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May 27, 2001

Pioneer cybercrime pact tightens privacy rules
Surveillance and Privacy from Government
5/27/2001; 4:42:33 PM 'Stiff criticism from the EU and pressure groups has prompted drafters of the world's first treaty against cybercrime to tighten provisions protecting privacy online, the final text showed Friday.

'The Council of Europe, a 43-state human rights watchdog, has amended the text to ensure police respect privacy rights when they follow digital trails to fight online crimes such as hacking, spreading viruses, using stolen credit card numbers or defrauding banks.'


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May 27, 2001

FTC blesses Amazon's privacy sleight-of-hand
Privacy from Companies5/27/2001; 4:41:57 PM 'At issue was the company's sudden decision to cease allowing customers to opt out of having their personal details shared with marketing outfits and Amazon partners. Previously, customers could opt out by sending a blank e-mail message to 'never@amazon.com'.'The word 'never', the December petition reasoned, gave customers a reasonable expectation that their opt-out decision would be honored permanently. 'The FTC reply, dated 24 May by Commissioner Jodie Bernstein, regards this as a lot of theoretical nonsense.'I'd like to ditto the Reg's spin on the issue.


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May 25, 2001

Two RIAA Lawsuits for the Price of One
Music & MP35/25/2001; 5:02:14 PM First up this week was Aimster, being sued for copyright infringement. Aimster is a clever little service that piggy-backs on Instant Messaging and allows people to exchange files securely and easily, and of course music is one of its most common uses. Aimster has a page where you can find out what Aimster is.Next up is Launch, which allows you to tell the service what music you like, and rate what it sends you, so it tends to start sending you more music you like and less you dislike. RIAA is suing Launch for contract violation.Launch has the legal licenses to play music, so we're not talking about a rogue service. The lawsuit revolves around the level of control that Launch grants its users. According to the terms of the music licenses RIAA grants, the user cannot control the songs that are coming up on the station. (See many more of the rules at this help page, from Live365.com.) 'The music lobbyist alleges that Launch's licenses with Universal, Sony, BMG and EMI do not allow for the level of interactivity and customization offered by LaunchCast, which allows users to decide how often they want to hear particular songs. After LaunchCast users rate songs, albums and artists, the service "learns" to play the types of music the user wants to hear.'I think this is a classic action of an effective monopoly. LaunchCast is an innovative service, advancing the state of the art in music service, and striving to do it in a legal fashion. RIAA is suing, but I suspect that were any reasonably-priced license available from RIAA to broadcast the songs in this manner, LaunchCast would have aquired it. By making it impossible to aquire a license, the monopoly is effectively and totally banning innovation in the music market. This is inimical to the spirit of the intellectual property system.


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May 24, 2001

Smart Alecs
Misc.5/24/2001; 11:54:23 PM I don't talk about education much, but inasmuch as we have the "right" to education, the internet and computers is certainly impacting that right. ''Smart Alecs'' is a fairly even-handed article laying out the pros and the cons of computers (and by extension, the Internet) as they are affecting education. I would like to say one thing: Basically, both sides of the debate are correct. It's just that the two sides aren't talking about the same computers.The people who believe computers are harming kids say things like this:'Theodore Roszak... stated, "They (the students) feel that information is all you need, and it comes out of a computer. The fact that there?s a whole world of books in the library is vanishing. These kids are under the impression that because there are a lot of eye-popping effects on the computer, that?s superior. But the World Wide Web is a mishmash of whatever anybody wants to put up there, and what they often get is misinformation and incomplete information."...''"Computers create the lethal impression that everything about learning is supposed to be fun."'This is true... but this is the "learning game" designer's fault, not the computer's! If you treat the computer as a glorified television, or even worse, as a self-grading worksheet, then of course this hurts the child. No news here! Then again, an education founded on worksheets, memorization, and a motley collection of 'educational' films isn't exactly the epitome of education either. I remember these classes... I can't think of a worse way to "learn" history and at the same time completely miss the lessons history has to teach. One wonders how much of what Theodore sees is "computers" affecting students, and how much of it is just crappy education.There are better ways to approach computers then treating them as a glorified worksheet: '"The Internet and new technology is the most powerful tool for learning ever. Children who have access to this new communications medium will learn more effectively then those who don't," he said. "When kids are online, they're reading, analyzing, evaluating, comparing their thoughts, and telling their stories, collaborating, innovating."'Note the contrast between what "computers" are to the naysayers, and what "computers" are to the advocates. Here the computer is a tool of communication and discovery... and it can be the most flexible tool for that imaginable. Once you stipulate each side their definition of computer, they are both correct.Computers are both the most mind-expanding tools ever created and the most mind-numbing tool of mental oppression ever. The really sad part is, left to their own devices, I suspect most kids would very much prefer to use the computer in its exploration and communication mode, at least after learning enough skills to comfortably navigate in the discovery space; you have to try to ruin the experience by forcing the children to do the digitized worksheets and bleep-bloop-bloop education games, which can amuse but quickly wear out their welcome.The moral of the story is that computers, as they usually do, only amplify trends, they do not create them. If your idea of education is worksheets and filmstrips, the computers will enable you to do even more damage to your children then you could do previously, but the fault lies with your idea of education, not the computer. If your idea of education is a voyage of discovery and dialog with both peers and others who have already traveled the road, then the computers will enable you to give your students even more exposure to those experiences, but the credit is not due to the computer.I think one's attitude about computers in education serves as a sort of Rorschach test on your attitude about education in general; examining one's reasons for reacting to the issue can be enlightening.


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May 24, 2001

Report Downplays Echelon Effect
Surveillance and Privacy from Government
5/24/2001; 11:37:37 PM 'A global surveillance system known as Echelon does exist and has the ability to eavesdrop on telephone calls, faxes and e-mail messages, a European Parliament committee has concluded.

'In a 250KB draft report, the committee said that Echelon -- operated by English-speaking countries including the United States, Canada and Great Britain -- is designed for intelligence purposes but that no "substantiated" evidence exists that it has been used to spy on European firms on behalf of American competitors.'


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