by Mike Masnick
Tue, Jul 15th 2014 10:04am
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Jun 30th 2014 10:57am
from the direct-sharing-files-is-hard dept
Groups like the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and others that make up the copyright lobby have actively campaigned against the kinds of tools that address these aims.The simple fact is that the fight to protect one business model (out of many possible business models) for the entertainment industry, has clearly had a pretty big negative impact on the development of new tools and services that would lead to greater privacy and security (and a more functioning free press):
OnionShare creates direct connections between users, making it an example of peer-to-peer network architecture. The copyright lobby’s got a long history with peer-to-peer: at least since Napster emerged a decade and a half ago, corporate copyright holders have endeavored to destroy examples of the tech. We live today with the disastrous results.
After 15 years of being attacked, villainized, and litigated over, peer-to-peer programs and protocols have become a hard sell for investment and development. And as centralized products have gotten a lion’s share of the attention, their usability and market share have increased as well.
The qualities that the copyright lobby dislike about peer-to-peer are precisely the ones that make it a powerful choice for defenders of press freedom and personal privacy. Namely, peer-to-peer offers no convenient mechanism for centralized surveillance or censorship. By design, there’s usually no middleman that can easily record metadata about transfers—who uploaded and downloaded what, when, and from where—or block those transfers.So, if you're concerned about how much metadata the NSA is scooping up from online services, you have the MPAA and RIAA and its legal fights partially to blame for that. In demonizing distributed, private peer-to-peer applications and protocols, we've been driven increasingly to more centralized offerings. As Higgins further highlights, the third party doctrine, giving less privacy to information held by third parties, makes this situation even worse.
The distinction is further reflected in the U.S. legal system, which often offers data that goes through a third party reduced protection. That premise, the “third party doctrine,” is badly out-of-date, and produces counter-intuitive results in an era where the location of data storage is otherwise abstracted away. Already one Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor, has called for reconsidering it. But as long as the third party doctrine exists, architectures like peer-to-peer that allow for direct communication, broadly speaking, provide more privacy protection against invasive government requests.In short, you have the government wanting to get more access to information, and it can do that on centralized systems -- and combine that with the RIAA/MPAAs of the world fighting to either outlaw or diminish investment in more decentralized systems, and you have a recipe for easy mass surveillance. A decentralized world is important for the internet to work correctly, but we've been increasingly pushed away from that.
The good news is that with all the discussions of surveillance lately, a renewed push is being made for more decentralized systems. The success of decentralized cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is also helping things along the way. And there are a large number of other projects that are each trying to tackle different aspects of more centralized systems. Hopefully, they won't be deterred by litigation spats focused on just preserving a particular business model as well.
by Leigh Beadon
Wed, May 28th 2014 5:00pm
from the urls-we-dig-up dept
Discussions about technology's impact on the brain are all too often couched in fear-mongering and sensationalism, but the truth remains that, like all human habits and activities, our use of devices does affect the way we think. It's difficult to say much more than that with any level of certainty, but as with all great mysteries, scientists continue to gradually chip away at it one question at a time — and sometimes figuring out how to put what they learn to work. We might not be plugging our brains directly into computers yet, but here are a few ways the two have become connected anyway:
- A growing number of studies are uncovering various specific ways that technology usage is changing human behavior and cognition. Of course, the studies vary in terms of scale and quality, and shouldn't all necessarily be taken at face value as facts. [url]
- "Brain training games" make a lot of grandiose promises about improving abilities and staving off deterioration — but do they really work? Any mental challenge is probably better than none at all, but many of these brain games may not be improving anything but your ability to play brain games. [url]
- Some mathematicians claim to have solved the problem of jet lag with an app that helps train your circadian rhythms before traveling. Supposedly it doesn't require you to adjust your sleep schedule in advance, just the light levels you are exposed too, which it helps you optimize based on carefully-tuned formulas. [url]
If you'd like to read more awesome and interesting stuff, check out this unrelated (but not entirely random!) Techdirt post via StumbleUpon.
