May 06, 2012
Browsing On A Sunday: The Princeton Review in Trouble, the DPLA, and Surveillance Backdoors
The Princeton Review, creator of an alternative law school rankings list, guides to law schools, and test prep materials, is being sued by the feds under the False Claims Act. The Review allegedly received reimbursements for services that never happened. The complaint alleges the Review charged the Department of Education for thousands of hours of tutoring underprivileged students in New York City between 2002 and 2010 that never happened. Employees falsified records that included a claim for teaching 74 students on New Year’s Day. It sounds pretty ugly for such a prominent company. More information is available at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Ars Technica is reporting on last week’s conference to help create the Digital Public Library of America. It’s an interesting idea, to put all of America’s library holdings online. I don’t think anyone has any illusions about how hard this can be. Manpower and organizational issues aside, I can’t imagine the copyright issues that confronted Google in its scanning project would be any different for the DPLA. The people who own content may be just as obstructionist when it comes to the DPLA. More on the ideas that were discussed at the conference is here.
Declan McCullagh reports from CNET that the FBI is seeking legislation (as of now not introduced) that would place mandatory surveillance back doors on social networks, VoIP, and web e-mail services. The Bureau is lobbying technology companies not to oppose the law when it eventually gets introduced. The proposed law would amend the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) to extend coverage to companies beyond telecommunications providers. The Bureau sees this as a way to keep up with communications technology. McCullagh says that the FBI is seeking consensus in the government before it goes forward. The White House is not inclined to move on this, though there are members of the administration, such as Joe Biden, who have promoted similar legislation in the past. I can’t imagine any of the agencies charged with managing security would have any conceptual problems with the proposal. Levels of privacy only impede them. I expect movement on this after the election. Why should advertising companies have all the fun?
CRS has a number of reports on online privacy, including Privacy Protections for Personal Information Online (R41756, April 6, 2011), Privacy: An Overview of Federal Statutes Governing Wiretapping and Electronic Eavesdropping (98-326, December 3, 2009), Privacy: An Abridged Overview of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (R41734, March 30, 2011), and a more complete version, Privacy: An Overview of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (R41733, March 30, 2011). There is also Digital Surveillance: The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (RL30677, Updated June 8, 2007). [MG]
April 30, 2012
Microsoft Buys Into The Nook
Microsoft and Barnes & Noble announced this morning that Microsoft is investing $300 million in the Nook. The companies will form a joint venture, now unimaginatively referred to as Newco, with Microsoft owning 17.6% and B&N owning 82.4% of the equity. That values the company at $1.7 billion. The statement released this morning indicated that one of the first things to come out of the partnership is a Nook application for Windows 8. Then there is this:
The inclusion of Barnes & Noble’s College business is an important component of Newco’s strategic vision. Through the newly formed Newco, Barnes & Noble’s industry leading NOOK Study software will provide students and educators the preeminent technology platform for the distribution and management of digital education materials in the market.
I see two things going on here. Microsoft sees B&N’s expertise in the educational book market as way to tap that content to make Windows 8 more compelling for students, particularly on mobile devices. The second is to have a substantial and cooperative bookstore platform ready to go when the operating system ships this fall. Windows 8 represents a change for Microsoft, not merely in design with the Metro interface, but in mentality. Apple, Google, and Amazon tend to make money off items distributed through their operating systems. Microsoft needs to play catch-up with Metro and buying into the Nook is better than developing e-book distribution from the ground up.
The one caveat I have about distributing text books via the Nook is the paranoia of publishers about the security of their content. Microsoft as a partner may alleviate some of that concern as the company tends to buy into heavy digital rights management for protected content when asked. This may please publishers, though consumers tend to see these limitations as onerous. One of Microsoft’s early ventures in music distribution was replaced by another incompatible DRM system. Many consumers lost access to their purchased music on the earlier system. B&N may give Microsoft some credibility as Windows 8 becomes an e-book distribution platform.
The joint statement had this as well:
The partnership will accelerate the transition to e-reading, which is revolutionizing the way people consume, create, share and enjoy digital content.
I would read the word “share” with a grain of salt if the sharing is through a library. This story from the Tulsa World called Library e-Book Lending Hurt by Publisher Restrictions is another example of the negativity which publishers express for e-book lending. Publisher antipathy is the one thing that is platform agnostic.
The joint statement from Microsoft and Barnes & Noble is here. [MG]
April 29, 2012
Browsing On A Sunday: Liking on Facebook and Political Views Can Get Someone Fired, and Technology in the Legislature
There is a bit of a buzz in the press over the last few days about a First Amendment case out of the Eastern District of Virginia. The case is Bland v. Roberts and it involves, among other questions, whether liking someone on Facebook constitutes an expression covered by the First Amendment. The case involves six plaintiffs who were fired by Sheriff B.J. Roberts after he had won reelection. The six had supported in various ways Roberts’ opponent, Jim Adams. Two of the plaintiffs had liked Adams’ page on Facebook. Roberts explained the firings based on reductions in personnel and other reasons.
