Greetings. A few days ago, I discussed the appearance of a 15% increase in Sirius XM monthly charges, seemingly without any prior notification to most customers, and noted that I consider this to be an abuse of credit card merchant billing systems.
Now I would very much appreciate the readership's assistance in better understanding the sequence of events surrounding that increase.
In contrast to my experience, reports from other persons who have contacted me, and the statements of Sirius XM reps that I spoke with, the company is now claiming to news media that customers were notified by e-mail of the new charges.
This leads to several questions:
1) Who was actually notified?
I'd very much appreciate hearing from any Sirius XM monthly payment subscribers regarding this topic.
Please just send a short note to:
and let me know if you were notified of the increase before it appeared on your credit card statements, yes or no. And if you were notified, how did you receive notification (e-mail or some other means?) If you were not notified, do you have a current e-mail address on file with Sirius XM?
Thanks in advance for your help in gathering this information!
Greetings. If you're a monthly subscriber to Sirius XM satellite radio, have you been keeping a close watch on your credit card statements lately? If not, go grab the last few months of statements and compare the charges coming through for the service.
Due to their billing cycles, the charges for two months of Sirius XM service may appear as line items on a single month's credit card billings, but the fun part that you may not have noticed is that monthly charges suddenly rose from $12.95 per month to $14.95, an increase of around 15%.
What's that? You don't remember being notified that this change was coming or that it had occurred?
You're not alone. According to Sirius XM representatives that I spoke with today, the additional 15% charge is for music copyrights, and, uh, the company apparently decided not to bother notifying most customers in any way.
Were any customers notified at all? Yeah, apparently "invoiced" customers, presumably business subscribers, were honored with the news of this increase. But at least according to my conversations today with the Sirius XM folks, nobody else was directly and individually clued in.
Is it a valid excuse to claim that no notification was required, since these were "pass-through" charges going to pay copyright royalties? Ridiculous. Of course not!
The technical term I would typically apply to this behavior is "crooked" -- nothing less. Were any laws actually broken by Sirius XM based on their reported actions? I'll leave that for the lawyers in the readership to decide.
In the meantime, I'm pretty disgusted with Sirius XM. I was concerned that the XM/Sirius merger would lead to higher rates and lower service, but I wasn't expecting "secret" credit card charge increases.
I can stream virtually unlimited Internet radio stations through my G1 phone, and relatively inexpensive stand-alone Internet radio appliances are now widely available. Maybe it's finally time for a mass ditching of Sirius XM and a sentimental wave goodbye at their satellites.
It's not so much the $2/month, or the differences between monthly and annual payment plans. There's an important principle at work here. Sirius XM has e-mail addresses, physical addresses, and phone numbers for the vast majority of their subscribers. Warning all subscribers in advance that the charges were increasing would have been technically very straightforward.
For some reason, at least from what I've been able to learn today, Sirius XM chose not to act honorably in this matter. I'd be more than happy to hear of extenuating circumstances or different spins on the story, but for now, as far as I'm concerned, Sirius XM has completely lost my trust.
Blog Update (September 29, 2009): Sirius XM Credit Card Abuse? The Saga Continues!
Greetings. If you don't follow the world of Google's Android OS, you might not realize that a tremendous amount of work related to Android is being accomplished by independent coders who customize, extend, and otherwise do great things with Google Android phones such as the HTC G1 and myTouch. By basing frequent (sometimes even daily) system updates on the open Android code repository, these unpaid enthusiasts have been supplying new Android features way in advance of official releases, and in the process are helping Android to move rapidly into the mainstream of smartphones.
While Google has done the community a great service by open-sourcing most of Android, I find it distressing to learn that perhaps the most prolific of the independent Android phone "ROM" creators (with over 30K active users) -- who goes by the handle of "Cyanogen" -- has reportedly just been served with a "cease and desist" order by Google.
I myself run a Cyanogen ROM on my G1. It's fantastic stuff. Cyanogen provides an array of useful functionalities not yet in official Android releases -- some of these enhancements may never be in official Android releases. Yet Cyanogen's ROMs don't cheat T-Mobile out of phone call revenue, won't steal gold bullion from Fort Knox, nor will they even increase global warming. These ROMs are the result of much hard work done for free by a single individual, simply for the benefit of the Android user community.
Google's dispute with Cyanogen appears not to revolve around the mostly open-source portions of Android, but rather relate to the fact that he is bundling into his releases a number of the very important closed-source Android apps, like Market, Talk, Gmail, and YouTube.
Cyanogen's argument is that he's only distributing those closed-source application executables into environments that are, essentially by definition, already licensed to run them, even if Cyanogen himself is not specifically licensed to be the distributor of those apps.
