Another Privacy Policy Tool

Slashdot has news, from Forbes, of a collaboration between The Internet Society, the University of Colorado, the EFF and the Center for Democracy and Technology. It is similar to ToSBack release by the EFF some time ago. Instead of tracking complete policies, though, and providing a centralized, dense tool for tracking changes, the ISOC Policy Audit Plugin, an extension for Firefox, works a bit differently but to similar ends.

From the plugin’s page at Mozilla’s addon directory:

The plugin accesses the Policy Library and alerts the user when they visit a website that publishes a policy that the Policy Monitor is tracking. The alert indicates whether or not the user has viewed the policy page(s) associated with the site. The user is able to view the policy page(s) from the alert icon displayed within the lower-right of their browser. If the policy page(s) changed since the last time they were viewed using the plugin, they are also presented with the ability to perform a “difference” comparison between the current version and the one they previously viewed.

It is clearly distinct from P3P which is the other tool that popped into my head when reading the story. That largely stalled initiative required machine readable policies and would actually mediate interactions in the browser based on a user’s preferences.

This plugin can only notify users of changes though it does so closer to the point of concern than ToSBack. It doesn’t offer any assistance in comprehending policies, another complaint I have with ToSBack. I really feel like there is a missed opportunity here, even more so pulling this much more in-line into the browser. Compare it to projects like Recap and Herdict which harness collective action.

Granted, parsing policies does require more expertise than these other efforts but I could easily see an extra registration step for legal experts, scholars and activists to enable supplemental interfaces for helping analyze and explain policies and in particular the changes the tool will already highlight.

New Tool Suite Helps Track Privacy Policies, Slashdot

Could Location Data Improve Civic Engagement?

Alex Howard shares an intriguing Twitter conversation on ReadWriteWeb. Alex usually covers the Gov 2.0 beat for O’Reilly but this topic definitely overlaps with his work there and the range of things covered by RWW. The conversation drew in higher ups from both FourSquare and Twitter, both of which to different degrees have been experimenting with location data and social/gaming dynamics. Anil Dash also chimed in, sharing his usual keen insight for this space.

Might civic badges be next? Keep on eye on Dennis’ feed. And in the meantime, watch Gowalla. As my interview with the Gowalla co-founder Josh Williams on social media for citizen engagement at today’s AMP Summit showed, that location-based social network already has moved into this space.

I will admit that to date I have found very little use for applications that parse and do anything with my location data. I am not blind to how popular these are with my contemporaries and, as Howard identifies, the younger generation. The idea of using social gaming and location data to spark an interest where one has failed to catch before is tantalizing. But I have a concern.

My own civic engagement has been slow to build, and continues to do so. Maybe I am biased by that experience but I think it will take something more than the flavor of the moment to cultivate an active citizen. I could easily see buzz heavy offerings jump starting interest and activity for someone just starting out. But what about the inevitable drop off as enthusiasts more interested in the gaming aspects than the subject of any particular game move on to the next thing? I’d be curious to see the discussion extend into how to turn the instant fascination into a durable and unfolding relationship with civics and public life.

Could Location-Based Services Increase Civic Engagement in Millennials? ReadWriteWeb

feeds | grep links > Scribd Surprises Users with Paywall, An Open Source Low Bandwidth Codec, More on the IP Enforcement Bill, and More

  • Xerox PARC turns 40, The Register
  • Scribd quietly moves users docs behind a paywall
    Mike Masnick at Techdirt shares the realization by law professor Eric Goldman of this little publicized change. This action by the document sharing service defies reason. Goldman articulates how undoubtedly most of the users caught by this change must feel, used and trapped. Once again, this isn’t an issue with open or closed but moving from one to the other after a bargain was offered and a promise made. Even a much more clear shift would have been more tenable, if almost as unpalatable.
  • Is Facebook turning on online activists it used to support?, ReadWriteWeb
  • An open source, low bandwidth voice codec
    Slashdot points to a project whose main developer also worked on the Speex codec, another effort tailored to efficient coding of just voice. Mainly Codec2 looks to be focused on replacing a current, proprietary codec used in amateur radio but its capabilities are compelling, almost 4 seconds of clear speech in just over 1 kilobyte. It would be nice of some of the unencumbered ideas might find application in high quality voice encoding, too, perhaps to help fuel an open alternative to Skype with similar sound quality. Of course, that’s just the podcaster in me thinking out loud.
  • Mozilla joins Open Invention Network as licensee
    HT @glynmoody
  • Wendy Seltzer discusses new IP enforcement bill
    In this post on the Freedom to Tinker blog, Seltzer places the bill firmly in the context of piracy as a legal pretext for censorship. I didn’t touch on the issue of potential abuses but the point dovetails with what I explained yesterday about lowering friction. It simply becomes too easy to press a claim of infringement, legitimate or not, for the correct purpose or some lateral one such as suppressing dissenting speech.
  • EP votes on controversial anti-piracy report, TorrentFreak
  • Bill Tracker launched for legislation in the UK, BoingBoing

feeds | grep links > Profile of a Hacktivist, How the Internet Changed Language, Natty Narwhals, and More

  • Profile of a hacktivist who first helped with elections in Iran
    Slashdot links to a Newsweek article that is well worth the read. A lot of criticism has been flying around lately against clicktivists and slacktivists. This is a reminder that there are programmers quietly working on pieces and parts to support real social change.
  • How the internet has changed language
    BBC via Slashdot
  • Next version of Ubuntu gets a name–Natty Narwhal
    Ryan Paul at Ars Technica has some good perspective on the rather silly, even for Canonical, name and the plans around the release that are a bit more serious. There is more evidence, beyond the big announcement yesterday about multitouch coming in Meerkat, that the roadmap will pay more attention to mobile computing. Whether that will be at the expense of the traditional desktop remains to be seen but count me as one of the skeptics.
  • Court OKs covert iPhone recording
    As David Kravets at Wired explains, the fact it was an iPhone is incidental as it wasn’t a call that was recorded. The ruling in the 2nd Circuit is apparently consistent with other recent rulings that I have to imagine are about recording in public or semi-public spaces not over telephone lines which is traditionally scrutinized much more closely.
  • Mobile super computing
    According to the article to which Slashdot links, this is rather different than the mobile cloud about which I posted yesterday. This refinement of an existing approach combines the horsepower of true super computers with the convenience of mobile devices. Essentially, most of the heavy lifting is done before sending what reads like a intermediate result or cheaper to run, partially pre-digested simulation to the phone. A small but interesting space of what-if changes can be made and re-run at decent speeds on the less capable devices.

feeds | grep links > Distributed Computing Spots Astronomical Rarity, Search Engine Runs a Tor Enclave, and More

feeds | grep links > More on P != NP Proof, Firefox 4 Beta 3 Released, and More

I didn’t think I’d get Wednesday’s post up until a proper hour in the AM. Cruising at just above 35,000 feet, I guessing technically I am still just a wee bit past midnight being somewhere over Nevada. I’ve already reset all my computing devices to my home time zone, however, and shifted to thinking about how the horrid two hour delay is going to make my drive home from the air port a nightmare. I am scheduled to land smack dab in the middle of rush hour.

I am not predicting a very productive Thursday as in order to get any rest before working from home I’ll have to abbreviate my work day considerably, just to essential tasks. I’m glad to get this taken care of before succumbing to exhaustion and jet lag, sleeping away the rest of the flight home.

feeds | grep links > Framework for Badging Non-Profits, YouTube Experiments with Embeddable HTML5 Video, and More

“Yes Men” Using BitTorrent to Avoid Censorship

Ernesto at TorrentFreak has news of the latest with the duo who most recently drew unfortunate attention from the US Chamber of Commerce in response to them hijacking a press conference. I am surprised they didn’t try this sooner as the popular p2p technology has proven resistant to take downs, especially with the actions of the high profile Pirate Bay.

More specifically, the activists are using VODO, a BitTorrent powered platform that hooks into a variety of high profile channels including Lime Wire and The Pirate Bay. Being able to reach a larger audience than those already savvy with BitTorrent itself will help in their fund raising efforts for current and future projects.

“There are a few reasons why we chose BitTorrent. First off, it’s a way to avoid censorship,” Mike Bonanno told TorrentFreak. “This version includes video of an action against the US Chamber of Commerce that we are being sued for. No commercial outlets will touch it. We had a TV show scheduled on Planet Green and their lawyers nearly wet themselves when they heard we wanted to use footage of us making political mince-meant out of the largest lobbying organization in the world.”

Ernesto goes much deeper into the Yes Men’s views on distribution, piracy and the “copyright mafia”. Well worth a read and food for thought when consider the free speech burden that copyright and the current media distribution models impose.

“Yes Men” Use BitTorrent to Avoid Censorship, TorrentFreak

Another Commodity Digital Scanner Specifically for Books

It looks more compact than Danny Reetz’s DIY scanner and as a kit, plus cameras, is targeted to come in at less than $500. As the post at QuestionCopyright explains, the goal really is to throw fuel on the fire, to change the normative expectations around the ability to make copies of durable goods, in this case printed books. This is not about piracy but laying bare the latent ambiguities in the law constantly exposed by technological change.

The Book Liberator at QuestionCopyright (HT Glyn Moody)

The Pirate Bay’s Founding Group Disbands

Ernesto at TorrentFreak has the full explanation as well as a solid, brief primer on the Piratbyrån and The Pirate Bay.

“The discussions about file-sharing that Piratbyrån wanted to have, are already won,” former Pirate Bay spokesperson and Piratbyrån member Peter Sunde told TorrentFreak. “The projects that needed to start have already been finalized. Piratbyrån was a temporary group for a temporary reason.”

I don’t know that I agree that the need for Piratbyrån is now over. ACTA looms, the debate over Canada’s own DMCA, bill C-32, is heating up considerably. Perhaps in Sweden, the home of the group, Sunde’s observations are true. Or the fact that The Pirate Party has moved the conversation into the halls of the European Parliament, moving the debate to a higher level, suggests that action can and must take on new forms.

I give more credit to the personal reasons for disbanding, the passing of one of the bureau’s members. That catalyzed this decision that had been long debated. I’ve been witness to that sort of event and the ripples, sometimes tsunami scale, it sets off in a formerly cohesive group or project. Perhaps it is all interwoven into the fabric of the group, impossible to tease apart one thread of the decision from another.

I will agree with one implication in the post, that by disbanding, Piratbyrån has invited others to step into the void and carry the conversation and action forward, beyond the questions the group so aptly posed.