Techdirt Lite.
(Click here for full version)

Bob Costas Rails Against The Internet After Criticism For Going Nuclear On MLB Pitcher (Too Much Free Time)

by Timothy Geigner

from the standards dept on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 @ 9:16PM
You would only really know this if you're a baseball fan, but Bob Costas went ahead and stepped in it recently while calling a Cubs vs. Cardinals game. You see, relief pitcher Pedro Strop came out to work from the bullpen and promptly crapped himself on the mound (not literally). This, of course, is only in good keeping with the Chicago Cubs tradition of sucking, but apparently Costas decided to go in pretty hard on Strop when the pitcher pointed at the sky as he exited the game.


Whoa. That's more than a little harsh relative to most MLB broadcasts and Costas heard about it from many internet sites and social media circles. Baseball fans tweeted, asking him what the deal was in delivering such a harsh line at a pitcher who simply had a rough outing. Websites, like Deadspin, offered up typically reasonable articles with equally reasonable headlines like "Holy shit, Bob Costas." As a result of all of this, Costas has said he would apologize for his remarks.

But this is still all the internet's fault, obviously.

“We can be disingenuous about it if we want, if it suits our purposes, but we all know this: We live in an age of faux outrage, of disproportionate outrage. Everything is shocking, over the top. ‘He savaged Pedro Strop’ — I mean, come on, come on. Let’s get a handle on this,” Costas said. “I could have done better and I will apologize. But . . . that’s just Internet stuff. I’m going to take care of it the same way I would have taken care of it if it was 1986. And that’s going to be that.”
In addition to those comments, the link includes an audio clip from a Costas interview on WFAN, in which he laments the fact that the internet took notice of his national broadcast and decided they didn't care for it all that much. Costas hit the usual chords whenever someone from a traditional media outlet rails against the internet and social media: something something overreaction, something something fake outrage, something something we're still the real media. But my favorite line was:
"The mainstream, which can be criticized, we have our own shortcomings, but we're supposed to hue to a higher standard, both of ethics and of quality. The idea that in some desperate attempt to remain relevant, and to get more clicks, that we should dumb ourselves down to adopting the ethos of the mob, that's something that I'm not good with."
Look, I know I don't really count as valid, because I'm from the internet, but I have a suggestion: it might not be the best plan to trot out the sacred and storied tradition of journalistic ethics in the broadcast media in reaction to a story about you going nuclear on a reliever, such that you, yourself, felt the need to apologize. Those two things mashed together don't make any sense. Come on, Bob, it ain't the internet's fault you came of like a jerk.

8 Comments

DailyDirt: Playing Super Mario By Rote... Is Fun? (Computers)

by Michael Ho

from the urls-we-dig-up dept on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 @ 5:00PM
Video games that are entertaining need to be simple enough for people to understand, but at the same time, hard enough to be a little challenging and not too easy to beat. Games like Flappy Bird demonstrate this sweet spot for gameplay, and some classic games like Super Mario are still widely enjoyed even decades after their initial releases. Computers can play games like these, too, but they can't enjoy them like we do. Check out a few of these links on creative ways to continue playing Super Mario. After you've finished checking out those links, take a look at our Daily Deals for cool gadgets and other awesome stuff.
4 Comments

Seattle City Council Member Urges Grass Roots Broadband Revolution After Ten Years Of Failing To Fix Broken Broadband Duopoly (Broadband)

by Karl Bode

from the don't-build-it-and-they-won't-come dept on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 @ 3:48PM
For most of the last decade Seattle, like many U.S. cities, has been painfully unhappy with its broadband options. If they're "lucky," Seattle residents have the choice of apathetic telco CenturyLink (formerly Qwest), or everybody's favorite dysfunction monolith, Comcast. CenturyLink historically can barely be bothered to upgrade its aging DSL networks, resulting in most of its users paying an arm and a leg for 3 to 6 Mbps DSL (which was quite cutting edge in 2003). And while Comcast has done a relatively better job upgrading its networks, their customer service documentably qualifies for inclusion as a new circle of hell.

So Seattle has, since 2005 and before, pondered whether it should get into the broadband business itself. The city has conducted study after study on building a citywide fiber ring to feed municipal operations and residential and business service, yet these efforts consistently die under the weight of bureaucratic incompetence and Comcast and CenturyLink pressure. At one point, Seattle even paid a company by the name of Gigabit Squared $55,000 in exchange for absolutely nothing of note (Gigabit Squared magically evaporated after also taking money from Chicago in exchange for doing nothing).

