Archive for the ‘Piracy Privacy and Other Legal Issues’ Category

They Know You’re a Dog

May 21, 2010

Some news from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: most web browsers have a unique “fingerprint” that could be used to track people as they wander through the Internet.  The EFF did a study with volunteers who visited a specific web site, logging in information from each volunteer’s system and browser.  Then they compared that data to a database of “configurations collected from almost a million other visitors”.  What they found was that 84% of the configuration combinations were unique; browsers with Flash or Java plug-ins are 94% unique.  And therefore, trackable.  Even when the volunteers went back and changed their browser settings, the EFF could still identify them with 99% accuracy. So if online privacy is important to you, and you routinely delete HTML and Flash cookies, you can still be identified by the fingerprint of your browser.  So if some nefarious company wanted to track users without their consent, they could do so by recording these unique characteristics.  For those of you who are academically inclined, here’s the whitepaper.

And PS, if you want to see the cartoon from which the title of this post comes, you can find it in the New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank.


The Evolution of Facebook

May 14, 2010

Matt McKeon, a developer at IBM, looked at the timeline that the EFF published of Facebook’s privacy defaults, and how they’ve changed since the social networking site’s inception in 2005.  Disappointed that the timeline was written, rather than visual, he decided to create the visual himself.  Which he has done to great effect.  He explains that he derived the data for the chart from Facebook’s terms of service agreements over the years.

Unfortunately, I can’t embed this, so here’s a link, and by the way, the animation won’t work in IE.

Commerce Dept Gets Into the Internet Privacy Act

April 26, 2010

In the wake of Google’s Eric Schmidt being chided by the government officials of 10 countries for failing to adequately protect the personal privacy of Internet users, this week the US Commerce Department started an initiative to look at how the privacy of individuals is being impacted by the Internet economy. The Commerce Dept. has formed what it calls the Internet Policy Task Force to explore “current policy frameworks, and ways to address the challenges of the new internet economy and society in a manner that preserves and enhances personal privacy protection.”   There will be a public meeting next Friday, during which The Commerce Dept hopes to hear from the public, academics, commercial interests, and organizations with opinions on the issue. The aim of this endeavor is to see whether current privacy laws “serve consumer interests and fundamental democratic values.” Policymakers and the president as well consider this an important topic and the goal is to provide the White House with advice, including possibly policy direction for the future, and the hope is that a report will be issued by early fall.

Lawyers and Pirates go to the Movies

April 2, 2010

We all know, by now, the sad story of the RIAA, and how it sued 18,000 people, among them 12 year olds and the deceased, for illegal downloading of music.  As much as bad publicity for the music business, these suits cost far more than they brought in, and sensing failure, the agency finally stopped it litigious behavior. But this week, the Hollywood Reporter said that a group called the US Copyright Group is taking a page from the RIAA’s book and is litigating against about 50,000 people who allegedly downloaded 10 independent movies. This is not going to be an easy feat for the group. First of all, to bring a lawsuit the attorneys will need to convince judges to order Internet service providers to disclose the names of their users. (One ISP has apparently turned over that information on its own, but the others say they won’t do so without a court order).  And even if it gets the names of individuals, the group will then have to get users to settle with them rather than face a court hearing.  And almost certainly, some of those users, won’t settle. The idea for the suit originated in Germany, where real time technology that keeps track of downloads on torrents can be checked against a spreadsheet of copyright protected films.  These have been used to take pirates to court and they have apparently been successful. The IFTA and the MPAA are so far not interested (the MPAA is sort of interested, actually, but they want to see proof that this can work before taking up the cudgel themselves). Says HR, “The US Copyright Group plans to issue a press release soon touting the success of this program. The lawyers are also traveling to the Festival de Cannes in May with hopes of convincing other producers —  and perhaps major studios — to try their luck suing hundreds of thousands of pirates.”

Why the EFF Loves Google’s Super Bowl Ad

February 12, 2010

By now you’ve probably seen Google’s Super Bowl ad.  And by now you’ve probably seen every possible spoof that’s been made of it.  The Electronic Frontier foundation feels elated that the ad shows how revealing Google users’ histories are. Bing has promised to anonymize search data after six months, but Google continues to hold onto every query and IP address that you’ve looked at in the past 9 months. Both privacy advocates and European regulators have persistently called upon Google to delete search histories after six months. And although Google insists that it protects the privacy of its users, the company might have no choice but to reveal information it has compiled. Courts can issue subpoenas; saboteurs potentially can break into servers. Either way, once the raw data about users becomes known, it can be used to create detailed portraits of individual users, as illustrated by Google itself during the Super Bowl.

