May 09, 2013
Microsoft To Buy Nook Business From B&N?
Various reports out on the web tell that Microsoft is about to buy the Nook tablet from Barnes & Noble and other investors for about $1 billion. The Nook is an Android-based tablet/reader and has not been considered a particularly successful product. paidContent pegs its market share at 25% compared to the Kindle. Microsoft invested about $600 million in the device last spring. Most recent news was that Barnes & Noble was adding the Google Play store and other Google services to the tablet. That raised a few eyebrows given Microsoft’s investment. I can imagine this probably pushed Microsoft into action, not so much to protect its investment as much as to ultimately fulfill its purpose. That would be to acquire a bookstore and customer base for its Surface tablet ecosystem.
Windows 8, whatever one thinks of it on a tablet or PC, does not have an app store that is ready to compete with the other big players. E-Books are popular and much underrepresented from a Microsoft source where the company makes money from a sale. This transaction makes sense for Microsoft as it picks up a customer base for content. I don’t know about consumers who bought a Nook. I would think this is going to be dead tablet walking as I can’t imagine Microsoft supporting Android in any form in the long run. If Amazon is smart it would immediately offer a Kindle for Nook promotion in one form or another to pick off part of the Nook customer base. And if Microsoft is smart, it would do the same with the Surface. From what I understand, there are a ton of the Surface RT product still sitting in warehouses.Publishers might be happy there is another deep-pocketed challenger to Amazon (and Apple). I wouldn’t rejoice myself. Publishers and authors are still at the mercy of large technology companies as exclusive distributors of their product. I’d be more concerned about that down the line. [MG]
May 07, 2013
San Jose State Philosphy Faculty Reject Electronic Lecture Courseware
The Philosophy Department at San Jose State University is resisting the integration of a MOOC/online lecture as part of their class offerings. The University signed a contract with edX (a joint project of MIT and Harvard) to provide additional course content in the form of videotaped lectures. The Philosophy Department was asked to add Justice, a survey class developed by Harvard Professor Michael Sandel for edX. The Department more or less said “no” to the University and provided its reasoning in an open letter to Sandel.
There were several reservations expressed. One emphasized the lack of interaction between student and media:
….[W]e believe that having a scholar teach and engage his or her own students in person is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students. Indeed, the videos of you lecturing to and interacting with your students is itself a compelling testament to the value of the in-person lecture/discussion.
Another is the potential for creating a two-tiered educational system. One would be for those who can afford to attend a college staffed by live faculty and another educational experience consisting of faculty facilitating videotaped lectures as part of their courseware. One presumes the latter would be less expensive for the student, otherwise what is the point?
A lot of the discussion about law student debt ranging in the $130,000 to $150,000 or more range somehow never raises the fact that the average total cost of attendance for first-time, full-time students living on campus and paying in-state tuition was $20,100 at public 4-year institutions and $39,800 at private nonprofit 4-year institutions. That lurks underneath the costs of a law degree. I have a funny feeling that a student would take a less expensive option if it were available and the credits viable.
I can understand the concern as trustees and legislatures are always looking for ways to cut costs at their institutions. Reducing the need for live faculty is one way to accomplish that if electronic courseware does not significantly diminish course outcomes [read grades]. An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education notes that a pilot program at SJSU using an electronic version of an introductory course in electrical engineering showed students passing at a much higher rate than those in traditional sections. The article does not explain that result. I could imagine concepts in electrical engineering are less subjective than to those in philosophy. What works in one field may not work in another. It’s hard to make a judgment without more comparative information.
The letter raises diversity issues as another objection:
…[W]hat kind of message are we sending our students if we tell them that they should best learn what justice is by listening to the reflections of the largely white student population from a privileged institution like Harvard? Our very diverse students gain far more when their own experience is central to the course and when they are learning from our own very diverse faculty, who bring their varied perspectives to the content of courses that bear on social justice.
Let me see. What kind of assumptions go into that statement? Harvard is such a rarified atmosphere that class participants have no (or not enough) practical observations in a class on justice at SJSU? Or is it that presumed privilege distorts a participant’s views? I don’t know much about the circumstances of the Harvard graduate student body. I wouldn’t assume everyone there comes from a “privileged” background. I wouldn’t presume to know what kind of experiences anyone at Harvard may have had with authority before they got to the classroom.
Technology changes things. Just ask the music, movie, publishing, and newspaper businesses among others. They’re still creating and selling media despite the fact that their business models have shrunk their infrastructures. They may not be as profitable as they once were, but they are still out there. Education is the next industry ripe for change and I for one look forward to it. Give me reasons (with information to back them up) why the new approaches aren’t viable and I may be more sympathetic to preserving the old ones.
April 30, 2013
Happy 20th Birthday Public World Wide Web
Cern has restored the first web server and the first web site ever produced on the “World Wide Web.” The link to the site is http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html. Be advised that the link will likely generate an error page due to the traffic generated by interest in seeing it. The cached copy delivered via Google shows a spare white page with text appearing in generic Times Roman font. Those were the days.
The story of the creation of the working web appears on a Cern page in a similar, spare style. It was on April 30, 1993 that the first web page went live. We learn that the hardware involved consistent of a NeXT Cube that cost, at the time, $6,500. If anyone remembers, this was a computer that was produced by Steve Jobs’ venture in between his stints at Apple.
The page headline notes “Twenty years of a free, open web.” I think that’s true to a large extent, though the commercial distribution of digital goods has had a profound effect on the concepts of open and free. Think DRM and pay walls as an example. These aren’t necessarily bad things given give the requirements of some business models. I do believe, though, the implementation, in some situations can be extreme. One of the major discussions going on about the implementation of the video tag in HTML5 is whether DRM will be added by extension. See this article, for example.
