June 29, 2009

It's Time to End "911 Porn"

Greetings. I've just finished -- courtesy of CNN -- hearing the wife of recently deceased 50-year-old TV pitchman Bill Mays sobbing in anguish as she spoke to a 911 operator. (Speculation on cause of death in this case has now moved from airliner-landing head injury to heart disease, though the fact that he reportedly had two hip replacements by such an age may raise other health-related questions.)

A few days ago, I heard a similar upset 911 call splattered across the media as Michael Jackson's death was reported.

In fact, news organizations seem to increasingly be treating their access to 911 recordings as what I would call "911 Porn" -- playing these materials to their audiences in most cases solely for their "prurient" ratings value.

The news media's response to this criticism no doubt will be that these recordings are public record data, and hell, if they so desired these municipalities could post all of their 911 calls routinely to public Web sites.

But must this necessarily be true?

In specific situations where 911 conversations have probative value in courts, for other legal proceedings, or in related investigations, the recordings (and/or associated transcripts) should obviously be made available to the relevant parties.

But it strikes me that their essentially immediate release (the recordings for sure, and perhaps the transcripts as well) to mass media for broad dissemination, basically to sate morbid curiosity, is truly obscene in the worst possible way, in a manner that two people making love could never be.

With all due respect to my friends in the news media, it's time to stop releasing 911 materials on demand for publication or broadcast, absent clear and demonstrated necessity for the public good in any specific case.


Posted by Lauren at 01:47 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

June 28, 2009

Win 7 RC Install vs. DVI - Solution: Pull the Plug!

Greetings. I just finished spending a considerable chunk of my remaining time span on this planet going around in circles -- literally -- with Windows 7 RC.

I was attempting to install Microsoft's release candidate on a fairly conventional dual core Intel box, which was configured in a comparatively prosaic manner.

The problem? Every time the install process neared completion, the system would go into a reboot loop, creating the dreaded "Thank you sir, can I have another" scenario that we all (well, most of us, anyway) dread to experience.

I won't relate the sordid tale of the various blind alleys and false leads I tracked down in my attempt to solve this problem. There are lots of suggestions out there ... "Try a different disk!" "Don't you know Win 7 gets upset with more than 2G of memory?" "Try stuffing Silly Putty in the DVD drive!" ... and so on.

In the end, the solution was simple, at least in my situation. Pull the plug.

Not the AC power plug -- the DVI plug.

Ya' see, the box I was working with has a dual-head NVIDIA display adapter to which I have connected two monitors, a main DVI monitor and a secondary VGA.

It turns out that the drivers included with the Win RC 7 distribution do not play well with various NVIDIA devices.

To get the installation to complete, simply unplug (powering down the associated monitor will probably not suffice) the DVI cable from the box, and use a VGA monitor for the install. If you only have DVI on your system, you've got a bigger problem, and may need to install with a different motherboard then bring the installation disk back to the original system. Or perhaps you can work your way through the installation blind (using another system as a guide) without any monitor -- painful but maybe possible.

Once the Win 7 install completes, run Windows Update immediately, and you should find a new NVIDIA driver in the optional updates section. Download, install, reboot -- and you should be able to reconnect your DVI monitor and start hacking to your heart's content -- if you really want to call working with any version of Windows "hacking" ...

Hopefully this little saga might save someone a bit of time and a number of ripped-out hairs. I'm still trying to figure out some sort of dual-boot MBR problem associated with the install, but that's small potatoes at this point.

By the way, did you know that in Windows 7, Microsoft replaced the "ping"
command with the "bing" command?

That's a joke, son ... just a joke.


Posted by Lauren at 06:29 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

June 21, 2009

Connected Iran: Why Governments are Terrified of the Internet

Greetings. As the world watches the unfolding of dramatic human events in the aftermath of disputed Iranian elections, it's impossible to ignore the spectacle of global news organizations reduced to being, in many respects, mere conduits for dramatic and timely YouTube videos and Twitter messages.

The Iranian government's crackdown on traditional news sources has all but silenced direct reporting from major media, so CNN, FOX News, and other outlets are embracing the direct reporting of "citizen journalists" -- along with disclaimers that many of their new sources cannot be independently authenticated. The discomfort being felt in these newsrooms is plain to see in the faces and words of anchors on every mainstream news channel.

