Archive

Archive for April, 2012

Google Says “It’s Our Web”–and they bought it fair and square

April 23, 2012 Comments off

Who can forget then-candidate Ronald Reagan’s classic line at the 1980 New Hampshire candidate’s debate:  “I’m paying for this microphone!”  And Google probably is wishing that whichever Ivy League idiot thought of rebranding their anti-SOPA campaign site with the double entendre “It’s Our Web” had not been quite so…uh..transparent…about it all.

Because it certainly is “their web” and they bought it fair and square according to the New York Times:

With Congress and privacy watchdogs breathing down its neck, Google is stepping up its lobbying presence inside the Beltway — spending more than Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft combined in the first three months of the year.

Google spent $5.03 million on lobbying from January through March of this year, a record for the Internet giant, and a 240 percent increase from the $1.48 million it spent on lobbyists in the same quarter a year ago, according to disclosures filed Friday with the clerk of the House.

Five Million DollarsIn the first three months of the year.   Now…what else happened in the first 3 months of this year?

Ah yes.  The Google Spring.

Keep this in mind–this is $5 million of actual lobbying expenditures that must be disclosed by law.  This is not the total that Google spent on its public affairs campaign against SOPA.  This is just the part that they are required to disclose, that they must disclose, that even Google is compelled to disclose by necessity.

And it’s not the necessity of Google’s disclosure that causes the company to file these disclosures.  It is the reciprocal burden on “covered officials” who will stop talking to Google if Google fails to disclose these expenditures.  THAT is why Google files these disclosures and what you should have learned about the company by now is that they are doing the absolute minimum that they can get away with when it comes to complying with the laws the rest of the 99.9999999999% have to live under.  Let’s say you don’t care about promoting the sale of controlled substances, human trafficking, or copyright infringement and that the company’s reprehensible behavior in those areas doesn’t move you.

Let’s say you don’t care about the antitrust laws, using monopoly power to bankrupt competitors, and stealing the cultural heritage of nations, either.

And let’s say that you don’t care about how Google promotes Android as the Joe Camel of privacy, either.

You must have noticed, however, that Google completely stonewalled the FCC just last week and refused to cooperate with the Commission’s investigation into Google’s “snooper scooper” practices of snarfing up personal information from unsuspecting consumers while Google was simultaneously taking pictures of their homes.

So what about stonewalling the government says “full disclosure” to you when it comes to lobbying?

Google, of course, really stepped up its lobbying campaign–some staffers have suggested that they had two lobbyists or consultants for each Member of Congress.  Google’s lobbying expenditures had already tripled to $3.76M in Q4 2011, and that doesn’t count what it spends on the union buster Net Coalition, Public Knowledge, EFF, ACLU, and so on and so on and so on.

Nancy Pelosi (CA-D) and Darrell Issa (CA-R) publicly came out against SOPA shortly after Google’s testified against SOPA. Google is the 8th-largest contributor to Nancy Pelosi and is listed as a top 3 contributor to Darrel Issa on OpenSecrets.org. Facebook is also listed as a top Pelosi contributor.  (Issa, incidentally, is the richest Member of Congress.)

The Pelosi connection is also of interest because Erik Stallman reportedly joined the Net Coalition lobbying firm Holch & Erickson as “retained counsel” right about that Google’s anti SOPA campaign heated up–until January 2011 Stallman had served as chief technology counsel to House Minority Leader and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  Net Coalition circulated the union busting flyers at meetings of conservative organizations in Washington and seems to be leading Google’s dirty tricks campaign against organized labor who opposed Google on rogue sites.

Oh, and that $5 million?  That doesn’t include what Google paid Net Coalition.

MTP readers will remember the excellent article by David Rodnitsky “Lobbyists 1, Internet 0: An Alternative Take on SOPA” that describes the anti-SOPA astroturf campaign–required reading now that we know that Google’s disclosed lobbying cash was nearly $10 million for Q4 2011 and Q1 2012.

Google’s response?

“As we have seen over the last year, there are a number of technology issues being debated in Washington,” said Samantha Smith, a Google spokeswoman, in an e-mail message. “These are important issues and it should be expected that we would want to help people understand our business.”

That would be Samantha Smith, former Press Secretary to Senator Richard Burr and current Senior Associate for Policy Communications at Google’s Washington, DC digs.  You’ll find her listed in the “Revolving Door” section on Open Secrets.  I guess the Times missed that.

But–we’re not quite ready to let the New York Times off the hook just yet.

In the April 15 issue of the Times, we find an article entitled “White House Doors Open for Big Donors” that starts out this way:

Last May, as a battle was heating up between Internet companies and Hollywood over how to stop online piracy, a top entertainment industry lobbyist landed a meeting at the White House with one of President Obama’s technology advisers.

The lobbyist did not get there by himself.