The Court considered the retaliation claims raised by Daniel Ray Carter, Jr. and Robert McCoy. They claimed the engaged in constitutionally protected speech when they “made statements” on Adams’ Facebook page. McCoy’s statement was posted to Adams’ page but was later taken down. McCoy did not submit the statement to the Court, so it is not part of the record. Carter’s statement consisted of liking Adams’ page. Evidence showed that Roberts was aware of these activities:
However, the Sheriff’s knowledge of the posts only becomes relevant if the Court finds the activity of liking a Facebook page to be constitutionally protected. It is the Court’s conclusion that merely “liking” a Facebook page is insufficient speech to merit constitutional protection.
Reviewing precedent, the Court said that the difference between this case and others where a First Amendment interest applied to Facebook posts is that actual statements were in the record. As the Court states:
These illustrative cases differ markedly from the case at hand in one crucial way: Both Gresham and Mattingly involved actual statements. No such statements exist in this case. Simply liking a Facebook page is insufficient. It is not the kind of substantive statement that has previously warranted constitutional protection. The Court will not attempt to infer the actual content of Carter’s posts from one click of a button on Adams’ Facebook page. For the Court to assume that the Plaintiffs made some specific statement without evidence of such statements is improper. Facebook posts can be considered matters of public concern; however, the Court does not believe Plaintiffs Carter and McCoy have alleged sufficient speech to garner First Amendment protection.
Venkat Balasubramani and Eric Goldman rip into the Court’s logic in Ars Technica. In a very simplified version of their view, liking someone or something expresses a preference which should be taken as a statement worthy of First Amendment protection. I don’t know who has the better of this as the Court’s analysis of Fourth Circuit precedent does not seem to be out of context. I have no doubt the case will be appealed.
There is another story of an individual being fired, ostensibly for political views, out of Canada. The Times Colonist (“Victoria and Vancouver Island news since 1858”) recounts the story of librarian John Maitland Marshall of the Victoria Public Library. Marshall was hired in 1954 to dispense books from Victoria’s new bookmobile and was fired two months later after “a group of public spirited citizens” investigated Marshall and presented their findings to the Victoria library board.
Marshall, it seems, had affinities for social justice, which in those days was tantamount to being affiliated with Communism. It seems Canada wasn’t immune to blacklisting individuals because of their political views. The Victoria community was so alarmed that there was talk of book burning for subversive texts, though that never happened.
Marshall protested his dismissal to no avail. Many of the librarians who worked with him resigned because of the Board’s actions. The publicity was great enough that library services were at a standstill as no one would apply for the vacant positions. It took three replacements for Marshall before a book was finally delivered to a patron through the bookmobile.
There is a happy ending. Marshall became a librarian in Saskatchewan and later in Toronto, without incident. He spent 17 years teaching in the faculty of library science at the University of Toronto. The Victoria Board apologized to him in 1998, flying him to Victoria so he could receive the apology in person. The account in the Times Colonist is an excerpt from The Library Book: A History of Service to British Columbia by Dave Obee.
The final story comes from the Associated Press via NBC-17 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The report concerns the move by the North Carolina legislature to distribute bills electronically to its members rather than in paper form. Much of the material now published gets thrown into the trash or recycling bins. The legislature is embarking on a pilot project that gives members Internet accessible laptops to read and file bills. The use will become mandatory if the project is successful.
Not everyone is thrilled at the idea. 31 year veteran legislator Senator Austin Allran says he’s noticed that lawmakers get distracted by laptops in committee meetings. Really? You mean to say that lawmakers in committee act no differently than law students in class? I think legislators have it better as they don’t have to pass an end of term exam. In any event, what will law review cite checkers do when the electronic copy is the only record of the bill? [MG]
April 27, 2012
Google Ups Gmail Storage to 10 Gigabytes
If anyone hadn't noticed, and I certainly didn't at first, Google has upped its Gmail storage limit to 10 Gigabytes and counting. The change is noted in the storage counter at the bottom of the Inbox. It started at 5 GB back in the day and when to around 7.5 GB several years ago. I can now officially procrastinate cleaning out my 2,200 plus unread emails. A short announcement is on the Official Gmail Blog. This is not tied to anyone having to sign up for the newly announce Google Drive cloud storage option, though the Gmail team said the bump was to celebrate Google Drive coming online. [MG]
April 19, 2012
Meet Microsoft Academic Search, Redmond's Quiet Answer to Google Scholar
Did anyone know that Microsoft has an alternative to Google Scholar? I didn’t either until I stumbled across it a little while back. Welcome to Microsoft Academic Search. As of today, it invites one to explore 38,835,423 publications, 19,159,815 authors with 1,587 updates from last week alone. That, out of context, sounds impressive. Search the phrase “critical race theory” in MS Academic Search and a very well laid out screen returns a list of 178 publications. A comparable Google Scholar search brings up 19,400 hits, not that I as a researcher would explore so many. One of the reasons Microsoft lags in results is that it does not index legal publications much. The site boasts a list of domains which are information subject concentrations. Social science exists but law or legal is not covered.
