For the NSA, we are the haystack

Barton Gellman, Julie Tate and Ashkan Soltani, reporting at the Washington Post:

Nine of 10 account holders found in a large cache of intercepted conversations, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided in full to The Post, were not the intended surveillance targets but were caught in a net the agency had cast for somebody else.

Facebook COO Sandberg apologizes for emotional contagion experiment

R. Jai Krishna, reporting on the reaction of Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg to the outcry over the company’s experiment on the emotions of nearly 700,000 unwitting users:

We take privacy and security at Facebook really seriously because that is something that allows people to share” opinions and emotions, Sandberg said.

The telling part about Sandberg’s reaction is that those who take privacy and security seriously don’t have to say very often, if at all.

Podcast of the Week: This Week in Law

When it comes to my own website, editorial calendars always give way to real life. I’m back with the latest in a series that would be more accurately called the “Podcast of the Month.” I really need to step it up with these, as I still have about 70 of them to which I listen with some regularity.

I’m featuring This Week In Law, a podcast covering technology, privacy, intellectual property and other areas of the law relevant to the internet and its users, for a couple of reasons. The first is that the most recent episode (embedded below), entitled Monkeys, Ducks and Unicorns, discusses the Aereo case as well as a recent Fourth Amendment case about cell phones, both decided by the Supreme Court in June.

The second reason I’m featuring This Week in Law is because I have probably listened to more hours of this podcast than any other. It got me through law school by education, entertaining and inspiring me, even while I was studying far less interesting areas of the law. The voices of Denise Howell and Evan Brown, in a way that only happens on the internet, more familiar to me than some of my longest friends’ voices.

Subscribe to This Week In Law in iTunes, Pocket Casts or RSS.

Perverting the Metric: The Role of Metrics in Editorial Strategy

HuffPo and BuzzFeed co-founder Jonah Peretti recently said in a long and fascinating interview by Felix Salmon published at Matter:

I love metrics and I love thinking about optimization, but I think that the optimal state is being slightly suboptimal because as soon as you try to actually optimize, particularly for a single metric, you end up finding that the best way to optimize for that metric ends up perverting the metric and making the metric mean the opposite of what it used to mean.

This reminded me of an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while about how best to approach digital editorial strategy: it requires an ability to wield metrics, vision and instinct in just the right proportions.

Read more

Houston, We Have A Public Domain Problem

Parker Higgins of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, lamenting the recent removal of a public domain NASA clip he posted on the audio sharing site SoundCloud:

The real goofy bit is that before I started at EFF, I worked at SoundCloud. I actually uploaded this Apollo 13 clip, along with sounds from Apollo 11 and others, as part of a project to attract more historic and archival audio and really celebrate the public domain as a rich source of sounds.

Copyright law has been trending in favor of rights holders for a long time. That’s precisely why unlawful claims of copyright over public domain works are so despicable.

Facebook experimented on its users' emotions

Aviva Rutkin, reporting in New Scientist:

A team of researchers, led by Adam Kramer at Facebook in Menlo Park, California, was curious to see if this phenomenon [of contagious emotion] would occur online. To find out, they manipulated which posts showed up on the news feeds of more than 600,000 Facebook users. For one week, some users saw fewer posts with negative emotional words than usual, while others saw fewer posts with positive ones.

Forget about the filter bubble, Facebook is (and has been since at least 2009) a Petri dish.

Click through to find out the results.

Related: Even the Editor of Facebook’s Mood Study Thought It Was Creepy

Budgets and egos

Mark Headd, Philly’s first Chief Data Officer, who quit in spring of 2013, talking to Juliana Reyes of Technically Philly about why he resigned the post:

“A self-certifying website is a 20th century answer to the problem of tax deadbeats,” he wrote in an email. “An open data API is a 21st century answer to the problem. And that was my single biggest frustration during my time at the city — we were constantly using 20th century answers to problems that required a 21st century solution.”

I know from personal experience and talking with friends that this is a common complaint of tech-savvy government employees, especially leaders ostensibly authorized to do something about it but never truly empowered.

Budgets and egos slow technological (and many other forms of) progress to a glacial pace in many government settings.

I once spent valuable time collecting requirements for a piece of vital software, researching and recommending a reasonably priced and effective off-the-shelf solution.

Instead, someone decided to shoehorn the new use case into an aging enterprise software suite that had never seemed anything more than an ugly utilitarian GUI on top of a fancy backend of connected spreadsheets.

There was no line-item cost to the shoehorn solution, so it naturally looked like a winner when it came to budgeting. But the person-hours wasted reinventing the wheel easily outweighed the out-of-pocket cost of the solution I had proposed.

