|02-02-11, 07:45 AM||#1|
Join Date: May 2001
Location: New England
Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - February 5th, '11
"I didn’t run any red lights, or speed, or park illegally during my shopping expedition. Yet when I returned home with the glossy paper product in hand, the digital iPad version still hadn’t finished downloading to my iPad." – Nick Bilton
"Probably Tor plays only a small part for only a few thousand [Egyptian] people. I'd like to think it's an important part and hopefully they will use it to stay safe against this violent tyranny." – Jacob Applebaum
February 5th, 2011
WikiLeaks Nominated for 2011 Nobel Peace Prize
Whistle-blower site WikiLeaks has been nominated for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize by a Norwegian politician who cited its role in freedom of speech, news agency NTB reported Wednesday.
"WikiLeaks is one of this century's most important contributors to freedom of speech and transparency," parliamentarian Snorre Valen said in his nomination.
Valen cited WikiLeaks role in disclosing the assests of Tunisia's former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his nearest family, contributing to the protests that forced them into exile.
The member of parliament for the Socialist Left Party, part of Norway's ruling red-green coalition, also noted WikiLeaks publication of documents relating to corruption by authorities, governments and corporations as well as "illegal surveillance, war crimes and torture committed by a number of states."
The five-member Nobel Committee advises those making nominations not to reveal their proposals in advance.
However, there are no formal rules against doing so, allowing for plenty of speculation before the winner is announced, normally in early October.
The 2010 prize was awarded to imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, who was unable to collect his award.
Parliamentarians, academics, former peace prize laureates as well as current and former members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee are among those who have the right to nominate candidates for the coveted award.
The Peace Prize is one of several prizes endowed by the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite Alfred Nobel.
Internet Piracy Boosts Anime Sales, Study Concludes
A prestigious economics think-tank of the Japanese Government has published a study which concludes that online piracy of anime shows actually increases sales of DVDs. The conclusion stands in sharp contrast with the entertainment industry’s claims that ‘illicit’ downloading is leading to billions of dollars in losses worldwide. It also puts the increased anti-piracy efforts of the anime industry in doubt.
The Japanese Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI) has published an elaborate study that examined the effect of piracy on sales and rentals of Japanese anime DVDs. The results are quite remarkable.
While the music and movie industry often make outrageous claims about the disastrous effect of piracy on their respective industries, researchers are still divided. Some researchers claim a considerable loss due to unauthorized sharing, while others have found that the overall effect of piracy is a positive one.
RIETI’s study on the effects of piracy on the sales of anime DVDs in Japan falls in the latter category.
In their paper the researchers examine the effects of YouTube and the popular P2P-network Winny on DVD sales and rentals of Japanese anime episodes.
“Estimated equations of 105 anime episodes show that (1) YouTube viewing does not negatively affect DVD rentals, and it appears to help raise DVD sales; and (2) although Winny file sharing negatively affects DVD rentals, it does not affect DVD sales,” the researchers conclude.
“YouTube’s effect of boosting DVD sales can be seen after the TV’s broadcasting of the series has concluded, which suggests that not just a few people learned about the program via a YouTube viewing. In other words YouTube can be interpreted as a promotion tool for DVD sales,” it adds.
The results of the Japanese research confirm that piracy does not always have to be associated with a decrease in sales. Similar effects have been observed for music piracy and book piracy as well.
One point of critique based on the main conclusions of the study, is that the observed relation only appears to be correlational. This may mean that the results could in part be influenced by significant third variables such as promotion and overall popularity. Since the report is only available in Japanese we were unable to confirm whether this was taken into account.
The results of the study come at an interesting time. For years anime distributors where considered quite lenient towards piracy, but last week the American anime distributor Funimation announced lawsuits against 1337 alleged BitTorrent downloaders.
Although it’s not expected that one study will change the tune of the copyright holders who are currently pursing alleged pirated in court, the study does confirm that the availability of unauthorized streams and downloads do not necessarily harm sales. Quite the opposite. The challenge for the content producers is to find the sweet spot that will benefit them, and consumers.
Appeals Court: Free Internet Porn Isn't Unfair Competition to Pay Sites
One day in March of 2009, the proprietors of Redtube.com were minding their own business, streaming free pornographic videos to the public, when they received notice of a lawsuit against them in the mail.
"The ubiquitous distribution of free adult videos through redtube.com has had a massive negative impact on the business model of adult website proprietors," charged the complaint against Redtube owner Bright Imperial Limited of Hong Kong. "Now that consumers have the ability to watch high quality adult videos for free on redtube.com, fewer are making the choice to pay other adult website proprietors for the same content."
Thus, Redtube.com has caused "many millions of dollars of damages to proprietors of adult entertainment websites," including those of the plaintiff in this instance, one Kevin Cammarata of Los Angeles, California. This, he charged, was a violation of California's Unfair Practices Act.
Whatever you think about Internet porn, if you have any sympathy for online commerce you will be glad to know that this lawsuit failed. A California Appeals court has dismissed the case as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit—an action designed to censor free speech.
"The publication of a video on the Internet, whether it depicts teenagers playing football or adult entertainment qualifies as 'conduct in furtherance of... free speech," the court ruled last week. "...All of Cammarata's causes of action arise from Bright's conduct of placing speech on the Internet where it can be viewed for free by the public. This is the 'predatory pricing' that Cammarata complains of."
The judges also took a look at the Redtube business model, and after a fascinating review of the history of broadcasting and the Internet, rejected the plaintiffs unfair competition claims.
Welcome to the "tube" industry, a genus of raunchy online content sites that includes... well, just type "sex" and "tube" in a search engine and you'll be on your way.
Like any of these venues, Redtube doesn't post free nookie flicks as a philanthropic gesture. Many of the short films on the site are owned and distributed by pay portals like Brazzers and Bangbros, which advertise and convert Redtube watchers into buyers of the longer versions. Also involved in the venture are live chat services like Fling.com and Friendfinder, which banner heavily on Redtube's pages.
So although Redtube's videos are "free," the venue functions as a search engine and preview for these pay sites. They send Redtube a commission fee every time someone forks over credit card money for their services—or, consumers can access some of this content via paid premium subscriptions available on Redtube itself.
Cammarata both admitted and denied this reality in his lawsuit. "Initially redtube.com featured only adult entertainment videos for free," the filing acknowledged. "Now, Bright still displays streaming videos for free on redtube.com, however, it advertises a 'premium' subscription that permits additional capabilities, such as downloading the videos."
But the complaint still insisted that the real motive behind this business model was anti-competitive. Redtube's videos function as "loss leader" bait, he charged—super low price items designed primarily to take away business from other pay sites, a violation of the Unfair Practices law.
"These defendants are selling and giving articles or products, namely adult entertainment videos, at less than the cost of such videos to such defendants, for the purpose of injuring competitors and destroying competition," including Cammarata. This entitled him to "injunctive relief, treble damages and attorneys' fees," he thought.
Brought to their knees?
The Appeals Court's ruling showed some initial sympathy for the plaintiff. Cammarata's grievance is common among porn producers, the three-judge panel noted. "According to one adult entertainment executive, the formerly profitable subscription-based websites 'have been brought to their knees' by the tube-based sites," they observed without a wink.
But the justices could find no evidence that Redtube's marketing strategy had anything to do with putting the plaintiff out of business:
Bottom line: "If Cammarata's subscription-based website lost revenue after Redtube and other tube-based websites came on the scene it was because the tube-based business model is more efficient, not because of alleged predatory pricing by Bright," the court concluded.
Nearly 100,000 Americans Sued for File-Sharing in Past Year
Nearly 100,000 Americans have been sued for suspected copyright infringement on file-sharing networks over the past year, according to details of a study published by TorrentFreak. The majority are alleged to have utilized the BitTorrent file-sharing network, although a few hundred users of eDonkey were also targeted.
The 99,924 defendants were sued as part of a total of just 80 lawsuits, which seek the identities of the many "John Doe" defendants from their various Internet service providers.
TorrentFreak notes that 68 of these cases are still active, affecting 70,914 defendants, and that nearly all of the recently-filed cases target alleged downloaders of adult content.
Also included in the list of defendants are many who allegedly downloaded feature films like "The Hurt Locker."
The lawsuits have rarely come to trial; plaintiffs instead typically offer to settle their copyright claims for several thousand dollars -- less than the cost of a legal defense.
Turning Numbers Into Names: How IP Address Lookups Are Done
We wouldn't have file-sharing lawsuits at all without the ability to convert a computer's IP address into an Internet subscriber's real name. But how do Internet providers actually perform those lookups?
The process begins when a copyright holder files suit and supplies the court with a list of IP addresses that were allegedly seen sharing files online. The court then allows the rightsholder to send a subpoena to the Internet service provider (ISPs) responsible for each address, where it goes to a special compliance unit.
These units are not large. Time Warner Cable told a DC federal court last year that its own subpoena compliance unit had only four full-time employees (but it had been forced to add a temp worker due to the growing number of requests). Comcast told a New York federal court recently that it processes around 200 lookups a day and that each employee can handle 22 of these, putting the department at nine employees.
Most of these lookups are done for law enforcement, and many of them are emergency requests. "Such requests often involve an imminent threat of death or injury or the imminent flight of a suspect," says Comcast, "and often require compliance within less than an hour after receiving the request."
Time Warner receives an average of 567 IP lookup requests a month, almost all of which came from law enforcement before the recent wave of P2P filesharing lawsuits. The requests include information needed to investigate "suicide threats, child abduction cases, and terrorist activity," which get "immediate priority," while others are a bit less pressing.
Both companies agree that suing individual file-swappers in court has placed huge burdens on their compliance operations—operations that make them no money. For instance, when 2,000 people were sued last year for sharing the film Far Cry online, Time Warner was asked to look up addresses for 809 of them—and that was just in one case, which was later expanded to over 4,000 people. With many other cases being filed in 2010, nearly 100,000 US citizens were sued, with ISPs being asked to do lookups on every one of them.
According to Time Warner, the burden is almost unmanageable. Just a handful of these P2P cases would "take TWC nearly three months of full time work by TWC's Subpoeana Compliance group," the company told the court, "and TWC would not be able to respond to any other requests, emergency or otherwise, from law enforcement during this period."
TWC asked the court to limit such lookups from one law firm to 28 per month, even though it would take years to clear the backlog—and the court eventually agreed. Comcast has tried to limit requests from a single law firm to 25 per month, despite its higher staffing levels (the company is trying to double its lookup capacity in order "to handle the onslaught of copyright infringement orders it receives weekly that were not forecasted for its 2010 budget.")
"Multiple people in multiple locations"
The actual lookup is not a purely automated process. Here's how Comcast does it:
And lookups aren't done at all until a subscriber is first notified and given a brief chance to object; Comcast sends out such notices by overnight mail.
Time Warner's process is similar, though the company notes that it requires action at "the corporate level and the local level," and it requires the cooperation of "multiple people at multiple locations."
Such lookups are therefore expensive to do. Each lookup costs Comcast about $120, which "includes the look-ups through two systems, Comcast's labor to confirm authenticity and accuracy, notification by overnight mail, quality control review, and interaction with responding subscribers and publication to the plaintiff via facsimile or CD." Time Warner says its costs are $45 per lookup, though this does not appear to include subscriber notification.
It's a tough process to do a simple job—tell the lawyers which subscriber had a particular IP address at a particular time.
P2P Site Operator Appears in French File-Sharing “Show Trial”
The owner of a file-sharing site active more than 5 years ago went on trial today in the French capital, Paris. Vincent Valade is accused by entertainment companies of profiting heavily from the unauthorized distribution of more than 7,000 movies. If convicted he faces up to 3 years in jail, 300,000 euros in fines and compensation settlements running to millions of euros.
Following two adjournments, the trial of file-sharing site operator Vincent Valade got underway in France today. Scheduled to run for 3 days, the Paris Criminal Court will hear evidence that claims between 2005 and 2006, Valade “provided films without the permission of copyright holders.”
Now aged 25, Valade was the owner of ed2K link site Emule Paradise, which at the time was one of the most popular sites of its type. Indeed, the claims from the movie company plaintiffs including Association of Film Producers, the National Federation of Film Distributors, the Association of Independent Producers, Universal, Galatée Films and Pathé Rennare, are that the site attracted around 300,000 visitors every day.
From this traffic, say the plaintiffs, Valade generated a sizeable advertising income. During the two year period in question it’s claimed he had revenues of more than 416,000 euros which were placed in bank accounts in Belize and Cyprus. Five other defendants including the Future Net (Net Avenir) advertising agency will appear alongside Valade at the trial.
Valade, now aged 25, is accused of facilitating the illegal distribution of 7,113 copyright movies, some of which were pre-release, between 2005 and 2006. He is also accused of the illegal copying of 19 films which were found on his computer following his December 2006 arrest.
It is by no means certain that Valade will lose his case. A similar case brought by 20th Century Fox, Columbia, Disney, Paramount, Universal and Warner against link site see-link.net failed last year after the plaintiffs presented no evidence to show that even a single infringement had taken place due to the site’s links.
“The underlying question is, can Vallade be held liable for links that are Uniform Resource Identifiers (URI), and not Uniform Resource Locators (URL),” Guillaume Champeau of file-sharing news site Numerama told TorrentFreak this afternoon.
“That is, if there is no evidence that the referenced content was actually shared when the .ed2K files were created, can you say it is infringement? Even if the content is shared, is it second degree infringement?”
In addition, one of the core arguments of the plaintiffs is that eMule Paradise offered the eMule file-sharing software for download – complete with how-to guides – alongside links to infringing downloads.
“[The plaintiffs] say that given ‘the context’ of eMule Paradise, with lots of links enabling the downloading of infringing content, the act of offering eMule for download is criminal,” Guillaume explains.
“Since the DADVSI law passed in 2006, it is forbidden in France to ‘knowingly and by any form, publish, make available or communicate to the public a device clearly intended for making available copyrighted works and material without authorization’.”
If found guilty Valade faces a 3 year jail sentence, fines of up to 300,000 euros and damages payouts potentially running to millions of euros.
Nesson, Students File Appeal in File-Sharing Case
During winter break, while most students were trying to forget about exams and the impending start of J-Term, several students' work appeared in a brief filed with the First Circuit appealing the damages award in a file-sharing case.
Prof. Charles Nesson '63 and a team of Harvard Law students represent Joel Tenenbaum in a lawsuit filed against him by the Recording Industry of America for copyright infringement for illegally sharing music files. After losing at the trial level, Tenenbaum was on the hook for $675,000 in damages, or $22,500 each for the 30 songs he was accused of sharing over Kazaa. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner reduced the damages to $67,500, but Tenenbaum and his team believe the award is still too high.
Copyright law provides for statutory damages between $750 and $30,000 per infringed work and up to $150,000 per work for "willful" infringement. Nesson and five students (Jason Harrow ‘11, Phillip Hill ‘13, Andrew Breidenbach ‘11, Eric Fletcher ‘11, and Nathan Lovejoy ‘13) assembled this brief to raise three arguments about the damages on appeal: extraordinary damages assessed against people not making money from the infringement is "absurdly extreme," said Nesson; Congress never intended for this regime to be applied to normal people as opposed to commercial infringers; and, most importantly to Nesson, the jury's role in assessing these damages is flawed.
"When Congress created these statutory damages, they explicitly imagined that it would be judges who had the wisdom to assess them," said Nesson. When the Supreme Court ruled that juries had to be involved, though, it "brought a constitutional requirement that the jury not be left completely at sea."
Instead, Tenenbaum's jury was instructed that infringement occurred and given a form to fill out with one range of damages for innocent infringement and another for willful infringement. There was no context given, said Nesson, that would encourage jurors to consider different types of infringement, like commercial acts, or legislative intent.
"I think the jury is very much affected by the top number they're given on the scale," said Nesson. "It's a very odd thing because the jury is instructed they can return a judgment that the judge herself found would be unconstitutional," referring to Judge Gertner's reduction of the damages by a factor of ten.
That system may be changing. Two years ago, said Nesson, it was almost impossible to drum up sympathy for Tenenbaum. Now that the focus of the case is on damages, more people find the law unreasonable, he said. With a similar case proceeding in Minnesota against Jammie Rasset-Thomas, represented pro bono by Kiwi Camara '04, there may soon be a split in circuits regarding statutory damages. That, says Nesson, could be all that's needed.
In Nov. 2010, the Supreme Court denied certiorari for Harper v. Maverick Recording Company, a similar case against a 16-year-old file sharer. She was unable to raise an innocent infringer defense, as 17 U. S. C. §402(d) essentially precludes innocence when notice is given on "the published phonorecord." As Justice Alito said at the time, arguing to grant certiorari, that law may be a bit dated.
"He recognizes in his opinion that the way the law is being applied, a law created for the analog world, doesn't make sense in the digital world," said Nesson. "I think that's a real straw in the wind."
Alito recognized the lack of a circuit split and left, in his dissent, the door open for another opportunity. By the time a Supreme Court appeal rolls around, though, new students may need to play a role in Tenenbaum's case.
Harrow, who Nesson describes as the head of the team, has worked on the case since his second year. As part of the winning Ames Moot Court team this past year, Harrow had already logged quite a few hours in mock trials and writing briefs. Nesson hopes to include him in the oral argument before the First Circuit as well, which offers a different perspective.
"It's hard to admit this after all the time my teammates and I put into moot court, but Ames is not real. Our ‘client' in the Finals, Kermit McBride, never really went to jail. But Joel is a real person, and right now he has a judgment against him that says that he has to pay $67,500 to some of the biggest companies on the planet for sharing 30 songs," said Harrow. "That means that every word we say to the court has to further the goal of reversing that — not of making us look good, like in Ames."
iTunes Films Bust Copyright Laws
Russian films are being made available through Apple's iTunes service without the consent of the copyright holders, the BBC has learned.
The popular films, dating from the Soviet era, are being made available to download as smartphone apps.
But the original filmakers have not given their permission for the films to go on sale.
Apple said it took copyright complaints seriously and took action as soon as it received a complaint.
Films available via iTunes include old favourites such as Gentlemen of Fortune, Assa, The Diamond Arm, Kin-dza-dza and Cheburashka.
Despite their age, the films and cartoons are still protected by copyright.
The owners of the copyright on the films, - Russian film studio Mosfilm and the Joint State Film Collection (Obyedinennaya Gosudarstvennaya Kinocollectsia) - have told the BBC they have not given consent for their films to be sold in the app stores.
"It is illegal to present our films as applications either in iTunes or on any other internet site. It is permitted only on our own Mosfilm site", Svetlana Pyleva, Mosfilm's deputy director-general, said in an interview with bbcrussian.com.
"The only official internet site where you can watch legal Mosfilm content is the Mosfilm site.," she said. "There are no third parties which we have permitted to use our content."
iPhone in man's hand, Getty Apple said it would respond quickly to complaints about copyright violations
Ms Pyleva said Mosfilm management was aware of the problem and was preparing to submit a claim to Apple.
"Maybe Apple will take appropriate measures and help us solve the problem," she said.
Apps, self-contained programs or content, for Apple gadgets are often written by programmers working independently or under contract for a company keen to get their creations in front of a wider audience. Apps can be original or adaptations of existing programs and games.
Before apps make it to the store, they are submitted to Apple for consideration and, if approved, are put on App Store on iTunes.
Ekaterina Toropova, press-secretary of the Joint State Film Collection (Obyedinennaya Gosudarstvennaya Kinocollectsia) that holds copyright for some of the films put on the Apple store, told bbcrussian.com that it had not issued licenses for such applications.
"The [Joint State Film Collection] retains all exclusive rights", said Ms Toropova.
The JSFC was unaware that some of its films, including Cheburashka, were being sold as an app for iPhones and iPads before bbcrussian.com told it.
"We'll try to get in touch with the developers," said Ms Toropova. "It is possible that they obtained licenses from someone else and they themselves are in the dark as they are sure that they sell a legitimate product."
"We'll explain to them that they are wrong," said Ms Toropova.
In response, Apple said it would investigate.
"We understand the importance of protecting intellectual property and when we receive complaints we respond promptly and appropriately", Christine Monaghan, Apple's official representative, told bbcrussian.com.
The BBC's Russian Service spoke to Vladimir Penshin - a programmer who lives in Ukraine who has created an app for iTunes from the film Cheburashka.
"Of course, I do not have any license agreement", he said. "This is all very simple. The companies, who can have complaints, submit them to Apple and Apple notifies me that they have to withdraw the application".
Mr Penshin confirmed to bbcrussian.com that he deliberately decided to offer unlicensed material for sale to gain profit.
Mr Penshin has also created and offered for sale an application based around the animated series "Penguins of Madagascar" produced by US studio Dreamworks.
"I realise that this is wrong," he said. "Maybe I am breaking the law."
Megaupload Facing $5 Million File-Sharing Suit
Perfect 10 has waged a $5 million copyright suit against file-sharing membership site Megaupload, as well as sister sites Megarotic,com, Megaporn.com, Megavideo.com and Megaclick.com.
The suit, filed Monday at U.S. District Court in San Diego, said Megaupload has avoided Perfect 10's 22 cease-and-desist letters over copyrighted material and offered complete electronic copies of Perfect 10's magazine.
Further, Perfect 10 said that Megaupload directs download links offering "tens of thousands of Perfect 10 copyrighted images, as well as Perfect 10 videos, to be juxtaposed on Megaupload affiliated websites, next to photographs and likenesses of Perfect 10 models and other models or celebrities."
The suit names Megaupload operator Kim Schmitz, who is described in the filing as a felon who has served time in prison for computer hacking and insider trading. It also names 100 John Doe defendants, which are described as Megaupload's business partners, or affiliates.
"Schmitz formed Megaupload for the specific purpose of engaging in the business of illegally storing, displaying, and distributing the intellectual property of others," the complaint says.
Megaupload and its sister sites have become increasingly popular through the past few years. Megaupload.com, according to the complaint, has become among the hundred most popular websites on the Internet, with a reported 45 million unique visitors per day.
"Because it charges membership fees for immediate access to the copyrighted materials stored on its servers, it is a distributor and seller of pirated materials," the complaint said.