The citation list in MS Academic Search brings up hits with links to a source for the article, if available. The initial list does not provide any snippet views of the article content. However, clicking on the title will lead to a graphical view of citations, where available, and a snippet view of citations to the main article. The graph indicates the yearly citation trend in lines covering the number of citing publications and the number of citations to the main article. The listed citations below the graph are clickable to reveal abstracts of these citing articles with links to full text, again, where available. There is an export button allowing one to download an article citation in a standard bibliographic format as well.
I can’t say that MS Academic Search is less valuable than Google Scholar merely in terms of the comparable number of citations returned. I think Google Scholar’s real advantage is that the snippet view of search terms on the initial screens is more useful in determining whether a hit is worth exploring. Microsoft seems to rely strictly on the title as a signal for relevancy. On the other hand, the interactive qualities of the site run rings around what Google provides in its take it or leave it display of results.
I’d advise checking out the site. The help screen gives a lot of detail as to the capabilities of Academic Search. The site has been around since December of 2009, which shows the non-existent marketing push Microsoft has made promoting it. Google could learn a thing or two from the presentation and manipulation of results. The lack of legal periodical coverage is a distinct disadvantage for law reference work. It may still have value as a resource nonetheless. Microsoft did blatantly copy one Google feature. The site is listed as “Beta.” [MG]
April 16, 2012
Google's Latest CAPTCHA Codes Draws Criticism
Here’s a little bit more from the technology front. Google has been accused of another privacy violation. Any tech company that owns a user base numbering in the billions can make a move that draws criticism. Sometimes that criticism is valid, and sometimes not. Take, for example, Google’s latest twist on CAPTCHA technology. We’re used to the string of characters in twisted fonts and colors as a way to distinguish between humans and machines. Google added words sourced from scanned books as a way of improving the text presentation of those titles. Now, the latest twist is to use address numbers drawn from pictures of houses snapped in creating the street view in Google Maps.
Big Brother Watch is not very happy about this development, calling it a serious privacy issue by identifying the individual number of people’s homes. Google is accused of furthering its own interests (gasp!). Google responds that there is no identifying information that ties a picture to an individual, particularly as the pictures are close cropped to the number in question. Techcrunch has some examples here. I would be surprised if anyone can identify the geographic locations of the sourced numbers from the presentation. Yes, Google knows where they come from, but they are not telling. They use the crowd-sourced information to create a more accurate version of Google Maps. I think we are well past the point where Street View is in its generic form a privacy violation.
One comment (quoted in the Telegraph) from Nick Pickles, Big Brother Watch director of privacy and civil liberties is "The 'Don't be evil' mantra appears to have been replaced with a thirst for knowledge." I hardly ever conflate collecting public information with evil. There is no doubt that some of the things Google has done with Street View are unsettling. The “accidental” collection of unprotected Wi-Fi data by some of the collection vehicles is one, as is initially not blurring individuals captured in embarrassing situations. The law, if not common sense, has prevailed in those situations. Using cropped images of house numbers or street signs as CAPTCHA codes is not one of those things that would make me scared of Google. [MG]
April 09, 2012
Another Glimpse Into How We Are Tracked Online
It’s no secret that living online brings a level of scrutiny by a host of companies and web sites. They either want to sell something to the consumer, or just as likely sell the consumer information to someone who wants to sell products to consumers. The basis of free services on the Internet depends on the collection of consumer demographics and habits. None of this is news. Consumers generally accept this bargain even if they are not sure what happens at the other end of the collection system.
One recent article from The Atlantic that sheds a little light on the process is Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Data Mining But Were Afraid To Ask. It’s a neat little summary of how data gets processed to predict shopping habits and generate those “If you bought X you might like to by Y as well” emails. There are billions of data points out there that get combined with our offline but eminently trackable habits. Use a loyalty card at a supermarket to get discounts? It’s just another piece of the personal puzzle.
For whatever it’s worth, the government also uses data mining to predict criminal activity and terrorist activity. We know this, though our comfort level on data mining rises when the process is out of view. Another article, this one from Bloomberg Business Week offered s similar glimpse into the world of personal data tracking. This one is called Online Porn Is Huge. Like Really, Really Huge. Who Knew? It delved into the traffic patterns of some of the major porn sites. It notes, for example, that one major site gets 4.4 billion page views per month, or 10 times as many views as the New York Times and 3 times as many as CNN. That information, while startling, isn’t what I found interesting. It was stuff like this:
“But it’s not just men on the sites,” you shout. True, although the top porn sites count men as about 75 percent of their visitors. Breaking the stats down further, about half of the visitors make between $25,000 and $50,000 per year, while only 2 percent earn more than $150,000 per year. According to Google, the other interests of Xvideos visitors include Latin American music and gangs and organized crime, while YouPorn visitors like networking equipment and family films, so it’s an eclectic bunch.
