Archive for Tech

Part 2

danah boyd:

Timothy Burke:

Barbara Fister:

Scott Jaschik:

David Karpf:

Matt Stoller:

Democracy Now:


Remember Aaron:


Ah, hell.


Of Sea Turtles

The lower Rio Grande Valley was an interesting place to grow up, for a lot of reasons. One of them is the climate; it’s an interesting mix of temperate/coastal/desert/subtropical environments, which can lead to exposure to a wide range of biological diversity, even if one isn’t inclined to go out and look for it. My mother was a high school biology teacher for 20 years before she entered the library world, so I probably had a few more opportunities than most to see some of it.

One of my earliest memories involves South Padre Island- specifically, visiting the home of the person we knew as the Turtle Lady, and of course, her turtles. The Turtle Lady, whom I now know as Ila Loetscher, was an amazing woman who dedicated the latter part of her life to saving endangered sea turtles, particularly the Kemp’s Ridley. I remember attending a show in her backyard, where some of the turtles that lived there performed for us, and we got to meet and touch the giant creatures. It was, to put it simply, awesome.

The Kemp’s Ridley is one of the endangered species that makes its home in the Gulf of Mexico for its entire life. One of my first reactions to the BP oil catastrophe was about these turtles- the Gulf is the only place they live, and the oil will certainly reach their nesting grounds. I decided to look up the Turtle Lady’s charity- Sea Turtles, Inc, and see if there was anything I could do in even some small way. Both Sea Turtles, Inc., and another great site, allow you to “adopt” sea turtles to help in their rehabilitation or research. And you get some pretty nifty stuff as well when you donate- pictures, magnets, a plush doll, and so on, depending on the org. One of the really interesting technologies that wasn’t around when I was a kid is access to an online map that shows where the turtles are, based on the tracking device on the turtles. For example, here’s Lafitte, the Kemp’s Ridley I “adopted” from I hope other people find that technology interesting. I really hope that people pay attention to the environmental effects- so much of what I’ve seen on the news either downplays or doesn’t address the issue at all. These ecologies are fragile. I hope to attend one of the turtle hatchings at South Padre next year. I hope we still have these hatchings in the future.


SCO Loses Another Case Regarding Unix Copyrights

Appropriately enough as my students are reading the Open Source Module (previously the Unix & Linux module), Novell has won the jury trial, and did not transfer the copyrights in Unix to SCO. Groklaw continues to be a valuable resource in its coverage of this case and other issues.

This decision hopefully removes what little cloud hung over Linux. The cloud was small because of the lack of evidence of infringement, Caldera’s (then-SCO) licensing Linux under the GPL, and the likelihood that the allegedly copyrighted material could be coded around. It’s still a good thing that Novell won, because SCO could would have caused problems with increased litigation and threats of litigation in any alternative scenario.

Even with the loss, SCO, of course, plans to continue its litigation campaign as it can. I am afraid to predict the death of the organization, because I thought that these issues should have been settled years ago, but somehow it just keeps on going and going and going…

And that wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. Here’s an interesting one from the Austin Chronicle, though:
The End of UT Football
“Governor, Lege order budget cuts; ‘Students must come first,’ says Powers”

which is all the more wonderful/terrible because all of the numbers in the various articles are pretty much accurate.


Google and Privacy

Seth Finkelstein of Infothought has been writing articles for the Guardian. His latest discusses a few things to consider about Google and Privacy.

The task is then to prise out any abuses from behind the wall of corporate secrecy. Otherwise, we could end up with an unholy alliance between corporations and governments, where corporations act as privatised spies for governments, while government data retention mandates are used to give corporations an excuse to keep the sort of detailed records they’d want to in any case for market research and sale.

Google has done some very amazing and innovative things. One of the consequences of their success and their practices is that while they attempt to do no evil- and I honestly believe that many, if not most people at Google earnestly do want to practice that philosophy in more than a superficial marketing sense- they can be involved in questionable activities.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Free as in digital speech.

I wrote recently about AT&T’s commitment to filtering technologies. Via it’s helpdesk, Time Warner has apparently announced that it’s now using packet shaping technologies. So much for the Net Neutrality debate.