Another development that questions the open aspect of the web is the level of political control some countries exert (or try to exert) over web content. I doubt those in the web project, Sir Tim Berners-Lee and others foresaw this or the attempts by governments to implement heavy handed surveillance to web communications. See this story as an example.
Then again, the web isn’t all business. I think 20 years ago we would all be horrified at the idea of sharing our personal details with governments, corporations, and complete strangers. Who could have predicted the web as a vehicle for high levels of exhibitionism and voyeurism? That now seems to be the social norm for many. For my money, the web is really a secret plot by cats to spread bad grammar in the form of cuteness. We’ll all be dumbed down to the point where we cater to their every need. In fact, I can has finish post this so I cans open another can of noms for the kittahs.
The BBC has an in-depth story on the birth of the public web. Feed your kittahs before reading it. Priorities, after all. [MG]
April 11, 2013
Short Takes On The News: (Lack of) Privacy In Email and Windows 8 Allegedly Killing the PC
Two stories in the news lately should be disturbing to privacy advocates. One is about email privacy. The IRS doesn’t believe in it. The ACLU has acquired a copy of the 2009 IRS Search Warrant Handbook which has this handy quote: "emails and other transmissions generally lose their reasonable expectation of privacy and thus their Fourth Amendment protection once they have been sent from an individual's computer." Declan McCullagh has the story in CNET News. There is reference to the Warshak case where the Sixth Circuit required a warrant under probable cause for the government to get access to email content. Warshak, however, is not a national rule at this point.
This leads to the second story of interest, which is another McCullagh report, this time on the House Intelligence Committee killing any semblance of privacy protections offered in revisions to the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). Representative Jan Schakowsky proposed various amendments that would have limited the NSA and other intelligence agencies from collecting sensitive information about Americans. The Committee adopted the bill yesterday without amendments by a vote of 18-2 and sent it to the House floor for a vote. Maybe the IRS is on to something.
Microsoft and Windows 8 are in the news regularly, and usually with negative commentary. The latest developments are consistent with that negativity. Microsoft stock dropped today because of very recent reports by IDC and Gartner showing significant drops of 14% in PC shipments during the first quarter of this year. Gartner is predicting a 20.4% decline in PC shipments in the next four years. Despite Microsoft’s entry in the phone and tablet business with Windows 8 and Surface Products, consumer choice may not ride with those offerings to extend the Windows franchise. In fact, IDC calls Windows a catalyst in holding back the market for PCs.Much of the commentary out there describes the Modern UI interface as confusing, especially on non-touch equipment such as desktop computers. That confusion coupled with older PCs that are still good enough for content creation spells trouble for Microsoft’s prospects according to analysts. I don’t believe the PC is going away ultimately, at least until tablets can match PCs in power and features. The writing is on the wall though for PCs in a casual computing setting. No one needs a PC to check in with social sites while travelling. I also won’t complain about the Modern UI on a non-touch desktop PC . It’s easy enough to ignore by using local accounts and clicking on the desktop tile. That may not be how Microsoft would like its customers to use Windows 8. Nonetheless, bypassing the Start Screen is not the anguish filled experience some make it out to be. Now if Microsoft killed the desktop outright, that would be bad. [MG]
April 02, 2013
So Much For Aaron's Law: Congress Considers Expansion of CFAA
I’ve been getting a rash of emails lately from progressive organizations concerned over the proposed changes Congress is considering to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). As readers may recall, the Act as it currently stands, was the basis for the late Aaron Swartz’ aggressive prosecution for bulk downloads of JSTOR documents at MIT. That prosecution drew outrage for the way it was handled by the Justice Department and for the fact that the law as written could ensnare harsh penalties for rather mild misconduct. Representative Zoe Lofgren vowed to introduce a bill that would reign in the breadth of the Act and even crowd-sourced it for full effect. That bill may have pleased those sympathetic to Aaron Swartz, but it unsurprisingly went nowhere.
I’ll let my cynicism with the political process show a bit here as I refer readers to an article published today in CNET by Declan McCullagh that describes proposed amendments that would expand rather than limit the Act’s coverage. Professor Orin Kerr is quoted in the piece:
This language is really, really broad. If I read it correctly, the language would make it a felony to lie about your age on an online dating profile if you intended to contact someone online and ask them personal questions.
The rest of it describes failed attempt after failed attempt to beef up the CFAA over the last several years. The latest context for amending the Act now includes things such as cybersecurity, DDoS attacks, foreign espionage conducted via the Internet, Wikileaks, and other threats to the United States. Who knows, that may do the trick this time, Aaron Swartz notwithstanding.
Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) criticized Attorney General Eric Holder for the Department’s handling of the Swartz case, calling it prosecutorial zeal and possibly misconduct. Holder called it a "good use of prosecutorial discretion." This kind of back and forth is nothing more than a political game between the administration and its opponents. The CFAA, in the meantime needs serious reform. That reform should not be held hostage to ideological fights or scare tactics. It seems unfortunate that Congress can’t come up with language that protects government, commercial, and personal security while not criminalizing trivial conduct. We’re all going to suffer if this one goes through as it is. [MG]
March 18, 2013
Google and Open Source Feeds: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?
There's more going on than Google just eliminating Reader. For example, TechCruch reports that Google has killed its RSS subscription extension for Chrome. And then there is Feedburner. Google acquired the RSS/Atom feed management company in June 2007 for $100 million. Pocket change for Google. TechCrunch's Frederic Lardinois writes:
I always assumed Google would keep Feedburner on life support for as long as it could, but the fact that they are shutting down Reader shows that they are willing to make these unpopular moves and close products that form the basis of a larger ecosystem (I’m sure the teams at Reeder, Feedly and other Google Reader-based services are scrambling right now). I can’t imagine that Feedburner will live through many more of these spring cleanings given that it is Google’s last RSS-focused product that’s still standing.