How did the authors know that level of detail about the site visitor and what does Google have to do with it? They got their information from the Double-Click Ad Planner. If anyone out there is considering ads to be placed one Google served sites, Google has the analytical tool that can analyze and present the demographics of the target web site users. Or as Google puts it:
- Define audiences by demographics and interests.
- Search for websites relevant to your target audience.
- Access unique users, page views, and other data for millions of websites from over 40 countries.
- Create lists of websites where you'd like to advertise.
- Generate aggregated website statistics for your media plan.
I’ll just say the information presented by the tool is in the aggregate. Nonetheless, the aggregate is made up of millions of little chunks of online habits generated by all of us.
While we’re on the subject, take a look at Selling You On Facebook, from the Wall Street Journal. The summary is:
Many popular Facebook apps are obtaining sensitive information about users—and users' friends—so don't be surprised if details about your religious, political and even sexual preferences start popping up in unexpected places.
We are a long way from the “On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog” days. And my guess is they will never come back. There is too much money at stake. [MG]
April 05, 2012
Viacom Wins Appeal Against YouTube On Some DMCA Issues
This week seems to be one for interesting or important opinions from the Courts. Today’s opinion comes from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The initial case was brought in 2007 by Viacom and other plaintiffs claiming that YouTube both displayed infringing videos and encouraged their upload. The District Court held completely for Google on all aspects of the case in interpreting the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s safe harbor provisions. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit partially overturns the victory Google received though it upheld much of the ruling as it applied safe harbor provisions to service providers. Viacom sought a standard that required service providers such as YouTube to take affirmative action on infringing content in order to retain the safe harbor provisions. The Court of Appeals did not go along with that.
As to knowledge of infringing items, the Court said that a service provider has to have actual knowledge of specific infringing items before it could lose the protection of the safe harbor provision. Generalized knowledge is not enough. The service provider otherwise would not know which links to remove under the terms of the DMCA. From the opinion:
Thus, the nature of the removal obligation itself contemplates knowledge or awareness of specific infringing material, because expeditious removal is possible only if the service provider knows with particularity which items to remove. Indeed, to require expeditious removal in the absence of specific knowledge or awareness would be to mandate an amorphous obligation to “take commercially reasonable steps” in response to a generalized awareness of infringement. Viacom Br. 33. Such a view cannot be reconciled with the language of the statute, which requires “expeditious[ ]” action to remove or disable “the material” at issue. 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(1)(A)(iii) (emphasis added).
The Court drew a distinction between the provisions requiring actual knowledge with red flag knowledge. The former is subjective, as in whether a service provider subjectively knew of specific infringement compared to the red flag standard which turns on whether the service provider was subjectively aware of facts that made infringement objectively obvious to a reasonable person.
Viacom argued that Credit Suisse, Google’s financial adviser in the YouTube purchase estimated at the time, estimated that 60% of the YouTube content at the time was copyrighted content with only 10% licensed. A YouTube employee survey similarly showed that 75-80% of YouTube streams contained copyrighted content. This by itself does not raise a triable issue of fact. However, emails cited by Viacom as to whether YouTube and Google employees had specific knowledge do raise a triable issue. From the opinion:
Upon a review of the record, we are persuaded that the plaintiffs may have raised a material issue of fact regarding YouTube’s knowledge or awareness of specific instances of infringement. The foregoing Premier League e-mails request the identification and removal of “clearly infringing, official broadcast footage.” The March 2006 report indicates Karim’s awareness of specific clips that he perceived to be “blatantly illegal.” Similarly, the Bud Light and space shuttle e-mails refer to particular clips in the context of correspondence about whether to remove infringing material from the website. On these facts, a reasonable juror could conclude that YouTube had actual knowledge of specific infringing activity, or was at least aware of facts or circumstances from which specific infringing activity was apparent. See § 512(c)(1)(A)(i)–(ii). Accordingly, we hold that summary judgment to YouTube on all clips-in-suit, especially in the absence of any detailed examination of the extensive record on summary judgment, was premature.
The Court goes on to say in a footnote that it expresses no opinion as to whether the facts it cited (the details of which appear in the section immediately preceding the quote) would withstand another motion for summary judgment. The context of the facts are undeveloped and best addressed by a more developed record on remand.
Viacom further argued that YouTube was willfully blind to the existence of infringing material on its site. The Court said that the willful blindness doctrine does not require a service provider to monitor the site content as the statutory safe harbor provision, by its terms, cannot be conditioned on an affirmative duty to monitor. However, the doctrine may be used to demonstrate knowledge of specific instances of infringement under the DMCA on remand. The Court said that the issue of whether YouTube or Google profited from the allegedly infringing videos is as well undeveloped. The last issue the Court remanded to the District Court concerns whether the syndication function, that is the licensing to third parties, in within the terms of the DMCA.
