if that's reasonable. And then it further claims that the US Attorneys were "harassed on the internet." But the only evidence it provides is this: So some kid gets angry and fires off an angry email to the DOJ with the Anonymous tagline at the end, and the DOJ gets all weak-kneed? Really? Even more bizarre, the DOJ includes a long paragraph talking about how all of the praise that Twitter got after the Twitter Order was revealed explains why the Google Order shouldn't be revealed. That is, the DOJ is explicitly saying "man, it would suck if actually protecting the privacy of users became contagious": That does not seem like a legitimate reason for a gag order. It sounds like the DOJ is unwilling to support due process and is afraid to actually have to defend its actions. In response to this, Google quite reasonably points out that the government's argument cancels out its own argument. At one point, for example, the DOJ pointed to one of the people it was seeking information on Tweeting to followers not to send direct messages, and another saying that it's likely that Google and Facebook received similar orders. As Google points out, given that, the targets already suspect what is going on and thus it couldn't possibly make sense to maintain the gag order. As for the "parade of horribles" above, Google rightly points out that none of them show how revealing the Google Order will exacerbate any of the "problems" it outlined. The fight was put on hold while the individuals in question (including Appelbaum) fought the Twitter Order. And, when that failed, the case picked up again, with the DOJ saying "look, that failed, so this case is over." Google responded, quite reasonably, that whether or not the individuals succeeded in stopping the information disclosure is a wholly separate issue from whether or not the gag order makes sense. Unfortunately, in the end, the court rejected all of Google's arguments. The court relies heavily on the fact that Appelbaum (though, bizarrely, his name is redacted here) tweeted the following: "Do not send me Direct Messages - My twitter account contents have apparently been invited to the (presumably-Grand Jury) in Alexandria." To the court, this is evidence that any disclosure will lead to a change in behavior. Furthermore, the court ridiculously buys into the claims by the DOJ that the "public campaign" supporting Twitter for standing up for the rights of its users is a form of witness intimidation. Really: That concluding line is really incredible: If the Google Order were unsealed, future service providers may do precisely what Google has done in this instance, namely resist compliance with a lawful §2703(d) order by bringing baseless legal challenges that have the effect of impeding the government's progress in the Wikileaks investigation. In other words, merely challenging the legitimacy of a gag order with an associated court order to hand over someone's info -- in other words protecting a user's privacy is somehow seen as evidence of impeding an investigation. This is ridiculous. Finally, as Lauren Weinstein points out in his own analysis of these newly released documents, this does show just how strongly Google fought the government to block the government from getting access to user info. There is this false belief out there that Google, in particular, has given the government free access to its servers (in part because of an incorrect interpretation of a Snowden document early on). Yet, this highlights how Google actually fought quite hard to protect its users' info (and this all happened more than two years before the Snowden leaks). Indeed, in my original post, about the revelation that Google had received a similar order, we were disappointed that unlike Twitter and Sonic, Google refused to comment. We had no way of knowing that the company had been gagged. Even Appelbaum -- not exactly one to cheer on Google in most settings -- now admits that he's impressed by how strongly Google fought. A few of his tweets explaining this: Separately, he notes that while we know about Twitter, Sonic and Google... we don't know about Facebook or Yahoo, leading him to wonder what happened there: No matter what, this seems like yet another example of the DOJ being out of control and trying to cover up its own actions to keep them out of the public debate, rather than for any legitimate purpose.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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With all of that important data sitting on your phone, it is important to keep it backed up somewhere. IDrive Unlimited Mobile Backup could be one way you protect your data from accidental deletion. For $10, this lifetime license will work with 5 of your mobile devices and will let you easily retrieve your information from the cloud. They promise that you can even restore across platforms should you decide to change ecosystems. You can share files with friends, back up your Facebook and Instagram accounts, and the backups are encrypted. 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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People keep telling me that most lawyers today understand things like the Streisand Effect and how trying to shut people up often draws that much more attention to things. It may not be true for small time lawyers, but the big law firms -- I'm told -- they all recognize this. Enter Dentons. Dentons is a pretty big law firm. American Lawyer magazine recently noted that, after merging with another firm, it was becoming the world's largest law firm. So you would think some of the lawyers there would know better than to throw an astoundingly childish temper tantrum over the way that very same American Lawyer magazine covered them. But, you'd be wrong. As a few different lawyers have kindly sent in to us, Dentons has ramped up its ongoing spat with ALM, which started a year ago when Dentons stopped disclosing its "global profit per equity partner." Apparently most global law firms are willing to disclose this and ALM uses that data to discuss the state of various law firms. When Dentons stopped doing that, ALM (quite reasonably) argued that perhaps this was because the numbers didn't look that good and perhaps had been dropping: I’m going to suspend any question of an ulterior motive here—that Dentons didn’t report its latest global PPP figure because, by our estimates, that number would have shown an overall PPP decline year over year of 20 percent, the worst showing in the Am Law 100. Guess who didn't like that? Dentons! The law firm sent out a surprisingly petulant statement