from the seems-more-likely-to-become-more-accepting dept
Back in 2010, we wrote about Google's Eric Schmidt suggesting that in the future kids might change their names as they reach adulthood in order to disconnect their present-selves from their youthful indiscretions that were recorded permanently online. That seemed a bit silly to us at the time, but Schmidt is still focused on this basic concept apparently. His latest is the desire for some sort of delete button for the internet, again as a way to cover up some youthful indiscretions:
"In America, there's a sense of fairness that's culturally true for all of us," Schmidt said. "The lack of a delete button on the Internet is a significant issue. There is a time when erasure is a right thing."
Of course, this makes me wonder, what the hell did Eric Schmidt do as a kid that was so bad?
Yes, yes, we erase the criminal records of youthful offenders when they come of age, but I think this is something different. Trying to delete factual information from the internet is a quixotic task, unlikely to yield much that's beneficial.
Perhaps instead of trying to delete the past, society as a whole will become a lot more accepting of the fact that kids do stupid things when they're young. And many of them learn valuable lessons from those stupid things and they grow up to be better people. Plenty of folks have funny tales of their youthful indiscretions and, while these stories may be more difficult to embellish for effect if the details are all sitting on YouTube, does it really make more sense to try to delete that history or just to recognize that kids grow up and things they did as teenagers do not reflect how they're likely to act as adults?
I can understand why someone who watches the news on a daily basis might shake their head in dismay. I get how it must feel necessary to put the blame for tragedies like Sandy Hook somewhere, anywhere, even if the eventual target of ire is misplaced. There's probably a certain ill-conceived synergy in pointing at violence in movies for a horrific theater shooting, even if the jury is at best out on the concept of violent media causing violent behavior. But when you hear someone so arrogantly sure that all of this wrong thinking is right and then using that arrogance to pompously try and scare the shit out of everyone, it deserves pushback.
“This generation is going to give you massacres in the domestic environment and in the work environment,” he predicted, with unrestrained outrage, after ticking off a sobering list of mass murders -- particularly those that have occurred on school grounds and university campuses -- which have plagued American society in recent years.
It's a scare tactic that would be absolutely compelling were it not so absolutely wrong. Nevermind that no conclusive link between violent media and mass violence has been demonstrated, the fact of the matter is that in the long view, mass shootings are decreasing. As is violent crime in general. If one wanted to play the correlation game, they might happily state that violent media is decreasing violent output. I personally won't go that far, but it's fairly difficult to square Grossman's claims with reality.
“There is a generation of vicious, vicious killers out there,” he told his audience. “The video games are their trainers. They’ve been playing Grand Theft Auto every spare moment since they were six years old.”
Oh, please. Who the hell could listen to Niko's voice for years without killing themselves long before they killed anyone else? And besides, if these children are killers and the games their trainers, given the statistics already noted, then the little bastards are really bad at being killers and the games are a poor training manual, since none of this seems to be coming true. But if you thought Grossman had emptied his scare-clip at you already, you're wrong.
His views were no more subtle when he turned his sights to the international scene. A dozen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the energetic and charismatic speaker sees life-threatening threats emanating from Pakistan, Russia, North Korea and Iran. What will the next 9/11 look like, he wondered aloud, before answering his own rhetorical question: “We’re going to get nuked.”
Lovely, and perhaps it will someday happen, but he forgot to mention something: if you look at the number of terrorist incidents in America throughout history, you'll note that the sharp increase in their occurence is non-existent. An enterprising commenter can graph the whole list out from that link if they like, but here's a brief example. We live in the year of our lord, 2013, so let's just start in 2012 and count how many terrorist incidents happened every ten years back:
2012 - 3 incidents, 9 killed
2002 - 14 incidents, 15 killed (note: the beltway sniper is counted as 11 separate incidents, which is stupid. This number should be 3 incidents total.)
1992 - 2 incidents, 1 killed
1982 - 6 incidents, 3 killed
1972 - 7 incidents, 6 killed
1962 - 1 incident, 44 killed
1952 - 0 incidents, 0 killed
Now, my use of 2012 as a starting point certainly is convenient in leaving out 9/11, but it's useful to note that outliers don't dominate the statistics. I should also note that this list ignores Pearl Harbor as the site of a terrorist attack, which seems incorrect in a way. The idea isn't that we can't be concerned about terrorism of any kind, be it Islamic fundementalist or the home-grown Aryan Nation variety, but if you make it your business to go around scaring people like Grossman does, you shouldn't leave out the more comforting facts simply because it is inconvenient to your narrative.