As of now, the Court of Appeals is affirming the concept that service providers do not have to actively monitor their systems for infringing content. The idea that service providers need to do monitor to qualify for a safe harbor provision was one of the central arguments that Viacom was making in this suit. That the Court said no has to disappoint the company. If I were Google, I would not be quaking in my boots over this one. They may be found liable due to past practices, though not necessarily as a directed result from this opinion. [MG]
March 30, 2012
Google Knows All, Sees All, But We Knew That
Google has a new feature called Account Activity. It’s explained in a Google Blog post. It essentially allows individuals to track their use of Google products such as searches, how many emails sent and received in a month, heaviest used contacts, top searches and the like, what browsers and platforms used, and how many views there are of my uploaded videos on YouTube. If the paranoid out there want to know more about what Google knows, then this helps. I didn’t find the statistical information very unsettling in particular, with one exception.
The fact that Google keeps track of all of this to the point of spitting it back to me is hardly surprising. What I did find as a jolt is that Google seems to track activity even when I’m not logged in to any particular Google service. I use Chrome as my primary browser, so maybe that’s the answer. I have it set to maintain my login information as a matter of convenience. However, I do not stay logged in constantly. Far from it, in fact. I discovered this more comprehensive tracking because friends occasionally use my machine (with my permission) when I’m not logged in and I notice their searches wind up in my account history list. As Arte Johnson used to say, “verrry interesting.” Individuals with Google Accounts should check their account activity from time to time. There may be other surprises in store. [MG]
March 27, 2012
Oxford Report: Not All Internets Are Equal
There is a recent article on The Atlantic web site by Alexis Madrigal called Confirmed: The Internet Does Not Solve Global Inequality. It concerns a new e-book by the Oxford Internet Institute, Geographies of the World’s Knowledge. It essentially states, according to Madrigal, that academic and user generated publishing comes from the Western world and the United States dominating that. There are charts which graphically demonstrate the overwhelming presence of the United States both in generating content and consuming it.
I’m not particularly surprised. I’m fond of telling students what became the public Internet was shepherded by the Department of Commerce, not the Department of Education. That should have told us something way back when. From Madrigal’s article:
"Many commentators speculated that [the Internet] would allow people outside of industrialised nations to gain access to all networked and codified knowledge, thus mitigating the traditionally concentrated nature of information production and consumption," she writes. "These early expectations remain largely unrealised."
We're not only talking about publishing in academic journals or Wikipedia. The book's authors, Mark Graham, Monica Stephens, Scott A. Hale, and Kunika Kono, sampled user-generated content on Google and found that rich countries, especially the United States, dominate the production of user content.
The fact of the matter is that people without money can't afford to get the education necessary to publish in academic journals, Internet-enabled or not. The other fact of the matter is that the vast majority of people in very poor countries don't spend their time producing content for free. Hope as we might, the Internet isn't a magic wand that makes the world more equal.
I’m quoting from the article rather than from the free e-book. That’s because in order to read the book, one must have an iPad, or at the very least install iTunes to get a copy of the book. It seems ironic to me that a piece that decries the lack of multicultural voice on the Internet is only available through Apple’s walled garden, albeit in a free patch. I grant that Apple’s products are widely distributed world-wide. They are, however, only one distribution channel.
The authors' cite Apple's cutting edge technology for incorporating interactive multimedia in a presentation. I think it's great that they and Apple can do that. I also think the form of the presentation and its viewing requirments limit the audience, especially those from outside the Western world. Does the dazzle do anything to change what the book is about? [MG]
March 18, 2012
Browsing On A Sunday: Who's Your ISPy, Google Scan Art, and Libraries As Publishers
Get ready for your ISP to turn into the copyright police. The RIAA and MPAA are celebrating the fact that most ISPs are “voluntarily” adopting a six strike plan to monitor their customer’s downloading habits. The system should be in place by July 12 for most major carriers. There is little announcement of the techniques to be used. That’s not surprising. Why give notice on how the system will catch people. Will it be deep packet inspection? P2P traffic? Will it be directed at a list of blacklisted sites? Both? Either way, the general public will be in for some shock when the emails start to come in notifying of copyright violations.
There are even more questions about the accuracy of the system. It’s not as if major content owners haven’t sent false DMCA notices. Why do I get the feeling that the presumptions on the system will favor content owners? Maybe it’s because of the $35 filing fee to appeal. I suppose that is to discourage casual appeals. Ars Technica reported some while back on the process to challenge a piracy notification.
How will this be affected by public Wi-Fi hotspots. Will Starbucks become a haven for pirates? We’ll just have to wait for the major providers to send out that unilateral take it or leave it notice of a change in terms of service. More details are on Digital Trends. If some people are upset with Google and other companies for monitoring their search habits, ISPs seem to push that envelope a bit further. What Google does seems quaint in comparison. Expect lawsuits. It’s America, after all. This will be one big entertaining mess.
Speaking of Google, the scanning project apparently has outtakes. This happens when a hand or finger or other item winds up in the scan. These are turned into works of art by Andrew Norman Wilson. Details are at The Next Web. The images are fairly striking.