So basically year after year slips by, and each new Seattle politician publicly laments the horrible state of broadband competition to score political points, but, like most cities, nothing gets fixed. That's in large part courtesy of incumbent ISP lobbyists, who work tirelessly to make sure city politicians don't disrupt the profitable and uncompetitive status quo. Last year, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (the money he received from Comcast was a hot topic leading up to his election) proudly proclaimed that he would be the one to fix Seattle's broadband woes:
"My office is actively engaged in finding a path forward. We certainly need some short term options to bring a functional internet to neighborhoods that have almost no connectivity, and we’re looking at ways to bring service to those neighborhoods as soon as possible. We are looking at a number of policy changes and their impacts that could foster greater competition right now, like testing small neighborhood pilot programs, building off existing fiber, or increasing WiFi access."
Fast forward to last month, and Murray's office has released a viability study that cost the city $180,000 and took seven months to complete. It basically states that the effort would cost $500 to $600 million and isn't a viable project to take on alone. A memo by city budget director Ben Noble states the debt would "significantly constrain the debt capacity" for a number of critical city projects and hurt the city's credit rating. The study examined a variety of options, from partnering with the city's utility to using property taxes to fund a $45 per home gigabit service. The study concluded that none of these options were viable.

And if the math doesn't work it doesn't work, but remember the city has been throwing money (and time) for the last decade at exploring this theoretical network, and so far they've got little to show for it. And as city sports stadiums show (it should be noted CenturyLink field cost $430 million a decade ago), cities can build fairly amazing things when efforts take priority. The city did streamline regulations governing cabinet placement and city franchises, something Seattle CTO Michael Mattmiller insists is improving the city's broadband without pursuing the municipal option:
"To see that reducing regulatory barriers brought not one but two providers to the market who could start building fiber to the home has been very encouraging,” Mattmiller said. “I’ve seen the CenturyLink trucks around the city and am in talks with Wave about how they are approaching their build-out. It’s very encouraging that we are taking the right regulatory approach that still protects the city but allows providers to invest."
Except Wave's build out is condo-focused and modest, and CenturyLink is one of many ISPs that have responded to Google Fiber with what I affectionately call "fiber to the press release," or the practice of offering gigabit fiber to a few high-end developments, then pretending it's conducting a much broader rollout than it is. This usually fools the press and makes politicians look good, but the ruse often gets exposed when people actually try to sign up for service. CenturyLink's CEO recently had to apologize to Seattle residents for overstating gigabit service availability.

And while streamlining franchise agreements and eliminating bureaucratic burdens helps (and is something Google Fiber has been preaching), companies still wind up cherry picking only the most profitable neighborhoods. They're also not incentivized to upgrade uniformly or compete on price if there's no competitive pressure to do so. Most broadband investors and execs hate the slow returns from network builds, so the focus for years has been on aggressively raising rates and cutting corners to ensure improved quarterly returns.

That's why Seattle councilmember Kshama Sawant took to her blog recently urging Seattle residents to forge a grass roots movement to find some way to make Seattle municipal broadband happen:
"Seattle would be the largest city in the country to implement municipal broadband. We should expect Comcast and CenturyLink to go to every length to keep their unchallenged duopoly in Seattle. Countering them will require a mass citywide movement, much like the one we needed to win $15/hour last year by successfully overcoming the financial and political clout of fast food and retail giants...It is up to us working people to build a strong enough grassroots movement for municipal broadband to force elected officials to put Seattle’s need for universal, affordable high speed connectivity over Comcast and CenturyLink’s insatiable drive for profits."
Which is great, but if Seattle as a whole isn't willing to pay for service (and the tax-loathing public is easily swayed by ISP lobbyist and astroturfer vilification of such efforts), then the city's going to remain locked in its Kafka-esque duopoly logjam in perpetuity. At least unless it can find a deep-pocketed and marginally altruistic private partner to eat much of the bill, which seems to be what Mayor Murray and friends are placing their hopes on. But if cities can build multi-billion dollar churches to the NFL gods, surely a city as jam-packed with creative minds as Seattle can find some way to fund a giant kick in the incumbent ISPs' collective ass.
6 Comments

No Craig Newmark Did Not Donate To EFF; He Helped Make CFAA Worse Instead (Overhype)

by Mike Masnick

from the eff-opposed-the-lawsuit dept on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 @ 2:33PM
There's been a bunch of fuss online over the "news" that Craigslist is supposedly donating $1 million to EFF when the money is not actually from Craig. It's from a startup that Craigslist has sued out of business, under a dangerous interpretation of the CFAA that harms the open internet. Obviously, EFF getting an additional $1 million in resources is really great. But it's troubling to see so many people congratulate Craigslist and Craig Newmark for "supporting EFF." Craig himself has contributed to this misleading perception with this tweet implying he's giving his own money to EFF:
Plenty of smart people are cheering on Craig for supposedly being so generous. But that's wrong. This isn't Craigslist being generous. This is Craigslist abusing the CFAA to kill a company who was making the internet better, and then handing over some of the proceeds to the EFF, which actively opposed Craigslist's lawsuit.

