Potential exposure is not forced exposure

One of the foremost foes of intellectual-property extortion is shutting down. Groklaw founder and editor Pamela Jones announced this morning in a post, titled “Forced Exposure,” that the possibility of NSA surveillance of her e-mail means she can’t trust e-mail as a means of collaborative input, and therefore the blog must end.

Groklaw signoffThey tell us that if you send or receive an email from outside the US, it will be read. If it’s encrypted, they keep it for five years, presumably in the hopes of tech advancing to be able to decrypt it against your will and without your knowledge. Groklaw has readers all over the world.

This news bothers me deeply–because Groklaw has provided an immense public service in collecting and presenting evidence of grotesque IP abuse such as the SCO Group’s prolonged and mendacious attempt to claim copyright over code in the Linux operating system, and because I don’t like finding fault with somebody whose work I and so many other people admire.

But look: Potential exposure is not forced exposure. Or if it is, it’s always been there. Yes, the NSA might be reading my e-mail and PJ’s. But keyloggers planted by the Russian mob might be reading it too. The NSA might have the ability to crack PGP encryption in five years–or they could have had it all along and haven’t told us, or they could decide to ignore that five-year timeline. Your own computer might be airtight, but what about the machines of all your correspondents? For that matter, how can you be sure you’ve maintained your privacy offline without going into Kaczysnki-esque seclusion?

If your reaction to those possibilities is to declare that all is lost and that you should “get off the Internet to the degree that it’s possible,” as PJ wrote in this morning’s post, then how are you not tumbling into the same existential fear that the defenders of the surveillance state sometimes seem to think is the right and proper state of a compliant citizenry?

I don’t know PJ (friends whose judgment I trust do and profess a deep respect for her) and only have a vague notion of what her life has been like running Groklaw (it’s entailed being the target of an unhealthy dose of character assassination). But with my limited knowledge I can’t endorse her stance. I wish she’d at least found somebody else to run the site: While we’re having this hypothetical discussion, very real copyright and patent extortion is going on, and Groklaw was doing a damn good job of exposing it.

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Belated updates to this year’s stories

You don’t have to run a correction when a story changes after you’ve written about it–but it is polite to follow up. Here’s a not-so-short list of updates to stories I’ve done this year.

Old stories sepia toneWhen I wrote that Google’s new, unified privacy policy would almost certainly be recast to let users opt out of having the company assemble a detailed portrait of them based on their use of separate Google services, I was wrong; that has yet to happen.

Sonic.net’s groundbreaking fiber-to-the-home service–a steal at $69.95 a month for 1 billion bits per second–seems to be off to a fine start in Sonoma County, but the planned expansion to San Francisco’s Sunset District is still on the way. It hasn’t shown up as an advertised offering on this Santa Rosa, Calif., Internet provider’s home-services page either.

Remember when adjacent-friend-discovery apps were going to blow up after their moment in the sun at SXSW in March? Didn’t happen. Facebook bought Glancee (and has yet to do much publicly with its technology), while Highlight seems to have fallen off the map (maybe I’m not hanging out with the right crowd?).

The ethics of outsourced manufacturing, fortunately, have stayed in the headlines since I wrote about them in March for CEA. And we may even be seeing legitimate progress, to judge from the New York Times’ story earlier this week recounting upgrades in pay and working conditions at contract manufacturers Foxconn and Quanta’s Chinese factories.

I’m still waiting to see comparable progress in liberating e-books from “digital rights management.” The sci-fi publisher Tor/Forge–a subsidiary of Macmillan–went DRM-free in July, but other branches of the major publishing houses have clung to this self-defeating measure. 

After saying so many good things about the car2go car-sharing service–and seeing that story get picked up in a few other places–I have to confess that I, ahem, haven’t used the service since. Capital Bikeshare is even more convenient and cheaper for trips under two miles, plus I need to make my way into the District to jump into one of car2go’s Smart fortwo vehicles.

I tempered my praise for Sprint’s Evo 4G LTE by wondering how long its users would wait to get Google’s software updates. Answer: almost six months, the time it took HTC and Sprint to deliver the Android 4.1 release Google shipped in June.

