June 23, 2006
New York Lawmaker Drops Google Child Porn Suit
Long Island politician Jeffrey Toback has dropped his lawsuit that Google knowingly served up ads with and for child pornography. He said Google wouldn't discuss the issue with him while the suit was pending, so he accommodated them by dismissing his suit. Most commentators thought the suit was stupid and opportunistic given all the other ways this issue could be handled.
Google Sells and House Committee Yells
Google has sold its modest 2% stake in Chinese rival Baidu, opting to grow its own business there.
In the meantime, the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations has approved the Global Online Freedom Act (HR 4780) by a voice vote. The stated purpose of the bill is "[t]o promote freedom of expression on the Internet, to protect United States businesses from coercion to participate in repression by authoritarian foreign governments, and for other purposes." The bill was a result of the hearings that excoriated tech companies for cooperating with the Chinese government to suppress dissidents. Most of the companies represented at the hearing (Microsoft, Google, Yahoo!) took the position that they had no choice but to cooperate with the Chinese government (as required by Chinese law) to keep on doing business there.
The bill would require companies from keeping personally identifiable information on servers in "Internet-restricting countries" and prohibit release of data except for legitimate law enforcement purposes. Internet services providers also face potential fines for blocking access to any U.S. government web sites or content. Microsoft called the bill unproductive. Google and Yahoo! have not issued statements.
No word on whether the bill would have any impact on U.S. foreign intelligence gathering in "Internet-restricting countries."
Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on Analog Hole
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Wednesday titled "The Analog Hole : Can Congress Protect Copyright and Promote Innovation? " Links to the webcast and witness statements are here.
June 22, 2006
French Water Down DRM Sharing Legislation
Members of the French legislature agreed on new text that softens the requirements that Apple and other online music ventures share their DRM schemes so as to uncouple their hardware and music stores. The greatest effect will be on Apple with the their huge market for iTunes and the iPod. The bill passed by the National Assembly last March would have required interoperability. The new law allows the copyright holder to make the decision. That means Apple can enter into new contracts with the labels that protect the iTunes/iPod exclusivity. Reports indicate Apple still isn't satisfied with the law. What if a copyright holder balked at the idea? Mon dieu! All it takes is one.
Oklahoma Violent Game Bill Signed Into Law
Around the same time Louisiana passed its violent game law, Oklahoma passed one as well. Expect a lawsuit by the Entertainment Software Association preventing the law from taking effect. They haven't lost one yet.
Senate Net Neutrality Vote Delayed
The Senate Commerce Committee did not vote today as expected on net neutrality legislation. No word on when a vote will come. Perhaps not all of the campaign donations have been added up yet.
Looking For a New Browser? Try Maxthon
Maxthon is a browser produced in China that is built on the guts of Internet Explorer. Chinese web users find it popular as it can be configured there with proxy servers to get around the censorship placed on popular search engines and sites. The company that produced Maxthon doesn't promote this feature. Chinese online forums have instructions for the technically adept according to an article in ZDNet.
Compared to Internet Explorer and competitors, the Maxthon is blazing fast. It features tabbed browsing, pop-up blocking, and other really useful features such as ad blocking and Active X control blocking. There is just the phrase "[Blocked Ad]" instead of annoying banners and flashy (pun semi-intended) animated ads on a given page. Maxthon can save flash animations as downloads. There is also a built-in RSS feature that automatically detects a feed and prompts as to whether you want to subscribe. This is done through a small window in the lower right hand corner of the screen that disappears after five to ten seconds.
The license is free although there is a nag screen to donate to the developers which appears on start-up. They allow you to turn this off, however. Once installed it imports tool bars and favorites from Explorer. In my opinion, Maxthon is worth the look. As I've used it it strikes me as Internet Explorer with vast improvements in utility and features. All of these features come in a package that is a five megabyte download and a seven megabyte install. This means it doesn't use nearly as much memory as the alternatives. User reviews at Download.com give the browser high marks. The install file has been download from there over 4.2 million times. You can also get a copy at the Maxthon web site (almost 60 million downloads there).
