Posts Tagged ‘Piracy Privacy and Other Legal Issues’

The Next Chapter in the LimeWire Story

June 25, 2010

When we last saw LimeWire, it had just been found liable for copyright infringement, that its very existence had fostered infringement, and the RIAA was calling for it to be silenced forever. That’s pretty bad, but wait, there’s more.  Now music publishers want their piece of the carrion, saying that LimeWire should be liable for damages (paid to them) of up to $150K per infringement.  The P2P site, meanwhile, trying desperately to find a way to stay afloat, says that it wants to develop a new music service that will “compensate the entire industry”.  And, it issued a statement that “publishers are part of the solution”, and welcomed their presence at any negotiating table, reports the Media Decoder. Whether the publishers will agree to negotiation is another question altogether, although probably a better solution than trying to recover damages worth more money than LimeWire could ever possibly have made. But one statement in their complaint says “Although still a haven for piracy, the Internet now features a substantial number of legitimate avenues for the sale and digital distribution of music.”  Among those legitimate avenues is Napster, now owned by Best Buy, the P2P that started it all.


They Really Do Take Care of Their Online Lives

June 4, 2010

A new report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project refuted some people’s (including Mark Zuckerberg) notion that young people do not care about maintaining privacy on Internet sites.  Reputation Management and Social Media found that young adults, those aged 19-29, are in fact the most active managers of their online lives. For example, more than two-thirds (71%) those young adults who use social networking sites have changed the privacy settings on their profile to limit what they share with others online. In addition, 44% of young adult internet users say that they “take steps to limit the amount of personal information available about them online”, 47% of them delete unwanted comments about themselves that are made on their profiles, and 41% have removed their tagging from photos.  These numbers are considerably higher than those for older social networkers, but then again, they probably have a lot more information to manage.

Still, the Internet is where people go to find out about you, and that includes potential employers, as well, as potential dates, so there are benefits to having an online presence.  Many of those social networkers who are employed work for a company that has very strict policies about how their employees present themselves online, thereby limiting what they can put in a profile or a blog post.  This can prove interesting as it blurs the line, which used to be very distinct, between one’s working life and one’s private life.  40% of users say that they have been contacted by someone from their past because of their online profile – of course that can be seen as a negative, depending on who from your past finds you. I’m sure that we’ve all found  that there’s a reason that those people are in our past.

LimeWire Gets Nailed

May 21, 2010

Chalk one up for big music.  Last week, US District Court Judge Kimba Wood ruled that LimeWire, the big file-sharing service, was in violation of copyright, and that their business model depends upon it, nor has it taken meaningful steps to  stop this infringement from happening.  Limewire, which unlike most P2P services is way out in the open, and based in New York (as opposed to out in the middle of the ocean somewhere), does give a little warning on its site when users are about to download copyrighted material, still, about 98.8% of what gets downloaded through it is in violation. The next step in the case is a June 1 conference, which will lay out the schedule for moving forward, to resolve some still dangling issues.

Here’s LimeWire CEO George Searle’s statement:

LimeWire strongly opposes the Court’s recent decision. LimeWire remains committed to developing innovative products and services for the end-user and to working with the entire music industry, including the major labels, to achieve this mission. We look forward to our June 1 meeting with Judge Wood.

And the happy dance music below comes from Mitch Bainwol, CEO of the music industry’s lobbying group:

This definitive ruling is an extraordinary victory for the entire creative community. The court made clear that LimeWire was liable for inducing widespread copyright theft.


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 Media Has a Field Day With Facebook and Privacy (or Lack Thereof)…Does Anybody But the Media Care?

May 21, 2010

First thing last week, The Financial Times said that Facebook hired a former Bush regulator, ex-FTC chief Tim Muris, as a consultant to make the company’s case to regulators.  That’s obviously in answer to the news of the week before about the  proposed Boucher bill, which would require publishers who use third-party data gatherers (like ad networks) to provide clear opt-out instructions before placing a cookie on a user’s  computer.  This is a pretty good move on FB’s part, since the current FTC has given every indication that it cares deeply about online privacy. Consumer protection head David Vladeck has taken pro-privacy positions, as has newly appointed commissioner Julie Brill. But that was the beginning of the week, and as days went by, and as media stories got more heated, it seemed more and more unlikely that FB will be able to avoid litigation, no matter who they hire, unless they revise their instant personalization policies.

