Archive for February 2010
After yesterday’s crazy guilty verdict for 3 Google execs in the Italian YouTube case, I decided to do a quick-and-dirty recap of the state of Internet censorship in the European countries with the highest rates of Internet access.
Last week German President Horst Kohler signed a law aimed at blocking access to child porn sites. That law was introduced by the previous coalition government. It was very unpopular and the new government doesn’t want to enforce it:
“The German government now finds itself in the embarrassing situation of having a law it no longer wants. Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said Wednesday that the government was unanimous that it would not apply the new law. ‘New regulations will quickly be introduced that correspond to the principle of deleting rather than blocking access,’ she said. The Interior Ministry also said in a statement that the government plans to introduce a new law reflecting the new approach. Until that law is passed, the government’s position is that offensive sites should be deleted, rather than access blocked, the statement said.”
The Internet Watch Foundation is the choke point that “combat[s] online child sexual abuse content in partnership with police, government and the online industry”. The only problem, according to Frank Fisher of The Guardian, is:
“The IWF, a notionally independent charity, in fact acts as a quasi-governmental clearing house for every nutjob with a bee in his bonnet about other people’s surfing habits. Without any legal authority or legislative backing, this secretive group prepares a list of prohibited IP addresses, which it forwards to ISPs, and to the British government. We’re not privy to any information regarding the British government’s own additions to the list – they could add anything. No one outside a tiny department in the Home Office would know.”
A law making its way through the French parliament would, if approved, allow the government to block access to “criminal” Websites. Again, this is all under the guise of fighting child porn. Unlike the UK system, the French Interior Ministry would maintain the list of banned sites.
Did I mention that this is an election year?
“The French government’s hard line should not surprise anyone. In a few weeks’ time, regional elections will take place in France. In the 2004 regional elections, Sarkozy’s UMP party did particularly badly. By showing himself to be a tough leader, Sarkozy hopes to avoid history repeating itself and shore up support for his policies … He is hoping that fear of criminals will convince voters to come to the polling booths. In that respect, there is no more suitable issue than child pornography on the Internet and the hunt for pedophile criminals whose only desire is to seduce innocents via their home computers. According to that argument, it is necessary to impose controls on the digital world and introduce state surveillance, so that a pro-active Big Brother can fight the cyber world’s sexual deviants who are, in all likelihood, lurking on Facebook or Twitter.”
The NY Times reports today that the case may not have been about “protecting human dignity,” as the prosecutor said:
“In Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi owns most private media [including television stations - ed.] and indirectly controls public media, there is a strong push to regulate the Internet more assertively than it is controlled elsewhere in Europe. Several measures are pending in Parliament here that seek to impose various controls on the Internet. Critics of Mr. Berlusconi say the measures go beyond routine copyright questions and are a way to stave off competition from the Web to public television stations and his own private channels — and to keep a tighter grip on public debate.”
The NY Times reports that regulators are looking at whether Google is stifling search competition in Europe. The case involves 3 search competitors: UK price-comparison site, Foundem; French legal search engine ejustice.fr, and Ciao! from Bing. They are claiming that Google doesn’t give them the search rankings they deserve.
“Given that these complaints will generate interest in the media, we wanted to provide some background to them. First, search. Foundem – a member of an organisation called ICOMP which is funded partly by Microsoft – argues that our algorithms demote their site in our results because they are a vertical search engine and so a direct competitor to Google. ejustice.fr’s complaint seems to echo these concerns … Regarding Ciao!, they were a long-time AdSense partner of Google’s, with whom we always had a good relationship. However, after Microsoft acquired Ciao! in 2008 (renaming it Ciao! from Bing) we started receiving complaints about our standard terms and conditions.”
Or maybe not. Italian judge Oscar Magi yesterday convicted 3 Google executives — David Drummond, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes — of violating Italian privacy laws in the case of a YouTube video uploaded by students tormenting a handicapped classmate. Google removed the offending video immediately once it was notified about it, but apparently that wasn’t enough for the Italian court.
“But we are deeply troubled by this conviction for another equally important reason. It attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built. Common sense dictates that only the person who films and uploads a video to a hosting platform could take the steps necessary to protect the privacy and obtain the consent of the people they are filming. European Union law was drafted specifically to give hosting providers a safe harbor from liability so long as they remove illegal content once they are notified of its existence. The belief, rightly in our opinion, was that a notice and take down regime of this kind would help creativity flourish and support free speech while protecting personal privacy. If that principle is swept aside and sites like Blogger, YouTube and indeed every social network and any community bulletin board, are held responsible for vetting every single piece of content that is uploaded to them — every piece of text, every photo, every file, every video — then the Web as we know it will cease to exist, and many of the economic, social, political and technological benefits it brings could disappear.”
If I could be another person for just one day, I’d want to be Mike Eruzione on February 22, 1980.
… But this appears, at first blush, to be a *huge* privacy no-no by Lower Merion School District.
In a civil suit filed in U.S. Eastern District Court, school administrators are accused of “indiscriminate use of and ability to remotely activate the webcams incorporated into each laptop issued to students by the School District.” At the heart of the case is a Harriton High student who was disciplined by the school for “improper behavior in his home.” The school produced an image from his webcam as evidence.
Read the last 2 sentences again. Doesn’t that sound real chilling? Doesn’t that sound like:
“The telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it, moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork. It was even conceivable that they watched everybody all the time. But at any rate they could plug in your wire whenever they wanted to. You had to live — did live, from habit that became instinct — in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard, and, except in darkness, every movement scrutinized.”
UPDATE, February 19: Here’s Lower Merion’s response:
“The District is dedicated to protecting and promoting student privacy. The laptops do contain a security feature intended to track lost, stolen and missing laptops. This feature has been deactivated effective today … The tracking-security feature was limited to taking a still image of the operator and the operator’s screen. This feature has only been used for the limited purpose of locating a lost, stolen or missing laptop. The District has not used the tracking feature or web cam for any other purpose or in any other manner whatsoever.”
UPDATE, February 20: Now the FBI’s investigating. LMSD spokesman Doug Young also said that the district activated webcams 42 times over the last 14 months, and that it “never violated its policy of only using the remote-activation software to find missing laptops. ‘Infer what you want,’ Young said.”
“Implementation of the deal is expected to begin in the coming days and will involve transitioning Yahoo!’s algorithmic and paid search platforms to Microsoft, with Yahoo! becoming the exclusive relationship sales force for both companies’ premium search advertisers globally.”
Which means a loss of search ecosystem for liberrian-types like me:
“Under terms of the agreement, which was announced in late July 2009, Microsoft will provide Yahoo! with the same search result listings available through Bing, and Yahoo! will innovate around those listings by integrating rich Yahoo! content, enhanced listings with conveniently organized information about key topics, and tools to tailor the experience for Yahoo! users.”
Habitat destruction is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
Link via Search Engine Land.
Back in November I blogged about how the Google book settlement would come to some sort of resolution in another 88 days. Turns out that’s not the case. At today’s fairness hearing, Judge Danny Chin said (according to the WSJ Digits blog):
“To end the suspense, I am not going to rule today. There is too much to digest.”
Judge Chin said he’d write a full opinion at a later date.
It’s hard for us mere mortals to get into the mind of Steve Jobs. Until now we’ve had to settle for unauthorized bios such as iCon or The Second Coming of Steve Jobs, or even The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs. Stuff he goes ballistic over.
But according to the NY Times, that’s gonna change. Steve has anointed Walter Isaacson to become his official biographer. Presumably Isaacson’s bios of Franklin, Einstein, Kissinger and post-WWII American statesmen have properly prepared him for the ultimate task of chronicling the Great Man himself.