He was accompanied by Antoinette C. Bush, a well-connected Washington lawyer who has represented companies like Viacom, Sony and News Corporation for 30 years. A friend of the president and a cousin of his close aide Valerie B. Jarrett, Ms. Bush has been to the White House at least nine times during his term, taking lobbyists along on a few occasions, joining an invitation-only forum about intellectual property, and making social visits with influential friends.

Ah yes.  Hollywood lobbyists got access to the Obama White House about SOPA.  There is not one word in this entire article about Google, even though the authors point out that Tony Podesta of the Podesta Group visited the White House with his client Amgen, a pharmaceutical company.

That would be Viacom that is suing Google and just won an appellate victory against the company, and a pharma company–Google paid $500,000,000 to avoid an indictment for promoting the importation of controlled substances.

And Podesta Group?  $480,000 from Google in 2011 and Lord knows how much so far this year.

But Google is not mentioned once in the NYT article on lobbying–including lobbying by Google’s most highly paid lobbyists.

The article uses charts and graphs of political donations to President Obama to conclude “Major Givers are More Likely to Get White House Access”.

OK, fine.  The NYT gets a fish and a pat on the head.  How about the part they missed?

How about really major givers are more likely to get a White House job.

Yes, his name is Andrew McLaughlin.

Former Google executive Andrew McLaughlin’s resignation last week as the White House’s No. 2 technology expert has stirred up questions about how the search giant has been influencing the national debates over Do Not Track and net neutrality.

Oh, and “last week” was Christmas Week, 2010.  Nice and quiet.  And poof, he was gone–after some really embarassing revelations obtained through FOIAs that showed McLaughlin in direct email communications–undisclosed and illegal communications–using his private Gmail account in violation of many, many laws.  Gmails with Markham Erickson of Net Coalition (remember him?) and Alan Davidson, head lobbyist for Google.  And just like Google was allowed to pay a fine to avoid jail for violating laws on controlled substances, Andrew McLaughlin got a deal and has never been prosecuted or formally investigated (despite saber rattling by Congressman Issa at the time).

Andrew we hardly knew ye.  But not something that the New York Times felt the need to include in their article about entertainment and pharma lobbyists getting access to the White House.

I guess the article was about access to the White House–not about people who were already inside the White House.  Silly me.

Lobbying, you see, takes many forms.  One is propaganda.

But after all–Google paid for their microphone.  They bought it fair and square.

See also, Is Android the Joe Camel of Privacy?

#NewMusic Weekend: Cooper Formant, Dry the River, Little Comets, The Cast of Cheers, Jake Bugg

April 22, 2012 Comments off

Top 5 staff picks this week from Semaphore Music

1.  Cooper Formant (Brooklyn) “Grace” @cooperformant

2.  Dry the River (London) “No Rest” @drytheriver

3.  Little Comets (Jarrow) “Her Black Eyes” @littlecomets

4.  The Cast of Cheers (Dublin) “Animals” @thecastofcheers

5.  Jake Bugg (Nottingham) “Trouble Town” @jakebugg

UPDATE: It’s Getting to be a Habit: Google Stonewalls and Takes the 5th

April 21, 2012 Comments off

UPDATE: Within hours of the FCC’s wristslap on Google for obfuscating an investigation into why Google was sucking down all kinds of private data with its creepy cars, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FCC to force the FCC to release an unredacted version of the FCC’s order to Google.

So why were there redactions in the first place?  The FCC Rules state that, when the Commission publishes opinions, orders, policy statements, or certain other documents, the Commission may “delete identifying details or confidential information.”  47 C.F.R. § 0.445(g).  Such deletions may be made to the extent they are required to prevent “a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, or to prevent disclosure of information required or authorized to be withheld by another statute.”  When such deletions are made, the FCC must fully explain the justification for the deletions in a preamble to the document.

The document’s author, P. Michelle Ellison, failed to include the required preamble explaining the copious redactions in the Notice of Apparent Liability (or “NAL”) issued to Google.  There is a single reference in footnote 9: “Throughout this Notice of Apparent Liability, we use aliases or redact the names of Google employees to protect their privacy.”  That’s it.  While there are references in the NAL to Google unilaterally redacting documents it produced to the FCC, there is no discussion in the NAL itself of why redactions were made to the NAL (not quoting documents Google itself redacted when produced, but redactions to the language of the NAL).

Neither is there a discusison of who directed that redactions be made to the NAL, if the redactions were made at the request of a third party–oh, I don’t know, maybe someone at Google.  And of course, if if the redactions were made at Google’s request, then presumably Google was invited to review the NAL before it was released, just in case they had any comments on language changes or stylistic comments.  Or maybe Google got an apology from the FCC like they got from the Justice Department over the Google Drugs case?  Who knows.

The FCC’s general rule is that documents are available for public inspection  (47 C.F.R. § 0.451)  although, the FCC does classify certain records as “not routinely available for public inspection.”  This group of records includes those materials that are specifically categorized as confidential in the FCC rules, as well as those materials that are withheld from public inspection on the basis of a specific confidentiality request from the person submitting them.  Id.; 47 C.F.R. § 0.457; 47 C.F.R. § 0.459.  The FCC rules state that “[t]he Commission has determined that there is a statutory basis for withholding” all such records.  47 C.F.R. § 0.451.