The next generation is not one of killers, this generation is not having to deal with terrorism in a way never before required, but it may be true that the media is more like Grossman and less like myself in that they enjoy scaring you for profit. Beware the man or woman who makes simple proclamations, because they're usually forgetting to tell you something.
Last week, in writing about the silly backlash to Zach Braff's successful Kickstarter project, we noted that he claimed he had the data that showed his success did not take away from other Kickstarter projects, but rather it appeared that Braff brought a lot of new people to Kickstarter, many of whom went on to fund other projects. But still, the ridiculous arguments persisted that somehow famous people using Kickstarter take away money from upstarts. It's as if these people don't understand what a non-zero sum game is. They assume, incorrectly, that if one (famous) person is succeeding, it means one (non-famous) person is not. Perhaps the worst example of this was a piece by Reginald Nelson at TheWrap which ridiculously attacks Kickstarter's founders, arguing that these moves harm "the creative class."
The Veronica Mars and Zach Braff projects have brought tens of thousands of new people to Kickstarter. 63% of those people had never backed a project before. Thousands of them have since gone on to back other projects, with more than $400,000 pledged to 2,200 projects so far. Nearly 40% of that has gone to other film projects.
We’ve seen this happen before. Last year we wrote a post called Blockbuster Effects that detailed the same phenomenon in the Games and Comics categories. Two big projects brought tons of new people to Kickstarter who went on to back more than 1,000 other projects in the following weeks, pledging more than $1 million. Projects bring new backers to other projects. That supports our mission too.
I'd hope this puts to rest the ridiculous claims, but somehow, I doubt it will (and the comments on the Kickstarter blog post suggest people will still complain anyway).
A few months ago, we wrote about Steven Brill's amazing article in Time Magazine about hospital billing. As we noted at the time, the story confirmed what many people believed: that healthcare is a giant economic scam, and it's often the hospitals (not necessarily the insurance companies) who are driving the massive increases in costs. A big part of the scam is the fact that hospitals don't reveal their price list -- known as the "chargemaster." It's all a giant secret. There's no such thing as comparison shopping. There's simply no data anywhere.
Still, it's not quite enough. Brill has responded to the release by noting that while this is a big deal and can be quite helpful in highlighting how broken the system really is (and hopefully will lead to a lot more reporting on the subject), it could go much further:
The feds need to publish chargemaster and Medicare pricing for the most frequent outpatient procedures and diagnostic tests at clinics—two huge profit venues in the medical world. But an even bigger step toward transparency would be collecting data that Medicare doesn’t have: exactly what insurance companies pay to the various hospitals, testing clinics and other providers for various treatments and services.
After all, as the hospitals themselves concede in downplaying their chargemasters, these insurance prices are the ones that affect most patients.
And that is one price list where there is close to zero transparency.
While hospitals and insurance providers clearly will not want to give up that information, Bill points out that patients do find out this information, so perhaps we should crowdsource the data:
So even if insurance companies don't want to participate, Brill writes, states could crowdsource price information from patients:
...state pricing centers could gather the information from patients who volunteer, in exchange for a promise that their names won't be used, to submit their Explanations of Benefits. After all, a hospital or insurance company can't claim a patient can be prohibited from talking about or making public his or her own bill.
For a market to work in any effective manner, pricing information must be clear. It's not that way at all in healthcare, and it needs to get that way fast if we're ever to get healthcare pricing under control.
One of the key things that has been a major concern to us for many, many years is how much of copyright policy tends to be driven by faith-based claims about what must be best (often this falls into the "more must be better" category), rather than any objective analytical look at actual data and evidence. We were encouraged when the UK's Hargreave's Report did start to look at some objective data when it sought to understand how best to reform copyright in the UK. And we've been hearing encouraging things out of Australia as well. With copyright reform back on the table in the US, and Congress seemingly open to the discussion, having reality-based policy discussions will be more important than ever.
That's why it's actually quite encouraging to see a new report from the US National Research Council that has begun the process of calling for more objective data to inform the upcoming copyright reform debate. You can get the full PDF via the National Academies Press for free. They have an embedding widget which we've placed below as well, though it uses Flash, which is a bit annoying. The effort was funded by a broad coalition of organizations with a variety of different views on the issue, so it's not limited to just one particular view. For example, you've got copyright maximalist organizations like the MPAA and the BSA, but also Google and Pam Samuelson, who tend to take a different view on the appropriate level of copyright protection. There is also support from a number of different government and private foundations, including the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Ford Foundation.
