Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Patent Troll Smokescreen; New York Times, 10/23/15

Joe Nocera, New York Times; The Patent Troll Smokescreen:
"But what if, in the name of cracking down on trolls, Congress passes an anti-troll law that winds up having huge negative consequences for legitimate inventors? What if a series of Supreme Court rulings make matters worse, putting onerous burdens on inventors while making it easier for big companies to steal unlicensed innovations?
As it happens, thanks to the 2011 America Invents Act and those rulings, big companies can now largely ignore legitimate patent holders.
Of course, they don’t call it stealing. But according to Robert Taylor, a patent lawyer who has represented the National Venture Capital Association, a new phrase has emerged in Silicon Valley: “efficient infringing.” That’s the relatively new practice of using a technology that infringes on someone’s patent, while ignoring the patent holder entirely. And when the patent holder discovers the infringement and seeks recompense, the infringer responds by challenging the patent’s validity.
Should a lawsuit ensue, the infringer, often a big tech company, has top-notch patent lawyers at the ready. Because the courts have largely robbed small inventors of their ability to seek an injunction — that is, an order requiring that the infringing product be removed from the market — the worst that can happen is that the infringer will have to pay some money. For a rich company like, say, Apple, that’s no big deal."

Friday, October 23, 2015

Free speech is flunking out on college campuses; Washington Post, 10/22/15

Catherine Rampell, Washington Post; Free speech is flunking out on college campuses:
"Crippling the delivery of unpopular views is a terrible lesson to send to impressionable minds and future leaders, at Wesleyan and elsewhere. It teaches students that dissent will be punished, that rather than pipe up they should nod along. It also teaches them they might be too fragile to tolerate words that make them uncomfortable; rather than rebut, they should instead shut down, defund, shred, disinvite.
But the solution to speech that offends should always be more speech, not less."

Thursday, October 22, 2015

When The Hackers Become The Hacked: Why Reading John Brennan's Emails Feels Wrong;, 10/21/15

Ali Watkins,; When The Hackers Become The Hacked: Why Reading John Brennan's Emails Feels Wrong:
"But Wikileaks is not bound by the journalistic code that most news organizations adhere to. (A request for comment from a public relations representative for the group was not returned.)
To some, it seemed a delightfully cruel irony: America’s spy chief, keeper of secrets, forced to frantically try and guard his own. But to others -- including some of the people whose very job it is to be critical of Brennan and his agency -- Wednesday's email dump felt different. It felt slimy. A bit exploitative. It feels odd to challenge Brennan and the CIA on things like his agency’s historical disregard for citizens' personal privacy -- and then turn around and casually disregard his."

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Film-maker sues Chinese censors over 'ban' on gay-themed movie; Guardian, 9/24/15

Ben Child, Guardian; Film-maker sues Chinese censors over 'ban' on gay-themed movie:
"A Chinese film-maker is to sue state administrators in a quest to discover how and why his gay-themed documentary was removed from local streaming sites, in a legal case that could have powerful ramifications for film censorship in the world’s most populous nation.
Fan Popo says his documentary Mama Rainbow, which follows six Chinese mothers as they learn to love their gay or lesbian children, disappeared without explanation from video sites such as Youku, Tudou and in 2014."

Why do drug companies charge so much? Because they can.; Washington Post, 9/25/15

Marcia Angell, Washington Post; Why do drug companies charge so much? Because they can. :
"Drugmakers are now getting some pushback from the public in response to their claims that they need the money, but they fall back on the rhetoric of the free market. They are investor-owned businesses, after all, they say, and they have a right to charge whatever the market will bear (which for desperately sick patients or their insurers is quite a lot). But the pharmaceutical market is hardly an example of unfettered capitalism, because the companies are totally dependent on government support. In addition to receiving huge tax breaks and government-granted exclusive marketing rights, they are permitted to acquire drugs that resulted from NIH-funded university research."

Researchers wrestle with a privacy problem; Nature, 9/22/15

Erika Check Hayden, Nature; Researchers wrestle with a privacy problem:
"But for many social scientists, the most impressive thing was that the authors had been able to examine US federal tax returns: a closely guarded data set that was then available to researchers only with tight restrictions. This has made the study an emblem for both the challenges and the enormous potential power of 'administrative data' — information collected during routine provision of services, including tax returns, records of welfare benefits, data on visits to doctors and hospitals, and criminal records. Unlike Internet searches, social-media posts and the rest of the digital trails that people establish in their daily lives, administrative data cover entire populations with minimal self-selection effects: in the US census, for example, everyone sampled is required by law to respond and tell the truth.
This puts administrative data sets at the frontier of social science, says John Friedman, an economist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and one of the lead authors of the education study1. “They allow researchers to not just get at old questions in a new way,” he says, “but to come at problems that were completely impossible before.”...
But there is also concern that the rush to use these data could pose new threats to citizens' privacy. “The types of protections that we're used to thinking about have been based on the twin pillars of anonymity and informed consent, and neither of those hold in this new world,” says Julia Lane, an economist at New York University. In 2013, for instance, researchers showed that they could uncover the identities of supposedly anonymous participants in a genetic study simply by cross-referencing their data with publicly available genealogical information."