Thu, May 1st 2014 12:16pm
from the how-can-it-judge-reasonableness dept
I spent a lot of the last week shaking my head at the commentary on the Supreme Court and its (lack of) technical expertise. Much of the criticism came in response to the oral arguments in Aereo, and broke down in two areas: it either misunderstood the nature of Supreme Court oral arguments and their transcripts, or mistook familiarity with a handful of Silicon Valley products with actual tech savviness.
But in a series of cases this week about law enforcement searches of cell phones, we caught a glimpse of the Supreme Court’s real technology problem. Here's what it comes down to: it's not essential that the Court knows specifics about how technology itself works—and as Timothy Lee argues, that might even tempt them to make technology-based decisions that don't generalize well. However, it is essential that the Court understands how people use technology, especially in areas where they're trying to elaborate a standard of what expectations are "reasonable."
So when Chief Justice Roberts suggests that a person carrying two cell phones might reasonably be suspected of dealing drugs, that raises major red flags. Not because of any special facts about how cell phones work, but because (for example) at least half of the lawyers in the Supreme Court Bar brought two cell phones with them to the courthouse that day. Should those attorneys (along with the many, many other people who carry multiple devices) reasonably expect less privacy because the Chief Justice is out of touch with that fact?
Contrast that with Justice Kagan’s point about storage location in the same argument. Justice Kagan suggested, correctly, that people don’t always know what is stored on their device and what is stored “in the cloud.” The actual answer to that question should be immaterial; the point is that it’s absurd for a person’s privacy interest to hinge on which hard drive private data is stored on.1 Instead, the important fact here, which Justice Kagan recognizes, is that the distinction between local and cloud storage just doesn’t matter to many people, and so it can’t be the basis of a reasonable-expectation-of-privacy test.
If you’re feeling less generous, you might take Justice Kagan’s point as evidence that she herself doesn’t know where her files are stored. And in fact, that’s probably true—but it’s not important. You don’t actually need to know much about file systems and remote storage to know that it’s a bad idea for the law to treat it differently.
That’s not to say that technical implementation details are never relevant. Relevant details, though, should (and almost always do) get addressed in the briefs, long before the oral argument takes place. They don’t usually read like software manuals, either: they’re often rich with analogies to help explain not just how the tech works, but what body of law should apply.
What can’t really be explained in a brief, though, is a community’s relationship with a technology. You can get at parts of it, citing authorities like surveys and expert witnesses, but a real feeling for what people expect from their software and devices is something that has to be observed. If the nine justices on the Supreme Court can’t bring that knowledge to the arguments, the public suffers greatly. Again, Justice Kagan seems to recognize this fact when she says of cell phones:
They're computers. They have as much computing capacity as laptops did five years ago. And everybody under a certain age, let’s say under 40, has everything on them.
Justice Kagan is not under 40, and might not have everything stored on a phone (or on an online service accessible through her phone). But that quote shows me that she at least knows where other people’s expectations are different. Chief Justice Roberts’s questions show me exactly the opposite.
The justices live an unusual and sheltered life: they have no concerns about job security, and spend much of their time grappling with abstract questions that have profound effects on this country’s law. But if they fail to recognize where their assumptions about society and technology break from the norm—or indeed, where they are making assumptions in the first place—we’re all in trouble.
Reposted from ParkerHiggins.net.
- That speaks to a need to revisit the sort-of ridiculous third-party doctrine, which Justice Sotomayor has suggested, but one battle at a time.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Mar 31st 2014 5:33am
from the good dept
While some companies have already settled (and a few others likely involved in the agreements have so far escaped lawsuits), Apple, Google, Adobe and Intel have been trying to get a class action lawsuit built off of the DOJ's efforts thrown out. That effort failed on Friday, meaning that it's likely that these four remaining companies will try to work out a settlement, rather than go through a full trial.
