June 16, 2006
Does Apple Exploit Workers to Produce iPods?
The short answer is we don't know. Apple Computer has been accused of having a supplier who uses less than ideal working conditions to produce iPods. The accusations have been made but more factual details are likely to show up in the next few days or weeks after the investigations gain momentum.
Details include up to 200,000 Asian workers living in dormitories working 15-hour days for $50 per month. Approximately half of that $50 goes for room and board in the dorms. If true, then a worker would have to work for a little under three months to afford a Nano, provided they didn't buy anything else in that time.
Apple says that it is investigating the claims. The company does have a supplier code of conduct which respects worker rights and the conditions in which their products are made. According to the Washington Post, Apple released a statement affirming their labor principles. "Apple is committed to ensuring that working conditions in our supply chain are safe, workers are treated with respect and dignity, and manufacturing processes are environmentally responsible." The company added "We do not tolerate any violations of our supplier code of conduct."
The original article that sparked it all is on the Daily Mirror (U.K.) web site. Other accounts are in the Washington Post, the BBC, and from a different point of view (someone always has to think different), ChinaTechNews.
June 15, 2006
Ray Ozzie to Succeed Bill Gates at Microsoft
Ray Ozzie will take over from Bill Gates as Chief Software Architect in 2008. Read it here.
Violent Video Games Subject of House Hearing
The House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection held a hearing yesterday called "Violent and Explicit Video Games: Informing Parents and Protecting Children." The Subcommittee site has few to no documents available just yet, but there are promises of a transcript and a streaming copy of the hearing (via RealPlayer) to appear.
A story in ZDNet does have some statements from the hearing, however. Rep.Cliff Stearns (R-FL) said:
"Building a video game around a premise based on very realistic, cold-blooded assassinations of innocent bystanders and police" [is] "more akin to hate speech, not free speech."
The Hearing focused on Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in which players could shoot bystanders and police in fairly bloody fashion. Some scenes from the game were played at the hearing. The story alludes to a statement by at least one of the Committee members suggesting these types of games be confined to a "red light district" in order to protect children from such violent imagery. If the process is anything similar to concept of the .xxx domain on the Internet to keep pornography at bay, the chances for this happening are slim. Grand Theft Auto was the subject of outcry over hidden scenes that depicted explicit sexual activity which resulted in an FTC action over fraudulent game ratings.
The game industry representatives reminded Congress that 85% of the games sold last year were acceptable to children and that parents need to be involved in their children's gaming habits. In spite of Rep. Stearns statements to the contrary, the federal courts have taken a different view on free speech. Courts in several states have thrown out laws that restricted the sale of games to minors which were the results of suits by the Entertainment Software Association. Many of the judges have questioned the link (if any) between the nature of the game and the harm in the real world. One would assume that any federal law cast in similar language to the failed state laws would meet the same fate.
Only a cynical person would think that a hearing such as this comes as an election year ploy.
Google Offers Government Web Site Search
An interesting development for researchers and others who use government web sites is the announcement from Google that it is creating a specialized portal just for those sites. Called Google U.S. Government Search, the content ranges from federal, state, and local sources, including those government sites with .com, .mil, .us, and .edu domain suffixes. The home page design is slightly different than other Google pages in that it presents browse links to news about the White House and other top government stories. There are also links to stories from the Washington Post and weather for the D.C. area. Google does allow some customization by allowing a Google account holder to add content relating to other government information from pre-selected topics. More details about the use of the site is available in this FAQ provided by Google.
Some news stories note the competition between this site and the established FirstGov.gov site (run by Microsoft for the government). In their usual humility on competition with Microsoft, Google says the sites are complimentary, not competitive. Uh-huh. We'll take that statement at face value until a track record develops between the two.
On a speculative note, one assumes that the government has the power to edit the indexes on the FirstGov site to keep sensitive or embarrassing information from appearing as search results. Google, being independent of the government, may give different search results as a consequence. And unlike FirstGov, Google provides cache versions of the results. This development has potentially pretty interesting implications for freedom of speech.
From personal experience, I've found documents from the FCC web site that only showed up in a general Google search, and not through search from the FCC site or through links on the site. The FCC web site, though, is a notoriously difficult site for navigation. Google U.S. Government search is a welcome alternative to FirstGov and a site's own search. Let the, ahem, "complementation" begin.
June 14, 2006
My Dinner With Janet Reno
Former Attorney General Janet Reno delivered the keynote address at an Executive Briefing and dinner sponsored by Guidance Software. Guidance manufacturers the enCase application (among others) which is a standard with law enforcement agencies around the country for forensic examination of computers and hard drives. The evening's topic was the implementation of the new ediscovery rules that will go into effect in December as part of the Federal Rules of Evidence.
Scott Carlson of Seyfarth Shaw spoke on mitigating costs involved with ediscovery compliance, and addressed policy issues regarding the organization, preservation, and processing discovery requests for electronic data. Jon Blair, Director of Guidance software Professional Services Midwest, also spoke on streamlining the process of ediscovery compliance. Part of the problems both speakers addressed is the diffuse locations of potentially relevant data. Copies of emails may be on back-up tapes, archives on networks (with branches in multiple cities), and local hard drives. The presentations also touched on the trend towards sanctions in situations where data was not preserved even in inadvertent circumstances.
Miss Reno's speech covered broader issues relating to the legal process. She described education as the key to solving a host of problems. She noted the expertise in the room and said it was important to for children to learn technology, even at an early age. The Internet and technology has become so pervasive that technological skills are essential to navigating through life. She related this to legal practice, mentioning the Innocence Project as an example. Expertise with DNA has cleared a individuals of serious charges. Moreover, technical expertise in the courtroom could prevent miscarriages of justice from happening. The assembled guests gave Miss Reno a standing ovation at the conclusion of her remarks.
Guidance has hosted similar briefings in other cities featuring luminaries such as former Senator Bob Dole and former Attorney General John Ashcroft. All in all, it was a splendid evening at the Drake Hotel in Chicago. For more information about Guidance, visit their web site here.
June 12, 2006
Microsoft Genuine (Dis)Advantage
The controversy over the use of the Microsoft Validation and Notification tools is erupting a pace as details get into the press. We know, for example, that the validation tool contacts Microsoft each time the machine on which it is installed boots up. Certainly mine does with a relentless joie de vivre if the notices I see in Zone Alarm are accurate. This begs the question, of course, of how many times do I need to verify that my installation is real and not a pirated copy. I assume my copy is genuine as it came out of a Microsoft box and I have never received a notice to the contrary.
Other questions flow such as what information does this/these tool(s) collect and what does Microsoft have up its sleeve. The validation tool does pick up this information:
* Windows product key
* PC manufacturer
* Operating System version
* BIOS information (make, version, date)
* BIOS MD5 Checksum
* User locale (language setting for displaying Windows)
* System locale (language version of the operating system)
* Office product key (if validating Office)
* Hard drive serial number
Microsoft does say in its FAQ that no personally identifiable information is collected although people "quibble" if a hard drive serial number (combined with an IP address, by the way) is personally identifiable. Again, what does Microsoft have up its sleeve.
The Notification tool is just as murky as to purpose. Microsoft claims that the tool is to tell you that the copy of Windows may not be genuine and if so, how to make it genuine. There are some questions about the real purpose of the tool, especially because it is a beta. Microsoft says that the constant connect with Microsoft servers is in case the tool malfunctions and needs to be shut down or updated, or something like that. Microsoft continues that they will change the frequency of contact to once every 14 days, and ultimately turn the tool off, or not.
Groklaw has a lengthy analysis of the tools, the misleading EULAs associated with these tools, and speculation about Microsoft's intentions. It's a good analysis from a legal perspective and worth reading. Check it out here.