RIAA Lawsuits Again

January 29, 2010

Here’s a story that I bet you thought you’d heard the last of, but like a recurring nightmare, the tale of Jammie Thomas-Rasset and the RIAA is back again.  The good news is that Thomas-Rasset, who was originally set to pay almost $2 million in damages for the 24 tracks that she downloaded from Kazaa, has had that fine reduced to $54,000.  In his decision lastFriday, US District court Justice Michael Davis said that the $1.92 million verdict was unjustified, and triple the statutory minimum of $750 per track. He added that even $54,00 was “significant and harsh” but at least it’s not (monstrous and shocking”. Thomas-Rasset, for her part, had filed papers after the last verdict saying that the judgement was, among other things, unconstitutional. Judge Davis said in this most recent order that the record labels have until Jan. 29 to decide whether to accept the new award or request a new trial on the issue of damages.  And it looks like there will be a third trial. After this ruling, the RIAA sent Thomas-Rasset an offer to settle for $25,000 which would be payable in installments to a musician’s charity.  No dice, said Thomas-Rasset, and so the sage will continue, long after anyone but her cares about it. Much more interesting, however, says Ars Technica,   

would be a major class-action lawsuit against the recording industry. Such a lawsuit would get even more intriguing if the prosecuting lawyers said that they plan to “get the $100 million that [the RIAA] stole” by suing people and collecting settlements. (The RIAA says it has not earned $100 million from the campaign, and that it actually lost money after paying all the lawyers.)

Google Books Again

January 29, 2010

And speaking of issues that never die, the much reviled Google Books deal is back in the news. In December, Google filed a revised agreement, in an attempt to allay the fears of those who felt that Google was gaining a near monopoly over digital books. Amazon this week filed an objection to the revision, in which it again raised the objection that the agreement violates the US Copyright Act. At roughly the same time a group of academic authors submitted an objections saying, “We do not believe that the settlement of a class action lawsuit is a proper way to make such a profound set of changes in rights of authors and publishers, in markets for books, and procedures for resolving disputes as the (settlement) would bring about,” the letter read. Google, for its part, sticks to its statement that the settlement “stands to unlock access to millions of books in the U.S. while giving authors and publishers new ways to distribute their work.” The hearing is scheduled to take place on Feb 18.

Hillary Clinton’s Free Speech Speech

January 22, 2010

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for global internet freedom to “seize the opportunity created by the proliferation of connection technologies. These technologies are truly the platform for communication, collaboration, and commerce in the 21st century. They’re connecting people to people, people to knowledge, and people to the global marketplace.” In her remarks, she criticized some regimes for censoring all types of new media, including text messages.  The Internet has a great role in promoting free speech and the “freedom to connect”, she said.  Needless to say, some advocacy groups, the Open internet coalition and Public Knowledge among them, latched onto this speech as a vehicle for promoting net neutrality laws both in the US and abroad.  Ms. Clinton’s speech can be seen here.

Big Doings at the FCC

January 11, 2010

January is going to be a big month over at the FCC.  There will be hearings on broadband, media ownership rules, and a ruling on the Comcast- BitTorrent case which is going to be a big player in the net neutrality issue, scheduled to be on the calendar in the spring.  Speaking of net neutrality, this week, the Songwriters Guild sent a letter to the FCC stating that any laws that did not allow ISPs to ban illegal downloaders “would continue to permit rampant Internet piracy”.   On the other hand, according to the Hollywood Reporter, The Writers Guild East favors net neutrality, saying that  “it is critical that the extraordinary potential of the Internet not be stifled by corporate conglomerates that restrict access for their own commercial gain.”  Seems like they might be speaking directly to the Comcast stake in NBC Uni.  The writers feel that an open Internet gives the public options to gain access to content that might not be available from traditional outlets. While this body also opposes piracy, it feels that the piracy issue is one for law enforcement agencies to control.

Creepy Advertising, the FTC, and stuff

December 11, 2009

The Interactive Advertising Bureau launched a public service ad campaign last week alerting and educating the public about behavioral targeting.  The ads include copy that says that “advertising is creepy” and “This banner ad can tell where you live.”  Internet publishers including Micosoft, YouTube and AOL have committed to donate impressions for the initiative.  YouTube? Really?  Right away one’s hackles rise up.  Because if Google, which after all makes its money from creepy advertising and data collection, is giving to this cause, how much of a public service is this thing?  The FTC has chastised the industry for using unreadable privacy policies to inform consumers about behavioral targeting. The IAB says that it is trying to make it all much clearer to the public, by explaining what cookies do, and what geo-targeting is, for example.  But they are also saying that cookies and IP addresses do not give marketers personal information – a fact that has consistently proved to be erroneous.  The FTC itself said this year in a report about online behavioral targeting that non-personally identifiable information could be used to identify specific users. (via AdAge) (more…)