November 17, 2006
Watching The Watchers
Last week it was Kevin Federline in the cross hairs of the public via unedited video when he received his divorce notice from Britney Spears. Now it's student Mostafa Tabatabainejad being tasered for refusing to leave one of the UCLA libraries. Campus police asked him for an id while on a late night patrol. Tabatabainejad thought it was racial profiling and refused. News stories and witness accounts in the press conflict as to what happened next. At some point he went limp and at another point he got tasered by police as they removed him from the UCLA facility.
But instead of guessing what happened and in what sequence it happened, you can view it for yourself on YouTube. You can also watch a bunch of variations and edits, and even some follow-up video by Tabatabainejad himself. One aspect of public police surveillance cameras that's disturbing is that the police are, in essence, the government. Lots of people do not like the idea of spying on citizens. On the other hand, the police contend that scanning the streets for crime can bring a faster response from law enforcement when crime is being committed. Public cameras also have a deterrent effect, they say. Courts have pretty much held that people can be recorded in public without their permission as the right to privacy is nil in public.
So, are there any checks on police surveillance? You can watch the watchers as they go about their tasks and even record it with a cheap camera phone. And, much to their chagrin, the video even gets posted to YouTube or other video sites. One of my colleagues described the 6 plus minute video as another Rodney King situation. That incident from the 80s only made it into the public conscience because L.A. Police beating was accidentally documented with a video camera. This one is no less disturbing. Rather than comment about the actions of the police or the response by Tabatabainejad, check it out for yourself. Here's the main video. To see others and edits relating to the incident, go to YouTube and search keywords library and taser. Other obvious words may also be used, but the ones I suggest will bring results.
November 16, 2006
China Unblocks Wikipedia
The Chinese government has quietly unblocked the Wikipedia site to Chinese Internet surfers. Jimmy Wales has said in the past that he would not censor information to please the Chinese government. Congressman Tom Lantos of California said this was an example for Yahoo, Google, and MSN to cut a similar deal. In reality, there was probably no deal with Wikipedia and China. The wiki is merely a site while the others are in business under Chinese regulations. Dollars are at stake here, not ideas.
Speaking of ideas, two members of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at the Harvard Law School suggest that China could encourage residents to contribute their own articles. These, of course, could contain facts or points of view with a bias towards government positions. Of course, that's a more insidious form of censorship. The wiki content isn't hacked as much as manipulated. It will be interesting to see if that happens, and if it does, how the wiki community will react.
More details are in the Boston Globe.
November 15, 2006
Government Study Shows Porn Sites are 1.1% of Web Indexes
Remember the battle earlier this year when the government got the major search engines to turn over sample data to study in an attempt to uphold COPA? Remember how Google fought the government request and only had to turn over a much more limited and scrubbed version of the data? Well, the government study is finished and introduced into evidence.
What did it find? 1.1% of web sites indexed by Google and Microsoft are sexually explicit. 1.7% of search results at AOL, MSN, and Yahoo are sexually explicit. AOL's Mature Teen filter blocked 91% of those explicit web sites, and other filters less so. Another interesting statistic is that 50% of these web sites are in foreign jurisdictions and beyond the application of COPA.
So the question remains, how does this help the government defend COPA as not overly broad in suppressing speech and better than filters in keeping porn away from kids? We'll find out soon. Closing arguments in the case are Monday.
More details about the study are at CNN.
November 14, 2006
Zune Goes on Sale Today
Well, Zune is finally here. The commentary goes back and forth about whether Zune will be the iPod killer or whether Zune will become another also ran. The likelihood is probably neither. There's no point in speculating as we get to see it first hand during the coming Christmas shopping season. Sales are likely to be good if for no other reason for the curiosity factor. Word of mouth will be big in keeping consumers interested in the product. Microsoft tends to design decent products even though they tend to lack imagination. The music and movie playback market tends to require imagination, so they may not get it right the first time out. Or the second, or.... Again, Zune success is up to the market.
One of the more curious aspects of the Zune system, that is the player and the Zune Marketplace, is that it takes only Microsoft money rather than cash. One has to buy Microsoft points and use those for purchase. 100 points cost $1.25, and songs go for 79 points, which is about 99 cents. Commentators question why this system is so complicated simply to purchase songs. Apple sells tracks after all using the Yankee Dollar, which most people understand without having to use a conversion table. The answer is probably to keep people tied to the store with an open balance, and probably to confuse people over the real cost of music. Ooooh, 79 points a song, why that's less than Apple! Using points also confuses people when the price per song rises to 99 points, which doesn't sound like $1.25 per song. The music labels probably love that move.
The feature that intrigued me the most was the wireless sharing capability. Microsoft pushes the social aspect of Zune through the wireless sharing of Zunes within range of each other. Zunes can share music or pictures, even music without DRM. The 3 play or 3 day limit still stands as otherwise these become instruments of piracy. No one wants to see Microsoft prosecuted under the Grokster ruling, no matter how entertaining that prospect may be. Shared pictures are not limited in view or time.
Here's the rah rah description of how the Zune-loving consumer would use sharing as described on the official Zune web site:
Picture this: You're walking down the street. Or you're in a room with a bunch of friends. Or at a concert. Or at the airport. Or on the bus (you get the picture) and then you whip out your Zune and see all these other Zune devices around that you can choose from. Zap! You’re connected to your best friend and send the new song your band recorded in the garage last weekend. Another friend gets the hilarious podcast your kid brother made at school, plus that song you just downloaded from the Zune Marketplace and can’t get out of your head. And hey, lookee here, your friend wants to send you something that you might like and buy, too.
I wondered how Zune wouldn't be the target of spam bombs or recipients of unwanted adult material in drive-by transfers. My own personal scenario would be beaming Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music in a 320 bitrate mp3 to everyone in range. Sorry Lou, but Microsoft thought ahead on this one. The recipient has to approve the transfer, otherwise, no go. The transfer will time out if ignored. A recipient can also block individual Zunes, though Zune owners can change the name of their unit when synced up to the PC software. I don't know if the block is based on the name or some unique identifier embedded in the player, such as a MAC address.
Again, from the Zune web site:
You can also fly under the radar when you want to as well. All you need to do is turn wireless on and off, or adjust the privacy settings to control whether people can see if you are online or to show your friends what you're listening to. And if you want to keep your Zune private while studying in the library or reading the newspaper at the coffee shop, you can also block Zune devices, in wireless range, from sending you a song. But don’t worry, you can always allow them back.
Still, I wonder if enough malicious behavior on the part of other Zune owners would cause most people to keep their wireless options off unless used deliberately. I'm not encouraging this behavior, only noting it. As much as I like Lou Reed, I would really resent someone sending me, say, Fleetwood Mac.