One suggestion for libraries to get around publisher policies on e-books comes from Publisher’s Weekly, of all places. That would be for major libraries to start their own electronic imprint. Larger libraries such as the New York Public Library could probably pull this off with their brand recognition. It’s not so outrageous for a library to break into a publisher’s territory when publishers try to cut the libraries out of e-book distribution. I wonder what publishers would think about this possible competition. [MG]
March 12, 2012
Google Book Scan Project Slows Down
The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting a slowdown by Google in their quest to scan books in academic libraries. Google has scanned some 20 million books so far. Comments from librarians in the articles indicate that the slowdown is somewhat natural as the project has matured. Rather than digitizing entire stack sections the company is working on individual titles, likely to avoid duplication in the digital library. The article notes that some of the digitization efforts have shifted to European collections. There is no indication as to whether the book scanning litigation has anything to do with this. Maybe Google is simply running out of books to scan. [MG]
March 09, 2012
GPO Access Shuts Down Next Week
GPO Access is closing on March 16th, or next Friday from the date of this posting. So, one question, and probably more if I browsed around the FDsys.gov site more, and that is what's up with the e-CFR? The link on the FDsys page links back to, ah, GPO Access. Will this be transitioned by next week? I ask as it is a really useful resource. And while we're at it, why no easy links to the List of Sections Affected? It does appear, but one has to look in the link for Browse Government Publications from the selected list of links on the right of the main page. Even then, it takes several clicks to get to a download of an entire issue of the LSA rather than the title view GPO seems to be pushing. I like the look of FDsys and the functionality of the site. In some cases, such as with congressional documents, it's a vast improvement over GPO Access. But some stuff just makes me wonder what GPO was/is thinking. [MG]
February 29, 2012
Windows 8 Consumer Preview Now Available
The Microsoft Windows 8 Consumer preview is now available in 64 bit and 32 bit editions for multiple languages. If anyone hasn’t heard, and I doubt that seriously, Microsoft is using Windows 8 as the way to create a unified operating system for tablets, phones, and the desktop. The Metro interface which is standard on WP7 phones is dominant on all platforms, though the traditional desktop still exists to run legacy apps. The question is how seamless will that be? Now is the time to find out.
Most of the initial reviews of the preview focus on the touch interface on tablets with the desktop working well in that environment with mouse and keyboard. I’m more interested in how well the desktop works on a desktop and will the Metro interface stand up to that environment. I have some suitable hardware lying around, so I’ll be checking it out.
Reviews are at ABC News and CNET, and I’m sure other tech outlets will be putting up their own commentary as the preview trickles out. The Consumer Preview is here, with ISO images coming in at 3.3 GB (64 bit) and 2.5 GB (32 bit) each. Product activation keys are included with the images at the download screen. More on the philosophy, if one could call it that, and development of Windows 8 is at the Building Windows 8 blog from the Microsoft development team. The minimum specifications for running the preview are:
1 GHz or faster processor
1 GB RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
These are not the final hardware specifications according to the blog entry on the consumer preview. I am skeptical of the Metro interface on a pure desktop without touch, but my views are subject to change once I try it out. I'll simply say that I'm wary of the trend to turn computers into mostly consumption devices. Traditional desktop machines with hard drives are obviously capable of downloading and storing content for later and multiple view. Tablets, even with cloud computing seem to compromise that capability. I hope the preview can dispel my concerns.
Update: My sense of foreboding is not dispelled by this article in Wired: Windows 8 Hands-On: Your Desktop Is Dead. Then again, I'm looking for functionality, not necessarily the future. [MG]
February 08, 2012
The Web Owns You, And Not The Other Way Around
I want to recommend an article from The Atlantic web site, an excerpt from a book on digital advertising by Joseph Turow. He is a professor at the Annenberg School for Communications at the University of Pennsylvania. Here are the first two paragraphs:
At the start of the 21st century, the advertising industry is guiding one of history's most massive stealth efforts in social profiling. At this point you may hardly notice the results of this trend. You may find you're getting better or worse discounts on products than your friends. You may notice that some ads seem to follow you around the internet. Every once in a while a website may ask you if you like a particular ad you just received. Or perhaps your cell phone has told you that you will be rewarded if you eat in a nearby restaurant where, by the way, two of your friends are hanging out this very minute.
You may actually like some of these intrusions. You may feel that they pale before the digital power you now have. After all, your ability to create blogs, collaborate with others to distribute videos online, and say what you want on Facebook (carefully using its privacy settings) seems only to confirm what marketers and even many academics are telling us: that consumers are captains of their own new-media ships.
As Professor Turow goes on to say, we are hardly the captains of that ship. More like the cargo. This is not news. There are plenty of privacy activists out there saying the same thing for some time now. What makes this article different is that Turow goes deeper into the practices of the advertising industry and documents some of its practices. They are not all in this excerpt, meant as an introduction, though he identifies practices which are documented in more detail in later chapters. These are thought provoking even in their limited statement.
One is that web browsing habits shape what ads are offered. That would be something obvious, but the detail of how that process works is a bit unsettling. It’s not broad matching based on merely clicking ads. It’s the content of the page one visits, combined with real world information such as credit ratings, address, physical purchases, and other traceable information. While cookies and login information help this process, they are not essential to it. Advertisers apparently have the ability to track individuals across unique devices to help develop a profile for individuals. Erasing cookies regularly doesn't impede tracking.
