Tag Archives: Google

Whether Carrot or Stick, Copia Is Using It to Flog a Dead Horse

It’s always entertaining to watch someone attempt to turn an old idea into a revolutionary one, so imagine our delight – or dismay, if anyone takes it seriously – to read a Techdirt article doing just that. Better yet, doing so under the guise of a carefully researched “report!”

If you don’t have the heart to wade through yet more head-in-the-sand, piracy apologist schtick, here’s the hypothesis: where legal streaming services launch, piracy drops.

 

Mind = Blown, right?

This unremarkable conclusion is communicated in a thoroughly clichéd way, within a report entitled “The Carrot or The Stick: Innovation vs. Anti-Piracy Enforcement.” The document is commissioned by The Copia Institute, a Google-backed think tank which appears to receive its thoughts from the tech lobby, pretty them up in Powerpoint with some clip art, before labeling them “innovative” and releasing them into the wild.

Less an innovative think tank, more recycled arguments from a stagnant thought pool.

To take this case directly, though, let’s neuter one false premise from the outset; enforcing intellectual property law and encouraging innovation are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the former supports the latter by giving inventors and artists some degree of confidence that they will be able to make a living from their groundbreaking ideas, without someone taking them without permission.

Nor does the fact that innovation makes exciting and legal new services available for our entertainment needs mean that there’s no place for anti-piracy initiatives. There will always be those who seek to profit from content that isn’t theirs to sell, and there will always be a niche of technologically-able users who have no qualms about circumventing legal safeguards to get take what they want for nothing. As we see in the cases of Kim Dotcom/Megaupload and The Pirate Bay’s founders, anti-piracy protection is key to bringing down the illegal side of the content equation. This actually aids legal services, who understand the need to compensate creators,  because they aren’t subject to unfair competition from those who feel no need to respect intellectual property law.

From there, the entire argument falls apart, because each area must be dissected on its own merits, with little or no correlation to the other. Yes, there must be a drive to innovate and launch new entertainment services. Yes, there should be legislation in place to prevent unauthorized services vying with those that legally source their content. But the two can live side-by-side, even symbiotically, without detracting from the other. Disagree with the effectiveness of specific anti-piracy programs, by all means, but don’t try to tell us that the existence of legal services means that all efforts to curb the illegal ones should be killed.

The idea that the entertainment industry is opposed to innovation and fails to launch services that consumers want is no longer just a tired argument, it’s on the side of the road, wheezing and, we have to hope, just about ready to quit the race.

Most mainstream consumers have not yet arrived at the streaming station, but everyone from cable companies to online-only startups is now introducing. From the MPAA itself, which so often bears the brunt of criticism , the Where to Watch initiative helps to guide viewers to the content . Such a sound idea that companies like Apple and Amazon, often held up as the height of tech innovation, are just now beginning to integrate Universal Search options into their streaming solutions!

The simple fact is that the entertainment industry is working hard every day to update its production and distribution to reach consumers when and where they want to watch. Most are willing to compensate them for this effort, be it in the form of subscription fees, one-time charges, or simply watching a few ads during their content.

There’s a section of the online environment, however, that tasted piracy early on and now refuses to give up the notion that they are entitled to take any content they want, without ever having to pay anything. As much as piracy apologists like Techdirt, appropriately named, try to sling mud on the creative industry for being dinosaurs and deliberately holding back innovation, real world products simply don’t let that stick.

Cheapskate (You Ain't Gettin' Nada)

An honest approach to piracy apologism? — Cheapskate (You Ain’t Gettin’ Nada) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rather than conduct “research” into the glaringly obvious to support their own ends, it would be refreshingly honest to hear something else we already know from this crowd: “we’re cheap and we don’t to pay people to create things that entertain us.”

It won’t make the attitude any more easy to stomach, but at least the arguments will finally come from a place that can be logically, if not legally justified.

 

 

Beware Your Webcam! Overseas RAT Hackers Invade U.S. Homes

Webcams are among the latest tools being used by hackers,  who literally peek into bedrooms. This from a report, Selling Slaving,  just released by the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA), focusing on a subset of hackers known as “ratters.”

The name is an acronym for “Remote Access Trojans,” an easily accessible type of malware that enables hackers to take control of individual computers from afar.

The computers ratters enlist in their efforts are known as slaves. DCA found international hackers invading the privacy of devices in 33 states, as well as other countries, with many providing commentary in Arabic about the response of their victims.

 

A RAT victim unknowingly captured by her own webcam. The video ran on YouTube – not the advertisement.

The malware is loaded by unknowing, often young users who frequent pirates sites like Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents. Once loaded the malware opens the door to everything on a computer, including its webcam. The invasion of privacy is made even worse by the fact that many ratters post videos, including victims’ names and IP addresses on videos posted on YouTube.

In a disturbing twist, many ratters make money through YouTube’s partner program, running ads on the videos for major brands, and splitting the revenues with YouTube.

The Digital Citizens Alliance also found that a number of ratters engage in the practice of “sextortion,” requiring victims to make videos or else face humiliation online though the use of information that they have acquired from their computers.

Here is a summary of some of the most compelling findings:

  • “Ratters” are aggressively launching 1:1 attacks on consumers and “slaving” their devices, is a growing problem. It takes ratters little time to slave hundreds of devices. From there, they can gather private information off those devices, which they can then use to “sextort” the owners of the devices. Some of the ratters’ victims have been forced to make videos where they must do as the ratters say or be publicly humiliated.
  • On the hackers’ chat room, Hack Forums, there are more than 1.5 million posts that discuss acquiring, creating, and spreading RATs (as of 7/22/15). Digital Citizens found one post where a Hack Forums participant offered access to the devices of girls for $5 and guys for $1. We found repeated posts where ratters said the best places to spread RATs were YouTube and content theft sites, like Pirate Bay and KickassTorrents.
  • Digital Citizens went on to YouTube and scoured through hundreds of ratters’ videos with ads from well-known companies – running alongside the videos. Many videos had the faces of victims and IP addresses to hacked computers. In fact, Digital Citizens researchers found IP addresses potentially connected to devices in 33 states and dozens of other countries.
  • On Hack Forums, ratters talked about how content theft sites, like Pirate Bay, and KickassTorrents, were great places from which to spread RATs.  Researchers also found YouTube videos demonstrating how to use content theft sites to trick victims into downloading dangerous malware.
  • Ratters can make money through YouTube Partner Program. If a ratter joins the YouTube Partner Program, and, like the videos in our report, their video is “approved” then it starts to be monetized. In the Partner Program, YouTube promises to split ad revenues with that approved videos for their traffic. You start getting views on YouTube, you start making money – potentially thousands of dollars. In a survey of 200 RAT videos Digital Citizens researchers found ads running on nearly 40 percent.

 

In Africa, Questions Over Connectivity and Content

While we often hear complaints that U.S. Internet access speeds lag behind countries like South Korea, Japan, and parts of Europe, it’s easy to forget that some areas of the world have little or no access to the online resources we take for granted.

 

In the global broadband speed league, countries in Africa lag far behind those on other continents, for example, and that’s only counting those consumers who can actually get connected in the first place.

That lack of connectivity is a driving force behind initiatives like Google’s Project Loon and Facebook’s internet.org, which operate under the banner of altruism – delivering the Internet to those without the means or infrastructure to access it – but do offer clear benefits to the companies behind them. As Microsoft experienced for many years with Internet Explorer antitrust accusations, any attempt to be the sole portal through which a high proportion of consumers access the web is viewed dimly by regulators.

Highlighting that fact, questions have been raised in recent months about the intentions of internet.org in India, and whether Facebook is violating net neutrality by creating what many see as its own “walled garden” of Internet activity. Telephone companies are heading up this criticism, concerned that their services will be undermined by this low-cost alternative.

In Africa, by contrast, regulation is not as extensive as India, and the market for connected technology less developed. This leaves plenty of wiggle room for Facebook to insert itself as a primary provider of connectivity, with all the boosts that brings to its user base in countries across the continent.

But the question remains, is this a true connection to the Internet or just a window to Facebook’s take on what the web should be?

The company will, of course, argue that some connection is better than none, and they might be right. Even so, further issues arise when copyright enters the equation, as the continent has a significant piracy problem and Facebook is a part of that. Where as in North America we don’t really associate the main social networks with copyright infringement (early issues with Twitter’s Periscope service notwithstanding), links to unlicensed song downloads are frequently posted by bloggers in countries like Nigeria, where piracy is reportedly more common than legitimate music services.

If Facebook’s version of a connected world is going to become a reality, they clearly have questions to answer about the extent of that connectivity and the content that they allow to flow through it. It will be a tricky balancing act between providing wider access while restricting the availability of content that infringes international copyright. It must also convince existing providers and regulators that this type of service doesn’t give Facebook, or any other dominant Internet company, a backdoor monopoly to online access in countries where there are still large segments of consumers to win.

Stepping back for a moment, however, what many see as a concern could easily be turned into opportunity.

If legitimate content services partner with initiatives aiming to bring connectivity to new areas, good habits can be formed early on and piracy alternatives pushed to the margins of online access. Where as pirates got the jump on legal platforms in more developed markets – think Napster serving up music downloads years before Apple launched iTunes – those who provide reliable connections to get new users online can learn from those lessons and present legal content options to them from day one.

The race for Internet providers to enter developing markets is well and truly underway and, as always, the fight to protect copyright and curb piracy will be right behind it.

At Home and Across the Atlantic, Google’s Legal Woes Grow

English: Google Logo officially released on Ma...

Google Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Google is facing a tough road ahead, legally-speaking, as both US and European organizations line up to question the company’s practices. 

Both challenges revolve around antitrust charges; not a new allegation for Google, but certainly coming at the dominant search engine with more teeth this time around. The American case focuses more on media accusations that a non-investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which dates back to 2012, requires further scrutiny.

Across the Atlantic, Google faces increased criticism within the European Union (EU), with whom its relationship has always been tense at best.

The accusations in this case come from competitors based in Europe, who allege that their American rival uses its de facto monopoly on the search market to steer potential customers to its own products and web properties. When those properties are presented at the top of the search results by a company that dominates the European market to the tune of more than 90 percent, and competitors pushed down to positions that are rarely viewed, it raises questions as to the true neutrality of those results.

 

This is where the EU comes in, overseeing a case that could potentially cost Google some $66 billion if authorities rule against the company and opt to fine it the full 10 percent of profits that European rules allow. Even for one of the most cash-rich brands in the world, that’s an amount that will do some significant damage.

If it goes all the way the case will mark a new low for Google in Europe, after many years of trading blows with the area’s regulators at both national or regional level.

Earlier this year we reported on why Google chose to pull its news services in Spain, following a disagreement with the government and certain media outlets in the country over how it scrapes their sites for news content. Suspiciously, only a couple of months later, the country’s attempt to block prominent piracy site The Pirate Bay was scuppered in part by a Google-related workaround. Although there was support for Google from some sections of the European media, the general reputation of the company is consistently under fire in the region, whether over its tax avoidance in the United Kingdom or privacy concerns in Germany.

The news issue, for example, is predated by a wider tug of war with the EU over the company’s patchy approach to user privacy, and the controversial “Right to be Forgotten” law that came into effect in Europe last year. Some believe Google’s actions in Spain amount to heavy-handed tactics, intended to communicate Mountain View’s displeasure with increasingly tight regulation of its activity. When a company holds all the cards in a marketplace as large as the EU, though, it’s fair to assume that it should be held to a high standard.

However, as we see in the U.S. and with the dropped FTC investigation, Google is used to getting what it wants and playing by its own rules.

As in many cases where it is asked to do its fair share to curb illicit and fraudulent activity, Google complained about the burden of responsibility and trotted out some well-worn arguments about unnecessary regulations stifling innovation. Now those arguments ring rather hollow, given the widespread antitrust accusations leveled against the company at home and abroad.

In Europe, Google’s greedy appetite to hold on to every last percentage point of market dominance may prove to be its undoing. Competition is a close companion to innovation, so stifling the former is really little different to hindering the latter, which Google so often accuses others of doing. For that reason, privacy and intellectual property advocates in the Unites States will be watching the European example closely as this case unfolds.

 

Spain Pushes Google’s Buttons Over News Content

Europe has long held a healthy concern about the power wielded by search giant Google. With more than 80% market share and increasingly influential in all areas of technology, from desktop to mobile, browser to cloud computing, the company has found opposition mounting around the European Union in various guises.

Now it’s the turn of Spain, but the country’s government appears to have gone too far with its attempt to squeeze Google over its News product.

The so-called “Google tax,” which was passed last week, intends to collect revenue from online news providers who aggregate headlines from Spanish media outlets. It goes into effect on January 1st, 2015, but Google chose to act preemptively to avoid charges and earlier today shut down its news item content from Spanish content providers.

The law has been widely criticized by journalists, especially in the technology sector, for being over prescriptive and getting its just desserts with Google pulling the plug on a product that provides valuable traffic to the country’s publications. That criticism largely fails to delve into the nuance of intellectual property, however, and present the other side of the argument that publishers should have a right to dictate how and when their content is used.

In some cases the news that Google presents may in itself stand as a piece of content, in which case it benefits the search engine but not the publication whose headlines it has pulled. Spain’s law does go too far in the other direction though, making payments mandatory and giving publishers no option to decide that they want to give away these snippets in exchange for the traffic that a search engine can send them.

For its part Google’s reasoning that it makes no money on news, while accurate in fact, seems somewhat disingenuous. Although its News section makes no revenue from ads directly, it’s certainly a factor that attracts users who go on to search the company’s other listings, building its brand and generating revenue on ad clicks in those paid sections. In that sense at least, Google is playing off the content of others – in this case snippets of their reports – in order to bring in the eyeballs that swell its allure for advertisers.

More than anything else this case demonstrates just how fine a line content creators now walk, in terms of monetizing what they create directly versus giving elements of it away for free in order to play the long game. For news sites that means traffic to sell its adverts or subscriptions for more. As that traffic is likely to dip substantially without Google in the weeks and months to come, it’s understandable why Spanish publishers are quickly backtracking on this attempt to push Google’s buttons.

Europe Hammers Away at Google

The disconnect between Google and European privacy authorities shows little sign of reaching a conclusion any time soon. Google’s stepped up lobbying efforts are only backfiring, according to analysis in Venture Beat.

European privacy regulators once again rebuked Google last week for its stepped up efforts to tie data gathering initiatives across its portfolio of platforms. The specific order last week, was issued by German authorities who informed Google that it was in violation of German law.

Then there’s the securities issue that has been bedeviling Google for several years. Google and the European Commission were on the verge of reaching a settlement to an ongoing EC antitrust violation when officials asked Google to make more changes to the terms.

The ongoing nature of the disputes is illustrative of two issues. The first is differences in expectations about privacy in Europe and the United States. The U.S. public has become accepting or perhaps resigned to the fact that privacy is going the way of the dinosaur, or being redefined, depending on your take on it. Europeans are less willing to let go, or at least that’s the view of proactive European regulators.

The second issue is more speculative. It is whether the EC resents the fact that it is a U.S. company that’s moving in on privacy. That’s a double whammy that might be just a bit too much to take for some in the EC. From a U.S. perspective it rings of anti-competitiveness. But I can understand an ambivalence to give up privacy in the name of Google profits. What’s perhaps missing is an understanding of what might be possibly gained by Google’s data grab.

Australia’s Foxtel Takes Aim at Pirates

Foxtel Logo

The success of Australian media company Foxtel should not be used as an excuse for piracy, according to its CEO Richard Freudenstein. Speaking at Sydney’s Copyright Forum, Freudenstein contended that the livelihood of professionals in the entertainment industry was being threatened by piracy. “I think there is a real risk that people see this as all about big companies. It’s about writers, it’s about directors it’s about people selling popcorn in movie theatres,” Freudenstein said.

Interestingly, Google’s Australian head of public policy Ishtar Vij responded that the Australian government’s move to crack down on pirates could stifle creativity and place an undue burden on creative professionals. She added, “”Content owners need to be able to control their content online but it can’t be done in a way that compromises the broader ecosystem.” That’s a more assertive position than Google has taken at home in the U.S. Freudenstein responded  to Google, saying, “We’ll have a lot more cats on skateboards and a lot less Game of Thrones,” he said.

The video wars in Australia are set to enter a new stage as Netflix readies itself to enter the market. Just last month Foxtel lowered the price of its basic cable package by half to about A$25. Freudenstein said it was a response to affordability issues. Others contend it was b brushback directed against Netflix. Stay tuned. Things are heating up Down Under.