And aside from cost, persons in positions of power are often averse to being educated by twenty-somethings. That is especially true when it comes to technology, which most leaders know is important but few truly understand.

Budgets and egos.

Anyway, go read the rest of the article. It looks like Mr. Headd replies to comments, so it’s worth asking him any questions you might have.

Avoid Facebook's all-seeing eye

Violet Blue, reporting at ZDNet:

Facebook also announced Thursday it will begin tracking its users’ browsing and activities on websites and apps outside Facebook, starting within a few weeks

Her article is full of great advice for people who want to minimize Facebook’s tracking ability across desktop and mobile browsers. Be sure to have a look if the recent changes freak you out.

Journalism and tomatoes

From a May 2013 editorial in the Columbia Journalism Review:

Perhaps journalism can learn from the mistakes of the food industry, which bred a perfectly red, flawless-looking tomato, giving the edge to looks over taste, since that’s what consumers were buying.

Redesigns focusing on side door web traffic will all be for naught if the product in that shiny new package languishes under clickbait headlines and SEO-heavy ledes.

AT&T, acquiring DirectTV, "vows" to stick to FCC's Open Internet rules for 3 years

Nathan Mattise, reporting at Ars Technica:

The two companies will demonstrate “continued commitment for three years after closing to the FCC’s Open Internet protections established in 2010, irrespective of whether the FCC re-establishes such protections for other industry participants following the DC Circuit Court of Appeals vacating those rules.”

My first draft of this post was cynical and incredulous, as I am wont to be. But on second thought, it would behoove AT&T to stick to it’s “vow,” if for no other reason than to grease the skids for regulatory approval of the deal. Like I said about Moves and Facebook, it’s hard to blame a company for seeking growth.

While the FCC’s Open Internet rules have been struck down since they were first imposed in 2010, Comcast still abides by those rules pursuant to requirements imposed by the FCC on its purchase of NBCUniversal.

Now that those rules have been struck down, and we’re in limbo while a new rules proposal goes through its comment period, AT&T committing to the Comcast restrictions presumes the FCC will have similar concerns about their purchase of DirecTV. So the worst case scenario for AT&T is that the FCC achieves similar restrictions via the new rules, in which case AT&T is already prepared. And the best case scenario is that the new rules are more lenient than the 2010 rules, and AT&T is even happier.

In fact, the only losers here are consumers. While there is some question about whether this consolidation in the connectivity/content space will cause immediate market overlap and thus a significant reduction in local competition, it’s hard to see how things will get better for consumers as a result of this vertical integration over time.

Comcast says it's data caps aren't data caps

Stacey Higginbotham of GigaOm:

Instead the trials of 300 GB per month limits in select areas have been called both a “data threshhold,” and now a “flexible data consumption plan,” that Comcast wants people to know are in trial mode only.

And if the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger does lead to data caps for 79% of U.S. broadband subscribers, that’s not a planned abuse of market power by Comcast, just a hope to misuse de minimis competition.

Oh wait.

Gino Barrica on self-hating lawyers

Gino Barrica, responding to yet another article1 cautioning against the pursuit of a law degree:

See, I’m not a self-hating lawyer. I’m not one of those who hang my head in shame when people ask what I do and I’m not someone who tells people to run for the hills when they tell me they’re considering law school. Yes, I’m up to my ears in debt. But, I’m also full of pride.

Gino is a friend and classmate of mine from Temple Law and someone who, I happen to know, is more intelligent than most people. While I plan on eventually giving my own experience with the bar exam the long-form treatment it deserves, I would like to, as lawyers like to say, incorporate by reference all of Gino’s thoughts on the value of a law degree to lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

  1. No, I didn’t include a link to the article to which Gino’s post responds. That is partially because Gino links to it and I want you to read his post and partially because I don’t want to give it any SEO help. The further down in the search results such “Abandon all hope…” articles are, the better. 

Condoleezza Rice backs out of Rutgers commencement

The Associated Press reports:

The school’s board of governors had voted to pay $35,000 to the former secretary of state under President George W. Bush and national security adviser for her appearance at the May 18 ceremony.

Any question involving money, and therefore just about any question at all, boils down at some point to supply and demand. I understand schools want to attract high-profile commencement speakers. But the fact that Rutgers would offer, and Rice would accept, $35,000, to speak for less than an hour, is shameful.

Schools should not be willing to supply so much money, and speakers, often wealthy, should not demand it. For a more thorough treatment of this topic, read the excellent 2011 essay “Commencement Cash Cow” by Pablo Eisenberg at InsideHigherEd.