Fine–but if they rely on this language at the FCC, that still does not seem to explain the redactionf from the NAL itself.

For a little comic relief–see John Stewart’s bit “Money Gall” on the Daily Show that lampoons Google’s crony treatment by the FCC.

__________________________

Google has once again managed to delay and obfuscate their way into defying the U.S. government–the duly designated representatives of the American people.  But why should we be left out?  They do it everywhere else, too.

On this latest occasion, Google defied the FCC–not by standing up and challenging them, but by refusing to comply with lawful orders about a matter of considerable public consequence.  Once again, the issue is privacy–not Google users who arguably have somehow consented to be spied upon.  This time it is the public in general who might not have guessed that their privacy was being invaded even further by Google’s cars driving around taking pictures of their homes–and simultaneously snooping on any unprotected WiFi connections that were available to the data sniffer secretly placed in the Street View cars.  Meaning if your WiFi is not encrypted and Google’s car drove past your house, the data sniffer made a copy of whatever it could grab out of the air, including, as you will see, emails, passwords, chats and anything else it could grab.

So while you might have been cheese about having a picture taken of your house, imagine how cheesed you’d be if you knew that Google was simultaneously making a copy of anything on your unprotected WiFi connection.

According to the FCC:

Between May 2007 and May 2010, as part of its Street View project, Google Inc. collected data from Wi-Fi networks throughout the United States and around the world.  The purpose of Google’s Wi-Fi data collection initiative was to capture information about Wi-Fi networks that the Google could use to help establish users’ locations and provide location-based services. But Google also collected ”payload” data-the content of Internet communications-that was not needed for its location database project. This payload data included e-mail and text messages, passwords, Internet usage history, and other highly sensitive personal information.

And what kind of information did Google snoop on?

“[T]he full names, telephone numbers, and addresses of many [citizens]. We also found complete email messages, along with email headers, IP addresses, machine hostnames, and the contents of cookies, instant messages and chat sessions…instances of particularly sensitive information, including computer login credentials (i.e., usernames and passwords), the details of legal infractions, and certain medical listings….e-mail passwords and 774 distinct e-mail addresses, including “an exchange of e-mails between a married woman and man, both seeking an extra-marital relationship,” from which first names, e-mail addresses, and physical addresses could be discerned…web addresses that revealed the sexual preferences of consumers at specific residences….chat traffic, URLs, passwords, and video and audio files, some of which was highly sensitive..it was “possible to link several packets from Internet user to each other, and in doing so construct an accurate picture of the communication of an often identifiable user.”

So the FCC managed to piece together a pretty good idea of what Google was up to and it was this.  While these creepy cars were driving around the creepy line, we are told these creepy Googlers were, of course, collecting data on anything that wasn’t nailed down.  All of which, by the way, could now theoretically be shared by Google Maps with any other Google data. 

When the FCC called Google out about what in the world it was doing, Google essentially refused to answer, refused to identfy Google personnel involved, had its principal engineer refuse to answer FCC questions on grounds that it might incriminate him (also called taking the 5th) and was generally uncooperative.  The FCC issued a wide ranging request for documents and information to give Google a chance to explain this rather obvious breach of the consumers’ right to privacy.  Did Google comply in order to maximize transparency? 

If you even asked yourself that question in the privacy of your own thoughts, you really have no idea who you are dealing with.

Here’s what Google did:

When Google responded to the [FCC] on December 10, 2010, it produced only five documents. Google’s document production included no e-mails, and Google admitted that it had “not undertaken a comprehensive review of email or other communications,” because doing so “would be a time-consuming and burdensome task.”  Google also failed to identify any of the individuals responsible for authorizing its collection of Wi-Fi data or any employees who had reviewed or analyzed Wi-Fi communications collected by Google.  Indeed, Google redacted the names of its engineers from the few documents that were produced.  Google asserted that identifying its employees “at this stage serves no useful purpose with respect to whether the facts and circumstances give rise to a violation” of the [Wiretap Act].”

In other words–Google told the FCC that they can take whatever they want whenever they want and if you think you can stop them FCC, then you can eat it and bark at the moon.

So once again, Google delays, obfuscates, impedes investigations and displays extraordinary hubris to the government of the United States and representatives of the people.  Particularly arrogant for a government contractor.  The FCC concluded:

Obtaining the documents and information that Google should have provided in December 2010 delayed the Bureau’s investigation and required considerable effort on the part of Commission staff that should not have been necessary. Google failed to provide a single e-mail in response to the [FCC's request] until April2011-more than four months after submitting its initial…response.  Google also waited until then to identify individuals who worked on the Street View project.  It was not until September 2011 that Google–having received five separate demands from Commission staff-finally provided compliant declarations with respect to the accuracy and completeness of Google’s submissions. Under the circumstances, Google’s incomplete responses…constitute willful and repeated violations of Commission orders.

