CyberTech Rambler

January 6, 2015

Incompetence Management?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:04 pm

As TheRegister noted at the end of its coverage on Marriott’s clarification on why it wants FCC to give it the right to block other networks using its convention and conference centre, one really has to wonder why its WiFi network is so flimsy.

In my opinion anyone visiting a convention and conference centre has the expectation to be able to create his own local WiFi hotspot to meet his own computing needs.

Conference centre operators should not be allow to interfere with other people’s personal hotspot the way Marriott wanted. As an conference operator with home turf advantage, for Marriott to claim that it cannot run its own WiFi service in the face of these hotspot says that it is incompetent. I do not think that it is likely that the incompetency comes from its IT department but rather Marriott management choose not to invest in the appropriate infrastructure to support their own network. Now it is made worse by the fact that rather than make the appropriate investment, Marriott either wants to spend money on the wrong type of equipment, or to reuse equipment it had bought but was fined for using it by the FCC. The cynic in me says they are trying to exploit network congestion for commercial advantage. Both are not acceptable.

Technically, Marriott’s request from FCC is unfair because it ask for the rights to favour its own wifi network operating on a shared spectrum. it is made worse by the fact that it wants to do this by intentionally interferes with other people’s networks, instead of improving the performance of its own network.

The same criticism applies to Hilton and American Lodging Association. Nobody forced you to invest in a conference centre, you choose to do it. For that, you are expected to play fair when it comes to WiFi.

While it is not that unusual to see WiFi network meltdown in large conferences. Spectrum can be very busy at large conference. I can remember a very big conference where the conference organizer asked for everyone’s cooperation to reduce WiFi traffic because the spectrum is too congested. The difference here is the organizer did not ask for its network to be favoured in this situation. It is in the same boat with everyone else.

December 31, 2014

D-day tomorrow for Spanish Publishers

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 4:52 pm

Since Google shut down its Spanish News Services, a few news websites had been sizing up its implication. In particular, behind the headlines, what will Google do, or more importantly, not do.

As I do not speak Spanish, I do not know what the law actually says. Initially, there were news article suggesting that even the “general search index” cannot show news snippet without payment. Plausible. A more sensible view is only search index specializing on news, i.e. news site, is affected. Google’s original blogpost announcing the closure did not talk about the general search index, lending weight to the general search index not affected. However, it could simply be a negotiating tactics or to signal that they are willing to negotiate.

After the shutdown, the net is full with news that you can still get the articles from the General Search Site and in particular, on the last day of 2014, I can still see the Spanish equivalent of “News” search on the General Search Site. Whether this will stay on after the law goes into effect, we have to wait and see.

So, tomorrow is D-day, as this is the reported date that the new law will take effect. I fully expects Google to respect the law and have no reason to think they will not. Its lawyers would had looked into the law with a fine-tooth comb, spelling out to it what it and cannot do. However, I have to warn that it is not necessarily reflected in what Google does in the sense that it can choose to shut down/disable more things than the law requires. I will say it will not be wise for Google to do this, but do appreciate that it needs to save some bargaining chips.

Immediately after the closure of Google News, statistics companies says that external traffic to Spanish News Site drops. That is only to be expected. In fact, all parties expected this. The question is what is the new equilibrium after the effect of this initial drop fades as users find new ways to access Spanish news. Note that unlike other attempts at similar law where publishers can opt out by giving Google free access, this Spanish law does not allow opt out, forcing every publishers in Spain on to the same boat. This introduces a different type of dynamics. It is possible that they will be satisfied, or be forced to live with, this new equilibrium.

December 15, 2014

Beware what you asked for

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:03 pm

TheRegister is running a news story saying that Spanish News Publishers Association (AEDE) scored an own goal with Google withdrawing Google News and will purge all index record for news items originating from Spain.

