Joho the BlogFebruary 2009 - Page 3 of 6 - Joho the Blog

February 18, 2009

Italy proposes harsh Internet filtering

Berkman’s Corinna di Gennaro posts about a proposed amendment in Italy that would require ISPs to block sites that permit postings that defend or instigate crimes. So, if there were a video on YouTube that defended a crime, Italian ISPs would be required to block all of YouTube.

Which content would be proscribed by this law? That is up to the Minister of the Interior, whose decisions cannot be appealed in a court of law. I can’t see any problems with that, can you?

So, you’d better think twice before you post to Facebook that you think that that photo of Michael Phelps and the bong is cool, kewl, or figo. You could get Facebook banned from all of Italy.

[Thanks to Marco Montemagno for the alert. And thanks to Twitter for telling me that Italian for “cool” is “figo.”]

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Charlie Leadbeater’s problem with Digital Britain

Charlie Leadbeater has posted a paper on why he’s unhappy with the British broadband proposal, Digital Britain. Given Charlie’s way with words, it’s not surprising that it’s a well-done piece, and it makes some essential points: First, you can’t solve problems just by throwing broadband at them, and, second, the Digital Britain proposal takes no account of the Net’s disruptive capabilities. (I’m summarizing to entice you, not to obviate reading it, people!)

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[podcast] Seeing the network – Its traffic, obstructions, and its social effect

The latest Radio Berkman podcast talks with Jonathan Zittrain about Herdict, a service that lets us together discover which sites are being blocked by whom. Then there’s an interview with Judith Donath about her MIT Museum installation that lets us experience what it means to live in a world supersaturated with information.

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February 17, 2009

[berkman] Microsoft on the multinational legal complications of cloud computing

Lisa Tanzi, VP & Deputy General Counsel of Microsoft is giving a Berkman lunchtime talk called “A New Era of Computing: The Opportunities and Challenges of Cloud-Based Software and Services.” [Note: I am live-blogging, thus missing stuff, getting things wrong, writing badly, paraphrasing.] Her division at Microsoft is more on the enterprise side than the consumer side.

Microsoft is very excited about cloud computing (which I’ll abbreviate as CC)) she says. She’s going to give an overview but wants to spend time on the legal implications.

Lisa begins by putting CC into context on the history of computing timeline. Mainframes, PCs, Client/Server and WWW, and Cloud Services. During the CC era, people have multiple devices. Also, we’re seeing touch-based manipulation and other natural user interfaces. And there’s CC, defined as “providing software and computing power over the Internet.” With CC, you can pay as you go, connect all your devices, and provide wider access to “unprecedented computing power.” “But we at Microsoft don’t see it as an either/proposition.” People will want to have a mixed environment.

She goes through the benefits of CC for businesses, government, public sector, and developers. She shows a television ad.

Now she addresses some legal and policy issues. She begins with a scenario: A business launches a conferencing and email services offering. It’s HQ’ed in the US with data centers around the world. This creates jurisdictional issues — privacy, law enforcement, liability, running mixed source, data portability. But, she wants to focus on two sets of issues. First, moving data across borders: privacy, security and law enforcement. If the service provider doesn’t think it can reconcile the conflicting obligations, it may end up not launching the service. Or it might turn features on and off in different jurisdictions, although the software doesn’t always allow that, plus you lose some economies of scale.

“Governments are going to have to work together in new ways to find solutions to these issues,” Lisa says. Also, it may be that governments that figure out how to make it easier data across borders will have an advantage in attracting data centers.

Second, “How do the large bodies of traditional telecom regulations apply in this new world?” VoIP, email, IM are all affected. The laws vary quite a bit by jurisdiction, and they are usually written for different technologies. Law enforcement requirements, confidentiality obligations, emergency services (e.g., E-911) requirements, etc. How you do all this while enabling this new technology to evolve and be rolled out.

