Category: Technology

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Cash Is No Longer King

money.jpgAmerican Council of the Blind v. Paulson is scheduled for argument before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on November 19. You probably heard about the case when the district court issued its ruling almost a year ago; it orders the Treasury Department to design and issue paper currency that permits the blind to readily distinguish between different denominations. Plaintiffs invoked the Rehabilitation Act, which aims to ensure that the disabled fully participate in today’s society. They successfully argued that such participation requires that the visually impaired be able to conveniently and confidentially exchange currency in ordinary daily purchases. The district court’s opinion was notable for its silence about the striking changes in the ways that Americans pay for goods and services, as well as its failure to address the staggering ancillary costs that accompany major currency change.

As my colleague Erik Lillquist and I have written about here, currency is just one component of payment systems in the United States, a system that has undergone massive transformation over the last several decades. Of course the American Council for the Blind is correct when it asserts that the blind need to be able to engage in everyday commerce. But this sort of participation rarely necessitates the use of currency, which is increasingly becoming a twentieth-century relic.

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Creative Ways Spammers Get Past CAPTCHA

Many blogs and websites are using CAPTCHA (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart) systems to help weed out spam comments. Spam comments are sent by bots, and CAPTCHA systems are designed to test whether the comment is from a human or a bot. An example looks like this:

CAPTCHA4.jpg

So how are spammers trying to get around it? They are using creative ways to trick humans into solving the CAPTCHA riddles:

In the new scam, an icon of an alluring woman suddenly appears on a Windows computer infected by a virus. After clicking on the icon, the user sees a photo of an attractive woman who vows to take off an article of clothing each time the jumble of figures next to her is entered.

But the woman never fully undresses, and after several passwords are entered the program restarts, possibly enticing unsuspecting users into trying again. . . .

Paul Ferguson, network architect at Trend Micro, speculated that spammers might be using the results to write a program to automatically bypass CAPTCHA systems.

“I have to hand it to them,” Ferguson said, laughing. “The social engineering aspect here is pretty clever.”

Eugenics Problems, Left and Right

Michael Gerson has an interesting editorial in the Washington Post on the Eugenics Temptation–of the left. He quotes the following statement of James Watson on embryo selection:

“If you could find the gene which determines sexuality and a woman decides she doesn’t want a homosexual child, well, let her.” In the same interview, [Watson] said, “We already accept that most couples don’t want a Down child. You would have to be crazy to say you wanted one, because that child has no future.”

Gerson then quotes Yuval Levin on a tension within liberalism that I’ve noted on this blog–between egalitarianism and libertarianism:

Science looks at human beings in their animal aspects. As animals, we are not always equal. It is precisely in the ways we are not simply animals that we are equal. So science, left to itself, poses a serious challenge to egalitarianism. The left . . . .finds itself increasingly disarmed against this challenge, as it grows increasingly uncomfortable with the necessarily transcendent basis of human equality. Part of the case for egalitarianism relies on the assertion of something beyond our animal nature crudely understood, and of a standard science alone will not provide. Defending equality requires tools the left used to possess but seems to have less and less of.

Gerson, whom David Frum “ranks among the most brilliant and most influential presidential speechwriters in decades,” has put his finger on what is probably the most dangerous tension in “left” ideology today. Positional arms races for designer babies dovetail with an ethos that says that choice in reproductive matters must be absolute. As I stated five years ago in an article, egalitarian principles should check this tide.

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Can Antitrust Accommodate Privacy Concerns?

The proposed Google/DoubleClick merger has provoked a complaint from EPIC and concern from many privacy advocates. EPIC claims that Google’s standard M.O. amounts to a “deceptive trade practice:”

Upon arriving at the Google homepage, a Google user is not informed of Google’s data collection practices until he or she clicks through four links. Most users will not reach this page. . . . Google collects user search terms in connection with his or her IP address without adequate notice to the user. Therefore, Google’s representations concerning its data retention practices were, and are, deceptive practices.

One key question raised by the proposed merger is whether privacy concerns like these can be folded into traditional antitrust analysis. Peter Swire argues that they can; he believes that “privacy harms reduce consumer welfare [and] lead to a reduction in the quality of a good or service.” I am broadly sympathetic with Swire’s aims, but I worry that contemporary antitrust doctrine is too etiolated to encompass his concerns.

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The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet

Cover-new.jpgI‘m very excited to announce that my new book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy, is now hot off the presses! Copies are now in stock and available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble’s website. Copies will hit bookstores in a few weeks.

From the book jacket:

Teeming with chatrooms, online discussion groups, and blogs, the Internet offers previously unimagined opportunities for personal expression and communication. But there’s a dark side to the story. A trail of information fragments about us is forever preserved on the Internet, instantly available in a Google search. A permanent chronicle of our private lives—often of dubious reliability and sometimes totally false—will follow us wherever we go, accessible to friends, strangers, dates, employers, neighbors, relatives, and anyone else who cares to look. This engrossing book, brimming with amazing examples of gossip, slander, and rumor on the Internet, explores the profound implications of the online collision between free speech and privacy.

Daniel Solove, an authority on information privacy law, offers a fascinating account of how the Internet is transforming gossip, the way we shame others, and our ability to protect our own reputations. Focusing on blogs, Internet communities, cybermobs, and other current trends, he shows that, ironically, the unconstrained flow of information on the Internet may impede opportunities for self-development and freedom. Long-standing notions of privacy need review, the author contends: unless we establish a balance between privacy and free speech, we may discover that the freedom of the Internet makes us less free.

For quite some time, I’ve been thinking about the issue of how to balance the privacy and free speech issues involved with blogging and social networking sites. In the book, I do my best to propose some solutions, but my primary goal is to spark debate and discussion. I’m aiming to reach as broad an audience as possible and to make the book lively yet educational. I hope I’ve achieved these goals.

I welcome any feedback. Please let me know what you think of the book, as I’d be very interested in your thoughts.

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The Right to Bear Ar–, Or Is It Access the Internet?

scissors2.JPG CNET reports that the government of Burma a.k.a. Myanmar has apparently cut-off Internet and cell phone access as a way to suppress information about the protests occurring there right now. The claim is that an undersea cable is damaged but given the convenience of such a coincidence that claim is being viewed with suspicion. As many know the information that has come through has been via cell phones, blogs, and text messages. Apparently some have even used FaceBook or e-cards to get messages out.

All of these events make we wonder whether the Bill of Rights would explicitly state that there is a right to free access and distribution of information over the Internet had the American Revolution occurred today. Now before everyone gets into a dither about the nature of the free press and what the First Amendment encompasses, I am suggesting that the situation described above shows the precarious nature of sharing information given the choke-points in place today. In other words, it seems that the benefits of technology also offer a much easier way to clamp down on society. Many have made this observation in the privacy context. Neil Richards’s post about the First Amendment gets to this point as well. We must consider what is at stake in today’s context. Put differently, could it be that the individual’s ability to access and use the Internet is now one of the key ways individuals serve to balance the power of the state?

Cross posted at Madisonian

Cell Phone Gag Rule

gag.jpgThere is big news on the net neutrality front today: Verizon Wireless has decided to block one group’s political speech from its text-message program:

Saying it had the right to block “controversial or unsavory” text messages, Verizon Wireless has rejected a request from Naral Pro-Choice America, the abortion rights group, to make Verizon’s mobile network available for a text-message program.

Note that this is not a pro-life policy, but one of blandless and depoliticization. As the Catholic Church realizes, it could well be the next to be censored or suffer degraded quality of service:

With no safeguards for net neutrality, religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, fear that Internet service providers will discriminate against them and charge them if they want to get the same level and speed of service they now receive for their online sites when someone types in their Web address.

This latest development should put net neutrality opponents on the defensive, at least in academic circles. Brett Frischmann and Barbara von Schewick have already called into question the economic foundations of the most sophisticated defense of a laissez-faire position on the matter. But Verizon Wireless’s new policy shows that the cultural consequences of untrammeled carrier control over content may be far worse than its potential to stifle the types of efficiency and innovation economists usually measure.

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Shifting Out of Neutral: Net Neutrality Defenders Fire Back

networkcable.jpgThe net neutrality debate continues. Groups such as The SavetheInternet Coalition have some resources on the issue. As an advocacy group, the Coalition offers some statements about the issue that may be, shall we say, skewed. Recent attention from our own Frank Pasquale and Boing Boing show that the issue is not resolved and better information on the topic is needed. Enter legal academics who have been addressing the issue in journals. One of the more vocal participants against net neutrality is Christopher Yoo. Although others may have fired back, Brett Frischmann and Barbara van Schewick’s paper, Network Neutrality and the Economics of an Information Superhighway: A Reply to Professor Yoo, on the topic merits a read. One great thing about the paper is that apparently Professor Yoo discussed it with the authors. Hopefully, these sorts of exchanges will inform the policy debates and help fashion a solution less pushed by lobbying spin and more driven by the heart of the issue.

Lessons From Japan

Japan’s technological prowess is so noted as to be the subject of jokes. We probably prefer laughing to the crying that may be induced by the statistics in this article :

Accelerating broadband speed in [Japan] — as well as in South Korea and much of Europe — is pushing open doors to Internet innovation that are likely to remain closed for years to come in much of the United States. The speed advantage allows the Japanese to watch broadcast-quality, full-screen television over the Internet, an experience that mocks the grainy, wallet-size images Americans endure.

Japan enjoys what Gerschenkron called the “benefits of backwardness;” it had to rewire completely after WWII. But it also has a much wiser dirigiste approach to assuring fast and universal access:

In sharp contrast to the Bush administration over the same time period, regulators here compelled big phone companies to open up wires to upstart Internet providers. In short order, broadband exploded. . . . [T]he story of how Japan outclassed the United States in the provision of better, cheaper Internet service suggests that forceful government regulation can pay substantial dividends. (emphasis added)

In Japan, you’ll pay about $37 a month for 100 mbps. In the U.S., on average, you’d pay about $40 for 5 mbps (yes, 5, twenty times less).*

Why the policy divergence? Here’s one part of the story:

The Center for Public Integrity compiled a list of the top 100 money-givers to Congress between 1998 and 2005, and telcos dominate the list: Verizon Communications: $81,870,000, SBC Communications: $58,035,037, AT&T Corp.: $53,349,499, Sprint Corp.: $47,276,585, BellSouth Corp.: $33,732,827, Qwest Communications: $24,523,480

Very impressive lobbying numbers. . . . not so impressive download speeds.

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