And what happens?  Google gets a $25,000 fine and that’s the end of it.  And they will probably appeal that.

So Google REALLY doesn’t want to give the FCC the Street View sniffing data or tell the FCC anything about who was involved or anything else.  And whatever it is they are hiding is worth getting called out by the FCC and having their employees take the 5th.  Exactly which crime was this employee worried about incriminating himself over?

And Google’s response according to Consumer Affairs?

In a masterpiece of non-responsive rhetoric, worthy of being tagged as “inoperative” by onetime Nixon aide Ron Nessen, a Google spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal: “We worked in good faith to answer the FCC’s questions throughout the inquiry, and we are pleased that they have concluded that we complied with the law.”

Now wait a minute…I could have sworn I was on planet Earth….

Or as Sergey Brin said,  “If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great.”

Ahem…so to summarize:

The FCC did not make any finding that Google did not violate any laws.

The FCC found that Google refused to comply with even the most basic requests from investigators — claiming, for example, that searching its own employee emails “would be a time-consuming and burdensome task” and refusing access to key employees.

Most importantly, the FCC found that Google’s refusal to cooperate  prevented the FCC from being able to determine whether Google’s conduct violated the law.

This is very similar to what happened in Korea where Google tried to obstruct an investigation by Korean authorities investigating WiFi sniffing by Google in their country (http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57354092-93/google-reportedly-faces-maximum-fine-from-korean-trustbuster/)

Maybe what Brin is really saying is that it would be great if Google could wave a magic wand and not be subject to any laws at all.  In any event, Google’s FCC strategy is very reminiscent of Eric Schmidt’s own testimony before the U.S. Senate Antitrust Subcommittee where he obfuscated and refused to answer questions on the advice of counsel.  It’s getting to be a habit.

Reason to Believe: Helienne Lindvall on Being Muzzled

April 19, 2012 Comments off

In a scene that could have been painted by Hieronymus Bosch or written by Franz Kafka, or illustrated by Lewis Carroll, Helienne Lindvall tells of being invited to that august body, the European Parliament.  The topic that brought out all these democrats?  A “debate” on the Anticonterfeiting Trade Agreement or ACTA.  Helienne Lindvall was invited to speak to represent artists–the last group that any of the ACTA opponents want to hear from.

How do I know this?  Am I just setting up the “Night of the Living Straw Men”?  No–we are blessed to have the antiproperty rights movement’s organizer’s manual as a guide on this issue, the detailed chapters of “Defeating ACTA for Dummies” which lays out many of these strategies put in use by those opposed to property rights, especially copyright and most especially artist rights.

Ms. Lindvall was asked to speak at a European Parliament hearing held by the socialist faction of which I believe the Swedish Pirate Party is a member.  (Ms. Lindvall is a songwriter based in London of Swedish descent.)  Ms. Lindvall also writes the excellent music business column for the Guardian, “Behind the Music” and posted about her experiences in the European Parliament “Supporting Copyright is not the Same as Opposing Freedom of Speech.”  So when they invited her to speak, we should not be surprised that she actually prepared for the hearing by…wait for it…reading ACTA and researching the issues:

I’d heard from the Pirate party as well as some other action groups that [ACTA] would impede freedom of speech so naturally I was concerned – after all, musicians rely on freedom of expression, as do journalists. I was surprised to find that ACTA would do nothing of the sort. In fact, it wouldn’t change any existent laws in the EU.

So what should she expect at the European Parliament at the hands of its well-known democrats?  We can turn to the anti-property rights organizers manual for guidance.  Winning the Web tells us:

“Often representing the world’s biggest multinational corporations, [lobbyists] hijack a narrative that belongs to poor artists struggling in garrets and use the considerable profits they have made from exploiting these artists in the twentieth century to access the  corridors of power and make their case.”

[A]s the [Open Rights Group] campaign suggests, campaigners are often faced with simple, instinctually appealing messages from the other side (“artists need to get paid”) that are difficult to beat with a focus on the IP mechanism.

The campaign against ACTA presents an opportunity for campaigners to forge a strong, common message about IP reform that is a good fit for describing the right for citizens of the developing world to have access to medicine and an equally good fit for the right for consumers in the developed world to have access to innovation in music services. That is quite some challenge. As one campaigner observed: There’s a consensus view on IP which is wrong. It’s the wrong vision, but it’s is a very well known and popularised and famous vision. The critique of this vision is fragmented. It is associated with piracy and ‘we don’t want to pay’ and, you know, ‘no business model’ and a sort of hippydom”

In other words, the anti-property “campaigners” are conciously developing a message that will trade on “civil rights” arguments (as we saw with the campaign against SOPA) to avoid the “starving in a garrett” reality.

Ms. Lindvall ran into these strategists head on in her appearance in the EU Parliament–which obviously was being stage managed.