The committee who put together this particular work also has a wide range of viewpoints covered, including Mitch Singer from Sony Pictures, former federal judge Marilyn Hall Patel who presided over the case against Napster, Chris Sprigman (law professor who wrote The Knockoff Economy: How Imitation Sparks Innovation and who has been featured prominently on Techdirt in the past) among a number of other big names with various viewpoints.
While the paper itself doesn't have any answers yet, it does highlight the key questions that we should be trying to answer, and indicates the beginnings of some research being done in that direction, with the likelihood of more to follow. I am a little annoyed that they still refer to things like the public's rights to access and use content as "exceptions" to copyright, because that feels unfairly limiting, but overall the direction of the work is quite encouraging. Here's a list of some of the initial questions they note it would be good to answer, if possible, which gives you an idea of the research areas they're interested in supporting and encouraging:
With respect to changing incentives for creators, distributors, and
users, research could help determine
how the expenses involved in creative expression and distribution differ across sectors and the role of copyright in generating
revenues to offset those expenses;
under what circumstances sources of monetary and/or non-monetary motivation outside of that provided by copyright are effective in motivating creative activity;
the motivations of various types of users and potential users of
creative works, including both infringers and lawful users; the
effects of enhanced enforcement remedies on promoting creativity, technological innovation, and freedom of expression; and
how the costs of distributing creative content are affected by
social media and other new technologies.
With respect to the enablers of and impediments to voluntary licensing
transactions in copyrighted works, research would help determine
the significance of transaction costs as barriers to utilization of
the extent of problems involving orphan works (whose owners
cannot be identified), user-generated content, and collaborative
and iterative works;
what are successful arrangements for managing transaction costs;
the roles of public and private institutions in facilitating licensing;
the relationship of transaction costs to legal rules such as compulsory licenses; and
changes in transaction costs with new technological and business
With respect to the enforcement challenges, research could help
how much is spent by governments and private parties on copyright enforcement;
against whom enforcement efforts are targeted and what remedies are sought and granted;
the results of enforcement efforts in terms of compensation, prevention, education, and deterrence;
how the effectiveness of enforcement efforts is changing with the
expansion of digital networks;
the costs and benefits of current enforcement methods vis-a-vis
those associated with proposed new enforcement methods;
the relative vulnerability of different business models to infringement; and
the costs and benefits of fair use exceptions and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) safe harbors.
In assessing the balance between copyright protection and the statutory exceptions and limitations to copyright research could help determine
the costs and benefits of copyright exceptions and limitations in
terms of the economic outputs and welfare effects of those individuals, businesses, educational institutions, and other entities
that rely on them;
how copyright and the various categories of limits and exceptions
interact with innovative and/or disruptive technologies and platforms; and
what adverse effects, if any, exceptions and limitations have on
copyright holders and their potential to generate economic outputs and welfare effects.
Eventually, research will help inform decisions about key aspects of
copyright policy, including
the appropriate scope of copyright protection;
the optimal duration of the copyright term;
the best arrangements for correcting market imperfections that
inhibit voluntary licensing;
appropriate safe harbors and fair use exceptions to copyright;
effective enforcement remedies for infringing use and the
best arrangements for correcting deficiencies in enforcement
the advisability of reintroducing a formal registration requirement; and
the advantages and disadvantages of reshaping the copyright
regime with different rules for different media.
The paper itself points to the concerns raised over things like SOPA and ACTA as reason to have a more empirical based approach to copyright reform, which is a good sign (and goes against those who insist that the SOPA protests had no real impact). The report goes into a lot more details, including a number of other important research topics as well.
One other point that they raise -- which is a key point we've brought up concerning our own Sky is Rising research -- is the need for those who have this data to be much more open about sharing it for the sake of making good overall policy. Since much of the data is considered "proprietary or subject to trade secrecy and privacy protections," the report outlines ways in which the data might be made available "on reasonable terms to qualified investigators." This, alone, would be a huge step forward in looking at many of the key policy questions above. The lack of real data is a huge impediment to being able to create effective policy.
All in all, it's a very good sign that this is underway, as it should really encourage a much more empirically-driven approach to the inevitable upcoming reform process. I hope that the results of future research driven by this particular effort do, in fact, play a role in any future debates on copyright reform. Moving from a faith-based look at copyright to an evidence-based one is a huge step forward, and long overdue.