For more, see his post, The Google Reader Shutdown Is Yet Another Nail In Feedburner’s Coffin (NB: TechCrunch's own feeds use Feedburner's feed management system.)
By far, the best article I have read about the strategic business changes underway at Google is Felix Salmon's Did Google just kill RSS? (Reuters think piece; hat tip to Mark's post) Salmon closes his analysis and commentary with some thoughts about RSS (let's add Atom):
RSS has been dying for years — that’s why Google killed Reader. It was a lovely open format; it has sadly been replaced with proprietary feeds like the ones we get from Twitter and Facebook. That’s not an improvement, but it is reality. Google, with Reader, was really providing the life-support mechanism for RSS. Once Reader is gone, I fear that RSS won’t last much longer.
Others have a more optimistic outlook. Some view the demise of Reader as reinvigorating innovation and competition in open source feed desktop apps and sync platforms. Only time will tell. [JH]
One, Use Google Reader? Two, Think the Company Cares? Three, Want to Sign Change.org's Keep Google Reader Running Petition?
1. I don't. 2. I have my doubts. 3. I did sign Change.org's Keep Google Reader Running Petition which has over 120,000 supporters.
Here's the text:
A few years ago -- years, wow -- Google Reader was one of my go-to social networks. It was an accidental one. I was using it for its intended purpose -- aggregating and reading a lot of web content in one place -- but it turns out, a lot of other people were doing the same thing. A lot. Many of which shared interests and when you added the amazing (amazing!) share and comment features, Google Reader blossomed into a wonderful experience for many of us, core to our day-to-day consumption of content online.
Unfortunately, you decided to kill those "extra" functions. I'm not here to ask you to reverse that (you should, though). In doing so, Google Reader's day-to-day value declined, and I, like many, ended up using it less often. Instead of hitting the bookmarklet I have on my Chrome install three, four times a day, it's now a once a day (okay, once every other day more often, recently) experience.
But it's still a core part of my Internet use. And of the many, many others who are signed below.
Our confidence in Google's other products -- Gmail, YouTube, and yes, even Plus -- requires that we trust you in respecting how and why we use your other products. This isn't just about our data in Reader. This is about us using your product because we love it, because it makes our lives better, and because we trust you not to nuke it.
So, please don't destroy that trust. You're a huge corporation, with a market cap which rivals the GDP of nations. You're able to dedicate 20% of your time to products which may never seen the light of day. You experiment in self-driving cars and really cool eyewear which we trust (trust!) you'll use in a manner respectful to our needs, interests, etc.
Show us you care.
Don't kill Google Reader.
In addition to links provided in Mark's post:
For commentary, see also Rupert Goodwins' Killing Google Reader is like killing the bees: we'll all be worse off (The Guardian's Technology Blog) He observes that while Google Reader's user population may have been on the low side, many professionals in the content creation business relied on it for current awareness. Web journalist Laura Hazard Owen is one of them, Google Reader, please don’t go — I need you to do my job (paidContent).
For Google Reader alternations, see also Christina Warren's post on Mashable. Do note her words of caution:
Our only fear with recommending some of these services is the long-term viability of these platforms. ... After being burned by Google Reader, it's hard to trust that these other services will be around for the long haul.
March 14, 2013
Short Takes On The News: Google Reader, The Apple e-Book Case, TLDs, And Law Applications
Google is killing Google Reader as of July 1, 2013. I don’t use the product myself (or RSS for that matter), so I have no feelings about the move one way or the other. However, any numbers of articles in the popular and semi-popular press express shock and/or sadness at the announcement. Felix Salmon writes a Reuters post asking whether Google has killed RSS altogether, though he suggests that Facebook and Twitter feeds may have replaced the immediate need for RSS. A post in Socialmedia Today offers instructions on how to move to other RSS readers out there. Ars Technica posits that an equivalent of Google Reader will wind up as part of Google+. That wouldn’t be surprising as Google seems committed to creating more reasons for subscribers to mingle on Plus pages. CBS News reports that Digg has announced it is building a substitute reader to fill the gap.
Poor Tim Cook. The Apple CEO has been ordered by Judge Denise Kote to give a deposition to the Government in the Apple e-book antitrust case. He had declined due to lack of any unique knowledge about the arrangement with publishers according to paidContent. It was Steve Jobs’ baby all the way. Bloomberg fills in a few more details. Cook was running Apple on a day-to-day basis while Jobs’ illness played out. Other depositions from Apple employees suggest Cook did have private conversations with Jobs about e-books. There’s something about that “under oath” thing that helps bring these things out. Apple is the only defendant left in the case with the publishers having settled.
It seems that Amazon’s attempt to gain the top-level-domains (TLD) of .book and .author (and others) is raised the ire of the Authors Guild, Barnes & Noble, and other objectors. ICANN has approved the creation of additional TLDs and the land rush is on with Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others attempting to snap up domains. Amazon potentially would be the one who would control registration for .book sites and could conceivably keep the domain for its own use. The Guild thinks this is anticompetitive. My reaction to the Guild in past scrums such as the Apple e-book case and the Google scanning case is the Guild is wrong. Here, I think the organization is absolutely right. I can see Google controlling .goog in a similar way as the TLD is reflective of its corporate name. However, .book and .author are too generic to be controlled strictly by Amazon. The comment period is closed, but more information on what ICANN is doing is here.