As we've discussed for years, part of what actually made Silicon Valley Silicon Valley is the ease with which employees could switch jobs, often between competitors. Multiple studies have made it clear that greater job switching within an innovative industry is actually much better for that entire industry. With job shifting comes important cross-fertilization of ideas, allowing the bigger breakthroughs to happen faster, opening up new opportunities. Without that kind of job shifting, knowledge gets stuffed into silos, and overall innovation gets held back and stymied. In fact, if you look at the success of basically all four of the companies in this lawsuit, you can point to evidence of how the easy shifting of jobs was a key part of important breakthroughs that created tremendous opportunities and innovations (hell, two of the three members of Intel's founding team were once part of the traitorous eight, who left Shockley Semiconductor to form Fairchild Semiconductor -- only to go on to form Intel, AMD and a bunch of others). Job hopping, poaching employees and the like often get a bad reputation, but the research is pretty clear that it was a key factor (according to some, the key factor) in allowing Silicon Valley to become a hub of innovation.
Hopefully, the end result of the DOJ efforts and these class action lawsuits is to maintain an innovation economy where job hopping and information sharing is empowered, rather than hindered.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Jan 2nd 2014 9:53am
The Importance Of Justice Sotomayor's Jones Ruling In Laying The Groundwork To Restore The 4th Amendment
from the kudos dept
It was Sotomayor’s lonely concurrence in U.S. v Jones, a case involving warrantless use of a GPS tracker on a suspect’s car, that the George W. Bush-appointed Judge Richard Leon relied on when he ruled that the program was likely unconstitutional last week. It was that same concurrence the White House appointed review board on surveillance policy cited when it concluded government surveillance should be scaled back.While it is just a concurrence, rather than the official law of the land, the reasoning is clear and clearly is resonating, which is why it is being raised repeatedly by those looking at these new issues. Its wider inlfuence will likely boomerang back into the Supreme Court before long, where it can have a real impact towards bringing back a respect for the 4th Amendment.
“It may be necessary to reconsider the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties,” Sotomayor wrote in 2012. “This approach is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”
“Justice Sotomayor’s concurrence in Jones was the first time a Supreme Court justice seemed to acknowledge and speak directly to that new reality,” said Catherine Crump of the ACLU, who helped write the group’s Supreme Court brief in Jones. “To have a Supreme Court Justice acknowledge that there is a difference between a few discrete pieces of information about someone and the complete records you can now gather in the era of big data made us feel like we were on the right path.”The article also quotes famed constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe (who also taught President Obama), who had complained when Sotomayor was first nominated that she is "not nearly as smart as she seems to think she is." However, now that she's been on the court for a while, Tribe has completely changed his mind and admits that he's wrong. The ruling like the one in the Jones case is part of the reason why.
Winkler compared Sotomayor’s concurrence in Jones to Justice Louis Brandeis’ concurrence in Whitney v. California, whose expansive interpretation of the First Amendment we now take for granted. “I think that Sotomayor’s concurrence is going to be seen much the same way,” Winkler said.
“I greatly underestimated how powerful a jurist Justice Sotomayor would be. From the start, she has been an enormously impressive justice, making a major impact in cases like Jones, among many others,” Tribe wrote in an email. “I now regard her as a major force on the Court – someone who is likely to make a historic contribution – and I have no doubt that I was totally wrong in my initial expressions of doubt.”A powerful concurrence is a good start. Now we need the rest of the Supreme Court, Congress and the executive branch to follow along...
Thu, Dec 19th 2013 11:56pm
from the how-might-it-work dept
True democracy is not just about casting a vote every five years. It means citizens being fully involved in the proposal, development and creation of laws. The Commission on Digital Democracy currently being established will consider what part technology can play in helping people to take an active part in the way the country is run.
The commission is setting its sights on "Parliament 2.0", a vision of the future in which citizens participate in online elections, electronic referendums and richer relationships with their political representatives.
In recent years, we've seen technology help people become more involved in debate about all aspects of society. So it is clear that it can play a much greater role in political participation too. As the Commission gets started, it's a good time to think about what we want our digital democracy to look like. There is inspiration to be found all over the web.
Technology can enable direct participation in the democratic process, without relying on representatives and without the citizen even needing to leave the comfort of their home.
One particularly useful tool in the quest for a digitally engaged electorate will be online forums. These can be built to manage discussions about proposed legislation in a structured way, making it easy for citizens to participate meaningfully.
Politicians and policymakers can use online forums to crowd-source expertise and the views of citizens on their plans – and to refine their proposals based on what they get back. This "direct democracy" would allow for laws to be based on genuine citizen deliberation rather than merely aggregating the preferences of citizens into a single vote at the beginning of each electoral cycle.
Wikipedia is an example of how this system might work, but it also shows some of the problems that can arise when technology and democracy mix.
Wikipedia has relatively little mechanism for coordinating edits, instead allowing editors to work on their own. Despite this decentralized approach, the quality of articles is generally very high. On the down side, edit wars and sock puppetry – when individuals use multiple user identities to create the impression that their views are shared by others – are an enduring concern.
To help make Wikipedia a trustworthy source, editors can build their reputation by establishing a track record of constructive behavior. Wikipedia has a hierarchy of users for administrative purposes, based on community approval, but all users are considered to have equally valid opinions regarding Wikipedia content. The emphasis is on building consensus; an arbitration committee deals with disputes that remain unresolved.
Reddit, rate it, vote it
More formal mechanisms are to be found elsewhere online that could help provide the kind of format and structure that might be needed to produce good legislation. In Yahoo! Answers, for example, readers can vote up and vote down contributions made by others. Writers who are voted up gain points that indicate their good reputation. Other question-and-answer forums, such as Reddit and Stack Overflow, use similar mechanisms. This kind of collaboration can be further improved using the kind of real-time, simultaneous editing provided by Google docs.
But again, there are perils. Time wasters, product pushers and disruptive trolls are bad news in online forums and can disrupt the way they operate. In the context of digital democracy, the potential for damage is even higher.
We will need to develop mechanisms that would make it possible for everyone to get involved in Parliament 2.0 in a fair and transparent way. This includes preventing abuse by lobbyists, special-interest groups, and extremists, who may try to thwart the mechanisms for non-democratic purposes. Unlike in traditional voting, which provides each person with one vote, we can't assume that everyone will participate in digital democracy equally. That makes it quite difficult to define fairness. It is also difficult to balance accountability (needed to prevent trolling) and privacy (needed to allow free expression).
Computer scientists have made great progress in figuring out how online elections could be made secure. One important idea is to design systems that enable outcome verifiability. This would allow citizens to check that the outcome of an election really does match the votes cast.
To ensure free and fair elections, we also need a property called incoercibility. This means voters cannot sell their vote, or be forced to vote in a particular way. Online voting systems with these features are being developed by researchers around the world and this will soon change the way we participate in elections.
The hope is that, if well-designed and implemented, mechanisms for digital democracy could be built that would greatly increase societal inclusiveness and cohesion, as well as lowering the costs of making democracy work.
Mark Ryan is a Professor of Computer Security at University of Birmingham. Gurchetan Grewal is a PhD student in Computer Security at the University of Birmingham. Both receive funding from EPSRC for computer security research, including the security of online voting mechanisms. Grewal works on the project "Trustworthy voting systems" funded by EPSRC.
Tue, Oct 8th 2013 1:13pm
from the suing-innovation dept
Many are familiar with the Sony Betamax case, the landmark Supreme Court decision which nearly 30 years ago ruled that selling videocassette recorders to consumers was not copyright infringement. Not as well known, but equally important, was the case of the Diamond Rio.
Fifteen years after Sony, when the future of the home electronics industry turned on the vote of a single Supreme Court Justice, the recording industry sued to kill MP3 players. In fact, it was exactly 15 years ago today when recording industry lawyers told a federal court that Diamond Multimedia’s Rio, one of the earliest MP3 players, was illegal and needed to be stopped before it found its way into consumers’ hands.
A federal appellate court finally spiked the industry’s campaign against the Rio, which paved the way for a wave of consumer products which ultimately converged into the modern smartphone.
Unfortunately, neither the Sony decision nor the Diamond Rio case ended the century-long trend of new technology being met with copyright litigation. On the 15th anniversary of the Rio suit, here are 15 other products/services that have since met with litigation, and how they have fared:
ReplayTV, a DVR and time-shifting service, was launched in 1997 and marketed by SONICblue, a successor to Diamond Multimedia. In October 2001, the company was sued by TV industry rights-holders over features including commercial-skipping (which was recently given a stamp of approval by multiple federal courts in the DISH Hopper litigation  ). Legal costs drove the company into bankruptcy in March 2003. The purchaser of the technology, Digital Networks North America (DNNA), announced in June 2003 that it was removing some of the contentious features, which prompted the entertainment industry plaintiffs to dismiss litigation against ReplayTV and SONICblue. ReplayTV.com’s assets were ultimately acquired by DIRECTV.
