Sunday, January 29, 2012

Google & its Discontents

Google has announced a new privacy policy. They are working hard to get you to read it. If you have not read it, you should. And you should think about what it means. If you have a gmail account, if you have an Android phone, or keep a Google calendar, if you have an account with any of the other Google services, it means that the information from one account will be available across ALL of the other accounts. This article from the British Daily Mail does an excellent job of giving examples that help the reader see just how chilling the possibilities are. Google users have long been used to seeing ads for hotels pop up if they have been searching for information about another city. We have stopped worrying about it (though perhaps we should not!). But with the integration of all our accounts' information, those ads could now access information from our meetings calendar, our phone list, our profile, our GooglePlus "circles" and the data attached to those people in our lives.

Gizmodo has no doubts at all about this. Their blog post is titled "Google's Broken Promise: the End of Don't be Evil." They do a very nice job of contrasting previous privacy policies with the new one, to help make the profound shift more obvious.

What this means for you is that data from the things you search for, the emails you send, the places you look up on Google Maps, the videos you watch in YouTube, the discussions you have on Google+ will all be collected in one place. It seems like it will particularly affect Android users, whose real-time location (if they are Latitude users), Google Wallet data and much more will be up for grabs. And if you have signed up for Google+, odds are the company even knows your real name, as it still places hurdles in front of using a pseudonym (although it no longer explicitly requires users to go by their real names).

All of that data history will now be explicitly cross-referenced. Although it refers to providing users a better experience (read: more highly tailored results), presumably it is so that Google can deliver more highly targeted ads. (There has, incidentally, never been a better time to familiarize yourself with Google's Ad Preferences.)
Gizmodo explains that they consider Google to be going back on its promise to users, on which it built its multi-million dollar business, that it would always place its users' first. The new privacy policy does away with users' fine-grained control of their personal information that previous policy iterations upheld. However, Google does give users time to opt out, so pay attention!

And Google keeps wondering why their social media efforts keep falling flat!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Twitter achieves granular tweet blocking & marks blocked tweets

From the Twitter blog:
As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression. Some differ so much from our ideas that we will not be able to exist there. Others are similar but, for historical or cultural reasons, restrict certain types of content, such as France or Germany, which ban pro-Nazi content.

Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries’ limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.

We haven’t yet used this ability, but if and when we are required to withhold a Tweet in a specific country, we will attempt to let the user know, and we will clearly mark when the content has been withheld. As part of that transparency, we’ve expanded our partnership with Chilling Effects to share this new page,, which makes it easier to find notices related to Twitter.

There’s more information in our Help pages, both on our Policy and about Your Account Settings.

One of our core values as a company is to defend and respect each user’s voice. We try to keep content up wherever and whenever we can, and we will be transparent with users when we can't. The Tweets must continue to flow.
If a tweet is withheld, the update note to the blog says that users will see an alert box that says “Tweet withheld” or “@Username withheld” in place of the affected Tweet or account. Tweets cannot be censored as they are entered, says the blog. There are simply too many. This will apparently only come up if Twitter is notified by a host country that there is problematic content that must be removed, and so a tweet will come down after the fact.

This is a timely development since it about one year after Twitter began to be so important in the Arab Spring efforts in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, some of which made efforts to globally block all tweets.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Librarians Oppose Research Works Act HR3699

A coalition of 10 library groups joined in a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is considering action on HR 3699, the Government Works Act. AALL, ALA, ACRL, and ARL among others signed the letter strongly oppposing the bill. The bill privatizes research performed with federal grant money, preventing agencies from requiring the results of the research be made equally accessible to all. From the letter:

Our government funds research with the expectation that new ideas and discoveries from this research will propel science, stimulate the economy, and improve the lives of all Americans. Public support for science is enhanced when the public can directly see the benefits from our investment in scientific research.

Unfortunately, H.R. 3699 is designed to protect the business interests of a small subset of the publishing industry, failing to ensure that the interests of all stakeholders in the research process are adequately balanced.