The Spanish Report has a set of good articles about Google’s move. First thing first, one got to understand the law involved. This article shows how the law evolves the way it did. The conclusion is, with the new Intellectual Property Law coming into effect in the new year, the News Publishers basically got their cake: Any use of news article or photograph, however insignificant, requires payment. Only indexing news articles for the purpose of providing non-commercial search do not requires prior permission and payment. Finally, to counter Google getting any news publisher to agree to permit Google to do the two things for free, which Google did rather successfully in Germany after similar law was passed, no news publisher is permitted to opt out.

After getting their cake signed, sealed and delivered, they expect Google to come back and negotiate payment for Google News and for search indexing. They deem, not unreasonably, that it is only a remote chance that Google will decide to abandon Spanish News completely. They hope, after considering the scenario, Google will decide it has less to lose by coming back to the negotiation table and sign a deal that it has been fighting very hard to not sign it.

Unfortunately, Google obviously believe that it is better business decision for it to stick to its gun and ceases News gathering in Spain. I believe it is the right decision for Google as a company. AEDE will not be surprised because it should already seen the writing on the walls when Google did not come running.

What this means is, having got their cake, AEDE found it hard to swallow.

Google is throwing down the gauntlet. It opined that Spanish News Publishers will find they lose more than they gain with Google withdrawing its News Service. Perhaps most importantly for Google, it cannot back down for the fear of copycat legislation. It needs to send a message: News publishers living in countries smaller than Spain take note, I won’t pay.

Google is more or less proven right. In doing so, it not only AEDE on the wrong foot, it turned the table around. The latter finds that it has to activate its backup plan, i.e. appealing to Spanish Government to stop Google from leaving them behind.

Will it works? As far as stopping Google from leaving them _completely_, possibly. Especially if Spanish Government choose to intervene. It’s statement, as carried at the end of this article, says that it believe the purpose of law establishes the basis for negotiation between interested party, and there are other outlets for news besides Google. The first part says that it is not my problem and it is up to the players to come to a agreement/compromise. The subtext of the second part is I am not taking side in this debate. This is also known as a box-standard government response. I, however, think the Spanish Government will intervene. It will be difficult to enact a law saying Google cannot withdraw.  What the Spanish Government will opt to, is to mediate between the two parties. The irony here is AEDE finally got the meeting it wants, the only different here is advantage Google, not advantage AEDE.

I do really want to see what compromise the mediator can come up with. The law is so tightly written that there is little room to maneuver. It will take a rather long time, after assuming the law that modify this one is fast track, to loosen this law. Wordsmiths, a.k.a. lawyers, will be looking at what they can do with the remuneration package for publisher.

I believe Google will return to the Spanish News scene. Only thing is, I cannot tell you when.

October 20, 2014

Don’t let PR got out of hand

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:08 am

Via TheRegister, it appears that the alleged leader of LulzSec only got community service for a relatively minor crime of defacing a nobody-knows-who council.

That is not to say that what the person do was wrong. Under TheRegister’s spotlight is the Police, or rather, its PR department, sensationalize the story, then have to see the case finished with a whimper.

Well, we all know the difference between what someone did and what can be proved in court. But to say our poor Aussie Federal Police was victim of this is an overstatement. In my opinion, they should had rein in PR rather than let it got out of hand. Police Forces deal with fact. I lost count of how many times the media says so-and-so was arrested but the Police only say “someone was arrested”. That is intentional on the part of the Police. It is partly to protect the person from unwanted media allegation and speculation but mostly to demonstrate that we the Police are a cut over the rest and deal with fact. To have the Police permitting their PR to publishing “allegations” simply because someone fancy himself as the leader of a hacking group that the Police force cannot prove later is an act not worthy of a reputable force.

Things like this tarnish the reputation of AFP. The long term repercussion is it makes it hard for them to argue for more power to fight terrorism and hacking.

July 8, 2014

Its all tactics and PR stunt

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:37 am

Two stories demonstrates Google is getting more and more savvy with PR. The two are the “postponement” of removal of Independent Label’s music content from YouTube and the other the so-called clumsy handling of the removal of BBC’s Robert Peston blog post.