Finally, the latest LSAC figures are no comfort to deans who may be ruffled by the latest U.S. News law school rankings:
As of 03/08/13, there are 323,167 Fall 2013 applications submitted by 46,587 applicants. Applicants are down 17.9% and applications are down 21.6% from 2012. Last year at this time, we had 84% of the preliminary final applicant count. Last year at this time, we had 88% of the preliminary final application count.
The charts are here. Many are asking the question why the University of North Texas is opening the UNT Dallas College of Law for business in Fall of 2014 in light of figures that are not likely to get better in the coming years. Is Texas really an underserved legal market? [MG]
March 06, 2013
Google Gets A Break In German Copyright Legislation
One of the stories buzzing in the electronic press concerns Google’s copyright disputes with German publishers. The country was considering legislation that would formalize copyright fee payments for the use of story snippets in news aggregators such as Google News. A compromise was forged at close to the last minute that allowed the use of snippets without a fee, but use of the entire work would still require a charge. German publishers declared victory, though I don’t know why. I would assume that basic copyright law in Europe would have prevented use of the entire work (without a fee, of course) in any event.
The dilemma for publishers, and not merely those in Germany, is how to make money from web content. Advertising revenues on site alone do not cut it as many content providers have discovered. This is one reason why there are these attempts to legislative a revenue stream. I don’t believe that Google threatened to delete links to German news stories from Google News. That certainly was one of its options if push came to shove.
Limiting access to content to those who pay for it may have its drawbacks. Consider this story from paidContent. It describes the pay-walled publication “The Magazine” available for iPad owners. Authors are allowed to repost their contributions on their own sites after 30 days. One author did and most of the response and discussion of that piece cited the author’s site rather than The Magazine. The management is reconsidering how its pay wall works as it would have preferred that it got the benefit of the social sharing and discussion. The realization is that people share what is easily available and ignore or minimize what is not.
Many commenters have pointed out that it’s hard to find a balance between free and paid to the point where one makes money. I agree, though I think the threat of legislation mandating payment by aggregators will drive them to minimize their costs by limiting some sources in their listings – the push comes to shove option. Google, Bing, Yahoo and others are not forced to link to anything. Legislation of this type is not going to create that balance. News is global, including items that would only get local coverage in another era. There’s another story in paidContent that posits the idea there is almost an infinite supply of free content out there. Google has the leverage here.More coverage on these developments is in Spiegel Online (found through Google News) and Bloomberg Law. The latter story indicates that the European Union intends to investigate if the legislation violates trade rules. There’s a joke in there somewhere. [MG]
February 26, 2013
Six Strikes Program Against Piracy Goes Into Effect In The US This Week
The six strike copyright monitoring system that was brokered between content holders and ISPs goes into effect this week. The FAQ for the Center for Copyright Information (CCI) explains how the system works. Generally, content holders will monitor peer-to-peer networks, identify the content as their own and send the IP address to the appropriate ISP. The ISP will send a series of messages to the account holder indicating the piracy allegation. The first two messages are educational. The next two are acknowledgement alerts that require a response. The final two are mitigation alerts that impose minor consequences such as a speed slowdown. Appeals are allowed at $35 a pop. The CCI does not make money from these appeals as the money goes to the American Arbitration Association, the organization that hears the appeal.
Some commentators expect little change in the downloading habits of those who may be affected by the program. One reason is that termination of the offending Internet account is not part of the program. Another is that by limiting the program to BitTorrent and P2P traffic, determined downloaders will move to other sources such as blogs, file lockers, and of course, Usenet. Many companies providing subscription services to Usenet tend not to log their customer activity. That detail may put a dent in enforcement should the program start monitoring these sources. And using virtual private network (VPN) or proxy services can hide an IP address.
My biggest concern is how the CCI will handle the inevitable messages sent by scam artists pretending to be ISPs or the CCI. It is possible that some scammers could conceivably send high quality fraud messages that steal graphics from legitimate sites. I get these all the time from people pretending to be banks or popular Internet destinations. One way to tell a legitimate message from a scam is that the ISP/CCI messages should not demand money to mitigate a violation. Another way is to let the cursor hover over a link in the message (without clicking on it, of course) to reveal the true destination. Most mail clients and browsers support this feature. I recommend calling an ISP’s customer service line to verify the messages are accurate for anyone who still isn’t sure.One other prediction: watch for the content holders to advocate for a stronger program when their sales or profits do not rise significantly. Read more in the National Law Journal, Billboard, and my favorite snarky technology news site, The Register. [MG]
February 04, 2013
Google Settles Linking Dispute With French Publishers, Implications Abound
Google’s settlement with French publishers over the use of links and snippets in Google News is not getting rave reviews from the press or politicians. The announcement came last Friday that Google agreed to set up a fund of about $82 million for the benefit of French publishers. Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt described it this way on the Official Google Blog:
Today I announced with President Hollande of France two new initiatives to help stimulate innovation and increase revenues for French publishers. First, Google has agreed to create a €60 million Digital Publishing Innovation Fund to help support transformative digital publishing initiatives for French readers. Second, Google will deepen our partnership with French publishers to help increase their online revenues using our advertising technology.
France was considering changes to its copyright law that would require royalties for links. I can’t say whether France was serious about this beyond a negotiations ploy, but that is off the table with the new agreement. Commentators say that while this may benefit Google in the short run it may set a precedent for how publishers deal with other aggregators. $82 million is lunch money for Google. That it couched the agreement as an advertising partnership means it will recapture some of that cash through its ad network.
