Blog Ipsa Loquitur

Published on under Motion to Point and Laugh

Adam Steinbaugh goes full law nerd on the Revenge Porn (I hate that term) industry’s first prison sentence. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

Kevin Bollaert was sentenced by a San Diego court to 18 years in prison following his February conviction on twenty-seven counts of extortion and identity theft. Bollaert was the chief operator of (later, which published the nude photos of over ten thousand men and women, almost uniformly without their permission.

Bollaert, with his partner Eric Chanson, monetized his site with both advertisements and a more devious plan. He launched, which ‘advertised’ on YouGotPosted as an independent service which could remove the photos from YouGotPosted in exchange for a few hundred dollars. […]

Kevin Bollaert is the first revenge porn site operator to be convicted and sent to prison. Hunter Moore, widely viewed as the progenitor of revenge porn sites, will be sentenced in June after taking a plea deal on CFAA charges. Craig Brittain, the patron saint of harnessing revenge porn as a means of extortion, somehow escaped with only a light bruising on the wrist from the FTC, despite having the most bizarre (and malicious) plot.

This is great news, and hopefully this is the first of many jail sentences for people like this. Al Franken would like to see a world like that, too. However, Steinbaugh isn’t just reporting, he’s analyzing. He examines two potential routes for Bollaert’s appeal, and actually finds one of them a probable winner. Which sucks. We’re both left hoping that the appellate court finds any excuse to keep Bollaert in jail, even if bad facts make for bad laws.

Published on under Disrupt Everything

Yesterday, Apple said another thing about its Apple Watch; it previously announced when people could get one, but now we know when Apple will officially grant permission for money to be thrown in their general direction. The Apple Watch is probably going to make a lot of money, but Apple’s other big development in the last month is ResearchKit.

Michael McConnell wrote last month about ResearchKit, but the gist is that it makes at much easier for people to volunteer to participate in universities’ medical studies. For example, eleven thousand people enrolled in a Stanford University study virtually overnight. It usually takes 50 medical centers a year to enroll even ten thousand folks, so this is kind of huge.

It’s huge, but not because an iPhone ought to be a gateway to participating in medical research. That’s called selection bias and it’s bad. Rather, ResearchKit could serve as a model for using technology to improve medical research, no matter what kind of phone someone has.

ResearchKit is still in very early days, but I have sky-high expectations for it. Using smartphones to provide medical researchers with the information that will help them cure disorders caused by overuse of smartphones is beyond poetic. It represents the best and worst and silliest in humanity, and that’s something I can get behind.

Published on under Fourth Estate Chronicles

Brooklyn’s own Janos Marton, writing for Salon, reviews Michael Shnayerson’s new book about the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. The book is critical enough of Cuomo that Cuomo’s team hustled to preempt it with a competing biography, but Marton finds the Shnayerson account lacking:

At times it feels as if Shnayerson is trying to shine up his subject a little too hard. Shnayerson claims, “No one was immune from Andrew’s charm when he turned it on,” and credits him with a “charm offensive few could resist,” even though “The Contender” presents little evidence of charm.

More significantly, Shnayerson portrays a hardscrabble kid from Holliswood, Queens: the car mechanic who is never comfortable rubbing shoulders with New York’s elite. This psychoanalysis feels misplaced. First, even Cuomo’s early upbringing was at least middle class: His father was a prominent lawyer tangling with Robert Moses when Andrew was a small child, and Andrew was a teenager when Mario began his campaigns for citywide and statewide office.

Second, ascribing his enmity of Eliot Spitzer and Eric Schneiderman to their blue bloodedness feels simplistic; after all, he was similarly antagonistic with Shelley Silver and Bill de Blasio. Maybe he just doesn’t play well with others? Besides, distaste for opulence didn’t prevent him from marrying a Kennedy.

Marton’s review points out plenty of other shortcomings and omissions. The controversial dismantling of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Corruption, the Democratic primary against Zephyer Teachout, and other truly interesting events of Governor Cuomo’s tenure are nowhere to be found.

According to Marton, anyone interested enough in New York politics to read Shnayerson’s book won’t find it terribly educational.

Published on under Disrupt Everything

Hey, remember Google Glass? It was going to change the world of wearable computing. Thankfully, Glass never made it out of the early testing phase. Astro Teller (that’s a great name) is the guy who was the project lead for Google Glass. The Daily Dot’s Taylor Hatmaker (that’s an even better name) reported on Teller’s post-mortem of Glass’s slow-motion fireball of a demise:

“I’m amazed by how sensitively people responded to some of the privacy issues,” Teller explains, expressing frustration about the backlash against Glass in public, given the prevalence of mobile video. “When someone walks into a bar wearing Glass… there are video cameras all over that bar recording everything.” If it were around a year ago “they’d be Meerkatting,” Teller joked.

“Society’s issues about privacy are completely legitimate,” Teller said. “I’m not making an apology for Google Glass. Google Glass did not move the needle… it was literally a rounding error on the number of cameras in your life.”

“It’s not about not having these bumps and scrapes—it’s about getting value from them,” Teller explained. “When I see that parade of mistakes in my mind’s eye… I just wish we could have made those mistakes faster.”

He’s amazed at how sensitively people responded to some of the privacy issues, but he thinks that Glass amounted to a rounding error in the number of cameras. That’s one hell of a false equivalence; the security cameras in a bar are not live-streaming to Google Hangouts. If they were, no one would go to that bar. That’s a big difference. Also, security cameras monitor (not stream) an area, not an individual person. Glass presented a qualitative camera difference, not a quantitative difference. How you can completely miss that is beyond me.