MP3.com, founded in 1997, preceded modern cloud-based file storage services. The service aimed to permit users, after buying a CD, to listen to that CD at any Internet-connected location. The recording industry sued MP3.com in January 2000, before the company launched. A court ruled against MP3.com in September 2000, and the company was ordered to pay nearly $118 million in statutory damages for willful infringement. As described in a paper by Prof. Michael Carrier, the company ultimately opted to settle for approximately $50 million. According to an ABC News article, “U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff said it was necessary to send a message to the Internet community to deter copyright infringement.” In 2003, CNET bought the domain name, but not the technology or music assets, and currently maintains the site.
In 2005, Michael Robertson, the founder of MP3.com, again attempted to launch a music service – MP3tunes – which operated personal online storage lockers and a music search engine. In November 2007, stemming from disagreements over a takedown notice issued to MP3tunes, EMI filed suit for copyright infringement against MP3tunes and Robertson. In 2011, after four years of litigation, MP3tunes filed for bankruptcy.
iCraveTV was a Canadian website, which launched in 1999, and offered online streaming of Canadian and American over-the-air TV broadcasts. In February 2000, a U.S. court issued a preliminary injunction against iCraveTV, prohibiting it from operating in the U.S. Before Canadian courts had the opportunity to consider the issues, that same month iCraveTV discontinued operating in return for plaintiffs’ agreement to withdraw all actions against it.
ClearPlay is a parental control DVD player that allows content filtering, skipping, and muting of DVD films. This feature allowed parents to design a customized filter for each movie, by choosing whether to skip varying degrees of violence, sexual content, and profanity. Movie studios sued ClearPlay for copyright infringement in 2002, alleging that by editing out content, ClearPlay was creating unauthorized derivative works. Before the case was resolved in the courts, Congress intervened and passed the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act (FECA), which immunized ClearPlay’s product from copyright liability. (The narrow nature of FECA was such that it did not immunize another company, CleanFlicks, which re-sold edited copies of movies; a Colorado court ruled against CleanFlicks in 2006.)
Although widely embraced today as a valuable tool for navigating the Internet, at one time search engine indexing was alleged by rights holders to constitute copyright infringement. For example, an adult entertainment magazine and subscription-only website called Perfect 10 sued Amazon, Google, and others for copyright infringement in November 2004 in California district court, for links to allegedly infringing sites, and for “thumbnail”-sized previews of images.
In another case filed the same year, a plaintiff Blake Field sued search provider Google for indexing poems published on his website, seeking $2.5 million dollars. This claim was rejected by a trial court in 2006.
Several months later, however, the trial court ruled in the Perfect 10 case, holding that while hyperlinks to infringing sites were not likely to be found to be infringing, Google’s thumbnail images were likely to be found to be infringing. In May 2007, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned this, finding for the defendants on all counts. The court held that Google was not liable for contributory or vicarious infringement, and that the thumbnails were not infringing, as they constituted fair use under a theory of transformativeness, and also failed to demonstrate market harm.
Veoh, an Internet television company, debuted its beta service in March 2006 and launched out of beta in February 2007. In June 2006, Veoh was sued in a California district court by IO Group, a producer of adult entertainment films. Veoh prevailed on summary judgment, as it was protected by the DMCA’s safe harbors. In September 2007, UMG Recordings sued Veoh and its investors in a different California district court. In September 2009, a federal court again ruled in favor of Veoh, stating that Veoh was appropriately complying with the DMCA and thus not liable, which the 9th Circuit upheld in December 2011. Years of litigation took their toll, however, and Veoh filed for bankruptcy in February 2010, and its assets are now part of a company called Qlipso.
