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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Rogue Archivist" Carl Malamud On How to Fix Gov2.0

At yesterday's Gov2.0 Summit conference, "rogue archivist" Carl Malamud gave a great speech about what's wrong with government IT and what should be done about it.

Continue reading "Rogue Archivist" Carl Malamud On How to Fix Gov2.0 . . .

posted by Adam Marcus @ 1:54 PM | e-Government & Transparency

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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Broadband Investment Leviathan

The August 5th issue of The Economist had a compelling cover story entitled "Leviathan, Inc." in which the author notes "[p]oliticians are reviving the notion that intervening in individual industries and companies can drive growth and create jobs." But direct, long-term government management of companies, corporations or, worst yet, entire industries has proven time and again not to be successful.

Simply put, the head of a company makes decisions to maximize the outcome for that company and its owners or shareholders. Any government employee—even one in a role as acting head of a private company—is legally required to make decisions under a far stricter set of guidelines. Guidelines which force the decisions to be made for what is best not for the business they are charged with operating, but for the country as a whole. This is the case even if the decision made by the bureaucrat will result in a 'net negative' to the company and its owners/shareholders.

The article's anonymous author suggests that instead of "pick[ing] winners and coddl[ing] losers," government should improve the environment for all business by reducing regulations, investing in infrastructure, and "encourage winners to emerge by themselves, for example through the sort of incentive prizes that are growing increasingly popular."

Continue reading The Broadband Investment Leviathan . . .

posted by Adam Marcus @ 2:03 PM | Broadband, Communications, Economics, Philosophy / Cyber-Libertarianism, The FCC

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Friday, August 20, 2010

MPAA Ratings Are Better Than the Alternative

Back in March, the Motion Picture Association of America re-launched its film-rating website, filmratings.com. While this may be old news to some, I just learned about it from a post on BoingBoing which makes fun of the rationales given for the ratings, which are available on the new website. Example: The movie "3 Ninjas Knuckle Up" was "rated PG-13 for non-stop ninja action."

Continue reading MPAA Ratings Are Better Than the Alternative . . .

posted by Adam Marcus @ 10:04 AM | Mass Media

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Jailbreaking" Won't Land You In Jail

jailbroken phone graphicThe Digital Millenium Copyright Act makes it a crime to circumvent digital rights management technologies but allows the Librarian of Congress to exempt certain classes of works from this prohibition.

The Copyright Office just released a new rulemaking on this issue in which it allows people to "unlock" their cell phones so they can be used on other networks and "jailbreak" closed mobile phone operating systems like the iOS operating system on Apple's iPhones so that they will run unapproved third-party software.

This is arguably good news for consumers: Those willing to void their warranties so they can teach their phone some new tricks no longer have to fear having their phone confiscated, being sued, or being imprisoned. (The civil and criminal penalties are described in 17 USC 1203 and 17 USC 1204.) Although the new exemption does not protect those who distribute unlocking and/or jailbreaking software (which would be classified under 17 USC 1201(b), and thus outside the exemption of 17 USC 1201(a)), the cases discussed below could mean that jailbreaking phones simply falls outside of the scope of all of the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions.

Apple opposed this idea when it was initially proposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, arguing that legalizing jailbreaking constituted a forced restructuring of its business model that would result in "significant functional problems" for consumers that could include "security holes and malware, as well as possible physical damage." But who beyond a small number of geeks brave enough to give up their warranties and risk bricking their devices, is really going to attempt jailbreaking? One survey found that only 10% of iPhone users have jailbroken their phones, and the majority are in China, where the iPhone was not available legally until recently. Is it really likely that giving the tinkering minority the legal right to void their product warranties would cause any harm to the non-tinkering majority that will likely choose to instead remain within a manufacturer's "walled garden"? I don't think so. If, as a result of this ruling, large numbers of consumers jailbreak their phones and install pirated software, the Copyright Office can easily reconsider the exemption in its next Triennial Rulemaking.