It soon became clear that my preparations were in vain. Halfway through my speech I was told by the moderator to be silent. She later told me this was because some people in the auditorium had started talking, which turned out to be a tried and tested way to silence those who were speaking in favour of the agreement. For example, a professor of copyright – who was expressly anti-copyright – pretended to play a sad violin when the European Commission representative clarified what the agreement actually said, laughed out loud in the middle of speeches and started conversations with those sitting next to him as soon as someone not agreeing with him spoke. There’s a certain irony in claiming to be a proponent of free speech while actively trying to silence those who don’t agree with you.

Ms. Lindvall’s account of her experience of being used in the latest production of “Night of the Living Straw Persons” served up by opponents of the human rights of artists is a must read for artists and anyone who cares about free expression.

Please read her Guardian column “Supporting Copyright Is Not the Same As Opposing Freedom of Speech”.

Would Lofgren Like Yet Another Apology to Google?

April 18, 2012 Comments off

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-Google) blasted U.S. Register of Copyright Maria Pallante because of the Register’s statement of the law regarding the purpose of copyright as well as meetings that the Register of Copyrights took with companies in the copyright business at the Copyright Office (i.e., not at Caribou Coffee, the coffee shop across the street from the White House where the elites meet).  Lofgren complained that this was somehow inappropriate.

That rang a distant bell somewhere, and then I remembered where I’d heard that kind of beefing from Google before.  It was in an email from the recently departed head lobbyist for Google, Alan Davidson, to the former head lobbyist for Google, Andrew McLaughlin who was at the time employed by the President of the United States:

Perhaps Ms. Lofgren would like the Register to apologize to Google as the Wall Street Journal reported that Google’s lawyers said the United States Department of Justice did over the inconvenience of a U.S. Attorney discussing Google’s sale of advertising to promote the importation of controlled substances into the United States.  By all indications, Messrs Davidson and McLaughlin would think that apology idea was just peachy and in keeping with the moral compass of the Coffee Generation.

#NewMusic Weekend: Los Van Van, Terry Malts, Bobby Tank, Tom Williams and the Boat, Alkaline Trio

April 13, 2012 Comments off

Top 5 staff picks of the week from Semaphore Music

1.  Los Van Van (Habana) “Aqua” @losvanvan

2.  Terry Malts (Redwood City) “Distracted” @terrymaltshuh

3.  Bobby Tank (London) “Afterburn” @bobbytank

4.  Tom Williams and The Boat (London) “Teenage Blood” @tomwilliamsboat

5.  Alkaline Trio (McHenry) “The American Scream” @alkaline_trio

“It’s Our Web”: Is Google Too Big to Govern?

April 12, 2012 Comments off

Google’s latest lobbying effort makeover (“It’s Our Web”) comes on the eve of what will either be a hard jerk on the reins at the European Commission or a lobbying first–a company that is too big to govern no matter what it does.

One always has to wonder how certain stories get written in the press, but one today caught my eye on the Dow Jones News Service.

Deal over change of business practice more likely than full-blown legal proceedings.

The European Commission, Europe’s antitrust regulator, will decide this month on the next steps in its probe into the dominance of search giant Google Inc.– and some kind of agreement over a change of business practice looks more likely than full-blown legal proceedings against the company, according to lawyers.

“A settlement is an attractive route,” said Becket McGrath, a partner at Edwards Wildman who worked at the U.K.’s Office of Fair Trading on cases in the technology sector, who doesn’t act for any of the parties involved.”Google is very well resourced and the allegations go to the heart of what it does. This would therefore be a hard case for the Commission to fight all the way.”

The commission’s antitrust office began investigating Google’s dominance in online search back in December 2010, after complaints from companies including other search engines that it is abusing its search monopoly to thwart competition by demoting competitors when ranking search results. Position in a Google search result can make or break an online business….Google was used for 95% of searches, and 98% of searches made from mobile devices in Europe in the year to March 2012….”

Let’s be clear–if the Commission does not move to protect Google’s competitors from the kinds of hostile business practices that put Google in what will be a landmark investigation, these businesses will likely go out of business and in short order.

And as much as Google would like to make the investigation about people who can’t compete asking government to give them an advantage in search results, that issue is a red herring being drug around the stage.  The main issue is not how search ranks results relative to each other, it is how Google ranks its own products in its search results–the same issue that came up at a recent hearing of the U.S. Senate Antitrust Subcommittee.

After examining these issues at a hearing of the Antitrust Subcommittee (The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition? Before the Subcomm.on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights of  S. Comm. on the Judiciary, 112th Cong., 1st  Sess. (September 21, 2011)),  Subcommittee Chairman Herb Kohl and Ranking Member Senator Mike Lee wrote an interesting letter to the Federal Trade Commission that called on the FTC to continue its investigation of Google with vigor.