Vimeo, a video-sharing website, was founded in 2004. Last month, a New York federal judge refused to dismiss a copyright case against Vimeo that had been filed in 2009, unconvinced by Vimeo’s argument that it was protected from liability under the DMCA safe harbors. The case is expected to proceed to trial.
YouTube, a video-sharing website, was created in 2005, and bought by Google in 2006. In March 2007, Viacom and some other rights holders sued YouTube in New York federal court. Google’s motion for summary judgement seeking dismissal was granted in June 2010, as the court found they were shielded under the DMCA safe harbors. In April 2012, the Second Circuit was not entirely convinced that the case did not need to go to trial, and remanded it back to the district court. In April 2013, the district judge again granted summary judgment in favor of YouTube. In July 2013, Viacom again appealed the case back up to the Second Circuit. The litigation is expected to continue into 2014.
In March 2006, Cablevision announced plans to launch a service that would allow subscribers to record programming on a remote DVR, rather than subscribers needing a set-top DVR in their own home. TV networks sued Cablevision on a theory of direct infringement, rather than alleging secondary liability through the customers’ actions, and in March 2007, the New York district court found that the Cablevision remote DVR would directly infringe plaintiffs’ copyrights. In August 2008, the Second Circuit reversed the district court and found for Cablevision, holding (1) that the copies weren’t sufficiently fixed to be copies under the Copyright Act, (2) that consumers are the ones making records, not Cablevision, and (3) that playing a copy was a private performance, rather than an infringing public performance, since each copy could only be played by the subscriber who recorded it.
Zediva was a service, launched in March 2011, which allowed customers to virtually rent a DVD which was played on a remote DVD player, and then streamed to the customer online. The film industry sued Zediva, and was granted a preliminary injunction in August 2011 which prevented the service from operating. In October 2011, the MPAA announced a settlement with Zediva, in which Zediva agreed to permanently shutter its service and pay $1.8 million.
ReDigi is an online marketplace for pre-owned digital music and also a cloud storage service, that currently only accepts music purchased from iTunes. ReDigi launched in October 2011, and was sued by Capitol Records in January 2012. In February 2012, the court did not grant a permanent injunction against ReDigi, but in March 2013, it partially granted Capitol Records’ summary judgment motion, deferring to Congress on the issue of digital first sale. Rob Pegoraro wrote in April on DisCo how this ruling is “another example of trying to fit a digital case into an analog frame, at the cost of denting some logic along the way.”
The DISH Hopper is a set-top DVR box with several features, including “AutoHop,” the Hopper’s commercial skipping feature. DisCo recently covered the status of ongoing copyright litigation against DISH’s Hopper, which was sued in 2012 in district courts in New York and California, and has prevailed so far against all motions that have been filed to attempt to prevent DISH from offering the service to customers.
Aereo is a technology company that allows subscribers to view streams of over-the-air television on computers, tablets, and mobile devices. In September, DisCo covered the status of copyright litigation between television networks and Aereo in New York, where they were sued in March 2012, and Massachusetts, where they were sued in July 2013. (That post also covered ongoing litigation of television networks against another service, called FilmOn X, in California and Washington, D.C.) Just yesterday, Aereo was also sued in Utah.
TVEyes is a media monitoring company and search engine for broadcast TV and radio, whose clients include the Pentagon, the UN, Congress, and the NY Times. The service was sued by Fox News in July 2013 for copyright infringement and misappropriation. In September 2013, TVEyes responded asking the court to dismiss some of the claims.
Reposted with permission from The Disruptive Competition Project
by Mike Masnick
Thu, Oct 3rd 2013 8:44am
from the it-might-change-markets dept
In the short-term tech-kills-jobs view, you could easily see this new "technology" as killing jobs. Indeed, it's reported that there are somewhere around 18,000 telephone operators in the US today. But... there are also about 100,000 call center operators and 290,000 telemarketers (and of course, in a globalized world, many of those jobs have moved overseas). But, more importantly, moving from having a human operator connect you to an automatic switched network was just an early step in leading to tremendous follow-on innovations that created all kinds of new jobs and economic growth. Automatic switched phone networks created all kinds of new business opportunities and convenience, but also eventually enabled easy access to the internet. And the internet has since created millions of new jobs (including mine!).