I was pretty sure I’d buy a Nexus 7 tablet after liking it as much as I did in July. But now that I own an iPad mini, that purchase seems like it would be redundant. Am I making a mistake there?

After teeing off on Apple Maps in the first chapter of my iPhone 5 review for CNNMoney.com, I have to give Apple credit for fixing the two worst flaws I called out. It now lists the correct address for the Kennedy Center as its first search result and provides a route to Dulles Airport that don’t cross any runways. But it still doesn’t know about Yards Park or the new 11th Street Bridges across the Anacostia–and the latter omission means its directions will now send you on a closed stretch of freeway.

My upbeat review of Samsung’s $249 Google Chromebook noted some build-quality concerns, in the form of a loose corner of the screen bezel. I found out the hard way that it’s more delicate than that; its LCD is now broken, and I don’t even know how. (We do have a two-year-old at home, but it’s also possible that I dropped something on it.)

My advice about enabling multiple-calendar Google Calendar sync on an iOS device by setting up your Google account as a Microsoft Exchange account will soon be obsolete. Effective January 30, Google will no longer support Exchange syncing on new setups (although existing ones will still work). Fortunately, it’s also posted instructions to enable multiple-calendar sync without the Exchange workaround.

3/23/2013: Updated the link for the car2go review after the post vanished in a site redesign and, for CMS-driven reasons that escape me, could not be re-posted at the same address. 

You’ve gotta be on [social-media site of the month]

I finally posted something on Pinterest. Are you happy now?

I held out as long as I could. But almost five months after I’d signed up with the site, and with 110 people following me there despite a complete lack of content, the guilt got to me.

This seems to be a permanent occupational hazard of writing about social media. There’s always some new shiny thing that the early adopters are jumping onto, and that you are professionally obliged to check out–except that the day’s annoying habit of only lasting 24 hours often obstructs that.

So I have to confess that I haven’t done anything on Instagram (I wasn’t using an iPhone when it started getting cool, then it seemed beside the point). I somehow never got around to testing Path, even when its privacy violations got into the headlines. I got a semi-coveted invite to the leave-notes-around-the-world site Pinwheel at SXSW but have only logged in a few times since. And my Tumblr blog amounts to a placeholder for my LLC coupled with an updated set of links to my articles; it’s getting the lame readership such a transparently self-promotional exercise deserves.

I’m not proud that I’ve only registered at some of these sites to make sure nobody else grabs “my” username, or that I’ve only done a drive-by inspection of others. Plus, you never know what new site will send some crazy level of traffic your way.

(My current self-marketing budget: tweeting out a link to a story and revisiting that a day later; sharing it on Google+; doing the same on my public Facebook page if an RSS page hasn’t done that for me; archiving the link on Tumblr; noting it in each Sunday’s “weekly output” post here. Any suggestions for optimizing that?)

And yet: I can’t drop everything to immerse myself in every new site, much less add it to my daily communications routine. If I have to flack for myself on 17 different sites, I won’t have time to report and write much worth promoting.

I tell myself that saying “no” to a new social-media site helps reminds me that all of this stuff is optional. But if you think I’m missing out on a useful channel of communication, I hope you’ll tell me about it–on one of the social networks I do inhabit regularly.

Why I’m not accepting your friend request, version 2.0

I first wrote this post on my public Facebook page in May of 2010 as a response to friend requests from readers, publicists and other people whom I hadn’t actually met. Since then, things have changed: Facebook’s privacy implications have gotten trickier, Plaxo and MySpace vanished from relevance, LinkedIn is more useful, a follower-etiquette question has come up on Twitter, and Google+ has brought its own social-networking issues.

So here’s an update on what leads me to accept a friend request, decline it, or passive-aggressively pretend I never saw it.

Facebook: Last year, my rule was that we had to have met and communicated, even if only by phone or e-mail, before I’d accept your friend request. But as Facebook’s constant tinkering increases the default exposure on each account–and as features like the upcoming timeline interface make it easier to mine friends’ histories for dirt–the liability of an ill-chosen Facebook connection has increased.

Meanwhile, the increasing noisiness of Facebook’s site has reduced the marginal value of each new friend in the News Feed. So I’m pickier about friend requests and have unfriended people with whom I only had one good chat and then never heard from on the site. (Go ahead and unfriend me if you wish. I don’t take offense if people disregard my own Facebook entreaties: It remains an optional service, notwithstanding what its management might say.)

I have yet to enable Facebook’s new subscription option, even though it’s intended for people like me with some level of public identity. My Facebook page already has a large, growing audience, so unless I were to fold that venture back into my profile I’d have yet another online outlet to fill with witty morsels.

Google+: I like how Google’s latest venture into social networking doesn’t require reciprocity–if you want to add me to one of your circles, go right ahead! And because so much of my G+ audience has been defined by my occupational social graph, G+ seems to be evolving as a forum to discuss things I cover. But that doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily “circle you back”… and no, I don’t know I even like that bit of Googlespeak.

Twitter: The same principle applies to Twitter. I follow far fewer people than follow me because I find Twitter works best as a news network, not a sort of friend radio, and I don’t need its signal-to-noise ratio any lower. So if you’re not sharing useful tidbits about technology, journalism or a few other subjects that fascinate me, I’m probably not going to follow you–although I’ll certainly notice your tweet if you mention me in it. But please do follow me anyway!

Foursquare: Seriously, what is it with strangers who want to know when I hit the grocery store? I assure you, I am not that interesting (aside from the gratuitous check-ins I did from the Kennedy Space Center during NASA Tweetups this summer). My rule here hasn’t changed: I have to know where you live or your cell phone number.

I’ve also realized that I don’t need to publicize my Foursquare activity beyond the service to get its primary benefits: useful tips about places I visit, plus the occasional discount and the cheap thrill of claiming a mayorship. So I disconnected my Twitter account; I may link my Facebook account, since that has some privacy limits while my Twitter presence has none.

LinkedIn: Shockingly enough, leaving my job at the Post led me to put serious time into my LinkedIn page. (Better yet, I’ve since received substantive business inquiries through the site, one of which has already put money in my bank account.) I remain fairly liberal in my acceptance of LI invitations, but I still appreciate knowing where they’re coming from–for instance, because we’ve met before or you work in a related field. In other words, please spend 30 seconds to write something more personal in your request than the default “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” You all do know that’s text you can edit before sending the request–right?

Now that I’ve exposed my social-media snobbery, how do you make these decisions?

Should I review a product that you can’t use?

Tuesday, Google launched a new social-media service called Google+ that almost none of you can use. A long blog post by engineering vice president Vic Gundotra about Google+ touts such flexible info-sharing options as “Circles,” “Hangouts” and “Sparks,” then offers an apologetic note in red, italicized text in the third-to-last paragraph:

We’re beginning in Field Trial, so you may find some rough edges, and the project is by invitation only. 

Well, then. A notice on the Plus sign-in page comforts shut-out users that “it won’t be long before the Google+ project is ready for everyone,” but in the meantime you may face a Twitter stream full of invited Plus users yammering on about the service and whether it’s a Facebook killer or just a Tumblr killer.

(Google has refrained from describing Plus as a killer of anything. Good idea: Calling your new product a “[fill in the blank] killer” usually guarantees its imminent demise in the market. Just ask all the companies that bragged about their iPod, iPhone and iPad killers.)

After an initial rebuff by Google’s PR agency and a subsequent appeal to a contact in the Mountain View, Calif., company’s D.C. office, I’m told that I have an invite on the way. (Disclosure: I’ve spoken at a couple of Google events.) When that arrives, I’m certainly interested to see how Plus works–and if it lives up to the hype or will flop just as badly as the enigmatic, since-shelved Google Wave communications application or the initially privacy-deprived Buzz sharing service. And yet: Since I probably won’t find my closer friends on Plus–and can’t extend them an invite–I’d only use a subset of its capabilities.

It’s not an easy question, but I’d like to know what you think. Should I join the in crowd and review Google+ for Discovery or anybody else? Or should I direct my attention this week to something that you can use without getting on a guest list? (The likeliest candidate: HP’s new TouchPad tablet.) Take the poll and explain your vote in the comments.

Update, 7/1, 12:41 p.m. Thanks for your votes. I went ahead with the Google+ first-take analysis, which you can now read on Discovery’s site.