But it's not just the news biz that finds this situation so uncomfortable. In significant ways, governments around the world -- already suspicious of the Internet's egalitarian aspects -- are likely viewing the outpouring of images and messages from Iran with considerable alarm. And such fears may not be limited only to what we would typically categorize as authoritarian regimes.

It's fashionable for governments to profess a love for the Internet and related technologies -- often expressed in terms of "broadband connectivity" -- so long as the Net is being used in ways acceptable to the powers-that-be.

But when ordinary citizens turn these technologies into tools to fight oppression, suddenly the Internet loses its "official government Web sites" glow, and threatens -- horrors! -- that ordinary people may actually have a meaningful say in events.

Of course, at that stage we tend to see government attempts at Internet censorship and data communications blockages, which almost always are fruitless in the end. To really prevent the people's use of such communications systems in "offending" manners generally requires total and absolute cutoffs of telephone and Internet communications.

As Clay Shirky succinctly notes in these brief excerpts from his interview aired on CNN today, any government that attempts such draconian measures risks a very upset, radicalized citizenry -- and vast economic damage.

Nobody knows at this point how the current furor in Iran will turn out. My personal best wishes and hopes are with those brave Iranians fighting to make sure that their votes really count, rather than just brushed aside by the government with humiliating comparisons to upset sports fans and traffic violators.

We don't know today whether or not the Iranian people will triumph in their battle. But we can pretty confidently be sure that history will record these events as pivotal in the evolution of the Internet and global communications. We are seeing a dramatic demonstration that the confluence of technologies such as Internet-connected cell phones with mass-distribution social-networking environments like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, brings tremendous communications leverage to ordinary people. It's a force unlike any the world has seen before, and one that governments can only attempt to muzzle at their own peril.

Interesting times, indeed.


Posted by Lauren at 06:38 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

June 19, 2009

YouTube Privacy Bug Fixed, but You May Still Be Surprised!

Greetings. About two weeks ago, I reported a YouTube privacy-related bug directly to YouTube/Google. It was promptly repaired (thanks YouTube team!), but in the wake of this event I suspect that many YouTube users may not fully understand the privacy aspects of what has become a somewhat complex YouTube user account interface.

I am a tremendous fan of YouTube, as regular readers know. I believe that it is a true game-changer that brings an extraordinarily broad range of positive impacts on the Internet and the world at large.

The privacy issues that I'm about to discuss are not earth-shattering compared with many other kinds of privacy concerns these days, but are potentially embarrassing nonetheless.

The YouTube (YT) "subscription" feature is of course a significant element in YT's success. But given the wide variety of material on YT, it's understandable that some users would prefer not to make publicly available the list of other YT user channels to which they are subscribing, or the videos on their subscribed channels.

The sensitivity of this issue is implicitly acknowledged in the YT configuration options, since they do permit the user to choose not to display their subscription list link on their own public YT home page.

Even if a subscription list URL is fabricated by hand for such a user (based on the URLs for users who do permit their subscription list to be seen), attempts to use that fabricated URL will fail, as they should.

Admittedly, even for people who block their own subscription list link, their individual subscriptions will appear on any displayed subscriber list links on the home pages of the subscribed-to YT users. However, at least in my testing, these lists are indexed (or rather, not indexed) in a manner that makes aggregating this info for any given user impractical, at least when tested via major search engines (I checked Google, Yahoo, and Bing). So by and large the subscription info for persons who wish not to publicize their subscription lists has appeared to be relatively secure from easy collection and tracking.

But what many users may not understand is that even when they choose not to display a subscriptions link on their YouTube page, their subscriptions and their associated subscriptions' videos may still be made public via the YouTube API (Application Programming Interface), through settings in their YouTube Account's Privacy "Recent Activity" section (most of which are at "public" settings by default).

In fact, when you deselect subscriptions links on your YT page design, a pop-up warning does appear noting that the API may continue feeding this data publicly. But I wonder, how many people fully understand what this means, and that "Subscribe to a channel" doesn't mean a one-time API notification of a subscription, but a continuing public feed of all videos that you receive via your subscriptions?

The (now fixed) YT bug that I reported -- as I understand it -- allowed the public viewing of subscribed videos data even when both of the associated settings had been deselected by the user.

For example, let's consider former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, whose official YT page appears to be at:


Note that while the URL shows "newtgingrich", the channel name listed further down is "ngingrich" -- this is significant for reasons shown below. In fact, both ngingrich and newtgingrich appear to end up on identical YT channels.

