June 15, 2007
Star Wars Parody This Sunday
Don't forget, the Robot Chicken Star Wars parody premiers on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim this Sunday at 10 Eastern. George Lucas participates by contributing his voice and a promise not to sue.
Senate Hearing on 700 MHz Spectrum Sale
The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing yesterday over the proposed sale of the 700MHz Spectrum. This is the spectrum that will be vacated by broadcasters once the switch to digital television takes place in February, 2009. Part of the spectrum allocation is for public safety use. The idea is to create a national broadband network that unifies the various networks that fire, police, and other first responders use. It sounds like a nice idea but the implementation and cost are problematic, at least according to the various witnesses.
On one side is James Barksdale, former Netscape guy back when that company was eating Microsoft's lunch in the browser war (though we all know how that turned out). He represented Frontline Wireless, who has two former FCC Chairs associated with the company. Frontline wants to build a commercial network with part of the spectrum that would merge with a part that is dedicated to public safety. The commercial network would pay for the public side and prioritize public traffic so that no bottleneck would develop during emergencies. Barksdale advocates coverage for 99% of the United States in the Frontline proposal, network neutrality, and open access principles.
Shudders to that says Verizon. Open access and net neutrality would only make the bids low because of the conditions it would impose on telecoms. Lack of flexibility makes the property less valuable. That means the government would get less for the Treasury. As Verizon and its competitors (really, only AT&T) see it, a network that allows any device connected would degrade the user experience.
The City of New York weighed in saying that a one-size national network wouldn't necessarily work. The City just bought spectrum through commercial carriers (with little or no help from the federal government, they pointedly added) to give the same capability. They saw opportunities for regional networks. What works in New York doesn't always work in Los Angeles, Boise, or Buffalo (the City's analogy).
June 14, 2007
House Judiciary Committee Considers Federal Reporter's Privilege
The House Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing today H.R. 2102, the "Free Flow of Information Act of 2007." The act generally would codify a reporter's privilege for federal proceedings similar to that currently enjoyed by journalists in 49 states and the District of Columbia. The transcript of the hearing is not available though statements from four of the five witnesses are on the Committee's web site. The government opposes the legislation.
The Justice Department statement notes that the current procedures for compelling a reporter to disclose a confidential source require the personal approval of the Attorney General. It also notes that aside from the codification of those principles at 28 C.F.R. §50.10, the Department seeks every alternative method to get the same evidence before it issues a subpoena. In any event, the Department has invoked a subpoena power so infrequently that the legislation is unnecessary. Beyond that, the legislation would also force the Department to seek judicial approval for a subpoena, shifting the review to judges, which it believes would be a mistake in national security cases.
The other major problem Justice has with the proposed Act is the broad definition of covered individuals.
JOURNALISM- The term `journalism' means the gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.
The Department states in reaction to this language:
Such a broad definition would accord the status of “covered person” to a terrorist operative who videotaped a message from a terrorist leader threatening attacks on Americans, because he would be engaged in recording news or information that concerns international events for dissemination to the public.
The bill's definition would include bloggers, giving them a formal journalistic status.
Contrast this with the statement by Lee Levine, a founding partner of Levine Sullivan Kock & Schulz, L.L.P. Mr. Levine is a past chair of the ABA's Forum on Communications Law and has litigated several cases where litigants sought to compel disclosure of a reporter's confidential sources. He sites multiple recent examples where the DOJ has sought confidential sources from reporters. The most notable of these was Judith Miller, formerly of the New York Times, in the I. Lewis Libby case. Multiple reporters were caught up in the Wen Ho Lee case according to Mr. Levine.
The story on the hearing in CNET suggests that proponents of the bill were unmoved by the DOJ. The ultimate definitions will likely be revised before the legislation goes forward, but coverage suggest there would be tweaks, not wholesale revision. Politics certainly comes into play here. The Department insists the Executive has all the power here. That position is consistent with the general position of the Bush administration on the role of the Executive. At the same time, the diminished credibility of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales with Congress lessens the ability of the DOJ to get their way when commenting on legislation. Though no one has said it at this point, the bill would likely be vetoed by the President barring it being attached a a piece of must sign legislation.
The Committee site for the hearing is here, where there are links to a video of the hearing (requires RealPlayer), and the statements of the witnesses.
Yahoo, Microsoft Buys Get FTC Scrutiny
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Federal Trade Commission is reviewing Microsoft's $6 billion purchase of aQuantive Inc., and Yahoo's $680 million purchase of Right Media Inc. The deals are in response to Google's $3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick, but the reviews are required by the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act.
June 13, 2007
Google Raises Complaint About Vista Desktop Search
Speaking of Google and Microsoft, the news has been running reports of Google's unhappiness with Microsoft's built-in desktop search in Vista. Google claims it is difficult for users to switch to their product, and that conflicts slow down Google's offering when it is installed. This came up last year when Vista beta copies were released by Microsoft.
