I have to admit, I didn't see this one coming. We recently discussed how Bob Costas reacted to a video of him being more than a bit hard on Cubs MLB pitcher Pedro Strop by going full-tirade on the internet and social media. Within that post was the embedded video of the broadcast segment that featured Costas wondering allowed whether Strop pointed up to the heavens while walking off the field (something very common in sports) was him imploring a dead relative for forgiveness for his awful performance. That video, I should mention, was up and working at the time the post was being written. By the time it was published, however, it had been taken down with a notice that someone had filed a copyright claim on it.
What's strange about this is that it was an MLB Network broadcast, meaning the likely party requesting its removal would be Major League Baseball itself. I say it's strange because MLB is really good when it comes to advanced media and the internet. No other sport does as well in getting videos and content out there for people to enjoy. A party so good at the internet, however, should know better than to try to hide an embarrassing moment for a broadcaster through obscurity via intellectual property.
Because, thank you Streisand Effect, now we're talking about it again. Oh, and the video is still available from a ton of places, including on YouTube from a variety of uploaders.
The result? Well the conversation continues when this whole thing could already have been put to bed. Costas reportedly apologized to Strop. Strop reportedly accepted the apology, saying he didn't want to be the kind of person to judge anyone. And it would have been over.
But now it's not, because for some reason MLB (most likely) thought it could hide what had happened when it couldn't. I suppose MLB could start an ineffectual game of whac-a-mole with all the other sources of the video out there if it really wants to, but it shouldn't. It never should have taken the first video down in the first place. Going any further would really get the tongues wagging, which was the exact thing the league was hoping to prevent.
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Earlier this year, there were some questions raised when it appeared that UK Prime Minister David Cameron was suggesting that he wanted to undermine all encryption on the internet. Later, some suggested he was looking more at undermining end point security. However, after being re-elected, and apparently believing that this gave him the mandate to go full Orwell, Cameron is making it clear that no one should ever have any privacy from government snoops ever.
Responding to a somewhat nonsensical question about if he believed the recent attacks in Tunisia meant that the big internet companies need to "understand that their current privacy policies are completely unsustainable?" Cameron insisted that the UK always needed to be able to read communications. It is, of course, not at all clear what the privacy policies of Google, Facebook and Twitter (the three named by the questioner) have to do with the price of tea in China, let alone the attacks in Tunisia, but... alas:
"We just want to ensure that terrorists do not have a safe space in which to communicate. That is the challenge, and it is a challenge that will come in front of the House.
"We have always been able, on the authority of the home secretary, to sign a warrant and intercept a phone call, a mobile phone call or other media communications, but the question we must ask ourselves is whether, as technology develops, we are content to leave a safe space—a new means of communication—for terrorists to communicate with each other.
"My answer is no, we should not be, which means that we must look at all the new media being produced and ensure that, in every case, we are able, in extremis and on the signature of a warrant, to get to the bottom of what is going on."
Of course, he also insisted that you regular people shouldn't worry:
"Britain is not a state that is trying to search through everybody’s emails and invade their privacy..."
Except, well, it is. This whole thing seems to be based on the idea that it's blatantly obvious who is a "terrorist" and who is a good citizen of the UK. Cameron can't really be so naive as to think that "terrorists" are somehow easily differentiated from everyday people, can he? Then again, this is the same guy who once pushed for this Snooper's Charter by talking about how fictional TV crime dramas proved it would be a useful tool.
This is extremely troubling. Cameron's desire to undermine encryption is dangerous for the privacy and security of everyone, especially those in the UK that Cameron is supposed to be helping to protect, because lots of people really do need "safe spaces in which to communicate." The only way to take those away for "terrorists" is to take them away for everyone, and that means not just for the purpose of government snooping, but for others as well. Introducing backdoors breaks security and makes everyone much, much, much more vulnerable to all sorts of attacks.
And, again, this is the same guy who said:
For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.... This government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.
Does that really sound like someone who will only use such snooping powers to track down terrorists? He's blatantly admitting that he will use it against law abiding citizens, admitting that merely "obeying the law" should not leave you free from being hassled by the government.
These kinds of statements are cartoonishly evil. They're the kind of ridiculous statements one would have hoped you'd only see in late night TV fictional TV dramas, not coming from an actually elected leader of a major western power.