Despite all this, Teller pronounces society’s “issues about privacy” to be completely legitimate. That’s good. He’s right. In fact, the company he works for, Google, is neck and neck with Facebook for the title of company that best exploits personal information for corporate benefit. His bosses have created one of the primary sources of society’s issues outside of military superpowers’ intelligence operations.

But let’s back up for a second. Let’s pretend for a second that Teller is right, and Glass was just a rounding error in the amount of cameras in our lives. This requires us to pretend that we don’t understand the qualitative/quantitative distinction, but bear with me.

There’s a difference between this “rounding error” loss of privacy coming from Google and coming from some App Of The Week. One is an amateur operation, and the other is the world’s greatest exploiter of personal information. Sure, the one aspires to become (or be bought by) the other, but they’re worlds apart in the effectiveness of their operation. It’s like if someone sideswipes your parked car; you’ll feel differently if the driver was drunk and has a half-dozen DUIs than you will if the driver had a momentary lapse of concentration and has a spotless record. Google building Glass is qualitatively different from some random company building Glass.

If this is how Glass was going to be run, I’m extremely thankful that Google pulled the plug.

Published on under Questionable Pilot Programs

Ars Technica’s Cyrus Farivar filed a Public Records Request with the city of Oakland, California for the Oakland Police Department’s license plate database. The OPD apparently has 4.6 million geotagged photos of license plates of cars in and around Oakland. There are plenty of police departments around the country doing this sort of thing.

I haven’t read an awful lot about these kinds of programs, and I’m not of any particularly strong opinion about the constitutionality (or lack thereof) of them. But Farivar does some excellent reporting on Oakland’s data:

Specialized [License Plate Reader] cameras mounted in fixed locations or on police cars typically scan passing license plates using optical character recognition technology, checking each plate against a “hot list” of stolen or wanted vehicles. […] Some cities have even mounted such cameras at their city borders, monitoring who comes in and out, including the wealthy city of Piedmont, California, which is totally surrounded by Oakland.

LPR collection began in Oakland back in 2006, and an early OPD analysis showed that the overwhelming majority of the data collected was not a “hit.” In April 2008, the OPD reported to the city council that after using just four LPR units for 16 months, it had read 793,273 plates and had 2,012 hits—a “hit rate” of 0.2 percent. In other words, nearly all of the data collected by an LPR system concerns people not currently under suspicion.

Despite this, in that same report, then-OPD Deputy Chief Dave Kozicki (who has since retired) dubbed the LPR setup an “overwhelming success.” Today, OPD’s LPR hit rate has fallen slightly, to just 0.16 percent.”

So wait. For every stolen car they found, the police were scanning nearly 400 cars? Like I said, I’m not sure this is necessarily unconstitutional, but it does seem wildly inefficient. It doesn’t seem even remotely successful, let alone “overwhelmingly” so. Though honestly, out of all the things cops could be spending their (our) money on, I’m not exactly going to complain about this kind of silliness.

Ars isn’t just spitballing about the accuracy here. In January, the Electronic Frontier Foundation looked at just eight days of Oakland’s license plate data, and concluded that Oakland’s license plate camera program was a pointless dragnet that ignored the actual locations of crimes. The police scans weren’t entirely random, however; when the EFF overlaid census data on the license plate data, they found that the dragnet was focused on areas with predominantly black and hispanic populations. Maybe that helps explain the poor hit rate.

That’s pretty lousy, but to give some small amount of credit where credit is due; the OPD’s scans didn’t appear to correspond to the locations of mosques, which is more than you can say about New York.

Published on under Great Graphics Heists

Austin Walker, writing for Paste Magazine, wrote one of the best video game reviews I’ve ever read, about Battlefield Hardline. BF:H comes from a long pedigree of military shooter games, but now it’s about cops. Yes, as a country, we’ve spent the last seven months watching the results of local police forces acting more and more like soldiers in our own streets. Yes, the review addresses that. This is a grown-up video game review.

Actually, the review addresses the entire failed narrative of the game:

At the climax of Episode 4 — the open air mall, the neon signs, the hurricane force wind and rain — I noticed something. With my experience bar nearly full, I slammed a “Warranted” suspect to the ground and collected my Expert Points. But I didn’t level up. Less than halfway through the game, I’d capped out at Expert Level 15. Only then did I realize how empty this incentivization was. What do you get for unlocking expert levels? New, more lethal weapons. New scopes. A laser sight. Special, more deadly slugs for your shotgun. I couldn’t add a scope to my Taser. I couldn’t unlock new ways of safely apprehending suspects.

Being “Good Police” only offered me new ways to be the worst sort of police. And that wasn’t the end of it.

I realized that time and again, the game had acted as if I’d been gunning folks down when I wasn’t. Even when I carefully and cautiously arrested every single enemy in a level, Mendoza would sprint into a cut-scene, out of breath and covered in sweat from a gunfight that never happened. “Jesus Nick,” one character said, “Nice shooting. I’m officially scared of you.”

This is the kind of criticism you get about art. Movies, TV, novels, music, etc. do not exist in a vacuum; there is a political, cultural, and social backdrop to these things. This video game review puts Battlefield Hardline in its context.

I don’t mean to make it sound like a mind-blowing concept; quite the opposite. If games are art, then they have to be criticized as art. Lazy, sloppy, shooters ought to be called out as such. It’s 2015. If you’re not bringing anything to the table beyond “Lethal Weapon If It Were NC-17”, well, you’re … going to make tons of money.

All right, nerds. Hand in your badge.