The media has latched onto how convoluted the opt-out process is, and the deluge of stories gets more and more interesting and more difficult to avoid.  You have probably seen the Times story by Nick Bilton (remember him?  He was the one whose Twitter interview with a FB employee revealed Mark Zuckerberg’s lack of concern over privacy) revealing that FB’s privacy policy is longer than the Constitution. And you probably saw the chart that the Times published (which has made its way all over the web and back again) showing the tangled web of 170 options that you would have to go through to manage your privacy.  The Huffington Post, meanwhile, posted a handy 2 minute video telling you how you can control your profile, just like you could in the olden days, meaning last year, or even a few months ago. (more…)

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.

Open Graph Opens Up More Privacy Issues for Facebook

April 30, 2010

The week started on the weekend, with visions of Chuck Schumer talking about Facebook and privacy.  FB’s new initiative, Open Graph, which is an attempt to socialize the entire web, got good press from marketers and itself last week, but the privacy police were bound to get after what ReadWriteWeb referred to as FB’s “ambition…to kill off its competition and use 500 million users to take over the entire web.”  And lo and behold – I went to Pandora;  there was my Facebook photo, there were my friends and their stations.  Did I ask for this? – no, I did not; did I get to opt out (on Facebook’s home page)? – no I did not.  And because I did not opt out the first time I went on to Pandora after it got connected, I never got the opportunity again. Now, I admit that a lot of people are going to like (pun intended) this – the idea of being plugged into the things that your friends like is very appealing to Facebook users, or they probably wouldn’t be there in the first place, but it raises the creep alarm to me in a big way.  Here’s the insidious thing that Facebook is doing.  Ultimately, everyplace you go on the web, you will leave a little footprint (you are already doing that, but now it will stick around a lot longer than 24 hours), paving the way for lots more targeting than you’re already getting. If you want to opt out, you have to opt out on each individual site to which Facebook’s Open Graph connects, which, eventually will apparently be everything. By the way, if this is worrisome to you, Mashable has instructions on how to end instant personalization – it lies deep within the heart of your Facebook account, where you’d never otherwise know to go.    So Chuck Schumer and three other senators are calling for  the FTC to make sure that Facebook will  implement new controls that will make it easier for users to determine how much of their personal information is shared with other Web sites.

This is not the first time that Facebook has shown its oblivion to privacy issues – there was, for instance its ill-fated Beacon program of two years ago – in case you don’t remember , Beacon sent data from external web sites to users’ news feeds; its purpose was to allow targeted advertising and let users  share their activities with their friends.  Again, no opt out feature, and consumer outcry eventually shut it down.  Ken Auletta, in his book about Google, discussed the engineer mind-set, which is sort of like “Wow, this is cool – if we can just do THIS, then THIS will happen,” with very little thought about the actual implications of that coolness.  Most  people don’t think like engineers, though, and that’s where people like Mark Zuckerberg get into trouble.  In a twitter feed this week, Times writer Nick Bilton quoted a conversation with a Facebook employee who said that Mr. Zuckerberg does not believe in privacy.  I’ll buy that – it’s just not in his engineer’s lexicon. And, in an interview with TechCrunch’s founder earlier this year, Zuckerberg said that he did not think that privacy was the “social norm” any longer – “”People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people.” While this is entirely true, largely due to Facebook itself, it is also true that people like to at the very least feel like they have some control over what they’re sharing, and with whom .

Whether the senators siccing the FTC on the social networking site will amount to anything remains to be seen – it will really be up to Facebook’s users to either prove or disprove Zuckerberg’s belief that we are all open to sharing our web surfing habits with everyone we know. And ultimately to marketers that we don’t know.

We will certainly be discussing this more, in terms of the initiative’s implications for brands, for marketers, and for the publishers of sites.

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.”

The Buzz on Buzz – and a Reprimand from the FTC

March 19, 2010

During our hiatus, Google Buzz, Google’s foray into social media, came and went as hot news.  It got launched, people complained mightily about it, and while it’s still around, the buzz is gone. Google itself admitted that it didn’t test the thing enough, and the BBC reports that in fact the company only tested it internally before foisting it upon the public. The complaints were primarily that Buzz gave its 175 million mail users a ready-made circle of friends based on the people they most frequently e-mailed. Information was taken from their email contact lists without users’ consent or the ability to opt out.
By default, the lists of “followers” could be viewed by anyone who was looking at a user’s profile, which, of course is a privacy issue. Users also complained that the Buzz is “noisy,” with people who frequently post or who get a lot of comments dominating the “discussion.” The thing launched on February 9th, and by February 11th the privacy police were on its tail.  For any social network, the balance between connection and privacy is a precarious one, and Google came out on the wrong side of it. (more…)