Two years ago, we wrote about how even President Obama had falsely argued that ATMs had diminished teller jobs and that automated check-ins at airports had hurt airline employees. The data said otherwise:
At the dawn of the self-service banking age in 1985, for example, the United States had 60,000 automated teller machines and 485,000 bank tellers. In 2002, the United States had 352,000 ATMs--and 527,000 bank tellers. ATMs notwithstanding, banks do a lot more than they used to and have a lot more branches than they used to.Professor James Bessen has now written a similar piece for Slate, pointing out how the history of predicting job destruction from technology has almost always been totally incorrect:
At least since Karl Marx, people have been predicting that technology would create mass unemployment. However, these predictions were consistently wrong because they ignored the offsetting benefits of automation. For example, during the 19th century, machines took over tasks performed by weavers, eliminating 98 percent of the labor needed to weave a yard of cloth. But this mechanization also brought a benefit: It sharply reduced the price of cloth, so people consumed much more. Greater demand for cloth meant that the number of textile jobs quadrupled despite the automation.Bessen does note that the type of work and skills may change -- tellers are more focused on more complex transactions rather than simple ones, just like call center employees have to help customers with problems, rather than just connect person A to person B. But is that such a bad thing?
Something similar is happening in quite a few occupations today. Because ATMs perform many teller transactions, fewer tellers are needed to operate a bank branch. But because it costs less to operate a branch office, banks dramatically increased the number of branches in order to reach a bigger market. More bank branches means more tellers, despite fewer tellers per branch.
Of course, for all this to work right, as Bessen notes, the technology has to generate much greater value to the economy. It's that value that gets disbursed more widely, creating new opportunities for jobs and economic growth. I'm almost surprised that Bessen -- who has done some of the most important research on the negative impact of patent trolling -- doesn't take the next step and point out that one way to make sure that the benefits of innovation do not get spread out over the economy is to lock them up, so that only one party receives all the benefits -- which is what something like a patent will do. We get economic growth because you can't contain the offshoot benefits of innovation. These are sometimes called externalities or spillover effects, but they're really the very fuel that improves the economy and overall opportunity -- and attempts to lock them up can often lead to those benefits not being able to spread as widely, limiting the opportunity and the potential for job growth.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Aug 21st 2013 1:39pm
from the and-yet-they-make-judgments-on-this-stuff? dept
"The justices are not necessarily the most technologically sophisticated people," she said, adding that while clerks email one another, "The court hasn't really 'gotten to' email."She also noted that Facebook, Twitter and similar services are "a challenge for us."
Kagan, at age 53 the youngest and most recently appointed justice, said communication among the justices is the same as when she clerked for the late Thurgood Marshall in 1987.
Justice write memos printed out on paper that looks like it came from the 19th century, she said. The memos are then walked around the building by someone called a "chambers aide."
Though, she does note that when they had to rule on California's law restricting violent video games, a few of the Justices did try some of the games in question, though "It was kind of hilarious."
Sure, old people playing video games, ha ha. Except, as Will Oremus points out, it's really not that funny at all when you realize these nine people are deciding a ton of cases that have a huge impact on the future of technology, innovation and communication. For them not to understand the underlying technologies, how they're used and what they mean is a serious concern:
It does sound quaint and endearing, until you remember that these are the people charged with interpreting the law of the land on issues like online privacy and digital surveillance. No wonder they decided earlier this year that the government spying on people’s emails without a warrant is no big deal. Bet they’d have some strong opinions if the NSA started eavesdropping on people’s chambers aides, though.It's easy for some people to say that you don't have to understand social networking to rule on such cases, but it's hard to support the more you think about it. These tools are key to open and free communications these days. They are the embodiment of what the First Amendment was supposed to be about -- a free marketplace of ideas. Not understanding how they work and how they're used can really skew how they're viewed via the legal prism. And that should be worrisome. We've already seen in a variety of copyright cases before the Supreme Court that they seem to have a near total blind spot when it comes to how copyright interferes with free expression, in part because they still view it through the antiquated filter of "professional" publishers being the ones doing the speaking, rather than the general public using tools to communicate, converse, debate and express ideas.