Continue reading "Jailbreaking" Won't Land You In Jail . . .

posted by Adam Marcus @ 1:55 PM | IP, Software

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Privacy Solutions Part 8: The Best Anonymizer Available: Tor, the TorButton & TorBrowser

By Eric Beach and Adam Marcus

In the previous entry in the Privacy Solutions Series, we described how privacy-sensitive users can use proxy servers to anonymize their web browsing experience, noting that one anonymizer stood out above all others: Tor, a sophisticated anonymizer system developed by the Tor Project, a 501(c)(3) U.S. non-profit venture supported by industry, privacy advocates and foundations, whose mission is to "allow you to protect your Internet traffic from analysis." The Torbutton plug-in for Firefox makes it particularly easy to use Tor and has been downloaded over three million times. The TorBrowser Bundle is a pre-configured "portable" package of Tor and Firefox that can run off a USB flash drive and does not require anything to be installed on the computer on which it is used. Like most tools in the Privacy Solutions series, Tor has its downsides and isn't for everyone. But it does offer a powerful tool to privacy-sensitive users in achieving a degree of privacy that no regulation could provide.

Continue reading Privacy Solutions Part 8: The Best Anonymizer Available: Tor, the TorButton & TorBrowser . . .

posted by Adam Marcus @ 4:15 PM | Cyber-Security, Privacy Solutions

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Against Browser Ballot Mandates: EC Now Designing Software?

The European Commission is now designing software. And that software is Microsoft Windows...

Comments of Adam Marcus & Berin Szoka to the European Commission on the Matter of Microsoft's Browser Ballot Proposal, COMP/C-3/39.530 -- Microsoft (Tying)*

Submitted Nov. 9, 2009 [PDF of filing]

We applaud the Commission for not repeating its earlier approach to concerns about tie-ins to Microsoft Windows by ordering Microsoft to cripple the functionality of its operating system-- such as occurred with the Windows Media Player. While a "browser ballot" is certainly a less restrictive approach, we remain unconvinced that mandating such a ballot is necessary in this case, and concerned about the precedent that government intervention may set here for the future of the highly dynamic and innovative software sector. If, however, a ballot is to be required, we encourage the Commission to accept Microsoft's ballot as proposed.

A Browser Ballot Mandate Is Not Necessary

The European Community's Discussion Paper on exclusionary abuses recognizes that bundled discounts infringe Article 82 only when the discount is so large that "efficient competitors offering only some but not all of the components, cannot compete against the discounted bundle."[1] In this case, a number of alternative browser producers have successfully competed against Internet Explorer in the past--despite it being bundled with Microsoft's Windows operating system.

Continue reading Against Browser Ballot Mandates: EC Now Designing Software? . . .

posted by Adam Marcus @ 1:40 PM | Antitrust & Competition Policy, Media Regulation, Neutrality, Software

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Privacy Solutions Part 7: How Anonymizers Can Empower Privacy-Sensitive Users

By Eric Beach & Adam Marcus

Among Internet users, there are a variety of concerns about privacy, security and the ability to access content. Some of these concerns are quite serious, while others may be more debatable. Regardless, the goal of this ongoing series is to detail the tools available to users to implement their own subjective preferences. Anonymizers allow privacy-sensitive users to protect themselves from the following potential privacy intrusions:

