Weather permitting, Monday morning will see me resume my annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas to cover CES. I expect to see a much smaller version of the usual gadget show, thanks to all of the exhibitors that have opted out of a physical presence; for once, CES traffic may be tolerable.
After writing about the overdue expansion of the public domain for Forbes at the end of 2020, I had to revisit the topic for PCMag on the eve of a new crop of creative works entering the public domain. This piece led to one of the more amusing correction requests I’ve ever gotten: The piece as posted envisaged a literary mashup of A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises in which Pooh and Tigger would journey to Hemingway’s 1920s Paris to indulge in some drunken debauchery, but multiple readers noted that Tigger doesn’t make his entrance until Milne’s The House on Pooh Corner, which won’t enter the public domain for another two years. I regret the error.
I’m beyond tired of seeing companies shove a mass password reset on their customers without explanation, and this time I had an opportunity to quiz one company briefly about what led to this kind of customer-hostile move.
I worked a volunteer shift at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic Friday, the fourth time I’ve done so. On this occasion, we had far fewer customers than before, most coming for their second round of Pfizer or Moderna. But a few had yet to get any dose, which meant that they got to choose between those two vaccines or Johnson & Johnson’s; the latter needing a single jab made the difference for one man who said he was only getting vaccinated because his job required it. We also had a few under-18 kids who were limited to Pfizer–and one whom had been brought by her mom on her 12th birthday, so we had to take a minute to sing “Happy Birthday” to her.
I spent most of this week filling in at my other big trade-pub client. I started by covering an allegation by a broadcast-antenna vendor named Mr. Antenna that a Las Vegas station had quit airing its ads because increased broadcast viewing would undercut its cable-TV income.
Writing this led me to dust off my VPN service for the first time in months to see what pricing this new Disney streaming service would show to a viewer in its target Latin American markets–the press releases I saw didn’t list any.
As I tweeted after this story ran, the broadcasters who succeeded in suing Locast offline might not want to gloat too much. Viewers aren’t getting any less weary of endless pay-TV rate hikes, and telling people without good over-the-air reception to stick with cable will only get less persuasive every year.
A friend’s query about ways to see if T-Mobile or Verizon would offer better service than AT&T at his home was followed by my realizing that USAT had yet to cover the FCC’s release of a new and surprisingly helpful map of predicted LTE coverage from the major carriers.
The one thing you can say about any tech-policy dispute involving Facebook is that the ensuing discussion will take a while. Witness this week’s blowup in Australia, where the imminent passage of a bill (“News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code”) mandating a scheme of payments from the largest digital platforms to government-registered news publishers led Facebook to respond Wednesday with a news blackout. Now Australians can’t read or share news links on Facebook, Australian publishers can’t share their stories there, and Facebook users in every other country can’t share Australian news links either.
After writing about that fracas at Forbes on Wednesday, I spent too much time over the next day and a half in what may be my longest-ever tech-policy Twitter discussion. That left me feeling worn out–but also wishing I had taken a little more time to make my views clear. So for future reference, here are several things I think about this entire debate over what, if anything, tech platforms owe news sites.
Link taxes don’t make moral or economic sense. Not only does nobody need permission to link on the Web, a pointer to a news site–whether it’s a Google search result, a Facebook post or the blue text here–does not take from that site in any meaningful way. Well, not unless the nut of the story comes across in the headline and lead image, in which case the same story would likely go unread if seen on a newspaper’s home page. I’ve said this in various ways over more than a decade: the Washington Post in 2009, the Disruptive Competition Project in 2012, at Yahoo Finance in 2018, and at Glitch’s blog Glimmer last spring. (DisCo is a project of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a trade group that counts Google as a member; as you can see, my judgment didn’t change before or after my one year contributing to its policy blog.)
The vast reach of Facebook and Google is a legitimate cause for nervousness. I think both companies exercise more influence over our online lives than is healthy and have written multiple how-to stories (see, for instance, these stories from 2017, 2018, and 2020) to get people to spend less time at each. And I’ve practiced what I preach, including the defaults in my own browsers and the setup of this blog. Yet people keep sticking with Google, even though it’s trivial to change your search site. My WordPress stats show that of the 291,315 search-engine referrals to this blog since its April 2011 launch, 277,850 came from Google. Y’all couldn’t try making DuckDuckGo or Bing the default in even one browser on one device?
Online advertising is a big part of the news industry’s problem. The more I look at the machinery behind the online ads that supposedly prop up news sites–meaning the display ads programmatically inserted to match a reader’s perceived interests–the more I hate it. We’ve built a system that requires extensive tracking of people across the Web, somehow involves the work of a large set of intermediaries yet still winds up dominated at multiple levels by Google, struggles to keep out bad actors, and winds up delivering too little money to publishers. You know what doesn’t even touch this problem? Demands for link taxes.
If digital platforms can build new businesses with publishers, that’s not wrong even if it happens under political duress. Google has responded to demands like those in Australia and in Europe with something called the News Showcase, an enhanced news-search site that takes readers direct to stories and pays publishers. It’s ugly and sad that Google is doing this to pay off publishers who would otherwise try to break the open Web, but if it gets money to newsrooms more reliably than digital ads, I’ll take it.
Updated 2/21/2021 to note that the Australian bill would have the government determine which publishers qualified for these payments, a deeply problematic provision in its own right, clean up some tangled syntax, and to add a paragraph about antitrust that should have been in this post yesterday.
I had meant to write last year about the overdue reopening of the public domain after 21 years of its expansion being closed off because of the 1998 Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act. But my friend Glenn Fleishman beat me to it with a terrific story for Smithsonian. Fortunately, Congress refrained from passing yet another retroactive extension of copyright terms, allowing me to celebrate the impending unlocking of 1925’s creative works for reuse and remix–and explain how we haven’t seen the old intellectual-property-policy script get yet another remake in Washington.
I could have had two other items on this list–Thursday, two different news networks asked if I could comment on camera about Yahoo’s data breach. I told each booker that as somebody who writes for a Yahoo site, it would be just a bit awkward for me to opine on camera about that issue. (Besides, it’s not like I had much free time that day in the first place.)
I filed this piece–a sequel of sorts to a post I did in 2012 for the Disruptive Competition Project about Europe’s doomed dream of getting search engines to pay newspapers for showing snippets of stories in search results–from the Online News Association’s conference Friday afternoon of the prior week. That scheduling seems to be the only consistently reliable way for me to get a post up on a Monday morning.
I made my debut on Finance’s 4 p.m. “The Final Round” live show not to talk about the stock market, but to discuss the legal prospects for self-driving cars. I’m on from about 5:00 to 8:00 in the video, talking to host Jen Rogers about things like who might be likely to sue whom when one autonomous car hits another.
I wrote about half this story on the train up from D.C., with the remaining half done after watching a panel of lawyers debate this topic at the MarketplaceLive conference in New York. Because I was in Yahoo’s newsroom, I could go over the edits the old-fashioned way: by sitting down next to my editor instead of bouncing messages back and forth in Slack.
After two straight weeks of travel (separated by almost 24 hours at home), I have the novel experience of looking at my calendar and not seeing any upcoming flights. That can only be explained by a bug in that app, right?
The scheduling for my part of this Internet-of-Things conference in Paris moved around a lot. My original connected-cars panel got swapped out for this one, and then the speakers for a discussion of smart buildings and smart cities got reshuffled more than once. As you can see, the conference site’s page about the panel still only lists some of the people who showed up Friday morning (besides me, Olivier Selles of Bouygues Immobilier, Herbert Beck of Nexity, Riad Ziour of Openergy, Jackson Bond of Relayr and IBM’s Christian Comtat). Most surprising anecdote: How an IoT climate-control system brought a little labor peace to an office where union officials didn’t trust management’s estimates of indoor air quality.
This jury verdict in Google’s favor and against Oracle dropped Thursday night in Paris, so I had to write this explainer during what little downtime I had Friday morning and afternoon in the city. (Did comparing APIs to the bumps on a Lego block work for you?) I promise I will look over all 120-and-counting comments sometime soon, but hopefully not tomorrow.
After a visit to one Connected Conference exhibit yielded an Android notification of a Web address being broadcast by a nearby Bluetooth beacon, I realized I had a decent column topic sitting in front of me. Writing it also gave me a chance to revisit some of the early hype around Apple’s iOS-only iBeacon.
I’d had this idea kicking around since hearing AdRoll CEO Adam Berke’s talk at the Collision conference, but I somehow waited to finish writing it until I was in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
Back in March, my friend Ron Miller was recounting his experience at Web Summit a few months earlier and suggesting I go. I’m glad (not for the first time!) I heeded his advice. For a sense of those five days in Dublin, see my Flickr slideshow.
Longtime readers may recall I wrote a post for CEA’s public-policy blog in 2011 about the incoherent policy of granting exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s ban on circumventing DRM. My wait for an opportunity to revisit this topic ended when the government issued this year’s round of exemptions a week and change ago.
I was worried I wouldn’t get into the hall to see Rad’s interview, but the crowds parted and I got a seat. As I asked at the end of this post: If you, unlike me, have ever installed Tinder on your own phone, do you agree with Rad’s take on this dating app?
The lede and end of this story popped into my head almost immediately, but the rest took longer to write. As in, I was still working on it while on a bus to meet three of my cousins for dinner. (Dublin FYI: The buses have WiFi that worked well for me after I’d answered a moderately intrusive questionnaire on the “captive portal” sign-in page.)
I had one of my shortest stays in San Francisco this week–I arrived Sunday night, then flew home Wednesday morning. Three days in, jet lag still had me waking up so early that getting to SFO for a 7:25 a.m. departure was no trouble at all.
I moderated this panel about online video services in San Francisco at the annual conference of the Washington trade group that just renamed itself from Comptel to Incompas. My fellow panelists: Netflix public-policy director Corie Wright, Verizon Wireless v.p. and associate general counsel William H. Johnson, and Zander Lehmann, writer and creator of the Hulu series “Casual.” Almost all of the questions we got from the audience focused on something neither Hulu nor Netflix offer, and which is only available in limited quantities on VzW’s Go90 service: live sports.
It had been years since I last wrote about Google Books and the Authors Guild lawsuit against it, but Friday’s ruling in favor of Google allowed me to return to the topic–and offer some thoughts on the fuzzy definition of “fair use” in copyright law. Fun fact: the books in that photo fill a shelf in the lobby of the Marriott Courtyard Union Square, where I stayed Sunday night.
I talked about Apple’s new iMac and my old one, the state of software quality in Cupertino, and the prospect of an Apple car (I think Apple’s talents would be better placed in imitating Tesla by developing a competitor to the Powerwall home battery).
The impending combination of Verizon and AOL’s advertising machinery will bring one improvement in privacy: Verizon Wireless will stop stamping its “UIDH” tracker all of its subscribers’ unencrypted Web traffic. But the company’s privacy notice is sufficiently vague on this point that I missed it in a first draft.
In this week’s column, I teed off on the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit’s dangerously foolish ruling that you can copyright the workings of an application programming interface–a judgment that, if the Supreme Court somehow doesn’t toss it in the trash, will make a lot of reverse engineering illegal. I was not surprised in the least to see a few IP maximalists surface in the comments to contest my opinion, but I thought they would try to offer a counterargument more sophisticated than the likes of “this guy wants to make everything free.”
In yet another Q&A based on a relative’s computing travails, I explained how switching a WiFi network from 2.4 GHz to 5 GHz could end interference issues caused by a surplus of other WiFi networks and baby monitors but require adding a second router to ensure the same coverage as before.
That’s not news. But if you talk to some of the people whose images wind up in BuzzFeed’s endlessly clickable and heavily clicked-upon photo galleries, you may have your expectations overturned, as mine were: most say thanks for the exposure.
BuzzFeed at first looked like an appropriator that took value without returning it, irritating professional photographers who find their work both increasingly valued and increasingly used without compensation. But on closer inspection, BuzzFeed may be finding its way toward a safer course — a careful combination of conventional licensing and curatorial selection.