On the surface both are bad news for Google. Actually, no. For the Independent Label case, it is good for Google/YouTube in the long term. When you dig into it, it is no different from what Apple or Amazon will do to those “poor” Independent Labels. The only difference is Google is more tolerant of criticism than the other two. If they did what they do to Google, they will be doomed, especially with Apple. Google tolerance of criticism is going to pay dividend in the future as that portray it as the gentle giant compare to ruthless dictatorship of the others. Moreover, I believe both sides realize that Google is just using the threat as a bargaining tool and never actually has the intention of implementing it, save for extreme cases. Independent Labels are using the PR as a leverage tool and both parties know it. So my prediction is when it comes to the wire, both sides will find a compromise both can leave with.

 

The second case involving Robert Peston’s blog post is a more complicated story. It is most likely to be a computer error, i.e., nobody actually hit the “Approve” button to remove the post from search history, the computer simply does it on its own. I believe Google is not alarmed that this type of mistakes happened. In fact, everybody, including the EU, knows it is going to happen one day. We all know it will happen sooner rather than later. The only unknown is who is the “victim”. From Google’s point of view the sooner the better as it can then put the blame on the teething problem. If you ask me I believe they know it will happen so soon that they can blame teething problem. It is not inconceivable Google is milking this as EU censorship go awry. Google PR stunt backfiring on it as TheRegister claimed? I will not be so hasty. It is too early to tell. I will say it backfires if Google is forced by EU or EC to sign an agreement specifically targeting situations like this. This can still happen. Google, however, should be more worry with the link to google.com search (US search) which redirect users to its full, untouched by the ECJ judgement, search on its search landing page for EU countries. I am sure Google’s lawyer had approved that as legal, but I think there is a possibility that Google  will be sanctioned for bleaching that judgement.

July 1, 2014

Facebook Emotion Study referred to Data Commissioner

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:35 pm

Everyone can see this coming ….

TheRegister frames it as a “consent” problem. To me it is not a consent problem, however, having explicit consent would had help. The issue is the way the data is made available to the researcher. Did they got anonymized data? and more importantly, how is it anonymized?

I think anonymized data was provided, so the question how was it anonymized is the more important question. It does not matter if the research was conducted on Facebook’s computers or the researchers’ computer. It is the question of what the researchers see. Not being well versed in law,  I am not the question of what the researchers see extends to their computer program. In these days where computers are shifting through data,  I believe this should matter.

Anonymizing the data opens a big gigantic can of worms. The research shift through so much data and inevitably personal details slip through. It is difficult to completely stop non-anonymized data going through. For example, if I say “ctrambler is an idiot” then simply because ctrambler is my handle on the blog and it points to a person, i.e., me, the data is not anonymized. Recognizing the impossibility of total complete anonymization, one simply has to demonstrate one had taken the utmost care to minimize as much as humanly possible. Hoever, do you want to stand in front of the Data Commissioner trying to convince him you tried your best? I will avoid it if I can.

Having explicit consent will alleviate this concern a lot. One can write the consent form telling participants that it is inevitable that some snippet of data will slip through. Most people recognize this and will be fine with it. Without explicit consent, the Data Commissioner adamantly will not be fine with it.

Forbes managed to dig out that may be the blanket consent Facebook is relying on to justify itself was after the research was conducted. Oops, big foot in one’s mouth. Details like this matters in the law courts, but not to me. My bigger beef is Facebook says that what they did is in accordance to their data use policy which permits the use of data in “internal operations” including “research”. I don’t think joe public’s definition of “research” covers being manipulated. My definition, which I thinks matches joe public’s, is research is limited to the data already present on Facebook, not something FaceBook try to collect on top of it, i.e., my response to manipulated news feed.  Neither do I see this as a legitimate “internal operations”. I see this as public experiment that will need explicit informed consent unless a reputable ethics committee says otherwise.

 

June 30, 2014

The issue of consent …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:09 pm

Via The Register, I learned about people getting upset with FaceBook manipulating their news feed for the purpose of a scientific study.

I understand why people are upset. I do not use FaceBook, but I will be upset if FaceBook manipulated my feed if I were on FaceBook, even if it is just one feed. It is an emotion  thing. In truth, the scale of manipulation, as experienced by an individual FaceBook, is very small, i.e. average out at most 5. It is not going to change your enjoyment of FaceBook. In fact, bugs and glitches in FaceBook system probably accounts for more feed lost than the experiment.

Most people pick up on the fact that there are several group of people that might have to answer for how they allow the study to proceed to publications. The obvious candidates are FaceBook, the authors themselves and the publishers. Less obvious is the role of  the University and Funding Body. We do not know who the funding body is although it might be FaceBook, so that leaves the two universities involved. Both Universities are represented in the form of Ethics Committee. For practical reasons, one of the ethics committee probably refers to the other. Nonetheless, the act of referring means the committee in question had considered and  approved the study.

As such, the researcher in me ask this question: Will I, if I am in the Ethics committee considering the research, approve the study?

Here is what I will consider:

First, I will completely underestimate the reaction to the fact that I am approving a project which does not require explicit consent.

Second, the fact that explicit consent is not given will mean I will think very hard about whether it should be approved. Explicit consent is an important pillar for participation in a study. However, it is recognized that explicit consent is not always possible or appropriate and there are specific rules and guidelines for it.

Third, here are the factors that I need to consider to waive explicit consent:

(1) What is the level of harm to the participants? This is the most crucial question. No explicit consent means participating in the experiment is compulsory and participant therefore do not have a choice. Researcher must satisfy me that the harm level is low. In this case, I tend to agree the harm level is very low.

(2) Is the experiment worth waiving explicit consent? I am not sure here. Let’s make it crystal clear, I will not grant waiver simply because it is more convenient for the researcher. I need to see explicit evidence that one cannot formulate a plan that incorporate explicit consent. Getting 155000 participants is one big task, so is managing them and manipulating theirs and only their news feed.  However, pit that against the skills and involvement of FaceBook means it is not difficult. The question is therefore whether can the applicant write consent form that the participants can give them informed consent? I think so.

Where I am wavering is will getting explicit consent itself will bias the outcome of the study. It is not unusual in psychological studies to be “economical with the truth”. A good example is the Milgrim experiment where participants had to press a button that will cause pain to another person while in truth, the other person is an actor who is unharmed by the experiment. In this case, I think we can formulate one.

(3) Is there an alternative to this experiment that is acceptable? For this question, I do not know because it requires knowledge about the topic being studied. The big issue here is can the manipulation of users’ news feed be avoided? Any researchers worth their salt will consider studying the news feeds  as they are instead of manipulating them. In this case, whether one can achieve the same aim by simply studying the emotional content of individual feeds. I think it can be done. I will much prefers this approach because the experiment step of omitting one feed can bias the result.

In all, I am not sure whether will I reject the study.

As an aside, if you look at Google News Search, it is interesting to see how a story turned sour (from the FaceBook and the paper authors’ point of  view) over a few days.

June 24, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:43 pm

Via TheRegister,  I found the link to Digital Music News where we can all see a leaked copy of YouTube’s proposed contract for Indie music providers.

One thing is true, YouTube is a very big player, it can bring on really big pressure on anyone, including me. As such, competition authorities should take a look at it.  Unlike the source quoted by TheRegister, I am not sure about the outcome.

I am not a lawyer, and the contract is full of legal speak. Skimming at the contract, looking at the points raised in TheRegister’s article, notably the Covenant Not To Sue, No Windowing, e.g., give exclusive rights to Amazon to publish a work ahead of the rest and royalty rate fixed by competition, a.k.a. big labels, I have to say while those is certainly one way of reading the contract, all  looks like an extreme view. Did YouTube drive a hard bargain? Threatening to remove content from providers who do not sign up means it is definitely a big YES. However, a few other things as well as history between content provider and YouTube, lead me to conclude that YouTube had not been unfairly strong arming them into signing the contract. The key word here is “unfairly”. On the other hand my view might be biased towards Google.

Without examining the context, the “Covenant Not To Sue” does appears to give YouTube’s user immunity to upload content if content provider sign up. The sentence reads [Emphasis Mine]

“[…] Provider covenants not to sue any Users who synchronizes any Provider Content in a User Video uploaded to the YouTube website, to the extent that the Provider’s Claim is based on the infringement of rights granted by Provider to Google herein

This italicized part is crucial. It basically restricted the immunity provided by content provider to only those they have granted to YouTube in the contract. The pro-Google way of seeing it is Google is also buying the rights for YouTube users to upload contents where it is compatible with the agreement. The key for me is it is a minor extension of what they would had given to Google when they signed the contract anyway. Google monetizing user uploaded content without paying the provider? Take a step back turn 180 degrees and one can argue that Google wants to buy that rights with this contract.

Most crucially, if YouTube’s user remixed a track and upload it, they are not covered by the immunity and is still liable to be sued. Under this contract, Google still does not have the right use the user content and therefore cannot monetize it. The scope for Google to monetize user-generated content without paying Indies is limited. One can argue that it is those user-generated content that creates the opportunity for  content providers to sell on YouTube.

Now, imagining this part is not in the contract, content provider will come back to YouTube and tell them the contract basically force YouTube to take their content exclusively from them. This creates additional liability for YouTube for user uploaded video on top of “Safe Harbor”. YouTube Legal Team of course see this and  acts to counter this.

Don’t like “Safe Harbor”? Ask the lawmakers to change the law. It was a compromise they stroke those years ago and will have to live by it. If any, the music Industry cannot even say it is unfair because they were were the weaker party when the law is drafted. The law to me is a good compromise: Nobody has the duty to protect your property. You have to do it yourself. The “Safe Harbor” approach give you a mean to do it.

I do not understand why TheRegister hinted that artists cannot sell album now, permit streaming service later. That  type of windowing is still permitted under this contract. To me, the paragraph in question is “b. Catelogues Commitment and Monetization”. In particular, the sentence [Emphasis mine]

“[…] Provider will provide Google with the same Provider Sound Recordings and Provider Music Videos on the same day as it provides such contents to any other similarly situated partners

This to me is the what is normally called the “Most Favoured Nation” provision. One cannot give iTune the rights to stream video ahead of YouTube. One cannot give Amazon the right to sell individual tracks instead of whole album before YouTube. Reason is YouTube is offering streaming service andto sell individual tracks and as such, both Apple and Amazon are “similarly situated partners” as YouTube in both context. While it is possible, I do not think Album Sales and Streaming Service as “similarly situated”. Finally I cannot see other big players like Apple or Amazon not insist on this type of clause themselves.

The fact that Indies are required to agree to the price agreed between YouTube and big label is a problematic one. There is a legitimate worry that YouTube will collude, knowingly or unknowingly, to unfairly assert monetary pressure on smaller producers. While I am not sure it is a “restrain of trade” as one source of TheRegister’s says, it is worth scrutiny.

On the other hand, requiring YouTube to negotiate with each and every producers might also be too difficult for YouTube to pull of. Perhaps the solution is to use some independent body to set the rate for everyone. The use of independent body to set rates is quite normal in the music industry. This is, however, one of the point which I do think Indies have a legitimate worry and need to be addressed.

 

Now, putting my pro YouTube hat on, here are some observations.

The first is that YouTube is a privately own walled-garden and it has the rights to choose who is coming in or out. If it says you have to sign a contract to come in and you do not want to, it has the right to say you cannot come in.

The next thing is the contract can both be interpreted in the extreme by YouTube or Indies putting their own colored lense on. Any legal system will have to use a transparent, colourless lens and use common sense. So far, there is no evidence that YouTube or Google normally play hardball and interpret everything to its selfish interest to the detriment of everyone else like some other companies. When you take that into account, the contract is not that bad.

I think the regulator should get involve here. YouTube is a big market place and potentially make or break music providers, especially smaller one (read Indies). As a dominant market player it has responsibility normally not associated with simply  being a market player. Big contracts like this, especially one that has a David vs Goliath complex like this one, should be routinely scrutinized to make sure regulations are followed.

However, I see several points against the Indies which are difficult to overcome if it goes to regulatory scrutiny. First and foremost is YouTube has the rights to decide what comes in to its walled garden. Denied entry into that walled garden is being most likely equal to being denied the most efficient way of distributing content, but as Judge Jackson in the original Microsoft Trial noted when he had to make a decision on whether Microsoft’s deal with PC makers to exclusively install IE on new computers, it is not an antitrust matter to deny the competition the most efficient way of distribution. In this case, Google is not even a competitors to the Indies. Moreover,  the presence of at least one other bigger wall garden known as iTune means Indies has another efficient way of distribution. In other words, nobody, Indies included, has the rights to insist YouTube let the them in.

Second, YouTube’s decision to exclude them from YouTube is a business decision it is entitled to take. In fact, it can argues that without a contract, it is at risk of being accused of infringing the rights of Indies by hosting any of their content at all and it is a risk it refuses to take. It can even take the moral high ground by saying the reason it does not want to host those content is because it wants to be clean of infringement claim.

Third, even if the regulator accepts that YouTube had exercised  strong armed tactics, the deal as it stands could had easily come verbatim from iTune or Amazon. Sure, we hear the same noise as well from the same parties, but they finally still sign on the dotted line. So what is so different here that YouTube should be singled out?

All these are of course hinged on the fact that YouTube is not ruled to have extremely strong market power that it can bring monopolistic behaviour to bear. If it can, then regulator must step in to make sure it does not. I find it difficult to build such a case against YouTube, particularly with iTune being a very big if not the biggest player in the music market, and Amazon hot on  the heels of Google if it is not YouTube’s peer or bigger than YouTube. There are also a lot of other video services that wants ot replace YouTube.

In all, I think YouTube is in the clear, the threat to Indies is overstated. But regulators should make a quick decision for everyone’s sake to see whether YouTube is anything to answer. What I do not want is a drawn out damp squib we have with the Search anti-trust case in EC.

One of the source of TheRegister’s article claims that this is one of the contract ” .. so bad that you would never sign it in normal circumstances. But Google has a gun to your head”. The first part may be true, but I doubt Google has put a gun to one’s head.

April 25, 2014

It all boils down to trust …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:49 pm

Huawei has a point when it says that it will committing commercial suicide if it let the Chinese put a spy back door.

My take is all the issues about Chinese Spying via Huawei gears are protectionist/scaremongering  move. In other words business strategy dressed up as bogus national security concerns.

Western agencies are perfectly capable of vetting the gears without having to do what NSA did, i.e.,  hacking into Huawei to examine the source code.

It is, however, possible that Huawei’s relative lack of experience means their products is more vulnerable to hacking and so anyone, western and eastern spy agencies alike, can hack into it more easily than gears from established player.

Also there is nothing to say another Western Intelligence Agency did not plant anything on their gear when they are shipped off to friendly countries.

Therefore, Huawei’s gear is no different from similar gears from other supplier.

After so much ranting, I am getting to the reason for this post: While Huawei “commercial suicide” theory has a point, and after stripping away the protectionist interest and look at the gears in a more rational approach, Huawei still have a problem:  people just don’t trust the company.  That is why accusation like these has legs.

Huawei probably does not have a choice but to grin and bear it for now. I do not think it can ever get out of this trust issue, but the distrust will dilute away with time, especially if there is no scandal along the way.

Reading between the lines …

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:34 pm

From theRegister: “Tim Cook: Apple’s ‘closer than it’s ever been’ to releasing new product range”. Here’s what it means between the lines

  1. We haven’t released anything new for some time.
  2. Too bad for fans. They still willingly part with their money so it is not an issue.
  3. However, it is also starting to bother our investors. That is not good.
  4. So we better tell Tim Cook to say something non-specific, extremely vague to reassure the market. The technique used will be “forward statements” that Federal Reserve and Bank of England use to “guide” market
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