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On the Android security bug

Peter Biddle, who helped invent trusted computing when he was at Microsoft, discusses the serious Android security bug that was just reported. It's a good, short read, and most alarming is the news that Google's had information on this critical bug since February: "The entire value of a chain of trust is that you are limiting the surface area of vulnerability to the code-signing and hashing itself. This bug, if it’s as described, destroys the chain." Cory 12

YouTube, fair use and takedowns: with puppets!

Here's Fred von Lohmann, one of the senior copyright attorneys at Google -- and formerly head of the Electronic Frontier Foundation's copyright practice -- describing how YouTube takedowns and fair use claims work, with generous use of excitable puppets. It's the role he was born to play!

Copyright on YouTube (Thanks, Fred!)

Lies, damned lies, and big data: the dictatorship of data

Kenneth Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, co-authors of the excellent book Big Data write in the MIT Tech Review with a good, skeptical look at the risks of relying on data to the exclusion of other factors in decisionmaking. They use Robert McNamara, the hyper-rational architect of the Vietnam War, as their posterchild for data-blindness, and discuss how modern firms have repeated his mistakes in other domains:

The dictatorship of data ensnares even the best of them. Google runs everything according to data. That strategy has led to much of its success. But it also trips up the company from time to time. Its cofounders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, long insisted on knowing all job candidates’ SAT scores and their grade point averages when they graduated from college. In their thinking, the first number measured potential and the second measured achievement. Accomplished managers in their 40s were hounded for the scores, to their outright bafflement. The company even continued to demand the numbers long after its internal studies showed no correlation between the scores and job performance.

Google ought to know better, to resist being seduced by data’s false charms. The measure leaves little room for change in a person’s life. It counts book smarts at the expense of knowledge. And it may not reflect the qualifications of people from the humanities, where know-how may be less quantifiable than in science and engineering. Google’s obsession with such data for HR purposes is especially queer considering that the company’s founders are products of Montessori schools, which emphasize learning, not grades. By Google’s standards, neither Bill Gates nor Mark Zuckerberg nor Steve Jobs would have been hired, since they lack college degrees.

The Dictatorship of Data (via O'Reilly Radar)

Google to Attorney General: let us publish stats on the info we give to spies

Google has sent the US Attorney General a letter asking for permission to publish aggregate statistics on the number of gag-ordered-FISA requests it gets. These requests are secret and not included in Google's "Transparency Report" of government requests.

We therefore ask you to help make it possible for Google to publish in our Transparency Report aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures—in terms of both the number we receive and their scope. Google’s numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide.

Google appreciates that you authorized the recent disclosure of general numbers for national security letters. There have been no adverse consequences arising from their publication, and in fact more companies are receiving your approval to do so as a result of Google’s initiative. Transparency here will likewise serve the public interest without harming national security.

Asking the U.S. government to allow Google to publish more national security request data

Satellites trace the appearance of crop circles in Saudi Arabia

It's not the work of aliens. Instead, you can chalk these crop circles up to humans + money + time. And, with the help of satellite imaging, you can watch as humans use money to change the desert over the course of almost 30 years.

Landsat is a United States satellite program that's been in operation since 1972. Eight different satellites (three of them still up there and functioning) have gathered images from all over the world for decades. This data is used to help scientists studying agriculture, geology, and forestry. It's also been used for surveillance and disaster relief.

Now, at Google, you can look at images taken from eight different sites between 1984 and 2012 and and watch as people change the face of the planet. In one set of images, you can watch agriculture emerge from the deserts of Saudi Arabia — little green polka-dots of irrigation popping up against a vast swath of tan. In another se, you'll see the deforestation of the Amazon. A third, the growth of Las Vegas. It's a fascinating view of how we shape the world around us, in massive ways, over a relatively short period of time.

What Google's self-driving car sees

Charlie Warzel: "THIS is what google's self driving car can see. So basically this thing is going to destroy us all." [via Matt Buchanan]

William Gibson tries the Google Glass


Technically, lending Bill these particular shades is a terms-of-service violation -- wonder if Google will revoke them?

William Gibson, Google Glass

Viacom gets its ass handed to it again by a court in its YouTube lawsuit

For years, Viacom has been embroiled in a bizarre lawsuit against Google, asserting that Google had a duty to figure out exactly which videos uploaded by it users infringed on Viacom's copyrights and stop them from showing (Viacom's internal memos showed that they themselves had paid dozens of companies to secretly upload Viacom videos disguised to look as leaked internal footage to YouTube, and that the company's executives had viewed the suit as a way to seize control of YouTube from Google and run it themselves).

