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Sep 24, 2000

How do you make online privacy policies stick?
Privacy from Companies9/24/2000; 1:00:18 PM 'So perhaps it's time to look at privacy policies and opt-in agreements as legal contracts or license agreements. Digital signatures have been around for years and the law is starting to recognize them. So why couldn't a company draw up a virtual contract on privacy that's binding on both sides? Every time I click on a licensing agreement, I'm warned how I might be subjected to imprisonment, fines, and fierce noogies from the Feds should I violate it. Can't those stipulations work both ways?'Lets work some numbers here:

It's wrong to set customers against that many lawyers. The corporate lawyers could write contracts with every loophole imaginable, thus not really affecting the status quo, and then for bonus points, they could (and would) bind the customer in this new contract to any number of things in the fine print. The clause that leaps to mind as plausible would be "Thou Shalt Not Say Nasty Things About This Site". UCITA allows software manufacturors to put the equivalent into software licenses.Creating privacy contracts is a good thought, but the two-way nature of the contracts is scary. I'm not going to sign the equivalent of a EULA just to use your e-commerce site, sorry. What we need to do is either make companies stick to their original promises (which has problems, as that could drive companies out of business if they start by promising too much), or, ideally, create a legally binding system that restricts what all companies, Internet or otherwise, do with customer data. And we need to not be sidetracked by arguments like this:'It's a fundamental law of Internet commerce that privacy and convenience are at loggerheads: To gain one, you must sacrifice the other. 'E-commerce companies find themselves in a bind. E-commerce is plagued by complaints of a cold, nonpersonal experience. Where's the love? But a company can't very well give you a personalized experience without knowing something about you. 'Hence the privacy policy, which is the company's promise to only gather data about you in the interest of serving you better -- never to sell as marketing or demographic data.'The third paragraph flatly contradicts the first paragraph, and it's the third that's correct. I have no objection to sharing data voluntarily with a company so they can provide me service, but that just does not require that they sell that data. There's two 'privacy' issues here, not one: 1. Customer sharing with company and 2. Company sharing with company. We need to not be mislead by people trying to lump them together and propounding logic that boils down to "Customers need to share data with companies to get service, therefore privacy is not possible (therefore companies must share with companies)."I hate to rag on the article so hard, because it's good to play with ideas like this and see where they lead; it's how progress happens . However, the author should have played with it a bit more before writing a story.


Permalink
Sep 22, 2000

Universities Snub Napster Ban Request
Music & MP39/22/2000; 3:17:15 PM 'In a broad rebuke to attorneys representing the artists Metallica and Dr. Dre, four prominent universities rejected the request to ban Napster access on their campuses yesterday.'The Boston Globe reported yesterday that Harvard is expected to respond similarly next week.'Excellent. (This is a follow-up from a Sept. 8, 2000.)


Permalink
Sep 22, 2000

Thousands Sign Up to Sell Votes
Political Speech9/22/2000; 2:27:06 PM 'Boasting of the more than 6,000 Americans who have signed up to auction off their presidential votes to the highest bidder -- illegal activity under the laws of every state in the union -- Voteauction is now detailing its plans to begin an outreach campaign. 'Using its "Voter Empowerment Kits" and "Action Teams," the company claims in a press release that it can reach more potential customers and facilitate voter fraud without the intervention of an online middleman.'I really don't know how to react to this site's antics... amusement? disgust? horror? Most (post-)modern art attempts to provoke that reaction, and fails miserably, so by the art community's standards, Voteauction.com is one of the best pieces of art I've seen in a long time. (I suppose this is a relatively unusual way of looking at it )I found this tidbit interesting:'The profile of both sides of the Internet auction does jibe with the history of vote-buying in America, said Larry J. Sabato, a University of Virginia political scientist and author of the 1996 book Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics. 'Especially telling is the fact that the payoff-per-vote, as tallied on the site, is settling into the $10-$20 range -- the amount of cash an individual vote tends to command in other, non-Internet-based schemes. '"It always seems to be about $20," Sabato said. "That must be the going rate. And when you think about it, it makes sense. Because 10 bucks is not what it used to be. With 20 bucks you can get a pretty good meal, if you know where to go. And I think that's how some people conceive of it. Their vote may be worth a meal. It's sad, but that may be true."'At that price, it is still feasible for the rich to buy votes. If we all would value our votes at say $1000, nobody could buy off enough people to matter (since not every voter represents a voter who would not have voted that way on their own). In decision theory, you might look at vote fraud laws as an attempt to force people to value their vote at more then anyone will pay, as the act of selling a vote might include paying the price of significant jail time.Another interesting note... of all the topics we've seen that will require international agreements on how to handle, this is the most immediately importent I've yet seen. Free speech, patents, and all the rest I cover is importent, but we can muddle along for a while. Wide-scale vote fraud tears countries apart; just look at the countries it occurs in to see that. How the US government reacts could serve as a defining moment in the Great International Internet Law question.