Google settled with Belgian publishers not long ago with a similar deal, though that was the result of copyright litigation in that country. German performance rights society GEMA is in a royalties dispute with YouTube over musical content licensed by GEMA. YouTube has blocked the videos with a message suggesting that GEMA is not licensing the content. GEMA is upset with this as it is willing to license the content, though at a higher rate than Google will accept. German publishers are interested in pushing Google for money based on the French and Belgian precedents. They, however, want some type of agreement that would bind all aggregators such as Bing, Yahoo, and others.
Linking is the new frontier for publishers desperate for money in a declining industry. Google may be the biggest target with the deepest pockets but the web is much more than Google. Social networks users, for example, have a habit of casual linking to news. It’s only a matter of time before publishers complain that Facebook et al. are not paying their fair share on behalf of their customers. Google’s business arrangements in France, Belgium, and likely Germany, can force a new worldwide model on unwilling participants. What may be a political dispute will become the cost of doing business. I’ll be following these developments over time.
One commentary in particular that enforces that idea comes from the Guardian UK. The perspective there is that Google pulled a fast one on the French as there is no binding contract holding Google to a set of actions. Any conflicts under the deal are not subject to arbitration. Google does not have to reveal its search algorithms which are something that may be an issue in the European Union’s antitrust investigation into search ranking. It’s available here. [MG]
February 01, 2013
Pew: Americans Like Technology in Libraries
The availability of free computers and internet access now rivals book lending and reference expertise as a vital service of libraries. In a national survey of Americans ages 16 and older:
- 80% of Americans say borrowing books is a “very important” service libraries provide.
- 80% say reference librarians are a “very important” service of libraries.
- 77% say free access to computers and the internet is a “very important” service of libraries.
Moreover, a notable share of Americans say they would embrace even wider uses of technology at libraries such as:
- Online research services allowing patrons to pose questions and get answers from librarians: 37% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use an “ask a librarian” type of service, and another 36% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
- Apps-based access to library materials and programs: 35% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 28% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
- Access to technology “petting zoos” to try out new devices: 35% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 34% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
- GPS-navigation apps to help patrons locate material inside library buildings: 34% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 28% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
- “Redbox”-style lending machines or kiosks located throughout the community where people can check out books, movies or music without having to go to the library itself: 33% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 30% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
- “Amazon”-style customized book/audio/video recommendation schemes that are based on patrons’ prior library behavior: 29% of Americans ages 16 and older would “very likely” use that service and another 35% say they would be “somewhat likely” to do so.
I’m intrigued by some of these such as the desire for GPS-navigation apps. I suspect the day can’t be far off when bar codes are either replaced or supplemented by RFD chips embedded in books. The technology may allow not only locating the book on the shelf but circulating them as well. Then there is the ability to find mis-shelved books via tracking technology.
Americans certainly see libraries as forward-thinking when implementing technology. In that regard, the American Library Association recently honored five libraries for technology based cutting-edge services. Some of these are quite novel. For example, the Goethe-Institut New York Library teamed up with the Pratt Institute School of Information and Library Science to develop German Traces NYC. The app overlays augmented reality images over images from a mobile device’s camera to show German cultural heritage in New York. Personally, I’m holding out for Google Glasses to take advantage of this kind of technology. I’ve been keen on the product coming to market since I first heard of the concept.More on the awards for other cutting-edge technology in libraries is available from ALA here. [MG]
January 29, 2013
Short Takes On The News: Admission Misinformation, Windows 8, Big Law, and Google
It seems that misreporting of admissions data is not exclusive to law schools. Inside Higher Ed reports that four universities and have misreported undergraduate test scores to U.S. News. The latest is Bucknell, which misreported SAT and ACT scores for a six year period. One MBA program reported incorrect admissions information as well. U.S. News seems to think this is not a trend, though the article seems to question that conclusion.
Anyone interested in purchasing cheap copies of Windows 8 upgrades are advised to do so by Thursday. Microsoft’s promotional pricing of $39.99 for downloads ends on January 31. Upgrades to Windows 8 Pro are available at that price for Windows 7, Vista, and XP. The price goes to $119.99 for the regular edition and $199.99 for the Pro edition. I saw the Windows 8 Pro disc set on sale at Costco for $66.99 and at Wal-Mart for $199.99. Microsoft’s download page is here. CNET has more pricing details here.
All the job troubles with Big Law suggested a retrenchment of what services and costs clients were and were not willing to pay. At least that was the narrative over the last several years. The Wall Street Journal reports in a very short article that the survey by the Wells Fargo Specialty Group shows law firms had good numbers in 2012. The figures aren’t reported, though the conclusion is. I doubt that this will lead to more hiring. My guess is a firm that could produce good financial results will not want to increase its overhead unless absolutely necessary.
Finally, CNET reports on a documentary from the recent Sundance Film Festival called Google And The World Brain. It examines the failed book settlement and questions whether placing the world’s knowledge in the hands of a corporation. Google, can after all, change its mind about levels of access to its scanning project without much oversight. CNET’s review notes that the problem is bigger than Google, with implications for all when major corporations gather intimate information about its customers. Implications aside, that’s what you get in a commerce driven world. [MG]
January 21, 2013
Former FCC Chair Says Forget Network Management, Data Caps In Place To Generate Revenue
Here’s a bit of news that actually no one should find surprising except for the fact that someone who knows is stating it. Data caps implemented by Internet providers are there to generate revenue and not to alleviate network congestion. The person stating this is former FCC Chairman Michael Powell. He is currently president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), a trade association that includes ISPs. Powell recently participated in a panel discussion with three other former heads of the agency at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Association Broadband and Social Justice Summit.