Tech giants warn cybersecurity bill could undermine users' privacy; Guardian, 10/15/15

Sam Thielman, Guardian; Tech giants warn cybersecurity bill could undermine users' privacy:
"Some of the biggest names in tech including Google, Yahoo, Facebook and T-Mobile have come out against a controversial cybersecurity bill, arguing that it fails to protect users’ privacy and could cause “collateral harm” to “innocent third parties”.
In an open letter published on Thursday the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), a trade group representing those and several other major tech firms including eBay and RedHat, came out staunchly against the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (Cisa).
The bill, which has bipartisan support, would, among other things, allow companies to share users’ personal information with the US government in exchange for immunity from regulators and the Freedom of Information Act. It will receive a Senate vote later this month."

Data Privacy Pact Must Be Forged Between Europe And U.S., Regulators Warn;, 10/16/15

Julia Fioretti,; Data Privacy Pact Must Be Forged Between Europe And U.S., Regulators Warn:
"Companies could face action from European privacy regulators if the European Commission and United States do not come up with a new system enabling them to shuffle data across the Atlantic in three months, the regulators said on Friday.
The highest EU court last week struck down a system known as Safe Harbour used by over 4,000 firms to transfer personal data to the United States, leaving companies without alternatives scrambling to put new legal measures in place to ensure everyday business could continue.
Under EU data protection law, companies cannot transfer EU citizens' personal data to countries outside the EU deemed to have insufficient privacy safeguards, of which the United States is one."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Pennsylvania bills aim to protect students’ data; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 10/14/15

Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Pennsylvania bills aim to protect students’ data:
"The introduction follows by two months the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s series on student data privacy, which showed that most of the state’s largest districts did not control the flow of their kids’ information through education technology companies. Fewer than half of the districts’ vendors publicly outlined their policies for deleting student data or pledged to protect it in a merger or bankruptcy, and just 10 of 143 promised to report any breach.
The bills wouldn’t ban apps like the poster-making program Glogster, which markets to teachers and indicates in its privacy policy that it may share “personal information” with “consumer products, telecom, financial, military, market research, entertainment, and educational services companies and their third party service providers.” But the districts would first need to notify parents, who could say no."

Author explains why libraries matter even in the Internet age; Deseret News, 9/21/15

Chandra Johnson, Deseret News; Author explains why libraries matter even in the Internet age:
"Today, when people want information on the Internet, they turn to Google.
The search engine has grown in popularity exponentially since its first year in the late 90s. In 1998, Google averaged 9,800 searches per day and 3.6 million searches that year. In 2014, there was an average of 5.7 billion Google searches per day and 2 trillion searches that year.
All of this is good news for Google and anyone with money for a computer and Internet connection. But it's not great for libraries, the go-to for information in the pre-Google days, says John Palfrey, a director of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and founder of the Digital Public Library of America.
In his new book, "Bibliotech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google," Palfrey argues that society still needs libraries for many reasons, including that the Internet doesn't provide free access to information for anyone as libraries do."

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Handheld DNA reader revolutionary and democratising, say scientists; Guardian, 10/15/15

Ian Sample, Guardian; Handheld DNA reader revolutionary and democratising, say scientists:
"Ip believes that people will soon be connecting MinIONs to smartphones, and with Oxford Nanopore due to offer a pay-as-you-go pricing model, that could transform access to genetic testing. “If anyone had the ability to do DNA sequencing with a mobile phone with attachable DNA sequencer, what could you do with it?” she said.
If that pans out, the possibilities are almost endless. GPs could analyse patients’ breath to identify bacteria that are making them ill. Health workers could use them to hunt for reservoirs of drug-resistant microbes in hospitals. Animal hairs and skin could be analysed to catch poachers and traffickers of endangered animals. Inspectors at fish markets could verify what fish is being sold. In the water-cooling towers of office buildings, you could install a device to scan for the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease.
But that is not all. “There will be undoubtedly be Gattaca-style apps which, given a hair, will tell you the genetic compatibility of a potential boy or girlfriend, although doing so is fraught with ethical issues of data interpretation,” Ip said."

Stop Googling. Let’s Talk; New York Times, 9/26/15

Sherry Turkle, New York Times; Stop Googling. Let’s Talk:
"I’ve been studying the psychology of online connectivity for more than 30 years. For the past five, I’ve had a special focus: What has happened to face-to-face conversation in a world where so many people say they would rather text than talk? I’ve looked at families, friendships and romance. I’ve studied schools, universities and workplaces. When college students explain to me how dividing their attention plays out in the dining hall, some refer to a “rule of three.” In a conversation among five or six people at dinner, you have to check that three people are paying attention — heads up — before you give yourself permission to look down at your phone. So conversation proceeds, but with different people having their heads up at different times. The effect is what you would expect: Conversation is kept relatively light, on topics where people feel they can drop in and out."