When it comes to data movement (her first point), imagine a German company that’s out-sourcing email to a CC provider that has data centers in France and Belgian. The data retention laws of Germany say that info has to be kept for 6 months, in France it’s 1 year, and in Belgium it’s 2. Whose law applies?

Some provincial laws in Canada require data in a CC system to be stored in Canada. But if a US company builds a data center in Canada, the Patriot Act may apply, and even if it doesn’t, exceptionalism is a bad way of doing business.

Q: Have you faced any specific cases where the mother country’s laws regulate or not?
A: A lot of these issues just aren’t resolved. Another real-world example: When we build a data center in another country, we go through an extensive process to make sure that we’re not in a situation of conflicting laws. Researching Japan we came across a statute that says electronic communications cannot be transferred outside of the country. It’s not very clear what that means. Can a subsidiary transfer info out of the country? Is there some new process we should be engaged in? Treaty-like solutions?

Q: Are you required to go to the highest common denominator among all the privacy and retention policies?
A: No clear answers. It looks like you can have a high water mark on privacy. And it gets yet more complicated if you have to deal with privacy based upon whether the person is, not where the data is.

Q: I use MS Word. To get it from my computer, the police have to get a warrant, etc. If I use MS Live, your CC service, the FBI needs a subpoena which means they don’t have to go before a judge and show probable cause. I’m worried that users are naively using online programs such as Google Docs and Office Live without knowing they’re online and that they’re lacking legal protection. What is MS doing to educate users?
A: We hope that it’s apparent to users that they’re storing documents online. The Terms of Use make the legality clear.
Q: No one reads Terms of Use.

Q: From the European perspective, the European Commission in2004 required MS to change its licensing policy. MS didn’t comply. In 2006, MS was fined. In 2008 there was another fine. Interoperability was the common thread. In 2008, another two cases were opened, against Office and Opera. It’s a neverending story. What’s your attitude toward interoperability?
A: We take our legal obligations seriously. We’ve announced interoperability principles. Windows Azure (MS CC) is in development. When it launches, the goal is to have it work with non-MS languages and development environments. It’s built on standard protocols. The entire industry would benefit from data portability.

Q: Users in cloud environments tend not to have much leverage. My non-profit in Zimbabwe just got kicked off its web host because Zimbabwe misunderstood US policy. The customer has no power in this scenario. I worry that for people who are very concerned human rights, data protection, etc., the early indications are that we should run like hell from CC. It’s too bad because technically CC is a much better way to do this. Unless large companies running clouds can offer assurance that they’ll fight for the rights of customers, the response from at least some class of consumers will be “Over my dead body.” Beyond harmonizing, how does this come into issues of free speech. What’s the responsibility of a company like MS to act as a defender of rights?
A: This fall we joined a global initiative to have companies protect privacy and freedom of expression. [Global Network Initiative] For enterprise customers would classify the situation differently. They want to impose obligations on the service provider: set up your physical security in a particular way, do retention in a particular way. For them those issues are being negotiated contract by contract.

Q: What are MS’s financial projections for CC?
A: We haven’t made any [well, made any public]. We’ll be making our business model clear sometime this year. Probably pay as you go.

Q: MS has pushed for a high bar for human rights when it comes to the Global Network Initiative. But CC makes it much harder. What are you going to do?
A: It’s a tough question. We’re working on it.

Q: What type of treaty might MS push for?
A: I was raising that as a discussion point. It’s sooo complex.

Q: Akamai has a similarly distributed architecture and business model. Have you looked at it and other such companies?
A: We have looked at what other companies do.

Q: Why aren’t you using SSL for the entire email session or for MS Office Live for Consumers?
A: I’ll get back to you.

