March 16, 2007
Your Web Trail is For Sale
Are your Internet sessions private? Of course not. But since there seems to be no consequences for browsing, even for prurient content, most people don't pay attention to whether their search habits are recorded and to what level of detail. Now a report in Ars Technica says that at least one marketing research company is buying clickstreams from ISPs. These are anonymized lists of of web sites visited by an individual user, the pages they visit, and the individual clicks in the order in which they are issued. This information is more valuable than search data as it provides surfing habits irrespective of searches. No individual ISP selling data was identified by the story, but it appears to be more than an isolated practice.
If one thing, the story places a value on how much a record of surfing habits is worth: 40 cents per user per month. That's a a nice amount of change for ISPs with a large subscriber base. Will most people change their surfing habits based on this revelation. Probably not, as no one warns what goes on behind the mouse.
Sinbad Not Dead
Comedian Sinbad has an entry in Wikipedia that was vandalized with language that said he was dead. He is very much alive, at least in comparison to his career. Unlike some individuals who suffered at the hands of Internet vandals, Sinbad just laughed it off. The Associated Press article about the incident quotes him as saying "It's gonna be more commonplace as the Internet opens up more and more. It's not that strange," Defamation lawyers everywhere were disappointed.
Here's the AP story via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
March 15, 2007
Google to Anonymize Search Data After 2 Years or So
Google has announced that it will anonymize user data after holding it for 18 to 24 months. Currently, Google and other search engines hold onto data indefinitely. The move was made after consultation with U.S. and European privacy groups. The European Union has a requirement that individual data must be kept for 2 years. The United States government is seeking a similar law here and has been placing pressure on Internet providers to voluntarily hold on to the information whether a law is in place or not. Google will still make information available to law enforcement agencies as required by law.
The U.S. proposals have been a pet project of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He has lobbied telcos and other service providers to cooperate on this and has even proposed indefinite retention in some circumstances. All of this has been justified in the name of the war on terror. Members of Congress are calling for the Attorney General to resign based on the handling of fired prosecutors, and the reports of abuses of the Patriot Act by the FBI. The ISPs have generally resisted the retention issue because of the costs they would incur as well as the unpopular reaction they expect from their user base. Will Gonzales' goals come to fruition with this cloud over the Justice Department?
Are News Aggregators Ripping Off Newspapers?
David Lazarus of the San Francisco Chronicle has an interesting take on how the principles that are driving the Viacom-Google lawsuit are just as applicable to news aggregators who compile stories from web based newspapers. He raises the issues of newspapers not being able to make money from their web outlets while aggregator sites sells ad space next to other people's copyrighted content.
It's interesting reading and you can find it here.
March 14, 2007
Viacom's Complaint Available
Viacom's complaint (PDF) against YouTube and Google is here, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.
Yahoo Cleared on Privacy Charge in China Prosecution
Yahoo should be happy. Hong Kong's privacy commissioner cleared the company of violating Shi Tao's privacy rights. Shi was the journalist sentenced to 10 years in prison for leaking state secrets. Specifically, he emailed a secret memorandum on media restrictions in China to the Democracy Forum web site. Yahoo had given prosecutors email from his Yahoo account. But that act, which helped convict Shi, did not violate his privacy. The complaint had been raised against Yahoo by Hong Kong legislator Albert Ho, who had documents linking Yahoo to the prosecution. The complaint was dismissed for lack of evidence. Sounds as if due process was satisfied all the way around.
March 13, 2007
AT&T, Yahoo Relationship Changing
Will AT&T and Yahoo split? Not likely, although news reports suggest that the market landscape where the provider (AT&T) pays Yahoo for the overlay of services is changed or gone. Google and Microsoft apparently pay other providers to offer services to their customers. Other reports note that Yahoo will strike a deal to offer advertising and web services to Cingular customers, and advertising to the upcoming TV over IP services that AT&T is rolling out. It sounds more like the relationship is expanding, but the part about who is paying who to troll customer bases is changing. Those details aren't public yet.
Read the story in PC Magazine for more details.
China to Regulate Blogging
The government of China wants to extend its supervision of the Internet to blogger and hosted video sites. At the same time, the country says that a citizen's freedom of expression will be fully protected. There are 34 million blogs in China, a paltry number considering the population as a whole is over 1 billion and growing. China, however, sees unfettered postings as a threat. Some write about politics, and others about the seamy details of their personal life. Nothing is in effect yet, but reports indicate the rules are coming. It will only be a matter of time before someone figures out how to get around them.
The story is in the International Herald Tribune.
Viacom Sues Google for One Billion Dollars
Viacom and Google have spent the last several months negotiating a licensing deal for Viacom clips to appear on YouTube. Viacom owns Comedy Central, MTV, VH1, Nickelodeon, and a host of other media properties that are fond of YouTube users. Viacom turned up the heat on YouTube last month when it demanded that the video site remove about 100,000 clips of copyrighted Viacom material.
Now, various news items report that Viacom says it would not have sued had the clips it requested to be removed not appeared again and again. This, Viacom says, shifts the burden of copyright infringement to the copyright holder and not to the "infringing" host. Google maintains they are complying with the law. The safe harbor provisions of the DMCA, 17 USC §512, generally allow web sites protection from the infringing activities of third parties under certain circumstances. One of these is the lack of notice to the web site about the infringing material. Once notice is supplied, the web site has to act "expeditiously" to remove or disable access to the content.
There is another provision of the law, §512(c)(1)(B) which requires the site not to receive a direct financial benefit attributable to the infringing activity when the service provider has the right and ability to control such activity. Viacom will try to paint Google as someone who looks the other way and makes tons of money from YouTube. Is Google another Grokster? Probably not. But the case is not cut and dried for either side.
Viacom is right to complain about the massive infringement of YouTube users. At the same time, its problems with YouTube may be better brought to the attention of Congress. The law Congress passed set up the system that protects web sites. Congress placed the burden on copyright holders to police their rights and not with web sites. The idea was to protect the burgeoning Internet distribution system from these kinds of law suits.
As far as the ability to control users, that may not be possible with Google or any other site. Whenever this situation has come up in other legal cases, it's been shown that going after one site does not prevent users from uploading the same content, but likely encourages them to disseminate the prohibited content far and wide on as many sites as possible. Challenge the users over this activity and they will more than meet it.
The reality here is that the companies are still negotiating and this is another tactic. This case will likely be settled. Neither side could afford a devastating loss in the game of intellectual property chicken.
March 12, 2007
Oh No! Goverment Agencies Do Not Comply with Web FOIA Requirements
The Washington Post has an article that highlights the--shock of shock--lack of compliance with FOIA requirements on government agency web sites. According to a report issued by the National Security Archive, a research institute affiliated with George Washington University and not the government (cute name, by the way), only 1 in 5 government web sites publish all the required records electronically, and only 6% actually give instructions to the public on how to request the missing material. Only 1 in four agencies give a FOIA request form online.
The best sites for compliance are the Departments of Justice, Education, the FTC, NASA, and the NLRB. The worst identified are the Air Force, the Departments of Defense, Interior, Labor, the Federal Labor Relations Authority, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the SBA, the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Department of Veterans Affairs.