Category: Technology

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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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Intellectual Privacy

Late last week, I finally sent my latest article out to the law reviews. It’s called “Intellectual Privacy,” and it’s about the ways that certain kinds of privacy protections advance, rather than inhibit, First Amendment values. I’m really excited about the project, which I believe has something useful to say about both a number of recent legal issues (involving the War on Terror and also the War on Pornography) as well as our understandings of First Amendment theory. I’m hoping to post it on SSRN shortly, but in the meantime, here’s the abstract:

The use of information about intellectual activity has become central to a wide variety of modern legal problems. In this paper, I offer a theory of intellectual privacy, the critically-important interest lurking beneath the surface of these disputes. Intellectual privacy refers to the zone of protection necessary for free thought and cognition in which individuals can make up their minds about a wide variety of issues both important and trivial. Unlike many other notions of privacy, which are in tension with free speech, intellectual privacy safeguards critical First Amendment values. First, I show how intellectual privacy has been underappreciated in a number of contemporary disputes, including warrantless wiretapping and data mining by government, private-sector uses of personal information relating to intellectual activity, and the introduction of reading habits as evidence in criminal trials. Second, I present a theory of intellectual privacy having four elements – the freedom of thought and belief, spatial privacy, the right of intellectual exploration, and the confidentiality of communications. Third, I show how and why intellectual privacy should be an essential part of our First Amendment theory, and suggest some ways in which it could be better incorporated into both constitutional doctrine and the fabric of our legal culture more generally.

Paradoxes of the Pirate Party

pirate.jpgLast month Stanford hosted Rick Falkvinge, the head of the Swedish Pirate Party, which advocates fundamental changes to patent and copyright laws. Falkvinge’s “personal candidacy came in at rank #15 out of over 5,000 candidates for the 349 parliamentary seats,” but “he didn’t win a seat due to threshold rules.” I listened to his talk on iTunes University, and was surprised by the comprehensiveness of his case against excess copyright and for more open competition.

Falkvinge explained the unfortunate historical origins of copyright-type restrictions, as a tool first for censorship and later for the preservation of monopolistic practices of the stationers’ guild in England. He argued that many current copyright laws resulted from the undue influence of “crumbling monopolies” trying to protect their business models against new forms of competition. But he made an interesting concession: he admitted that certain works that cost a huge sum wouldn’t be produced if their makers had no hope of financial return, so he favored some copyright protection for commercial uses of those works. However, Falkvinge said the threat to privacy posed by modern copyright enforcement techniques was too great to allow any legal monitoring of personal use of works.

Two thoughts after the break…

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The World as the Text of the Thoughts of a Programmer

robot4.jpgAdam Kolber has posted on a New York Times article by John Tierney that “discusses the possibility that our world was created as a hobby or as an experiment by members of some more technologically advanced civilization.” The piece is based on “a discussion with the-always-insightful Nick Bostrom, Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University:”

Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or “posthumans,” could run “ancestor simulations” of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.

Tierney estimates “that the odds are better than 20 percent, maybe better than even” that we are living in a simulation, but consoles us that “just because your neural circuits are made of silicon (or whatever posthumans would use in their computers) instead of carbon doesn’t mean your feelings are any less real.”

Query: What exact meaning of “real” is being invoked here–authentic? genuine? important? I think the “real” agenda of people like Bostrom is to get us to understand ourselves as a pattern of thoughts and reactions to the world–a kind of behaviorism that I critique in this post.

The speculation about a “prime designer” reminds me of the intelligent design movement’s effort to fuse science and religion. Tierney’s piece reveals to me a lot more about the human need for the sacred than it gives me a sense of whether we’re all just butterflies dreaming that we’re persons. (The estimated 20% chance is a nice example of quantificationism–wouldn’t our estimate of the chance of being a simulation itself be a a part of the simulation, and thus impossible to verify?).

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And now, a word about our sponsor

You may have noticed that our sidebar has changed somewhat. In particular, we’ve added a few ads from our new sponsor, Aspen Publishers.

I’ve always had a favorable impression of Aspen. I actually use Aspen casebooks in three different classes that I teach: Dukeminier for Wills and Trusts; Gordon Smith for BA; Cox for Securities. It was really only coincidence that I ended up with all Aspen casebooks, since I reviewed lots of other books; but I’ve been quite pleased with them so far.

Until recently, though, I was completely unfamiliar with Aspen’s Study Desk products. I’m just poking around the site now, checking out a free trial download. The software is intended as a law student organizational tool, and has a lot of features for tasks like organizing class material. I don’t know enough about it at present to say much on the substantive level. However, I tend to like to use helpful technology where possible — I find that the right technology can help students learn concepts, to communicate with class, and so on, and I use tools like TWEN and Powerpoint to try to teach more effectively. And going forward, I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for ways that my students might be able to potentially use Aspen Study Desk as well.

Another of our sidebar links leads to a collection of websites that provide updated material for some Aspen casebooks. Weirdly, there are no links to updates on the three Aspen books that I use — but there are links to updated material from a number of other Aspen casebooks (like Stone’s Con Law and Dukeminier’s property), in a nice central location.

And so, I’ve developed a new appreciation for Aspen as we join with them as a sponsor. Their website gives access to tools I hadn’t know existed, and I’ll be happy to examine these more as time goes on.