Today’s Slaw post:
Much has been written about the NSA / Prism communications monitoring scandal over the last few days, including Simon’s recent post. Many things are unclear, and there are more questions than answers, but these things are clear to me.
Some people defend or trivialize it by saying that actual phone conversations and emails are not being monitored – just metadata. Metadata simply means data about data – it doesn’t mean that it is innocuous or public. The phone “just metadata” being tracked is equivalent to looking at one’s phone bill – numbers called, duration, etc. That definitely contains personal information which raises serious privacy issues. Reminds me of the “it’s just allergies” allergy medication ads.
Another comment that is supposed to make it better is that US citizens are not being targeted by the NSA. Who is targeted doesn’t change the fact that personal information on citizens is being collected and retained. And why is it somehow acceptable to spy on and violate the privacy of people in other countries?
Some ask why it is okay for Google to use knowledge it gains from searching your e-mails to sell advertising, but not okay for Google to pass it on to the government. There is a huge difference. Google serves up those ads without knowing or retaining the identity of the recipient. Privacy principles apply to contextual or behavioural advertising and contextual information (such as Google Now), and we can opt out of receiving it. Privacy obligations limit how long personal information is retained, who it can be disclosed to, and how it can be used. None of those concepts apply to NSA monitoring, and opting out is not an option. The devil is in the details when it comes to privacy, security and surveillance.
Edward Snowden, the person who leaked the information that started this, is apparently hiding in Hong Kong, and US authorities are eager to get him back to the US and charge him criminally. If he had done the same thing in certain countries in the Middle East or Asia, people in the US would be praise him as a hero and chastise the government for its retaliation against him. If those countries were doing the same surveillance as the NSA is, those in the US would demonize the state for its unacceptable assault on civil liberties and privacy.
I do not welcome the surveillance state.
Todays Slaw post
The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York recently unveiled a simple, clever logo using a responsive “W”. A Wired article says “… the spindly zigzag design has been both praised for its modernity and criticized for its simplicity.”
Responsive design websites automatically adapt their configuration to the screen size you see it on. In the responsive W logo, the Museum changes the shape of the W to fit their use. To appreciate the cleverness and utility of this, look at the above video, the slideshow on the Wired article, and the designer’s explanation of the design.
As brilliant and useful as it is, it is an example of cutting edge thinking challenging current legal doctrine. Trade-marks lose protection when they stray very far off the version that is registered. That’s why, for example, if there is a vertical and a horizontal version of a trade-mark, both versions are usually registered. To protect a responsive mark like this, one would obviously register the main form. But it would also cause some reflection as to how far that protection extends to an infinite number of responsive versions, and how best to try to protect those.
Today’s Slaw post:
Two basic privacy principles are that no more personal info should be collected than necessary, and it should not be kept any longer than necessary. That flies in the face of repeated attempts by governments and law enforcement to collect and retain data, or to require others to retain it.
One example is attempts to pass laws to require ISPs and telecommunications companies to retain data on customers for a fixed period of time just in case it might be helpful to police. Denmark has had such a data retention law in place for many years. The Danish Ministry of Justice has just concluded, however, that five years of extensive Internet surveillance have proven to be of almost no use to the police. (I’m relying on a news story - the actual report is in Danish.)
“Session logging has caused serious practical problems,” the ministry’s staffers write in the report. “The implementation of session logging proved to be unusable to the police; this became clear the first time they tried to use [the data] as part of a criminal investigation.”
So the downside of retaining personal info is the cost to the service provider to do it (which is ultimately paid by consumers), the increased risk of it being misused or leaked, and the general privacy invasiveness. And the upside is …?
Today’s Slaw post
This ars technica article points out that Microsoft scans Skype message contents for signs of fraud, which means that Microsoft can read them. While Skype messages may be encrypted to prevent third parties from reading them, that apparently does not apply to Microsoft.
Users will have to decide if they require true end to end encryption where the service provider can’t access data at all, or whether they can accept service provider access and rely on contractual promises on what the service provider will do with that. The answer may vary depending on the sensitivity of the information being stored or communicated by the service, or legal or contractual obligations one has regarding the information.
Today’s Slaw post:
3D printing has become a popular topic lately. While 3D printers that print objects similar to how ink jet printers print words have been around for many years, the cost has come down dramatically, and will continue to come down.
3-D printers are a disruptive technology, and as with any disruptive technology, the law will have to react to issues that come with it. Possible issues include intellectual property, product liability, and use for criminal purposes.
There has been a lot of negative press lately about using 3D printing to create plastic guns. To me that says more about the US gun culture than 3D printing. Like most technologies, 3D printers can be used for good and evil. And like most new technologies, it will take a while for the real uses to emerge.
Home 3D printers are now available, but we are a long way from having one in every house. They are becoming accessible though – the office supply chain Staples recently announced it will provide 3-D printing services at its stores in Belgium and the Netherlands. Here are some examples of what a basic 3D printer can do.
3D printers have been a boon to engineers and architects, who have used rapid prototyping techniques for many years. This article talks about how Ford uses 3D printing to create prototype metal parts such as transmission parts and brake rotors.
3D printing is being used to manufacture parts with complex shapes. This new more fuel efficient jet engine uses 3D printed metal nozzles that are lighter in weight due to an advanced design producible only on 3D printers.
3D printing also has intriguing medical possibilities. 3D printed body parts – using live tissue – is a real possibility. And it has been used to create relatively inexpensive replacement hands. This video about the Robohand is well worth the 10 minute investment.
Today’s Slaw post
What do readers think about wearable computing? Is it cool or creepy? Where is the technology headed? What legal or other issues might arise from it?
I’m thinking about this because I find the intersection of technology and law interesting, and I’ve been asked to speak about it this fall. Google Glass privacy concerns is a popular topic today, especially around the issue of the ability to record and save images and video, and what might happen with all that. In addition to Google Glass we are seeing the debut of the smartwatch. The Pebble was a very successful kickstarter project, and there are rumours about an upcoming Apple smartwatch. There are also fitness products such as the Fitbit and the Nike Fuelband.
Wearable computing has been around for a long time – perhaps dating back to an abacus worn around someone’s neck. One of the first consumer electronic wearable computers was the calculator watch that first appeared in the 1970′s.
Wearable computers are however becoming more than a standalone device. These devices are laden with sensors, connected to significant computing power, and connected to the internet. Which raises all sorts of possibilities for the collection, storage and sharing of many kinds of data. And not just from 1 person – but from everyone. Combine that with the internet of things, and we also have the ability to be in constant contact with and have remote control over our stuff – such as our cars, homes, and appliances.
And how long will it be before devices get implanted to correct things like vision problems which are connected? Or we have the medical equivalent of a “black box” that records and transmits our vital signs?
Todays’ Slaw post
I just heard Duncan Stewart speak about the Deloitte 2013 TMT predictions at an event held by the London Economic Development Corporation. A couple of things have been mentioned on Slaw before. Here are some more things to ponder.
As we start to rely on more data in the cloud, carrier promises for uptime guarantees will be as important as the volume of data on our plans.
The hype over voice and gesture control for PCs and TVs is overblown. A remote control has an error rate of about 2 per 10,000 uses. Voice and gesture error rates are currently about 1,000 times higher. So until that improves dramatically, people will tend to just give up and use a remote.
There is a looming wireless spectrum shortage. As we get more portable devices downloading and streaming more images and video, speeds will slow dramatically. In some places in the US it is a problem already, and actual speeds are nowhere near theoretical speeds. And when demand is greater than supply, price becomes an issue.
The post PC era notion is overblown. The total install base of PCs is far more than phones and tablets. Creation is easier on a PC. And its about the screen size, especially for gaming and video. 2/3 of net traffic is from PCs. There are also privacy and cultural reasons not to use sensitive stuff in public - like doing your banking on your phone with someone beside you – or looking up medical symptoms.
Phablets not doomed because of their size. Many people don’t use their phones for voice that much. Phablet sales will be bigger than many think.
What’s ahead for inclusion in their 2014 predictions? MOOCs.
Today’s Slaw post:
We are always naming things – businesses, brands, trade-marks, domain names, and children. But what makes a good or valuable name? Naming anything can be a personal or emotional thing – but it is part science.
Take a brand name or trade-mark, for example. The first choice of many for their business or product name is one that describes their business or product. But that does nothing to distinguish that business or product from the competition. Much better to have one that is unique and memorable, rather than descriptive.
Over the past decade it has become more important to adopt names that are internet and social media friendly. It is often important to make sure that the name is available as a domain name or twitter handle. Or at the very least that the obvious domain name or social media name that people would associate with it is not a competitor, or a site that you would not want people to associate or confuse you with.
A memorable or obvious domain name can of course be quite valuable on its own. For domain names the most valuable ones are generic – like beer.com. This infographic shows some factors that can increase or decrease the value of a domain name.
Social media has influenced baby names. Parents have actually saddled children with names like hashtag and tweet.
Are we doing children a favour if we give them names that are available as domain names or social media handles? Or at least names that are not common so they don’t get buried in search results with all the other John Smiths of the world? (Google searches can get interesting when, for example, your last name can mean a corner pilaster, a flag corner, one of many cities, a territorial subdivision or township, and is used as the name of companies making loudspeakers, auto racing parts, and wine barrels.) Or are things going to change so rapidly that by the time they can take advantage of that it won’t matter?
Perhaps the Shakespeare quote “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” only applies these days if you can first find the rose on the net or social media.
Todays Slaw post:
One thing I find consistent about privacy issues is an inconsistency in approach and viewpoint. What is and is not deemed acceptable seems to change dramatically based on several factors, including geographic location (which I suppose is really more of a cultural issue than a geographic one), whether it is about one’s own information or you are doing something with someone else’s information, and whether the party with the information is government or business.
Many times it comes down to issues of trust, understanding, surprise, and how public one wants their life to be.
An example is in this article entitled Eric Schmidt is using the same argument against drones that others use against Google Glass.
One of the most common concerns raised about Google Glass (other than looking like a nerd) is the potential for privacy invasion. The more of these there are around, the more likely each one of us is going to be captured on the video they can take whether we like it or not. And where is all this video going to end up? That issue has also been raised about drones. Google’s Eric Schmidt has apparently stated that drones should be strictly regulated for privacy reasons, which seems inconsistent with their approach to Google Glass.
Perhaps one explanation for this could be that privacy in the United States is viewed differently than in Canada and other parts of the world. In the US, privacy is not approached as a holistic discrete topic to be regulated by general principles. Instead, it is regulated on a piecemeal basis, such as a privacy law that applies only to movie rentals.
Today’s Slaw post
Readwrite mobile says that the very first cell phone call was placed 40 years ago today by Motorola Division Manager Martin Cooper. It was not until many years later – March 6, 1983, that it went on sale.
We now take our cellphones for granted – but what a difference a few decades make. The original Motorola DynaTAC sold for $3,995 ($9209 in today’s dollars) was 10 inches high (plus the antenna), and weighed 1 3/4 pounds. And of course it could only make phone calls. The smartphones we throw in our pockets today have more computing power than a multi-million dollar, room filling supercomputer did at that time.