The more insidious result of this is how it can shape an individual’s web experience. As Turow notes, unrelated news sites may tailor the stories presented to an individual based on prior interest. This isn’t merely represented in the changing stories that appear in links at the bottom of the page. It extends to the clustering of topical stories that populate a page. This is irrespective of any ads that are served as how we use information becomes part of the complete profile.
The other effect Turow notes is the social implication of this practice. We may see news and ads based on a social status gleaned from detailed information advertisers collect about our habits, and these may become self-reinforcing. This can be true in circumstances where individuals might start comparing their web experiences with others. We would find that some people get better offers than others, and that news and opportunities may be better for some than others. The examples in the excerpt are striking. Turow suggests that this is another form of discrimination. This is a form of net neutrality no one has discussed in any great length.
A lot of this is usually presented in the nebulous but somewhat positive term of “personalization.” The real problem is not whether personalization is desirable but rather how that comes about. It’s easy to enjoy the benefits of the online experience and the prospect of personalization provided we don’t know the details of exactly how that works. As such, we can’t make the decision as to whether personalization is worth the cost. We might also have a different view of personalization if we knew the degree to which our online and real life habits were combined. I’d like to think that my credit history is secure. The operative term here is “like.” The excerpt is provocative as it is scary. Even non-paranoid types would find this information useful. The book is called The Daily You. [MG]
January 10, 2012
Google Adds Social Search, Offers Unfiltered Results As An Option
Google rolled out a new search feature today. Google account holders can now get social search results related to materials in Google+ as integrated into search results. The details are announced on the Official Google Blog in a post entitled Search, plus Your World. Only those materials that are shared with a Google account holder or publicly available will show up in the social side of results. This immediately generated the criticism that Google is promoting its own content at the expense of competitors. Results from Facebook and others will appear lower on in a results page. I’m not so sure as some of the utility of this requires a Google account. Nonetheless, this feature is bound to appeal to the social minded as Google+ gains traction.
For those who would prefer to avoid the feature entirely there will be a button in the upper right hand corner of the page that will display the same results without personalization. That is interesting as only a few commentators picked up on the significance of that. Here is the text from the Google blog post describing the alternative:
We’re also introducing a prominent new toggle on the upper right of the results page where you can see what your search results look like without personal content. With a single click, you can see an unpersonalized view of search results.
That means no results from your friends, no private information and no personalization of results based on your Web History. This toggle button works for an individual search session, but you can also make this the default in your Search Settings. We provide separate control in Search Settings over other contextual signals we use, including location and language.
What this apparently means is that a researcher can view results that have not been filtered against that researcher’s search habits and previous searches. One ongoing criticism of Google is that the search engine anticipates what a researcher wants to see and pushes that information compared to the universe of possibilities. The “no personal results” button turns that off while eliminating social search features for that individual search. It’s possible to turn social search off permanently, as the excerpt suggests.
The new feature will be rolled out over the next several days starting today. I’m more intrigued by unfiltered search results than anything Google+ can offer to me. [MG]
December 18, 2011
Browsing On A Sunday: Secret Contracts, Another Dean Goes, and Let It Snow
The story of the missing Megaupload to YouTube gets stranger as time goes on. Universal demanded of the video featuring major artists in support of Megaupload be removed. The assumption was that the takedown request was filed in accordance with the DMCA for copyright violation. That seemed a bit iffy given Megaupload’s contracts with the artists and the DMCA’s requirement that the takedown requester have ownership of the intellectual property at issue.
Megaupload sued Universal and now we find out that Universal is claiming this has nothing to do with the DMCA but a secret agreement with YouTube instead. CNET News has a story with links to the letter Universal sent to YouTube invoking the agreement. It seems as if Universal has the legal right to remove from YouTube any content it doesn’t like. I believe Cory Doctorow’s statement that Universal is unfit to wield power over free expression under the proposed SOPA still stands. See previous LLB coverage here. For whatever reason, Universal’s action may have backfired on them. The video is currently unblocked on YouTube and has not quite 2.5 million views at the time of this writing. Hey Megaupload, send me a file today, as the song goes.
Another law dean resigned a little over a week ago, and the resignation was not without its own controversy. Dean Larry Sager resigned at the request of University of Texas President William Powers, himself a former law dean at Townes Hall. The stories say that Powers had concerns on how faculty compensation was doled out. It seems there were forgivable loans and other stipends that faculty received as retention incentives, at least according to news reports. The University of Texas School of Law Foundation gave Sager some $500,000, ostensibly to equalize him with what other deans made. Powers said he wasn’t aware of the loan, “and that's the sort of thing I would remember,” he is quoted as saying. UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa has ordered a review of how foundation money flows into the law school. Stefanie Lindquist has been named acting dean.