Powell was asked about data caps and the impression they were there as a mechanism for congestion management. "That's wrong," he said. "Our principal purpose is how to fairly monetize a high fixed cost." That would be digging up streets and putting wire in the ground or setting up cell towers in the case of wireless. These are admittedly high cost items, but I wonder how many times a company such as AT&T has to rip up the same street to put in the same wire? None of the other former members of the FCC disagreed with Powell. Former member Michael Copps said the Commission should be a little more skeptical about caps but didn’t disagree that they are part of a valid business model.
Not everyone agrees. Advocacy groups complain that companies use caps to discriminate against competing services. Netflix is a high bandwidth service where heavy use can easily rack up gigabytes of data per movie. ISPs tend to exempt their own media services from counting against a data limit. The Hill quotes NCTA spokesman Brian Deitz as saying:
Our point is we see this as a consumer fairness issue. Every consumer doesn’t have the same bandwidth needs.
Deitz’s statement came as a response to Senator Ron Wyden’s bill, the Data Cap Integrity Act which would require the FCC to set standards for data caps as a network management tool. The NCTA is opposed to the legislation, calling it ill conceived:
Usage tiers give consumers more choices to better fit their bandwidth needs, and they rightly distinguish between low-volume users and high-volume users, as is true for many products and services.
On the other hand, ISPs do not offer customer rebates for unused bandwidth at the end of the service period. Charges are generally set by tiers of speed.
This should get a little more intense in the coming years with the trend to store everything in the cloud. Vendors such as Apple, Google, and Amazon now have music match services where they will stream purchased music to a device rather than store it locally. Windows 8 relies heavily on SkyDrive acting as the main point of storage in a world of screens with comparatively low capacity solid state drives. Accessing those cloud drives for whatever takes up bandwidth. Maybe it’s a little, or maybe it’s a lot. Companies such as AT&T and Verizon see this as an opportunity to increase revenues even further. Let’s not pretend what’s going on here. [MG]
January 17, 2013
Your Genome May Not Be Private
My take on privacy, especially on the Internet is that if we and/or the law can’t safeguard our privacy, we should at least know what we are giving up when we give out even innocuous information about ourselves. It’s a complicated process to keep track of it all, of course, as more and more of our characteristics are collated in databases. It was with great interest that I came across this article in Wired, Scientists Discover How to Identify People From ‘Anonymous’ Genomes. Apparently, with nothing more than the analysis of a DNA sample and a little genealogical sleuthing, it is possible to link that sample with an individual with a 12% success rate for Caucasian males. Here’s an example from the article:
Erlich and his team started with the observation that Y-chromosomes and surnames tend to go together. That’s because sons always inherit their father’s Y-chromosome and typically inherit his surname. Certain genetic stutters on the Y-chromosome, in which the letters of the genetic code repeat over and over, vary widely in the general population but tend to be shared by closely related men.
In a few highly publicized cases, people have exploited this to find their sperm donor father. In 2005, for example, a 15-year old boy reportedly found his biological father after having his own Y-chromosome tested and combing a commercial genealogy website for close matches. These matches pointed to a potential surname, which the boy combined with other clues — including the sperm donor’s birth place and date — to track him down.
The current research relies on matching the individual genomes with other publicly known information. It wasn’t too long ago that researchers were able to de-anonymize aggregated search queries. One example of how that works is here. I can imagine how marketers and health care providers may be interested in this. An email or a display ad might say something like “Get your doctor to proscribe Crestor. You’re genetically disposed to high cholesterol.” Here’s another quote from the article:
This is just the beginning. Just wait for the science to mature to the point where we have biological ID cards. Don’t scoff at the idea. You don’t want the terrorists to win, do you? [MG]
“Anonymity is a myth if you’ve got richly detailed genetic information and access to a variety of databases,” said Hank Greely, a law professor at Stanford University who specializes in the ethical and legal implications of emerging biotechnology. Researchers need to ensure informed consent from participants, Greely says, even if that means telling them it may not be possible to protect their privacy.
January 14, 2013
Short Takes On The News: Digital Libraries, Law School Dean Salaries, and Law School in Two Years
CNET is reporting on one version of the digital library of the near future. It will be realized in Bexar County, Texas, which includes the city of San Antonio. There will be no books, only rows of terminals. Residents will be able to check out e-readers for loan periods up to two weeks. The County will spend about $250,000 for access to the first 10,000 books available through the system. The design of the facility is said to be based on an Apple store. The library system is adding the digital library to its existing system. More details are in the San Antonio Express-News.
Las week I referenced an editorial written by Massachusetts School of Law Dean Lawrence Velvel where he ripped into the ABA and other law school actors for creating unnecessary overhead and raising the cost of law school. One of his targets was the library and its personnel and associated costs. The Boston Globe wrote a story yesterday that disclosed the salaries of deans from various schools. Dean Velvel comes in at $292,861. His salary is modest compared to others. John F. O'Brien of the New England School of Law is up there at a whopping $867,358. The Dean at Georgetown is around $300,000 while the Deans at Michigan, Texas, and Virginia are in the mid $400,000s. So tell me again while law school is so expensive? More information from the Globe is here and here.
Karen Sloan in the National Law Journal reports that New York educators and court officials will meet on January 18th to discuss whether law students should be allowed to take the New York Bar after two years of law school. I would think that law schools would be opposed to the idea. Anyone who passes would certainly deprive law schools of a full year of tuition income in a climate where enrollment is dropping. The fact that a major court such as the New York Court of Appeals would even consider such a move must be scary. It could propel other courts to take similar action. Schools, at the very least, will need to explain the value of the third year. I’m looking forward to hearing how this turns out. [MG]
January 03, 2013
FTC More Or Less Gives Google A Pass On Search, Mostly Cares About Patents
The FTC announced a proposed settlement with Google today over various antitrust allegations made over licensing of patent standards that are essential to the mobile phone hardware industry. Google purchase Motorola earlier to acquire a substantial patent portfolio as legal capital in the patent cases surrounding its Android operating system. Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Oracle, and others have initiated lawsuits globally claiming patent violations over features in their various systems. Some of it is motivated over money but more of seems to be designed to limit competition in various markets what with demands to exclude products from sale over violations.