Perfect 10, which owns and operates the Perfect10.com, said in the suit it is not currently earning revenue from that endeavor because of rampant infringement.
Its owner, Norm Zada, did not immediately respond to XBIZ for comment.
The $5 million copyright and trademark suit also alleges unfair competition and seeks a restraining order against Megaupload and its sister sites.
Lawyer Withdraws from Illegal File-Sharing Cases Citing Death Threats from Hackers
A lawyer of UK-based law firm ACS: Law has withdrawn from pursuing alleged illegal file-sharers, citing death threats from hackers.
Solicitor Andrew Crossley has told the patent court in London that he is withdrawing from the 26 cases ACS: Law had brought against the illegal file-sharers on behalf of it's client MediaCAT, citing criminal attacks and bomb threats as the primary reasons.
"I have ceased my work...I have been subject to criminal attack. My e-mails have been hacked. I have had death threats and bomb threats," Crossley said in the statement, read to the court by MediaCAT's barrister Tim Ludbrook.
The website of ACS: Law was the victim of hack attack last September and it was left red-faced when it accidentally exposed thousands of its emails, which detailed all the people it was pursuing and the pornographic films they were accused of downloading for free, as the website went live again.
The data breach is being currently investigated by the Information Commissioner and Crossley could face a hefty fine.
Crossley is also the subject to an ongoing investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority following complaints that he is seeking to make money with no intention of taking any defendants to court.
The deal between ACS: Law and MediaCAT, which has signed deals with various copyright holders allowing it to pursue copyright infringement cases on their behalf, has also been widely criticized.
According to the deal, copyright owners would receive a 30 percent share of any recouped revenue while ACS: Law takes a 65 percent share. The defendants who received letters of the alleged copyright violations were given the choice of paying a fine of around £500 or going to court.
Incidentally, MediaCAT recently expressed desire to drop the cases against the defendants but the court is unhappy over the way MediaCAT is behaving.
Judge Birss, who is hearing the copyright violation cases, has called the behavior of MediaCAT "mind boggling" and said it is unclear how the cases can now be dropped without a direct request by the copyright holders.
The judge said he is thinking of banning MediaCAT from sending any more such letters until the issues raised by the cases had been resolved.
Meanwhile, law firm Ralli, which is representing some of the defendants in the illegal file-sharing case, said it has suggested its clients to pursue ACS: Law for harassment.
The judge said it is unclear how the cases can now be dropped without a direct request by the copyright holders.
Barrister Guy Tritton, who is representing the defendants, has also questioned why ACS: Law has described MediaCAT as a "copyright protection society" - a title that he said was "misleading."
The case is expected to be decided by this weekend.
Sharing Site Takes Down PS3 Hack Files After Sony DMCA Request
A code-sharing site popular with programmers has removed files relating to the recent key-level hack of the PS3 after receiving a Digital Millennium Copyright Act request from Sony.
Github took down seven custom firmware files shared by three different users after a notice from Sony stating the company had a "good faith belief [that] the files circumvent effective access controls and/or copyright protection measures."
Sony's takedown notice, dated January 27, came just a day before a judge granted a temporary restraining order against one of the hackers responsible for first publicizing the details of how to circumvent the PS3's security keys.
The move shows Sony is working aggressively to limit the availability of information regarding the hack to the general public. Still, general information about the hack is still widely available across the internet, and even the specific files removed by Github have already been reposted elsewhere on the web.
In any case, it may be too late for Sony to fully limit the damage done by the hack. Earlier this month, Infinity Ward warned players using the PS3 versions of its Modern Warfare games that there was no quick fix for hacked servers that had the potential to erase players' accumulated stats or grant players unfair in-game advantages.
"Games rely on the security of the encryption on the platforms they're played on," Infinity Ward creative strategist Robert Bowling said. "Therefore, updates to the game through patches will not resolve this problem completely, unless the security exploit itself is resolved on the platform."
In an interview with G4TV earlier this month, George "Geohot" Hotz said he "was working on this to try to enable homebrew [on the PS3] without enabling things I do not support, like piracy."
Official PS3 Firmware v3.56 has a Rootkit
According to developer Mathieulh, the official PS3 firmware v3.56 is said to contain a rootkit which allow Sony to perform remote code execution upon connection to the PlayStation network. What this means is that Sony can scan for specific files on your PS3 console—such as custom firmwares and hombrew applications—and send a report back to the company. Whether this is legal or not is yet to be determined but be careful what you put on your PS3.
Originally Posted by N.A:
For those who are curious about the new PS3 security, it seems Sony has implemented something in 3.56 I mentioned here a few weeks ago that is the same as Microsoft uses to detect and ban 360's.
Mathieulh just posted about it on IRC.
Essentially Sony can now remotely execute code on the PS3 as soon as you connect. This can do whatever Sony wants it to do such as verifying system files or searching for homebrew. Sony can change the code and add new detection methods without any firmware updates and as the code executes remotely there is no reliable way to forge the replies.
Whilst it is possible to patch or remove this code from the firmware this will likely mean the end of playing CFW online (as PSN can just check before login that this is active) or at the very least mean it will be even easier for Sony to detect and ban users.
Judging from the fact that people can still connect using the proxy method it seems Sony hasn't activated any of this yet but the functions are there in the new firmware.
Originally Posted by IRC:
Jan 27 14:44:32 3.56 has nice new stuffs in there :P
Jan 27 14:44:43 like remote code execution upon login
Jan 27 14:44:45 They will just release patches so people who have hacked cant go online
Jan 27 14:44:46 yummy :P
Jan 27 14:44:50 WAT
Jan 27 14:45:00 RFE built-in the fw!?
Jan 27 14:45:25 3.56 pretty much has a built in psn rootkit
Jan 27 14:45:30 dude, that's the only stuff i'd be afraid of
Jan 27 14:45:31 don't tell me I haven't warned you
Jan 27 14:45:43 psn rootkit ?
Jan 27 14:46:05 but if we could rip-off the fw that shit would be erased
Jan 27 14:46:20 that was the only thing stopped sony to _auto_ update your fw
Jan 27 14:46:22 noone it's not that simple
Jan 27 14:46:29 the server awaits a proper reply
Jan 27 14:46:34 and that reply isn't in the firmware
Australians Love the Pirate Bay, Warns AFACT
The Australian organisation tasked with protecting the copyright of film and television studios locally has warned the nation has a love affair with BitTorrent haven the Pirate Bay and other sites which allow files to be traded online through peer to peer file sharing technologies.
The comments came in a submission to the Federal Government’s Media Convergence Review, which is currently examining how ongoing technology changes are reshaping the media landscape from how it looked in the 1990′s — which is when much of Australia’s current media and communications regulations were established.
In the submission, the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft, which represents a number of film and television studios locally, warned the nation visited file sharing sites like the Pirate Bay.
“AFACT has analysed the top 100 most popular and visited sites in Australia according to their Alexa ranking, and it is apparent that Australians also have a strong preference for infamous pirate sites,” the organisation said, noting the Pirate Bay, isoHunt, Hotfile.com and MediaFire.com were all in the nation’s top 100 sites — with the Pirate Bay being Australia’s 40th favourite site.
The figures as calculated by AFACT purported to show that such sites were more popular in Australia than in the UK and US — where the Pirate Bay was only the 60th and 81th most popular web site respectively, according to AFACT.
In its submission, AFACT said there was also evidence to suggest that — although legitimate files are also traded on file sharing sites — most of the files traded were in fact infringing copyright.
“In two separate data samples which the researchers analysed, it was found that at least 89 percent of all files traded on BitTorrent were infringing,” wrote AFACT. “It also found 70 percent of all content being traded was motion pictures or television shows — none of which was identified as legal, and much of which is the intellectual property belonging to our representative companies.”
AFACT’s unhappiness with the file trading situation has over the past few years led it into a high-profile lawsuit against major local broadband provider iiNet; a case which it lost, but has subsequently appealed. In addition, the organisation has sent letters to a number of other ISPs requesting they pass on requests to users to stop infringing copyright through file trading.
“In a converged world, the business models for delivery and consumption of content services are adapting and evolving, but the underlying intellectual property framework (especially copyright) must be maintained,” wrote AFACT in its submission, which outlined a variety of associated issues it believed the convergence review should take into account.
“Creators, providers and owners of content in the content supply value chain have a legitimate expectation that their rights will continue to be protected, despite increasing convergence,” it added.
However, not everyone appeared to have the same view as AFACT with respect to the future of content online. A joint submission by Google, Yahoo!7 and eBay to the Convergence Review took the optimistic view of the emerging online content delivery space.
“Continued innovation and investment in the Australian digital economy — further facilitated by the opportunities that will be created by the National Broadband Network — represents an opportunity for almost unlimited potential to deliver even more innovation in the types of content creation, delivery and consumption models that will be available to the Australian content industry and the Australian public,” the trio wrote.
The online giant’s submission also highlighted the fact that today’s consumers had a much more active method of consuming content — arguing that regulatory models which relied on a top-down “publisher to audience approach” to content regulation may no longer make sense.
Hunt Dithers Over Plans to Block File-Sharing Sites
Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has asked Ofcom to look into whether the Government can force ISPs to block websites for hosting illegal content.
The controversial Digital Economy Act includes measures to take down sites that infringe copyright. However, now it seems the Government is unsure whether that's even possible, and is asking Ofcom to see if the plans are "workable".
“I have no problem with the principle of blocking access to websites used exclusively for facilitating illegal downloading of content," Hunt said. "But it is not clear whether the site blocking provisions in the Act could work in practice so I have asked Ofcom to address this question."
“Before we consider introducing site blocking we need to know whether these measures are possible,” he said.
Ofcom will look into whether it's possible for ISPs to block such sites, what technology they would use, how much it would cost and how easy it would be to circumvent such blocks. The regulator is also looking at how to come up with a list of sites to target. An Ofcom spokesperson told PC Pro that it plans to complete the review by Easter.
Regardless of Ofcom's review, the site blocking plans still need secondary legislation to progress.
The site takedown measures aren't the only aspects of the DEA that are being questioned, as BT and TalkTalk have successfully campaigned for a judicial review of plans to cut off illegal file-sharers. The review will take start on 22 March.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport also said that it is getting ready to roll out its "mass notification system", which will see letters sent to people identified as illegally sharing copyright content online.
U.S. Resume Controversial File-Sharing Domain Seizures
US authorities have seized the domain of the hugely popular sports streaming and P2P download site Rojadirecta. The site, which is one of the most visited sites on the Internet, lost its .org domain which now redirects to a notice from DOJ/ICE. Rojadirecta is an unusual target because two courts in Spain have ruled that the site operates legally, and other than the .org domain the site has no links to the US.
Rojadirecta is known as one of the world’s major Internet sports broadcast indexes. The site links to broadcasts of many popular soccer matches plus other sporting events including NBA, MLB, NFL, NPB, IPL.
The site has well over a million visitors a day, and is listed among the 100 most popular sites in Spain in terms of traffic. This morning, however, visitors were surprised by a warning from US authorities. Continuing the previous “Operation in Our Sites” actions, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had seized Rojadirecta’s .org domain.
Rojadirecta is an unusual target for several reasons, not least because the site has been declared legal twice by Spanish courts. The site’s owners have previously fought a three year legal battle in Spain, which they won, but a single seizure warrant from US authorities has made this victory pointless.
Without receiving a notification or the option to defend themselves, the site’s domain was seized this morning.
“We have not been notified,” Rojadirecta’s Igor Seoane told TorrentFreak. As with the previous seizures the domain registrar was bypassed in the seizure. “According to Go Daddy they have not touched anything,” Seoane said.
Similar to BitTorrent sites, Rojadirecta doesn’t host any copyrighted material. Instead, it indexes HTTP links to sports streams that can already be found on the Internet, and also carries links to .torrent files which are hosted on other sites.
The site is owned by a Spanish company that pays its taxes and has been declared to operate legally in Spain. In addition, the site is not hosted in the US either. The only connection to the US is that the .org domain is maintained by a US company.
This indirect connection to the US makes the seizure a dubious action, according to Rojadirecta’s owner. “In our opinion the US authorities are completely despising the Spanish justice system and sovereignty,” Seoane told TorrentFreak.
At the moment Rojadirecta displays the same message from DOJ and ICE as the sites seized last year, including Torrent-Finder. It is expected that Rojadirecta is one of the first of a new list of seized domains.
The sports streaming and P2P link site is currently looking for legal advice, both in Spain and the US, and its owners are determined to fight the seizure with all means they have.
Despite losing the .org domain, Rojadirecta can still be accessed via rojadirecta.com, rojadirecta.es, rojadirecta.me, rojadirecta.in. The latter two domains are interestingly enough maintained by the same company as the .org domain, but Rojadirecta ensures us that they have many other domains that are not controlled by US authorities or companies.
The seizure of Rojadirecta shows that commercial interests are high on the agenda of the US Government. Seizing a domain that has been specifically declared to operate legally in other countries does not appear to be an obstacle. In this light, one has to wonder if generic domain names should be controlled exclusively by US companies.
Update: The owner of Channelsurfing.net informed us that his site was seized as well. Channelsurfing embedded videos from other sites and never hosted any copyrighted material on its servers.
Update: Atdhe.net has been seized as well, another sports related site.
Update: kingdom-kvcd.net was initially reported to be seized as well, but the site’s owner told us that this is due to a “huffy ex-staff member” who decided to point the DNS to the server where the other seized domains are hosted.
Homeland Security Tries And Fails To Explain Why Seized Domains Are Different From Google
The Marketplace radio show from American Public Media spoke to Special Agent James Hayes from Homeland Security, who was apparently in charge of the "raids" (if you can call them that) that involved the seizing of domain names under the legally questionable theory that linking to infringing material is, by itself, criminal copyright infringement. I've yet to find any legal expert who seems to believe that the law actually says this anywhere.
In the interview, John Moe asked Agent Hayes a very simple question: given that these domains were all seized based solely on the fact that they link to infringing content hosted elsewhere, and all of the same content is also linked from Google, will the Feds seize Google's domain name? Well, more specifically, Moe asks if ICE could seize Google's domain name. Amusingly, right after being asked, Hayes conveniently gets cut off, but he does call back and the question is asked again.
You can hear the whole thing here.
However, once he gets back, he tries to tap dance around this issue. Hayes says "no" that ICE will not seize Google's domain name and that's because it's only targeting sites that "don't do due diligence" to make sure that the content they're linking to isn't infringing. There's a pretty serious problem with this claim in that it's wrong on both sides of the equation. First off, Google, as a search engine, does no due diligence to check that links only go to non-infringing content. Second, in at least some of the cases (specifically in the case of dajaz1), we know that it was actually Homeland Security and folks like Special Agent Hayes who "failed to do their due diligence," so the songs named in the ICE affidavit were, in fact, provided by the labels or representatives of the musicians. In other words, according to Special Agent Hayes' own criteria, Google is more of a criminal operation that Dajaz1.
Hayes then goes on to repeat the long-debunked talking points of the industry -- insisting that anyone watching a PPV event without paying represents lost revenue. Apparently all the studies that say this isn't the case don't matter, so long as someone who directly financially benefits from Hayes' actions tells him otherwise. On top of that Hayes claims that this leads to lost tax revenue and jobs. Of course, this has also been debunked, since the money "not spent" on these events doesn't disappear, but is still spent in the market and, quite conceivably, ends up going to fund more jobs and industries with higher tax rates.
Also amusing is that Hayes uses this massively tenuous link to "tax revenue" to answer the question so many people have been asking: what the hell does Immigration and Customs have to do with a foreign website? The answer, apparently, is that ICE's mission is to protect the US Treasury and one part of that is to protect tax revenue. Of course, that argument makes no sense. By that same reasoning, when Henry Ford first started mass producing cars, Customs should have shut him down because it killed off jobs in the horse carriage industry, thus decreasing the tax base from that industry. Of course, everyone who thinks this through realizes that's silly, because the money didn't disappear, it shifted elsewhere -- to a more efficient arena, which actually resulted in economic growth and greater taxes. What Hayes and ICE are doing here is the opposite. They're holding back more efficient distribution systems, stifling speech and hindering economic growth, which actually will result in a smaller tax base.
Moe pushes back a little and asks Hayes if he thinks that linking is the same as hosting the content. Hayes doesn't answer, but simply says that they're targeting the sites that "get a lot of traffic," to which Moe reasonably shoots back: "Well, Google gets a lot of traffic." Hayes then makes stuff up about how a search engine is different, but that's based on nothing factual. He makes an artificial distinction and then finally states "well, it's a difference in our mind." Great, so because ICE is technically clueless and thinks there's a difference, it's all fine and dandy?
Moe then asks Hayes if he links to a site that has infringing content from his Public Radio blog, will ICE shut down the site. And Hayes makes a really weird remark that makes no sense, sayings that if Moe "gets advertising funds from a site that provides unauthorized content" then he might have to shut them down. But that's something new. We've seen no assertions or evidence that the sites that have been take down received ads from the other sites that were hosting the content. Is Hayes totally making stuff up now? It sounds like Hayes doesn't even understand what he's talking about.
Finally, Moe asks: if a site links and embeds to all the same content, but does not profit from it (i.e., does not have advertising), is it criminal? Hayes totally punts and says he'd have to check the law. Yes, really. So the guy is not an expert on the technology and admits he's not an expert on the law in question. So what is he an expert in and why is he leading these questionable seizures?
On a separate note, it's nice to see that Homeland Security is willing to chat with the press again after telling us that it will not speak about these issues because it's an "ongoing investigation before court." Apparently, Homeland Security was also lying to me (though, we knew that already).
What's scary about this is that every time someone from Homeland Security speaks on this issue, they display some pretty serious ignorance of the technical issues and of the specific details of the questions people are asking. They seem to get around these with wishful thinking about how -- in their minds -- these sites are "different."
Senator Wyden Asks WTF Is Up With Homeland Security Domain Seizures
We've been talking a lot about Senator Ron Wyden lately, as he appears to be one of the few folks left in Washington DC who seem to actually care about overreaching efforts by law enforcement -- especially in the area of copyright. We've talked about his efforts to block COICA, question ACTA and require more oversight on government spying. He's also not been shy about standing up for what he believes in, even when corporate interests start pressuring him, such as his eloquent response to companies who urged him to support censorship via COICA.
And, now, he's come out expressing serious concern about the recent domain name seizures done by Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) group. In a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder and ICE director John Morton (embedded below), Senator Wyden raises numerous questions, and it's clear that he thinks ICE has gone way beyond what is reasonable and legal. Many of the points in his letter seem to come directly from issues we've raised here on Techdirt -- including (specifically) the fact that all of the music used to seize the dajaz1.com domain were sent by music industry or artist representatives. He also seems quite concerned about who is driving these seizures, and if it's just companies trying to "create competitive advantages in the marketplace."
The letter highlights that we already have a process in the DMCA that lets copyright holders target and remove infringing content, and do so in a way "without impinging on legitimate speech that the website may also facilitate." He also is clearly concerned about the lack of due process and the fact that these seizures do "not appear to give targeted websites an opportunity to defend themselves before sanctions are imposed." He also notes that there's still a "contentious legal debate about when a website may be held liable for infringing activities by its users" -- a point that ICE continues to seem to think is settled law, when it is anything but. In fact, he notes: "I worry that domain name seizures could function as a means for end-running the normal legal process in order to target websites that may prevail in full court." Finally, he points out that the whole thing is "alarmingly unprecedented in breadth of its potential reach."
From there, he lists out a series of questions that he wants Holder and Morton to answer:
1. How does ICE and DoJ measure the effectiveness of Operation In our Sites and domain seizures more broadly -- how does the government measure the benefits and costs of seizing domain names?
2. Of the nearly 100 domain names seized by the Obama Administration over the last 9 months, how many prosecutions were initiated, how many indictments obtained, and how were the operators of these domain names provided due process?
3. What is the process for selecting a domain name for seizure and, specifically, what criteria are used?
1. Does the Administration make any distinction between domain names that are operated overseas and those that are operated in the U.S.?
2. Does the Administration consider whether a domain name operated overseas is in compliance with the domestic law from which the domain name is operated?
3. What standard does the Administration use to ensure that domains are not seized that also facilitate legitimate speech?
4. What standards does ICE use to ensure that it does not seize the domain names of websites the legal status of which could be subject to legitimate debate in a U.S. court of law; how does ICE ensure that seizures target on the true "bad actors?"
4. Does the Administration believe that hyperlinks to domain names that offer downloadable infringing content represent a distribution of infringing content, or do they represent speech?
5. Does the Administration believe that websites that facilitate discussion about where to find infringing content on the Internet represents speech or the distribution of infringed content? What if the discussion on these websites includes hyperlinks to websites that offer downloadable, infringing content?
6. What standard does DoJ expect foreign countries to use when determining whether to seize a domain name controlled in the U.S. for copyright infringement?
7. Did DoJ and ICE take into account the legality of Rojadirecta.org before it seized its domain name? If so, did DoJ and ICE consult with the Department of State or the United States Trade Representative before seizing this site in order to consider how doing so is consistent with U.S. foreign policy and commercial objectives?
8. In an affidavit written by Special Agent Andrew Reynolds, he uses his ability to download four specific songs on the domain name dajaz1.com as justification for seizure of this domain name. According to press accounts, the songs in question were legally provided to the operator of the domain name for the purpose of distribution. Please explain the Administration's justification for continued seizure of this domain name and its rationale for not providing this domain name operator, and others, due process.
9. Can you please provide to me a list of all the domain names seized by the Obama Administration since January of 2009 and provide the basis for their seizure?
10. Do ICE and DoJ keep a record of who meets with federal law enforcement about particular domain names? If not, would you consider keeping such a record and making it publicly available, to ensure transparency in government and that Operation in our Sites is not used to create competitive advantages in the marketplace?
He basically seems to hit on all of the key points, so it'll be interesting to see how Holder and Morton reply, but given their existing responses in various speeches, it's not hard to predict that they'll sidestep most of these questions, and go with something along the lines of "infringement bad! danger danger!" Either way, kudos (again) to Senator Wyden for being one of the few politicians left who really does appear to care about free speech and due process.