Now, I should note upfront that I like Craigslist and very much like Craig Newmark personally. I think that the company has been really innovative in taking a more long term view of its business (even if it's been losing ground more recently). However, this lawsuit was always really sketchy. It sued a few companies for making Craigslist more valuable. Those companies were scraping Craigslist data, but only to overlay additional information and always pointing people back to Craigslist. In other words, the companies Padmapper and 3taps were adding value to Craigslist in the same manner that much of the internet was built -- by providing more value on top of the work of others.

And yet Craigslist sued these companies under a tortured definition of the CFAA, arguing that the mere scraping of its data to provide value on top of it (none of which took away any value from Craigslist) was "unauthorized access." The EFF filed an amicus brief against Craigslist, slamming the company (which it has frequently supported in other circumstances) for abusing the law:
The CFAA does not and should not impose liability on anyone who accesses information publicly available on the Internet. Because the CFAA and Penal Code § 502 imposes both civil and criminal liability, it must be interpreted narrowly. That means information on a publicly accessible website can be accessed by anyone on the Internet without running afoul of criminal computer hacking laws. In the absence of access, as opposed to use, restrictions, Craigslist cannot use these anti-hacking laws to complain when the information it voluntarily broadcasts to the world is accessed, even if it is upset about a competing or complementary business.

[....]

Craigslist’s enormous success is a result of its openness: anyone anywhere can access any of its websites and obtain information about apartments for rent, new jobs or cars for sale. Its openness means that Craigslist is the go to place on the web for classified ads; it users post on Craigslist because they know their ads will reach the largest audience.

But what Craigslist is trying to do here is to use the CFAA’s provisions to enforce the unilateral determinations it has made concerning access to its website, an Internet site that it has already chosen to open up to the general public, attempting to turn a law against computer hacking into a new tool. But prohibiting access to an otherwise publicly available website is not the type of harm that Congress intended to be proscribed in the CFAA, and nowhere in the legislative history is there any suggestion that the CFAA was drafted to grant website owners such unbridled discretion.
That's the EFF directly arguing against Craigslist in this case. Unfortunately, the initial district court ruling agreed with Craigslist, leading EFF to note just how dangerous the ruling was:
There's a serious potential for mischief that is encouraged by this decision, as companies could arbitrarily decide whose authorization to "revoke" and need only write a letter and block an IP address to invoke the power of a felony criminal statute in what is, at best, a civil business dispute.
Orin Kerr, who is an expert on abuses of the CFAA was similarly alarmed:
Judge Breyer’s opinion appears to mix up two different aspects of the CFAA. The first aspect is the prohibition on unauthorized access, and the second is its associated mental state element of intent. The CFAA only prohibits intentional unauthorized access; merely knowingly or recklessly accessing without authorization is not prohibited. So whatever unauthorized access means, the person must be guilty of doing that thing (the act of unauthorized access) intentionally to trigger the statute. Breyer seems to mix up those elements by focusing heavily on the fact that 3taps knew that Craigslist didn’t want 3taps to access its site. According to Judge Breyer, the clear notice meant that the case before him didn’t raise all the notice and vagueness issues that prompted the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Nosal.
So now the case has been settled, and, as a result at, least one of the companies involved, 3taps, is shutting down altogether. 3taps points out that it's 3taps, not Craigslist whose money is going to EFF:

As part of the settlement, 3taps and its founder, Greg Kidd, have agreed to pay craigslist $1 million, all of which must then be paid by craigslist to the EFF, which supported 3taps' position on the CFAA in this litigation, and continues to do great work for Internet freedom generally.  Mr. Kidd's investment firm, Hard Yaka, has also committed to make a substantial investment in PadMapper to provide it with the resources to continue to innovate and serve the post-craigslist marketplace.

Although 3taps lacks the resources to continue the fight, this settlement provides much needed resources to the EFF, as there is still much to be done on the issues raised in this case.

For example, the question remains whether private companies that maintain public websites can selectively exclude visitors, exposing the banned visitor to civil and criminal liability under the CFAA.