Senators Kohl and Lee commended to the FTC as evidence of the need for a deep investigation into Google this exchange before their subcommittee regarding statements made by a senior Google executive in the video below (which you can watch in context):

“As discussed at our Subcommittee hearing, Marissa Mayer, Google’s Vice President of Local, Maps, and Location Services, admitted in a 2007 speech that Google did in fact preference its own websites. She acknowledged that, in the past, Google ranked links ‘based on popularity … but when we roll[ed] out Google Finance, we did put the Google link first. It seems only fair, right? We do all the work for the search page and all these other things, so we do put it first … That has actually been our policy, since then … So for Google Maps again, it’s the first link, so on and so forth. And after that it’s ranked usually by popularity.’ In response to written follow-up questions asking whether her statement was an accurate statement of Google policy, Eric Schmidt stated that ‘it is my understanding that she was referring to the placement of links within a one box … and her description was accurate.’

While the basis for Mr. Schmidt’s “understanding” is not clear, even if her statement was in fact limited to the “one box” result, this is a clear admission of preferencing Google results. As consumer surveys show that 88 percent of consumers click on one of the first three links, these statements appear significant when analyzing Google’s potentially anti-competitive practices.”

At the same hearing, Senators Blumenthal and Franken drove the point home:

Senator Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut [told Google's Eric Schmidt:] “You run the racetrack, own the racetrack, you didn’t have horses for a while but now you do and your horses seem to be winning.” To which his colleague from Minnesota, Al Franken, joked: “Google might be doping the horses.”

But almost more importantly in the grand scheme of things, if the reason that the European Commission does not challenge Google is because it is “very well resourced” and “[t]his would therefore be a hard case for the Commission to fight all the way” something very fundamental has changed in the role of government.

A vast, clearly dominant multinational corporation can run roughshod over European businesses because it is too big to govern.  This is the point of concern to the local European companies and associations who filed complaints with the EC, including the German associations for newspaper and magazine publishers as well as the Spanish association of newspaper publishers.

The European Union can manage to screw up their currency, send shudders through the world financial markets because of grossly irresponsible monetary policy, but the European Commission folds its tents when it comes to governing Google?

Let’s hope this is not the case.

It’s not our web, it’s their web.  And don’t you forget it.

UPDATE: Bubbleriders and the Problem with the JOBS Act and Equity Crowdfunding

April 11, 2012 Comments off

UPDATE: President Obama signed the JOBS Act, a piece of legislation championed by lobbyists like Kate Mitchell according to the Wall Street Journal:

“An outgoing chairman of the National Venture Capital Association and a Democratic campaign donor, Ms. Mitchell accepted an invitation to join a panel discussion at the Treasury Department in March 2011. Secretary Tim Geithner had called the public meeting in part to examine the causes of the IPO decline and to explore solutions….Unofficially dubbed the “Mitchell Commission” but never enjoying official status, her group of entrepreneurs, investors, academics and accountants set to work with little public fanfare [or transparency]. Outside of government, they could move quickly, and were supported by big names like former AOL CEO Steve Case and a Who’s Who of company founders from Silicon Valley—a place where both parties like to raise money. Twitter founder Biz Stone and Pay Pal founder Max Levchin were among those supporting reform.”

Matt Tiabbi summed it up in Rolling Stone:

In fact, one could say this law is not just a sweeping piece of deregulation that will have an increase in securities fraud as an accidental, ancillary consequence. No, this law actually appears to have been specifically written to encourage fraud in the stock markets.

Well…it is an election year, ain’t it?

Andrew Orlowski’s take is trenchant as usual:

What crowd-funding really does is take the “find a bigger idiot” principle and add internet-scale economics to it. You no longer needed to know just a few, big idiots – as long as you can find a larger number of smaller idiots, you could make it up with volume.

Remember heyidiot.com from 1999?  They’re back!

Are you mystified by how priceline.com, a tiny, money-losing outfit that sells airline tickets and hotel reservations, can have a bigger market value than Delta Air Lines, a real company that has 70,000 employees? Then visit HeyIdiot.com. The site, which calls itself a “cash portal,” sells one product — shares in HeyIdiot.com: “You can buy as much stock as you want with the only rule being that each new purchase must be executed at a successively higher price.” A funny idea — made even more amusing by the fact that two of the site’s creators are prominent Silicon Valley CEOs: Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Network Computer’s Mitchell Kertzman. [Larry Ellison is the guy with the beard facing Obama in the picture above.]

The JOBS Act is the codification of heyidiot.com and Lessig’s “hybrid culture” tells you how to get free labor so you don’t have to share the bubbles in your little tub with anyone.  See Flickr, Myspace, YouTube, Instagram–shall I go on?

See also excellent coverage by Andrew Orlowski at The Register and Matt Tiabbi in Rolling Stone.  Also worth a read is Matt Tiabbi’s 2010 article “The Great American Bubble Machine” and Eric Janszen’s 2008 article “The Next Bubble” in Harper’s.