While I'm not a lawyer, I can understand Google's formal concerns from a lawyer's point of view. On the other hand, given the overall situation, such a stance seems not to be of the high "Googley" caliber that I would normally expect from Google.
I hope, and I urge, that Google and Cyanogen reach an understanding that will allow Cyanogen's Android work to continue and to include the key applications under discussion. Anything less could easily be a significant setback for the "bleeding edge" of Android development that may be crucial in the long run for Android's success.
Greetings. I always try to separate the staff of news organizations from their managements. In poll surveys at least, it seems popular for the public to berate reporters. But as far as my own experiences go, most reporters that I've dealt with, whether in print, radio, or television, are hard workers who try quite diligently to maintain a reasonable balance in reports, while explaining technical topics as clearly as possible -- the latter a particularly tough task when writing for non-technical, mainstream media outlets.
But while there are lots of top-notch reporters out there, that doesn't mean that their managements aren't sometimes blind as bats.
There are various examples of this, but today I'd like to concentrate on the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), which has provided a particularly egregious case in point.
A couple of days ago, the WSJ published an editorial blasting the new FCC moves on Network Neutrality and Transparency, and explicitly suggesting that Net Neutrality is largely a plot for "Internet Socialism" being bankrolled and orchestrated by Google.
This is utter and complete bull, but the WSJ is welcome to their opinion, of course.
But at the same time that they're weaving their anti-neutrality fantasies about Google, the WSJ has been actively participating in a massive spamming campaign for Wall Street Journal Online that is flooding mailboxes all over the Net.
These WSJ spams have been increasing in quantity here for some time, but after receiving about 20 of them this morning that slipped through my spam filters, it's obvious that the WSJ is rising rapidly toward the top of the spamming offense list.
Just to be clear, I don't have a "preexisting relationship" with the WSJ. I don't receive their paper edition. I don't have an account on their Web site. Their spams are coming in to all manner of account names here, some of which have only previously been used in very limited contexts on specific non-WSJ-affiliated Web sites.
The actual spams are delivered from concurrentlinks.net. While the exact relationship between that site and the WSJ proper is difficult to discern from the outside, I have established that the included links appear to pass through a WSJ-domain ordering-related site.
I don't much care if these WSJ spams are approved directly by the WSJ or are the idea of some third-party vendor -- since as far as I'm concerned the fact that the WSJ is accepting orders resulting from this garbage makes the WSJ complicit in the spamming itself.
The sensibilities of Wall Street Journal management when it comes to the Internet are very clear. While they ludicrously consider Net Neutrality -- a concept that will well serve the vast majority of the Internet's users -- to be a socialist Google plot, the WSJ simultaneously has endorsed through their actions one of the worst, wasteful, annoying, and frequently criminal uses of the Net -- spam.
There's one thing that we can say for sure about the Journal's management these days -- at least they're being consistent.
Qui tacet consentire.
Greetings. With the significant FCC activities today relating to critical Network Neutrality and Open Internet issues, I've already received a pile of queries from folks asking for suggestions regarding where they could best openly discuss these issues and related topics in detail.
Given the large readership size of the moderated NNSquad (Network Neutrality Squad) mailing list, it is generally not appropriate for sustained discussions of the sort that are really more suited for threaded discussion environments.
But the GCTIP Forums site from GCTIP (Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance), founded early this year, exists specifically to encourage these sorts of intense threaded dialogues, discussions, queries, information sharing, etc.
Topics appropriate for the Forums include all areas broadly surrounding Network Neutrality and Open Internet concerns, including ISP issues and Terms of Service, Internet privacy, communications reliability and integrity, network performance and measurement, transparent access to Internet sites and services, application blocking, quality of service issues, and so on.
Anyone can read Forums discussions. You must be registered to post messages, but registered users can also create new discussion threads, and existing open, non-administrative topic categories are not pre-moderated (though all postings must abide by the usage guidelines of course).
Please consider GCTIP Forums as a resource for wide-ranging discussions, queries, comparing of notes/data, and for a wide variety of other interactions associated with all sides of Network Neutrality, Open Internet, and related issues. Regardless of where you stand personally regarding any of these controversial topics, your participation would be very welcome.
Greetings, in a widely anticipated speech today at the Brookings Institution in Washington D.C., FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski laid out his thinking regarding a set of desired new "network neutrality" rules to help assure an open Internet.
Obviously, as moderator of the Network Neutrality Squad, I'll have much more to say about this coming up.
Definitely Stay Tuned.
