Tough Old Jew from the Bronx

Actor Carl Reiner — at 95 years old — just wrote an op-ed in The New York Times directed at Justice Anthony Kennedy:

I would like to start with congratulatory wishes on your forthcoming 81st birthday.

As someone who has almost a decade and a half on you, I can tell you this: It may well be that the best part of your career has just begun. As a nonagenarian who has just completed the most prolific, productive five years of my life, I feel it incumbent upon me to urge a hearty octogenarian such as yourself not to put your feet up on the ottoman just yet. You have important and fulfilling work ahead of you.

When I turned 81, I had finished “Oceans Eleven” and was gearing up for “Oceans Twelve” while also writing another book, which led me to a cross-country book tour.

Just a reminder that most of us aren’t trying hard enough.

Rather Than Innovate, Sue Them

Inside the Hotel Industry’s Plan to Combat Airbnb:

Last year, Airbnb underwent a rough regulatory patch.

The short-term rental company became a Federal Trade Commission target last summer after three senators asked for an investigation into how companies like Airbnb affect soaring housing costs. In October, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York signed a bill imposing steep fines on Airbnb hosts who break local housing rules.

The two actions appeared unrelated. But one group quietly took credit for both: the hotel industry.

In a presentation in November, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group that counts Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Hyatt Hotels as members, said the federal investigation and the New York bill were “notable accomplishments.”

Rather than innovate and make booking a hotel room as easy as booking an Airbnb, the hotel industry would rather snitch on Airbnb, form alliances with politicians, and sue them out of existence.

It’s the American way!

I’m not suggesting Airbnb isn’t capable of, or hasn’t engaged in shady business practices like Uber, I’m just saying fighting upstart rivals can’t be the only tool in your box.

“Behind every great fortune, is a great crime.”

Uber’s Top Secret “Hell” Program Exploited Lyft’s Vulnerability (paywall):

As the ride-sharing market was exploding in the U.S. between 2014 and the early part 2016, Uber had an advantage over Lyft that helped Uber maintain its lead, The Information has learned. Thanks to a secret software-based effort within Uber called “Hell,” Uber could track how many Lyft drivers were available for new rides and where they were, according to a person who was involved in the program and a person who was briefed about it.

As the philosopher Chris Rock said in his great standup act, Never Scared (channelling Honoré de Balzac), Behind every great fortune, is a crime.”

Uber is chock full of ’em.


How Uber Deceives the Authorities Worldwide:

At the time, Uber had just started its ride-hailing service in Portland without seeking permission from the city, which later declared the service illegal. To build a case against the company, officers like Mr. England posed as riders, opening the Uber app to hail a car and watching as miniature vehicles on the screen made their way toward the potential fares.

But unknown to Mr. England and other authorities, some of the digital cars they saw in the app did not represent actual vehicles. And the Uber drivers they were able to hail also quickly canceled. That was because Uber had tagged Mr. England and his colleagues — essentially Greyballing them as city officials — based on data collected from the app and in other ways. The company then served up a fake version of the app, populated with ghost cars, to evade capture.

It seems every aspect of Uber is shady as hell. From Greyball, to their toxic work culture filled with cases of sexual harassment, to not wanting to pay drivers as employees with benefits.

In 2015, I linked up to an interesting story of a journalist who went undercover as an Uber driver to find out if it was possible, as Uber claimed, to earn $90K a year driving for them. Spoiler: it is not possible.

Vizio is shady.

Vizio settles FTC lawsuit and agrees to get viewer consent before tracking TV habits:

Vizio will pay $2.2 million to settle a lawsuit alleging it collected customers’ TV-watching habits without their permission.

The lawsuit was filed by the Federal Trade Commission and the state of New Jersey. It alleged that, in 2014, Vizio began using software built into over 11 million smart TVs to capture “highly-specific, second-by-second information about television viewing.” Vizio was then said to have worked with another company to associate demographic information with each household, so that viewing habits could be paired with information like a viewer’s “sex, age, income, marital status,” and more.

I’m happy I’ve never purchased a Vizio product.

I like this detail:

In addition to the $2.2 million in payments, Vizio will now have to obtain clear consent from viewers before collecting and sharing data on their viewing habits. It’ll also have to delete all data gathered by these methods before March 1st, 2016.

Imagine that! Getting consent before collecting and selling peoples’ information.

What a novel idea.

Kickass Gets Ass Kicked by U.S. Feds

TorrentFreak: Feds Seize KickassTorrents Domains, Arrest Owner:

The complaint further reveals that the feds posed as an advertiser, which revealed a bank account associated with the site.

It also shows that Apple handed over personal details of Vaulin after the investigator cross-referenced an IP-address used for an iTunes transaction with an IP-address that was used to login to KAT’s Facebook account.

“Records provided by Apple showed that conducted an iTunes transaction using IP Address on or about July 31, 2015. The same IP Address was used on the same day to login into the KAT Facebook,” the complaint reads.

All our information is out there, just floating around on the tubes, leaving breadcrumbs back to us.

In other news, the number of file-sharing lawsuits have dropped by more than half:

The number of copyright lawsuits in the US over online file-sharing have dropped significantly this year, according to data compiled by Lex Machina. Data released by the legal research company shows there were 249 file-sharing lawsuits filed in the second quarter of 2016, compared to 517 cases the previous year.

Ars Technica notes that until recently, the number one filer of lawsuits was porn studio Malibu Media.

Update: IsoHunt already has a working mirror of KickassTorrents up

Google Wants Everyone’s Milkshake

Ars Technica: Frontier teams with AT&T to block Google Fiber access to utility poles:

AT&T’s lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Western Kentucky, concerns the Louisville Metro Council’s “One Touch Make Ready” ordinance’s effect on AT&T-owned utility poles. This type of ordinance is designed to speed up construction of new networks by making it easier for companies to attach wires to poles.

The Louisville ordinance lets companies like Google Fiber install wires even if AT&T doesn’t respond to requests or rejects requests to attach lines. Companies could also move AT&T wires to make way for their own wires without notifying AT&T, as long as the work wouldn’t cause customer outages. This also limits the number of construction crews needed for pole work, since each provider wouldn’t have to send its own workers to move their equipment.

AT&T, which is building its own fiber network in Louisville, claims that the ordinance lets competitors “seize AT&T’s property.”

It seems if AT&T owns these poles, then they have the right to reject another company adding an additional cable to it. So does this mean if a new company wants to run their own wires through a county/city/state they should be required to construct their own telephone poles? That would get messy.

AT&T used to hold a government-authorized monopoly when they built out the first trans-continental telephone network in the United States in the early 20th century. If it weren’t for this approved monopoly the US wouldn’t have had as reliable a longline network as it does today—if you’ve ever used a “land line”, how many times has it dropped a call on you? The government eventually broke up this monopoly in 1982. Perhaps there shouldn’t be a monopoly around these poles either.

Google’s attitude towards these telephone poles reminds me of how Google used to use public bus stops here in San Francisco for free for their private company shuttles. In 2014 they had to start paying to use them. Maybe they should be required to share their poles with other countries, but charge them a fee for using them. Google can’t expect they can continue to use other people’s shit for free.

Just My Luck

This is a map of the fireworks laws by state:

It’s my luck that I grew up in New Jersey. One of the 3 states that bans them. It was so sad that we actually got excited if someone was able to get a hold of some sparklers. And if someone had bottle rockets? Forget about it. Shit got real.

Apple Responds to the FBI

The FBI is asking for Apple’s help unlocking the iPhone 5C of San Bernardino terrorism suspect Syed Rizwan Farook.

Tim Cook responded:

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

No way, Jose. This would set a horrible legal precedent.

I’m happy to see Apple standing up for the privacy of their customers.

Fun With UK Copyright Laws

Copyright legislation will destroy design publishing says Charlotte Fiell:

New legislation regarding the use of images of “works of artistic craftsmanship” is being introduced next year as part of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act.

The legal reform will extend copyright protection on mass-produced artistic works from 25 years to the length of the author’s life, plus 70 years – the same as books and music.

While the main intention of the law is to protect mass-produced products from copycats, it could also mean 2D images of designed objects will be subject to the same copyright rules as 3D copies. This would mean publishers will be forced to pay licensing fees for images of designed objects.

“What we’ve got here is an unintended consequence of probably well-meaning legislation, but it could have a disastrous effect on design teaching and general debates about design too,” Fiell told Dezeen.

What about a carve-out clause:

“There’s a simple fix, which is to have what’s known as a carve-out clause that says yes this governs 2D copies or representations, but not if they’re used in publications or for review purposes,” she added.

According to the consultation document, the government will make no distinction between a 3D or 2D copy.


Attribution? What’s that?

Over at The Awl, Brian Feldman on Instagram celebrity, The Fat Jew:

Over the weekend, Instagram celebrity The Fat Jew—real name Josh Ostrovsky—faced swift and concentrated denunciation over the content (“jokes”) he posts on his account—one-liners, supposedly funny pictures, lowest common denominator viral chaff. Ostrovsky, who swipes material from others without credit and does not make much of what he posts, is arguably the native Instagram celebrity, with 5.7 million followers. There are people with more followers on Instagram, but mostly because they were celebrities before they joined; the Fat Jew is wholly a product of and for Instagram.

The Internet is all about posting uncredited words and images. It sucks.

For the record, I always do my best to give attribution to the quotes and words I post on this site.

Those 140 Characters Are Mine

Tweets are copyrightable:

Let’s face it: coming up with a grade-A tweet isn’t easy. That’s why some people just copy good tweets from other people and act like they came up with the 140-character witticism on their own. This has been going on since the beginning of Twitter.

It now appears Twitter is using its legal authority to crack down on these tweet-stealers. A number of tweets have been deleted on copyright grounds for apparently stealing a bad joke.

Don’t steal. Remix.

Apple Watch Success Metrics

Horace Dediu tries to figure out how we’ll figure out if the Apple Watch is a success:

  1. Language. Measure whether “Watch” will come to mean “Apple Watch”. “Phone” has come to mean not only “smartphone” but also all mobile/cellular phones and not just things used for calling but things used for all manner of information. This is a great test because the theft of semantics can only be accomplished through a degree of ubiquity of influential mindshare. Incidentally, the brand may well have been designed to do just that.
  2. A measurable and significant reduction in the use of the iPhone. The Watch peels off uses from the iPhone and therefore the more it peels off, the less remains. However, that which remains will be more uniquely valuable to the incumbent. This is the process of carving and erosion that the PC experienced vs. mobile devices in general.

“The theft of semantics.” I love that phrase.