Wikileaks release of TPP deal text stokes 'freedom of expression' fears; Guardian, 10/9/15

Sam Thielman, Guardian; Wikileaks release of TPP deal text stokes 'freedom of expression' fears:
"One chapter appears to give the signatory countries (referred to as “parties”) greater power to stop embarrassing information going public. The treaty would give signatories the ability to curtail legal proceedings if the theft of information is “detrimental to a party’s economic interests, international relations, or national defense or national security” – in other words, presumably, if a trial would cause the information to spread...
“The text of the TPP’s intellectual property chapter confirms advocates warnings that this deal poses a grave threat to global freedom of expression and basic access to things like medicine and information,” said Evan Greer, campaign director of internet activist group Fight for the Future. “But the sad part is that no one should be surprised by this. It should have been obvious to anyone observing the process, where appointed government bureaucrats and monopolistic companies were given more access to the text than elected officials and journalists, that this would be the result.”"

Thursday, October 8, 2015

India’s Attack on Free Speech; New York Times, 10/2/15

Sonia Faleiro, New York Times; India’s Attack on Free Speech:
The realization has made for decisions that were once unthinkable.
Last December, the acclaimed author Perumal Murugan informed the police that he’d received threats from Hindu groups angered by a novel he wrote in 2010. Extremists staged burnings of his book and demanded a public apology from him. The police suggested he go into exile. Realizing he was on his own, in January Mr. Murugan announced the withdrawal of his entire literary canon. On Facebook, he swore to give up writing, in essence apologizing for his life’s work out of fear for his family’s safety...
The attacks in India should not be seen as a problem limited to secular writers or liberal thinkers. They should be recognized as an attack on the heart of what constitutes a democracy — and that concerns everyone who values the idea of India as it was conceived and as it is beloved, rather than an India imagined through the eyes of religious zealots. Indians must protest these attacks and demand accountability from people in power. We must call for all voices to be protected, before we lose our own."

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The 10 most frequently banned books since 2001; Entertainment Weekly, 9/29/15

Christian Holub, Entertainment Weekly; The 10 most frequently banned books since 2001:
"'And Tango Makes Three,' Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
Years on Most Challenged list: 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006
Reasons cited: “Homosexuality, anti-family, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group”
Based on the true story of Rory and Silo, two male penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo who formed a couple and raised a baby together, And Tango Makes Three has been controversial ever since its 2005 publication. The depiction of a natural, healthy homosexual relationship among animals has raised the ire of conservative parents and advocates, some of whom believe the book promotes “the homosexual agenda.”"

#WatchWhatYouSay; Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/28/15

Frank Donoghue, Chronicle of Higher Education; #WatchWhatYouSay:
"Most academics are familiar with one or more well-­publicized incidents in which professors were suspended, were fired, or had a hiring contract rescinded because of controversial statements they had made on social media. That common denominator should give pause to all academics who value their jobs...
The courts may ultimately decide these cases, but as things stand now I think they illustrate that academic freedom is in danger of becoming a hollow concept as academics are increasingly active, if naïve, users of social media.
Even given the high cost to colleges of trying to remove a tenured professor, tenure obviously doesn’t provide adequate protection. What’s more, a smaller and smaller proportion of the higher-education teaching work force has tenure or is eligible for it; removing the tenure-ineligible is as simple as not renewing their contracts.
That demographic development, combined with the impossibility of containing social media, means that all academics must exercise extreme caution."

The Coddling of the American Mind; Atlantic, September 2015

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, Atlantic; The Coddling of the American Mind:
"Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma."

Lawmaker proposes revamp of Pittsburgh Ethics Committee that last met in 2008;, 9/30/15; Lawmaker proposes revamp of Pittsburgh Ethics Committee that last met in 2008:
According to the city’s website, the Ethics Hearing Board was established to maintain high standards of personal integrity, truthfulness and fairness among employees. However, the mayor’s office said the board’s last meeting took place in November 2008...
This week Gilman proposed legislation to fix what he calls the loopholes in the city’s ethics system. He wants to create a new board staffed with experts independent from City Hall and with whistleblower protection.
"If they speak out about something, they're not going to face reprisal from the people who have power. The thing about power is that it always needs to be checked,” Dr. Alex John London, of Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Ethics and Policy, said."

Complex Car Software Becomes the Weak Spot Under the Hood; New York Times, 9/26/15

David Gelles, Hiroko Tabuchi, and Matthew Dolan, New York Times; Complex Car Software Becomes the Weak Spot Under the Hood:
“We should be allowed to know how the things we buy work,” Mr. Moglen of Columbia University said. “Let’s say everybody who bought a Volkswagen were guaranteed the right to read the source code of everything in the car,” he said.
“Ninety-nine percent of the buyers would never read anything. But out of the 11 million people whose car was cheating, one of them would have found it,” he said. “And Volkswagen would have been caught in 2009, not 2015.”
Automakers aren’t buying the idea...
Volkswagen, through its trade association, has been one of the most vocal and forceful opponents of an exemption to a copyright rule that would allow independent researchers to look at a car’s source code, said Kit Walsh, staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group for user privacy and free expression.
“If copyright law were not an impediment,” he said, “then we could have independent researchers go in and look at the code and find this kind of intentional wrongdoing, just as we have independent watchdogs that check vehicle safety with crash-test dummies.”"