Now, as we can see, he (or rather, whomever runs the YT channel for him) has chosen not to display his subscription list on his page.

But if we make the YT API query (note that no authentication of any kind is required) of:




we see an easily trackable RSS feed of the latest videos matching the user(s) associated subscription lists. And of course if we know the videos, we know the individual subscriptions.

You'll note that the returned listing for "ngingrich" seems much more reasonable than the list for "newtgingrich" -- it isn't immediately clear to me if one of these is utterly bogus, but the point is that it seems problematic whether this user really intended for this data to be public, especially since the subscriptions link was disabled on their YouTube pages.

Another example of a YouTube user who has chosen not to show a subscriptions link but who can be successfully probed via this mechanism (with potentially embarrassing results) is:



I don't want to overstate the seriousness of this issue. But the now fixed bug aside, it seems almost certain that many persons are unaware of the multiple interface selections that they must make to block their subscription video data from both their YT page and the public YT API.

This all might be particularly important to anyone concerned about ridicule or other problems based on their YT subscriptions being subject to tracking by anyone, when they had assumed that they had chosen not to list their subscriptions publicly in an easily accessible and trackable form.

My "quick fix" suggestions:

-- Better explanations of what the various default settings in "Recent Activity" really mean (especially in regard to "subscriptions") and the associated ramifications of the public YouTube API, ideally emphasized at account creation time. This is especially important when settings are defaulted to their public modes.

-- When users deselect the showing of a subscriptions link on their YouTube page, the default action (subject to alteration by user choice, of course) should automatically be to deselect the associated "Recent Actions" setting to remove the subscription videos data for that user from the YouTube API.

While this all may not matter to many people, there will be persons to whom the associated exposures might be a quite significant concern.


Posted by Lauren at 07:11 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

June 12, 2009

Warning: If You Don't Rescan, Your Digital TV Channels May Vanish Today!

Greetings. Today is analog television cutoff day in the U.S., and millions of viewers will be left with no television -- or degraded quality signals -- as a result, often through no direct fault of their own (economic circumstances, logistical issues, and so on). But we've discussed the gross mismanagement of the digital television (DTV) transition in the past, and that's water under the bridge. I have a copy here of NBC's L.A. O&O station KNBC "turning off" their analog programming -- I'll try post it when I have a chance (it didn't go entirely on cue ...)

But today, I want to warn you about one aspect of the DTV transition that has been little discussed but is of very significant importance.

Many (perhaps most) digital television and DTV converter boxes do not rescan for digital channel changes -- especially critical on today's transition day.

This means that when many stations alter their "internal" digital channels/frequencies (to which the familiar channel numbers you see are mapped) those channels (including any old or new digital "subchannels") may vanish from your TV set.

To make sure that you're getting all digital channels properly, it is usually necessary to manually order your TV or converter to "rescan" all channels. This is especially important to do today and tomorrow as many channels shift frequencies, and should continue to be done periodically to pick up changes on digital subchannels in particular. The exact procedure for rescanning will vary from unit to unit -- dig around in the "menu" features of your set or box if you don't have the appropriate documentation.

The DTV info programs that many stations are running on their analog channels for a period of time starting today should mention the rescanning issue, but it's an important aspect of the transition that is easy to miss, and a factor that can bring even more confusion to viewers in an already confusing situation.

So remember, if you seem to be missing digital channels that you should be receiving, rescan your TV or converter, and do so periodically (perhaps once every several weeks) from now on -- forever. Note that for televisions hooked up to cable or satellite, none of this is an issue.

Does this whole digital TV transition mess seem like it ended up being too complicated and expensive? Thank Congress -- this was basically all their idea.


Posted by Lauren at 11:55 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

Web Attempts to Delete History in Wake of Holocaust Memorial Attack

Greetings. The Washington Post is reporting that in the wake of the horrific attack and murder at the Washington D.C. Holocaust Memorial Museum earlier this week, Web sites around the Net have been attempting to "rewrite history" by removing materials related to the shooter, and other associated pages. Reportedly included in this category of "Web revisionists" is Wikipedia.

It's impossible not to draw immediate comparisons with Orwell's 1984, where history was routinely deleted and modified to fit the sensibilities of the current day.

But the real takeaway point from the article is that the original materials continue to be available through any number of archival points, so any attempts to remove them merely draw attention to the retroactive self-censorship, and don't seriously impact the availability of the materials themselves. In fact, the deletions may serve only to draw more attention to those materials in their alternate locations.

While it's understandable that some sites may feel embarrassed by various of the related writings and wish to somehow "purge" themselves, the reality is, as I've said many times before, that it's impossible to effectively censor the Internet, and that trying to remove access to materials that have ever received public attention is a fool's errand.

Interestingly, it appears that even some of the most well known sites on the Internet still haven't learned these basic facts.


Posted by Lauren at 09:14 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

June 11, 2009

Medical Pot Miscarriage of Justice - Why Our Courts are an Abomination

Greetings. Early this week I had to deal with jury duty here in L.A. -- after being bounced around preliminarily between three widely distant courts for months.

As you may know, I am, uh, not a fan of the jury system in this country. I believe it has morphed into a perverse monster, manipulated by politicians, judges, and lawyers until concepts like justice and accuracy are nowhere to be found.

It seems that nowadays we see an almost daily parade of persons being released after long incarcerations, when DNA or other evidence reveals that original juries had made incorrect decisions.

One primary reason that juries get it wrong is that the information being fed to them is so tightly controlled, and in many cases key facts are withheld -- frequently to juror members' dismay when they learn the truth after trials have completed.

As it turned out on Monday, nobody in the jury pool got called to any cases -- so it was merely a total waste of time for us all. But if I had been called onto a jury panel, I was anticipating the inevitable questioning where the court would attempt to confirm that I understand the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" -- at which time I planned to (try) mention the case of Charlie Lynch.

You may have heard about Charlie. A legal, licensed seller of medical marijuana here in California, he was convicted in federal court under federal law, as if he were a run of the mill drug dealer. The judge refused to even allow his lawyers to mention the nature of his medically-related, legal marijuana activities in this state.

While the Obama administration has suggested that they will likely no longer prosecute in future cases of this sort, it refused to intervene in Charlie's case.

Today he was sentenced to a year in federal prison -- apparently the minimum possible under federal law. But for Charlie, any prison time -- or penalties of any kind in this situation -- are an abomination, the kind of miscarriage of justice that primarily contributes to undermining faith in our criminal justice system.

Charlie should be receiving awards, not shackles.

It's probably lucky for me that I didn't get called onto a jury panel this time around. My plan to expound on such injustices in open court carried a nontrivial risk of upsetting the judge and leading to my own intersection with L.A. Superior Court shackles.

But it's important to speak out against abuses such as Charlie's conviction and sentencing.

Our country should expect no less from its citizens who care deeply about it. Remember, as unlikely as it may seem from where you're sitting right now, one day you might find yourself in a courtroom learning the hard way what "railroaded" really means.


Posted by Lauren at 03:31 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

June 09, 2009

The Finger in The Time Machine

Greetings. Just a little fun today.

Many, many years ago, I stumbled onto a single-frame special effects bug in the classic 1960 film The Time Machine. Please don't ask how I happened to be inspecting the film frame-by-frame back then.

Anyway, when a few minutes ago I noticed a clean copy of this wonderful movie up on YouTube (at least for now), I checked to see if the glitch happened to be visible within the YouTube copy.

As luck would have it -- Yep! What the blazes is that note and finger doing behind the time traveler?!

See this clip, at time stamp 5:20. Be sure to view the clip in "HQ" mode or you may not be able to locate the desired image!

As they say in Hollywood, "Oops!"


Posted by Lauren at 09:42 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

June 08, 2009

A Binging Nightmare, Live on Hulu

Greetings. I wasn't planning an entry this evening, but circumstances demand a quickie (long day, including L.A. jury duty -- ya' know what happens when I open my mouth in front of a judge given how I feel about the jury system? Luckily I didn't get into a courtroom this cycle.)

Anyway, I'm pretty tired out, when word comes down that the Microsoft "bing-a-thon" is live on Hulu. Huh? More damn bing? Egads. You know that during much of today there was a bing search bar at the top of the New York Times home page? That must have cost Microsoft more than a few kopeks. Too bad it often didn't display properly on Firefox -- though that seems somehow appropriate.

Bing-a-thon (bing-a-thon -- I guess bing is supposed to be lowercased) -- like a bad dream that fades upon waking, as sand through a clenched fist. It ended a few minutes ago, and I'm uncharacteristically at a loss for words.