200GB to 25GB: Canada Gets First, Bitter Dose of Metered Internet
Metered Internet usage (also called "Usage-Based Billing") is coming to Canada, and it's going to cost Internet users. While an advance guard of Canadians are expressing creative outrage at the prospect of having to pay inflated prices for Internet use charged by the gigabyte, the consequences probably haven't set in for most consumers. Now, however, independent Canadian ISPs are publishing their revised data plans, and they aren't pretty.
"Like our customers, and Canadian internet users everywhere, we are not happy with this new development," wrote the Ontario-based indie ISP TekSavvy in a recent e-mail message to its subscribers.
But like it or not, the Canadian Radio-Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approved UBB for the incumbent carrier Bell Canada in September. Competitive ISPs, which connect to Canada's top telco for last-mile copper connections to customers, will also be metered by Bell. Even though the CRTC gave these ISPs a 15 percent discount this month (TekSavvy asked for 50 percent), it's still going to mean a real adjustment for consumers.
This is going to hurt
Starting on March 1, Ontario TekSavvy members who subscribed to the 5Mbps plan have a new usage cap of 25GB, "substantially down from the 200GB or unlimited deals TekSavvy was able to offer before the CRTC's decision to impose usage based billing," the message added.
By way of comparison, Comcast here in the United States has a 250GB data cap. Looks like lots of Canadians can kiss that kind of high ceiling goodbye. And going over will cost you: according to TekSavvy, the CRTC put data overage rates at CAN $1.90 per gigabyte for most of Canada, and $2.35 for the country's French-speaking region.
Bottom line: no more unlimited buffet. TekSavvy users who bought the "High Speed Internet Premium" plan at $31.95 now get 175GB less per month.
"Extensive web surfing, sharing music, video streaming, downloading and playing games, online shopping and email," could put users over the 25GB cap, TekSavvy warns. Also, watch out "power users that use multiple computers, smartphones, and game consoles at the same time."
You need "protection"
Here's the "good" news: TekSavvy users can now buy "insurance," defined as "a recurring subscription fee that provides you with additional monthly usage." For Ontario it's $4.75 for 40GB of additional data (sorry, but the unused data can't be forwarded to the next month).
There are also "usage vault" plans—payments made in advance for extra data. Consumers can buy vault data for $1.90/GB up to 300GB in any month.
Where once TekSavvy consumers could purchase High Speed Internet Premium at a monthly base usage of 200GB for $31.95 a month, now they can get about half of that data (if they buy two units of insurance) at $41.45 a month.
Starting to hate this? TekSavvy hates it, too.
"The ostensible, theoretical reason behind UBB is to conserve capacity, but that issue is very questionable," noted the ISP's CEO Rocky Gaudrault on TekSavvy's news page. "One certain result though, is that Bell will make much more profit on its Internet service, and discourage Canadians from watching TV and movies on the internet instead of CTV, which Bell now owns."
Given these dramatic changes, and the fact that ISPs around the world have made clear they wouldn't mind implementing similar schemes, it's no wonder that high-bandwidth businesses are fighting back. Last week, for instance, Netflix started publishing graphs of ISP performance in both the US and Canada, and it plans to update them monthly.
Netflix is also stepping up the war of words against ISPs who try to implement low caps and high overage fees:
"Wired ISPs have large fixed costs of building and maintaining their last mile network of residential cable and fiber. The ISPs' costs, however, to deliver a marginal gigabyte, which is about an hour of viewing, from one of our regional interchange points over their last mile wired network to the consumer is less than a penny, and falling, so there is no reason that pay-per-gigabyte is economically necessary. Moreover, at $1 per gigabyte over wired networks, it would be grossly overpriced."
The big question now is how these kind of billing changes will impact 'Net consumption patterns. Many subscribers use minimal data, but that's changing as Internet video becomes the norm. If these new plans simply discourage data hogs from backing up their 120GB pirated movie collection over the 'Net every night, there's no sleep to be lost. But if they scare consumers away from legitimate non-ISP affiliated movie and content sharing sites, that should be a firebell concern to consumers, entrepreneurs, and regulators.
And not only in Canada.
Ottawa to Reverse CRTC Internet Billing Decision
Richard J. Brennan
A controversial CRTC decision that effectively imposed usage-based Internet billing on small service providers will be reversed, the Toronto Star has learned.
“The CRTC should be under no illusion — the Prime Minister and minister of Industry will reverse this decision unless the CRTC does it itself,” a senior Conservative government official said Wednesday.
“If they don’t reconsider we will reverse their decision.”
The promise to reverse the ruling comes as CRTC Chair Konrad von Finckenstein is scheduled to explain the decision Thursday before the House of Commons industry committee.
While the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is an independent agency, its decision can be overturned by cabinet. The Star was told that could happen as early as next week.
The CRTC decision has sparked outrage across the country with Canadians rushing to sign petitions asking the Conservative government to reverse it. Industry Minister Tony Clement has received tens of thousands of emails requesting that it be struck down.
“Frankly, a decision like this is clearly not in the best interest of consumers,” the senior official said.
“This is a bread-and-butter issue.”
The CRTC’s ruling affects the wholesale business of the major Internet service providers, who sell capacity to smaller resellers. To encourage competition, major telecom operators that have spent heavily on infrastructure are required to lease bandwidth on their networks to small providers.
Major providers charge customers extra if they download more than the monthly limits they set, typically between 20 and 60 gigabytes. Small providers, however, offer plans with 200 gigabyte ceilings and even unlimited use.
The issue came to a head last week, when the CRTC denied independent service providers the right to continue offering unlimited Internet plans.
Although critics say the CRTC ruling will lead to lower download limits and higher rates, major Internet service providers say usage-based billing based is fair because it means heavy users pay more than those who just surf the web and use email.
As it invests billions in new broadband capacity, Bell says old pricing structures need to be brought in line with the huge amount of growth in Internet usage. Businesses and consumers are increasingly relying on the Internet to download videos, documents and even software. Rogers says its customers are using about 40 per cent more data each year.
Consumers’ Association of Canada president Bruce Cran said the CRTC decision is nothing but corporate gouging by Canada’s monopolistic communications companies.
John Reid, president of CATA Alliance, a group that advocates for innovation in Canada, said, “This has to be a decision that Canada makes — that it wants to be the best in the world in the provision of high-speed Internet.”
He added, however, that usage-based billing is not the answer.
“You don’t want to stifle the sort of richness that comes from using high-speed Internet,” says Reid.
Canada Still Wants to "Discipline the Use of the Internet"
Unlike the parrot in the famous Monty Python sketch, it appears that metered Internet billing in Canada is not quite dead after all. Speaking at a House of Commons hearing today, the head of Canada's telecoms regulator made it clear that metered billing rules would indeed be delayed—but they could well reappear.
Konrad von Finckenstein, head of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), said that he has heard the "evident concern expressed by Canadians" about metered billing rules. Those rules would allow the dominant DSL provider, Bell Canada, to impose usage-based billing on the small indie ISPs that use parts of its network to offer service.
"We don't have a monopoly on wisdom," he admitted, adding that CRTC had last night decided to suspend the new rules for 60 days and to review its own decision. When pressed about changes that might be coming, von Finckenstein made clear that nothing may change. "I cannot tell you what the outcome of the review is," he repeated.
The government has now pledged publicly to block the rules in their current form, but the CRTC has yet to hear officially from any official on the matter. Though delayed, its rules currently remain in place.
Even if it changes the billing requirements, CRTC still wants to "find economic ways to discipline the use of the Internet," von Finckenstein said in response to a question. Companies like Netflix are "putting a great stress on the Internet and there's no incentive for companies to invest in maintaining the Internet." Usage-based billing would encourage people to adopt more bandwidth-efficient technologies (or to forgo things like Internet video altogether, which would be terrific for cable operators).
Besides, metering isn't new—"we're doing exactly the same thing with electricity."
And he defended the CRTC, pointing out (justly) that without its line-sharing rules, the indie ISPs wouldn't be around to complain about the new billing rules in the first place.
Even if the new billing rules are revoked completely, only indie ISPs would be affected, and they reach only a few percent of Canadian users. As von Finckenstein noted, most of Canada is a functional duopoly. No matter what happens, Bell and the cable companies will still be free to keep jamming low caps down subscribers' throats.
Scientists Win UK Government Money to Develop 100 Times Faster Broadband
The UK governments Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts, has awarded £7.2 million of new investment to the University of Southampton's Optoelectronics Research Centre (ORC) and its 'Photonics HyperHighway' project. The aim is to develop new technologies that would be capable of making broadband internet access over fibre optic cables "100 times faster".
The project will bring together experts from the universities of Southampton, Essex and industry partners, including BBC Research and Development. Its goal is to look at the way fibre optic cables are used, and develop new materials and devices to increase internet bandwidth.
The work also appears to be directly related to another ORC project, MODE-GAP, which will use £10m from the EU's 7th Framework Programme to get faster speeds (i.e. more capacity) out of specialist long-haul fibre optic cables.
Sadly the problems with fibre optic cable capacity are now becoming better understood, particularly after the OCR warned of an impending "capacity crunch" during October 2010. This followed lab tests, which revealed that such cables were not completely future proof and would reach their limits sooner than expected.
Professor Payne, Director of Southampton’s ORC, said:
"Now is the time to look ahead to develop the UK infrastructure of the future. Our ambition is nothing less than to rebuild the internet hardware to suit it to the needs of 21st-century Britain.
Traffic on the global communications infrastructure continues to increase 80 per cent year-on-year. This is driven by rapidly expanding and increasingly demanding applications, such as internet television services and new concepts like cloud computing. What this project proposes is a radical transformation of the physical infrastructure that underpins these networks."
The research itself will be conducted at the University's new £55m Mountbatten Building, which is being created to replace a building of the same name that was destroyed by fire in 2005. The complex will be home to both labs for the ORC and the Southampton Nanofabrication Centre, a state-of-the-art facility for microfabrication and high-spec nanofabrication.
Worldwide Mobile Data Traffic Exploding, Nearly Tripled in 2010, Cisco Says
The air is almost as thick with data as it once was with the smoke of the Industrial Revolution, with increasingly dense billows of bits traveling between the world's billions of mobile devices.
In 2010 alone, the amount of mobile data sent was 2.6 times what it was in 2009. And by 2015, people will send 26 times more mobile data than they do now, according to Cisco's annual Global Mobile Traffic Forecast.
That will mean 6.3 exabytes per month, said Suraj Shetty, Cisco's vice president of worldwide service provider marketing. "That's the equivalent of every man, woman and child on Earth sending 1,000 text messages every second," he said.
Yipes, better upgrade my plan!
Cisco says two-thirds of that data traffic will come from mobile video, as more people begin making video calls, sending each other clips they've recorded, and watching longer-form television and movies on their cellphones and tablets.
For a little perspective: Mobile traffic in 2010 was three times as large as all the world's combined Internet traffic in 2000. In short, mobile broadband is getting big -- everywhere.
"There are regions in the world where they have mobile Internet connectivity but are not on the electrical grid," said Doug Webster, Cisco's senior director of service provider marketing. "The Internet is breaking the electrical barrier."
The growth of mobile networks will come with an increase in wireless speeds too. The global average is about 200 kilobits per second now, but as more so-called 4G networks are erected around the world, the average will increase by a factor of 10, to about 2.2 megabits per second. That's on the low end of what home broadband brings today -- pretty astonishing, considering it includes mobile networks in all of the world's developing countries.
But not all of the data explosion is going to come from the rise in smart phones and tablets. In 2015, Cisco predicts, most of the mobile traffic will still come from laptops and netbooks (56%), while smart phones will account for about 27%, and tablets only about 3.5% of the traffic growth.
Cisco makes its predictions by pooling various sources, including data compiled by research firms, polling its own infrastructure of Internet servers, and sampling the data habits of more than 390,000 users who run Cisco's Global Internet Speed Test smart-phone application.
Why One Egyptian ISP is Still Online
For all intents and purposes, Egypt is currently cut off from the Internet. Even today, though, the Noor Group’s DSL service in Egypt remains available (though it experienced some downtime earlier today). Why is Noor, which has about an 8% market share in Egypt, allowed to continue to operate while the rest of the country’s ISPs went dark days ago?
While it would be nice to be able to write a story about how one ISP defied the government’s orders in Egypt to provide its users with an essential service, the reality seems to be far more mundane.
According to France’s Le Monde, Noor provides essential services to the Egyptian stock exchange in Cairo. Thanks to this, the stock exchange’s site is one of the few Egyptian sites still available online. In addition, Le Monde also writes, Noor provides services to large multi-national corporations, including Coca-Cola, Pfizer and Exxon Mobile. Domestically, Noor also provides network services to Egypt Air. Because of this, Noor is likely considered to be an important economic asset and will probably continue operating throughout this crisis. We have to wonder, though, why the company wasn’t able to keep these business services up and running and cut its regular subscribers off at the same time.
Noor’s own website makes absolutely no mention of the current unrest in the country. Instead, the site’s news ticker proudly announces the network’s support for IPv6 and the availability of Linux hosting services.
FCC Net Neutrality is a Regulatory ‘Trojan Horse,’ EFF Says
The Federal Communications Commission’s net-neutrality decision opens the FCC to “boundless authority to regulate the internet for whatever it sees fit,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation is warning.
The civil rights group says the FCC’s action in December, which was based on shaky legal authority, creates a paradox of epic proportions. The EFF favors net neutrality but worries whether the means justify the ends.
“We’re wholly in favor of net neutrality in practice, but a finding of ancillary jurisdiction here would give the FCC pretty much boundless authority to regulate the internet for whatever it sees fit. And that kind of unrestrained authority makes us nervous about follow-on initiatives like broadcast flags and indecency campaigns,” Abigail Phillips, an EFF staff attorney, wrote on the group’s blog Thursday.
And the paradox grows.
In a Friday telephone interview, Phillips was unclear how to solve the problem. What about an act of Congress? How about reclassifying broadband to narrow the FCC’s control if it?
“I’m not sure what I think the right solution is,” she answered.
The agency’s December action has already been attacked on multiple fronts, including two lawsuits.
One side of the debate has focused on claims the FCC overstepped its authority by adopting the principle that wireline carriers treat all internet traffic the same. A chorus of others complain that the FCC wimped out and didn’t go far enough when it comes to wireless carriers.
And the entire debate is littered with competing interests, including the mobile-phone carriers, internet service providers, private enterprise, developers, Congress and, last but not least, the public.
“In general, we think arguments that regulating the internet is ‘ancillary’ to some other regulatory authority that the FCC has been granted just don’t have sufficient limitations to stop bad FCC behavior in the future and create the ‘Trojan horse’ risk we have long warned about,” Phillips said.
But who can be trusted in this debate?
The answer opens Pandora’s box.
Neverware Breathes New Life Into Schools' Aging Computers
There was once a time when students may have had access to better computers at school than they did at home. But with the explosion of consumer technologies, that's not the case. Arguably now many students carry more powerful computing devices in their pockets than sit on their desks at school.
Schools struggle to keep up with continually changing technology. They simply cannot afford to replace hardware at the rate with which upgrades are released. And as such, the technology infrastructure of most schools is severely lacking.
Jonathan Hefter has built something that could solve that.
Hefter is the CEO of Neverware, a startup that addresses this huge gulf between schools' existing hardware and the demands of new software. Neverware provides a virtualization platform, what he calls "the 'last mile' in cloud computing."
Virtualized desktops aren't new. There are several prominent companies that are addressing this for enterprise customers. But even though some liken school districts' technology implementations to ones in corporations, there are some substantial differences - budgets being the most obvious.
Neverware is designed lean. In fact, Hefter is currently bootstrapping the endeavor (although he is starting to look for funding). But the emphasis on efficiency isn't so much about Hefter's resources, as the resources of the schools he's aiming to support with Neverware.
Neverware's flagship product is the JuiceBox, a single server appliance that when connected to a LAN will power up to one hundred old machines with Windows 7. In case you haven't checked the system requirements for Windows 7 lately, here they are: 1 GHz or faster 32-bit or 64-bit processor, 1 GB RAM, 16 GB hard disk space, and a DirectX 9 graphics device. So how old can those "old machines" be? Hefter says he "hasn't found a desktop yet" that he can't make run.
The Juicebox generates a private, local cloud, something that addresses many of schools' concerns about privacy, security, and reliability. Hefter uses the analogy of electrical versus gas-powered cars to compare the energy and environmental waste of the PC industry with the efficiency of the Neverware project. It's a "single repository of computing power," and with it, schools need only focus on updating one machine, not many.
Currently Neverware is running in two pilot programs in schools in New Jersey, but Hefter says there are plans to go to market with JuiceBox in the next few months.
They Know What Boys Want
“I wouldn’t mind if they said ‘Send me a picture of you.’ But it’s like the way they ask for it. Naked?” An after-school conversation with girls about sex and the Internet.
It’s 1:32 a.m., and I’m on my computer, clicking through pictures of a young girl named Cristal. There she is lounging on a bed in short shorts, her knees drawn up to show the undersides of her thighs, her hot-pink bra peeking out from behind a low-cut tank top. Here’s a close-up of cleavage. And the money shot: Cristal in a teeny, tiny skintight dress posing like a Vargas girl with back arched and leg raised and bust swiveled to face the camera. Her waist is narrow. Her lips are full. She’s a pretty thing, and from the number of provocative images and Cristal’s pout in each of them, it appears that she knows it. In any case, whatever lingering self-doubts she may have had on the matter are surely dispelled by the comments: “VERY SEXY…..I LIKEY”; “god Damm Cristal! That’s some Booty you got there!”; “im smashing lol”; “OMG OMG OMG OMG CAN WE PLEASE GET MARRIED!!!”; “INBOX ME UR #”; “looking hella good ma”; “IM NOT GONNA LIE…………U R SEXY AS HELL.”
When I meet Cristal at a McDonald’s on East 14th Street, a few blocks from the high school where she is a freshman, she’s bundled up and buttoned up and decidedly more demure than she appears online. I learn that she’s 14, that she has a boyfriend, and that she would never consider posting a photo where she’s nude. “Like, naked?” she asks, aghast. “That’s completely out of the question. I don’t do that, not even with my boyfriend.” But she has no qualms about getting the juices flowing, or reveling in the secondhand sexual validation Facebook allows. She pulls the money shot up on her phone and studies it for a moment. “All it really showed was my thighs,” she says before giving in to a little frisson of pride in her developing looks. “But like, no cocky shit, but I have a body, so when I take a picture, it shows. Everything is, like, out there.”
It makes sense that Cristal would feel out her sexual potential online: The kids who are just now beginning to have romantic entanglements were born right around the time many of us got our first e-mail addresses—their whole lives have unspooled in the ambient glow of a computer screen. Their sexual maturation is inextricably bound up with technology. But Cristal didn’t just post this picture to see how boys would respond; she also posted it to see how her boyfriend would respond to those responses. And respond he did. “He hit me up over text, and he was like, ‘Um, could we talk about that picture? Don’t you think it’s a little bit too much?’ And I was like, ‘There’s nothing wrong with the picture. Calm down.’ And he was like, ‘Look at the comments.’ And I was like, ‘The comments are bad, but the picture isn’t, so …’ ”
He wanted her to remove the picture from Facebook. In the end, she decided to leave it posted: “No boyfriend is gonna make me do something I don’t want to do.” But even while talking about her boyfriend’s reaction now, Cristal gets a little giddy. The fact that he was protective of her online meant something to her in terms of their relationship. She grins broadly at the thought. “I was like, Awwwww!”
If eighth-graders today are spared the indignity of having to first learn about sex by watching a middle-aged health teacher roll a condom over a banana, having the web for a teacher comes with drawbacks, too. Consider that a single Google search of the term “sex ed” turns up, among other—more useful—information, a picture of a naked woman, the areolae of her nipples barely obscured by what appear to be Skittles, which run in a single-file line down to her nether region.
“One time I searched up ‘hermaphrodite,’ ” 16-year-old Tricey tells her friends from school in the back room of a Williamsburg pizzeria one December afternoon. “They called Lady Gaga a hermaphrodite, and I was like, ‘What is that?’ And then I saw this photo.” Her eyes widen in mock alarm as giggles crescendo up the table.
Samantha, 16, flashes her dimples. “You can learn a lot of things about sex. You don’t have to use, like, your parents sitting down with you and telling you. The Internet’s where kids learn it from, most of the time.”
Tricey begins to giggle again. “They had this thing where you typed in ‘naughty toilet stick people,’ and the toilet-stick people were having sex, doing positions. That was really …” She trails off, unable to come up with an apt description of what that really was.
Of the dozens of kids I interviewed over several months and in various neighborhoods around New York every one of them said he or she had seen “inappropriate material” online, sometimes accidentally through pop-ups or Google searches, sometimes not. There’s no doubt that some kids, and even some schools, remain far more sheltered than others. But the average age of first exposure to Internet pornography is widely cited as 11. “It’s pretty much intensely available,” one 13-year-old told me, before adding that he’s actually not as into online porn now as he used to be. And the very mention of filters tends to elicit laughs. Teenagers and tweens know that programs like Net Nanny don’t stand a chance against their generation’s superior Internet knowledge and access to proxies like Hidemyass.com, which acts as a gateway between a filtered computer and the big bad web and, crucially, keeps searches anonymous.
“You don’t have an account or anything, so it doesn’t give any of your information,” says 12-year-old Alexa of a site called Omegle, which pairs users randomly, and anonymously, in video or text chats. When I meet her and her friend Kelsey around the block from an Upper West Side middle school, they have braces and school bags and the fawnlike quality of girls on the cusp of adolescence. They also know that sites like Omegle are not exactly just for making new friends.
“It was really disgusting,” says Kelsey of the time last year when they first went on the site. “Like, people did inappropriate stuff. They’d show their private parts. They won’t talk; they just type. They’re like, ‘Do you like that, you like that, you want more, you want more?’ And we’re like, ‘No. That’s disgusting.’ ”
“We were together when we first saw it,” Alexa explains. “Our friends were just like, ‘Oh, here, look at this.’ ”
“The boys talk about it a lot.” Kelsey says, shrugging. “We just laughed and disconnected.”