  1. Advertisers Profiling Users. Many online advertising networks build profiles of likely interests associated with a unique cookie ID and/or IP address. Whether this assembling of a "digital dossier" causes any harm to the user is debatable, but users concerned about such profiles can use an anonymizer to make it difficult to build such profiles, particularly by changing their IP address regularly.
  2. Compilation and Disclosure of Search Histories. Some privacy advocates such as EFF and CDT have expressed legitimate concern at the trend of governments subpoenaing records of the Internet activity of citizens. By causing thousands of users' activity to be pooled together under a single IP address, anonymizers make it difficult for search engines and other websites--and, therefore, governments--to distinguish the web activities of individual users.
  3. Government Censorship. Some governments prevent their citizens from accessing certain websites by blocking requests to specific IP addresses. But an anonymizer located outside the censoring country can serve as an intermediary, enabling the end-user to circumvent censorship and access the restricted content.
  4. Reverse IP Hacking. Some Internet users may fear that the disclosure of their IP address to a website could increase their risk of being hacked. They can use an anonymizer as an intermediary between themselves and the website, thus preventing disclosure of their IP address to the website.
  5. Traffic Filtering. Some ISPs and access points allocate their Internet bandwidth depending on which websites users are accessing. For example, bandwidth for information from educational websites may be prioritized over Voice-over-IP bandwidth. Under certain circumstances, an anonymizer can obscure the final destination of the end-user's request, thereby preventing network operators or other intermediaries from shaping traffic in this manner. (Note, though, that to prevent deep packet inspection, an anonymizer must also encrypt data).

Continue reading Privacy Solutions Part 7: How Anonymizers Can Empower Privacy-Sensitive Users . . .

posted by Adam Marcus @ 11:34 AM | Privacy, Privacy Solutions

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Announcing PFF's Taxonomy of Online Security & Privacy Threats

PFF summer fellow Eric Beach and I have been working on what we hope is a comprehensive taxonomy of all the threats to online security and privacy. In our continuing Privacy Solutions Series, we have discussed and will continue to discuss specific threats in more detail and offer tools and methods you can use to protect yourself.

The taxonomy is located here.

The taxonomy of 21 different threats is organized as a table that indicates the "threat vector" and goal(s) of attackers using each threat. Following the table is a glossary defining each threat and providing links to more information.Threats can come from websites, intermediaries such as an ISP, or from users themselves (e.g. using an easy-to-guess password). The goals range from simply monitoring which (or what type of) websites you access to executing malicious code on your computer.

Please share any comments, criticisms, or suggestions as to other threats or self-help privacy/security management tools that should be added by posting a comment below.

posted by Adam Marcus @ 1:28 PM | Cyber-Security, Privacy Solutions

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Quid Pro Quo In Practice

My colleagues Berin Szoka and Adam Thierer have written many times about the quid pro quo by which advertising supports free online content and services: somebody must pay for all the supposedly "free" content on the Internet. There is no free lunch!

Here are two two recent examples I came across of the quid pro quo being made very apparent to users.

hulu_error.jpg

Hulu. Traditionally, broadcast media has been a "two-sided" market: Broadcasters give away content to attract audiences, and broadcasters "sell" that audience to advertisers. The same is true for Internet video. But watching Hulu over the weekend, I noticed something interesting: Adblock Plus blocked the occasional Hulu ad but every time it did so, I was treated to 30 seconds of a black screen (instead of the normal 15 second ad) showing a message from Hulu reminding me that "Hulu's advertising partners allow [them] to provide a free viewing experience" and suggesting that I "Confirm all ad-blocking software has been fully disabled."

Although I use AdBlock on many newspaper websites (because I just can't focus on the articles with flashing ads next to the text), I would much rather watch a 15-second ad than wait 30 seconds for my show to resume. I think most users would feel the same way. We get annoyed by TV ads because they take up so much of our time. If Wikipedia is to be believed, there's now an average of 9 minutes of advertisements per half-hour of television. That's double the amount of advertising that was shown in the 1960s.

But online services such as Hulu show an average of just 37 seconds of advertising per episode. Amazingly, some shows garner ad rates 2-3 times higher than on prime-time television. Why might ad rates for online shows be higher? Because:

Continue reading The Quid Pro Quo In Practice . . .

posted by Adam Marcus @ 2:52 PM | Advertising & Marketing, Cutting the Video Cord, Internet TV

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Privacy Solutions Series: Part 6 - Overview, Encryption & Anonymization

By Eric Beach, Adam Marcus & Berin Szoka

In the first entry of the Privacy Solution Series, Berin Szoka and Adam Thierer noted that the goal of the series is "to detail the many 'technologies of evasion' (i.e., empowerment or user 'self-help' tools) that allow web surfers to better protect their privacy online." Before outlining a few more such tools, we wanted to step back and provide a brief overview of the need for, goals of, and future scope of this series.

Smokey the Bear with signWe started this series because, to paraphrase Smokey the Bear, "Only you can protect your privacy online!" While the law can play a vital role in giving full effect to the Fourth Amendment's restraint on government surveillance, privacy is not something that cannot simply be created or enforced by regulation because, as Cato scholar Jim Harper explains, privacy is "the subjective condition that people experience when they have power to control information about themselves." Thus, when the appropriate technological tools and methods exist and users "exercise that power consistent with their interests and values, government regulation in the name of privacy is based only on politicians' and bureaucrats' guesses about what 'privacy' should look like." As Berin has put it:

Debates about online privacy often seem to assume relatively homogeneous privacy preferences among Internet users. But the reality is that users vary widely, with many people demonstrating that they just don't care who sees what they do, post or say online. Attitudes vary from application to application, of course, but that's precisely the point: While many reflexively talk about the 'importance of privacy' as if a monolith of users held a single opinion, no clear consensus exists for all users, all applications and all situations.

Moreover, privacy and security are both dynamic: The ongoing evolution of the Internet, shifting expectations about online interaction, and the constant revelations of new security vulnerabilities all make it impossible to simply freeze the Internet in place. Instead, users must be actively engaged in the ongoing process of protecting their privacy and security online according to their own preferences.

Our goal is to educate users about the tools that make this task easier. Together, user education and empowerment form a powerful alternative to regulation. That alternative is "less restrictive" because regulatory mandates come with unintended consequences and can never reflect the preferences of all users.

Continue reading Privacy Solutions Series: Part 6 - Overview, Encryption & Anonymization . . .

posted by Adam Marcus @ 3:28 PM | Privacy, Privacy Solutions, Regulation

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Privacy Solutions Series: Part 4 - Firefox Privacy Features

posted by Adam Marcus @ 12:31 PM | Privacy, Privacy Solutions

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Privacy Solutions Series: Part 3 - Internet Explorer Privacy Features

posted by Adam Marcus @ 9:50 AM | Internet, Ongoing Series, Online Safety & Parental Controls, Privacy, Privacy Solutions, Software

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Nuts & Bolts: A User's Guide to ISP Network Management

posted by Adam Marcus @ 10:19 AM | Broadband, Internet, Net Neutrality

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Nuts and Bolts: Network neutrality and edge caching

posted by Adam Marcus @ 2:00 AM | Net Neutrality

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Of Holiday Gift Guides and New Media Business Models

posted by Adam Marcus @ 10:48 AM | Capitalism, Generic Rant, Innovation, Mass Media

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Nuts and Bolts: Everything You Wanted To Know About Cookies But Were Afraid To Ask

posted by Adam Marcus @ 3:38 PM | E-commerce, Economics, Internet, Privacy

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Monday, September 15, 2008

The X-Box 360 Red Ring of Death: A David and Goliath Story

posted by Adam Marcus @ 1:27 PM | Antitrust & Competition Policy, Capitalism, Economics

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Still Cloudy on Cloud Computing: A Matrix to Guide the Coming Policy Debates

posted by Adam Marcus @ 5:50 PM | Internet

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  "Rogue Archivist" Carl Malamud On How to Fix Gov2.0
The Broadband Investment Leviathan
MPAA Ratings Are Better Than the Alternative
"Jailbreaking" Won't Land You In Jail
Privacy Solutions Part 8: The Best Anonymizer Available: Tor, the TorButton & TorBrowser
Against Browser Ballot Mandates: EC Now Designing Software?
Privacy Solutions Part 7: How Anonymizers Can Empower Privacy-Sensitive Users
Announcing PFF's Taxonomy of Online Security & Privacy Threats
The Quid Pro Quo In Practice
Privacy Solutions Series: Part 6 - Overview, Encryption & Anonymization
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