The FTC’s proposed consent decree would require Google to license its essential standards patent portfolio on fair and reasonable terms, which is how the industry would normally work. The statement from the Commission, however, seems to put all companies on notice that the Commission is willing to step into the “patent wars” if competition is at stake:
We previously explained in the Commission’s unanimous filings before the United States International Trade Commission in June 2012 that the threat of injunctive relief “in matters involving RAND-encumbered SEPs, where infringement is based on implementation of standardized technology, has the potential to cause substantial harm to U.S. competition, consumers and innovation.” The threat of an injunction allows a SEP holder to demand and realize royalty payments reflecting the investments firms make to develop and implement the standard, rather than the economic value of the technology itself. In addition to harming incentives for the development of standard-compliant products, the threat of an injunction can also lead to excessive royalties that may be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices. Alternatively, an injunction or exclusion order could ban the sale of important consumer products entirely. This type of “patent ambush” harms competition and consumers and is rightly condemned by the Commission.
We take this action pursuant to the Commission’s authority under Section 5 to prohibit unfair methods of competition, which both Congress and the Supreme Court have expressly deemed to extend beyond the Sherman Act. A stand-alone Section 5 unfair methods of competition claim allows the Commission to protect consumers and the standard-setting process while minimizing the often burdensome combination of class actions and treble damages associated with private antitrust enforcement. In a society that all of us recognize is overly litigious, the judicious use of Section 5 is a sensible and practical way for the Commission to bring problematic conduct to a halt. [footnotes omitted.]
I’m particularly interested in seeing how the Commission may investigate other claims of patent abuse by other companies in ways that it may harm competition. If Google is litigious in this area, it is far from the only company to go that route.
The two other areas where the Commission had investigated Google are how it treated advertisers conducting ad campaigns over multiple ad platforms and the claim of how it used content from other web sites in displaying search results. Google’s contracts with advertisers made it difficult for advertisers to evaluate the effectiveness of its ads. Google agreed to give advertisers more freedom in managing campaigns over multiple platforms without impacting their ranking in search results.
Other companies have complained that Google appropriates their web content such as reviews and rankings as part of their own search results. The Commission noted that this practice could conceivably “chill” a web site from creating product innovations. Another claim was that Google favored its own properties when producing search results. The FTC said this in the press release:
According to the Commission statement, however, the FTC concluded that the introduction of Universal Search, as well as additional changes made to Google’s search algorithms – even those that may have had the effect of harming individual competitors – could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google’s product and the experience of its users. It therefore has chosen to close the investigation.
I have not seen that language in the Commission statement, but I’ll take the press release at face value. Closing the investigation with that conclusion should frost more than a few Google competitors. Microsoft recently and bitterly complained that Google refuses to license code to allow Windows 8 phone users to watch YouTube videos via an app. Google provided such an app for Android and iPhone users. Windows 8 phone users are limited to YouTube access via a browser which is substandard compared to native apps. This conceivably makes the Windows phone platform less desireable.
Fairsearch.org, which is an industry consortium of Google competitors, would like to see Commission action to diminish Google’s search dominance. They will be highly disappointed with this end to the investigation. Not only was there a “nothing to see here response,” there wasn’t even a fine. Beyond that, only the patent issues and conclusions are binding on Google. [MG]
December 12, 2012
Short Takes On The News
There is a hearing in an appeal today for the anonymous blogger who allegedly defamed Cooley School of Law. The issue is whether Cooley can publicly identify the blogger as part of the trial proceedings. The school knows the identity of the person via a subpoena to the blogging service used to make the statements in question. The trial court had found the language of the statements strong enough to deny First Amendment protection but delayed proceedings because Michigan has not articulated standards for revealing names in these circumstances. More is at TR News & Insights.
Apparently the debt and job crises in education are not limited to law schools. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports these were hot topics at the recent meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools. One of the points discussed included raising a student’s financial literacy as part of the admission process and continuing throughout the length of the program. This means telling students up front what they are getting into with debt and likely job outcomes. I’ll note that many of the law school-fraud-in job-statistics-cases dismissed so far mentioned far ranging publicity about the legal job market as notice to students entering law school. I’m not sure there is a comparable level of publicity for the rest of the academic job market. The bottom line as always is the investment in education still worth it.
paidContent is reporting on the interesting development by the Financial Times and the Times (London) to offer free or highly subsidized Nexus 7 tablets with a digital subscription. Most content providers grouse over their inability to get people to pay for their online content or make enough in ad revenues to fund operations. News Corp. is shutting down the iPad only electronic newspaper The Daily because it did not generate enough subscribers. This type of promotion may be a way to generate the type of response online news organizations seek. The Nexus 7 is expensive enough to have perceived value to the consumer that a logoed tote bag may not. The tablet is not nearly as expensive as an iPad making an affordable promotion. This may become a model for the rest of the content industry if this offer is successful.
Speaking of the Financial Times, Michael Bloomberg is considering whether to purchase the paper. Another addition to Bloomberg Law? [MG]
December 06, 2012
Big Bother Will Be Watching
That's not a typo in the title. One of my regular topics for this blog is developments in privacy. One thread is typically about how we are tracked via the Internet for the sake of providing us with targeted ads based on our interests. Here’s an example. I tend to read a lot of news about Windows 8 and the various kinds of hardware that runs it. I also tend to see a lot of ads for the Microsoft Surface tablet. Likely a lot of these displays are based on Microsoft buying a lot of ad space to promote the device. I suspect, however, that I may see more Surface ads than the average person due to my reading habits. There are efforts to create a standard for protecting consumers from tracking, but these are mired in disagreement. See here and here, for example.
