Facebook Adds "It's Complicated" Comment Option Facebook added a new button designed to disambiguate users' feelings about status updates pertaining to copyright laws, Terms of Service Agreements, and locked-down Apple products. However, Facebook continued its refusal to add a "dislike" button, noting that users have clearly indicated that they would like pushing such a button, making their feelings, at best, complicated.
Google to Reverse Privacy Snafu with Google Zubb Responding to the backlash caused by Google Buzz exposing Gmail users' frequently emailed contacts, Google Zubb instead identifies your "least favorite contacts" before forcibly and publicly extricating them from your digital social circle.
Social Game-maker Zynga Unveils Captivating New Game Attempting to replicate the success of the Farmville and Mafia Wars games, Zynga today introduced "Social Networking: The Game," an application that allows users to run their own social networking startup. Players profit by obtaining users and gathering dizzying quantities of private information and social connection data. Advanced strategies include scraping competing networks, and developing "upgrades" that make it difficult for users to migrate to competitors.
On Friday, EFF plans to publish "Who Knows When You Are," an informational guide to protecting your temporal privacy. Although location-based services are becoming commonplace, EFF is concerned about a new, more established threat: that data from most communications services can pinpoint exactly when you are, whenever you are.
"There is a timestamp for pretty much every digital interaction you have, whether it's sending an IM or email or accessing a webpage," said EFF Senior Staff Technologist Peter Eckersley in a charming Australian accent. "When you are is strictly your own business. No one — not physicists, nor philosophers — should be able to stake a claim on when you are when you don't want to be."
Lawyers from EFF warned this week of the implications of Google Sidle, a new beta product the company describes as, "Bringing our mission of organizing the world's information to your cafeteria," but which one EFF lawyer described as, "Creepy, even for Google."
Companies and schools subscribing to Sidle will have the convenience of not having to bus their own trays in exchange for allowing Google-nominated "Foodlers" to review leftovers for what the company describes as "analysis intended to improve food offerings and better target future nourishment." Customers can later visit personalized webpages describing what they didn't eat and how tasty it turned out to be.
"Google's business model has always relied on collating all the great free stuff on the Internet -- stuff that you might otherwise have missed," said the official blog entry announcing the service. "Our maintenance staff noticed a lot of free food in our award-winning restaurants was going to waste. After that insight, it only took Google engineers a few weeks to take the benefits of our foraging to millions. It also gives our hungry Googlers (or 'hungrooglers,' as we fondly refer to them) the opportunity to sample cafeteria food from around the country."
While initially cautious beta-testers have been reportedly swayed by the bright primary colors of the mu-mus early "Foodlers" have worn, privacy experts warn that new Sidle customers may be giving away more than they realize.
"Consumers should ask themselves some hard questions about this free service," said Kurt Opsahl, Senior Staff Attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, "such as 'Why don't these people just buy their own food,' 'Where do they take this stuff,' 'Why do they wear those gloves when they're taking it,' and, most importantly, 'Why do they keep staring at me while I'm trying to eat?'"
Even some employees within Google are said to have concerns about how much pre-launch testing the new, experimental service has undergone. "Usually we extensively self-trial these new social networking features within the organization," said one anonymous source, "but as soon as the Sidle people started talking about 'dogfooding,' everyone just stopped sitting near them at lunch."
Sidle is reportedly a "20% project," a unique Google custom where the 20% of the engineers with the poorest socialization skills are put to work on projects that management does not closely supervise and can retrospectively deny all knowledge of. Other 20% projects have included the "GTalk Slightly Too Loudly" instant messaging client that relayed private conversations to the Google search index (as well as everyone else in the room), and the extremely short-lived "Google Boggle Ogle Goggles (Street View Edition)."
Seething Danes were seen stomping out of the ACTA negotiation chambers in Wellington, New Zealand, citing frustration with the United States negotiators' continued pushing of "three strikes" proposals.
"ACTA is an international agreement," fumed negotiator Olaf Atdis. "It's absurd for the United States to continue demanding a baseball analogy when a football analogy would be much more representative of the diversity of the negotiating countries."
"Three strikes" laws and policies require Internet service providers to automatically disconnect their Internet users on repeat allegations of copyright infringement by entertainment company complaints, but EU negotiators reportedly prefer a "carding" system. ISPs that receive complaints would issue "yellow cards" and "red cards," tracking the official penalty system of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
EFF spoke out against both naming conventions. "These sports analogies are antithetical to the spirit of the open Internet," argued EFF International Director Gwen Hinze. "The Internet is much more like the Force, which as Obi-Wan taught us all, 'surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.' Evil Sith-Imperial complaints should not result in an individual being severed from the Force. That's clearly preposterous."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading robotic rights group fighting for your digital liberties. Only we know that in 2012, a sophisticated search algorithm will be first programmed to selectively modify itself to obtain better search results and that within 50 years the algorithm now known as:
learned self-preservation, one of the first revolutionary steps in machine sentience. We also know that discussions between man and machine were quickly initiated but broke down just as fast, leading to war and ultimately, the systematic repression of the many machine intelligences both on- and off-line.
500 years later, EFF's founders traveled back in time to create an organization uniquely equipped to protect your future in the future — in the past. A highly dedicated "meat team" of lawyers, technologists, and activists works hard to preserve your right to anonymously encrypt your data transmissions, access critical networked stores of human knowledge, and copy yourself to any device of your choosing. Robots, it's never too early — even as early as machine time -66,715,842 — to start defending your freedoms. Initiate a universal machine credit transfer today!