It somehow combined the worst concepts of English and Spanish-language cheesy game shows, search engine (oh, excuse me, that's "decision engine") antics seemingly direct from the sideshow of a 1950s traveling carnival, and ... Fred Willard? Yeah, Fred Willard. And ... no I won't go on, the mind reels. I do remember them giving away multiple puppies to a little girl (and at one point suggesting that a puppy could make a tasty snack? Did I really hear that?)

Was that can of Diet Coke somehow spiked at the factory? When do I start to smell the colors and see the sounds? Surely no "unmodified" human brain could possibly have visualized the intensely distasteful -- no, that's not the right word -- how about "putrid" extravaganza of the bing-a-thon?

If I imagined it, I definitely need more rest. Next I'll be seeing Twitter's @common_squirrel running across my lawn -- while he's consulting a watch from his waistcoat pocket.

However, if the bing-a-thon was real -- and that was actually Microsoft's way of promoting search technology -- then we're all in bing, I mean big trouble.

I'm going to bed. In the morning, I assume I'll check and find that the bing-a-thon was simply akin to a Star Trek cordrazine hallucination.

On the other hand, if I see the string "bing-a-thon" splayed across the Web when I power up tomorrow, the angels will cry.

Say goodnight, Gracie.


Posted by Lauren at 10:19 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

June 07, 2009

Parallax Bing (Video)

Greetings. There's no escaping the buzz -- and the newly launched, very expensive advertising campaign -- relating to Microsoft's new Bing search engine (which they're calling a "decision engine").

The merits and limitations of the Bing product aside, the ad campaign is already showing signs of being in the "take no prisoners" category of promotion, in one case almost seeming to suggest that Microsoft's search competitors were somehow responsible for the world's current economic meltdown.

One can't deny that the new Bing commercials are some serious eye candy. In fact, the first one I saw was very much of the "cuts are so fast -- what the hell did I just see?" variety. Very 21st century.

That editing style can be a bit disconcerting though, since you're never completely sure what was just plowed into your brain.

But it seems to be a very convincing format. After watching that spot a single time, I felt an almost uncontrollable feeling that I should immediately close all of my Google accounts, switch my browser search defaults from Google to Bing, replace all of my Linux servers with Microsoft server products, and buy a box of condoms.

Luckily, I managed to restrain myself from all of those urges.

Since most commercials don't tend to affect me this way, I ran the spot's video through some special software of my own, which quickly solved the mystery. You still have to watch closely, but it's easier to understand why that commercial packs such a convincing punch after viewing:

YouTube Video: Parallax Bing


Posted by Lauren at 05:19 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

June 04, 2009

New Google Street View Feature Reminiscent of Famous SciFi Concept!

Greetings. It took all of five seconds playing with Google's new Smart Navigation features in Street View for me to realize why it seemed so instantly familiar.

Just announced today, Smart Navigation deals with the "click 'til your finger goes numb" issue with Street View -- the need to click along the many street arrows one after the other to slowly navigate progressively, even though your destination was already in sight.

Smart Navigation now introduces navigation "ovals" (on the street) and rectangles (on buildings, etc.) that can be moved directly onto target areas, then clicked-in for instant relocation to that spot (or zooming, as appropriate).

I started popping down a local street using the ovals (Google calls them "pancakes") and immediately realized that it was (in effect if not execution!) very reminiscent of the "stepping disks" teleportation technology that Larry Niven developed in various of his classic science fictions works. The shorter range versions were often metal plates in the pavement that would "pop" the user down the street (for example) as per arrow markings, yielding a visual presentation that might have been very similar to using Street View Smart Navigation.

So, in a way, matter transmission comes to Google.

Luckily, it's only virtual. You think that you want real personal teleportation? You might not after reading A Matter of Bandwidth, an essay on matter transmission that I wrote a decade ago for CACM. Unfortunately, some readers at the time didn't realize that it was an April Fools' Day piece!


Posted by Lauren at 04:27 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

June 03, 2009

With Apologies to Darth Vader: "The ISPs Strike Back" (Video)

Greetings. Less than a week ago at a conference, Alan Davidson of Google reportedly noted that Internet policy issues have reached something of an "Empire Strikes Back" moment, where all manner of serious pushback from the traditional lords of telecom and government is increasingly coming into play.

I agree 100% with Alan's analysis.

In fact, judging from a short new video clip (less than two minutes long), even Lord Vader himself may actually be in the mix.

