Archive for June 2004

IP vs. the iPod

June 28th, 2004 — 11:49pm

From the good peo­ple of the EFF:
Sen­a­tor Orrin Hatch’s new Induc­ing Infringe­ment of Copy­right Act (S.2560, Induce Act) would make it a crime to aid, abet, or induce copy­right infringe­ment. He wants us all to think that the Induce Act is no big deal and that it only tar­gets “the bad guys” while leav­ing “the good guys” alone. He says that it doesn’t change the law; it just clar­i­fies it.
He’s wrong.
Right now, under the Supreme Court’s rul­ing in Sony Corp. v. Uni­ver­sal City Stu­dios, Inc. (the Beta­max VCR case), devices like the iPod and CD burn­ers are 100% legal — not because they aren’t some­times used for infringe­ment, but because they also have legit­i­mate uses. The Court in Sony called these “sub­stan­tial non-infringing uses.” This has been the rule in the tech­nol­ogy sec­tor for the last 20 years. Bil­lions of dol­lars and thou­sands of jobs have depended on it. Indus­tries have blos­somed under it. But the Induce Act would end that era of inno­va­tion. Don’t let this hap­pen on your watch — tell your Sen­a­tors to fight the Induce Act!

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Gmail and Keyword Targeted Ads: What Are Friends For?

June 22nd, 2004 — 3:02pm

Five min­utes after log­ging into my shiny new gmail account today and send­ing out a hello mes­sage toa few friends, I got a taste of new tech­nol­ogy prankster­ism: an old friend sent a reply to my hello loaded with key­words for everyone’s favorite fla­vors of spam. Nat­u­rally, my friend had read the Gmail intro that out­lines their key­word tar­geted ad pol­icy, stat­ing that one of the con­di­tions of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the beta was that Google would serve up ads related to the con­tent of my mes­sages within the new UI.
I don’t know how aggres­sively Google will match ads to con­tent, but I haven’t seen any­thing tied to Scran­ton, PA on my screen yet. As a riposte, my friend should soon see plenty of dis­count reme­dies for embar­rass­ing med­ical con­di­tions, debil­i­tat­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal ill­nesses, and other mat­ters of ques­tion­able taste.
Funny or not, I find it a bit spooky that my mail is being parsed in order to drive adver­tis­ing. Yes, un-encrypted email is basi­cally as pri­vate as a post-card — but it’s highly unlikely that the local post office is going to slip a brochure for travel agen­cies and pack­age vaca­tions into friends’ mail­boxes to accom­pany the post-cards I send them while I’m vis­it­ing Barcelona or Tener­ife.
And then there are the inevitable fol­lowup ques­tions: what kinds of pat­terns is Google build­ing on top of this? Are they using geo­match­ing to ID clus­ters of themes within zip codes? Maybe cre­at­ing a his­tory of my search­ing behav­ior and the num­ber of times I fol­low the links placed by the engine, to estab­lish a base­line for how sus­cep­ti­ble I am to adver­tis­ing? Or how often peo­ple in cer­tain net­works read and reply to mes­sages with cer­tain kinds of con­tent?
I don’t think para­noia is appro­pri­ate, but there is a double-edged sword in every tech­nol­ogy — espe­cially one like this that com­bines accu­mu­lat­ing per­sonal data with tremen­dous inter­pre­tive power.
And even if I did sign up for the free account know­ing that Gmail use implied accep­tance of this prac­tice, pri­vacy remains a fun­da­men­tal right. You can’t cre­ate valid and bind­ing con­tracts that require or per­mit ille­gal activ­ity.
Look out for travel guides to Scranton…

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On The (Phone) Line

June 3rd, 2004 — 4:54pm

Some star­tling num­bers about call cen­ter employ­ment, from the newslet­ter Knowledge@Wharton:
“an esti­mated 3% of the U.S. work­force [is] employed in call cen­ters“
That’s a greater share of the total than for all farm pay­rolls and agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion across the U.S.
“Call cen­ters… typ­i­cally expe­ri­ence a 30% annual turnover in employ­ees.“
Not as high as some meat pro­cess­ing facil­i­ties, but get­ting there…
“In some cases the mean dura­tion of employ­ment is 17 days.“
Which I believe at one point was the expected life­time of a freshly deployed infantry­man for the Soviet Army on the East­ern Front dur­ing WWII

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When Good Firmware Goes Bad

June 1st, 2004 — 10:33am

I’ve loved my shiny new iPod since Novem­ber of last year, when I gave in to an acute case of tech­no­lust and bought the 40GB model. Six months on, despite the entry cost, the inabil­ity of Apple prod­ucts to live hap­pily in a PC uni­verse with­out loads of expen­sive acces­sories, and the dis­con­cert­ing set of scratches that appeared on the dis­play almost imme­di­ately, I’d still say I was very happy.
That is until last week. Appar­ently, while I was run­ning a stan­dard firmware update (to the 4÷28÷04 release), the basic file sys­tem on my iPod became cor­rupted with­out warn­ing, and every­thing on the pod was — erased. *38 GB* of all sorts of per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally impor­tant files evap­o­rated with­out so much as an unhappy face…
As it so hap­pens, I was plan­ning to wipe and rebuild any­way, so I’ve decided to look at this inci­dent as an exam­ple of pre-emptive self-cleansing on the part of an excep­tion­ally eager to please iPod, instead of a cat­a­strophic file sys­tem fail­ure.
But I’m still pissed. I have strong mem­o­ries of using a Mac at a design stu­dio in ’99, and decid­ing that I should wear a hel­met to work because it crashed so often. This reminds me of that in a more per­sonal and equally frus­trat­ing way.
And it’s going to cost Apple some money, to boot. I just decided that I’d replace my aging Dell lap­top with a tasty new Power­book — and now I think I’ll be buy­ing some­thing else. Great design and mar­ket­ing don’t make up for unreliability.

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