April 2009

Breaking news: The Supreme Court as just ruled in the important First Amendment case of Federal Communications Commission v. Fox Television Stations and held in the government’s favor by a 5-4 vote. Decision is here.

My background info about the case is here and will publish some essays throughout the day as I digest the decision. Importantly, the case was decided squarely on procedural grounds, not constitutional grounds. However, Justice Thomas has some very important and interesting things to say about those constitutional issues in his separate concurrence. Coverage from AP, Reuters, and UPI.

The full decision can be viewed below in a Scribd reader:

[Supreme Court Decision] FCC v. Fox 07-582 [Supreme Court Decision] FCC v. Fox 07-582 Adam Thierer

I’ve been quite depressed to witness Bruce Schneier’s ongoing conversion from opponent of government intervention in the high-tech economy (at least on encryption) to vociferous proponent (at least in terms of privacy regulation).  Anyway, his latest cheerleading piece for government privacy regulation in The Wall Street Journal includes lots of fear-mongering about private website data collection for, God forbid, purposes of trying to better target advertising and market us products we might actually want.

Schneier uses the term “deceptive” several times in the piece to refer to privacy policies that don’t make it explicitly clear that some of the information you leave on a site, or that is collected preemptively by them, will be used to craft more targeted marketing efforts.  Like many other would-be privacy regulators, Schneier seemingly wants companies to fly blimps over your desk as you surf the Net with big signs that basically say: ‘Hey stupid, your info may be used to market you stuff.’  It’s hard to be against more disclosure, of course — and most sites spell out what they do with data in their privacy policies — but it never seems to be good enough for most privacy advocates, who paint consumers out to be mindless sheep who cannot be trusted to make wise decisions for themselves.  Sorry, but I just don’t buy it.

Continue reading →

Last week I attended the National Conference of State Legislators spring meeting here in Washington, DC.  One of the panels was called “Social Networking 101”, and it was an interesting inside discussion centered on how legislatures and legislators are using Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking tools. Presenters were Sharon Crouch Steidel (Dir of IT for Virginia House of Delegates), Rep. Steve Harrelson from Arkansas, and Pam Greenberg of NCSL.

Rep. Harrelson described three main reasons for legislators to blog: (1) Immediacy – can get in front of the media story; (2) No filters – can tell the story how you want to, and can tell the whole story; (3) Transparency – tell constituents reasons for votes. His blog is amazingly complete.

According to Harrelson, his blog readers care more about politics, not policy issues. Reader traffic spikes when Harrelson talks about who was at what dinner/social event, or who is running for what seat, or committee maneuvering.  One consideration is whether to allow readers to comment and if so, do you censor? Harrelson does not censor, and wonders whether it would be unconstitutional for him to do so using a state computer on state time.

Speakers complained about a flood of email. Policymakers hate canned email and they hate it when they can’t tell if email is actually from a constituent. Legislators and IT directors struggle with how to use social media for effective dialogues, not just emails that say “I support HB 555” 30,000 times. They also want technology that forces users to input their addresses, so they can have constituent mail readily identified.

Virginia is moving toward the use of Wikis for current bills. Continue reading →

Uncork New Jersey

by on April 27, 2009 · 133 comments


If you’re from New Jersey and you like to drink wine — or just feel strongly that government shouldn’t be protecting alcohol distributors at the expense of competition and consumers — go to the UncorkNJ website and send a letter to your local representative in the General Assembly. New Jerseyans are barred from buying wine over the Web, and having it shipped to their home. The time to disintermediate is now!

Vivek Kundra spoke to a 150+ crowd at a Northern Virginia Technology Counsel event on Saturday morning in Tysons Corner. He has his speech crafted pretty well at this point, but did have interesting responses to one question on open standards from someone who said he was affiliated with the W3C, and another question about cloud computing.

One questioner asked about Kundra’s commitment to open standards as a way to increase government accountability and transparency. Kundra responded by differentiating between open data and open standards. He said that he’s deeply committed to opening up data to make it machine readable and easier for people to use/mix/mash. But, open standards is different — technology changes so fast that by the time one standard comes along, there’s another, and another, which is why government can’t lock-in on one standard.

Responding to another question about government use of cloud computing, Kundra was enthusiastic. He said that government should absolutely use lightweight consumer-based technology “for free” whenever it can. He did not define “free” which left me wondering what he meant exactly by free (call me skeptical, but nothing’s really free). Of course there are security issues, he said, but these can be addressed.

He also differentiated his role as CIO with Chopra’s role as CTO. Chopra will be responsible for crafting policy toward helath IT, education, and energy. Kundra manages the 10,000 federal IT systems and will focus on consolidation, cost-reduction and procurement.

Two phrases that Kundra uses over and over are “democratizing data” and using IT to create a “context-driven government.” Sounds good — and will be even better if the entrenched bureaucracy allows the conceptual sound bites to become reality.

New Jerseyans may get a chance to vote their Fourth Amendment preferences in the upcoming gubernatorial elections. Among the candidates is Chris Christie, who as U.S. Attorney for New Jersey authorized the tracking of suspects’ cell phones without getting a warrant.