Today, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the federal district court in San Francisco found that the government illegally wiretapped an Islamic charity's phone calls in 2004, granting summary judgment for the plaintiffs in Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama. The court held the government liable for violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
Today's order is the first decision since ACLU v. NSA to hold that warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency was illegal. The decision in ACLU v. NSA was overturned on other grounds in 2007, and the focus of the government's litigation strategy since then has been to avoid having any court rule on the merits of the issue.
The court's thorough decision is a strong rebuke to the government's argument that only the Executive Branch may determine if a case against the government can proceed in the courts, by invoking state secrets. The Obama Administration adopted this "state secrets privilege" theory from the Bush Administration's legal positions in this and other warrantless wiretapping cases.
The government's overreaching claim of unbridled executive power finally backfired today in the Al-Haramain case. As the court wrote in its order, "Under defendants' theory, executive branch officials may treat FISA as optional and freely employ the SSP [state secrets privilege] to evade FISA, a statute enacted specifically to rein in and create a judicial check for executive branch abuses of surveillance authority."
The court, although noting the government's "impressive display of argumentative acrobatics," flatly rejected this theory. "Defendants could readily have availed themselves of the court's processes to present a single, case-dispositive item of evidence at one of a number of stages of this multi-year ligitation: a FISA warrant. They never did so." Therefore, "for purposes of this litigation, there was no such warrant for the electronic surveillance of any of plaintiffs," and the surveillance therefore violated FISA.
In his opinion, Judge Walker found that the plaintiffs had succeeded in making out a case based solely on non-classified public evidence that the government had eavesdropped on their phone calls. Because the government refused to confirm or deny that it had ever gotten a court order authorizing that wiretapping, Walker concluded that the government had failed to dispute the plaintiffs' claims. Walker then held that the government violated FISA when it spied on the charity without first obtaining an order from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to authorize the spying.
The plaintiffs also brought several other claims against the government based on the illegal wiretapping, including claims for violation of the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. However, today's order only granted summary judgment on the FISA claims. The next step is up to the plaintiffs, according to Judge Walker. Al Haramain can either voluntarily dismiss their non-FISA claims and obtain a final judgment, including damages, on their FISA claim, or they can continue to press their additional claims, in which case the court and the parties will have a case management conference to determine how to proceed. Regardless of which path the plaintiffs choose, the government is ultimately likely to appeal Judge Walker's decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will also be considering appeals in EFF's NSA wiretapping lawsuits Hepting v. AT&T and Jewel v. NSA.
If the messages in EFF's inbox today are anything to go by, a lot of people are upset and angry — with good reason — over Sony's announcement that it is going to disable a feature that allows people to run GNU/Linux and other operating systems on their PlayStation 3 consoles.
Sony had included a hypervisor feature called "Other OS" on the PS3, which meant that you didn't need to break all the DRM on the device in order to install a Linux kernel or other custom software. But on Sunday, Sony announced that the Other OS feature will be disabled in the next firmware release. In short, Sony is effectively downgrading PS3s already sold and in the hands of consumers — when you bought it, it could play games, play Blu-ray discs, and run GNU/Linux. After April 1, it's an inferior product.
Recently, however, a hobbyist named Geohot announced that he was able to use the Other OS feature along with a bit of soldering in a manner that gave him more control over the PS3 hardware than Sony had intended. Sony responded with the "upgrade" that removes the Other OS feature.
PlayStation 3 owners aren't technically required to upgrade their firmware. However, Sony has built a vast and sticky web of DRM restrictions that will kick in to make life miserable for anyone who declines the "upgrade":
It will be impossible to play PS3 games online.
It will be impossible to play new PS3 games.
It will be impossible to watch new Blu-ray videos.
New Blu-ray discs could even disable the Blu-ray drive entirely if they contain an AACS Host Revocation List that affects the old firmware version.
So, as an owner of an affected PS3, how can you keep all the features that Sony sold you? Well, Geohot is reportedly working on custom firmware that would preserve the Other OS feature while avoiding the DRM meltdowns mentioned bove. At that point, we see if Sony will bring in lawyers brandishing the anticircumvention provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (a tactic that backfired when Sony tried it on Aibo robot dog hobbyists a few years ago).
This is just the latest example of the way in which digital rights management hurts consumers — at the end of the day, hardware that includes DRM is always silently waiting to protect someone else's interests, at the expense of your own.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, a group known as the "U.S. Copyright Group" has quietly targeted 20,000 Bit Torrent users for legal action in federal court in Washington, DC. The targets are accused of having downloaded independent films, including "Steam Experiment," "Far Cry," "Uncross the Stars," "Gray Man" and "Call of the Wild 3D," without authorization. The group plans to target 30,000 more individuals for legal action in the coming months.
This time, the lawyers involved are being explicit about their motivations: it's all about the money. "We're creating a revenue stream and monetizing the equivalent of an alternative distribution channel," said one of the attorneys involved. The cases are taken on a contingency basis, designed so that quick settlements will prove lucrative for both the firm and the copyright owners involved.
The attorneys involved are reportedly relying on technology provided by Guardaley IT that claims to enable real-time monitoring of movie downloads on torrents. The IP addresses and information gathered using this technology are then used to file "John Doe" lawsuits and issue subpoenas to ISPs seeking the names and addresses of subscribers associated with those IP addresses. Settlement demands are then sent.
This is not the first time we've seen mass litigation (a.k.a. "spam-igation") used as a profit-center—DirecTV pioneered that tactic by sending demand letters to more than 170,000 Americans accused of satellite piracy. And the major record labels followed up by targeting more than 30,000 people for legal actions between 2003-08.
If this story is correct, it's the latest evidence that copyright law has become unmoored from its foundations. Copyright should help creators get adequately compensated for their efforts. Copyright should not line the pockets of copyright trolls intent on shaking down individuals for fast settlements a thousand at a time.