“Packet shaping” technology has been implemented for newsgroup applications, regardless of the provider, and all peer-to-peer networks and certain other high bandwidth applications not necessarily limited to audio, video, and voice over IP telephony. Road Runner reserves the right to implement network management tools for other applications in the future.

There are certainly issues with free speech here. No, it’s not the government blocking speech, but I don’t find that less worrying in the least. Quite the contrary.

1) Commercial entities blocking or degrading speech is incredibly problematic, particularly with the lack of real competition (if you’re a free market person). The choice of a single cable company or a single phone company isn’t really that much of a choice. I’m sure anyone can think of ways in which the implementation of these technologies could potentially to do harm. Here are a couple: degrading the ability to transmit a message- where already restrictive digital technologies backed by law (like banning the use of anti-circumvention tools that block legitimate uses via the DMCA) and corporate policy (like search engines blocking content in China, or filtering technologies blocking content in libraries) have had some serious impacts on fair uses, copyright exemptions, and basic access to information. Another is the potential for anti-competitive behavior, when ISPs have the ability to degrade the performance of rivals. These concerns are more obvious with the movement of ISPs into the content arena, where they now feel they have a right to police content (like AT&T from the earlier message). Furthermore, it’s easy to predict that in order to get content from other members of the entertainment industry they might be required to implement some of these technologies.

2) How long is it going to be before there’s legislation attempting to use packet shaping technologies? These technologies presumably base their packet shaping routers on information taken from the packets themselves (beyond just monitoring bandwidth). When is someone going to propose to filter for content or technologies that some members of the government don’t like (pornography, P2P, encrypted traffic, name it)? Think about members of Congress that want universities to act on the perceived P2P problem- and the universities have have already started blocking P2P traffic.

I wonder- does the use of packet examining technologies remove the DMCA safe harbor protections for Online Service Providers?

Traffic shaping technologies have been around previous to this, and aren’t always a bad thing- there are certainly arguments for applying traffic shaping to worms and systematic denial of service attacks- but the potential for abuse definitely needs to be considered as they’re growing in popularity, implementation, and possibly effect. I’m going to be trying to figure out if these are new or different uses of the technologies.

Update: An update based on a question I received. There are many kinds of software applications that might affect the traffic that gets to your computer. Here are a couple.

1) Content Filtering technologies. People can use this term to mean different things. There’s Net Nanny or other forms of censorware (yes, my use of that term indicates where I stand on most implementations of that software). In that situation, filtering is based on content but usually implemented at a local level (think business or school). When I’m referring to filtering software in this case, I’m usually referring to that.

Some people also describe a firewall, anti-spyware, or anti-virus software that blocks unwanted traffic as filters, and there’s also use of the term to describe moving data streams from one application to another.

2) Traffic shaping /packet shaping technologies, which can throttle traffic (potentially affecting performance) or block traffic entirely. These technologies could be monitoring bandwidth, protocols on the network (http, ftp, udp,etc.), or could be examining packets themselves. These are often implemented at the edges of a network, such as where traffic enters or leaves a local network. One of the concerns I have is the harm in the use of these technologies to filter or degrade based on content.

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Yahoo shareholders reject human rights oversight in China

Apparently following Google shareholder’s lead, Yahoo shareholders have rejected a policy that opposes censorship in China, as well as proposals to set up a human rights committee. The search companies argues that “it is better to offer Chinese users some information than none at all.” I don’t actually believe that’s true (depending on what rights you’re championing, and certainly not from the freedom from censorship/intellectual freedom perspective). It might be better to offer Chinese users factual, complete information- but offering only bits of information or misinformation might be worse than offering no information at all.

Update: Via Slashdot, Yahoo’s SEC filing with their rationale for rejecting those proposals (sections 6 and 7).

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Stanford to charge students after DMCA take-down

Interesting. Stanford is instituting a reconnection fee for students who have had their network connections disconnected as a result of receiving a DMCA notice. If after 48 hours a student has not responded to a notice, Stanford will disconnect the student from the network.

A few things to note.