I’ve been helping to organize this year’s CFP, which is consistently one of the most interesting and forward-looking privacy conferences. Here’s the program as it now stands.

Register now as an early-bird – prices rise May 1.

Here’s a terrific piece by Harry McCracken over at Technologizer asking “Whatever Happened to the Top 15 Web Properties of April, 1999?”  McCracken goes through the hottest web properties of April 1999 and asks, “How many of 1999’s Web giants remain gigantic today — assuming they still exist at all?”  Instead of reproducing his entire list here, I’ll just encourage you to go over to Technologizer and check it out for yourself, especially because McCracken also compares the old list to today’s top 15 Web properties.  Anyway, here’s the key takeaway from his piece:

to summarize, four of April 1999’s top Web properties remain in the top fifteen (plus AltaVista, Excite, and GeoCities, which are extant and part of top-10 properties). Four more are in the top 50, or are part of properties that are. Two exist but have fallen out of the top 50. And two (Xoom and Snap) no longer exist. Bottom line: If you were one of the Web’s biggest properties a decade ago, chances are high that you remain in business in some form in 2009… but you probably aren’t still a giant.

In other words, it’s a dynamic marketplace with a lot of churn and creative destruction. Sure, some big dogs from the late 90s remain (Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, and CNet). But they have all been humbled to some extent.  Moreover, lots and lots of other players were driven from the top ranks or disappeared altogether. (GeoCities, Lycos, Excite, AltaVista, Xoom, Snap).  And there have been new technologies, platforms, and players that have come out of nowhere in a very short time to become the household names of 2009 (Google, Facebook, MySpace, Wikipedia).  But, as McCracken points out, it’s anyone’s guess which of today’s top Web properties will still be booming in 2019.   Anyway, I encourage you to check out McCracken’s very interesting essay, and if you find this sort of restrospective piece interesting, you might also want to check out my essay from earlier this year, “10 Years Ago Today… Thinking About Technological Progress“.

The supposed top finding of a new report commissioned by the British telecom regulator Ofcom is that we won’t need any QoS (quality of service) or traffic management to accommodate next generation video services, which are driving Internet traffic at consistently high annual growth rates of between 50% and 60%. TelecomTV One headlined, “Much ado about nothing: Internet CAN take video strain says UK study.”

But the content of the Analysys Mason (AM) study, entitled “Delivering High Quality Video Services Online,” does not support either (1) the media headline — “Much ado about nothing,” which implies next generation services and brisk traffic growth don’t require much in the way of new technology or new investment to accommodate them — or (2) its own “finding” that QoS and traffic management aren’t needed to deliver these next generation content and services.

For example, AM acknowledges in one of its five key findings in the Executive Summary:

innovative business models might be limited by regulation: if the ability to develop and deploy novel approaches was limited by new regulation, this might limit the potential for growth in online video services.

In fact, the very first key finding says:

A delay in the migration to [British Telecom’s next generation] 21CN-based bitstream products may have a negative impact on service providers that use current bitstream products, as growth in consumption of video services could be held back due to the prohibitive costs of backhaul capacity to support them on the legacy core network. We believe that the timely migration to 21CN will be important in enabling significant take-up of online video services at prices that are reasonable for consumers.

So very large investments in new technologies and platforms are needed, and new regulations that discourage this investment could delay crucial innovations on the edge. Sounds like much ado about something, something very big. Continue reading →

My friend Anne Collier of Net Family News, one of America’s great sages on child safety issues, has produced a terrific list of reasons “Why Technopanics are Bad.”  Technopanics and moral panics are topics I’ve spent quite a bit of time commenting on here. (See 1, 2, 3, 4.) Anne is a rare voice of sanity and sensible advice when it comes to online child safety issues and I encourage you to read all her excellent work on the subject, including her book with Larry Magid, MySpace Unraveled: A Parent’s Guide to Teen Social Networking.  Anyway, here’s Anne’s list, and I encourage you to go over to her site and contribute your thoughts and suggestions about what else to add:

Technopanics are bad because they…

  • Cause fear, which interferes with parent-child communication, which in turn puts kids at greater risk.
  • Cause schools to fear and block digital media when they need to be teaching constructive use, employing social-technology devices and teaching new media literacy and citizenship classes throughout the curriculum.
  • Turn schools into barriers rather than contributors to young people’s constructive use.
  • Increase the irrelevancy of school to active young social-technology users via the sequestering or banning of educational technology and hamstring some of the most spirited and innovative educators.
  • Distract parents, educators, policymakers from real risks – including, for example, child-pornography laws that do not cover situations where minors can simultaneously be victim and “perpetrator” and, tragically, become registered sex offenders in cases where there no criminal intent (e.g., see this).
  • Reduce the competitiveness of US education among developed countries already effectively employing educational technology and social media in schools.
  • Reduce the competitiveness of US technology and media businesses practicing good corporate citizenship where youth online safety is concerned.
  • Lead to bad legislation, which aggravates above outcomes and takes the focus off areas where good laws on the books can be made relevant to current technology use.
  • Widen the participation gap for youth – technopanics are barriers for children and teens to full, constructive participation in participatory culture and democracy.