Greetings. Over the last few days, I've seen endless rather breathless coverage of the conservative 20-somethings "hit squad" that conducted video stings of ACORN offices, for the express purpose of recording ACORN staffers making fictitious and/or embarrassing statements (statements that were clearly misguided, but probably not in and of themselves illegal).
But then I started to wonder, were those hidden video/audio recordings themselves legal?
Sure enough, I'm not the only one pondering this question, and it appears quite possible that the recordings were illegal under various involved states' laws.
This fact has not been widely reported in the media up to now, but already appears to be a topic of considerable civil litigation "interest" and also possible upcoming criminal investigations.
Under U.S. laws at least, and especially in matters of privacy violations, the end doesn't automatically justify the means -- not even for right-wing activists.
Greetings. Google has announced their acquiring of Carnegie Mellon University's "reCAPTCHA" system. You've no doubt seen reCAPTCHA in action -- it is very widely used by a vast array of sites. CMU's reCAPTCHA is a specific implementation of the more generalized CAPTCHA concept, which attempts to validate user input as coming from a human, not a (typically spam-related) robot.
The reCAPTCHA system presents pairs of words optically scanned from books, and asks the user to identify them. In the process, it also uses the resulting data to help "decode" those scanned words into their correct machine-readable textual representations as part of larger book scanning efforts.
This obviously makes reCAPTCHA a perfect match for Google, who is faced with the challenge of processing vast numbers of books in their Google Books project, some of which have fairly high OCR (Optical Character Recognition) error rates due to the difficulty of machine recognition of odd fonts, faded printing, and so on.
However, there is a potential privacy problem with reCAPTCHA (or any centralized CAPTCHA system, for that matter), that Google will need to face.
Early this year, while in the process of setting up an Internet-based forum, I considered using reCAPTCHA as part of the validation procedures. Since centralized CAPTCHA servers will typically collect IP address and potentially other data from users at the time of page display, and again when users interact with the CAPTCHA systems (for registration, message sending, etc.), these servers receive a running log of information regarding the users of the sites who are incorporating those CAPTCHAs into their pages.
Fundamentally, this situation is similar to that with ad display systems, where the very act of viewing a page that includes external ads may pass IP address info (and sometimes other data) to third parties. However, while Web users can usually choose to block external ads in various ways if they wish (something I do not recommend or promote -- see Blocking Web Ads -- And Paying the Piper), blocking CAPTCHAs would usually mean losing access to the associated sites in significant ways.
As an enthusiastic supporter of Google Books (The Joy of Libraries, a Fireman's Flame, and the Google Books Settlement), I fully appreciate the value that reCAPTCHA will bring to Google, and ultimately to all users of Google Books.
But I also believe that it's very important for the privacy issues associated with reCAPTCHA to be properly handled by Google, hopefully in a manner significantly better than Carnegie Mellon's own approach earlier this year.
"Behind each of these books, there's a man."
- Montag (Oskar Werner) - Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Greetings. Enough words have been written and spoken about the proposed Google Books settlement to -- well, not fill a library, but certainly enough to overflow a bunch of bookshelves at the very least.
Most of this discussion has understandably concentrated on various technical, political, privacy, competitive, and other of the myriad, detailed complexities in play within this contentious arena.
But for a moment, I'd like to back away from the trees and look more broadly at the forest, to consider why the bringing into the light of so many out-of-print and orphan works, as envisioned by the settlement, is so important.
I hope you'll forgive me if I wax a bit philosophically down memory lane.
When I was at UCLA many years ago, I spent a great deal of my free time (when I wasn't hacking Unix system code down in Boelter Hall's basement ARPANET lab) in the various libraries scattered around campus.
Directly upstairs a number of floors from the lab was the Engineering library, and I approached it rather systematically, working my way from first editions onward through the small in size (but dense in content) Bell System Technical Journal and similar light reading.
But the real serendipity was in the other libraries -- the Powell library for one. Directly across the Quad from celebrated Royce Hall, Powell contained a maze of narrow stacks packed with seemingly endless rows of books on every conceivable topic. It was in that very library that a young Ray Bradbury hammered away at a pay-by-the-hour manual typewriter to create the manuscript of his classic novel Fahrenheit 451.
Across campus was the much more modern and utilitarian "Research Library," with its large room full of index cards still a primary lookup technology at that time.
The Research Library, though far more modernistic than Powell, still had its own charms. Avoiding the busy main elevators, I'd ride upstairs in the almost totally deserted brushed aluminum-door rear lifts, with their funky "way too rapid" acceleration and deceleration curves approximating a cheap thrill ride at every visit.
Once upstairs, I'd find some quiet table in a back corner to designate as home base, and I'd start to wander the massive stacks.
It didn't matter what the topics might be. I slowly walked the aisles and pulled books as randomly as I could until I had a good pile, then brought them back to my table.
I won't claim to have completely read all books that I selected, but I tried to give them each a good shot at least. I plowed through new books, somewhat old books, and remarkably old books, as the white noise of the air conditioning vents in the ceiling provided a comforting acoustic force field from the outside world.
Books on philosophy. Books on sociology. A detailed survey of UK telephone switching systems as implemented by the Royal Post Office, circa 1948. Timothy Leary's expansive expositions, where he speculated on direct electrical brain stimulation as a mind expansion technique. Houdini's steel restraint escape techniques (ya' never know when those might come in handy). Book and books, and more books still.
I felt like Burgess Meredith's character in the original Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough at Last" -- when he stumbled onto a treasure trove of library books in a post-apocalyptic bombed-out city.
More books than I could ever read in a thousand lifetimes.
But eventually I wasn't at UCLA any more, and getting back to those libraries, especially given the realities of L.A. distances and traffic, became increasingly problematic.
A realization for me early on in my library wandering days was that so many wonderful books were available to so relatively few people. And as Bradbury's Montag said in his chauvinistic way, there are human beings behind every book in those libraries -- authors whose writing efforts are wasted if their books for most intents and purposes can't be found, can't be seen, and so can't be read for learning, for enjoyment, or just to pass some quiet hours in contemplation of literature.
This is especially true of out-of-print and orphan works, which in many cases are as effectively inaccessible as if they didn't exist at all, their authors' thoughts and sweat buried with them.
That so many of these books and other works have suffered this fate as a byproduct of our existing copyright and publishing paradigms is more than a loss, more than a tragedy really -- it borders on the criminal, especially when technology and resources are now available to lift these works back into the sunlight of wide availability.
For so many years these books have been like unwanted stepchildren, largely ignored as unprofitable or not worth the effort to track down rights holders, and so they have remained lost in the gloom as far as most potential readers have been concerned.
So while I was initially skeptical of some rights-related reasoning underpinning the earliest Google Book Search efforts, I consider the proposed settlement to be a positive breakthrough that I heralded when it was first announced and that I -- even granting its various faults -- still strongly support.
I have previously written of some possible alterations to the settlement that might make it more palatable to various detractors.
But ultimately, I want all possible books -- like those that I loved at UCLA -- to be available to the world, and I consider the Google Books settlement, with its various opt-out provisions and other controls, to be a reasonable means to accomplish this goal.
The financial and technical resources necessary for such a task are formidable. That Google would want to ultimately make a profit on such a venture is not only acceptable, but completely appropriate as well.
And while we can reasonably argue about the settlement's substantive details, my sense is that there are some major forces in the anti-settlement camp whose primary focus and interest in this case has nothing whatever to do with the availability of books, and very much to do with the playing out of business-related and other animosities toward Google itself, overall public interests be damned.
In Fahrenheit 451, a society banned and burned books to keep them away from the population. But in our own society, books that are essentially unavailable are almost as effectively nullified, to the detriment of the global community at large -- and you don't even need to use kerosene and matches.
Let's put out the fires. Please support the Google Books settlement.
Greetings. I'm on record as being in favor of the Google Books settlement. It is not perfect of course, but viewed as a binary, thumbs up or thumbs down proposition, I consider the benefits it brings for access to out-of-print, orphan works to outweigh various negative considerations. Interest in the settlement is in high gear right now, with court testimony regarding the proposal currently ongoing.
Last May, in Untangling Orphaned Works in the Proposed Google Book Search Settlement I attempted to address some complaints that detractors of the settlement proposal have expressed. In particular, I suggested that it might be useful if Google would make scanned books covered by the settlement available in some form and basis to competitors, to help neutralize accusations that the settlement unfairly favored Google.
So I was pleased to hear today an announcement from Google that out-of-print (including orphan) books that would go online via the settlement would be made available for any book retailer to access and sell, via any Internet-connected devices. While it is unrealistic to assume that this will eliminate all opposition to the settlement, it does demonstrate an important degree of good faith.
One complaint I've frequently received from persons who object to the settlement involves the privacy of records involving book viewing by Google Books users, particularly those books that would be covered by the settlement.
However, a number of correspondents writing to me have noted concerns related to my November, 2005 blog item An Online Library from Science Fiction. In that piece, I referenced the anti-hero ("Aton") of an old Science Fiction novel, who traveled to a "library planet" to get physical access to research books, since he knew that research through the commonly used online galactic library system would flag his rather suspicious queries.
Fundamentally, the problem is that it's usually possible to walk into a library, grab virtually any typical books from ordinary collections off the shelves, read them, and leave -- with no record of your specific reading activities (other perhaps than some rather generic closed circuit camera images merely showing your presence in the facility).
But with an online library -- as was Aton's concern -- you leave a trail of your every activity, and even when the custodian of those records promises to reasonably and lawfully protect that information, the mere existence of that data in the first place will continue to significantly bother some observers.
I'd hate to see such concerns contribute to any possible derailing of the settlement.
Whether we're talking about hours, days, weeks, or whatever, the sooner that data is expunged from its raw form, the closer we'll approach the "walk into the library" level of privacy.
Google points out that IP addresses are used for access control purposes in Google Books (e.g. to help enforce licensing restrictions affecting the number of pages from any given work displayed to a given user, etc.) and for other quite justifiable logistical purposes.
However, it seems likely to me that most or all of those needs could be met in an environment where the complete, raw, IP address data is rapidly hashed or otherwise transformed in manners that would still provide the necessary statistical and control-related data, but still sufficiently obscure the actual IP addresses to provide reasonable anonymity to those Book Search users as appropriate.
Obviously the devil is in the details with any such techniques, and I certainly wouldn't propose a specific road map for their implementation at this stage.
But I very much want to see the Google Books settlement succeed, and to the extent that additional levels of competitive confidence and library-like privacy can be reasonably provided -- that will help to convince current detractors of the settlement that it is actually worth their support -- I hope that such avenues will be explored.
Greetings. I've written many times regarding abuses of the U.S. patent system. (Here's a Wired column of mine on the topic from 2002: Stop the Patent Process Madness.)
For years, we've watched as the patent system has been turned into a confused mess, where seemingly trivial and commonplace concepts have been awarded patents, the existence of obvious prior art notwithstanding.
The problem has been particularly acute in the areas of software and other technology intellectual property patents, and business method patents. The situation is insane that small firms are terrified of bringing new products to market for fear of infringement lawsuits, and larger firms just plow ahead assuming that they can work out licensing rights later, even from the lowest-of-the-low "stealth" patent perpetrators.
So the patent just awarded to Google for their home page must be viewed in the context of broader patent process problems.
A major patent law blog argues today that Google's Home Page patent -- as a "design" patent -- is something of a paper tiger:
"Design patents have severely limited scope, only cover ornamental designs rather than technological advances, and are very frequently found invalid when challenged in court. The USPTO has been granting design patent protection for screen shots and icons for many years. However, to my (limited) knowledge, none of those design patents have ever been enforced in court. As with most design patents, it appears that during prosecution, the PTO never issued a substantive rejection based on novelty or obviousness."
The apparent lack of a functional "novelty or obviousness" requirement is, well, pretty obvious if we look at prior art, for example, the Lycos Home Page circa 1996. Yes, there are some small ads on the Lycos page, but fundamentally it's a quite utilitarian layout that would be easily recognized by most observers as at least falling into the same category as Google's Home Page.
So does the Google Home Page patent really matter?
After all, Google historically has certainly not been a rabid enforcer of its patents, and generally worked hard to maintain a very community-positive orientation toward its works, with many of them explicitly open-sourced for the benefit of the world.
And it could most certainly be argued that what Google is really doing with this design patent is simply providing another layer of protection against bold and direct ripoffs of substantive Google intellectual property graphical designs.
In fact, it's not Google's own actions regarding the possible enforcement of this patent that concern me -- I don't expect anything approaching a heavy-handed enforcement regime at all.
What I am concerned about in this context is the message that the granting of this patent sends to the community more broadly, and its possible second-order effects of triggering the filing of ever more patent applications with ever more constricting and expensive impacts, especially outside the confines of the "design" patent category itself.
Similarly, the emboldening of serious patent abusers, operating from their selfish and self-centered points of view, and with a misinterpreted "What's good for Google will be even better for us!" attitude, is a significant potentially negative second-order effect.
Basically, I find it difficult to endorse actions -- even ones that seem essentially benign and limited when viewed in isolation -- but that may have the effect of exacerbating the ongoing patent mess by inspiring (or unintentionally helping to justify) the actions of others who may have seriously greedy intents.
So while it's understandable why Google chose to use a design patent to protect its home page, the fact that they felt it necessary to use the patent system for this purpose in the first place is yet another red flag that the patent process has morphed into a mutated caricature of its original purpose.
The use of the patent system as a universal "protect anything and everything" mechanism carries with it enormous costs to society at large. Despite the best efforts of the USPTO, the system has spun out of control and is in desperate need of major changes that go far beyond current reform efforts, followed by a total reboot.