June 21, 2006
Another Violent Game Law on Hold
It didn't take long for Entertainment Software Association to sue Louisiana when that state passed a law prohibiting the sale of violent video games to minors. It took even less time for federal Judge James J. Brady to issue a temporary restraining order preventing the law from taking effect. A hearing on a permanent injunction is set for June 30th. So far, all state laws to the same effect have been struck down by federal courts.
Louisiana followed with another bill preventing the sale of sexually explicit games to minors. The ESA supports that bill.
Senate Committee May Vote on Net Neutrality Provisions
Net neutrality may come up for a vote in a Senate committee vote on Thursday. The bill in question would allow consumers upload and access any and all legal content on the Internet. Congress is considering massive telecommunications reform. This legislation is separate from that effort. According to the San Jose Mercury News, two senators will propose legislation that prevents telecoms and cable providers from creating service tiers. These type amendments have consistently failed in the House as they have considered similar legislation. Given that there are Internet heavy hitters (and deep, deep pockets) on both sides this one is far from over.
Tech Companies Lobby Congress for Federal Privacy Law
Microsoft, Google, and other tech heavyweights are calling on Congress to pass a uniform privacy law for consumers. The fact that the call came from those in the business of storing and utilizing such data actually got the attention of Congress. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the said he would introduce such legislation.
June 20, 2006
Government Buys Personal Records From Data Brokers
The AP is reporting that law enforcement agencies are using private data brokers to get phone records on citizens. The practice allows these agencies to bypass subpoenas and other messy requirements of conducting a legal investigation. These are the same kind of services that were vilified in congressional hearings several months ago. Some data brokers have been sued by state attorneys general and by phone companies for using fraudulent means to get data. The methodology these companies use does not trouble law enforcement agencies enough to stop their use.
The report notes that agencies such as the FBI, the U.S. Marshall's service, and municipal police departments in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, and Utah, among others, has taken advantage of data brokers. The U.S. government paid an estimated $30 million dollars for information last year for personal data.
The House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is holding a two day hearing starting tomorrow called "Internet Data Brokers and Pretexting: Who has Access to Your Private Records?" No other details are available on the hearing (no witness list, statements, etc.) but the issue of government use of these services may possibly come up. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky), chair of the subcommittee, suggested that some laws are probably being broken but as the laws are vague, it's hard to know which ones. OK, although it seems somewhat ironic that the entities charged with enforcing the laws are the ones essentially breaking it, or is that too obvious? Congress may well be shocked by these practices, as much as Claude Rain's character in Casablanca was shocked to discover gambling going on at Rick's Cafe.
The article points to several examples of purchased data, including:
- A U.S. Labor Department employee who used her government e-mail address and phone number to buy two months of personal cellular phone records of a woman in New Jersey.
- A buyer who received credit card information about the father of murder victim Jon Benet Ramsey.
- A buyer who obtained 20 printed pages of phone calls by pro basketball player Damon Jones of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Dutch Court Shuts Down MP3 Site
Dutch courts have shut down a web site that provided links to mp3 files even though it did not host the content itself. The decision by the Dutch Court of Appeal overturns a lower court ruling that the site, Zoekmp3.nl, did not violate copyright. Zoekmp3 did post notices asking users not to violate copyright, though the appellate court did not buy that argument, noting that the sites users were there looking for illegal downloads.
June 19, 2006
Wikipedia Changes Editorial Policy
The Register published as smarmy little piece on Jimmy Wales statement that students should stop citing Wikipedia. The Wikipedia founder says that he regularly gets about 10 email messages from students per week saying they cited Wikipedia as their source and got Fs on their papers. They quote him as saying "For God sake, you're in college; don't cite the encyclopedia." The irony here is the study in Nature Magazine that concluded that accuracy in the Wikipedia was only slightly less than that of Encyclopedia Brittanica. The EB editors took umbrage at the methodology of Nature although they have not suffered any financial loss due to the study results.