Want to make your browser a little bit more in time with the season? Open a browser window to Google and type in the words “let it snow” and watch the virtual flakes come down. Keep watching and the page goes to white out conditions. Use your cursor as a snow shovel to clean it out. Oh, and the results for the search match the query. It’s winter fun for all. [MG]
December 07, 2011
Google Undocumented Search Operators Out of Date and Updated
In response to the Google undocumented operators post from Monday, Gary Price from INFODocket, as does Carol Ebbinghouse in a comment to that post notes that the Googleguide pages are not up to date. Gary reports that the pages haven’t been updated since 2010. He adds:
For example:Phonebook: no longer works since Google no longer offers a phone book feature. rphonebook: also no longer works.
The + Sign no longer works as a way to insure a term be used in a search, now you use " ". See: http://searchresearch1.blogspot.com/2011/10/operator-is-gone-so-what.html.
I believe Define: doesn't work the way describe anymore. The same goes for store:
Also, the page says that you cannot combine terms with the link:syntax. I don't believe this is accurate anymore. http://www.googleguide.com/advanced_operators.html#link.
The around() works but from what I've noticed (as have others) it's a bit erratic to say the least. Exalead (no, it's not Google in terms of size and currency) but does have an proximity that I have found works well over many years. http://www.exalead.com/search/. Click the Exalead advanced search link to see what's possible.
A current (as of October 2011) compilation of syntax from the Google Search Education team https://sites.google.com/site/gwebsearcheducation/advanced-operators
Thanks Gary. As any of the pages who show this kind of information note, Google (as can) any of the other search engines) remove support at any time without announcing it. He also passes along that Wolfram Alpha has releases a “Lawyer’s Professional Assistant” mobile app. More on that is here. [MG]
December 05, 2011
Undocumented Search Operators In Google
Searching Google, or any search engine for that matter, almost always offers relevant results, though with a lot of noise hits thrown in just for the fun of it. I’ve always imagined how Google might benefit from using Boolean connectors for power searchers. The useful but limited Advanced Search options seem to be pretty much it. Even those options are at least one level deep in a search as Google now puts the option at the bottom of the first page of search results.
Google lists some of the terms it supports as limiters in text entry here. It turns out that there are a whole slew of undocumented operators for use in the general search box beyond what Google lists. The complete list is available via the Googleguide.com website along with examples and explanations as to what they do. Googleguide.com is not affiliated with Google.
The more interesting term that works with Google is AROUND(n), as in doctor AROUND(5) malpractice returning pages where the two terms are in very close proximity to each other. Google can always eliminate the functionality as with any undocumented feature. It’s not exactly a w/n type connector, but it works as of now. More information and examples for the AROUND(n) search term is here. It might make searching legal documents in Google much more precise. [MG]
November 30, 2011
Your Phone Is Spying On You But You Weren't Supposed To Notice
There are a number of reports in the technology press about software provided Carrier IQ to phone vendors that track what users are doing. Phone companies and manufacturers have come under fire for tracking user locations in the name of better geo-location services, at least without notice and the ability to opt out (or in, depending on one’s moral view of tracking). Malls have come under fire for using visitors’ cell phone signals to track customers’ traffic patterns. Some have backed off on the practice due to an outcry raising privacy concerns.
The interesting thing about Carrier IQ software is that it is so embedded and hidden in phones that it can’t be turned off or manipulated by users without, essentially, destroying the phone. One article in CNET describes the software as logging keystrokes, phone numbers, text messages, and other details and sending that information off to who knows where. The company denies that its software inspects the content of electronic communications, but the researcher who discovered the software maintains evidence to the contrary. Who knows how this will play out? Senator Chuck Schumer doesn’t like mall tracking, but so far no legislator has asked pointed questions on phone snitching. They must not use smart phones much, or more typically, Congress will make its phone exempt.
Much of the discussion in the press has focused on Android phones, though there is evidence that phones made by Blackberry and Nokia use the software as well. Doesn’t President Obama use a Blackberry? Maybe someone should tell him about this. Nokia, I might add, just bet the farm on Windows 8 phones by signing a deal with Microsoft to use the MS operating system somewhat exclusively on their phones. There are reports that iPhones have Carrier IQ software as well. The software is attractive to carriers as it can give them statistical information as to how their networks are used.
It’s all positive until the ugly privacy issues come to the fore. A company representative has stated that it is possible to see user content, but the company doesn’t look at it. Perhaps that might change if there became a need to have a look. Note also that smart phones are becoming the new credit cards. Just think of the marketing possibilities in the connected world where phone transactions are viewable -- by someone. And though I try not to be the paranoid type, I wonder what law enforcement and security agencies think about this capability.
There is a more practical consideration to this mound of data. How would Carrier IQ react when someone in a court case tries to subpoena the data they collected to show where someone was at a particular time, or what is the content of a message that may have been deleted. I couldn’t have killed Colonel Mustard in the drawing room with the candlestick. I was Facebooking across town at the time and I can prove it. One of the comments to the CNET article suggested that phones are turning into personal black boxes. It just may be coming to that, and the evidentiary possibilities are quite interesting when it comes to documenting personal activities. It all comes down to who is in control of that documentation. [MG]