at the time, that included the following: This lack of understanding of basic math, let alone simple logic, is not only stunning, but proves our point: contemporary law firms that operate in many different places and in many different business cultures can not be compared with those that don’t. It is an apples to oranges comparison. [....] Let’s hope that the American Lawyer’s researchers understand math and logic better than their editors, and are willing to engage in meaningful and serious conversations about the changes in our profession and in our business." This year... same basic thing. Dentons won't publish the info, and ALM takes some guestimates -- suggesting Dentons' profits per equity partner are down again. Because that's a reasonable assumption. In response, Dentons threw another shitfit: Again, the firm went ballistic. Mike McNamara, US Managing Partner, sent out a "correction demand" on Tuesday saying that AM Lawyer's methodology was "mystefying" and that it had "created" numbers that were "clearly false". Although he refused to provide the correct ones. AM Lawyer said it stood by its figures. The rest of the market is cracking out the popcorn and waiting for another ill-tempered open letter to be sent out. Watch this space. No need to wait long. That was a month ago. Soon after, Dentons went out and set up an entire website calling attention to the fact that it won't publish its profits per equity partner like so many other firms and is just picking a fight with the largest trade magazine covering the legal fight. And... that's not all! Dentons has started taking out advertisements about this spat -- which have only served to draw more attention to Dentons' unwillingness to disclose its numbers. And then, on top of all that, it complains that ALM won't run the ad itself. Hey, Dentons, if you want to pay some media property to run your silly ads calling more attention to the fact that, even as the largest law firm in the world, you can't resist acting like a child who's told that he can't have another piece of candy, feel free to throw that money our way. We have no problem running your ad. Even more ridiculous, Dentons (again, the world's largest law firm) is going around claiming that it's being bullied by ALM. As RollOnFriday notes in the link above: It's hard to see the enterprise as anything other than an expensive and very public embarrassment which has given the matter an unnecessary amount of airtime. Dentons might have, more sensibly, just ignored it. Or published its figures like absolutely everyone else. But, in the meantime, the world is learning (1) that unlike other firms, Dentons won't publish its numbers and (2) despite being the world's largest law firm, it appears to act like the world's most insecure.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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If you follow internet governance issues at all, you know that ICANN is a total freaking mess. It's a dysfunctional organization that has always been dysfunctional, but remains in charge because of the lack of any reasonable alternatives. ICANN frequently seems to be driven by powerful interests that are just focused on squeezing as much money as possible out of the domain system, and appears to have little appetite for being what it should be: an independent body protecting the core of the internet. As if to put an exclamation point on that, it appears to now be going to war against basic privacy. Here are two separate, but somewhat related, examples. First up, we have EasyDNS, who last month didn't beat around the bush in explaining just how ridiculous ICANN's new Whois Accuracy Program (WAP) is. The company noted that it regretted renewing its ICANN accreditation, even though it's necessary to register domain names. As EasyDNS notes, the whole WAP program is insane, and is almost designed to force domain owners to lose their domains -- especially if they want to keep a modicum of privacy. Under the program any time you change or renew your domains, you now will get an email requiring you to "verify" your whois data. As EasyDNS notes, since it's an email, it's designed in a way that looks very much like a phishing attempt, meaning many domain holders will ignore it. And if you ignore it... within 15 days, your registrar is supposed to suspend your domain. That program went into effect yesterday, and I imagine it won't be long before we hear the shrieks of pain as it impacts website owners. As EasyDNS notes: You can thank ICANN for this policy, because if it were up to us, and you tasked us with coming up with the most idiotic, damaging, phish-friendly, disaster prone policy that accomplishes less than nothing and is utterly pointless, I question whether we would have been able to pull it off at this level. We're simply out of our league here. But, that's not all! The good folks at Namecheap (who have sponsored us in the past here on the blog) have sent out an alarm (along with the EFF and Fight for the Future) over another proposal from ICANN concerning privacy and proxy services that many domain owners use to keep their information private. This is necessary these days, in part, because as anyone who owns a domain knows, that information gets scraped and you get spammed. A lot. And also, sometimes, people say things on the internet that they want to be anonymous in saying. And proxy services help you do that. But ICANN is effectively trying to kill that. Namecheap has put together the site RespectOurPrivacy.com to explain the issue and to ask people to tell ICANN to reject this proposal -- which was put together by MarkMonitor. Yes, MarkMonitor, the company famous for being engaged in all sorts of bogus censorship and takedown requests: Under new guidelines proposed by MarkMonitor and others who represent the same industries that backed SOPA, domain holders with sites associated to "commercial activity" will no longer be able to protect their private information with WHOIS protection services. "Commercial activity" casts a wide net, which means that a vast number of domain holders will be affected. Your privacy provider could be forced to publish your contact data in WHOIS or even give it out to anyone who complains about your website, without due process. Why should a small business owner have to publicize her home address just to have a website? We think your privacy should be protected, regardless of whether your website is personal or commercial, and your confidential info should not be revealed without due process. If you agree, it’s time to tell ICANN. That site has more info and shows you how to contact ICANN to protest this move. You can also look directly at the proposal itself, which notes that this view is not universal and there is disagreement over where the final rules will end up, but some have argued that: "domains used for online financial transactions for commercial purpose should be ineligible for privacy and proxy registrations." If MarkMonitor's involvement didn't tip you off, this is really a proposal of Hollywood who hates the fact that people can be anonymous online. It was presented to Congress last month by Steve Metalitz under the guise of the "Coalition for Online Accountability" -- a "coalition" made up of the MPAA, RIAA, ESA and SIIA (all copyright extremists). If you recognize Metalitz's name, it's because it's come up before. He's one of the entertainment industry's favorite lawyers, who helped push ACTA, SOPA and other bad copyright proposals. And now suddenly he's "concerned" about online accountability? Really? The main goal of the proposal is to destroy anonymity online by only allowing it in cases Hollywood approves of. In his presentation, Metalitz noted that there is only a "legitimate role for proxy registrations in limited circumstances." Have you applied for your special license to be anonymous yet? The MPAA and ICANN need to approve it first... Hopefully ICANN backs away from these plans and starts to get its act together. ICANN could and should be a powerful force in favor of an open internet with strong privacy protections -- and not encouraging programs that require giving up your privacy just to have a domain name.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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More potential copyright insanity from the European Union. Some positive moves have been made, but they often seem to be offset by extremely awful ideas. Photographing public structures could soon become copyright infringement. At this point, there's no unified "freedom of panorama" across European countries. Some recognize this as a right inherent to citizens. Others feel any photographic reproductions of structures in public spaces are a violation of the creators' rights. (via Boing Boing) A more logical approach to unification was proposed first in a copyright reform report written by Pirate Party representative Julia Reda. The [copyright reform] report had originally suggested that the current disparity in laws on freedom of panorama across Europe (see map) be harmonised by proposing a unified standard allowing images of works that are permanently located in public places. Perhaps feeling that anyone who self-identifies as a "pirate" is likely untrustworthy, the EU Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee has rewritten this proposal, going in the opposite direction. 16. Considers that the commercial use of photographs, video footage or other images of works which are permanently located in physical public places should always be subject to prior authorisation from the authors or any proxy acting for them Instead of defaulting for the more logical assessment that only very limited protections can be extended to buildings and other structures fully visible to the public and erected in publicly-accessible areas, the Committee has extended "permission culture" to include objects not normally considered to be inaccessible to the public by camera/drawing/etc. because they're accessible to the public in all other respects. Rather than allowing people to take and publish their own photographs of buildings and monuments in public places—as celebrated in the annual Wiki Loves Monuments campaign, as well as many many books with author-supplied photographs—full permissions, clearances, royalties, and/or use of authorised images would be required for videos, photographs, paintings or drawings with any potential commercial use. (Wikipedia does not accept images unless they can be re-used for any purpose.) This would end a long-standing tradition in many countries that the skyline and the public scene should belong to everybody; in the UK and Ireland, for example, this goes all the way back to the Copyright Act 1911, [which first set down copyright exceptions in statute law, and is currently reflected in section 62 of the UK Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988, and section 93 of the Irish Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000. The status of existing books published without such clearances would become unclear; most Wikipedia images depicting public art would be lost; and it would become very much more difficult and more expensive to publish future books comprehensively illustrating architecture and public art (or even artists' sketchbooks depicting them). You can already see the effects of the legal disparity in regards to the "right of panorama" in effect at Wikipedia. Its page for the Atomium, a structure created by André Waterkeyn for the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels, contains a censored image, thanks to Belgium's copyright laws. Waterkeyn's family, aided by royalty collection agency SABAM, has pursued "unauthorized" photographs of the outdoor structure. Despite its actions, there are plenty of images of the Atomium floating around the internet. But you won't find one on its Wikipedia page. The next commercial use of depictions of this outdoor structure won't be happening until 2076, if EU's copyright laws aren't unified into something less completely ridiculous. It's not just limited to Europe, although that's where the next battle is taking place. This same sort of copyright overreach can be witnessed in photos submitted to Wikimedia Commons which have been edited due to complaints from entities residing in countries without "freedom of panorama" protections. More requests for deletion/editing are cataloged here. It will be about three months before the EU begins debating the proposed copyright reforms. Those living in the countries possibly affected by a "unified" ruling in favor of this clause are encouraged to contact their representatives. If you're an EU citizen, for maximum impact please contact each of your local MEPs and ask them to communicate your concern to the MEP responsible for co-ordinating their group position on the matter—in the UK, for example, this would be Sajjad Karim (on-side?) for the Conservatives, or Mary Honeyball (wobbly?) for Labour—and ask them to ask the coordinating MEP to confirm that the group will be seeking to remove this clause as it currently stands from the report, and defend the full right to make use of photographs taken in public places, in this case the existing UK law. In this way you'll get the chance to learn what the group's detailed current position is (which you may then find you need to work to persuade your own MEP away from). The coordinating MEP will also thus be made aware of the full range of concerns being expressed to the group, and may be more likely to answer a request forwarded by a fellow MEP than a direct approach. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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We've written a couple of times about the use of publicly-available information, typically posted on social networks, to verify developing stories where traditional sources are scarce or unreliable. This new field doesn't seem to have a fixed name yet -- open journalism, social media journalism, open-source intelligence are all used -- but whatever it is, it's clearly going mainstream, as this announcement on the YouTube blog of The First Draft Coalition makes clear: You could say that user-generated news video is today’s "first draft" of capturing an event that took place. But when it comes to incorporating this content into the reporting of a news event, verification is a critical step for any newsroom -- and not every journalist knows where to start. So we're bringing together a group of thought leaders and pioneers in social media journalism to create educational resources on how to verify eyewitness media, and how to consider the ethics of using it in news reporting. This new group, called The First Draft Coalition, will consist of experts from Eyewitness Media Hub, Storyful, Bellingcat, First Look Media's Reported.ly, Meedan, Emergent, SAM Desk, and Verification Junkie. The Coalition will develop and program a new site for verification and ethics training, tools, research, and, most importantly, case studies around the biggest news stories of the moment. As the post explains, The First Draft Coalition will be launching its own site later this year, but you can get a taste of the kind of thing it will be doing from examples on Medium. There's an article there by Eliot Higgins from Bellingcat, whom we wrote about last year, and who is widely regarded as one of the leading exponents of the art. His post is well-worth reading, since, as he writes: When working on open source and social media investigation there's occasional images that at first seem as if they would be impossible to verify. He posts one of those images, found by the Twitter user surpher: Of course, Higgins then goes on to pinpoint the exact position in Russia of the military convoy shown there, using not just the image's co-ordinates (which anyway need to be verified) but tiny signs in the photo, including road markings, half-visible posts and cracks in the road that most of us would miss completely. It's an amazing performance, and demonstrates well the incredible potential of this field. Whatever it's called. Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca, and +glynmoody on Google+ Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Wikileaks has released some new documents showing that the NSA spied on the communications of a bunch of French Presidents. The top secret documents derive from directly targeted NSA surveillance of the communications of French Presidents Francois Hollande (2012–present), Nicolas Sarkozy (2007–2012), and Jacques Chirac (1995–2007), as well as French cabinet ministers and the French Ambassador to the United States. The documents also contain the "selectors" from the target list, detailing the cell phone numbers of numerous officials in the Elysee up to and including the direct cell phone of the President. Prominent within the top secret cache of documents are intelligence summaries of conversations between French government officials concerning some of the most pressing issues facing France and the international community, including the global financial crisis, the Greek debt crisis, the leadership and future of the European Union, the relationship between the Hollande administration and the German government of Angela Merkel, French efforts to determine the make-up of the executive staff of the United Nations, French involvement in the conflict in Palestine and a dispute between the French and US governments over US spying on France. To be honest, as with the spying on leadership of other allies like Germany, I really don't think this is that big of a deal in reality. This is what intelligence services are supposed to be doing: spying on foreign governments. The revelations may make for some awkward diplomatic conversations, but you can bet that pretty much everyone knew this was going on already. But, where this has the potential to get interesting is in the public perception. If the public gets angry about it, it can create international tensions, or lead to various other issues. But, on the whole, compared to spying on private citizens, it's difficult to get too outraged over spying on other governments -- even those deemed "friendly." You can bet the French are doing everything they can to spy back on the US as well.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The movie Back To The Future II takes place in 2015... so now that we've already arrived in 'the future' -- how have we done? We don't have flying cars (DeLorean-styled or otherwise) unless you count one-off hobbyist replicas that just kinda hover a bit. We could be on the cusp of getting hoverboards that actually work (but not on water, nor on any other surfaces besides a non-ferrous metal). Fax machines are still around, but not quite as popular as Back To The Future might make them look. If you liked this classic 80s movie, check out a few of these links. Since time machines don't actually exist yet, either, we can't predict where lightning will strike -- to get us that 1.21 GW we need to go 88 mph.... However, we might be able to control large electrical discharges with lasers pretty soon. [url] The predictions of a movie from 1989 (the year Taylor Swift was born!) obviously didn't get everything right. But it had a few good guesses about 3D movie sequels, camera drones, a smart watch and augmented reality glasses. [url] If you're really still longing for a hoverboard, you can make one yourself out of plywood and a few leaf blowers. It's pretty noisy, and it probably doesn't work on water. Welcome to the future! [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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As noted last week, Congress played some games last week and was able to move forward on fast track authority (Trade Promotion Authority -- or TPA) in the House by decoupling it from Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). Before that, everyone had said that TPA couldn't move forward in the Senate without TAA, but it did move forward with exactly 60 votes (the minimum it needed). That means fast track is going to the President's desk, and of course he'll sign it. Previously, the President had promised that he wouldn't sign TPA without TAA, so I'm still at a loss as to how that's happening, since the House hasn't approved TAA yet and theoretically could block Obama from signing TPA by rejecting TAA -- if (and it's a big if) President Obama actually stands by that promise. However, the way everyone's talking about this, it seems pretty clear that Congress is just going to cave, and will pass TAA as well. And, effectively, that means this is a done deal. As bizarre as it sounds, Republicans in Congress (with the help of a small group of Democrats) have given up their own Constitutional powers to regulate international commerce, and handed it to the President of an opposing party, while the majority of Democrats fought to keep their own President (and the next President...) from having such powers. In the end, this means that the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement is pretty much a done deal. Negotiators have more or less said that it's ready to go, but thanks to having fast track, our own Congress will not be able to call out any of the problems in the agreement -- or ask for any changes. It can only vote thumbs up or thumbs down on the agreement. And that means that the very dangerous corporate giveaways on intellectual property laws -- locking us into extended copyrights, weakening the ability to make and sell cheap drugs -- and corporate sovereignty provisions -- allowing companies to sue for taxpayer funds over "lost profits" due to regulatory changes, is about to expand massively. At this point, about the only way I can see that the TPP doesn't make it across the finish line is if there's a huge public outcry, making it totally toxic to Congress, but that seems like a very big long shot. So, thanks, Congress, for selling out the American public to a few big corporations today. It's going to do real harm, and you'll pretend you didn't realize that down the road. What a sham.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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More government malfeasance is being alleged in the all-over-but-the-Genius-Bar-employment prosecution of whistleblower Thomas Drake. Documents directly related to his whistleblowing efforts -- ones that would possibly have helped him fight the administration's efforts to punish him for supposedly-protected activities -- were allegedly destroyed by the Department of Defense. Two government watchdog agencies are investigating whether the Pentagon inspector general destroyed evidence improperly during the high-profile leak investigation of former National Security Agency senior official Thomas Drake. “DOD OIG’s handling of documents . . . is within the scope of an ongoing inquiry by the Office of Special Counsel (OSC),” Raymond Hulser, the chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, wrote to U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephanie Gallagher in a letter dated June 11. “In the event that OSC finds evidence of criminal conduct during the course of its work, it will refer that evidence to the Department of Justice for appropriate action.” Succinctly put, the "proper channels" for whistleblowing were used by Thomas Drake, who was prosecuted under the Espionage Act. The missing files are related to his attempt to utilize those proper channels. Obviously, following procedures can't really be considered "espionage." The government's case against Drake fell apart, resulting in Drake pleading guilty to a single "unauthorized computer use" charge. But the case went on long enough that it drained Drake's personal savings and his revoked security clearance pretty much barred him from further government employment, leading to his current position as an employee of an Apple store. The government’s handling of documents first became an issue during the evidence-gathering stage of Drake’s prosecution, when his criminal defense lawyers sought records related to his whistleblower cooperation with the Pentagon inspector general’s office in order to defend him. At the time, the Justice Department told the judge that most of the “hard copy documents” related to the Pentagon inspector general’s office audit that Drake had cooperated with couldn’t be provided to the defense because they’d been destroyed “pursuant to a standard document destruction policy.” Drake’s current lawyers, who didn’t represent him in the criminal case, told the court in a letter in April that they learned otherwise while representing Drake in his recent whistleblower claim against the NSA. Drake’s lawyers wrote that the Pentagon inspector general’s office destroyed the documents “outside of normal policy and to impede . . . the criminal case.” Even if these documents do somehow materialize, there's not much they can do other than vindicate Drake's actions. It won't rebuild his personal finances or return him to his former government position. In fact, even if evidence of wrongdoing is uncovered, it's likely to result in no meaningful actions. The court itself can't do much more than refer the findings to the Department of Justice, which has already noted that it is looking into these allegations. But to what end? Proof of deliberate destruction of evidence is the sort thing routinely wrist-slapped by the DOJ and the administration, both of which will probably allow the DOD to investigate itself and offer various plans to prevent future malfeasance, should it somehow manage not to clear itself of any wrongdoing. If evidence of document destruction comes to light, the only practical purpose it will serve is to further illustrate how rigged the "justice" card game is -- what with prosecutors playing with incomplete, marked decks provided to them by "victims" of government whistleblowing. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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For much of the last year, transit ISPs like Level3 and Cogent have been complaining that the residential megaISPs have basically been trying to shake down Netflix and transit operators for additional money. To hear these companies tell it, ISPs like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have been doing this by intentionally letting network interconnection points get congested, then using that congestion to justify an end to settlement-free peering, and for new direct Netflix interconnection payments. Basically, the accusation goes, the big ISPs have been breaking the Internet, then demanding steep new payments should companies like Netflix want it to work properly. While the FCC's new net neutrality rules don't specifically cover interconnection feuds of this type, they do allow companies to file grievances the FCC will examine on a case-by-case basis for anti-competitive behavior. However, once the FCC's new rules were passed, the mere threat of regulatory enforcement magically put the kibosh on many of these complaints. As a result many (but not all) transit and last mile ISPs now getting along beautifully, showing that the rules are already working. However, we did see the very first net neutrality complaint filed this week, and by all indications it's rather stupid. A company by the name of Commercial Network Services (CNS) has been complaining to the press for a few weeks that Time Warner Cable has been abusing its monopoly power by refusing to give the company free peering. CNS operates a series of webcams in the San Diego area which, when visited, will likely tell you you can't access the "ultra-HD" version of the cameras because your ISP isn't a peering partner with CNS:In the informal complaint (pdf) CNS filed with the FCC, the company proclaims that Time Warner Cable's refusal to offer free peering constitutes a violation of the FCC's throttling and paid prioritization neutrality rules:"I am writing to initiate an informal complaint against Time Warner Cable (TWC) for violating the “No Paid Prioritization” and “No Throttling” sections of the new net neutrality rules for failure to fulfill their obligations to their BIAS consumers by opting to exchange Internet traffic over higher latency (and often more congested) transit routes instead of directly to the edge provider over lower latency peering routes freely available to them through their presence on public Internet exchanges, unless a payment is made to TWC by the edge provider."Except Time Warner Cable is doing nothing of the sort, and CNS either doesn't understand how interconnection works, or understands it perfectly well and is hoping to abuse the new rules for its own financial benefit. There's nothing that obligates Time Warner Cable to provide free peering to anybody who asks, and refusing CNS' demands on that front has absolutely nothing to do with paid prioritization, throttling, or net neutrality. Settlement-free peering sometimes occurs when ISPs and transit operators agree to offload huge-swaths of relatively similar sized traffic allotments, but as Harold Feld correctly points out, CNS simply doesn't qualify:"Basically, CNS wants settlement free peering (aka free interconnection) with with Time Warner Cable (TWC). According to CNS’ complaint, they have exchange points where TWC also has a point of presence. They want TWC to exchange traffic with them for free, and allege it is unjust and unreasonable for TWC to offer them the standard deal for entities of their size, i.e. a paid transit agreement. Entities like CNS haven’t gotten free peering as a matter of course with major carriers since the first great upheaval in the peering market in the mid/late-1990s. CNS does not provide any evidence that it has been treated any differently from any other comparable entity of its size and function. TWC considered their request for settlement free peering under its standard procedures and found that CNS did not qualify."If CNS is genuinely confused about what the rules do it wouldn't be surprising, given the amount of nonsense that has been spouted about the rules from neutrality opponents in Congress and by folks like FCC Commissioner (and former Verizon lawyer) Ajit Pai. Of course ISPs and assorted broadband industry flacks will be quick to argue that this kind of frivolous complaint is the perfect example of how neutrality rules create "onerous new hurdles for ISPs." Except there's no hurdle here; the FCC will ignore this complaint because it's stupid, in the process showing the agency only intends to step in when there's clear, document-able proof of anti-competitive behavior. So far, the net neutrality rules have been good for business, Internet health and consumers alike, despite the endless claims by the mega-ISPs that the rules would most certainly cause the Internet to implode.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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The internet has changed the parameters for how people can interact. Today, all sorts of work and socialization can be done over distances that were previously impossible, and the rise of telecommuting has been no surprise. And yet there are still a lot of imperfections in the system, and a lot of ways that the internet doesn't quite seem to close the gap as much as we'd like it to. In this week's episode, we ask the question of how much face-to-face communication still matters in the digital age, and what the future holds for long-distance interactions. Follow the Techdirt Podcast on Soundcloud, subscribe via iTunes, or grab the RSS feed. You can also keep up with all the latest episodes right here on Techdirt. Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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Another day, another big tech company doing things wrong. Matthew Lush is apparently a super popular YouTuber, who has been on the platform since 2005 (yes, a decade ago). His YouTube name was "Lush" which makes sense, given that's his name. But along comes Lush Cosmetics, and YouTube apparently just hands his channel over to the company. That's ridiculous enough, but it gets even more bizarre, when reporters asked Google to explain: Google said it was "sympathetic" to Mr Lush's situation and that the decision was made by an algorithm. Oh, come on. Yes, Google pointing to its algorithm making decisions makes sense when it comes to issues at scale around things like search results. But blaming taking away someone's username on an algorithm just seems ridiculous. And then there's this: [Lush Cometics] told the BBC it had not requested the change but would not say if it would give the address back. Okay. So let's just work through this: Matthew Lush registers his YouTube name "Lush" in 2005. He spends years building up a massive following. A decade later, a cosmetic company that did not ask for it is simply given Matthew Lush's popular YouTube username, based on "an algorithm" deciding this. And Google insists there's no way to fix this. Really? Yes, I know some people fear that science-fiction future in which the giant AI in the sky makes algorithmic decisions about what's best for us ("I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that"), but I hadn't thought we were quite there yet. Because we're not. It seems likely that what's missing from the BBC story is that there was some sort of naming conflict brought on by the various attemps to shift around YouTube naming conventions, integrate it with Google+ and all of that. In the end, there was probably some sort of conflict with two "Lush" usernames, and Google's "algorithms" gave the account to the cosmetics company instead. At least that's my interpretation of this statement: Google said its algorithm decided which address Lush Cosmetics was given, based on data from YouTube, Google+, its search engine and other sources. But if that's the case, at the very last, Google could be a lot clearer and upfront about it. And it seems to be a mess brought on by the company's own decisions about its username conventions. To play it off as just "well, those nutty algorithms again, nothing can be done" seems pretty ridiculous.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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I'm going to do something crazy and generally not advised on the internet: I'm going to try to make a nuanced argument that cannot be summarized just in the title alone. I fully expect that some will not read through the details, but please, just ignore them in the comments and try to focus on the full argument presented here. Let me start out this post by noting a key thing: from the beginning, it was stupid that Apple had negotiated a deal with record labels in which copyright holders would not be compensated with royalties for the three-month "trial period" of Apple's new streaming music program. It clearly should have agreed to pay the royalties, and it was a really short-sighted move to push for a deal without royalties. It was always going to come back to haunt the company. Second, while I know some people like to attack Swift for a variety of reasons, I actually think she's an incredibly savvy music person, who has built a tremendously successful career, often by maintaining control on her own and not giving it up to the major labels. That's fantastic. But all of that doesn't mean I think what happened this weekend was a good thing (remember: nuanced argument, please read on). Of course, as you've probably heard, on Sunday, pop star Taylor Swift wrote an "open letter" to Apple on her Tumblr blog about how ridiculous this was, and how she wouldn't allow her latest album to stream on the service because of this -- even though she supports Apple's "no free tier" stance. There's a lot to comment on about her piece but, no matter what, it was effective. Late on Sunday, Apple's Eddy Cue tweeted Apple's capitulation: And... the internet went kind of wild. The fact that Taylor Swift wrote a blog post that made Apple -- probably the richest and most powerful company in the world -- back down within a day (on a weekend, no less), does have a sort of populist appeal to it. People started jokingly suggesting that Swift should weigh in on politics, the Middle East and much, much more. Thought pieces were written by-the-dozen about how Swift is the "most powerful woman/person in music/tech." No, really: The Guardian: Apple royalties U-turn: is Taylor Swift the most powerful woman in music? Entrepreneur: Why Taylor Swift Is Now the Most Powerful Person in Tech The Atlantic: Taylor Swift Almighty: Is she the most powerful person in music? Fuse: Is Taylor Swift The Most Powerful Person In Music? NY Times: With a Tap of Taylor Swift’s Fingers, Apple Retreated (which includes "most powerful person in the music industry" quote). Malaymail: How Taylor Swift became the most powerful woman in music BGR: My Jaw Dropped When I Realized How Powerful Taylor Swift is And that's just the first ones I found in a quick Google search. There are more. But here's the problem with all of this: it's hogwash, meaningless blather that doesn't change a thing and will have no lasting impact. If anything, the lasting impact may be negative, not positive for artists. And, remember, I actually agree with the overall point that Apple's original decision was the wrong one, and think the company made the right decision to reverse course. But there are three big problems with the rush to celebrate Swift as the new savior of the music industry over this. First her arguments for why are misleading and not very helpful. Second the overall impact of this move will be minimal to musicians (and other creative types). Third, it will give a false sense of hope to those who rely on obsolete business models, rather than innovating. Let's break down all three. First: her arguments are kind of useless. Here's the key one, which got lots of people excited: This is not about me. Thankfully I am on my fifth album and can support myself, my band, crew, and entire management team by playing live shows. This is about the new artist or band that has just released their first single and will not be paid for its success. This is about the young songwriter who just got his or her first cut and thought that the royalties from that would get them out of debt. This is about the producer who works tirelessly to innovate and create, just like the innovators and creators at Apple are pioneering in their field…but will not get paid for a quarter of a year’s worth of plays on his or her songs. It's very touching. And it's almost entirely hogwash for a variety of reasons. First, if your album is a success, there are all sorts of ways to make money beyond the royalties from Apple Music's streaming service. Swift herself kind of admits this in her first sentence in which she notes that she makes a ton of money playing live shows. And why does she make that much money live? Well, as Tom Conrad rightly points out, her career was built on terrestrial radio play -- which is a free service (the kind that Swift has attacked Spotify over) and which doesn't pay the performers anything at all in the US. You can (and many do!) argue that the law in the US should change on this, but it's the way things are today, and Swift is living proof that being a part of a free service that doesn't pay performance royalties certainly doesn't mean that you end up suffering. In fact, it can lead to an immensely successful and profitable career... like Swift's. But that brings us to the second problem with that paragraph, which is that for most musicians, this doesn't much matter anyway. That's