-The letter ends with a similar fallacy to NYU’s: “File-sharing copyrighted content without permission is against the law…” I’d request they be more precise. File-sharing copyrighted content without permission might be illegal depending on the circumstances. The file-sharing they are attempting to address very likely is against the law. But they’re more accurate with a following line: “Downloading content illegally through the Stanford network is not an acceptable option.” That is, saying “All file-sharing of copyrighted content without permission is illegal” is quite possibly incorrect, and “Using the network for illegal purposes is unacceptable” is much more palatable. Don’t assume that students don’t know or care about the distinction.

-A DMCA complaint does not necessarily mean that the law has been broken. Their message and policy does not address that in any way. Yes, dealing with the DMCA is a hassle. Yes, in many cases on a university campus, the DMCA complaint is legitimate. But that’s not always the case. The policy does not address exceptions, for first or subsequent complaints (which have harsher penalties). The receiver of the complaint is guilty if they don’t respond within 48 hours. Unless they’re not. But they’ll still have to pay for the hassle that the copyright holder causes the university. I’d also request they take that into account.

Stanford doesn’t have all of the protections that public universities have, and their copyright policies tend to reflect that.

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Perfect 10 v. Google updates

Reuters has reported that the 9th Circuit has ruled that Google is allowed to make thumbnails of Perfect 10’s images. The lower court’s ruling was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

“We conclude that the significantly transformative nature of Google’s search engine, particularly in light of its public benefit, outweighs Google’s superseding and commercial uses of the thumbnails in this case,” the judge wrote.

The courts have overturned the injunction placed on Google. The text of the decision covers many interesting areas. Although the court considered fair use an affirmative defense,

…a party seeking a preliminary injunction in the copyright context bears the burden of showing its likely success in overcoming a fair use defense is consistent with decisions of the Federal Circuit purporting to apply Ninth Circuit law. See Atari Games Corp. v. Nintendo of Am. Inc., 975 F.2d 832, 837 (Fed. Cir. 1992)

The courts also stated that linking does not infringe on the copyright holder’s right to display, although they note that

Google may facilitate the user’s access to infringing images. However, such assistance raises only contributory liability issues, see Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. v. Grokster, Ltd., 545 U.S. 913, 929-30 (2005), Napster, 239 F.3d at 1019, and does not constitute direct infringement of the copyright owner’s display right.

The same held true for Google’s cache- Google only copied the text with links, not Perfect 10’s images, and so was not infringing on the display or distribution rights. The court also looks at users’ cache copies:

The copying function performed automatically by a user’s computer to assist in accessing the Internet is a transformative use. Moreover, as noted by the district court, a cache copies no more than is necessary to assist the user in Internet use. It is designed to enhance an individual’s computer use, not to supersede the copyright holders’ exploitation of their works.

Not everything in the decision will please Google- although the court determined that Google was not vicariously liable for infringement, the remanded potion of the case seems to be based on whether or not Google has contributory liability, and has specified guides to determine whether or not they are liable.

… Google could be held contributorily liable if it had knowledge that infringing Perfect 10 images were available using its search engine, could take simple measures to prevent further damage to Perfect 10’s copyrighted works, and failed to take such steps.

The courts will also need to consider whether Google’s liability is limited under Title II of the DMCA.

Update: Alfred Yen shares some thoughts on the case at

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EFF’s a bit off about one thing. ^_-

EFF is sharing information about free virtual classes through the State of Play Academy, which do sound interesting.

The virtual classes will teach you the sort of fascinating stuff your real college never gets around to offering, like “Claims of Copyright Misuse based on First Amendment Interests,” “The Viacom-Youtube Lawsuit,” and “Election 2008 and the Remix Culture.” EFF staff attorney Kevin Bankston is signed up to teach a class called “Every Move You Make: Location Tracking and the Law.”

But of course, you can learn those types of things from your “real college.” Our doctoral students, for example, teach about those subjects in our undergraduate classes, including Information in Cyberspace (disclaimer: I’ve written and worked a lot on that class), Social Issues in a Networked Society, Security and Safety in Cyberspace, Collaborative Technologies, and We Like to Watch: Surveillance and Society. ^_^


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