The only reason targeted behavioral advertising is possible is because the web is interactive. Its very nature allows for bits and pieces of information to be transmitted and stored against profiles to provide this delightful service to advertisers. Google at its heart is really an advertising agency with a very good search engine that helps drive its product. Some media, such as television, do not have the built in advantage of interactivity. At least not yet.
Enter Verizon with a patent application submitted on May 26, 2011 and published on November 29, 2012 titled Methods and Systems for Presenting an Advertisement Associated with an Ambient Action of a User. It describes a system that includes a way to track immediate activity (the ambient stuff) by television users through cameras and microphones placed in the set-top box. Commercial breaks on television programs would be based on the immediate activity that is detected. Here are some selected descriptions and examples from the application:
3. The method of claim 1, wherein the ambient action comprises at least one of eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, and playing a musical instrument.
4. The method of claim 3, wherein the interaction between the user and [sic] the another user comprises at least one of cuddling, fighting, participating in a game or sporting event, and talking.
8. The method of claim 1, wherein the detecting comprises utilizing at least one of a gesture recognition technology, a profile recognition technology, a facial recognition technology, and a voice recognition technology.
10. The method of claim 1, further comprising: determining, by the media content presentation system, a mood of the user in accordance with the detected ambient action; wherein the selecting of the advertisement comprises selecting the advertisement based on the determined mood of the user.
11. The method of claim 1, further comprising identifying, by the media content presentation system, one or more physical attributes associated with the user.
14. The method of claim 1, wherein: the detecting of the ambient action comprises detecting at least one word spoken by the user; and the selected advertisement is associated with the at least one word spoken by the user.
20. The system of claim 19, wherein the detection facility is implemented by a detection device comprising at least one of a depth sensor, an image sensor, an audio sensor, and a thermal sensor.
 To illustrate, an exemplary ambient action may include the user eating, exercising, laughing, reading, sleeping, talking, singing, humming, cleaning, playing a musical instrument, performing any other suitable action, and/or engaging in any other physical activity during the presentation of the media content. In certain examples, the ambient action may include an interaction by the user with another user (e.g., another user physically located in the same room as the user). To illustrate, the ambient action may include the user talking to, cuddling with, fighting with, wrestling with, playing a game with, competing with, and/or otherwise interacting with the other user. In further examples, the ambient action may include the user interacting with a separate media content access device (e.g., a media content access device separate from the media content access device presenting the media content). For example, the ambient action may include the user interacting with a mobile device (e.g., a mobile phone device, a tablet computer, a laptop computer, etc.) during the presentation of a media content program by a set-top box ("STB") device.
 In certain examples, detection facility 104 may be configured to obtain data (e.g., image data, audio data, 3D spatial data, thermal image data, etc.) by way of a detection device. For example, detection facility 104 may be configured to utilize a detection device to receive an RGB video stream, a monochrome depth sensing video stream, and/or a multi-array audio stream representative of persons, objects, movements, gestures, and/or sounds from a detection zone associated with the detection device.
I can’t speak for others, but I don’t believe I would be interested in sharing personal details of my life with Verizon, from boring to intimate merely to get targeted advertising based on whatever I happened to be doing at the time. Other articles on this development speculate on the types of ads that might pop up if the patent were implemented. Some of them were pretty lurid or embarrassing. I’ll leave it at that.
I realize that a patent does not mean the technology will ever be implemented, or if it is, what the terms of service will be. Let’s say that this kind of capability does find its way into living rooms. Will it be active only when the set-top box is on? Consider that any profile it generates can be combined with other profiles to create super profiles no matter what media is involved. Moreover, how is the information represented in these profiles? Physical attributes? Facial and voice recognition? How would these characteristics be tracked over time? And most importantly, who would have access to this information? Would the government be able to subpoena collected information or even use the detectors as super wiretaps? Data mining is already creepy. It will take an exponential leap if this comes to pass.
November 29, 2012
MS Surface Pro Details Announced
Microsoft released more information about the Surface Pro. This is the version of the Surface tablet that is based on Intel chips and comes with a functional desktop that can run legacy applications. The 64 GB version will sell for $899 and the 128 GB version will sell for $999. Keyboards will be extra at $120 to $130 depending on the model. I have to believe there will be third party keyboards and other peripherals once the Surface Pro is established in the market. One notable difference is the statement that the Surface Pro will have half the battery life of the Surface RT. That puts it in the 4 hour or so range. The article on the pricing announcement in CNET has links to Microsoft’s spec sheet that compares the technical specifications of the two tablets. Battery life is not one of the comparative points in that comparison.
Reaction ranges from what a great mix of power and price to what a terrible mix of power and price. I suppose it all depends on what type of computing needs an individual might have. There are any number of articles out there that comment on how the Surface Pro stands up against the iPad, Nexus tablets, ultrabooks and laptop configurations. See here, here, here, and here and any comments appended to the articles. The commenters, in some respects, are more insightful that the stories. The Surface Pro is expected to be released for sale sometime in January.
In related news, Microsoft has announced that 40 million Windows 8 licenses have been sold. Not all analysts see the good in that. See this article in the Wall Street Journal as an example. Others are here and here, with the last article noting that after 30 days of general availability Windows 8 achieved a 1.8% market share of computers that accessed the web in that time. All I can say is something is goofy in Windows land with these conflicting numbers. [MG]