“You can press DISCONNECT whenever you want.”
“It’s like if I [spoke to] ten of them, like, two people would probably be normal. Or one. Or they’d be normal at the beginning and then do that perverted stuff.”
“They can’t find you,” Alexa points out. “You don’t really tell them your name a lot. People know not to tell them where they are and stuff.”
“You make up a name or something, like Madison. The thing is, you can always lie. Everybody does.”
The girls know to be wary of strangers on the Internet—but they’re also wary of how the web is affecting the boys they might actually want to date.
“Guys wouldn’t really know about that much stuff if it weren’t for the Internet,” Kelsey says. “It freaks them out.”
“Yeah,” Alexa agrees. “It makes them kind of, like, inappropriate.”
“It can make them perverts at a younger age.”
“Like, sometimes you’re not ready for stuff like that.”
Kelsey tips her head to one side pensively. “I think it mostly happens to guys ’cause they’re just like, ‘Oh, look, that’s really cool.’ You know how when we were little girls, mostly we wore dresses and stuff, and we didn’t want to jump in the mud or anything or splash in puddles that can get us dirty?” The guys, on the other hand, splashed eagerly away. “It’s, like, the same. It’s disgusting to look at that dirty stuff, but the boys are just like, ‘Whatever, it’s life.’ ”
“Once they get older, they’ll grow out of it,” Alexa reasons.
“Yeah, I think it’s just a stage in middle school,” says Kelsey, “but I think they’ll get less perverted when they get to high school and stuff.”
“Basically, with certain guys, they’ll see something on the Internet and then they’ll want their girlfriend to do it,” Cristal says when I ask her how the Internet influences dating among her friends—a sentiment that is largely shared by the girls in the Brooklyn pizzeria.
“Okay, there was this one guy who had, like, a porno addiction,” Tricey tells me. “He likes to watch pornos and everything. And so I’m going out with him, and he sees that I have, well …” She motions to her chest, which is perky and ample. “So he’s like, ‘Oh, you want to dress up like that, too?’ And I see the picture, I’m like—” A look of shock crosses her face, as she goes momentarily speechless. “She had, you know how they have those fake-boob things? And then she had, like, this hot-pink bikini and these really tiny thong underwear. He’s like, ‘Oh, you want to dress like that?’ I just looked at him, for ten seconds, and then I just walked away.”
“I wouldn’t mind if they said, ‘Send me a picture of you,’ just a regular picture, with everything on,” says Samantha on that December afternoon. “But it’s like the way they ask for it? Naked?”
Tricey nods. “It affects them, the Internet. The guys expect to just chat girls up online, but when y’all see each other and y’all go out or whatever, the only thing that they want to do is get in the bed.”
Star, who’s 14, rolls her eyes. “Yeah, that’s the only thing they talk about.”
“I think they’re pressured by the Internet,” says Tricey. “When you see some of those things, you actually get a negative mind.”
Samantha frowns. “They see a pretty girl on the computer, big boobs or whatever, so they’ll be like, ‘Okay, I want a girl like that.’ ”
“I can’t stand that. The subject about the big boobs and all of that other stuff.”
“I don’t want big boobs!” Samantha wails. “I have small boobs. I have a small booty.”
“Porn,” she adds, slumping down in her chair. “That really teaches kids a lot. A lot more than they should be knowing. And that goes through the mind, I guess. And it’s, like, that’s how some girls get raped or something crazy.”
That happened to a friend, Star says softly. Suddenly the table gets very, very quiet.
This is the paradoxical fear of many heterosexual 14-year-old girls: that the Internet is making boys more aggressive sexually—more accepting of graphic images or violence toward women, brasher, more demanding—but it is also making them less so, or at least less interested in the standard-issue, flesh-and-bone girls they encounter in real life who may not exactly have Penthouse proportions and porn-star inclinations. (“If you see something online, and the girls in your neighborhood are totally different, then it’s, um … different,” one 14-year-old boy tells me.) This puts young women in the sometimes uncomfortable position of trying to bridge the gap.
Tania, a shy sixth-grader who goes to school near Gramercy Park, hardly even acts like she and her boyfriend are dating when they are face-to-face but warms to him over the Internet. “Like, at the end of the day we’ll see each other, but I still ignore him,” she says. “I don’t say hi to him. It’s as if we don’t go out, like we’re just friends. On AIM, I don’t see him, so I get more comfortable.” In fact, her AIM conversations are adult enough that when her mom stumbled across a page she accidentally left open, Tania got in trouble. She’s too young, her mother thinks, to have a boyfriend, online or otherwise. But Tania’s main problem with the disjointed nature of her relationship is that she realizes that her boyfriend could be carrying on the same Internet flirtations with other girls—and from what she’s heard, he probably is. “It bothers me, ’cause, like, he says he likes me, but he talks to another girl. He goes around.”
This is particularly troublesome because she knows that other girls at her school are using the Internet to try to lure male attention their way. Just this afternoon, Tania got in a fight with a fellow sixth-grader who had taken topless pictures and sent them to some of the boys.
“Me and my friend confronted her and said that if you want to do it, you can do it, but I’m trying to help you.”
“Lots of girls are mad at her because she messes with their boyfriends,” adds Tania’s friend Precious, who is also 12. “At first we didn’t talk to her, and today she was just like, she’s sorry.”
“She tried to give us a hug.”
“And my friend was like, ‘Don’t touch me.’ And then we started arguing. She acts like she’s 11 going on 25.” Tania studies her palms and pokes out her bottom lip. “It bothers me, because I used to hang out with her. I cared for her.”
If Tania feels betrayed, it’s because she knows that the stakes have been raised, that she’ll now have to do more to draw the male gaze her way.
“I think it makes her more popular,” Precious says of the photos. “That’s probably why she did it.”
“Yeah, ’cause, like, she gets all the boys.”
“Like, all the attention now.”
“When she cries, all the boys go up to her: ‘Oh, what happened?’ or whatever.”
“Girls don’t like her,” Precious counters, matter-of-factly.
“Yeah.” Tania weighs the social odds. “So she’ll become less popular for the girls but more popular for the boys, because the boys will want to go out with her more, because they probably like her pictures. Like, they don’t like you for your personality,” she sniffs. “They like you for your body shape and stuff like that.”
Precious nods. “They expect you to do things, and then when you say no, they’ll be mad.”
“And then start making rumors.”
For 13-year-old Mariah, an eighth-grader at Tania and Precious’s middle school, that’s exactly what happened, proving that the Internet can be as effective a venue for sexual retaliation as it is for sexual exploration—and that girls, as always, are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
“Well, the first boyfriend I had in middle school, I was in sixth grade and he was in seventh,” Mariah explains, pushing a lock of dark hair away from her pixie face. “So he had a little more experience. And he was like, ‘Oh, let’s go to the pizzeria and go to the bathroom and do it,’ and I’m like, ‘No.’ And then he started spreading rumors that we did do it, and it started getting online.” She’d be on the Internet, and suddenly she’d get a message from “Mariah the Slut,” asking “Will you suck it?” or “Can I do it with you?” When she replied to ask who was sending these messages, the answer that came back was, “This is you.” She says kids from her school would also “hit me up on AIM and call me names,” things she knows they wouldn’t have the guts to say to her face. “They got me so upset,” she says. “Like, they’re not so innocent theirselves.”
The experience did not drive Mariah off the Internet—which would be all but impossible these days, anyway—but it did make her more cautious. Her current boyfriend lives nearby, and she tries to mainly communicate with him face-to-face. Still, as a sign of trust, they have exchanged AIM passwords and maintain accounts that no one else knows about. Recently, the boy who started the rumors asked her to be his friend on Facebook. Mariah declined.
It’s tempting to say that what’s being lost here is the sweet awkwardness of young love—the shy pauses, the clumsy conversations, the innocent, ill-informed fumblings of two people who are first learning about their sexuality through the feel of the warm flesh and breath of another person, rather than through a moving image of a stranger on a cold, pixelated screen or a cluster of words that spring mysteriously from a complicated pattern of zeros and ones. But that’s probably just nostalgia for a past that never really existed. Kids have always been both kind and brutal to one another about sex. They’ve always fretted about, and wanted to show off, their bodies. Nor is sexual precocity, and the dangers that can accompany it, a product of universal Wi-Fi. Kids came out in 1995. As for Skins, most of the kids I spoke to hadn’t bothered to watch it.
Still, while it’s not surprising that adults believe today’s youth are navigating a brave new world, what is surprising is that the kids themselves—who’ve never known anything different—feel that way, too. They get that they are in a strange, uncharted place. “I think kids kind of mature more because they have computers,” Alexa tells me. “Sometimes it can be a good thing, and sometimes it can be a bad thing.” It’s a version of the idea I heard from every group—an awareness that, sexually speaking, the web may be doing them a disservice.
“I love you,” Tricey says, a bit wistfully. The boys she knows “won’t say that to your face. Like, they won’t have to worry about seeing your reaction when they type words into a computer. They don’t have to worry about seeing that.”
“Yeah,” Samantha agrees. “Because they’re just typing, so they’ll be like, ‘Okay, whatever, blah, blah, blah.’ They don’t even think about what they write.”
“Sometimes they do mean it,” Tricey says. “Sometimes they mean it, and sometimes they don’t mean it. But when they mean it, they’re scared to tell you to your face.”
She shrugs her shoulders, as if it doesn’t matter, though the look on her face says it does. “They’re not gonna show you any emotion,” she says finally, with a sigh. “They have to do that on the Internet.”
How Hef Got His Groove Back
Hugh Hefner already has his final resting place picked out and paid for: a crypt next to Marilyn Monroe’s in the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Not that he has plans to use it anytime soon. Hefner, who will turn 85 in April, lives these days what appears to be the life of an invalid, or even of a cosseted mental patient: wearing pajamas all day; rarely venturing out of the house; taking most of his meals in his bedroom — the menu seldom varying, the crackers and potato chips carefully prescreened to remove any broken ones. He is hard of hearing in his right ear and has an arthritic back that causes him to lumber a little when he walks. But he is in otherwise enviable shape for an octogenarian.
Fully recovered from a 1985 stroke, he appears to have all his marbles and an undiminished energy level. He still manages to have sex, popping Viagra as the occasion warrants. And thanks to the surprisingly successful reality show “The Girls Next Door,” he has a brand-new fan cohort: women, even many middle-aged ones, who no longer regard him as a degrading smut peddler — the publisher of a magazine that Gloria Steinem once said made a female reader feel like a Jew studying a Nazi manual — but as a benign and indulgent paterfamilias, a kind of fairy godfather turning worthy, wholesome-looking young women into platinum-haired, big-bosomed princesses whose every need is provided for.
Hefner — or Hef, as he is known to just about everyone — is famous for bestowing presents of plastic surgery on his many girlfriends and may well have gifted himself. His neck is taut and wattle-free. His skin, owing to infrequent sun exposure and generous bastings with baby oil, has a Madame Tussaud-like smoothness and suppleness. One former girlfriend has said that in the bedroom, with his clothes off, he practically glows in the dark.
Over Christmas, Hefner surprised celebrity watchers by posting on Twitter that he had become engaged to 24-year-old Crystal Harris, the latest and, if he is to be believed, the last in the endless string of young women who have paraded through his bedchamber: most of them blond, many with names ending in a vowel and all of them with mammary tissue that appears to have been injected with helium. Hefner has been married twice before, so the notion of his settling down again may represent the triumph of hope over experience. But a few days before Christmas, he told me: “This is it. This is a very, very special one. I expect to spend the rest of my life with her.”
A couple of weeks later, Hefner was on the business pages, trying to buy back his own company. That he is still around, still making news, is, depending on your point of view, either remarkable or a little embarrassing. He is, on the one hand, a great success story — a man who turned his sexual daydreams into a fortune — and, on the other, a fossil who doesn’t understand that the sexual revolution ended decades ago and that, in any event, it wasn’t for geezers. Some observers on Wall Street used to think that the best thing that could happen to Playboy would be for Hefner to act his age and honorably take up his slot next to Monroe. David Miller, an analyst at the investment firm Caris & Company, once said, “We believe that Mr. Hefner’s death could result in a material stock-price uptick.”
Last summer, however, Hefner startled even his own board by announcing that he wanted to make Playboy Enterprises, which he took public in 1971, private again. He offered the stockholders $5.50 a share, or more than 30 percent beyond what the stock was trading for. But this was slim consolation to investors who had been unhappily watching Hefner live like a sultan at their expense while the value of their shares declined to single digits from a high of $32.19. Strictly speaking, Playboy Enterprises, and not Hefner, owns the Playboy Mansion, a 1920s Gothic-style spread southwest of Hollywood. Hefner pays rent and covers non-business-related expenses#. The company pays for the upkeep of the house and grounds, and the salaries of the 80-employee staff, which includes a round-the-clock kitchen crew and a team of 13 who take care of Hef’s personal and business needs. Last year Hefner’s bill was $800,000, while the company kicked in $2.3 million.
Early in January, Hefner sweetened his offer to $6.15 a share, and the board recommended that the stockholders accept it. Miller suggested recently that Hefner, who once said that his life would be over if Playboy was sold, was trying to cling to the magazine, which sooner or later would have been farmed out to a licensee had the company stayed public. But all along, Hefner’s position has been that the stock is undervalued, and David Bank, a media analyst at RBC Capital Markets, tends to agree. “I think Hefner is incredibly shrewd,” he told me. “But when I take off my analyst’s hat and put on my psychologist’s hat, it’s something of an enigma to me. I don’t know that many 84-year-olds who are reducing their liquidity.”
Whoever owns it, the Playboy empire is unlikely ever to regain its former glory or influence. The original clubs and resorts were closed years ago. The circulation of Playboy magazine, the bedrock of the empire, has declined from a peak of 7 million in the ’70s to 1.5 million today. The ready availability of Internet pornography has not been good for business, and for a while Playboy appeared to have been crowded off the newsstands by the so-called lad magazines — Maxim, Stuff, FHM and the like — which depicted a culture that was less about “mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph and inviting in a female for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex,” as Hefner wrote in his first Playboy editorial, than about guys chugging beer, telling fart jokes and giving one another wedgies.
But like its founder, Playboy magazine has survived, if a little wizened, longer than its detractors imagined. Of the major lad mags, only Maxim still stands, and one of its former editors, 36-year-old Jimmy Jellinek, two years ago became editorial director of Playboy, second in command to Hef. “I aged out of the Maxim demographic,” he said recently. “The lad mags were predicated on instant gratification, on living the consequence-free life. It was the credit boom, and money was free. You could do whatever you wanted. The magazines were both a symptom of and a metaphor for everything that happened.”
In the realm of men’s magazines, Playboy, which Jellinek champions with the ardor and occasional near-breathlessness of a convert, now represents enduring, old-fashioned values. Jellinek compared it to a vinyl record in a world of MP3 files.
Hefner still supervises the layouts and chooses# all the photographs, which by today’s standards are practically chaste-seeming. Airbrushed and lustrous, their pubic hair (if there is any) as carefully fluffed as their tresses, the Playboy nudes are suffused with an unearthly, almost Platonic radiance; and as the critic Joan Acocella once pointed out, those enormous breasts, miracles of buoyancy and cantilevering, make the women seem less sexy, oddly, than childish and innocent. They’re like little girls with balloons.
In some ways the magazine is little changed from the one so many of us read in our youth. The Playboy Advisor is still there, dispensing worldly advice; the not-very-funny party jokes are still on the back of the centerfold; Gahan Wilson is still drawing cartoons; readers are still writing in to dispute who killed J.F.K.; and there is Hef himself, with his arm around a couple of blondes. Playboy continues to publish some very good writing, as it has since the ’60s, yet it remains a fantasy magazine of sorts, and nearly 60 years on, with Hefner still presiding, the exact nature of that fantasy seems a little clearer. The Playboy dream was never — or never only — about limitless, guilt-free sex; it was about limitless, guilt-free sex as a manifestation of a theme even more far-fetched but nevertheless surprisingly durable in the American imagination: the possibility that you might never have to do anything as embarrassing as grow old.
Hefner is a little odd, certainly, but not a sleazebag. He has none of Bob Guccione’s oiliness, or Larry Flynt’s leering vulgarity. His manner is open and direct, and his language is as clean as a Midwestern Rotarian’s. By his own lights, having purged himself of the shame and hypocrisy that is part of most Americans’ sexual baggage, he leads a life that is exceptionally honest and moral. It’s also a life that is exceptionally well documented. He has been written about so often and for so long that in interviews now he tends to recycle himself, saying the same things over and over again, not in a bored, rote fashion but as if they had just occurred to him. He complains a lot about America’s puritanical, contradictory attitudes toward sex and likes to say that he is a “one-eyed man in a blind world.” He also thinks that most men would kill to be in his place.
No one is more fascinated by Hefner’s success and longevity than Hefner himself. He is a self-inventor, in the great American tradition of Jay Gatsby, William Randolph Hearst and Howard Hughes (before he became a recluse and started hoarding his urine), and he is also a great self-chronicler, a kind of hyper Pepys. In the attic of the mansion is an archive of continually updated scrapbooks now closing in on 2,400 volumes. The later ones tend to feature page after page of photographs devoted to mansion get-togethers and theme parties: Hefner, sometimes a little weary-looking, smiling his trademark wide-mouthed smile while his arms encircle a clutch of smiling young lovelies, bare-breasted or not, depending on the occasion, who after a while grow indistinguishable. Leafing through the albums, you get the feeling that these events, once famous and risqué, now take place simply so that they can be documented and generate more photographs.
Far more interesting are the earlier volumes, some of which are collections of stuff Hefner began keeping as a child. They include cartoons, a series of detective stories modeled on Conan Doyle and several issues of an illustrated horror magazine called Shudder. Hefner — a dreamy, solitary child, bright but socially immature — was already a publisher of sorts, churning out copy and writing editor’s notes to his readers. Most remarkable of all is a comic book, called “School Daze,” that Hefner, or an alter ego called Goo Heffer, worked on all through his years at Steinmetz High School in Chicago, depicting the larksome good times of an inseparable group of high-school pals.
Hefner really was the center of such a group. At the end of his sophomore year, in the first of many self-transformations, he made himself over, changing his hair style, buying a new wardrobe, learning to jitterbug and turning from Hugh — skinny, awkward and self-conscious, to judge from photographs then — into Hef, or Hep Hef, a jive cat. The metamorphosis apparently worked, bringing Hefner newfound popularity. Yet the comic strip, painstakingly drawn, beautifully inked, suggests that he was also spending long hours in an imaginary high school of his own invention.
Later strips deal with Hefner’s Army career (he enlisted right after high school but became a typist and never saw any action) and with the creation of Playboy in 1953, when Hefner was 27 and at a low point in his life. “When I was young I always thought, I’m going to do something very special, or else I’m going to be nobody,” he told me, and in the early ’50s failure looked more likely. He had a crummy job, had only just moved out of his parents’ house and was frustrated with his marriage to Mildred Williams, a high-school classmate.
A late bloomer sexually, Hefner didn’t masturbate until he was 18, and after years of foreplay, he finally managed to lose his virginity when he was 22, but he read Kinsey as if Kinsey were a prophet and became a student of marriage manuals and sex handbooks. Playboy was the sort of sophisticated, sexually adventurous publication he fantasized about. He scrounged money, including $1,000 from his mother, and laid the first issue out on the kitchen table, writing much of the copy himself. His greatest piece of luck was his choice of the first centerfold: a nude calendar photo of Marilyn Monroe taken four years before. It remains by far the sexiest of all Hefner’s pinups. Where subsequent Playmates all have a health-club aura, as if they’ve lately come from the tanning bed or a Pilates session, Monroe, flushed and languorous, looked as if she just had an orgasm.
Playboy very quickly made Hefner a wealthy man, and by the end of the ’50s enabled the second great transformation of his life, when Hefner, now divorced, instead of just leaving little traces of himself in the magazine’s photo spreads — a necktie, a pipe, a cocktail glass — stepped forward and became Mr. Playboy, a debonair bedroom savant who actually lived the life his magazine dreamed about. From that point on it becomes increasingly difficult to discern where Playboy leaves off and Hefner begins.
You can see the transformed Hef most vividly in clips from “Playboy’s Penthouse,” a black-and-white TV show that ran for a couple of seasons in the late ’50s and early ’60s. There, greeting the viewer at the door to his top-floor pad, is tuxedo-clad, pipe-smoking Hef, looking a lot like Don Draper, giving a weekly house party for people like Tony Bennett, Count Basie, Buddy Rich and Sammy Davis Jr., who, at a time when white and African-American performers seldom appeared together, would drop by and entertain and sometimes (because real liquor was served and the show was shot out of sequence) start off tipsy and then sober up.
Mr. Playboy’s heyday was the ’70s, when, as the money poured in, Hefner took to wearing pajamas round the clock, working from his bedroom, where he also slept with pretty much whomever he chose, and jetting around in the Big Bunny, his customized DC-9. The ’80s, though, were his anni horribili. Overexpanded, the business went sour, Hefner clashed with the Reagan administration and the Moral Majority and in 1985 he suffered a stroke, in part brought on, he insisted, by the unfavorable publicity surrounding the 1980 murder of the Playmate Dorothy Stratten.
Hefner now says that his 1989 marriage to Kimberley Conrad, January Playmate of the Month the year before, was an attempt to seek refuge — a “safe harbor from the waves.” “I was not well, and I felt my years,” he told me. “I felt much older then than I do today.” He and Conrad broke up in 1998, though they did not divorce until 12 years later. “During the marriage I was faithful,” he said to me emphatically, “and she was not.” (Hefner, for all his advanced views, clings to the double standard and has never entirely got over his first wife’s admission that while they were engaged she had an affair with a high-school coach.) The aftermath, he now admits, was “overcompensation,” as he began dating posses of women, including one named Brandy and a pair of twins named Sandy and Mandy. “You can’t make this stuff up,” he said, laughing at himself. At one point, early in his ’80s, he was living with seven young women and trying vainly to enforce a 9 o’clock curfew to keep them from dating anyone else.