Now, yet another court has told Viacom that its legal theory about the duty of online service providers to proactively police its users' uploads is totally, unequivocally WRONG. Viacom has pledged to appeal.

In a ruling released today, the court gave a total victory to Google/YouTube, granting it summary judgment, saying that YouTube was protected from claims of infringement via the DMCA's safe harbors, and mocking Viacom's legal theories at the same time. Might as well jump right in with some quotes, including the money quote that Viacom's legal theory is "extravagant." Elsewhere the judge calls it "ingenious."

Viacom's argument that the volume of material and "the absence of record evidence that would allow a jury to decide which clips-in-suit were specifically known to senior YouTube executives" (Viacom Opp. pp. 9-10) combine to deprive YouTube of the statutory safe harbor, is extravagant. If, as plaintiffs assert, neither side can determine the presence or absence of specific infringements because of the volume of material, that merely demonstrates the wisdom of the legislative requirement that it be the owner of the copyright, or his agent, who identifies the infringement by giving the service provider notice. 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(3)(A). The system is entirely workable: in 2007 Viacom itself gave such notice to YouTube of infringements by some 100,000 videos, which were taken down by YouTube by the next business day. See 718 F. Supp. 2d 514 at 524.

Thus, the burden of showing that YouTube knew or was aware of the specific infringements of the works in suit cannot be shifted to YouTube to disprove. Congress has determined that the burden of identifying what must be taken down is to be on the copyright owner, a determination which has proven practicable in practice.

This was the crux of Viacom's argument. That because they could show a lot of infringement, and here and there point to some evidence that some people at YouTube might have known of general infringement, then the burden should be on YouTube. But the court clearly calls them on this, noting that's not what the law says, nor does it make sense. Instead, under the law, the burden is on Viacom and that makes sense.

YouTube Wins Yet Another Complete Victory Over Viacom; Court Mocks Viacom's Ridiculous Legal Theories [Mike Masnick/TechDirt]

Google plans sci-fi style supercomputer

Farhad Manjoo: "Google has a single towering obsession: It wants to build the Star Trek computer." [Slate] Rob

Reddit co-founder calls Larry Page to get Google to join the anti-CISPA fight -- your help needed too!

Evan from Fight for the Future sez, "In the hours before the House Intelligence Committee's secretive, closed-door markup on privacy killing bill, CISPA, we had to unleash our secret weapon. CISPA threatens to invalidate every privacy law on the books and give companies full legal immunity when they share our private data with the government. That's why the tech giants that stood with us during SOPA (Google, Facebook, and Twitter) haven't said much about CISPA. Our chief Internet Defender, Reddit-Cofounder Alexis Ohanian, helped us make this video of him calling Google and asking to speak to CEO Larry Page about that fact that if CISPA passes, every privacy policy on the web will be a total joke."

Sign the petition, kill CISPA, save the Internet (again!).

Google, Twitter, & Facebook: What's your privacy policy? (Thanks, Evan)

Studios regret sending Google a list of every pirate site on the Internet for publication

The movie studios send a lot of takedown notices to Google, demanding that the search engine remove links to sites and files they don't like. Google publishes all the notices they receive, and this has Fox and other studios upset. Now, they're sending takedown notices demanding removal of their takedown notices. Cory

Comedy troupe loses YouTube account after viral success of "PS Gay Car," can't get anyone at YT to listen to them

Wil Wheaton sez,

On November 17th, 2012, New York-based comedy music group Fortress of Attitude uploaded a music video they created for their song "PS Gay Car" (using the exact words of a mean note they found on their car one day) to YouTube. The pro-gay rights video was immensely popular, garnering coverage from, Huffington Post, Out Magazine, College Humor and Queerty. The video gained 39,800 views in its first month, and then a month later YouTube took down the video, claiming they'd used bots to drive up views.

The story that unfolds is Kafkaesque: Fortress of Attitude hires New Media Rights to help them get their video reinstated, and Google/YouTube's response is to send form letters back that just restate the alleged initial TOU violation. Ultimately, Google/YouTube refuses to consider any evidence or explanation from Fortress of Attitude, and deletes the video permanently.

Google deletes "PS Gay Car"— We need your help! (Thanks, Wil!)

How long should we expect Google Keep to last?


On the Guardian, Charles Arthur has totted up the lifespan of 39 products and services that Google has killed off in the past due to insufficient public interest. One interesting finding is that Google is becoming less patient with its less popular progeny, with an accelerating trend to killing off products that aren't cutting it. This was occasioned by the launch of Google Keep, a networked note-taking app which has the potential to become quite central to your workflow, and to be quite disruptive if Google kills it -- much like Google Reader, which is scheduled for impending switch-off.