_____________________________

The U.S. Congress passed the JOBS (Jumpstart our Business Startups) Act, and President Obama is expected to sign it.  The JOBS Act gives the SEC 270 days to draft regulations to implement crowd-funding of startups. SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro has stated that 18 months is a more likely target for the SEC to promulgate regulations (which is where the action will be).

The JOBS Act would allow equity investment over the Internet, which is difficult due to the disclosure requirements under U.S. securities laws (as a crowdsourced equity investment would be, or be sufficiently like, selling stock).  The New York Times opposed these provisions of the bill (“They Have Very Short Memories“):

House Republicans, Senate Democrats and President Obama have found something they can all support: a terrible package of bills that would undo essential investor protections, reduce market transparency and distort the efficient allocation of capital….[The legislation] would permit “crowd funding” — raising money from small investors through the Internet — without requiring those companies to provide meaningful disclosure and without adequate oversight by the Securities and Exchange Commission. John Coffee Jr., a securities law expert, has dubbed that the “Boiler Room Legalization Act.”

If the Dot Bomb Bubble is any indicator, I’m inclined to agree with the New York Times that the first place that reduced oversight would be abused is Silicon Valley.

As attractive as the opportunities of the JOBS Act may be for crowd sourced film making, you can also expect the EFF crowd to lead the charge on crowd funding for the next Grooveshark, or ten or 20.

Wall Street Journal Asks “Did DOJ Apologize to Google for US Attorney’s Comments?”

April 10, 2012 Comments off

This is an interesting developing story.  According to the Wall Street Journal (and the hearing transcript):

“The U.S. attorney in Rhode Island went off the reservation and gave a long interview about all the evidence and why it was he was so excited about the case,” lawyer Boris Feldman told the judge at a Delaware state court. “It ended up being so far off the reservation that the Justice Department apologized to Google for it and muzzled him.”

Did the Justice Department apologize to Google and muzzle the U.S. attorney, Peter Neronha? Not according to his office.“The U.S. attorney has never issued apologies to anyone in this matter,” a spokesman said. “As far as the suggestion that the U.S. attorney has been ‘muzzled,’ I can only point to the fact that we recently held a widely attended press conference” at which he answered media questions about the case.

Maybe the Justice Department apologized on his behalf? “We did not apologize,” a department spokeswoman said. For its part, Google declined to comment, saying: “Google does not comment on its discussions with regulators.”

The clear implication of these three statements (although not an inference drawn by the Wall Street Journal reporter) is that Boris Feldman misspoke.  I know Boris Feldman to be a damn fine lawyer and a person of unquestionable integrity, and I seriously, seriously doubt that he spoke anything but the truth.

I also do not doubt that the U.S. Attorney spoke the truth as well.  He is certainly conducting himself like a man with a clear conscience.

And Google does not comment on its discussions with “regulators.”  “Regulators”?  “Regulators”?  Isn’t that what they called Charlie Sheen in Young Guns?

So….that leaves the Justice Department which claims it did not “apologize”.  I guess it all depends on what your definition of “is” is.

PS: Remember the Bush Administration scandal about firing U.S. Attorneys for political reasons?  Imagine if a U.S. Attorney had been “muzzled” because he gave an interview regarding Halliburton?

Canard du Jour: Do you still have your personality after Google makes a copy?

April 9, 2012 Comments off

You’ve heard it a thousand times at least:  You can’t steal copyright because when you make a copy the work is still there!  It’s MAGIC!  You still “own” the thing you had before, whatever it is, the punters just made a copy of it.

And then these punters sit there looking like they’ve said something intelligent and you’re not sure if you should call the people in white coats or throw them a fish.

This is, of course, bunk, if for no other reason that the rights that are protected by copyright–wait for it–include the right to make copies (see 17 U.S.C. Sec. 106).  Yes, it’s true, it’s true!

But the real slight of hand that was the most insidious part of this campaign is not so much the commoditization of copyrights, it was the undermining of rights to anything online and one set of very important things.  The thing without which Google especially cannot function.

Your personal information, and a lot of it.  And not just a lot of your information but your information presented and available in a way that can be crawled, indexed, repackaged and resold, not locked up inside of a post-Web iPhone app for example.

How Can You Believe Copyright Isn’t Protectable Property, But Your Personal Information Is

In The Case Against Google, his illuminating article in Gizmodo, Editor Matt Honan makes a number of pivotal points:

The Internet is the world’s greatest collection of knowledge, but increasingly, that wisdom lives in walled off apps [i.e., walled off from Google's otherwise ubiquitous crawlers]. It lives in services and platforms. Places where we build up relationships, express preferences, and reveal so much about ourselves….We’re interacting in real time, and in ways that don’t lend themselves well to indexing. Google can’t know exactly what’s going on in all those places. How the links between entities work. What and who we like and dislike. There is information there that it can’t index. And if it can’t index it, or understand it, it damn sure can’t serve an ad.

Now they don’t have the RIAA or the MPAA to kick around anymore because the information beast that must be fed is Google and the information it wants to feed on is…you.  And after all, as we all know…

Information wants to be free.

Those of us who have been fighting free riders on private property are frankly wondering what all the fuss is about.  Surely all these smart people in the tech press saw this coming when they took the King’s shilling.  Or maybe not.  The fight was never about copyright alone, it was about private property rights in general.

The reason why the Lessig theories seemed only to involve digitized property was because that was the only kind of property that touched the network, not because there ever was a logical reason for the distinction.

And the reason for the theory had nothing to do with “freedom”, but had everything to do with profit.

The Second Act:  Theft of Personality

Think about it from inside the Googleplex–by using its various ““organizations that are currently paid by [Google] to lobby for or to consult for the company” as they were described by Judge Ware in the Google Buzz court-ordered payment instructions, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Center for Democracy and Technology and even the sainted ACLU (who got $7 million), as well as groups like Public Knowledge, Creative Commons (who we know got $1.5 million from Google), and the recent cluster involved in the rogue sites issue–Google has been able to manipulate public opinion to hide its complicity in profiting from piracy.  That has been a huge distraction from its $500,000,000 settlement with the United States for aiding and abetting the sale of controlled substances (and counterfeit drugs) to Americans.

Google needed to pull off a propaganda stunt (the likes of which are of historic proportions) to hide its complicity in profiting not just from piracy, but other forms of human misery that were even more debased.

But the curtain has now wrung up on Act II of the Google passion play–in which they steal your privacy, and more importantly they steal your personality.

Don’t get confused–you still have your personality, they just make a copy of it.

Because as you know–information wants to be free.

Andrew Orlowski, writing in The Register, has further insight into this scam:

The absence of permissions on our personal data and the absence of permissions on digital copyright objects are two sides of the same coin. Economically and legally they’re an absence of property rights – and an insistence on preserving the internet as a childlike, utopian world, where nobody owns anything, or ever turns a request down. But as we’ve seen, you can build things like libraries with permissions too – and create new markets.

“You can take two views,” he told me. “One is that every piece of information flowing around a network is a good thing, and we should know everything about everybody, and have no constraints on access to it all.” People who believe this, he added, tend to be inflexible – there is no half-way house.

“The alternative view is that we can take the technology to make privacy and intellectual property work on the network. The function of copyright is to allow creators and people who invest in creation to define how it can be used. That’s the purpose of it.

“So which way do we want to do it?” he asks. “Do we want to throw up our hands and do nothing? The workings of a civilised society need both privacy and creator’s rights.”

But this a new way of thinking about things: it will be met with cognitive dissonance. Copyright activists who fight property rights on the internet and have never seen a copyright law they like, generally do like their privacy. They want to preserve it, and will support laws that do. But to succeed, they’ll need to argue for stronger property rights.

They have yet to realise that their opponents in the copyright wars have been arguing for those too, for years. Both sides of the copyright “fight” actually need the same thing.

This is odd, I said to Bide. How can he account for this irony?

“Ah,” says Bide. “Privacy and copyright are two things nobody cares about unless it’s their own privacy, and their own copyright.”

So how far is Google willing to go to steal–sorry, copy–your personality?

Mat Honen points out a few facts:

In the past year—and especially the past six months—Google has unquestionably and to an unprecedented extent violated its users’ trust. And of course the great irony is that the subversion of Google’s power, the ultimate trickery, came not from an external force, but Google itself. Google has spent much of 2011 and 2012 getting called out for all kinds of nasty brutish behavior. Here are a few small but telling examples of that trickery:

If Google Just Takes A Copy of Your Personality, What Are You Complaining About?

What should be increasingly obvious is that Google must make copies of its users personalities in order to continue to rake in supernormal profits.  Google and its proxies like Lessig, Geist, EFF, Public Knowledge and even the ACLU for $7 million worth have been preparing the public mind for this eventuality.  These proxies in turn have spawned millions of proselatyzers who spout the “Internet freedom”, “Don’t Break the Internet” and “Information Wants to Be Free” slogans that will make the massive theft of personality almost as easy as the massive theft of copyright was.

As Honen concludes:

[T]he case against Google is for the first time starting to outweigh the case for it.  Google may have to get us to use Google+ if it wants to remain relevant. But it should be able to go about that in a fundamentally honest fashion.

If it can’t keep its promises, if it can’t avoid resorting to trickery, if it can’t keep itself from subverting the power of its search engine for commercial ends, and on top of all that if it can’t even deliver the highest quality search results at a default setting—the most basic thing people have come to expect from Google, the very thing its name has become synonymous with—why should you trust it with your personal data?”

So stealing copyright and stealing your personality are in many ways the same kind of theft, and the theft of copyright prepared the “useful idiots”, the Dedicated Followers of Lessig to be in the vanguard of the next Big Theft.

But there is one difference between the theft of copyright and the theft of personality.

There’s nobody to sue Google when they steal your personality.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 444 other followers

%d bloggers like this: