Weekly output: phone unlocking, Gogo talk and text, laptops with dead screens

AUSTIN–I’m here through Wednesday for SXSW, getting my fill of panel discussions, keynotes, tacos, BBQ, beer and more tacos. Having this conference on my schedule is a huge perk of my job. How did I ever get by without it?

3/4/2014: Progress! Soon You May Actually Be Able to Unlock Your Mobile Phone, Yahoo Tech

A lot of tech-policy types hate the phone-unlocking bill that the House passed after some last-minute weakening, but I couldn’t bring myself to kick Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s bill to the curb in this column–it’s just so rare to see Congress turn away from intellectual-property maximalism. (The part of the column I would like to change: Its initial description of unlocking, which glossed over how this is basically limited to GSM phones.)

Yahoo Tech Gogo post3/7/2014: I’m Calling You From A Chair In The Sky, Yahoo Tech

I had my most improbable product demo yet: a ride in Gogo’s corporate jet to see how its next-generation inflight WiFi system allows you to text and talk from a plane.

The plane itself, in case you were asking, was comfortable but compact, and it wasn’t even the most interesting aircraft on the ramp at AUS. That honor goes to Zero G’s 727 and the two T-38 supersonic trainers that rocketed off the runway before us.

3/9/2014: How to get data off a laptop with a dead screen, USA Today 

This column was a last-minute substitution when I realized that writing a column on my original topic required a FireWire adapter cable that I own but could not find anywhere in my house. (If I once loaned you a FireWire 400-to-800 cable and never asked for it back, please leave a comment.) Happily, I had this idea right after that one in the queue.

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Weekly output: Jared Polis, identity theft, tablets, phone unlocking, USB charging

Total CES PR pitches received this week: 119 (not counting e-mails from the Consumer Electronics Association itself).

DisCo Policy Forum12/10/2013: Q&A With Rep. Jared Polis (D-Co.), DisCo Policy Forum 2013

At the Disruptive Competition Project’s one-day conference, I quizzed one of the few representatives in Congress with a tech-startup background (he co-founded the e-greeting-card company Blue Mountain Arts site bluemountainarts.com) about issues like patent reform, NSA surveillance, immigration policy, and the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Left unanswered: Why I still get all of my Christmas cards in paper form.

12/12/2013: Evolution of ID Theft, State of ID Theft

I discussed trends in identity theft at the National Consumers League’s first conference devoted to the subject with Verizon security director Andy Bonillo, Hart Research Associates v.p. Abigail Davenport, Allan Friedman of the Brookings Institution, and assistant U.S. attorney general Zach Intrater. Surprising thing I learned: ID theft can be a slow and arduous line of work.

12/13/2013: #TabletChat Tablet Usage in Business Twitter Chat, IDG Mobility

Another busy hour of debating the finer points of tablet usage. I realized halfway through that I should have been performing my chat-host duties on a tablet instead of a tablet–not for intellectual-integrity reasons, but because I was eating lunch as I typed, and it’s easier to wipe crumbs off a screen than to brush them out of a keyboard.

12/13/2013: Unlocking Phones Is One Thing, Unlocking DMCA Regulatory Capture Is Another, Disruptive Competition Project

The major wireless carrier’s agreement to unlock paid-up phones–and to tell their customers when they’ve unlocked that option–has some serious limits, but it still represents a remarkable reversal of where we were 11 months ago, not to mention five years ago.

12/15/2013: Tips on charging devices with your laptop, USA Today

A reader asked a simple question–how do I know if my laptop will charge my phone when asleep–that did not have a simple answer. The column also includes a reminder to check your laptop’s touchpad settings.

On Sulia, I questioned a dubious cable-industry Web ad campaign, shared details of a conversation I had with FreedomPop’s COO about my tepid review of its service, decried the communication breakdown behind Twitter’s quickly-reversed weakening of its “block” feature, pointed readers to an interesting password-testing site mentioned at NCL’s ID-theft conference, and denounced the idea of Sprint angling to buy T-Mobile.

12/17/2013: Corrected Polis’s bio and added a link to video of the ID-theft panel.

DMCA exemptions: requesting permission to innovate (2011 CEA repost)

(Since a site redesign at the Consumer Electronics Association resulted in the posts I wrote for CEA’s Digital Dialogue blog vanishing, along with everything there older than last November, I’m reposting a few that I think still hold up. This one ran Dec. 16, 2011; it may help explain where the last few months of headlines about phone unlocking came from.)

One of the stranger rituals of U.S. tech policy is now unfolding in Washington: the triennial reassessment of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “anti-circumvention” rules.

In this exercise, the Librarian of Congress considers granting exemptions to the DMCA’s ban on picking digital or electronic locks that control access to copyrighted works. The DMCA mandates this review because of the possibility–in retrospect, certainty–of companies abusing their immunity from customer interference with “digital rights management” systems to limit non-infringing uses.

DMCA exemption rulemakingYou may prefer to call this a “requesting permission to innovate” ritual.

In four earlier rounds of exemption proceedings–in 200020032006 and last year–Librarian James H. Billington has inconsistently expanded the range of DMCA exemptions, sometimes taking away earlier permissions.

He legalized hacking into Web-filtering software to inspect lists of blocked sites the first two times but didn’t renew that in 2006. The exemption granted in 2000 for defeating broken DRM mechanisms that wrongly deny access was then narrowed to a loophole for breaking obsolete or malfunctioning “dongle” hardware keys. (A related exemption, covering systems that require presenting an original copy of a program or game in a storage format that has become obsolete, arrived in 2003 but was not renewed in 2010.)

E-book customers won the right in 2003 to hack their DRM if it prevented the use of screen-reader accessibility software and have kept it since, but no equivalent accessibility exemption has been granted for movie viewers. And yet in 2010, the Librarian legalized ripping “protected” DVDs for fair-use criticism and commentary purposes, something still not allowed for DRMed e-books or music.

2006′s exemptions let you unlock a phone to use on a competing network, but 2010′s narrowed that to used phones. But last year’s proceeding also granted the right to jailbreak a phone to install the software of your choice–a big development for iPhone users.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the 20 comments submitted in this year’s proceeding focus on preserving prior gains or ironing out inconsistencies.

For example, a group called the Library Copyright Alliance only wants to renew 2010′s DVD-ripping exemption, while the University of Michigan’s library seeks to have its protected class of students widened beyond those in “film and media studies.”

(Those links and all that follow point to PDF files.)

Public Knowledge wants to see the current DVD rule extended to cover “space shifting” to other formats, noting the increasing number of laptops without DVD drives.

A coalition of Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Gallaudet University and the Participatory Culture Foundation propose granting a broader exemption to make movie downloads, streams and discs accessible to those with hearing or sight impairments.

A group led by the International Documentary Association proposes to expand the same provision to cover Blu-ray discs and movie downloads and streams so that future filmmakers can incorporate fair-use excerpts in documentary or fictional works. A set of professors at the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere make the same request for educational use and are echoed by the University of Rhode Island’s Media Education Lab.

The American Council of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind, meanwhile, want to maintain an exemption for making e-books accessible to readers with limited vision. The Open Book Alliance wants another for removing DRM from books that are already in the public domain.

Mobile devices figure in over a quarter of these submissions. Small wireless firms MetroPCS CommunicationsYoughiogheny Communications and a trade group called RCA – the Competitive Carriers Association all want to renew and expand 2010′s phone-unlocking exemption to cover mobile devices in general, not just phones. Consumers Union concurs.

The Software Freedom Law Center also favors allowing device owners to install the operating system of their choice. It also wants to permit desktop users to bypass any mandatory app stores–although neither Windows nor Mac OS X impose that restriction today.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sent in an all-of-the-above brief backing exemptions for jailbreaking phones, tablets and video-game consoles and another set for unlocking DVDs, downloads and streams to extract fair-use clips.

Four submissions from individuals request blanket waivers on circumvention for personal use; a fifth seeks one for the narrow category of DRMed e-books in the Mobipocket format Amazon no longer supports on its Kindle readers.

We’ll have to wait until sometime in February to see which of these requests get a favorable hearing, or if any of 2010′s exemptions will disappear. That’s plenty of time to contemplate a broader question: If a far-reaching provision of a law carries such a high risk of collateral damage that an unelected official must drill holes into it every three years–and those holes seem to get bigger over time–shouldn’t we think about rebooting that rule?

Weekly output: phone unlocking, iOS and Android video, Google Calendar sync, Tim Berners-Lee

Work finds me in Austin this weekend for the SXSW Interactive festival. I’ll have more about that over the next few days; for now, here’s what I have to show for myself, professionally speaking.

3/5/2013: Unlock And Load: White House Picks Phone Policy Fight, Disruptive Competition  Project

The White House surprised many people with its favorable response to a petition seeking the legalization of unlocking cell phones without carrier permission–it said “yes” and then endorsed the idea that carriers shouldn’t be denying service to unlocked phones from other operators. The latter is a somewhat novel idea in wireless but has been been the law in wired since the FCC’s underappreciated “Carterfone” ruling of 1968. But there are important caveats to the White House’s statement, and noting them helped push this post past 1,000 words.

3/9/2013: Work around video playback issues on your mobile device, USA Today

Like many of my USAT columns, this one started with a question from one of my relatives–my mother-in-law couldn’t watch a video of her grandson in her Yahoo Mail account on our iPad’s copy of Safari. The piece also has a tip updating advice I gave in November about sychronizing Google Calendar with an iOS device.

TBL BoingBoing post3/9/2013: Tim Berners-Lee: The Web needs to stay open, and Gopher’s still not cool., Boing Boing

The inventor of the Web had some interesting things to say in his talk at SXSW; after tweeting out highlights of the keynote, I pitched my editor at Boing Boing via Twitter direct message (making this my fastest salesmanship ever) and wrote up this recap later that afternoon.

On Sulia, you could have read me noting the White House’s phone-unlocking petition response (and, in retrospect, reading a little too much out of it) drawing a lesson for tech journalists from the outrage over EA’s botched SimCity launch, called out two still-absent features in Google’s updated Maps apps for iOS, and applaud the seemingly-impossible success of the free WiFi at SXSW.