Furthermore, this is unlikely to be the last litigation involving craigslist's copyrights, particularly given craigslist's current practice of selectively obtaining copyright assignments and registrations (the prerequisite to a copyright infringement lawsuit) in certain user-generated posts, but failing to inform its visitors which posts it owns.  This effectively creates a copyright litigation trap for unwary visitors.

Finally, it remains unresolved whether craigslist's well-recognized practice of "ghosting" (the hiding or interception of user postings and emails) without the users' knowledge or consent is legal or ethical.

Given all that, it's fairly disappointing to see lots of prominent people backslapping Craig and Craigslist for "donating" this money to EFF. It's not Craig's money. And, according to the settlements, it appears that the $1 million isn't all that Craigslist is getting. That's just the money 3taps is paying. Another company in the dispute, Lovely, is paying an additional $2.1 million. It's unclear if Craigslist is giving that money to EFF or anyone else -- or keeping it.

Again, on most issues, I think Craig and Craigslist are on the right side of things. He fought strongly against SOPA and for net neutrality. I think the company does the right thing in many cases, but in this case it clearly did not, and the fact that people are now cheering him on when it's not even his money, and is only happening as a result of his bad lawsuit that forced another company to shut down, is really disturbing.

Read More
11 Comments

Lawsuit Filed After Export-Import Bank Official Swears He 'Accidentally' Deleted All Of His Responsive Text Messages (Legal Issues)

by Tim Cushing

from the New-Year's-Resolution:-1.-Delete-incriminating-texts dept on Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 @ 1:49PM

Sure, Freedom of Information laws are great, but they have their downsides. For one thing, they clearly signal to agencies which records are being sought. It's unavoidable. To answer a request, an agency needs to know what it's looking for. Once the request is out in the open, efforts can begin in earnest to excise information anyone affected doesn't want made public.

I'm not saying anyone did anything wrong, but it very definitely looks like someone did something deliberately wrong.

A top official at a controversial U.S. export finance agency deleted text messages sent within days of the 2014 midterm elections after a watchdog group filed an open records request for the messages, the agency admitted recently.
The watchdog group -- Cause of Action -- sought "text messages, Blackberry messenger chats and SMS messages sent or received by top officials during the period of days between November 2, 2014 and November 8, 2014." These would be texts fired back and forth during the mid-term elections by officials of the controversial US Export-Import Bank, which was facing the reality of having its funding halted by House Republicans.

Cause of Action got most of what it sought… several months later. It filed the request on November 20, 2014 but didn't receive a response until May 12, 2015. That response brought with it the following bad news:
[T]he messages for Scott P. Schloegel were accidently deleted on approximately January 1, 2015. Enclosed is signed declaration from Mr. Schloegel attesting to the deletion.
And sure enough, there's Schloegel's attestation that he did, indeed, nearly 45 days after the request was received, "accidentally" delete the relevant text messages. This violation of duties to preserve public records wasn't reported to Cause of Action until its very belated response from the agency itself, four months after the deletion took place.

For what it's worth, there's a sworn statement that says Schloegel didn't do this on purpose. I'm not sure how much culpability that alleviates, but I suppose it's better than a sworn statement claiming Schloegel did this deliberately and what are you going to do about it? But the end result is the same. The messages sought won't be making their way to the requesting entity.

And for what it's worth, Cause of Action is now suing the Export-Import Bank, demanding that the DOJ and/or Congress commence an investigation and work toward the recovery of the deleted messages. Whether or not this will prompt any action remains to be seen, but Cause of Action is still working hard to audit government agencies' FOIA response efforts. This particular request is part of a larger effort, as noted in the lawsuit:
In part due to this concern, Cause of Action has been conducting an investigation into whether federal agencies comply with their obligation to preserve text messages for a period of time. As a part of this investigation, Cause of Action lawfully requested that Ex-Im Bank produce the text message records of five high-ranking agency officials for a one week period in which text messaging likely would have been used to conduct agency business (November 2-8, 2014, or election week).
Because so much official communication now travels on more ethereal channels, the effort it takes to simply make possibly embarrassing documents vanish is practically nil. Any failure to follow up on accusations like these -- or even purportedly innocent "deletions" -- will signal to government agencies that carelessness with the public's information is acceptable. There's really no reason government agencies aren't working with redundant systems at this point. It takes little-to-no effort to ensure pertinent files housed on issued electronics are backed up elsewhere, thus ensuring that this sort of sworn "accident" doesn't result in the permanent removal of requested information.



Read More
9 Comments

Older Stories >>