The follow-up is a formal complaint by Google charging Microsoft with antitrust violations. The Justice Department is siding with Microsoft on this one, though the state attorneys general involved in the original Microsoft antitrust litigation have other ideas. They tended to feel that Microsoft got off easier when the Bush administration took over the case. Now they are at the point where they are considering supporting Google in court.
Microsoft and Google have not sparred over this development through official press releases or blog postings. This will play out in court at some point as a new front in the competition between these two giants.
more details are in CNN Money, the Washington Post, and this interesting story from Redmondmag.com concerning Justice Department official Thomas Barnett who at one time was a Microsoft attorney in the original federal antitrust case.
EU Likes Google Data Retention Move
Statements by Franco Frattini, European Union justice and home affairs commissioner, indicate that the move by Google to cut the time of data retention are welcome by the EU. The Washington Post quotes him as saying "I have appreciated the commitment of Google not only to meet our expectations in terms of protection of privacy or better on cutting the time and reducing the time of retention of personal data." Interesting how the EU treats Google compared to Microsoft. Of course, the EU history with Microsoft has been adversarial over the years. Still, it has to frost Microsoft somehow about the different treatment. Here's the full Post story.
iPhone to Require iTunes Account
Lusting after that iPhone? You'll need an iTunes store account to activate the phone beyond the AT&T requirements. The phone is, after all, an iPod as well.
June 12, 2007
Best Buy Attorney Gets Creative with Evidence
One thing that's taught in law school is ethics. Part of ethics training includes the concept of not falsifying evidence. Courts frown on the practice, calling it obstruction of justice. One lawyer for Best Buy apparently never got the memo.
Ars Technica is reporting on the unfortunate Timothy Block. He is one of the attorneys defending Best Buy in a class action lawsuit that accuses the store of signing up customers to MSN trial periods without permission. Worse, once the trial period ended, the customer credit cards were charged. Microsoft is another defendant in the case. Mr. Block apparently faked two emails and an internal memo that placed Best Buy in a better position than it would be otherwise. Best Buy disavows the action. The Judge has yet to rule on the consequences. I wonder if this will affect his Avvo rating. Right now it's at 6.2 out of 10, which rates him as "good."
More Windows Patches Today
It's patch Tuesday for systems running Windows. Details of the patches are on CNET.
Google Reduces Data Retention to 18 Months
Google is shortening its data retention length from 2 years to 18 months. This move is partially motivated by furthering compliance with European Union privacy directives. The change may or may not meet the EU rules. Cookie expiration is still an issue.
June 11, 2007
Safari Ported to Windows
Is Google the Worst on Privacy Issues?
Google is under fire from advocacy group Privacy International for the company's privacy practices. Google, as does a number of large online concerns, records identity information and has the ability to link surfing habits to to identities. It is hardly a secret that these large concerns have vast quantities of user data stored in servers. They use this information to tweak their offerings and to generally conduct business.
Google takes a bit of umbrage at the dead last ranking it received from the group, saying that it works hard to protect user data. Google suggested that Privacy International has a bias towards Microsoft. The group took counter-umbrage and demands an apology in an open letter to Google. They also accuse Google of a "smear" campaign. Nothing like this kind of dust-up to gather publicity. It should be noted that none of the twenty firms noted in the report got a favorable rating.
Counter this with another look from the Pew Internet and American Life Project. Americans, at least, show high concern about their privacy on the web. Here are some quotes:
• 86% say internet companies should ask permission to use personal information.
• 84% concerned about businesses and people they don’t know getting personal information about them and their families and disclosing it without permission.
• 54% believe Web-site tracking invades their privacy; 27% say it’s helpful.
• Ask me first: I’ll bargain with you: 54% have provided personal information in order to use a site; 10% say they would.
• 79% of internet users have used the internet to get health information
• 67% have given up personal information to buy something online
• 62% have given up personal information to make travel reservations
• 58% have visited web sites where they get support for medical conditions or personal problems
• 41% have done online banking
• 38% have paid bills online
• 25% have made friends with someone they had never met offline
It seems that while the concern is there, it hasn't stopped a good number of people from giving out personal information to get something they wanted. The Pew data does identify about a quarter of the American Internet user population as privacy fundamentalists who would not give out information under any circumstances. The Privacy International report probably resonates with that segment.
The European Union has some issues about Google's data retention, specifically the fact that Google cookies have a lifespan of about 30 years. Reports indicate that Google approached the EU on the issue and that the body investigating Google's practices has no legal powers and no binding opinions. The DoubleClick purchase should bring privacy safeguards to the fore during antitrust scrutiny, but not necessarily where they would derail the buy.
I suspect that despite this pronouncement by Privacy International that user habits will not change, that governments will not be spurred to action to restrict data collection, and that privacy practices may change as a matter of doing business.