Degban's "State of Piracy" page introduces itself with some rather ominous wording about piracy and the importance (and difficulty) of compiling accurate numbers.
When it comes to statistical data regarding content piracy, the complexity of the data and its abundance is utterly mind boggling. The data channels are scattered across geographical borders and scientific dimensions. The nature of the matter effects the data gathering process, resulting in datasets with chaotic orders and unclean results sets.
It is of grave importance, regardless of the challenge, to understand the trends and fashions behind content piracy as a thriving organism . Furthermore, appreciation of statical [sic] data regarding content piracy can be advantageous from a business intelligence point of view.
And some very fine "statical" data it is. The first chart posted is of the pie variety, breaking down the "market share" of several file storage lockers. Most of the contenders hover somewhere between 4-6% of the "market," possibly giving some credence to the MPAA's claims that Megaupload made the Internet go 'round by driving 99% of the traffic that wasn't Netflix (heavily paraphrased).
The data Degban has collected also shows the US firmly holding the lead in terms of "Origins of Pirate Peers." (USA! USA! USA!) How this number (185,290) is derived remains a mystery, but whatever it is, it's nearly nine times as much as Russia (28,001). So... who's doing all this piracy? Atlantans, apparently.
As can be seen by this chart, Atlanta is more than twice as piratey as Tacoma (?!?), the second place pirate haven, in terms of numbers lying along a Y-axis. Again, no further information is provided as to what these numbers represent, but we can certainly assume that Atlanta is the problem and Tacoma isn't helping. Once we venture beyond these two homegrown pirate bays, we see pirating is a major issue in such metropolises as Chalfont, PA and Iselin, NJ. Other cities/villages/unincorporated townships appear on the list as well, leading to questions of "Where is that, exactly?" and "Didn't that one guy used to live there... the serial killer/general store proprietor?" Cities with large populations -- New York and LA -- are pretty far down the list, which might make a lesser anti-piracy company question the quality of its data.
Degban really drives home the "Atlantans heart pirating" point with its next info-less graphic.
From this graphic portrayal of the United States battling a post-adolescent breakout of Venn diagram remnants, we can only draw one conclusion: if piracy is to be stopped, Atlanta has got to go. No more DMCA requests. No more lousy legislation. No more half-assed, self-serving infographics. You kill something by cutting off its head. The MPAA will be able to return millions of bag boys to their copyright-protected jobs just as soon as someone detaches Atlanta from the internet. And, from what I can tell of the map above, at that point, nearly all piracy will have gone away. If only Degban had made this clear earlier, we could have done away with all these lawsuits and focused in on the real piracy cancer: Atlanta.
Now, the numbers contributing to these SHOCKING bar graphs might possibly be found in this detailed, interactive (click over to Degban's site to experience this in all its glory) Google Map, which pinpoints where these "peers" are located, as well as the number of peers operating at each inverted teardrop.
Yes. There are some numbers in there, alright. Some low numbers. In fact, it's tough to find any location with more than 5 "peers." How these scattered points add up to over 10,000 pirating Atlantans is beyond me, especially considering Atlanta itself has no data point at all. None. Zip. Zero. Clearly, Degban processes data in a far advanced way, in which "0" peers means, "more than double the piracy impact of Tacoma, in which Tacoma is the number two piracy center."
You may also want to check out the dates on this map. It looks like the last data harvest was back in the spring of 2010. "OLD NEWS!!!" I hear you yell like a bunch of irate Digg members Redditors. But, how can that be? "Data is important," Degban tells us in the intro, along with this:
This section is regularly and automatically kept up to date.
From the looks of it, "regularly" means "once per decade." And "automatically" means "please delete this word from this sentence before publishing this page."
So, we have a bunch of numbers that don't add up, aren't current and do little more than randomly drop circles on maps and rub bars affectionately up against sky-high Y-axises. And yet, Degban is a well-known name in the piracy world, one that understands the "grave importance" of accurate and up-to-date statistics. To fight your enemy successfully, you must know them, and from what I'm seeing here, Degban is nearly 100% sure someone's pirating stuff somewhere.
Godspeed, number wranglers! Remind me to keep one hand on my content when passing through the muggy climes of Hotlanta or the suicidal murkiness of upstate Washington! And tell Vkontakte.ru that everyone's extremely disappointed in its lack of effort on the file sharing front.
Even though I was never a big Google Reader user, its death has got me thinking about online services quite a bit lately -- and really reminded me that we've done the cloud wrong. Rather than build true cloud computing, we've built a bunch of lockboxes.