“You’d think that the well would run dry — the number of people willing to expose themselves by becoming Playmates,” Mary O’Connor, Hefner’s 82-year-old assistant, said to me. “But it doesn’t. It just keeps flowing.” O’Connor, who has worked for Hefner for four decades, is a tall, no-nonsense woman, a former car-racing promoter, who has seen just about everything. Back when Playboy was headquartered in Chicago, she ran the Playboy Mansion there when it was partly a dorm for the Bunnies who worked in Hefner’s club. Among her duties now, along with buying the fabric for Hefner’s custom-made PJ’s and making his health care appointments, is looking after the mansion’s guest list — the select few who, after giving their names to a speaker-equipped boulder by the main gate, are allowed to proceed up the driveway, past the “Playmates at Play” sign and perhaps a wandering peacock or two, and enter the fabled pleasure palace, scene of countless late-night, clothing-optional get-togethers — and inviting new female talent to Hefner’s parties and frequent movie nights. “I can’t tell you how many pictures we get from girls saying: ‘I love you, Hef. I want to be your girlfriend,’ ” O’Connor said, shaking her head. “Once we got an envelope from overseas, and there was no address except a drawing of a rabbit.”
The Sunday before Christmas, there were a number of potential Playmates on hand at the mansion, all in red dresses, many wearing Santa hats. They posed for pictures and stood around the baronial entrance hall, giving off an invisible force field intimidating to the shy middle-aged visitor. The first thing you notice about these women — or, to be honest, the second, but it seems impolite to linger on the first — is their skin: radiant, blemish-free, glowing with a dewiness that was presumably the epidermal standard in those ultraviolet-free days back in Eden. Had the weather been better (L.A. was in the midst of a nearly weeklong deluge), they might have visited the mansion’s zoo and aviary, bounced on the backyard trampoline, cavorted topless in the underwater grotto. Instead they played pinball in the game room, enjoyed cocktails and a buffet dinner and then assembled in the living room — some on the floor, some on Hef’s couch, their places as precisely allocated as the chairs at a levee of the Sun King — for a showing of that evening’s film.
Hefner loves movies, and screens at least three a week: a classic film on Friday and Saturday and a new release on Sunday. As many as 50 or 60 guests — old pals, hangers-on, assorted B-listers — will attend these screenings, which are part of a schedule as rigid and unvarying as that of a monarch. Monday night is Manly Night, when Hefner gets together with his cronies, many of whom have been showing up for years. Tuesday is Girls’ Night, when he plays games of Uno and dominoes with his retinue. Wednesday is reserved for cards (more ancient buddies), and Thursday is Family Night, for hanging out with Marston and Cooper, the sons from his marriage to Kimberley Conrad. There are also seasonal theme parties, like the ones for Easter, Halloween and Hefner’s birthday, and a naughty Midsummer Night’s Dream fete, held in August, not in midsummer, where the dress code specifies lingerie or sleepwear. These occasions figure in Hefner’s calendar the way Trooping the Colour and the annual visit to Balmoral figure in the queen’s — as rituals enshrined by custom — and they are, not coincidentally, a good place for a potential consort to be noticed. Hefner first glimpsed Kendra Wilkinson, a star of “The Girls Next Door,” who now has a reality show of her own, when she was passing out Jell-O shots while wearing nothing but some strategically placed body paint at his birthday party in 2004. He spotted Crystal Harris, dressed as a French maid, at his Halloween party in 2008.
What do the women see in him? A friend, a mentor and a meal ticket more than a sex symbol, most likely. Live-in status at the mansion brings with it — or used to bring, before Hefner pledged himself to Harris — a stipend of $1,000 a week, paid out in cash by Hefner every Friday, and there was also free hair care, a car allowance and additional sums available for breast and dental implants and for special-occasion clothing. Sex with Hefner was not a requirement, strictly speaking, though most of his girlfriends did sleep with him, it appears, either out of gratitude or because of pressure from the others.
When I asked Crystal Harris whether her relationship with Hefner was sexual, she looked at me for a moment. “I don’t know how to respond to that,” she said, and then added, after a pause: “You mean sexual relations? Sure.” But she went on: “Hef has hooked up with a lot of people, but that’s not what makes him happy these days. He’s much happier just cuddling and snuggling with the dog.” They watch a lot of old movies together, she said, and she also likes trying to break him out of his unbudging routine. Just recently she persuaded him to try sushi and shepherd’s pie.
“Well, I guess I know what I like,” Hefner said when I asked him if he didn’t think it odd that as he got older and older, his girlfriends remained the same age, all in their 20s and all conforming to an unoriginal model of perky blond buxomness. He was in his standard daywear — red silk smoking jacket and black silk pajamas — and sipping a Pepsi while sitting in the mansion’s largely bookless library underneath a huge breast-baring ceramic bust of Barbi Benton, one of the few brunettes ever to catch his eye. “You do give up something in the process,” Hefner went on, acknowledging that most of his girls have never listened to his kind of music — jazz and the big bands of the ’30s and ’40s — and have never heard of Betty Grable and Alice Faye (who probably imprinted that sexy blond template on him in the first place). “But you gain something, too. There is something wonderful in the student-teacher relationship — the rediscovery, the chance to have a relationship with a younger woman. It permits you to see the things you love with a fresh eye, makes them exciting again. And I don’t think there’s any question that surrounding yourself with youth keeps you younger.”
This avuncular, nurturing Hefner, and not the sleek, night-owl playboy of decades past, is the one who emerges on “The Girls Next Door,” and may account in part for the success of that show. “The Girls Next Door,” which the E! network began showing on Sunday evenings in 2005, surprised even people at E! by attracting a huge viewership primarily composed not, as you might imagine, of heavy-breathing teenage boys but of women in the very profitable 18-to-34 age group. Even Kevin Burns, a friend of Hefner’s who produced the show, has trouble explaining its appeal. One of his more recondite theories is that the three girls (besides Wilkinson, there were Holly Madison and Bridget Marquardt) happened to illustrate the Aristotelian triad of ethos, logos and pathos, or honesty, brains and emotion. Hef, on the other hand, as the critic Daphne Merkin has pointed out, seems less lascivious than distantly, absent-mindedly affectionate. He’s like the TV dad on “Father Knows Best” and other Stone Age programs.
People in the Playboy company talk a lot about the “brand,” a sort of emanation from the magazine that they believe has in some ways transcended Hef himself. Hefner’s daughter, Christie, who was chairwoman and C.E.O. of Playboy Enterprises from 1988 to 2009, told me that once when she was in China, where there are hundreds of stores selling Playboy merchandise but where the magazine itself cannot be published, someone asked when her father had joined the company. The brand is a label that can be attached to stuff — not just thongs and rabbit-head necklaces like the one Carrie Bradshaw wore for a while in “Sex and the City,” but bar glasses, pool cues, bath and shower products and tank tops for dogs — and there is a huge and growing market for this merchandise overseas, especially in Asia and Eastern Europe.
The brand, not the magazine, is the moneymaker these days. Playboy is getting back into the gambling business, licensing its brand to casinos in Macau and Las Vegas. The Playboy television channel, meanwhile, is trying to advance from raunchiness to coolness with its new Saturday-evening program, “Brooklyn Kinda Love,” in which Brooklynites all appear to be childless, pierced and tattooed. An elderly pipe-smoking gent in a bathrobe would be weirdly out of place here. Yet the Playboy brand still depends at some level on the imagery of the debonair smoothie who created the magazine, the kind of guy who knows his way around the bedroom but is also well informed about neckwear, stereos and shoe care and who gives big parties at his mansion.
Hefner is “iconic,” his friends and associates like to say, and lately there has been an effort to burnish and preserve the icon. In 2008 Steven Watts published “Mr. Playboy: Hugh Hefner and the American Dream,” an authorized biography that treated its subject with the care and depth usually reserved for statesmen and political figures. Last summer, Brigitte Berman came out with “Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel,” an adulatory documentary film (made with Hefner’s cooperation) that emphasizes his many contributions to civil rights and freedom of speech. For years now the producer Brian Grazer and the director Brett Ratner have been talking about making a biopic, possibly starring Robert Downey Jr., and there have even been discussions about a possible Hefner musical.
What happens if, or when, the icon is no longer personally available is inevitably on the minds of many people associated with Playboy. Though he is not pushing a succession plan, Hefner is pleased that his sons — Marston, who is 20, and Cooper, who is 19 — have begun to take an interest in the magazine. He told me that Cooper, an avid cartoonist, reminds him a lot of himself at the same age. To judge from a couple of brief conversations, however, neither of the Hefner boys shares the braininess of their 58-year-old half-sister, Christie, a summa cum laude Brandeis graduate; nor, for that matter, do they display much of the self-inventiveness, born both of awkwardness and ambition, that characterized their father at the same stage in his life. They’re sweet and slightly spacey and seem a little young for their age — a result, probably, of growing up in a world that is a real-life version of what is for most adolescent boys only a guilty fantasy.
“I prefer to think of it as when he’s not active, not when he’s not around,” Christie Hefner said, talking about the future. She and Richard Rosenzweig, the executive vice president of Playboy Enterprises and a longtime friend of Hefner’s, like to imagine that he will become a beloved, eternally brandable figure like Walt Disney. “It will be easier to perpetuate my story when I’m not around,” Hefner told me. “Because then nobody will be pissed off that I’m still getting laid.” He also pointed out that his mother lived to be 101. Then he went back upstairs to his legendary bedroom, which these days is a bit of a mess: stacks of old movies on tape and DVD, knickknacks and tchotchkes everywhere, childhood photographs on the mantel, panties dangling from a chandelier and, nestled together on a sofa, a couple of hundred stuffed animals. It looks less like a love nest than the cave of a hoarder unable to let go.
Feb. 1, 1893: Lights! Kinetograph! Action!
1893: What is generally regarded as America’s first film-production studio, Thomas Edison’s “Black Maria,” opens in West Orange, New Jersey.
Black Maria (pronounced “Mah-RYE-uh”) was known more formally as the Kinetographic Theater — after the kinetograph, a forerunner of the movie camera. It was built on the grounds of Edison’s laboratories. The kinetoscope (a forerunner of the projector) had been developed there as well, by one of the inventor’s underlings.
Black Maria (nicknamed by assistants who likened its cramped quarters to the black marias, or paddy wagons, used by the police) was where Edison staged his first public demonstrations of films made for the kinetoscope viewer.
One of the earliest films made there was The Edison Kinetoscopic Record of a Sneeze, known more colloquially as Fred Ott’s Sneeze. And that’s exactly what it was: a short film of a guy called Fred Ott, sneezing for the camera.
The studio consisted of a dark room covered in tar paper, with a retractable roof. It was completed for the then-princely sum of $637.67 (about $15,000 in today’s money).
Once the word was out, Edison was besieged by a slew of actors, acrobats, pugilists and a variety of other performers hoping to be filmed for posterity. While the kinetoscope’s vogue was relatively short-lived, it was profitable: A commercial kinetoscope theater opened in New York City in 1894, charging a quarter for admission (six bucks these days), and others soon followed in San Francisco, Chicago and Atlantic City.
Although Edison demolished Black Maria in 1903, a replica was built in 1954 and stands at the Edison National Historic Site in West Orange.
Amazon to Launch Film Streaming Service: Report
U.S. online retailer Amazon.com is developing a film streaming service, which would compete directly with Netflix Inc, the Financial Times said.
Amazon is planning to bundle access to the streaming service with Amazon Prime, a scheme that guarantees Amazon customers unlimited free shipping of books and other items sold by the online retailer after paying an initial fee, the FT said, citing a person familiar with Amazon's plans.
Amazon's has just agreed to buy the 58 percent of British DVD and games rental firm Lovefilm that it does not already own for an undisclosed price.
Amazon did not immediately respond to Reuters calls seeking comment.
(Reporting by Sakthi Prasad in Bangalore. Editing by Jane Merriman)
For a Filmmaker, the Green Things in Life Are Free
Maïa De La Baume
YANN Arthus-Bertrand has sold more than 3 million copies of his first book of photography, “Earth From Above.” His latest Paris exhibition featured videos of 5,600 people photographed in 78 countries, and it attracted 150,000 visitors in just one month. And his $16 million movie from 2009, “Home,” has been screened all over the world, including Bangladesh and the headquarters of the United Nations.
But in the United States, Mr. Arthus-Bertrand is a perfect stranger.
This year though Mr. Arthus-Bertrand is determined to convert American audiences to his sentimental vision of the environment. Next month his film — a succession of images of stunning natural beauty from 54 countries — in service of a warning against human excesses — will be shown free at the Village East Cinemas in Manhattan. The no-cost concept has delayed the film’s journey to the United States. “For several years, American movie theaters didn’t want to show it because the movie was free,” Mr. Arthus-Bertrand said in an interview.
“In America things are complicated, and the movie was from another planet,” he said.
Mr. Arthus-Bertrand, 64, is distinctive as well. Viewed by many here as a sort of French Al Gore, one with a white mustache, a more flamboyant style and a similar, if perhaps slightly less articulate, message, he has received some of his country’s highest distinctions, including the Légion d’Honneur, and has had 12 French schools named after him. In 2009 he was appointed a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program. But unlike many prominent environmental advocates, Mr. Arthus-Bertrand has no scientific background and has never been a politician. And in France, where credibility generally depends on one’s level of training or education, successful careers like his are rare.
In conversation Mr. Arthus-Bertrand comes off more as a thoughtful adventurer than as a French intellectual. His office is a comfy cabin lost in a wood near Paris, and many on his staff are under 40 and wear T-shirts to work. He is inhabited by a restless energy and easily distracted.
“No one is an environmentalist by birth,” he said, “It is only your path, your life, your travels that awaken you.”
Mr. Arthus-Bertrand first found inspiration in a small, solitary experience, when three decades ago he painstakingly observed a family of lions in Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya.
“The lions taught me photography,” Mr. Arthus-Bertrand said. “They taught me patience and the sense of beauty, a beauty that penetrates you.”
A former actor with no higher education, Mr. Arthus-Bertrand described himself as a “violent child,” attending 15 different schools as a boy. He discovered aerial photography working as a hot-air balloon pilot in Kenya. From the air, he explained, you see the world differently, and borders disappear.
For years he shot photos for the Paris-Dakar rally, Club Med catalogs and various clients in Morocco. In 1992 he stumbled across the notion of “sustainable development” in an article in the newspaper Le Monde, and that serendipitous moment changed his life.
“I didn’t know what it was,” he said, “but started looking into concepts such as fair trade and ozone layer.”
His work on “Earth From Above” made him an environmentalist, he said. Over eight years, he photographed about 160 countries and read dozens of books on environmental issues. Few publications were willing to publish his work at first. He sold prints to pay for his flights and mortgaged his apartment to finance the book.
“Earth From Above” has come to be viewed in France as the bible of aerial photography and has spawned similar books like “Paris From the Air” and “New York From the Air.” For Mr. Arthus-Bertrand, the experience has been “like winning the lottery.”
Mr. Arthus-Bertrand has always favored sensational events to draw people to his cause, even in a country where such exuberance is often viewed with distrust. His photography exhibitions are often held in unexpected places: at the iron gates of the Luxembourg Gardens or on the walls of a public hospital. “Home” was shown on a giant screen below the Eiffel Tower, with 25,000 people in attendance.
Throughout his career Mr. Arthus-Bertrand has often insisted on free access to his art, a particularly provocative stance in a country with a long attachment to strict intellectual property rules. He publicly asked people, including film distributors, around the world to show “Home” without charge.
“I told them: ‘I am doing a movie for free, I did my job. Now, do yours,’ ” Mr. Arthus-Bertrand said. (Glenn Close agreed to narrate the English-language version without pay. And the owner of the Village East cinema is exhibiting the film for cost; Mr. Arthus-Bertrand paid the $10,000 rental fee himself.)
The film, which was almost entirely financed by the French retailer PPR (which owns the Gucci Group, among others), is a nonprofit project, he insisted, which depends on the film distributor’s good will.
“It is an extraordinary approach,” said Luc Besson, the French film impresario, at a news conference in 2009. Mr. Besson, who produced “Home,” added, “Our goal is that a maximum of people watch it, in order to tell governments and industrials: Look how many of us are rallied to his cause.”
With the help of major donors like BNP Paribas, the French bank, he started the GoodPlanet foundation, which helps companies to develop eco-friendly initiatives, compensate for carbon emissions and curb greenhouse gases. Most recently the company was granted government help to distribute 20 posters showing pictures of nature and sustainable development programs to 57,000 schools in France. He now intends to develop an equivalent operation in the United States.
Today the revenues from his artistic work — including the copyright of more than 60 photography books, byproducts and exhibitions around the world — have made Mr. Arthus-Bertrand’s appetite for new projects even more insatiable. But his unusual pace and monumental undertakings have grandly served what many people described here as a naïve vision of environmentalism. He has been nicknamed the Care Bear, and a recent article in the French newspaper Libération described him as “a mixture of John Lennon and the Green Giant of vegetable fame.”
For Jean-Michel Frodon, a French movie critic, Yann Arthus-Bertrand is an undisputed celebrity who used his reputation to make “Home,” a “pretty and Pollyanna-ish movie.”
“ ‘Home’ had many viewers but didn’t have much echo,” Mr. Frodon said in an interview.
Mr. Arthus-Bertrand’s personality, activities and his innovative no-cost concept, he explained, have captured more attention than the movie itself. He makes no apologies for his efforts or his methods.
“There is something very utopian about what I do,” he said. “But utopia is nothing more than a truth that the world is not yet ready to hear.”
A New Model for Film Music
“The King’s Speech” collected an impressive 12 Oscar nominations last week. It might have stopped short of a dozen without help from a British entrepreneur who has planted his business at the tricky intersection of film and music.
In an unconventional deal that may promise a revival in film music, the Cutting Edge Group, based in London, and its chief executive, Philip Moross, effectively bought the musical portion of “The King’s Speech” months ago.
The investment then let the film’s producers hire Alexandre Desplat, the award-winning French composer whose score was among its nominations, and recruit the London Philharmonic Orchestra to record works of Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms that would otherwise have been performed by a small ensemble.
“What we wanted to do was get the music that would do the images justice,” Iain Canning, a producer of “The King’s Speech,” said in an interview by phone last week of the decision to give up rights to the music in return for having enough money to get the music right. He added of Cutting Edge: “They inflate your music budget.”
Traditionally, movie producers pay companies like Cutting Edge, which also manages catalogs of music rights and represents music supervisors and composers (though not Mr. Desplat), for help in assembling the scores and songs in their films.
The role played by a company like Cutting Edge varies widely from film to film. Though creative control remains with the director and producers, the company will generally provide or recruit a music supervisor, who suggests what songs to include and helps clear the rights, and a composer who writes the score. It may also provide recording studio services, operate its own record label, administer publishing rights and distribute the music in other forms after a film is released.
But music budgets have been dwindling for at least a decade, as piracy, cheap downloads and collapsing CD sales made it virtually impossible for film producers to recoup from hit soundtracks the money they spend on music.
In the heyday of the soundtrack business, the music for “The Bodyguard,” a Warner Brothers film that in 1992 starred Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston, sold almost 12 million albums in the United States, according to a recent report by Nielsen SoundScan. (The soundtrack included the megahit “I Will Always Love You.”) In a diminished era, the “Twilight” soundtrack was considered a smash when it hit two million.
As for scoring, a handful of composers have continued to flourish, among them Hans Zimmer, who received an Academy Award nomination this year for his “Inception” score, and Michael Giacchino, who last year won an Oscar for scoring “Up.”
Privately, however, composers grouse about a world in which competition is intense, fees are shrinking and often tone-deaf directors, producers and studio executives throw resources at special effects and movie stars while shorting the music.
But Mr. Moross and his partners decided to alter the equation in 2008 by raising an initial $15 million fund, backed by the investment giant Aberdeen Asset Management, to let them pay producers in advance for music rights from films on which Cutting Edge would provide or broker services.
“We’ve got about a two-year head start,” Mr. Moross said of a model that he believes will become common as others begin to recognize that film music is a reliable, if not always huge, source of income.
In an interview last week, Mr. Moross described a system under which Cutting Edge paid producers a relatively modest amount for rights, usually $50,000 to $200,000. That, in turn, adds to the money already available for music budgets, which may in total be $300,000 to $500,000 on a film that costs, for example, $20 million to produce.
In effect, the producer has taken a hedge, by giving up potential future profit from the music in return for ready cash.
Cutting Edge then hunts for revenue not just from fees or commissions on music services, but by selling soundtracks (“The King’s Speech” is licensed to Decca Records), peddling sheet music, collecting royalties that are paid every time a movie ticket is sold in various countries around the world, licensing the music to advertisers, and, in a payoff that stretches over years, gathering fees that come due when a film plays on television.
The company is building a library of managed rights, which includes, among others, the songs of Jim Croce. Its composers include Dario Marianelli (an Oscar winner for “Atonement”) and Patrick Doyle (“Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”).
Over the last year, Mr. Moross says, Cutting Edge provided services to about 100 films, including “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1,” from Warner Brothers, and “Thor,” which is due in May from Marvel Entertainment and Paramount.
To date, it has invested in 124 movies, he said. Those include “Whiteout” and “The Losers,” which were made under an arrangement with Dark Castle Entertainment and its chief, Joel Silver. Both films performed poorly at the box office, but television performance fees pile up, even on the misses.
“Value in recorded music is being overlooked,” said Nigel Sinclair, the co-chairman of Exclusive Media Group, a film financier that also has a standing deal with Cutting Edge and worked with the company on the vampire fantasy “Let Me In.”
Mr. Sinclair said of Cutting Edge: “They’ve figured it out.” Though to hear Mr. Moross tell it, the figuring did not come easily.