because the industry's biggest secret, which it always tries to hide from these debates, is that the vast majority of musicians basically make absolutely nothing in royalties. This is due to a combination of factors, starting with the fact that if you're signed to a label, the label is likely keeping nearly everything you get from streaming. When Eddy Cue says "Apple will always make sure that artist [sic] are paid" he's lying. They may make sure the copyright holder gets paid, but that's frequently not the artist. And, related to this, is the other dirty secret: most musicians don't have a big enough fanbase to generate enough revenue. Most musicians don't make a living, period. That has always been the case. The supporters of the old system like to try to slide this fact under the rug and they do some creative counting, where they only look at the stats of those who have made careers out of music, and they leave out the vast majority who fail. The vast, vast, vast majority of musicians don't make a living, because the music business is tough. It's tough to get attention. It's tough to make good music. It's tough to make money. Apple paying for streaming really only addresses a tiny, tiny, tiny bit of that last one. No musician is going to make it or not based on getting paid in this three-month trial. If they're getting enough plays to matter, then they have other ways to make revenue. Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it is unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing. I say this with love, reverence, and admiration for everything else Apple has done. I hope that soon I can join them in the progression towards a streaming model that seems fair to those who create this music. I think this could be the platform that gets it right. Three months is a long time to go unpaid. But not getting paid by Apple Music does not mean "going unpaid." It just means one small revenue stream is limited while it aims to get up to speed. And, again, Swift herself proves this via the fact that her songs play all the time on the radio — for free, but still helping her get paid. And, even though she can pull it down, she's left her streaming music on YouTube. Furthermore, as others pointed out, Swift herself is a bit of a hypocrite here. She puts ridiculous limits on photographers who are on assignment to photograph her shows, such that it often means they have to put in the work and not get paid -- even as she gets to use their photographs forever. If she's really so concerned about creative types "going unpaid," shouldn't she be paying those photographers for their works? As for the second point above: the overall impact of this move will be minimal to musicians (and other creative types). As already discussed in point one, for most musicians, this isn't going to move the needle one way or the other. Any musician out there relying on the royalties from Apple Music to make or break their musical career has no musical career. Perhaps it's possible that there are one or two artists at the margin for whom this is helpful, but for the vast majority of artists, this isn't going to make a big difference at all. Additionally, while Apple has said that it will now pay during the trial period, it didn't actually say how much it will pay. Yes, for struggling artists any revenue helps, but trust me, when the first royalty checks from Apple start coming in, I can guarantee there will be musicians complaining online about how little they get. Those stories always get coverage. They'll happen again. And, of course, for label-affiliated artists, much of it will go to the label anyway, and the artist won't see any of it. Finally, onto the third, and most concerning point: it will give a false sense of hope to those who rely on obsolete business models, rather than innovating. We're already seeing this in the reverence and adoration being showered on Swift for her blog post, despite its questionable premises -- but more for its impact. And musicians are celebrating this, despite the fact it won't move the needle for them one way or the other. And that's really unfortunate, because here's another chance to do things right by focusing on business models that let them connect directly to fans and give them a reason to buy something. Demanding others pay you money is no substitute for convincing others to willingly pay. One is sustainable, one is not. But because of this "success," people will still cling to the false notion that the "solution" to content creators' failure to build their own successful business model is to demand that other successful companies give them money. And this goes way beyond music as well. Already, you see people like Jeremy Olshan, Marketwatch's Editor-in-Chief, saying that "journalism needs a Taylor Swift to save content from getting... devalued." This is wrong on so many levels, but that's another post for another day. But this notion of "a savior" magically swooping in and reviving business models that aren't working any more, based on sheer will, is a myth. And it's a dangerous myth because it gets people focusing on that rather than implementing sustainable business models and creating great content. There is no savior for music. There is no savior for journalism. There is no savior for movies. No talk about "fairness" or "fair compensation" or "ethical compensation" is going to change fundamental economics. Most content creators fail out of making a career of it, and if you're going to succeed, praying for a savior, rather than taking steps to ensure a competent business model, isn't likely to be particularly productive. To conclude (with nuance baked in): So, again, despite all of this, I think Apple made the wrong move initially, and the right move on Sunday night. However, Taylor Swift's reasoning was silly (even if I think she's a great success story who has built up a tremendous career without ceding much control), and the impact of all this will be basically nil for almost every single artist. But, worst of all, this whole episode reinforces this savior concept, and the false belief that because some companies are successful, while some content creators are not, a savior should just demand "fair compensation" and money will magically rain down upon the creative class. It doesn't work that way. It's never worked that way. And nothing in what happened over the weekend with Swift will change that. If anything, it only serves to distract people from focusing on the business models that do work.Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

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