So if you want to know when Google Keep, opened for business on 21 March 2013, will probably shut - again, assuming Google decides it's just not working - then, the mean suggests the answer is: 18 March 2017. That's about long enough for you to cram lots of information that you might rely on into it; and also long enough for Google to discover that, well, people aren't using it to the extent that it hoped. Much the same as happened with Knol (lifespan: 1,377 days, from 23 July 2008 to 30 April 2012), or Wave (1,095 days, from May 2009 - 30 April 2012) or of course Reader (2,824 days, from 7 October 2005 to 1 July 2013).

If you want to play around further with the numbers, then if we assume that closures occur randomly as a normal distribution around the mean, and that Google is going to shut Google Keep, then there's a 68% chance that the closure will occur between April 2015 and February 2019. Even the later date wouldn't be much longer than Evernote - which is still growing - has already lasted. Is Google really that committed to Keep?

Google Keep? It'll probably be with us until March 2017 - on average (via /.)

Clueless Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert can't get how Gmail ads work through his thick, thick skull

Rep Louie Gohmert (R-TX) is an ignoramus, as is demonstrated by his questioning during this hearing on reforms to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. Gohmert questions a Google rep about how Adwords in Gmail work. For the record, here's how it works: Google parses the email for keywords, checks to see if anyone has bid to have text-ads displayed on emails with those words, and displays ads that match. Here's how Gohmert thinks they work: A computer at Google reads your email, sends your identity to an advertiser, and asks it if it wants to display ads on your email.

Gohmert may have confused Adwords with some of the realtime auctions for display ads. Google rep very patiently, and repeatedly tries to explain this to Gohmert, who refuses to get it, and instead smugly keeps asking whether the government could buy the right to see who's sending what email from Google in the way he imagines (incorrectly) that advertisers do.

If watching the video is too painful, have no fear, TechDirt's Mike Masnick has thoughtfully transcribed some of the choicest moments:

Gohmert: Okay, so what would prevent the federal government from making a deal with Google, so they could also "Scroogle" people, and say "I want to know everyone who has ever used the term 'Benghazi'" or "I want everyone who's ever used... a certain term." Would you discriminate against the government, or would you allow the government to know about all emails that included those words?

Lawyer [confounded look] Uh... sir, I think those are apples and oranges. I think the disclosure of the identity...

Gohmert: I'm not asking for a fruit comparison. I'm just asking would you be willing to make that deal with the government? The same one you do with private advertisers, so that the government would know which emails are using which words.

Lawyer: Thank you, sir. I meant by that, that it isn't the same deal that's being suggested there.

Gohmert: But I'm asking specifically if the same type of deal could be made by the federal government? [some pointless rant about US government videos aired overseas that is completely irrelevant and which it wasn't worth transcribing] But if that same government will spend tens of thousands to do a commercial, they might, under some hare-brained idea like to do a deal to get all the email addresses that use certain words. Couldn't they make that same kind of deal that private advertisers do?

For the record, I think there are real privacy concerns with Gmail's ads, but not the dumbass ones that Gohmert is worried about. Also for the record, Gohmert believes that a trans-Alaskan pipeline will help caribou get more sex; denies climate change; and thinks that school shootings can be averted by giving school principals M-4 rifles.

Rep. Gohmert's Record For Stunning Technological Ignorance Is Broken By... Rep. Gohmert

HTML5's overseer says DRM's true purpose is to prevent legal forms of innovation

Ian Hickson, the googler who is overseeing the HTML5 standard at the W3C, has written a surprisingly frank piece on the role of DRM. As he spells out in detail, the point of DRM isn't to stop illegal copying, it's to stop legal forms of innovation from taking place. He shows that companies that deploy DRM do so in order to prevent individuals, groups and companies from innovating in ways that disrupt their profitability:

The purpose of DRM is to give content providers leverage against creators of playback devices.

Content providers have leverage against content distributors, because distributors can't legally distribute copyrighted content without the permission of the content's creators. But if that was the only leverage content producers had, what would happen is that users would obtain their content from those content distributors, and then use third-party content playback systems to read it, letting them do so in whatever manner they wanted.

Here are some examples:

A. Paramount make a movie. A DVD store buys the rights to distribute this movie from Paramount, and sells DVDs. You buy the DVD, and want to play it. Paramount want you to sit through some ads, so they tell the DVD store to put some ads on the DVD labeled as "unskippable".

Without DRM, you take the DVD and stick it into a DVD player that ignores "unskippable" labels, and jump straight to the movie.

This is the first third of my recent Guardian column, What I wish Tim Berners-Lee understood about DRM, but there's two other important points to make, apropos the W3C:

Read the rest