Controversies erupted over the "anyone can edit" approach which resulted, at times, in entries being doctored for political purposes. This, and just plain rancor between some contributors led to a less egalitarian change in policy. Administrators can put holds on article edits for periods of time to prevent editorial vandalism.
One of the questions surrounding the viability of entries in the encyclopedia is whether they have any legal significance. Westlaw indicates that 20 federal courts have cited Wikipedia in opinions. They are:
1. N'Diom v. Gonzales, 442 F.3d 494, 2006 Fed.App. 0109P, C.A.6, March 24, 2006
2. Patel v. Gonzales, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 751363, C.A.7, March 23, 2006
3. Hillensbeck v. U.S., 69 Fed.Cl. 369, Fed.Cl., January 31, 2006
4. Campbell ex rel. Campbell v. Secretary of Health and Human Services,
69 Fed.Cl. 775, Fed.Cl., February 14, 2006 (Commenting on the "disturbing" disclaimers on article veracity)
5. U.S. v. Coker, 433 F.3d 39, C.A.1 (Mass.), December 28, 2005
6. Allegheny Defense Project, Inc. v. U.S. Forest Service, 423 F.3d 215, 35 Envtl. L. Rep. 20,185, C.A.3 (Pa.), September 15, 2005
7. U.S. v. Krueger, 415 F.3d 766, C.A.7 (Wis.), July 28, 2005
8. Bourgeois v. Peters, 387 F.3d 1303, 17 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 1125, C.A.11 (Ga.), October 15, 2004
9. Hansen v. Wisconsin Dept. of Revenue, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1589648, W.D.Wis., June 05, 2006
10. DaVinci v. Missouri, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1515536, D.Or., May 30, 2006
11. Perez v. Frank, --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2006 WL 1453939, W.D.Wis., May 25, 2006
12. Platinum Links Entertainment v. Atlantic City Surf Professional Baseball Club, Inc., Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1459986, D.N.J., May 23, 2006
13. Larry v. Goetz, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1495784, W.D.Wis., May 18, 2006
14. Jones v. Blige, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1329247, E.D.Mich., May 16, 2006
15. Nails v. Compass Bank Dothan, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 1274074, M.D.Ala., May 09, 2006
16. Stancik v. CNBC, 420 F.Supp.2d 800, N.D.Ohio, March 09, 2006
17. Merinar v. Grannis, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 436289, N.D.Cal., February 21, 2006
18. Booth v. King, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 287853, E.D.Pa., February 03, 2006
19. Aharonian v. Gonzales, Slip Copy, 2006 WL 13067, 77 U.S.P.Q.2d 1449, N.D.Cal., January 03, 2006
20. Amco Ukrservice & Prompriladamco v. American Meter Co, Slip Copy, 2005 WL 1541029, E.D.Pa., June 29, 2005
There were 105 references to Encyclopedia Brittanica, by the way. Of course, that publication has existed far longer than Wikipedia. Pity the poor student and their failing grades. You'll have a better time citing Wikipedia when you become a judge.
Washington Post Examines Internet News Gathering
A series of articles (three so far) on the Washington Post web site trace the impact of the Internet on news gathering and reporting. The reports cover the disruption to traditional news sources which, in comparison, are bound by time-delayed cycles and editorial constraints. News organizations in the past could decide which news was worth reporting and could suppress stories. Two examples mentioned include the Swift Boat allegations against democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and the CBS Bush National Guard papers story. Internet coverage forced the first story on to the national news because of the buzz it created on the Internet. The second story became bigger news about CBS due to the net's ability to challenge CBS on their sources and handling of the story.
There is also an examination of the evolution of news sites. Newspapers merely offered a rehash of their print content while worrying about the subscription model. The use of blogs and other interactive content such as video, podcasts, and other tech developments is making news sites into something quite different from the print and television news products. The articles also trace the evolution of editorial standards applied to web news sites.