Q: [jpalfrey] We at the Berkman Center pride ourselves on having great relationships and talking straight. From the perspective of users with less money than business and than other users, the value prop for CC is “free or cheap services.” When cheap services have been rolled out to the poor, there have been problems making it clear to users what their risks and rights are. So, as this CC rolls out, MS should have a “mitigation plan” in effect (e.g., signs on construction sites apologizing for the disruption). What would the mitigation plan look like?
A: I’ll take that one back to Redmond. I haven’t spent that much time on the consumer side of this. [Tags: ]

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Wikipedia art project

Scott Kildall has posted to a public mailing list a very useful compendium of links about an attempt to create a work of art as a Wikipedia article. I have not seen the Wikpedia page and it’s been deleted but the Talk page is there. (And from the Talk page, it sounds to me like the deletion was appropriate.)

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Open Access: Half step forward, big possible step back

Boston University has decided to set up an open access archive for scholarly work produced there. Yay. This seems to stop short from mandating that academics there are required to put a copy of their published work into the archive, but it’s a good step.

On the other hand, the Open Access Blog reports:

Congressional Representative John Conyers (D-MI) has re-introduced a bill (HR801) that essentially would negate the NIH policy concerning depositing research in OA repositories.

Here are the first three points in a letter posted by Jennifer McLennan:

H.R. 801 is designed to amend current copyright law and create a new category of copyrighted works (Section 201, Title 17). In effect, it would:

1. Prohibit all U.S. federal agencies from conditioning funding agreements to require that works resulting from federal support be made publicly available if those works are either: a) funded in part by sources other than a U.S. agency, or b) the result of “meaningful added value” to the work from an entity that is not party to the agreement.

2. Prohibit U.S. agencies from obtaining a license to publicly distribute, perform, or display such work by, for example, placing it on the Internet.

3. Stifle access to a broad range of federally funded works, overturning the crucially important NIH Public Access Policy and preventing other agencies from implementing similar policies.

Here’s a draft letter opposing it.

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February 16, 2009

People against Facebook’s new terms of service

I just joined a group opposing Facebook’s decision that they own all of the content you create on their site even after you decide to close your account there. So can you.

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Alltop skims the surface for us

There’s nothing wrong with scratching the surface if that’s what itches. is a surface skimmer, and it looks quite useful. So, if you’re interested in one of the topics they cover, such as, say, cloud computing, you could click to see a compact listing of what bloggers and others are saying about it. Or GLBT. Or Obama. Or what the top stories in the LA Times are.

The weakness, as well as the strength, is that Alltop decides on the topics and sources (although the sources include searches of Google News, Technorati, and other aggregators). So, a search for “stimulus” turns up nothing because it is not one of the topics, although it is certainly mentioned in some of the content Alltop rounds up.

The very amusing “about” page reports that the decision about topics and sources of topics is made by humans and is “highly subjective and judgmental.” It helps that the site wants to push us out of our comfort zone by including sources we might otherwise scorn. But it’s important to keep in mind that — despite inevitable appearances — Alltop is essentially a magazine that reflects the interests and values of its editors. Nothing wrong with that at all. On the contrary. It’s just important that we not mistake Alltop for anything else. (The following is more concerning to me: “We take care of our friends. If sites or blogs help us, we help them,” as a criterion for inclusion. Is that really the best policy for the sake of us readers?)

Anyway, Alltop looks like a useful way to track the topics that it and you care about. [Tags: ]

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February 15, 2009

Republicans thinking outside that damn box

Christopher Beam at Slate has a lively article about the Republican National Committee’s meeting to come up with new ways of using the new media to build the party back up. The article gives the sense of a group that simultaneously is Getting It and Floundering in It.

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Marcus Brown’s tweet exegesiseses

Marcus Brown parodies twitter, social software and literary criticism rather savagely and very funnily, picking on some of the leading twitterers. (And the fact that his first video shows him pondering Cluetrain is not exactly an endorsement of Cluetrain.) Sure, it’s unfair to pick a handful of tweets out of context, and twitterers don’t claim to be writing deathless literature. Nevertheless … well, make up your own mind. (Thanks for the link, RageBoy!)

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