M. Alan Thomas II 's Techdirt Comments

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  • Censorship By Weaponizing Free Speech: Rethinking How The Marketplace Of Ideas Works

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 25 Jan, 2018 @ 12:10pm

    First, when it comes to the marketplace of ideas, it's worth remembering that real-life marketplaces require certain regulation in order to function correctly.

    For example, they improve with the quality of the information available, so false advertising is banned. They fail when monopoly power is used to shut out smaller competitors, so monopolies are heavily scrutinized and regulated. It's only the most ideologically rabid of free-marketers who think that they want a completely laissez-faire market system, because that inevitably leads to a conversion of the free market to a monopoly market. We can see how these concepts translate into the marketplace of ideas without simply discarding the concept.

    Second, when evaluating certain user behaviors, I do think that it's useful to momentarily set aside the xkcd strip and ask, "Would I be okay with this if the government did it?"

    For example, is the government engaging in a vigorous debate about the virtues of its policies? That's great! Is it flooding the debate space with propaganda bots? That's . . . not so great. Did a government spokesperson interpret the facts in a way that I disagree with? That happens in a society of diverse thought. Is a government spokesperson flat-out lying about the facts? That's a problem. Again, we can see how these concepts translate into instinctively grasping which behaviors by client-side actors we disagree with.

    Third and finally, let's not forget that the First Amendment is not absolute. Strict scrutiny is a hard but not impossible bar, particularly when the goal is to ensure that all voices are heard rather than to silence one of them.

  • FBI Sues To Block Disclosure Of Surveillance Cameras Locations Because It Would Violate The Privacy Of Those Surveilled

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 15 Jun, 2016 @ 10:09pm


    Also works with tracking my movements in public!

  • FBI Sues To Block Disclosure Of Surveillance Cameras Locations Because It Would Violate The Privacy Of Those Surveilled

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 15 Jun, 2016 @ 09:28pm

    I fully believe in mosaic theory. To quote the FBI, adjusted for subject:

    Disclosure of even metadata about my communications may cause jeopardy to important privacy interests because, much like a jigsaw puzzle, each detail may aid the government in piecing together information about the content and circumstances of my communications and would allow law enforcement, or national security agencies, to accumulate information and draw conclusions about my life in order to violate my privacy.

  • New York Times Says Fair Use Of 300 Words Will Run You About $1800

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 10 Jun, 2016 @ 05:35pm

    It would be impossible for us to make ‘fair use’ judgments for the vast number of people and organizations that wish to use New York Times content — we leave that to them and their attorneys to work out for themselves, just as our lawyers make judgments about fair use for The New York Times.
    So does that mean that if I make a fair use judgement for myself, the NYT will abide by it and not sue me?

  • DailyDirt: Storing Lots Of Energy

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 27 May, 2016 @ 09:57pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I've always seen it as a "country" (e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Countries_of_the_United_Kingdom). The BSO and ONS use that terminology.

    I would also accept "principality." :P

  • DailyDirt: Storing Lots Of Energy

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 27 May, 2016 @ 12:25am


    To be fair, it has a total population only slightly above my home city and well below the city I live in now. Heck, it's smaller than the total metropolitan area of the city I live in now (Chicago).

    That said, it's legally a country.

  • Daily Deal: Automatic Connected Car Adapter

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 26 May, 2016 @ 11:32pm

    Given all the worry in these pages about government abuse of third-party data stores and the insecurity of the Internet of Things in general and car features/accessories in specific, I'm a little surprised to see this with no mention of whether I can trust it or not.

  • Why Is Twitter Sending Legal Letters Warning People About Tweeting About The Gagged Topic Of A 'Celebrity Threesome'

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 20 May, 2016 @ 04:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Procedural Question

    The common-law privacy idiocy of England and Wales does not extend to the independent Scottish judiciary, thank God.

    This is actually a vehicle for one of the primary attacks on the situation: Pointing out how unfair it is that some citizens of the UK are gagged while others are not. Or, as some of the newspapers have pointed out, that their Scottish edition can run the story but their England edition can't even say which story it is that they can't run.

  • Court Says Google Doesn't Have A First Amendment Right To Drop A Site From Its Search Results

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 20 May, 2016 @ 03:56pm

    Re: Motion to Dismiss

    Right. He's not saying that these defenses don't apply ever, just that at this point the plaintiffs have claimed facts that would make them not apply in theory if they're true and we have to have more examination of those points before there's a ruling.

  • How Java's Inherent Verboseness May Mess Up Fair Use For APIs

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 16 May, 2016 @ 03:46pm


    Yes. Oracle appears to be being deliberately obstructionist because they can't win on the facts if the facts are clearly understood.

  • How Java's Inherent Verboseness May Mess Up Fair Use For APIs

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 16 May, 2016 @ 03:45pm

    This is where even I—an information scientist with only some very basic programming experience—got confused. If you'd asked me not that long ago to give an example of an API definition, I would have said something like, "There exists a function 'max' within the class 'Math' that takes two numbers as arguments and returns the larger of the two or, if they are equal, their shared value." (Plus the grammar for what calling a function looks like and all that.) I wouldn't have included any actual code in the answer, however unavoidably implied it might be by that definition.

    It's a lot more obviously a "procedure, process, system, [or] method of operation" that way, too.

    But, as I said, this is where even a well-educated layperson in a related field can get confused.

  • Appeals Court Shoots Down ACLU, Says Full CIA Torture Report Is Beyond The Reach Of FOIA Requesters

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 13 May, 2016 @ 03:52pm

    I think you've got it slightly wrong here, Tim. (Or at least explained it such that many of the commentators have also gotten it wrong.)

    (1) It's not an exemption for "work products"; it's an exemption for Congress. Congress did not make itself subject to FOIA. Nothing needed transforming into a "work product"; the only question was who had control of it.

    (2) "Work product" does not mean "unfinished" or "deliberative" (which does not mean "unfinished" either); those are different things, each of which might or might not be true of the same document. The phrase "work product" is only used because it's shorter than "that thing that they made."

  • Gene Kelly's Widow Claims Copyright In Interviews Done By Gene Kelly, Sues Over Academic Book

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 12 May, 2016 @ 10:53pm

    Given that the author appears to be a fan of the subject, I'd say it's not censorship—the widow isn't trying to suppress disliked content—but rather a good old-fashioned economic monopoly. Which is, after all, the core of copyright's function, regardless of its purpose in having that function.

    That doesn't mean that we haven't limited copyright such that it might not apply here, and that certainly doesn't mean that copyright's purpose is being served here, but a monopoly being used to do a monopoly's work is a monopoly and should be called out as such.

    "Copyright is monopoly, and produces all the effects which the general voice of mankind attributes to monopoly. [...] I believe, Sir, that I may safely take it for granted that the effect of monopoly generally is to make articles scarce, to make them dear, and to make them bad." —Lord Macaulay, then in the House of Commons

  • Is It Really That Big A Deal That Twitter Blocked US Intelligence Agencies From Mining Public Tweets?

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 12 May, 2016 @ 08:52pm

    Open-source intelligence is quite neat and can give a much more nuanced idea about what's going on than paranoid theorizing based on secret information. We should do more of it.

  • Minnesota's Broad Publicity Rights Law, The PRINCE Act, So Broad That It May Violate Itself

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 12 May, 2016 @ 12:46am

    Of course, if it passes, they'll have to change its name to comply with itself. Then it will be "The Bill Formerly Known as PRINCE."

  • Netflix Settles Throttling 'Controversy' By Letting Mobile Users Throttle Themselves (Or Not)

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 10 May, 2016 @ 04:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Can't imagine where the confusion comes from.

    It's the difference between swapping 100W bulbs for 20W LEDs so your total electric bill is less every month vs the power company limiting your lamps to only 20W and dimming the lights.
    And then demanding an extra "high-wattage bulb" fee on top of your actual electricity costs if you want to go higher.

  • Homeland Security Wants To Subpoena Us Over A Clearly Hyperbolic Techdirt Comment

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 08 May, 2016 @ 10:16pm

    In the short run, if we don't see another story about this within a reasonable amount of time (even just to say that no subpoena has been received), we will have to assume that future reporting has been gagged.

  • DOJ Drops Other Big Case Over iPhone Encryption After Defendant Suddenly Remembers His Passcode

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 25 Apr, 2016 @ 04:28pm

    Re: Re:

    More generally, "cooperation" is worth points in the federal sentencing guidelines, as I recall. As is taking responsibility (i.e., pleading guilty).

  • Wireless Industry Survey: Everybody Really Loves Zero Rating

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 14 Apr, 2016 @ 10:39pm


    Exactly! The high ratings in response to the following questions clearly show that zero-rating produces market distortions in favor of zero-rated apps:

    How likely would you be to try a new online service if it was part of a free data offering?

    How likely would you be to use more data on your smartphone or tablet if a free data offering made some of that traffic not count against your data allowance?

  • Supreme Court Says Government Can't Take Your Money And Lock You Out Of Your Choice In Representation

    M. Alan Thomas II ( profile ), 12 Apr, 2016 @ 10:50pm

    Re: Re: Why would a defense lawyer (or ANYONE) get to keep stolen assets?

    Some state laws allow the return of property if the possessor did not know it was stolen, but federal law does not. More generally, I'm under the impression that those statutes apply (or are intended to apply) to goods and not cash, but I could be wrong about that.

    Plenty of people spend it all and then never repay court judgements, although they can certainly be forced to resell anything they bought with the money. The Bernie Madoff scandal resulted in net losses in the billions despite being able to recover some of the money paid out during the final years of the scheme: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Madoff#Size_of_loss_to_investors

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