Blog Ipsa Loquitur

By way of the best Intellectual Property newsletter you’re probably not reading, Five Useful Articles, a tale search engine optimization, but not the kind you’re used to:

Google has announced some changes to its search algorithm aimed at making “pirate sites” slightly harder to find, either by pushing them down further in the results or by removing words associated with them from the autocomplete feature. Experts predict that the movie and music industries will be totally satisfied with these efforts and stop scapegoating the search company for every perceived dip in possible revenues in markets real or imagined.

Just kidding! Presumably those industry groups will not be satisfied until searching for the title of a film—say 2005’s Will Smith classic Hitch, a favorite film of approximately 50% of the Five Useful Articles team—produces a blank page and automatically dings your credit card for $3.50.

Seriously, Sarah Jeong and Parker Higgins write this (almost) week, and it’s always hilarious. Easily my favorite newsletter.

Filed on under The News

The Electronic Frontier Foundation takes a look at sketchy software that local law enforcement agencies are handing out to parents. This software is designed to track and report kids’ internet activities, and there are some problems:

As security software goes, we observed a product with a keystroke-capturing function, also called a “keylogger,” that could place a family’s personal information at extreme risk by transmitting what a user types over the Internet to third-party servers without encryption. That means many versions of ComputerCOP leave children (and their parents, guests, friends, and anyone using the affected computer) exposed to the same predators, identity thieves, and bullies that police claim the software protects against.

This is a catastrophically huge problem. The whole point of the internet is that it’s full of strange computers. When you load a web page or send a photo, that information is bouncing all around from one computer to another until it hits you.

If that information is, for example, everything you type? And it’s not encrypted at all? That’s your username, your password, your credit card information, every site you go to, etc. That sounds pretty criminally negligent to me.

In investigating ComputerCOP, we also discovered misleading marketing material, including a letter of endorsement purportedly from the U.S. Department of Treasury, which has now issued a fraud alert over the document. ComputerCOP further claims an apparently nonexistent endorsement by the American Civil Liberties Union and an expired endorsement from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Oh, and fraudulent, too.

Filed on under The Digital Age

The New Yorker has a curious article about copyright which begins with a discourse on the Statue of Anne, the 18th century British copyright law.

I say ”curious” because the article starts out strong before taking a stunning nose dive in accuracy when it gets to the part about copyright on the World Wide Web: it claims linking to articles online is a form of copyright infringement.

Huh. Well, let’s hear it, then:

When you click on a link, you have the sensation that you no longer are at a place called awesomestuff.com but have been virtually transported to an entirely different place, called newyorker.com. A visual change is experienced as a physical change. The link is treated as a footnote; it’s as though you were taking another book off the shelf.

You’re mixing your metaphors, but I’m with you so far.

Some courts have questioned the use of links that import content from another Web site without changing the URL, a practice known as “framing.” But it’s hard to see much difference.

Okay. Whoa. Pause. Giant error number one. There’s a titanic difference between me linking to your article and me embedding your article in a frame on my web site. A link does not intrinsically have anyone else’s copyrighted content. How is anyone’s copyright violated with this link? Should I anticipate a cease and desist order from Ms. Swift’s attorneys? How about this? Linking is not embedding full stop.

Filed on under Legal Theory

On the occasion of Healthcare.gov (neé Obamacare dot com)’s first anniversary, Pomona College Magazine has a story about how the web site was fixed.

Healthcare.gov, the sign-up website that was the signature element of President Obama’s signature initiative, was a technological disaster. People couldn’t sign up even if they wanted to-the site would break, or fail. Delays were interminable. Information got lost. Customer service was about as good as you’d expect from a cable TV company. The Department of Health and Human Services, responsible for the new health care system, couldn’t seem to get it working.

The fact that the solution was so mundane and unremarkable speaks to two things. One, that the government’s rules for procuring I.T. projects are horrifically broken. The people who were initially hired (for hundreds of millions of dollars) were absolutely unqualified and egregiously incompetent.

Two, that the only reason the government keeps hiring these people is because their in-house capabilities are even more lacking. The article dips its toe into the sales pitch to get more nerds into government:

[Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America and the current Deputy CTO of the United States] thinks the pitch might actually work—and not just because of capitalism. “The consumer internet has influenced the way a generation feels about doing things together,” she says. “You have a generation of people who value collective intelligence and collective will—not necessarily collective political will, but the ability to actually do things together.”

Software designers and engineers are already political, Pahlka and Dickerson are saying; it’s just that the web generation is ignoring the greater good. Going to work at Twitter is a political choice just as much as going to work for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I give the worst sales pitch,” Dickerson says. “I tell people, ‘This is what your world is going to be like: It’s a website that is a Lovecraft horror. They made every possible mistake at every possible layer. But if you succeed, you will save the lives of thousands of people.’”

That is absolutely slanderous. Summoning the Old Ones is far less painful than federal I.T. procurement.

Filed on under Gov 2.0

The Atlantic ran this cute article a couple weeks back about how, for all the progress we’re seeing in the rest of society with regard to gender politics (and we’ve got a long way to go), men are still expected to pay for the first date with a woman.

There’s this absurd GamerGate which has its basic roots in boys getting upset that some girls got too much attention. The gender politics in my neck of the world (that is, the internet) are just about completely insane. I wanted to read a cute little article about how “haha yeah but you gals don’t mind letting us pay.”

And it is cute. You know how gay couples do it? Whoever invites the other person to a date pays for the date. That’s pretty straightforward (no pun intended), and it works for not-gay dating. I usually end up inviting women to dinner, and then I usually pay. This isn’t the worst proposition in the world. Well, not for men.

So yeah, the cute fluff piece made me laugh and then think a little and that’s okay. And then it got dark:

A 1985 study published in Psychology of Women Quarterly presented subjects with a variety of fictional dating scenarios—mixing up who invited whom, who paid, and the venue—and asked them to evaluate the acceptability of the sexual encounter that followed. Disturbingly, they found that money contorted men’s opinions of sexual consent.

“Rape was rated as more justifiable,” the authors wrote, “when the man paid all the dating expenses rather than splitting the costs with the woman.” Culturally speaking, 1985 may seem distant, but the study’s conclusion apparently hasn’t become any less relevant (or urgent): A more recent study, from 2010, found that men were more likely than women to think that sex should be expected when a man pays for an expensive date.

This has been your daily reminder that everything is awful.

Filed on under Nuke Us From Orbit

At the Online News Association conference, journalists were expressing confusion about how exactly Facebook decides what posts show up in who’s feed.

At ONA, anxiety about Facebook’s increasing control over our traffic revealed itself in lots of questions: If I have 250,000 fans of my page, why don’t they all see everything I post? Why does my journalism seem to reach fewer people than it used to? Is Facebook trying to pressure my news organization to spend money to boost my posts or take out ads?

Yes. Next question.

Filed on under The Digital Age