Scientific progress depends on the broadest possible dissemination of knowledge, and the subsequent building upon the work of others. To this end, the highly successful NIH Public Access Policy currently ensures that the results of our nation's $29 billion annual investment in biomedical research reach the broadest possible audience. The Policy simply requires that, in exchange for receiving federal research dollars, grantees make a copy of any electronic manuscript reporting on the results of that research available online via the agency’s PubMed Central database within 12 months of appearing in a peerreviewed journal. (snip)

H.R. 3699 would overturn this vital policy, rolling back the gains that the public has made in these crucial areas. It would prohibit any other federal agency from enacting similar policies, stifling our nation’s ability to effectively leverage our investment in scientific research in areas other than the biomedical sciences, including areas such as energy research, sustainable agriculture, and green technology.

At a time when our focus should be on providing mechanisms to encourage innovation, fuel the development of new ideas, and stimulate job creation – H.R. 3699 does exactly the opposite. It imposes restrictions on access to peer-reviewed research results that benefit one small sector of an industry, rather than encourage their use by the widest possible audience. (snip)

We fully respect copyright law and the protection it affords content creators, owners, and users. The NIH Public Access Policy operates fully within current U.S. Copyright law as articles reporting on NIHfunded research are copyrightable, and the copyright belongs to the author. The NIH Policy requires only the grant of a non-exclusive license to NIH, fully consistent with federal policies such as Circular A-110 and Circular A-102. The author is free to transfer some or all of the exclusive rights under copyright to a journal publisher or to assign these anywhere they so choose – a freedom crucial to the authors of scientific articles, who rightly want to determine where and how their work is distributed.

Under H.R. 3699, authors of articles reporting on federally funded research would face a new restriction. The proposed bill requires authors to seek the permission of a publisher before their work can be distributed through an online, networked government channel such as NIH’s PubMed Central, even if they themselves - as the author of the work and the relevant rights holder – have already consented to do so, potentially limiting the authors ability to distribute their work as widely as they may wish.
Peter Suber at the Berkman Center is keeping a running list of the various organizations that have come out in favor or against the bill. Simmons is hosting the Open Access Tracking Project (OATP), which includes a monitor on this bill, tagged oa.rwa. In Google+ discussions, use the hashtag #rwa.

In the Google+ conversation, somebody raised the point that RWA is similar to ACTA and SOPA, and PIPA and other efforts to rein in free speech on the internet; here is the comment:
For those who are keeping track of the massive architecture of control being erected around us, here is one to add to the list:


See this link for a crash course. What Is ACTA ?

The other pieces that belong on the list are:

#EEA (Enemy Expatriation Act, HR 3166 which could strip Americans of citizenship)
#NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, HR 1540 which allows indefinite detention)
#SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act, HR 3261.IH, which has been withdrawn by its sponsor after massive protests including a blackout from Wikipedia and black-page from Google.
#PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011, S 968, likewise withdrawn after the massive protests from the tech community)
#RWA (Research Works Act HR 3699 (see this post)
#GooglePersonalSearch (this is worth a whole 'nother post, kiddos!)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Anonymous attacks on Polish government websites after they sign ACTA treaty

Per Joanna Kulesza, through Giganet:

Hopefully a useful link to ones researching copyright and ACTA. In Poland
the battle is currently on:

Hackers from Anonymous are attacking Polish governmental sites attempting to
force the government out of signing ACTA on Jan. 26th. You can follow the
attacks as they unfold:!/AnonymousWiki


Joanna (Kulesza)

ACTA stands for Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. Final text is available here (pdf). The first link here takes you to a U.S. government website that includes not only a link to the full text of the final version, but also previous versions as well. It also includes supporting statements from various recording industry, entertainment industry and the organizations that manage intellectual property for those industries. There are statements from the sponsor of SOPA and President Obama as well.

On October 1, 2011, the United States, Australia, Canada, Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Morocco, and Singapore signed the treaty in Tokyo. Representatives of the remaining ACTA negotiating parties, the European Union, Mexico, and Switzerland, attended the ceremony and confirmed their continuing strong support for and preparations to sign the Agreement as soon as practicable.

PC Magazine reports that Polish government leaders are meeting to reconsider their support for the ACTA Treaty.

Wikipedia's article on ACTA is very useful in pulling together links to criticism and the history of the treaty, including leaks about its negotiation. There are a number of organizations and groups that have strongly criticized the treaty's provisions. Follow the link to Wikipedia, or follow up this list of organizations:

* Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

* Consumers International (Press Release, May, 2011) (ACTA open letter, 2009)

* Free Software Foundation

* Free Knowledge Institute (European Union-based)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wikipedia Black-out Day Against SOPA & PIPA

If you try to visit Wikipedia tomorrow (January 18, 2012), you will get a black-out. They are not alone: Boing Boing, Reddit, Google and others in a NetCoalition are joining in a protest against the two bills pending in Congress currently against online piracy: SOPA (HR 3261) and PIPA (S968). Check their home pages for various forms of protest.

The website (not the .org one!) has a lot of useful information on the bills if you need to do research on this area.

Here is a nice thumbnail of the opposition to SOPA and PIPA, though you can find a LOT more out there on the net. Briefly, there is concern that the provisions are vague, allow far more over-reaching by copyright holders than the current DMCA, so that they could do take down notices to web providers, but with lots more power behind it. For instance, SOPA provides that if a web host does not immediately blacklist an accused poster on their service, the web host would then have to fight along with the poster. According to Google, more than 50% of the take-down notices it has received under the DMCA have been by businesses out to drive out competitors, rather than really about copyright issues. This is liable to be just as true in the future. Copyright take down notices are being used as an anti-competitive tool to prevent existing web businesses from having to compete against new start-ups who want to provide either a new service or better service.

Here is a terrific, detailed review of the SOPA bill by a copyright lawyer, Mona Ibrahim, and an update reviewing the amendments.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

B Corps - something new under the sun!

The Nation had a nice little article explaining the new Benefit Corporations. Author Jamie Raskin explains, in a nutshell

The new laws permit companies to join the profit motive with the purpose of making a “positive impact on society and the environment.” In their articles of incorporation, Benefit Corporations declare their public missions—things like bringing a local river back to life, providing affordable housing, facilitating animal adoptions or promoting adult literacy. Under the law they must go regularly before a third-party validator like B Lab, the visionary Philadelphia-based alliance of more than 400 so-called B Corps across the country, to prove that they are not only meeting their goals but treating their employees, customers, communities and local environments with the same respect as their shareholders. Benefit Corporations can lose their B Corp title and their legal status for not doing right by these standards.
Why would a corporation choose such a constricting form? Think about companies such as Ben and Jerry's or King Arthur Flour, which have had a history of social responsibility. Shareholder litigation can be a threat to a company that wants to put other issues ahead of profit motives. Formation under the B Corp law would protect a company from such liability. And incorporating under the B Corp model instantly signals the company's brand and intention.

Here is a link to a site that is keeping a nice list of the states that have passed or have pending B Corp laws. It's a nice site with lots of other features. It includes an "Annual Report" with statistics on the numbers of B Corps being formed nationwide, the growth and profits generally, and other methods to measure the impact of investing. The website lists the five top reasons to become a B Corp, and include items attractive to traditional business people as well as to dreamers:
1> Increase Profits
2. Attract Investors
3. Generate Press
4. Preserve Mission
5. Build a Movement

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Passing of Judge Robert L. Carter

At Rutgers Law School, everyone wanted to take Constitutional Law with beloved Professor Arthur Kinoy, a fiery advocate for civil rights at a time when this stance was not popular. Professor Kinoy inspired us with "war stories" from his time in the legal trenches, including defending the Rosenbergs and arguing the landmark Dombrowski v. Pfister case before the Supreme Court. Despite all the notoriety that these high-profile cases brought Professor Kinoy, he was probably proudest of his work on civil rights, including defending demonstrators in the segregated South and helping to develop legal strategies to confront racial discrimination in all its forms in the 1950s and 1960s.

Professor Kinoy often talked nostalgically of the NAACP legal team, the mostly African-American attorneys who bravely fought against desegregation in the courts despite threats of disbarment and worse. One of the attorneys he mentioned most often was Robert L. Carter, who died recently. In addition to the obituary from The New York Times which is linked to in this post, two moving tributes to his life and legacy were published in The Nation: a short tribute by Lewis Steel, a civil rights lawyer, and a longer tribute by Patricia Sullivan, an associate professor of history and African American studies at the University of South Carolina who is writing a history of the NAACP.

Sullivan describes Carter as "one of the leading civil rights strategists and activists of the twentieth century." After being exposed "to the power of racial stigma and exclusion to stifle the hopes and possibilities of African-Americans and warp social and civic relations," Carter realized that education was the key to the future. After graduating from law school, he joined the NAACP legal staff in 1944. As Sullivan puts it:

For Carter and the handful of attorneys working with Thurgood Marshall, all of whom spent much of their time in the field, the future rested primarily on freeing black children from the crushing effects of substandard school conditions and societal indifference to history's long reach. ... As the lawyers took aim at overturning Plessey [sic] v. Ferguson, it was Carter whose research of social science literature found the legal hook for proving what any sober observer knew to be true: segregated schools were inherently unequal.

Carter was appointed by President Nixon to serve as a federal judge for the Southern District of New York in 1972. Reading the obituary of Carter and the two personal tributes made me think about the driving passion of his life--equal educational opportunity, a goal that has still not been achieved in this country and is perhaps farther away than ever. To quote Sullivan again:
For Robert L. Carter ... the fight for equal, quality public education was foundational to the movement to liberate this country from the blight of racism and its crippling legacies. The abysmal state of public schools, the racial inequality that continues to define all measures of educational opportunity and the much discussed "school to prison" pipeline reflects [sic] chronic national indifference to a problem that has deep roots in the practices and attitudes that Carter spent a life time fighting.

Saturday, January 07, 2012


I am here at AALS in Washington, DC. We have had the meeting of the Society of Academic Law Library Directors, kindly hosted by Billie Jo Kaufman at American University's Washington School of Law, on Thursday morning. Then, librarians rushed back to the hotels for the Law Library section luncheon. Lolly Gasaway, the retired director from University of N. Carolina at Chapel Hill, and copyright expert, spoke at the luncheon. Lolly talked about licenses being used as a way to contract around fair use rights under the federal copyright statute, and how non-disclosure clauses make it very difficult to study or compare what is going on. She had several recommendations:

1) Model licenses;
2) Use federal copyright law as a backstop, where the terms offered in a license might be preempted by statute;
3) Some state consumer law may make license terms unconscionable. For instance, in Massachusetts, we have very strong consumer protection laws that assist in making such an argument. State statutes and regulations can help moderate the swing that federal legislation has made in recent decades toward an extreme in protecting the rights of copyright holders.

But finally, according to Lolly, all these arguments come down to judicial decisions. Libraries continue to "agree" to restrictive licenses, sometimes through "shrinkwrap" or click-through licenses, and sometimes by trying to obtain subscriptions for faculty or students for items such as Netflix or other subscriptions that are really envisioned for individual consumers. Increasingly e-book licenses, including e-casebooks, have licenses that are designed for individual ownership, and the vendors are not rewriting the license to tailor it for library use. Consortial negotiators, such as NELLCO can help educate and shape the licensors, and are slowly having an effect. See California Digital Libraries licensing toolkit.

Lolly cautions libraries very strongly, though, that violating copyrights will run them afoul of the law. Just because your heart is "good and pure," the law will still come down hard on you for violating copyright.

Following Lolly's excellent talk, we had a very thought-provoking section program, "Libraries and Copyright: Friends, enemies or Strangers on a Common Path?" Speakers were chosen from a call for papers: David Robert Hansen from U.C. Berkeley School of Law and Hannibal Travis from Florida International University School of Law. It was a copyright-heavy day. Travis' talk on the Google Books Project and the law suit that stopped it was fascinating. I particularly liked his study on how the 4 publishers involved in suing Google to stop the project have actually seen their sales increase since the Books Project began.

This only covers Thursday. I still have to tell you all about Friday and Saturday & of course, I haven't lived through Sunday, yet! The decoration image of the Washington monument is courtesy of