Mr. Moross is a son of an investor, M. D. Moross, and a stage actress, Edna Jacobson. He grew up in South Africa, studied molecular biology in London, trained to be an auditor with Arthur Andersen, and began building up capital of his own by buying and selling homes as real estate boomed.
He soon began developing residential real estate, then built a celebrity licensing business that was tied to an elaborate arrangement under which he swapped client endorsements to retailers in return for catalogue space for clothing that was manufactured by a company of his own in India. Jason Statham, now an action star, was a client.
Mr. Moross also became a producer of “Trollywood,” a 2004 documentary about homeless people in Los Angeles, and their dependence on shopping carts, known as “trollies” to the British.
Along the way, he became convinced, in his words, that “celebrity expires,” while music rights tend to endure. He and associates did elaborate research into the arcana of film music, coming up with a model that dictates what they will spend in advance on rights.
Those amounts, though relatively small, are increasingly attractive to struggling producers.
“If you can find people who help you keep the lights on long enough to succeed, that makes a big difference,” said Marty Bowen, whose Temple Hill Entertainment hit it big with the “Twilight” films, and used Cutting Edge on the low-budget Will Ferrell comedy “Everything Must Go.”
For Cutting Edge, said Mr. Moross, growth now means raising a second round of capital, and finding what seems plentiful: producers who need it. That also means focusing more heavily on Hollywood, with bigger films, bigger budgets and more risk. None of which is lost on Mr. Moross.
“The pavements of the U.S.,” he said dryly, “are littered with the bodies of dead British business people.”
New Meters Stir Fears for Health and Home
Pacific Gas and Electric’s campaign to introduce wireless smart meters in Northern California is facing fierce opposition from an eclectic mix of Tea Party conservatives and left-leaning individualists who say the meters threaten their liberties and their health.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, “Stop Smart Meters” signs and bumper stickers have been multiplying on front lawns and cars. Four protesters have been arrested for blocking trucks seeking to deliver the meters.
Since 2006, PG&E has installed more than seven million of the devices, which transmit real-time data on customers’ use of electricity.
But in Santa Cruz County, south of San Jose, the Board of Supervisors recently extended a yearlong moratorium on installations. Officials in Marin County, north of San Francisco, approved a ban this month on meters in unincorporated, largely rural areas, where about a quarter of its population lives.
The meters are a crucial building block for what the Obama administration and the industry envision as an efficient “green grid.” The goals are to help utilities allocate power more smoothly and to give people more information on how they consume energy and incentives to use less.
At first, the backlash against PG&E focused on the notion that the meters were giving artificially high readings, but that died down after studies confirmed their overall accuracy.
The new wave of protests comes from conservatives and individualists who view the monitoring of home appliances as a breach of privacy, as well as from a cadre of environmental health campaigners who see the meters’ radio-frequency radiation — like emissions from cellphones and other common devices — as a health threat.
Hypervigilance on health questions has long been typical of Bay Area residents; some local schools ban cupcakes or other sugared treats for classroom birthday celebrations in favor of more nutritious treats like crunchy seaweed snacks, for example.
The health concerns about the smart meters focus on the phenomenon known as “electromagnetic hypersensitivity,” or E.H.S., in which people claim that radiation from cellphones, WiFi systems or smart meters causes them to suffer dizziness, fatigue, headaches, sleeplessness or heart palpitations. (At a recent Public Utilities Commission hearing on smart meters, an audience member requested that all cellphones be turned off as a gesture to the electrosensitive people in the audience.)
The two most recent government reviews of available research found no link between health problems and common levels of electromagnetic radiation. Both reports indicated that more research would be welcome; on that basis, opponents say the meters should not be installed until they are proved safe.
Although there is scientific data on the health concerns, the privacy worries can be answered only by assurances from the utility. And the groups most concerned about privacy — like the local Tea Party affiliate, the North Bay Patriots — tend to have little faith in corporate assurances.
At a meeting of the North Bay Patriots this month, Jed Gladstein, a 64-year-old lawyer, called the devices “the sharp end of a very long spear pointed at your freedoms.” Others have raised concern about how the utility would use the information about individuals’ home appliance use.
David K. Owens, the executive vice president for business operations at the Edison Electric Institute, the national association of utilities, has tried to allay such concerns. “We’ve always gotten information about customers’ usage and always kept it confidential,” he said, adding, “We’re going to honor their privacy.”
Protests related to health and privacy concerns have also blossomed elsewhere in the country. In Maine, for example, residents have waged e-mail campaigns and some towns have adopted moratoriums on installations.
In Northern California, the visceral reaction against the meters and the instant bonding of “electromagnetically sensitive” people also reflects the reality that green solutions often involve new technologies. From genetically engineered seeds to solar tower arrays in the desert, those technologies elicit distrust here.
“It’s not all about saving money — it’s about control,” said Deborah Tavares, 61, a Republican who was arrested this month with other protesters who blocked the driveway of the dispatch center for meter installation trucks in Rohnert Park, south of Santa Rosa.
Her words echoed those of a staunch Democrat who was arrested in nearby Marin County. “It’s another example of corporate control if they are going to roll over our concerns and not listen to us,” said Katharina Sandizell, 41, who helped block installation trucks here in Inverness Park, a hamlet in the environmentally sensitive precincts of Marin County.
As she chatted on a recent day outside a deli on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, she and fellow protesters held up signs urging passing drivers to “Refuse PG&E.” Perhaps one driver in 10 honked in support, and one woman pulled over to ask how she could get a lawn sign.
Heeding his constituents’ worries about electromagnetic frequencies, a state assemblyman from Marin County, Jared Huffman, has introduced a bill to require the utility to offer customers the option of hard-wired smart meters. “It’s not that I personally believe that smart meters are harmful,” he said in an interview. “I have one in my house.”
“But it’s reasonable to let people opt out of a wireless device,” he said. “There’s fiber optic, phone line, Internet — there’s any number of ways to get this information.”
Jeff Smith, a spokesman for PG&E, said the utility was considering the hard-wire option. “We do understand that some of our customers have concerns,” he said, even though “the evidence shows overwhelmingly” that no link to health effects has been established.
The two most recent government reviews of the relevant health studies on electromagnetic hypersensitivity were conducted by health experts drafted by the Maine Public Utilities Commission and by a California technical panel. Neither found a link between such health problems and levels of radiation associated with a smart meter.
“The majority of studies indicated that people who described themselves as suffering from such sensitivity could not detect whether they were being exposed to an electromagnetic field in experiments any more accurately than non-E.H.S. individuals,” said the Maine review, issued in November.
The largest relevant scientific study, a 10-year, $24 million effort dealing with exposure to cellphone radio-frequency radiation, showed a correlation between heavy cellphone use and an increase in brain cancer rates but did not establish that one caused the other. Both sides in the debate quote the study to bolster their arguments.
“No one who’s been affected by this is willing to wait for the science to catch up with the causal link,” said Elisa Baker-Cook, 40, a former journalist from Scarborough, Me., who is leading protests against Central Maine Power’s meters. “When someone is sensitive to wireless, they don’t need a causal link. Our bodies’ reaction is the causal link, and we learn to trust that.”
Dave DeSante, 68, an ornithologist who lives in Marin County, has tried for six weeks to get PG&E to remove a smart meter in his home. His son, Forest, a college student whose skull was severely damaged two years ago, now has a network of titanium filigree in his forehead.
Forest DeSante, who had been unaware that a smart meter was installed in the house just after Thanksgiving, began having severe headaches when he sat near it, his father said.
Dave DeSante said PG&E had promised to look into the problem but had not yet done so.
“The concerns and opposition to this are not going away,” said Mr. Huffman, the assemblyman. “If anything, they’re growing.”
Define Gender Gap? Look Up Wikipedia’s Contributor List
In 10 short years, Wikipedia has accomplished some remarkable goals. More than 3.5 million articles in English? Done. More than 250 languages? Sure.
But another number has proved to be an intractable obstacle for the online encyclopedia: surveys suggest that less than 15 percent of its hundreds of thousands of contributors are women.
About a year ago, the Wikimedia Foundation, the organization that runs Wikipedia, collaborated on a study of Wikipedia’s contributor base and discovered that it was barely 13 percent women; the average age of a contributor was in the mid-20s, according to the study by a joint center of the United Nations University and Maastricht University.
Sue Gardner, the executive director of the foundation, has set a goal to raise the share of female contributors to 25 percent by 2015, but she is running up against the traditions of the computer world and an obsessive fact-loving realm that is dominated by men and, some say, uncomfortable for women.
Her effort is not diversity for diversity’s sake, she says. “This is about wanting to ensure that the encyclopedia is as good as it could be,” Ms. Gardner said in an interview on Thursday. “The difference between Wikipedia and other editorially created products is that Wikipedians are not professionals, they are only asked to bring what they know.”
“Everyone brings their crumb of information to the table,” she said. “If they are not at the table, we don’t benefit from their crumb.”
With so many subjects represented — most everything has an article on Wikipedia — the gender disparity often shows up in terms of emphasis. A topic generally restricted to teenage girls, like friendship bracelets, can seem short at four paragraphs when compared with lengthy articles on something boys might favor, like, toy soldiers or baseball cards, whose voluminous entry includes a detailed chronological history of the subject.
Even the most famous fashion designers — Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo — get but a handful of paragraphs. And consider the disparity between two popular series on HBO: The entry on “Sex and the City” includes only a brief summary of every episode, sometimes two or three sentences; the one on “The Sopranos” includes lengthy, detailed articles on each episode.
Is a category with five Mexican feminist writers impressive, or embarrassing when compared with the 45 articles on characters in “The Simpsons”?
The notion that a collaborative, written project open to all is so skewed to men may be surprising. After all, there is no male-dominated executive team favoring men over women, as there can be in the corporate world; Wikipedia is not a software project, but more a writing experiment — an “exquisite corpse,” or game where each player adds to a larger work.
But because of its early contributors Wikipedia shares many characteristics with the hard-driving hacker crowd, says Joseph Reagle, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. This includes an ideology that resists any efforts to impose rules or even goals like diversity, as well as a culture that may discourage women.
“It is ironic,” he said, “because I like these things — freedom, openness, egalitarian ideas — but I think to some extent they are compounding and hiding problems you might find in the real world.”
Adopting openness means being “open to very difficult, high-conflict people, even misogynists,” he said, “so you have to have a huge argument about whether there is the problem.” Mr. Reagle is also the author of “Good Faith Collaboration: The Culture of Wikipedia.”
Ms. Gardner, citing an example that resonates with her personally, pointed to the Wikipedia entry for one of her favorite authors, Pat Barker, which was a mere three paragraphs when she came across it. Ms. Barker is an acclaimed writer of psychologically nuanced novels, many set during World War I. She is 67 and lives in England.
By contrast, Niko Bellic had an article about five times as long as Ms. Barker’s at the time. It’s a question of demographics: Mr. Bellic is a character in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV; he is 30 and a former soldier.
The public is increasingly going to Wikipedia as a research source: According to a recent Pew survey, the percentage of all American adults who use the site to look for information increased to 42 percent in May 2010, from 25 percent in February 2007. This translates to 53 percent of adults who regularly use the Internet.
Jane Margolis, co-author of a book on sexism in computer science, “Unlocking the Clubhouse,” argues that Wikipedia is experiencing the same problems of the offline world, where women are less willing to assert their opinions in public. “In almost every space, who are the authorities, the politicians, writers for op-ed pages?” said Ms. Margolis, a senior researcher at the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access at the University of California, Los Angeles.
According to the OpEd Project, an organization based in New York that monitors the gender breakdown of contributors to “public thought-leadership forums,” a participation rate of roughly 85-to-15 percent, men to women, is common — whether members of Congress, or writers on The New York Times and Washington Post Op-Ed pages.
It would seem to be an irony that Wikipedia, where the amateur contributor is celebrated, is experiencing the same problem as forums that require expertise. But Catherine Orenstein, the founder and director of the OpEd Project, said many women lacked the confidence to put forth their views. “When you are a minority voice, you begin to doubt your own competencies,” she said.
She said her group had persuaded women to express themselves by urging them to shift the focus “away from oneself — ‘do I know enough, am I bragging?’ — and turn the focus outward, thinking about the value of your knowledge.”
Ms. Margolis said she was an advocate of recruiting women as a group to fields or forums where they are under-represented. That way, a solitary woman does not face the burden alone.
Ms. Gardner said that for now she was trying to use subtle persuasion and outreach through her foundation to welcome all newcomers to Wikipedia, rather than advocate for women-specific remedies like recruitment or quotas.
“Gender is a huge hot-button issue for lots of people who feel strongly about it,” she said. “I am not interested in triggering those strong feelings.”
Kat Walsh, a policy analyst and longtime Wikipedia contributor who was elected to the Wikimedia board, agreed that indirect initiatives would cause less unease in the Wikipedia community than more overt efforts.
But she acknowledged the hurdles: “The big problem is that the current Wikipedia community is what came about by letting things develop naturally — trying to influence it in another direction is no longer the easiest path, and requires conscious effort to change.”
Sometimes, conscious effort works. After seeing the short entry on Ms. Barker, Ms. Gardner added a substantial amount of background. During the same time, Niko Bellic’s page has grown by only a few sentences.
Want to Read The Daily? No iPad? No Problem
Well, that didn’t take long. The Daily, Rupert Murdoch’s big push into iPad-based publishing, was introduced on Wednesday. And on Thursday morning, an unsanctioned Web site appeared with links to every article in The Daily, free on the Web.
The site, called The Daily: Indexed, was created by Andy Baio, a programmer and journalist based in Los Angeles. He said in an interview that the project took him “about 20 minutes” to build.
Mr. Baio wrote in a blog post that he decided to create the Web site after his friend Rex Sorgatz noticed that articles in The Daily were also online, visible to search engines and easily shareable on social networks, including Twitter and Facebook. But there was no main homepage making those articles accessible to people who were not using the iPad app.
“The Daily’s publishing free, Web-based versions to every article, but without an index, it’s very inconvenient to find or link to individual articles from the Web,” Mr. Baio wrote on his blog. ”And since the iPad app appears to only carry today’s edition, it makes finding any historical articles you’ve paid for nearly impossible.”
Greg Clayman, publisher of The Daily, said via e-mail: “It’s not surprising that people want to share our content, but The Daily is designed for tablets, with a lot of rich media and a litany of interactive features and functionality. We are confident that as readers get to know our content, they will be driven to the full, authentic experience.” He did not say if he would ask Mr. Baio to remove the index site.
At The Daily’s press conference on Wednesday, its editor in chief, Jesse Angelo, said it was making its content shareable and searchable online, noting that “obviously there are many hundreds of millions, billions of people sharing content on the Web, and we want to be a part of that.”
When asked whether The Daily would be free online, Jon Miller, chairman of the digital media group at the News Corporation, said, “We don’t anticipate that,” while Mr. Murdoch said simply, “No.”
Mr. Angelo said an article that a subscriber shared on Facebook would be free to non-subscribers, “but you can’t go to thedaily.com and get all the pages.”
Mr. Baio said he had not yet heard from The Daily, but noted that the site had only been live for a couple of hours. “If they contact me and ask me to take it down I will, but I hope they don’t,” he said.
“I’m very curious about their reaction,” Mr. Baio said in a phone interview. “In my opinion, it should be completely legitimate. They are public articles on the Web and they are intended to be linked to.”
A Race Between Digital and Print Magazines
This morning I decide to try a little experiment: I opened up my iPad, clicked on the little Wired icon and purchased the magazine’s latest digital issue. After I agreed to fork over $4, it began downloading. For the next phase of the experiment, I grabbed my car keys, left my apartment and drove about 12 blocks to a local magazine store in Brooklyn, where I also purchased the latest issue of Wired magazine, this time in print.
I didn’t run any red lights, or speed, or park illegally during my shopping expedition. Yet when I returned home with the glossy paper product in hand, the digital iPad version still hadn’t finished downloading to my iPad. Anybody who reads Wired would call this an Epic Fail.
You don’t need a computer science degree to conclude the results of this research. Digital magazines are currently too big and bulky and almost defeat one of their main intended purposes, the promise of instant access to content and information.
“Publishers are not putting enough thought into delivery and the constraints around that,” said Ned May, an analyst for Outsell, a research firm focused on publishing and technology. “In many ways it harkens back to the early days of the Net where people had to wait 15 minutes for a single image to download.”
When Condé Nast, publisher of Wired, first launched the digital replica last year, thousands of ebullient readers across the land enthusiastically set out to read it in the new format, but many quickly grumbled online about the file size. Since then, the magazine file size has been cut in half, but it is still too cumbersome for today’s networks.
Sarah Rotman Epps, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, said that the egregious size of files reflects the hope of many magazine to provide an exact replica of the print product.
“They want to replicate every page of the magazine — ads included — so they can justify advertising pricing,” she said in an interview. “Partly, they are trying to make this new product work on an older business model.”
As a result, magazines can be as large as a 30-minute television show. Wired, for example, is a 250 megabyte file; downloading this through a basic home DSL connection can take about 40 minutes. The digital version of The New Yorker, which is also published by Condé Nast, ranges between 100 and 150 megabytes and can take between 15 and 20 minutes to download. (Of course, some home connections are faster.)
But it seems that many are aware of the issue.
“Our goal is an even smaller file size; readers should see a big improvement within the next couple of months,” said Pamela McCarthy, deputy editor for The New Yorker. “Reducing file size is something that we’ve been working on since the start.”
A spokeswoman from Condé Nast said executives with knowledge of other future magazine file sizes could be not reached for comment.
A recent report released by Forrester noted that 49 percent of tablet owners are actively reading newspapers and magazines on their devices, but are less likely to be reading a downloaded magazine. Forrester also noted that 72 percent of tablet owners actively go to view news and other information through a Web browser.
“Our data shows that tablet owners already spend more time using the browser than they do using apps,” said Ms. Rotman Epps. ”Some publishers will start experimenting with using the apps in a browsers, which don’t require downloading, in the coming year.”
Another reason these digital magazines are so weighty is because they come with fancy videos and images wallpapered throughout, which of course offer a much richer experience for the reader.
Mr. May, the Outsell analyst, believes magazines need to find a better balance of rich content for current technical download speeds. “Until downloads become faster, plans need to be scaled back by publishers, it’s not rich, if it’s not there,” he said.
Apps Alter Reading on the Web
The DVR rocked the world of television by letting viewers skip commercials and build their own home viewing schedules. Now a handful of Web services and applications are starting to do much the same thing to online publishers.
These tools make it easier for people to read Web articles how, when and where they want, often dispensing with carefully arranged layouts and advertisements of publishers.
One popular tool, Readability, strips articles to the bare minimum of text and photographs with a single click. But now, Readability wants to give something back to publishers.
On Tuesday, the developers behind the tool will unveil a service that requires a subscription fee of at least $5 a month. The service, also called Readability, plans to distribute 70 percent of that fee to the news outlets and blogs that each subscriber is reading.
For example, if a subscriber is a regular visitor to the gadget blog Gizmodo and the women’s news site The Hairpin over the course of a month, Readability will calculate what percentage of her payment should go to each site and send them checks.
“We were never about stripping ads or being an ad blocker,” said Richard Ziade, who created the original Readability tool as well as the second-generation version. Instead, he said, the company has been wondering: “Can we come up with a mechanism to make the experience of reading on the Web better, but also support content creators and publishers?”
Readability is one of many services experimenting with the future of reading. A wave of applications, including Pulse, Flipboard and My Taptu, are responding to changes in how people prefer to read on the Web, putting articles and blog posts into cleaner or more attractive visual displays.
Nate Weiner, founder of Read It Later, a Web and mobile service that saves articles to be read offline, said there was a larger shift under way, one that mirrors the move to digital from print. Instead of thumbing through the newspaper over breakfast, he said, people like to read articles from many sources on their commutes or in the evening, often using mobile devices.
“People don’t really want to have to be confined to a specific place, time, site or device to read content,” Mr. Weiner said.
Mr. Weiner recently analyzed data from his service, which has three million users, and found that those who owned an iPhone or iPad preferred to save articles for a personalized prime time. IPad reading, in particular, peaks from 8 to 10 p.m.
The glut of updates flowing across the average person’s computer and mobile screens throughout the day, either through social networks or links e-mailed by friends, is also driving the trend.
“If you’re a modern worker, you’re constantly being bombarded with information that you want to read, but that environment is not always the appropriate or best time to read that information,” said Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab, which is affiliated with Harvard.
Mr. Ziade of Readability acknowledged that there were still many things to be ironed out with the new service, including how often to distribute payments and what happens if publishers refuse to accept the collected money.
The company plans to pay them “regardless of their participation,” he said. Should a site refuse the money, the company is considering options like contributing it to a charity or literacy organization.
Mr. Ziade, who is a partner at a consulting company in Manhattan called Arc90, developed Readability as a pet project in March 2009 and released it online for others to use free of charge; the code is available under an open-source license.
Since then Readability has gained traction among users — and among hardware and software makers. Apple now builds it into its Safari browser, Amazon uses it in the Kindle, and it is built into several mobile applications, including Flipboard, Pulse and Reeder. Mr. Ziade said it was difficult to track how many people were using the tool, but thousands of people visit the Readability home page each day.
Though the original Readability tool will remain free, Mr. Ziade hopes to capture a willing audience by simplifying the so-called micropayment model, which has been much discussed but is tricky to execute.
“Asking someone to pay 45 cents to read an article may not be a big deal, but no one wants to deal with that transaction,” he said. Marco Arment, an adviser to Readability and the creator of Instapaper, a service for saving and reading online articles, made a version of his Instapaper app that will essentially be Readability’s mobile component. Mr. Arment said he thought the most likely customers for Readability’s pay service were “online power readers.”
“It’ll be the types who buy print magazines even though the same articles are online for free, just because they want to support the publication,” he said.
“On the Web, it’s not that people aren’t willing to pay small amounts for things; it’s that there is no easy way to pay,” he added. “If a service like Readability comes along and makes it easy, I think people will be willing to pay.”
Services that put Web articles into new contexts for the convenience of readers have ruffled feathers before. Last June, lawyers for The New York Times Company objected to Pulse, an iPad application that collects and presents articles from many Web sites, in part because of the way it displayed Times articles.
A Times Company spokeswoman, Kristin Mason, said Monday that “as the number of apps in the news space continues to grow, we are monitoring and working closely with many of the developers to discuss any concerns we have.”
But Mr. Ziade said he had not heard a single negative reaction during the several dozen meetings he has had with publishers about his new service. He declined to name the publishers.
Mr. Benton of the Nieman Journalism Lab said that the interest in these services was driving “an increasing realization among publishers that not all customers are created equal, and some will pay for different experiences without advertisements.”
Jacob Weisberg, the editor in chief of the Slate Group, the online publisher owned by the Washington Post Company, said Slate had not talked to Readability but would “be happy to cash their checks.” Mr. Weisberg added that “if the numbers became meaningful, we’d of course want to negotiate” a deal.
Slate has added an Instapaper save-for-later button to its iPad application. Mr. Weisberg said this required a reader to load the original page before saving it.
“We’re still getting the page views and the ad impressions,” he said. “But certainly over time, as these services develop and start making money, it’s only reasonable they share that money with publishers whose content they’re piggybacking on.”
Closed Apple Headed for Trouble as Jobs's Ego Bites: Netgear CEO
The global chairman and CEO of home networking giant Netgear has launched into a scathing attack on Apple and its founder Steve Jobs, criticising Jobs's "ego" and Apple's closed up products.
At a lunch in Sydney today, Patrick Lo said Apple's success was centred on closed and proprietary products that would soon be overtaken by open platforms like Google's Android.
Apple has had unparallelled success by being able to control the entire ecosystem around its products, from the hardware to the software to the acquisition of content and apps through iTunes.
It has used this to effectively dominate the market and shut out competitors. Consumers have also benefited because they get a consistent experience and products that are easier to use.
Lo said Apple's closed model only worked because, in many product categories like MP3 players, "they own the market".
However, he said this was only a temporary state of affairs and pointed to the fact that Google's open-source Android platform for smartphones - which any manufacturer can use for free - recently overtook iPhone in market share in the US.
"Once Steve Jobs goes away, which is probably not far away, then Apple will have to make a strategic decision on whether to open up the platform," said Lo.
"Ultimately a closed system just can't go that far ... If they continue to close it and let Android continue to creep up then it's pretty difficult as I see it."
Lo said the industry had "seen this movie play several times", pointing to the Betamax vs. VHS video format war, Mac vs. Windows and various proprietary networking protocols that at one stage tried to compete with the now dominant TCP/IP.
In each of the above cases, the more open platforms won more market share. However, Apple has bucked this trend so far with its closed ecosystems for the iPhone and iPad.
"Right now the closed platform has been successful for Apple because they've been so far ahead as thought leaders because of Steve Jobs," said Lo.
"Eventually they've got to find a way to open up iTunes without giving too much away on their revenue generation model."
He said he believed Android would overtake iPhone globally and he predicted the platform could become the de facto standard for a range of consumer electronic devices, such as TVs and home media servers.
Lo said content providers such as the movie studios were very "wary" of Jobs as the closed model of iTunes meant they were forced to pay a "ransom" to Jobs for selling their content on the service.
"Steve Jobs wants to suffocate the distribution so even though he doesn't own the content he could basically demand a ransom," he said.
Lo also criticised Jobs's public thrashing of the Adobe Flash format, attributing it to his "ego".
"What's the reason for him to trash Flash? There's no reason other than ego," he said.
Asked if he had relayed any of his concerns about Apple's closed platform to Jobs, Lo said: "Steve Jobs doesn't give me a minute!"
But Lo also reserved some barbs for Microsoft, saying he believed the company had fallen behind and that Windows Phone 7 would languish behind Android and iPhone.
"Microsoft is over - game over - from my point of view," he said.
Never afraid to speak his mind, Lo also said Netgear had seen a boom in sales of its Wi-Fi network booster product due to the trend of people taking their iPads with them into the bathroom. The extenders are used to boost the wireless signal so it can reach other rooms.
But he said that this year the big trend for Netgear was IPTV and connecting people's home entertainment devices, such as their TVs and Blu-ray players, to the internet.
Asked whether he was concerned about reports that the world would run out of internet address within weeks, Lo compared the issue to the shift from 2G networks to 3G networks and beyond.
"It's disruptive, but we love it - everybody has to buy something new," he said.
Lo praised the National Broadband Network, saying it would unleash a torrent of online creativity and be a economic boon for Australia. He said it was difficult for the private sector to fund such a network here due to Australia's "huge geography".
The NBN, he said, would lead to a "gold rush of cloud computing services", in a similar way that the mainstream acceptance of the internet 10 years ago led to an explosion in ISPs.
"It will generate so much creativity for people to make new businesses on the internet," said Lo.
Apple Moves to Tighten Control of App Store
Claire Cain Miller and Miguel Helft
Apple is further tightening its control of the App Store.
The company has told some applications developers, including Sony, that they can no longer sell content, like e-books, within their apps, or let customers have access to purchases they have made outside the App Store.
Apple rejected Sony’s iPhone application, which would have let people buy and read e-books bought from the Sony Reader Store.
Apple told Sony that from now on, all in-app purchases would have to go through Apple, said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division.
The move could affect companies like Amazon.com and others that sell e-book readers that compete with Apple’s iPad tablet and offer free mobile apps so customers can read their e-book purchases on other devices. An iPad owner, for instance, has not needed to own a Kindle to read Kindle books bought from Amazon.
That may now change.
“It’s the opposite of what we wanted to bring to the market,” Mr. Haber said. “We always wanted to bring the content to as many devices as possible, not one device to one store.”
Apple and Amazon declined to comment.
The change may signal a shift for Apple. The company has made more money selling hardware than music, e-books or apps. If people could have access to more content from more sources on their iPhones and iPads, the thinking went, then they would buy more devices.
The move is also surprising, as Apple has indicated recently that it would be more collaborative, not less, with magazine publishers and other content producers that want more control over how to distribute content on the iPad.
“This sudden shift perhaps tells you something about Apple’s understanding of the value of its platform,” said James L. McQuivey, a consumer electronics analyst at Forrester Research. “Apple started making money with devices. Maybe the new thing that everyone recognizes is the unit of economic value is the platform, not the device.”
Android Becomes Top Smartphone Platform
Google's Android dethroned Nokia's Symbian as the most popular smartphone platform in the last quarter of 2010, ending a reign that began with the birth of the industry 10 years ago.
Research firm Canalys said on Monday phone makers sold a total of 32.9 million Android-equipped phones in the last quarter, compared with Symbian's total sales of 31 million. The landmark piles pressure on Nokia as it struggles to reassert itself at the top end of the mobile handsets market.
Following Apple's 2007 entrance into smartphones, Google rolled out its open-source Android operating system, which has become the standard for smaller phone makers.
Hit models from Samsung Electronics, HTC and LG Electronics helped Android in the quarter, while Symbian suffered from troubles of its owner and main user, Nokia.
"We have seen some strong products from a number of vendors," said Canalys analyst Tim Shepherd.
(Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Andrew Callus)
LG Confirms Optimus 3D for MWC 2011: Glasses-Free Screen and 3D Camera
We've had a feeling that LG was going to tackle 3D smartphones heads-on sometime in February, and after a spat of rumors today purported to be showing off the Optimus 3D (pictured above, via Phandroid), the company's flat-out confirmed its Mobile World Congress debut. The Optimus 3D sports a dual-lens 3D camera, a glasses-free LCD display, and HDMI / DLNA for sharing on whatever 3D sets you have. A live demo will be at Barcelona, but whether that means we'll get to hold it in our own hands. Other specs? We'll have to wait and find out.
uTorrent Remote Manages Your BitTorrent Downloads from Your Android Phone
Android: The uTorrent 3.0 alphas have a pretty convenient web UI, but now Android users can start, stop, monitor and even download torrents to their phone with BitTorrent's official uTorrent remote app.
Web UIs are great for monitoring your downloads when you aren't at home, but no one likes a webapp on their phone—even if it is mobile-frirendly. If you're a uTorrent user rocking an Android phone, you'll definitely want to check out the new uTorrent Remote app, which taps into uTorrent 3.0's remote access feature to manage your home PC's downloads when you're out and about.
This isn't just a torrent monitor like the webapp, either. You can not only check on your downloads and start new ones, but even check your BitTorrent RSS feeds and shift completed files directly to your phone. Note that you'll need to be running uTorrent 3.0 on your home machine to use this app.
uTorrent Remote is a free download for Android devices running 2.1 and up.
India Demands Full Blackberry Access, Pakistan Restricts Services
C.K. Nayak and Faisal Aziz
India rejected on Monday Research In Motion's (RIM) offer to allow it only partial access to its BlackBerry data services as neighbouring Pakistan also moved to restrict the popular smartphone's services.
It was not immediately clear what the Indian government, which says it is driven by security concerns, would now do after the Canadian smartphone maker failed to fulfill demands to monitor encrypted corporate email by a Jan. 31 deadline. RIM had previously said was confident India would not ban its services.
Earlier this month, RIM said it had given India the means to access its Messenger service ahead of the deadline but reiterated that it could not give the authorities access to monitor secure corporate emails.
Home (Interior) Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram told a news conference the government still wanted access to emails.
"I think a decision will be taken today by the MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs)," Chidambaram added. RIM's India-based spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Last year, India demanded access to all BlackBerry services as part of efforts to fight militancy and security threats over the Internet and through telephone communications, demands echoed by several other countries that have also tried, sometimes successfully, to restrict the popular smartphone.
On Monday, India's neighbour Pakistan called on mobile phone operators to stop BlackBerry services to foreign missions amid concern about the security of the communications, industry sources said.
RIM encrypts email messages as they travel between a BlackBerry device and a computer known as BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES).
The Canadian smartphone maker has said that it does not have a master key to decode emails, adding that each organisation would have the technical capability to grant access to its own encrypted enterprise email.
RIM said this month it would filter pornographic Internet content for BlackBerry users in Indonesia, following government pressure to restrict access to porn sites or face its browsing service being shut down.
Last year, the company narrowly escaped a ban in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Neither side disclosed what RIM did to get itself onside with UAE telecom regulations. (Additional reporting by Devidutta Tripathy; writing by Paul de Bendern; Editing by Miral Fahmy)
Al Jazeera Told to Shut Down In Egypt, Signal Cut
Qatar-based satellite channel Al Jazeera was ordered by Egypt's information ministry on Sunday to shut down its operations in the country, and later in the day its signal to some parts of the Middle East was cut.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Egypt demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian 30-year rule, in protests that have sent shockwaves through the Arab world.
The news channel, which says it can reach 220 million households in more than 100 countries, said in a message on its broadcast that Egypt's satellite Nilesat had cut off its broadcasting signal.
That effectively took Al Jazeera off the air in some parts of the Arab world, but other signals were still available.
"Dear viewers, Al Jazeera's signal has been cut off on Nilesat," it broadcast via a signal visible in Kuwait, and gave satellite frequencies on which the channel was still available.
Earlier, Egyptian authorities ordered it to stop operations in Egypt, though correspondents were still reporting news by telephone.
"The Information Minister ordered ... suspension of operations of Al Jazeera, cancelling of its licenses and withdrawing accreditation to all its staff as of today," a statement on Egypt's official Mena news agency said.
Launched in Doha, Qatar, in 1996, Al Jazeera has more than 400 reporters in over 60 countries, according to its website.
(Reporting by Eman Goma and Cairo newsroom; Writing by Cynthia Johnston and Reed Stevenson; editing by Tim Pearce)
Spotlight Again Falls on Web Tools and Change
Fear is the dictator’s traditional tool for keeping the people in check. But by cutting off Egypt’s Internet and wireless service late last week in the face of huge street protests, President Hosni Mubarak betrayed his own fear — that Facebook, Twitter, laptops and smartphones could empower his opponents, expose his weakness to the world and topple his regime.
There was reason for Mr. Mubarak to be shaken. By many accounts, the new arsenal of social networking helped accelerate Tunisia’s revolution, driving the country’s ruler of 23 years, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, into ignominious exile and igniting a conflagration that has spread across the Arab world at breathtaking speed. It was an apt symbol that a dissident blogger with thousands of followers on Twitter, Slim Amamou, was catapulted in a matter of days from the interrogation chambers of Mr. Ben Ali’s regime to a new government post as minister for youth and sports. It was a marker of the uncertainty in Tunis that he had stepped down from the government by Thursday.
Tunisia’s uprising offers the latest encouragement for a comforting notion: that the same Web tools that so many Americans use to keep up with college pals and post passing thoughts have a more noble role as well, as a scourge of despotism. It was just 18 months ago, after all, that the same technologies were hailed as a factor in Iran’s Green Revolution, the stirring street protests that followed the disputed presidential election.
But since that revolt collapsed, Iran has become a cautionary tale. The Iranian police eagerly followed the electronic trails left by activists, which assisted them in making thousands of arrests in the crackdown that followed. The government even crowd-sourced its hunt for enemies, posting on the Web the photos of unidentified demonstrators and inviting Iranians to identify them.
“The Iranian government has become much more adept at using the Internet to go after activists,” said Faraz Sanei, who tracks Iran at Human Rights Watch. The Revolutionary Guard, the powerful political and economic force that protects the ayatollahs’ regime, has created an online surveillance center and is believed to be behind a “cyberarmy” of hackers that it can unleash against opponents, he said.
Repressive regimes around the world may have fallen behind their opponents in recent years in exploiting new technologies — not unexpected when aging autocrats face younger, more tech-savvy opponents. But in Minsk and Moscow, Tehran and Beijing, governments have begun to climb the steep learning curve and turn the new Internet tools to their own, antidemocratic purposes.
The countertrend has sparked a debate over whether the conventional wisdom that the Internet and social networking inherently tip the balance of power in favor of democracy is mistaken. A new book, “The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom,” by a young Belarus-born American scholar, Evgeny Morozov, has made the case most provocatively, describing instance after instance of strongmen finding ways to use new media to their advantage.
After all, the very factors that have brought Facebook and similar sites such commercial success have huge appeal for a secret police force. A dissident’s social networking and Twitter feed is a handy guide to his political views, his career, his personal habits and his network of like-thinking allies, friends and family. A cybersurfing policeman can compile a dossier on a regime opponent without the trouble of the street surveillance and telephone tapping required in a pre-Net world.
If Mr. Mubarak’s Egypt has resorted to the traditional blunt instrument against dissent in a crisis — cutting off communications altogether — other countries have shown greater sophistication. In Belarus, officers of the K.G.B. — the secret police agency has preserved its Soviet-era name — now routinely quote activists’ comments on Facebook and other sites during interrogations, said Alexander Lukashuk, director of the Belarus service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Last month, he said, investigators appearing at the apartment of a Belarusian photojournalist mocked her by declaring that since she had written online that they usually conducted their searches at night, they had decided to come in the morning.
In Syria, “Facebook is a great database for the government now,” said Ahed al-Hindi, a Syrian activist who was arrested at an Internet cafe in Damascus in 2006 and left his country after being released from jail. Mr. Hindi, now with the United States-based group CyberDissidents.org, said he believes that Facebook is doing more good than harm, helping activists form virtual organizations that could never survive if they met face to face. But users must be aware that they are speaking to their oppressors as well as their friends, he said.
Widney Brown, senior director of international law and policy at Amnesty International, said the popular networking services, like most technologies, are politically neutral.
“There’s nothing deterministic about these tools — Gutenberg’s press, or fax machines or Facebook,” Ms. Brown said. “They can be used to promote human rights or to undermine human rights.”
This is the point of Mr. Morozov, 26, a visiting scholar at Stanford. In “The Net Delusion,” he presents an answer to the “cyberutopians” who assume that the Internet inevitably fuels democracy. He coined the term “spinternet” to capture the spin applied to the Web by governments that are beginning to master it.
In China, Mr. Morozov said, thousands of commentators are trained and paid — hence their nickname, the 50-Cent Party — to post pro-government comments on the Web and steer online opinion away from criticism of the Communist Party. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez, after first denouncing hostile Twitter comments as “terrorism,” created his own Twitter feed — an entertaining mix of politics and self-promotion that now has 1.2 million followers.
In Russia, Mr. Morozov noted, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin has managed to co-opt several prominent new-media entrepreneurs, including Konstantin Rykov, whose many Web sites now skew strongly pro-Putin and whose anti-Georgia documentary about the Russia-Georgia war of 2008 went viral on the Web.
Mr. Morozov acknowledges that social networking “definitely helps protesters to mobilize.”
“But is it making protest more likely? I don’t think so.”
In Egypt, it appears, at least some activists share Mr. Morozov’s wariness about the double-edged nature of new media. An anonymous 26-page leaflet that appeared in Cairo with practical advice for demonstrators last week, The Guardian reported, instructed activists to pass it on by e-mail and photocopy — but not by Facebook and Twitter, because they were being monitored by the government.
Then Mr. Mubarak’s government, evidently concluding that it was too late for mere monitoring, unplugged his country from the Internet altogether. It was a desperate move from an autocrat who had not learned to harness the tools his opponents have embraced.
Facebook Finally Offers Users The Encryption They Deserve
If you’re an avid Facebook user then there’s one new feature you’ll probably want to enable straight away – the option to login, browse and do all your social networking worry-free, using a secure HTTPS connection to the server.
Facebook previously used HTTPS to handle logins, but from then on the site reverted to a non-secure version. Using the new setting found in the Account Security area under Account Settings (look for Secure Browsing) the whole session will be encrypted and less vulnerable to hijacking.
Users considered to be most at risk are those who regularly login from public access computers and unsecured wireless hot spots. If you do regularly use Facebook from any public places then we’d recommend changing to the HTTPS option as soon as you can.
As a consequence of the secure connection, pages may take longer to load than usual. There are also a large number of applications that are not yet compatible with the HTTPS.
In a blog post, Facebook’s Alex Rice said: “Some Facebook features, including many third-party applications, are not currently supported in HTTPS.
“We’ll be working hard to resolve these remaining issues. We are rolling this out slowly over the next few weeks, but you will be able to turn this feature on in your Account Settings soon. We hope to offer HTTPS as a default whenever you are using Facebook sometime in the future.”
Too little too late? Already had enough of Facebook?
Google Agrees to Reveal Personal Data it Collected While Mapping Connecticut Streets
Google Inc. has agreed to release data it improperly collected two years ago from unsecured computer networks while mapping streets, Attorney General George Jepsen and Consumer Protection Commissioner Jerry Farrell announced.
The agreement will allow Connecticut and the coalition of 40 states it is leading to begin negotiations to resolve the data collection issue without going to court to enforce the civil investigative demand, Jepsen said.
"The stipulation means we can proceed to negotiate a settlement of the critical privacy issues implicated here without the need for a protracted and costly fight in the courts, although we are ready to do so if we are unable to come to a satisfactory agreement through negotiations," Jepsen said.
Google refused to release the unsecured data after former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal began an investigation last year. Release of the data would allow authorities to confirm that Google did in fact glean and store information from unsecured wireless computer networks. Blumenthal called Google's actions a "deeply disturbing invasion of personal privacy."
When Google refused, the attorney general's office and the Department of Consumer Protection issued Google a civil investigative demand, the equivalent of a subpoena, in December.
Between 2008 and September 2009, Google's cars, which were equipped with cameras and antenna trolled Connecticut's streets taking photographs for Google's Street View service.
Although the specially equipped vehicles were deployed to take photographs and collect street-level information, they also collected private information including private e-mail communications, passwords and other confidential data from unsecured wireless networks.
Google at first claimed the data were fragmented, but then acknowledged that entire e-mails and other information may have been improperly captured. The company also maintained that the collection of such data was an accident.
As part of the agreement, Google said it will not contest allegations that private information was in collected during its "Street View" operation.
Negotiations with Google are continuing, Jepsen said.
EFF Uncovers Widespread FBI Intelligence Violations
EFF has uncovered widespread violations stemming from FBI intelligence investigations from 2001 - 2008. In a report released today, EFF documents alarming trends in the Bureau’s intelligence investigation practices, suggesting that FBI intelligence investigations have compromised the civil liberties of American citizens far more frequently, and to a greater extent, than was previously assumed.
Using documents obtained through EFF's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation, the report finds:
• Evidence of delays of 2.5 years, on average, between the occurrence of a violation and its eventual reporting to the Intelligence Oversight Board
• Reports of serious misconduct by FBI agents including lying in declarations to courts, using improper evidence to obtain grand jury subpoenas, and accessing password-protected files without a warrant
• Indications that the FBI may have committed upwards of 40,000 possible intelligence violations in the 9 years since 9/11
EFF's report stems from analysis of nearly 2,500 pages of FBI documents, consisting of reports of FBI intelligence violations made to the Intelligence Oversight Board — an independent, civilian intelligence-monitoring board that reports to the President on the legality of foreign and domestic intelligence operations. The documents constitute the most complete picture of post-9/11 FBI intelligence abuses available to the public. Our earlier analysis of the documents showed the FBI's arbitrary disclosure practices.
EFF's report underscores the need for greater transparency and oversight in the intelligence community. As part of our ongoing effort to inform the public and elected officials about abusive intelligence investigations, we are distributing copies of the report to members of Congress.
A pdf copy of the report can be downloaded here.
Sweden Warns Firms of Cloud Computing Risks
Hundreds of Swedish companies have lost out on large international contracts after their secrets were leaked to competitors due to security breaches as a result of the explosion in cloud computing.
Companies, particularly those in the IT industry, that use cloud services, in which applications and files are stored with large data centres instead of on their own computers and accessed through the internet, are especially at risk.
The Swedish Fortifications Agency (Fortifikationsverket) is warning companies to take extra precautions if they rent data storage space from external providers.
"It's something we've discovered and we want people to be aware of, but it's not normally our job to look at companies' security like that. It's not really our thing to actually go through companies and see what their security levels are like," Catharina Millmarker, press secretary of the agency, told The Local on Wednesday.