Amnesty International has been heavily engaged in fights against mass surveillance, recognizing that many of the people it communicates with need an expectation of privacy in their communications with the group. Last year, Ed Snowden revealed that the NSA specifically spied on Amnesty International and other human rights organizations. And, while Amnesty International was unable to gain standing by the US Supreme Court, since it couldn't prove that the NSA had spied on its communications, the story appears to be somewhat different over in the UK.
In a shocking revelation, the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT) today notified Amnesty International that UK government agencies had spied on the organization by intercepting, accessing and storing its communications.
In an email sent today, the Tribunal informed Amnesty International its 22 June ruling had mistakenly identified one of two NGOs which it found had been subjected to unlawful surveillance by the UK government. Today’s communication makes clear that it was actually Amnesty International Ltd, and not the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) that was spied on in addition to the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa.
As you may recall, a little over a week ago, the IPT had ruled that the GCHQ had erred in holding onto emails too long -- but had named that Egyptian organization as the one whose emails were held. However, that's now been corrected to Amnesty International.
The actual email sent by the IPT basically says that GCHQ told them that the IPT made a mistake. What you won't see anywhere is an apology from GCHQ.
Amnesty is rightfully incensed about the whole thing:
“How can we be expected to carry out our crucial work around the world if human rights defenders and victims of abuses can now credibly believe their confidential correspondence with us is likely to end up in the hands of governments?
“The revelation that the UK government has been spying on Amnesty International highlights the gross inadequacies in the UK’s surveillance legislation. If they hadn’t stored our communications for longer than they were allowed to by internal guidelines, we would never even have known. What’s worse, this would have been considered perfectly lawful.”
Both issues raised here are significant. The only reason Amnesty now knows about this is because GCHQ held onto the emails too long. If it had done its usual purge, then the IPT likely would never have revealed that, and Amnesty's communications would have continued to go on being compromised without anyone knowing.
Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission voted to ease the way for cities to become Internet service providers. So-called municipal broadband is already a reality in a few towns, often providing Internet access and faster service to rural communities that cable companies don't serve.
The cable and telecommunications industry have long lobbied against city-run broadband, arguing that taxpayer money should not fund potential competitors to private companies.
The telecom companies have what may seem like an unlikely ally: states. Roughly 20 states have restrictions against municipal broadband.
And the attorneys general in North Carolina and Tennessee have recently filed lawsuits in an attempt to overrule the FCC and block towns in these states from expanding publicly funded Internet service.
North Carolina's attorney general argued in a suit filed in May that the "FCC unlawfully inserted itself between the State and the State's political subdivisions." Tennessee's attorney general filed a similar suit in March.
Tennessee has hired one of the country's largest telecom lobbying and law firms, Wiley Rein, to represent the state in its suit. The firm, founded by a former FCC chairman, has represented AT&T, Verizon and Qwest, among others.
James Tierney, director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School, said it is not unusual for attorneys general to seek outside counsel for specialized cases that they view as a priority.
Asked about the suit, the Tennessee attorney general's office told ProPublica, "This is a question of the state's sovereign ability to define the role of its local governmental units." North Carolina Attorney General's office said in a statement that the "legal defense of state laws by the Attorney General's office is a statutory requirement."
North Carolina is no exception. The state's Attorney General Roy Cooper received roughly $35,000 from the telecommunications industry in his 2012 run for office. Only the state's retail industry gave more.
If the court upholds the FCC's authority to preempt restrictions in North Carolina and Tennessee, it may embolden other cities to file petitions with the agency, according to lawyer Jim Baller, who represents Wilson and the Chattanooga Electric Power Board. "A victory by the FCC would be a very welcome result for many communities across America," said Baller.
For some residents in and outside of Chattanooga, clearing the way to city-run broadband would mean the sort of faster Internet access that others might take for granted.
For 12 years, Eva VanHook, 39, of Georgetown, Tennessee, lived with a satellite broadband connection so slow that she'd read a book while waiting for a web page to load. In order for her son to access online materials for his school assignments, she'd drive him 12 miles to their church parking lot, where he could access faster WiFi.
Charter, the local Internet service provider, declined several requests by her husband to build lines out to her home. Only last month did Charter connect her home to the Internet. "Even the possibility to jump on [the local utility's] gigabit network would blow our minds right now," VanHook said. "There is nothing faster than Chattanooga. Just through meeting them and hearing them speak and having them understand what's going on, that's the kind of place I want to do business."
For years, broadcasters and cable operators have tried to push the boundaries of good taste and advertising revenue generation. Whether that's trying to prevent consumers from skipping ads to patenting technology that will use cameras embedded in set tops to watch you watching TV, there's a relentless thirst for new realms of ad revenue. As a sense of futility extends into the quest for more meaningful privacy protections in the new age of smart hardware and deep packet inspection, cable operators continue to nudge the boundaries of revenue collection ever further.
Comcast's latest foray into this arena is its new voice-controlled remote, which lets users give some basic keywords to control the company's set top box. Like similar services, it's a relatively useful concept, though if it works as well as most such efforts, most people will stick with old-fashioned buttons. Meanwhile, Comcast has apparently started using the technology to strike deals that market certain films to kids:
"Just say the word ‘banana’ into the remote and you’ll get a list of food programs as the minions talk back. Saying ‘kudos’ will take you to the Despicable Me 2 movie, and the minions will say ‘kudos!’ right back. Test out other words in Minionese to see what comes up, and keep checking the Xfinity and Minions social channels for new commands as they’re added. And if you want to get ready for the movie that comes out on July 10, just say ‘Minions’ to see the trailer."
To be clear, I don't think this is all that big of a deal, even though I understand the concerns of those who aren't thrilled about direct marketing to (and data collection of) children (as we recently saw with the new Wi-Fi-connected Barbie). After all, Minions ads are everywhere. Amazon's featuring the yellow pill-shaped little rabblerousers on their boxes during a limited cross-promotion. This is just kind of cute, right?
"After you speak into the remote, the voice commands are sent to Comcast and its contracted service provider for processing. Comcast and its provider use these voice commands to provide the voice control service (including for quality assurance, troubleshooting, and customer support), improve Comcast’s products and services and improve their voice recognition algorithms."
Another issue is that as cable operators face increasing competition from internet video, their response so far has been two-fold: to raise rates like it's going out of style, and to try to cram more and more ads into every minute of television (sometimes by cutting programs shorter). So paying customers are already being bombarded with ads, and now their remotes are pitching product. As cable operators begin losing internet voice and traditional TV customers to over-the-top services, the lust for new revenue streams is only going to accelerate this dissolution of product value further.
Again, I don't think your cable remote "speaking Minion gibberish" to your tot is that big of a deal in and of itself, but we need to be wary of the temperature of the water we're collectively sitting in. As noted previously, there's going to be a pretty fine line between useful and invasive, or cute and terrifying, and contrary to what many think it's not going to be entirely clear when we've crossed the Rubicon.
Last week, Tim Cushing explained that one of the bad outcomes of the recent European Parliament committee vote on Julia Reda's copyright reform report was that it recommended limiting freedom of panorama -- the ability to take pictures and make videos of public objects -- to non-commercial use. As Techdirt readers know, in the digital age, it is very hard to draw a clear distinction between commercial and non-commercial contexts online, which makes any kind of limitation to non-commercial use problematic. The person responsible for introducing the amendment to Reda's report, Jean-Marie Cavada, has written a blog post about the freedom of panorama issue (original in French), and it gives us some interesting insights into his thinking here:
The fight which is being led today by Ms. Reda, in the guise of defending free access to the works that are in the public domain [public objects] on behalf of users, is actually one conducted above all to allow US monopolies such as Facebook, or Wikimedia, to avoid the payment of fees to the creators.
Yes, it's all about those evil American companies again, refusing to pay when somebody dares to post a holiday picture on their Facebook page. Because, as the copyright maximalists keep on reminding us, every single use of every single owned object must be licensed every single time, otherwise civilization -- specifically European civilization -- will come crashing down.
But whatever people might think about Facebook, it's hard to see Wikipedia/Wikimedia as a "US monopoly" avoiding payment, as Cavada calls it. Indeed, Cavada goes on to contradict himself, writing:
this structure is well aware that the use of works on Wikimedia pages is not questioned by the authors, even in countries where there is no [freedom of] panorama exception.
Well, if it's not questioned, why is he using Wikipedia as an example of an evil "US monopoly" that wants to avoid paying licensing fees? Or does he mean that authors don't have a problem with Wikipedia using photos of landscapes with their works visible provided they are paid? Which of course ignores the fact that Wikipedia is not a company, and can't afford to pay licensing fees. Or, there again, is he perhaps advocating that Wikipedia just ignore the law, and use the pictures anyway?
Altogether, this confused post is a perfect demonstration of why people who don't understand a technology should not be allowed to make laws about it.
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.
“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.
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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.