The cloud was supposed to free us, not lock us in
"Cloud computing" went by a variety of other terms in the past before this marketing term stuck, but the key part of it was that it was supposed to free us of worrying about the location of our data. Rather than having to have things stored locally, the data could be anywhere, and we could access it via any machine or device. That sort of happened, and there definitely are benefits to data being stored in the cloud, rather than locally. But... what came with today's "cloud" was a totally different kind of lock: a lock to the service.
I can point many apps to data stored locally
I wrote something related to this a few years ago, concerning music in the cloud. If I have a bunch of MP3s stored locally, I can point any number of music apps at my music folder, and they can all play that music. As long as the data is not in a proprietary format, I can find the app that works best for me and the data is separate from the app. Even when you have proprietary formats like Microsoft's .doc, other apps can often make use of them as well -- so, for example, I can get by with Libre Office, and I don't lose access to all of my old Microsoft Word docs.
This is really useful, because it helps us avoid vendor lock-in in many cases. Even when, say, Microsoft or Apple dominates the market. It's still possible to come in and be compatible. The competition then focuses on building better services, rather than reinventing the data model. That's much more useful to consumers, because the innovation is focused on making their lives better, rather than reinventing the wheel.
Today's cloud brings us back to walled gardens
For the most part, today, however, "cloud" applications bundle the storage and the service as one, and the two are linked inseparably. You check your data into a new cloud service, but the application layer and the data are both held by the same company. Yes, you can often transfer data from one service to the other -- such as Google's "data liberation front" effort, which is fantastic (and goes beyond many other companies' efforts), but just the fact that data needs to be liberated suggests we're taking the wrong approach altogether. Rather than having to "export" all of your feeds from Google Reader and then waiting patiently for 50,000 other people who are trying to upload them to the few small Reader competitors out there, why shouldn't we have each had an OPML file stored somewhere that we control, and that we could easily point any reader application, whether its local or "in the cloud." And, yes, there are some services that attempt to do this, but it's not where the whole "cloud" space has gone.
Separate and liberate the data from the infrastructure
What the cloud should be about is both freeing us from being locked to local data, and also freeing us from having that data locked to a particular service. I should be able to keep my data in one spot and then access it via a variety of cloud clients -- and the clients and the data shouldn't necessarily be directly connected or held by the same party. If I don't want to listen to my music via one app, I can just connect a different app to my personal data cloud and off we go. If Google Reader shuts down, no problem, just point a different app at my RSS data. No extraction, no uploading. Just go.
There are, of course, plenty of players around which sort of do this. DropBox, Box, Amazon's S3 and even Google Drive are setting themselves up as personal data clouds, and there are a growing number of apps that run across them. Projects like the Locker Project are thinking about how we store personal data separated from apps as well. And I know there are a bunch of other projects either around today or quickly approaching release, that also seek to do something in this space.
But, for the most part, all of the stories that people talk about concerning "cloud" computing almost always involve services that tie together the app and the data and all you're really doing is trading the former limitations of local data for the limitations of a single service provider controlling your data. Many service providers want this, of course. It's a form of lock-in. Plus, having some sort of access to your data and your usage can enable them to do other things, such as more accurately data mine you and your usage.
But, as users, we really should be pushing more towards embracing the apps that separate the app from the data and that let you point their "cloud" app at any particular place you store your "cloud" data. Some of this may involve standardizing certain data formats, but that makes sense anyway, as, once again, that's an area where there are tremendous benefits to not reinventing the wheel, so that the innovation and competition can focus on the service level. While some vendors may fear losing lock-in, if they truly believe in their own ability to provide great services, it shouldn't be a problem. At the same time, they should also realize that embracing this kind of world means that it's easier for others to jump in and test their services as well.
The death of Google Reader raised a lot of issues around trust, and while you could "export" the data, that process is still messy and archaic when you think about it. The future of cloud computing should be much more focused on separating the data from the service. That would remove the fear that many are now talking about concerning adopting new cloud services that might not last very long. If the data is stored elsewhere, and entirely in the control of the user, then you don't need to trust the service provider nearly as much, but can dip in and test out different apps operating on the same data, and switch with ease.
If we're going to see the real promise of "the cloud" take place, that's where things need to head. We should be increasingly skeptical of "cloud" apps that also control the data.
from the does-the-council-of-economic-advisors-need-your-emails? dept
One of the key complaints about CISPA is the fact that it does absolutely nothing to make sure any data of yours that is shared with the government by third parties is sent narrowly to folks working to protect us from cybersecurity threats. Instead, the information can be shared with any agency of the government, so long as they can claim, vaguely, that it's being used for "cybersecurity purposes." But, as the EFF points out, without any limitations on who in the government can see your data, every government agency can see your data. They've even put together a helpful "list."
One question we sometimes get is: Under CISPA, which government agencies can receive this data? For example, could the FBI, NSA, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement receive data if CISPA were to pass?
The answer is yes. Any government agency could receive data from companies if this were to pass, meaning identifiable data could be flowing to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the National Security Agency, or even the Food and Drug Administration.
We've reposted the list below as well, just so you can get an idea of which government agencies could get access to your data on CISPA (and which ones thought that, perhaps, that's not such a good idea).
In 2001, I published a history of free software, called "Rebel Code: Inside Linux and the Open Source Revolution." One of the people I interviewed for the book was Eben Moglen, for many years the General Counsel for the Free Software Foundation, and one of the main architects of the later versions of the GNU General Public License. He had the following interesting thoughts on the delivery of digital media:
Let's think about the Net for a change as a collection of pipes and switches, rather than thinking of it as a thing or a space.
There's lot of data moving through those pipes, and the switches determine who gets which data and how much they have to pay for it downstream. And of course those switches are by and large what we think of as digital computers.
The basic media company theory at the opening of the 21st century is to create a leak-proof pipe all the way from production studio to eyeball and eardrum.
Creating that "leak-proof pipe" has long been the dream not only of media companies, but also of computer companies like Apple that hope to collaborate with and ultimately supplant them. A recent patent application, found through the French title Numerama, seeks to make videos uncopiable during playback by locking down the last section of the pipe -- the part that connects the computer to the screen. Here's how Apple's patent describes it:
Securing protected content during video playback. The embodiments provide a system that drives a display from a computer system. During operation, the system writes graphical output, generated from a copyrighted video file, to protected memory and drives the display from the protected memory. If the graphical output lacks copy protection, the system discontinues the driving of the display from the protected memory. In particular, upon detecting a lack of copy protection in the graphical output, the system continues to drive the display from the protected memory during a grace period associated with the lack of protection in the graphical output. The system then discontinues driving of the display from the protected memory if protection of the graphical output does not resume during the grace period.
The rest of the patent describes the details of the process. What's striking -- and sad -- is the effort and ingenuity that has been put into making things less convenient for the end user. After all, introducing a system that automatically shuts down when it thinks security may be absent is a recipe for disaster -- as if current DRM screw-ups weren't enough of problem.
Moreover, Apple's system will fail, just as all the other approaches to "protecting content" have failed. Anything involving copy protection is regarded as a challenge by certain people; it's not a question of "if" the particular scheme employed by Apple will be broken, but "when". And there's another, deeper reason why such attempts won't ever work. As Moglen explained to me all those years ago:
The switch that most threatens that pipe is the one at the end. If the switch closest to your eyeball and your eardrum is under your complete technical control, the whole rest of the aqueduct can be as leak-proof as they like, and it won't do them any good. And the switch is under your control, of course, if the software is free software.
While there's free software, the data pipe will always be leaky.
My goodness. Yesterday we posted about Rep. Louis Gohmert's incredible, head-shakingly ignorant exchange with lawyer Orin Kerr during a Congressional hearing concerning "hacking" and the CFAA. In that discussion, Gohmert spoke out in favor of being able to "hack back" and destroy the computers of hackers -- and grew indignant at the mere suggestion that this might have unintended consequences or lead people to attack the wrong targets. Gohmert thought that such talk was just Kerr trying to protect hackers.
I thought perhaps Rep. Gohmert was just having a bad day. Maybe he's having a bad month. In a different hearing, held yesterday concerning ECPA reform, Gohmert opened his mouth again, and it was even worse. Much, much worse. Cringe-inducingly clueless. Yell at your screen clueless. Watch for yourself, but be prepared to want to yell.
The short version of this is that he seems to think that when Google has advertisements on Gmail, that's the same thing as selling all of the information in your email to advertisers. And no matter how many times Google's lawyer politely tries to explain the difference, Gohmert doesn't get it. He thinks he's making a point -- smirking the whole time -- that what Google does is somehow the equivalent of government snooping, in that he keeps asking if Google can just "sell" access to everyone's email to the government. I'm going to post a transcript below, and because I simply cannot not interject how ridiculously uninformed Gohmert's line of questioning is, I'm going to interject in the transcript as appropriate.
Rep. Gohmert: I was curious. Doesn't Google sell information acquired from emails to different vendors so that they can target certain individuals with their promotions?
Google lawyer whose name I didn't catch: Uh, no, we don't sell email content. We do have a system -- similar to the system we have for scanning for spam and malware -- that can identify what type of ads are most relevant to serve on email messages. It's an automated process. There's no human interaction. Certainly, the email is not sold to anybody or disclosed.
Gohmert: So how do these other vendors get our emails and think that we may be interested in the products they're selling.
Okay, already we're off to a great start in monumental ignorance. The initial question was based on a complete falsehood -- that Google sells such information -- and after the lawyer told him that this is not true, Gohmert completely ignores that and still asks how they get the emails. It never seems to occur to him that they don't get the emails.
Google lawyer: They don't actually get your email. What they're able to do is through our advertising business be able to identify keywords that they would like to trigger the display of one of their ads, but they don't get information about who the user is or any...
Gohmert: Well that brings me back. So they get information about keywords in our emails that they use to decide who to send promotions to, albeit automatically done. Correct?
NO. Not correct. In fact, that's the exact opposite of what the lawyer just said. Gohmert can't seem to comprehend that Google placing targeted ads next to emails has NOTHING to do with sending any information back to the advertiser. I wonder, when Rep. Gohmert turns on his television to watch the evening news, does he think that the TV station is sending his name, address, channel watching info, etc. back to advertisers? That's not how it works. At all. The advertisers state where they want their ads to appear, and Google's system figures out where to place the ads. At no point does any information from email accounts go back to anyone. And yet Gohmert keeps asking.
And not understanding the rather basic answers. Unfortunately, the lawyer tries to actually explain reality to Gohmert in a professional and detailed manner, when it seems clear that the proper way to answer his questions is in shorter, simpler sentences such as: "No, that's 100% incorrect."
Lawyer: The email context is used to identify what ads are most relevant to the user...
Gohmert: And do they pay for the right or the contractual ability to target those individuals who use those keywords?
Lawyer: I might phrase that slightly differently, but the gist is correct, that advertisers are able to bid for the placement of advertisements to users, where our system has detected might be interested in the advertisement.
Gohmert: Okay, so what would prevent the federal government from making a deal with Google, so they could also "Scroogle" people, and say "I want to know everyone who has ever used the term 'Benghazi'" or "I want everyone who's ever used... a certain term." Would you discriminate against the government, or would you allow the government to know about all emails that included those words?
Okay, try not to hit your head on your desk after that exchange. First, he (perhaps accidentally) gets a statement more or less correct, that advertisers pay to have their ads show up, but immediately follows that up with something completely unrelated to that. First, he tosses in "Scroogled" -- a term that Microsoft uses in its advertising against Gmail and in favor of Outlook.com -- suggesting exactly where this "line" of questioning may have originated. Tip to Microsoft lobbyists, by the way: if you want to put Google on the hot seat, it might help to try a line of questioning that actually makes sense.
Then, the second part, you just have to say huh? The lawyer already explained, repeatedly, that Google doesn't send any information back to the advertiser, and yet he's trying to suggest that the government snooping through your email is the same thing... and Google somehow not giving the government that info is Google "discriminating" against the government? What? Really?
Lawyer [confounded look] Uh... sir, I think those are apples and oranges. I think the disclosure of the identity...
Gohmert: I'm not asking for a fruit comparison. I'm just asking would you be willing to make that deal with the government? The same one you do with private advertisers, so that the government would know which emails are using which words.
Seriously? I recognize that there are no requirements on intelligence to get elected to Congress, but is there anyone who honestly could not comprehend what he meant by saying it's "apples and oranges"? But, clearly he does not understand that because not only does he mock the analogy, he then repeats the same question in which he insists -- despite the multiple explanations that state the exact opposite -- that advertisers get access to emails and information about email users, and that the government should be able to do the same thing.
Lawyer: Thank you, sir. I meant by that, that it isn't the same deal that's being suggested there.
Gohmert: But I'm asking specifically if the same type of deal could be made by the federal government? [some pointless rant about US government videos aired overseas that is completely irrelevant and which it wasn't worth transcribing] But if that same government will spend tens of thousands to do a commercial, they might, under some hare-brained idea like to do a deal to get all the email addresses that use certain words. Couldn't they make that same kind of deal that private advertisers do?
Holy crap. Gohmert, for the fourth time already, nobody gets email addresses. No private business gets the email addresses. No private business gets to see inside of anyone's email. Seeing inside someone's email has nothing to do with buying ads in email. If the government wants to "do the same deal as private advertisers" then yes it can advertise on Gmail... and it still won't get the email addresses or any other information about emailers, because at no point does Google advertising work that way.
Lawyer: We would not honor a request from the government for such a...
Gohmert: So you would discriminate against the government if they tried to do what your private advertisers do?
No. No. No. No. No. The lawyer already told you half a dozen times, no. The government can do exactly what private advertisers do, which is buy ads. And, just like private advertisers, they would get back no email addresses or any such information.
Lawyer: I don't think that describes what private advertisers...
Gohmert: Okay, does anybody here have any -- obviously, you're doing a good job protecting your employer -- but does anybody have any proposed legislation that would assist us in what we're doing?
What are we doing, here? Because it certainly seems like you're making one of the most ignorant arguments ever to come out of an elected officials' mouth, and that's saying quite a bit. You keep saying "private advertisers get A" when the reality is that private advertisers get nothing of the sort -- and then you ignore that (over and over and over and over again) and then say "well if private advertisers get A, why can't the government get A." The answer is because neither of them get A and never have.
Gohmert: I would be very interested in any phrase, any clauses, any items that we might add to legislation, or take from existing legislation, to help us deal with this problem. Because I am very interested and very concerned about our privacy and our email.
If you were either interested or concerned then you would know that no such information goes back to advertisers before you stepped into the room (hell, before you got elected, really). But, even if you were ignorant of that fact before the hearing, the fact that the lawyer tried half a dozen times, in a half a dozen different ways to tell you that the information is not shared should have educated you on that fact. So I'm "very interested" in what sort of "language" Gohmert is going to try to add to legislation that deals with a non-existent problem that he insists is real.
Gohmert: And just so the simpletons that sometimes write for the Huffington Post understand, I don't want the government to have all that information.
Rep. Sensenbrenner: For the point of personal privilege, my son writes for the Huffington Post.
Gohmert: Well then maybe he's not one of the simpletons I was referring to.
Sensenbrenner: He does have a Phd.
Gohmert: Well, you can still be a PHUL.
Har, har, har... wait, what? So much insanity to unpack. First of all, Gohmert seems to think that people will be making fun of him for suggesting that the government should "buy" access to your email on Google. And, yes, we will make fun of that, but not for the reasons that he thinks they will. No one thinks that Gohmert seriously wants the government to buy access to information on Google. What everyone's laughing (or cringing) at is the idea that anyone could buy that info, because you can't. No private advertiser. No government. It's just not possible.
But, I guess we're all just "simpletons."
Seriously, however, we as citizens deserve better politicians. No one expects politicians to necessarily understand every aspect of technology, but there are some simple concepts that you should at least be able to grasp when explained to you repeatedly by experts. When a politician repeatedly demonstrates no ability to comprehend a rather basic concept -- and to then granstand on their own ignorance -- it's time to find better politicians. Quickly.
dennis deems: LOL you should pass in an enum instead of a String. bad Christopher Best: Actually it's C++ so I shouldn't be calling new to begin with. :P Leigh Beadon: plus the MarvelPortrayal constructor doesn't take any arguments, it just randomly polls a public domain fiction api dennis deems: nice!! Christopher Best: lol well played Ah, interesting to see the Steve Jackson Games vs. the FBI case coming up in connection to this Silva story. That case pretty much led to the creation of the EFF I hate to think in terms of anything positive involving police beating someone to death, but one could only hope that these sort of cases lead to a similarly long-lasting legacy as creating an organization that fights against seizure of video evidence Jay: Gah, that bottom ad is annoying on my cellphone! dennis deems: Happily there is some good news too: http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2013/05/patent-troll-that-wants-1000-per-worker-gets-sued-by-vermont-a-g/ this is the scanner troll silverscarcat: Well... http://www.extremetech.com/gaming/156515-kinect-for-xbox-one-an-always-on-works-in-the-dark-camera-and-microphone-what-could-possibly-go-wrong dennis deems: why would anybody want that? silverscarcat: idk So, I just erased my outlook account. I refuse to use that service or allow it to host anything of mine. Already got it on Thunderbird. Tis sad, over a decade worth of memories, and Outlook comes along and screws everything up. dennis deems: http://t.co/CqGZaCofFb The Lonely Island - SEMICOLON (feat. Solange) for you @ssc (NSFW)