"When we look at companies, like when we build new estate areas, we always check to see if the information is safe with them. We don't use those companies where it is not. We see a trend where a lot of companies do this, so we had to say something about it," she added.
The governmental authority, which is one of the largest landowners in Sweden and whose largest client is the Swedish Armed Forces (Försvarsmakten), specialises in protection technology, secure underground facilities and special purpose buildings.
"Information leaks have always been a problem since companies started to send information on the internet. It's been a problem for many years, but it will be an increased problem because of the numbers of users using cloud computing," the agency's security protection director Henrik Thernlund told The Local on Wednesday.
The agency engages in nearly 2,000 security-protected transactions each year to see how they handle the classified information that they receive.
Thernlund has observed that companies trying to procure information no longer have to hack into systems, but can simply pay for trade secrets, according to a Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) report on Wednesday.
"Company executives have no idea how poorly they manage their business-critical data. They are starry-eyed and lose business because of it," Thernlund told the newspaper.
Cloud computing began to take off two to three years ago when the bandwidth made it possible to store data online for certain applications.
The countries that are most cited in engaging in state-funded industrial espionage are Russia, China, Iran and even Britain, which has reportedly invested more resources on collecting data for economic and commercial purposes.
Other markets cited include both France and Germany, as well as India and North Korea, according to SvD.
The agency has noticed about 20 cases a year in which there is a direct threat against a Swedish company and its business-critical information. In another 50 cases, companies are exposed to "significant and serious" risks, according to the report. This pertains to both large and small companies.
Thernlund advised companies not to place all its data on cloud servers.
"No, absolutely not. For instance, if you have a new patent that you have not registered yet, it is very bad to put it on the internet. Keep it at the company before you get the patent. There are advantages with cloud computing, we're not saying ban it at all, but just for some information," he said.
As to why companies have been caught off guard, Thernlund said, "For a smaller company, it is a question of competence, they don't have the competence in-house. For a bigger company, it's cheaper than having your own server."
He added that it is difficult to estimate how much companies lose from cloud computer leaks.
"The advantage for the attacker is that you don't even know if you have lost information. It's not like a book on the shelf where you see the book is missing," said Thernlund.
"Someone else can produce the product you have a patent for, or they will make an offer you were after. You cannot point to a company and say, 'You stole this from me,'" he added.
Thernlund believes that both governments and companies must become more vigilant in this area to beef up their cloud computing security. Often, it is the state that owns the databases and rents out storage space to companies.
According to security software manufacturer Symantec, all information stored on cloud servers should be encrypted, but even this is not enough to ensure that the data is secure depending on which country the cloud company's servers are located.
A Hacking Case Becomes a War of the Tabloids
Sarah Lyall and Don Van Natta Jr.
It was a classic tabloid scoop: a young woman’s account of a two-year affair with the actor Ralph Fiennes, spiced up with racy details of what he liked to do and how he liked to do it. Three newspapers — The Sunday Mirror, The Mail on Sunday and News of the World — carried their versions of the tale on Feb. 5, 2006.
The first two papers obtained the story via the normal tabloid route, paying the woman, Cornelia Crisan, £35,000 to tell all.
But it appears that News of the World, furious at the prospect of being outmaneuvered, took a sneakier approach: It illegally hacked into the voice mail messages of Ms. Crisan’s press agent, Nicola Phillips, and stole the story, according to allegations in a new lawsuit.
The details of how News of the World went about its operation are soon to be made public as part of the lawsuit, brought by Ms. Phillips against the newspaper and its parent company, News Group Newspapers, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News International.
Court papers in the case, as described by people familiar with the lawsuit, shed a stark and unflattering light on the newspaper’s reliance on phone hacking as a standard reporting method. This conduct is at the heart of a growing array of civil lawsuits and criminal inquiries against the paper and News Group.
Until recently, News of the World maintained that the hacking had been limited to a single “rogue reporter,” the paper’s former royals editor, Clive Goodman. Mr. Goodman was jailed in 2007, along with a private investigator, Glenn Mulcaire, after both pleaded guilty to illegally intercepting the messages of members of the royal household.
But the paper’s assertion was undermined last month when it dismissed Ian Edmondson, the paper’s assistant editor for news, after he was apparently linked to phone hacking in court papers in a lawsuit brought by the actress Sienna Miller, who also alleges that her messages were illegally intercepted.
Also late last month, Mr. Edmondson’s former boss, Andy Coulson — News of the World’s editor when hacking seems to have been at its height — resigned as Prime Minister David Cameron’s communications director, saying that continued speculation about his possible role in the scandal was interfering with his job. Mr. Coulson continues to say he knew nothing about the hacking.
Chris Bryant, a Labour member of Parliament who believes his phone was hacked and has sued to force a judicial investigation of the police’s handling of the case, predicted that with more cases coming up, there would be a flood of new information. “I think there’s a massive scandal still to unfold,” Mr. Bryant said.
Ms. Phillips’s lawsuit is just one of many. Among the celebrities suing or considering suing are Ms. Miller; her stepmother, the interior designer Kelly Hoppen; the actor Steve Coogan; a sports agent named Skylet Andrew; and Chris Tarrant, the host of Britain’s “Who Wants to Be Millionaire.” At least a half-dozen more public figures have consulted lawyers and are said to be preparing suits.
After being accused of dragging their feet, the Metropolitan Police have reopened their criminal inquiry, and prosecutors are formally investigating the police’s initial response to the case.
For years, some reporters at other newspapers have been suspected of hacking messages, but in recent years, only News of the World has been sued by hacking victims.
A hearing is scheduled for later this month for Ms. Phillips’s lawsuit. Like her case, the other cases beginning to wend their way through the courts bolster the perception that hacking cellphones was a regular part of News of the World’s news gathering operation, something its executives have denied for the past five years.
Evidence in Ms. Phillips’s case also suggests that Mr. Edmondson, the former news editor, had a central role in the hacking operation. The name “Ian” appears in court papers on several photocopied pages from the notebooks of Mr. Mulcaire seized by the police in August 2006.
The new documents, people familiar with the case say, support allegations that Mr. Edmondson specifically directed Mr. Mulcaire to gain access to Ms. Phillips’s phone — and may have hacked her phone himself.
Mr. Mulcaire and Mr. Edmondson are named as co-defendants in Ms. Phillips’s suit, along with News Group. Reached by telephone, Ms. Phillips, 30, refused to comment or to disclose any details of the suit, saying she did not want to jeopardize her court case.
Mark Lewis, the lawyer for Ms. Phillips, also refused to discuss the particulars of the case.
Mr. Edmondson, speaking through his lawyers, has denied any wrongdoing.
“We’re not making any comment on the current litigation,” said a spokeswoman for News International, speaking on the condition of anonymity according to company policy. Referring to Mr. Edmondson, she added, “News International reiterates that, if presented with evidence of wrongdoing, we will take swift and decisive action — as demonstrated by last week’s dismissal of a senior staff member.”
In 2006, when she says her phone was hacked, Ms. Phillips worked for Max Clifford Associates, press agents who mediate between people peddling stories — the sexier the better — and papers willing to pay for them.
Such checkbook scoops are the bread and butter of Britain’s sharp-elbowed tabloids, and News of the World, with its deep pockets and aggressive methods, is among the most eager consumers. But at the time, Mr. Clifford was not doing business with the paper, which had angered him by writing unflattering articles about one of his clients.
So when Ms. Crisan, a blond, buxom Romanian singer, came forward to talk about how Mr. Fiennes had cheated on his girlfriend with her, Ms. Phillips took the scoop to News of the World’s competitors. She negotiated a deal with The Sunday Mirror and The Mail on Sunday, which together spent £35,000, or about $62,000, for exclusive access to Ms. Crisan.
The money bought many titillating details. “He Stripped Me Slowly and Then Said, ‘Keep Your High Heels On,’ ” was the headline in The Sunday Mirror.
The Mail on Sunday related how Ms. Crisan irritated Mr. Fiennes by revealing that “Maid in Manhattan” was the only movie she had seen him in. When she then rented “The End of the Affair,” she said, she found to her dismay that Mr. Fiennes had used the same lovemaking techniques with her that he had used with Julianne Moore in the movie. “It made me wonder how genuine it was when he did this with me,” she told the paper.
Unbeknown to The Mirror and The Mail, News of the World already had the story, without paying for it. The suit alleges that News of the World found out about Ms. Phillips’s negotiations by hacking into the messages on her phone and on the phones of her contacts, including reporters for The Mail and The Mirror, Ms. Crisan and Mr. Clifford. (News International agreed to pay Mr. Clifford £1 million after he filed his own hacking lawsuit.)
Mr. Mulcaire’s notes reveal that News of the World also listened to personal messages left by and for Ms. Phillips and her friends.
News of the World managed to track down Ms. Crisan on a train from London to Edinburgh in time to publish an article on the same day as the other papers. The headline in its story, under the bylines of Holly Jarvis, Neville Thurlbeck and Neil McLeod, was “Another Fiennes Mess.”
The suit also reveals how in Britain’s dog-eat-dog tabloid world, ethical reporters buy stories, but unethical ones steal them.
Brendan Montague, a former freelance journalist who often sold stories to News of the World, claims that the paper hacked into his voice mail messages to spoil his efforts to sell the story of a sex scandal involving a celebrity chef to one of its rivals — thus depriving him of a £30,000 fee.
Last year, he said he was not surprised by the hacking, but was stunned by “the fact that this process is so simple, swift and apparently routine,” he wrote in the newspaper The Guardian.
Sarah Lyall reported from London, and Don Van Natta Jr. from Miami.
Israeli Official Sees Cyber Alternative to "Ugly" War
Cyberwarfare of the kind waged against Iran last year offers advanced nations an alternative to "ugly" military force with its moral costs, a senior Israeli official said on Thursday.
"War is ugly, awfully ugly," Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told diplomats and journalists at a think tank called the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
"In modern times, because war is all the time on television ... people see this and can't take it. There are limits. There is a price you pay."
He added: "Because it is difficult, one looks for other ways. One of those other ways is the intelligence community of all the world trying to do things that don't look that ugly, don't kill people."
He declined to discuss the mysterious Stuxnet worm found in Iranian networks last year, but his remarks underscored Israelis' doubts about delivering on veiled threats to use open force against their arch-foe's nuclear program.
"And all the world that is not on the screen, the cyber world ... becomes more important in the conflict between nations. It is a new battleground, if you like, not with guns but with something else," he said.
Meridor, who oversees Israel's spy services and nuclear affairs, said Israel had learned from news coverage and the ensuing public censure of its conflicts with often outgunned enemies.
Over the past two years, Israeli officials have quietly unveiled cyber war capabilities that they say are a core pillar of defense strategy.
They also hint at having mounted sabotage campaigns to slow down Iran's uranium enrichment and missile projects, in which Israel sees a potentially mortal threat.
Though Israel is reputed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, many analysts regard its conventional forces as too small to inflict lasting damage on Iranian nuclear facilities which are distant, dispersed and well-defended.
Israel is also wary of drawing retaliatory missile salvoes from the Islamic republic -- which denies seeking the bomb while preaching the Jewish state's destruction -- as well as knock-on fighting with Tehran's guerrilla allies in Lebanon and Gaza.
While reiterating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's and U.S. President Barack Obama's pledge to keep "all options on the table," Meridor said international sanctions designed to curb Tehran could prove successful if stepped up by Washington.
"Iran will have to rethink their policy ... if they understand the Americans are saying to them simply, 'You will not get them (nuclear weapons)."
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Maria Golovnina)
Hackers Shut Down Government Sites
The online group Anonymous said Wednesday that it had paralyzed the Egyptian government’s Web sites in support of the antigovernment protests.
Anonymous, a loosely defined group of hackers from all over the world, gathered about 500 supporters in online forums and used software tools to bring down the sites of the Ministry of Information and President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, said Gregg Housh, a member of the group who disavows any illegal activity himself. The sites were unavailable Wednesday afternoon.
The attacks, Mr. Housh said, are part of a wider campaign that Anonymous has mounted in support of the antigovernment protests that have roiled the Arab world. Last month, the group shut down the Web sites of the Tunisian government and stock exchange in support of the uprising that forced the country’s dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, to flee.
Mr. Housh said that the group had used its technical knowledge to help protesters in Egypt defy a government shutdown of the Internet that began last week. “We want freedom,” he said of the group’s motivation. “It’s as simple as that. We’re sick of oppressive governments encroaching on people.”
Anonymous also mounted strikes late last year, characterized by some of its supporters as a “cyberwar,” against companies like MasterCard, Visa and PayPal that had refused to process donations to the antisecrecy group WikiLeaks.
The F.B.I. said last week that it had executed 40 search warrants “throughout the United States” in connection with that campaign. The strikes by Anonymous, known as “distributed denial of service” attacks, could lead to criminal charges that carry 10-year prison sentences, the F.B.I. said. Arrests have been made and equipment seized in Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and France, according to British and American officials. They declined to provide further details.
Barrett Brown, who is helping to organize a legal defense for those who might be prosecuted, said further raids were expected.
Mr. Housh said “these arrests aren’t going to have any effect.”
Just hours after the raids, he said, about 600 people, including many who had been arrested and then released, were back online and coordinating efforts in Egypt.
Egyptians Turn to Tor to Organise Dissent Online
The number of Egyptians connecting to the internet using the Tor anonymity service rose more than five-fold after protests broke out last week before crashing when the Government severed links to the global internet.
Logs released on the Tor website showed that last Tuesday, about 500 Egyptian users requested access through Tor's anonymity mirrors but within two days that had swelled to nearly 2500 or about 1.7 percent of global users.
Tor allowed public internet users to communicate anonymously and privately; it was often used by those avoiding official scrutiny including human rights workers and filesharers.
Computer security expert and Tor team member Jacob Appelbaum, who created a network "bridge" to allow Egyptians to access the internet to short-circuit the crackdown, said Egyptians turned to the anonymity service because they understood the risks associated with organising online.
"People are concerned and some understand the risk of network traffic analysis," Appelbaum told SC Magazine in a tweet. "They're using Tor for that reason and more."
Appelbaum, a high-profile associate of the Wikileaks whistleblowers' site, said the "irony was rich" in how the US Government that supported the pro-democracy protesters treated him on his return to the country and the experiences of an Egyptian democracy activist who was harassed on his return to Egypt as revealed in a Wikileaks cable.
Both activists were detained and had personal items confiscated by their respective governments' security forces - Appelbaum has had his laptop inspected, receipts copied and mobile phones confiscated on re-entry to the US while the unnamed Egyptian activist had notes and diary entries confiscated when he returned to Egypt after attending discussions in the US.
Appelbaum was also named in a subpoena of his Twitter use by the US Government seeking information to use in its case against Wikileaks, revealed when the social networking service Twitter refused to hand over such information without first alerting its users to US Government demands.
The protests to unseat Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak that began on January 25 led to that country's government to shutter most internet traffic. Protesters were using social media services such as Facebook to coordinate actions.
Network monitoring companies reported that soon afterwards, much of Egypt's public internet network was unreachable from outside the country.
Theories of how to take a country off the internet have circulated for at least 10 years although this is one of the most complete examples of such a denial of service perpetrated by a government against their people raising the spectre that other countries may initiate similar actions in future to quell dissent.
For instance, even as President Obama condemned the Egyptian Government's crackdown, his Administration was preparing its own "internet kill switch", details of a bill to be debated in the Senate this week.
Despite his run-ins with US security services, Appelbaum was supportive of the Egyptian protesters who have received help and public backing from the US Government.
"The Egyptian Government is murdering unarmed civilians who wish to peacefully protest the way that their lives are governed," Appelbaum later told SC Magazine.
"Probably Tor plays only a small part for only a few thousand people. I'd like to think it's an important part and hopefully they will use it to stay safe against this violent tyranny."
Internet Restored in Egypt
This just in: Reports from bloggers and Egyptian twitterati have confirmed that the Internet has been restored in Egypt by the country’s major Internet Service Providers ISPs.
The decision has yet to be clarified as whether it is a single sided decision from the major telecom operators in the country or if the government has finally caved in to global pressure to restore the service to its citizens.
One thing is for sure, which is the Egyptian people have single handedly overturned a ridiculously oppressive governmental decision, and are now connected directly once more to the outside world.
The restoration comes coincidently the same day Egyptian Military have called on the protesters to return to their homes via loudspeakers and mobile messages, fueling the theory that the service was restored to get people to go back to their homes.
Readers from Egypt confirming not only Internet back, but all mobile 3G and BlackBerry services as well.
The service for some is still riddled with blocked services such as Twitter itself, is forcing users to bypass governmental control of Social Media outlets using proxy services.
According to numerous tweets from Egyptians rejoicing to the fact the Internet is back, alerting the world of their amazing accomplishments while virtually offline.
Vodafone: Egypt Forced Us to Send Text Messages
Raphael G. Satter
Egyptian authorities forced Vodafone to broadcast pro-government text messages during the protests that have rocked the country, the U.K.-based mobile company said Thursday.
Micro-blogging site Twitter has been buzzing with screen grabs from Vodafone's Egyptian customers showing text messages sent over the course of the demonstrations against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-old regime.
A text message received Sunday by an Associated Press reporter in Egypt appealed to the country's "honest and loyal men to confront the traitors and criminals and protect our people and honor." Another urged Egyptians to attend a pro-Mubarak rally in Cairo on Wednesday. The first was marked as coming from "Vodafone." The other was signed: "Egypt Lovers."
In a statement, Vodafone Group PLC said that the messages had been drafted by Egyptian authorities and that it had no power to change them.
"Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable," the statement said. "We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator."
The company also said its competitors — including Egypt's Mobinil and the United Arab Emirates' Etisalat — were doing the same. Etisalat, known formally as Emirates Telecommunications Corp., declined comment.
Vodafone said the texts had been sent "since the start of the protests," which kicked off more than a week ago. Vodafone did not immediately return an e-mail asking why the company waited nearly 10 days to complain publicly. Its statement was released only after repeated inquiries by the AP.
The company declined to reveal how many such messages it had sent, or whether it was still pumping them out.
Vodafone has already come under fire for its role in the Internet blackout that cut Egypt off from the online world for several days. The company said the order to pull the plug on its Egyptian customers could not be ignored as it was legal under local law.
Vodafone was able to restore its data services on Wednesday — five days after it suspended all services in the country, according to company spokesman Bobby Leach.
The company, however, was still unable to provide mobile phone text message services as of Thursday evening, he said.
Adam Schreck in Kabul contributed to this report.
Senators Decry Link Between Egypt, 'Kill Switch' Bill
Three U.S. senators who want to give the president emergency powers over the Internet are protesting comparisons with the "kill switch" highlighted by Egypt's Net disconnection.
In a statement yesterday, the politicians said their intent was to allow the president "to protect the U.S. from external cyber attacks," not to shut down the Internet, and announced that they would revise their legislation to explicitly prohibit that from happening.
"Some have suggested that our legislation would empower the president to deny U.S. citizens access to the Internet," said the statement from Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Senator Tom Carper, (D-Del.). "Nothing could be further from the truth." Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
They said, however, that they'll make sure their forthcoming legislation "contains explicit language prohibiting the president from doing what President [Hosni] Mubarak did."
Egypt restored Internet service to the country at 11:29 a.m. today Cairo time after a five-day blackout that was intended to quell anti-government protests.
The latest public version of their Internet emergency legislation, S.3480, was approved by Lieberman's committee in December but was not voted on in the full Senate.
Their so-dubbed "Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act" would hand the president power over privately owned computer systems during a "national cyber emergency" and prohibit review by the court system. CNET reported last week that it will be reintroduced in the new Congress.
If the president declares a "cyber emergency," according to a summary prepared by Lieberman's committee, the Department of Homeland Security could "issue mandatory emergency measures necessary to preserve the reliable operation of covered critical infrastructure." Although the term "kill switch" appears nowhere in the legislation, those "mandatory" measures could include ordering "critical" computers, networks, or Web sites disconnected from the Internet.
It also includes controversial new language--which did not appear in the initial version introduced last summer--saying that the federal government's designation of vital Internet or other computer systems "shall not be subject to judicial review."
Perhaps more than any other section of the legislation, that part has drawn significant criticism from industry representatives and civil libertarians.
After Egypt's decision to banish its Internet connection, the odds of the Lieberman-Collins-Carper bill being enacted have fallen, said Jim Harper, director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute. "It's part of growing recognition that centralizing control of communications infrastructure with government is poor civic hygiene," he said.
For the senators proposing this legislation, the timing was unfortunate. Less than 24 hours after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats sent out a press release last Wednesday outlining their rather vague plans for future legislation to "safeguard" the Internet, Egypt went offline. (Reid's placeholder bill is S.21.)
By the following afternoon, almost all Egyptian Internet providers ceased to publish information about electronic routes to their networks, making them unreachable worldwide. On Monday, the one apparently unaffected network, the Noor Group, followed suit and vanished around 12:46 p.m. PT. Noor's client list included ExxonMobil, Toyota, Hyatt, Coca-Cola, the American University in Cairo, and the Egyptian stock exchange.
Yesterday's statement from the three senators said that their forthcoming legislation features safeguards, including a requirement that any measures ordered by the president be "the least disruptive means feasible" and that the White House notify Congress after a "cyber security emergency" has been declared.
They also argue that a 1934 law creating the Federal Communications Commission already gives the president broad powers and that theirs would be narrower.
That law says in wartime, or if a "state of public peril or disaster or other national emergency" exists, the president may "authorize the use or control of any such station or device." But the latest public draft of the Lieberman-Collins-Carper bill does not repeal that portion of existing law--it merely gives the executive branch additional authority.
Earlier versions of similar legislation have been more direct. A draft Senate proposal that CNET obtained in August 2009 authorized the White House to "declare a cybersecurity emergency," and another from Sens. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) would have explicitly given the government the power to "order the disconnection" of certain networks or Web sites.
House Democrats also have been active on the topic, although a bill (H.R. 174) introduced last month by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) is not as far-reaching. It would hand Homeland Security the power to "establish and enforce" security requirements for important "private sector computer networks." Missing, however, is any language granting the president new emergency authority.
Until next week,
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