Dec 29, 2000

Privacy hits the fan in N.H.
Surveillance and Privacy from Government
12/29/2000; 5:54:26 PM

'The citizens of this sleepy bedroom community hit the proverbial ceiling when they learned that their property assessment data -- including homeowners' names, color photographs of their houses and diagrams showing exterior dimensions -- had been made available on the town's website,

'In a town meeting that resembled the peasants-storming-the-castle scene from a Frankenstein movie, 650 residents demanded to be removed from the site, complaining that the information would prove to be a godsend for burglars. Despite the fact that the information on the site was public record, the powers-that-be in Merrimack concluded that discretion was the better part of valor and pulled the data from the site.'

Emphasis mine. I post this because it seems to be a trend, albeit a small and subtle one: Government records that nobody cares about being public, until they are too public. This is a minor issue which will have to be addressed. I suspect that in the end, we'll have multiple levels of "public records": Totally public and online, off-line but public, and not public.

There is a qualitative difference between public records down at the courthouse and public records online. Off-line records tend to be used for focused queries... "I'm interested in buying this house, what do the public records say about it?" Online records can be for database-like queries... "What's the largest house in square-feet in the neighborhood?"  Most public records are not meant for that sort of scrutiny, for much the same reasons that we may not care that Amazon knows we bought certain books, but get upset when companies start sharing that information and putting together profiles. The ease of such aggregation of online records means that essentially, more data is available from the online records then the off-line records, and we may not want or need that extra data online.

Dec 28, 2000

New Patent Image
12/28/2000; 4:58:59 PM

The US patent office image was quite informative, but I was probably violating some regulation or other by using it.  The new patent icon is an image from Patent #1, which appears to be a tractor tire.  This image should be deeply into the public domain.

Dec 28, 2000

Free Links, Only $50 Apiece
Free Speech
12/28/2000; 4:08:36 PM 'Online news sites are turning to a novel way to make some extra cash: requiring fees for links.

'The Albuquerque Journal charges $50 for the right to link to each of its articles. and are more generous, and permit one to five links without payment.'

I know!  Let's do everything we can to make sure nobody ever visits our site!  First we'll start by charging for links. Then after people get used to that, we'll charge people to follow those links. Then we'll see about charging people to see those links on all of those other nasty third-party sites.

'The license agreement also restricts what can be said about the content of the linked-to article. If you sign up to pay $50 to link to, say, an Albuquerque Journal article, you agree not to say anything "derogatory" about "the author, the publication from which the content came, or any person connected with the creation of the content or depicted in the content."'

When I figure out why the heck anybody would even think of this, I let you know. To rephrase my point a little less sarcastically, the Albuquerque "Should'a Taken A Left" Journal are trying to induce economic friction at the wrong place, where people enter the site. Where there's friction, you can charge money. Unfortunately, while charging on entry is the easiest thing to do, it's still the wrong thing to do; people are likely to simply leave (or in this case, never link at all). Much better to make it difficult to leave, ideally by making the content so compelling that paying is better then the alternative of not having it. So, not only is it an attempt to constrain what we can say about the Journal, it's stupid too.

The free speech aspect is of course why I put this story up (attempting to ensure that we can't say anything bad about "the author, the publication from which the content came, or any person connected with the creation of the content or depicted in the content."), but the business model is truly strange.  What's the deal with a newspaper trying to make us pay them for the privileg of constraining our speech like this?

Dec 20, 2000

I'm Moving (again)
Personal Notes
12/20/2000; 10:58:33 PM

I'm moving, and I don't know the internet connectivity story, so this site may continue to suffer from a lack of news.  LinkBack's been provided for, though, so it should keep working.

I hope this is the last one for a couple of years.  Moving every six/nine months gets old after a few years.

Dec 20, 2000

Napster urged to block Nazis
Free Speech
12/20/2000; 2:28:19 PM

'Germany's internal security agency called on media giant Bertelsmann Tuesday to help stop its online song swap partner Napster from being used to exchange music by extreme right-wing bands....

'Andreas Schmidt, head of the Bertelsmann eCommerce Group, the unit that handles the German media giant's alliance with Napster, condemned the use of the platform for the exchange of Nazi music but said the company was powerless to prevent it.'

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