Permalink
Sep 20, 2000

Rio's Pyrrhic victory
Music & MP3
9/20/2000; 3:24:41 PM 'But 15 months after Diamond's victory, as Napster and MP3.com fight for their lives in court after suffering a string of lopsided judicial defeats, observers are wondering whether some in Silicon Valley read too much into the Diamond win. The landmark case may instead have provided, as Emusic chairman Bob Kohn puts it, "a false sense of security" among pioneering online music players -- thus setting up the current litigants for a big fall.'

You could summarize the article as "The Rio case taught the music industry a lesson about being specific in lawsuit complaints and focussing on their strengths in the case, which they learned, and have used to good effect against MP3.com and Napster."... but that would be a short Salon article


Permalink
Sep 20, 2000

What iRights Isn't
Personal Commentary9/20/2000; 3:02:27 PM In the original incarnation of the last article about Apple licensing Amazon's one-click patent (which was never publicly posted), I started to get into my posting policy for this site, which has developed over the last 8 months I've been running this site. I decided to pull it out seperately.I see iRights' primary purpose as covering issues, not news. While a lot of news makes it onto the site, I always try to make sure it relates to the issues. Hence, things like the Napster trial, which is news, gets covered in detail as the case was groundbreaking, and the arguments were getting analysed by a judge presiding over an actual case for the first time. This is importent in the settling of the issues that the trial covers. If Napster-Clone 3 gets sued two years from now for the same reason, Napster-Clone 3 would be lucky to get so much as a mention from this site. (If there's still a point to this site 2 years from now!)I have found that I try to pick news stories that meet the following criteria, from most importent to least (to me):

Most all the news I post should fit into one of those catagories, most really in the third catagory. (Since I'm fitting my behavior after the fact and have no intention of being bound by these rules, there's a lot of flex room here. ) Thus, I didn't cover the Amazon One-Click patent until the essay in Salon pointed out the only relevent new observation about the agreement, which is that the licensing added percieved validity to the patent. Other then that tidbit, there's nothing new about the patent problem contained in the article.As another "for instance" (there are a few others), I don't cover stories about employee privacy. I tend to agree with the law; the computers belong to the corporation and if they want to mandate what you can and can't do with them, and monitor your every keystroke, then so be it. It's invasive, insidious, perhaps even evil, but legal. And the way to meet this problem is the same way employees have been fighting management since the industrial revolution: with unions. It's an importent issue, yes, but it's not really a "computer" or "internet" issue. (It's really no different then having a camera pointed at you at all times. If the unions won't stand up to it, then it will be done and it will be legal.)So, this site is not a news service; it only looks like a news service because all of the issues are so new (both truly new issues, and issues that existed before the founding of this site in Jan. 2000), and so a lot of news makes it in here. I don't aggregate everything I can find. There's absolutely no way I could cover all of the topics I'm covering if I had to post every news story of interest. In more peaceful times, this site might cover just the various essays that people might be writing.(Digest sites are useful, I don't mean to slight them at all, I'm just saying I'm not aiming for that niche. There are many great digest sites out there... one that covers a lot of things in detail that I summarize is the Privacy Digest, which collects a lot of stories about privacy, both computer and otherwise. I don't know if the author posts everything he finds from day to day, but he finds a lot more then I post here, and the way the two sites cover two niches in detail is great! Privacy Digest and iRights are excellent companions; I don't see us as competing sites, but as complementing sites. Another excellent digest-type site that only rarely touches the topics on this site is Over Lawyered.com, which covers lawsuits and trial lawyers. If you know of other good ones, I'd be very interested in knowing.Of course, this is a range, not an absolute news/issues dichotomy. Both of the digests I mention run commentary too, they just have a much stronger tendancy to post news then iRights, regardless of whether they have commentary or not.)I just wanted to clarify why there are some things 'missing' from this site that you might think belong here. Hopefully it'll make more sense after my essay gets done anyhow. (Yep, another massive missive is in the works, and I'm really, really excited about how it's turning out. Optimistically speaking, I really do think I've pulled nearly all of these topics together in a rational way, and how to handle them reasonably consistently. There are some other bonuses too, more about that later.)Thanks for reading!


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