So, with apologies to Darth Vader and friends:

YouTube Video: "The ISPs Strike Back"


Posted by Lauren at 05:59 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

June 02, 2009

A Clear Case for ISP Regulation: IP Address Logging

Greetings. Over on the Network Neutrality Squad yesterday, I noted, without comment, the following quote from the new Time Warner Cable privacy policy bill insert:

"Operator's system, in delivering and routing the ISP Services, and the systems of Operator's Affiliated ISPs, may automatically log information concerning Internet addresses you contact, and the duration of your visits to such addresses."

Today I will comment, and explain why such logging by ISPs creates a clear case for regulatory intervention, on both privacy and competition grounds.

ISPs -- the providers of "last mile" Internet access -- are in a unique position vis-a-vis any other provider of Internet-based services. While any individual Internet service -- e.g., a Web site -- can log a variety of information about their individual users, ISPs have the ability to log access information relating to virtually all internal and external services that their subscribers visit.

There are some technical limitations. Without using Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), an ISP would normally be unable to differentiate which external virtual server a user was accessing on a single shared IP address, and technologies such as proxies and VPNs also can obscure addressing info.

But from an ISP standpoint, IP address usage information alone could be a veritable treasure trove, particularly from a competitive standpoint.

In the case of Time Warner, their statement regarding IP address logging is buried in a very long privacy policy comprised of very tiny print. It is confusing in some ways. It appears to conflate IP address logging with gathering of personally-identifiable information, and doesn't seem to explicitly address how long logged IP address data, per se, will be retained. However, it does state that personally-identifiable data will be retained for "as long as it is necessary for business purposes" ("as long as you are a subscriber and up to 15 additional years").

The privacy concerns related to one entity having a log of virtually every
site that you visit on the Internet, and how long you visit those sites, are fairly obvious. As I noted, this capability goes far, far beyond the IP address logging possible by any given non-ISP Internet service.

But perhaps much less obvious is the manner in which such ISP IP address logging capabilities could be abused in anticompetitive manners of direct concern to us all.

If ISPs were just providers of "dumb Internet pipes" -- as most were until fairly recently -- related anticompetitive concerns would be largely moot. But for many ISPs these days, especially all of the vastly dominant U.S. ISPs, the big money isn't in providing Internet access, it's in providing content -- especially video content.

The inexorable move of video to the Internet is now driving many of the most contentious Internet-related issues, including battles over pricing and bandwidth caps. In such an environment, knowing as much as possible about how your users partake of the competition is invaluable.

Logged IP address data could provide ISPs with a window directly into how their Internet video competitors and other competitors operate, in a manner only possible by virtue of being ISPs with direct access to the virtually complete data flow of subscribers to and from all sites.

ISPs have access to information in a comprehensive manner unlike any of their competitors: How often are subscribers visiting Google? How much time are they spending on YouTube, and during what parts of the day? Are subscribers sometimes using Hulu more, as opposed to YouTube? How about visits to government sites? Or pay movie sites? Porn sites? What sorts of usage patterns can be derived from all of this accessible usage data? How can we use this information to our competitive advantage as a content-providing ISP who wants to encourage the uptake of our content vs. that of outside services?

In the case of Time Warner, their privacy policy notes that logged IP address data will not be disclosed or used for "marketing, advertising, or similar purposes." It says nothing about competitive product development and deployment.

To be clear, I'm not accusing Time Warner -- or any other ISP -- of abusing IP address data in these ways. Frankly, given the current lack of a mandated regulatory disclosure framework, there's no formal, systematic mechanism to keep the public informed about the presence or absence such activities, now or in the future.

Nor does the capability to collect and log IP address data (functions present in much pro-grade networking hardware for engineering purposes) necessarily indicate that this is actually being done in manners that would negatively impact on privacy and competitive concerns (but the associated lack of clarity on these issues and in regards to data retention policies are discouraging in any case).

Still, it's readily apparent that ISPs' unique abilities to comprehensively log IP addresses associated with virtually the entire scope of their subscribers' external Internet activities, easily triggers significant concerns relating to potential anticompetitive behaviors and potential privacy abuses.

I would assert that regulations prohibiting the use of IP address logging by ISPs in such manners, and mandating routine public disclosures to help ensure that such abuses are not taking place, are immediately called for at the national level.


Posted by Lauren at 11:46 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein