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ACLU and EFF to Cripple RIAA Lawsuits

(Image used under: Fair Use doctrine)

While I don't support downloading music and movies instead of buying them, I also don't support abusing the legal system to bully people and make money. The RIAA has been doing just that for a long time according to several consumer groups.

In this case, the The American Civil Liberties Union - ACLU and the The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are arguing that when the The RIAA - Who They Are In a Nutshell sues thousands of "infringers", they have to file thousands of separate lawsuits and not just one.

Filing one is cheaper and easier, but makes it harder and is unfair for the victims… er, I mean defendants.

If the court adopts the approach suggested here, the costs of the current anti-P2P litigation strategy could become untenable. If each anonymous defendant requires several hundred dollars in filing fees, individual paperwork, individual subpoenas, and detailed information on their alleged distribution, settling for a mere $1,500 doesn't sound so hot.

Let's hope for the best. Leave people alone and worry about pirating organizations and criminal groups instead.

Source: Ars Technica

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Google Goes HTTPS!

Google
(Image used under: Creative Commons 2.0 [SRC])

In a move that has most people saying "huh?", Google launches SSL search capability! By adding HTTPS to the front of your bookmark or homepage like so: https://www.google.com, you will be using Google's new service.

This is the same as Google's normal search engine with a few important differences:

  1. Searches are encrypted from your browser to Google. While Google still knows who you are and everything you search for, anyone between you and them no longer will (thus the magic of HTTPS). So now when you're on the road (cafe, hotel, airport etc), the people who run or are listening to that network traffic won't be able to see what you search for or what results Google sends back.
  2. Any results you click will not forward a "Referrer" value. Normally, when you click a link, the page you visit gets to see where you just came from (called the referrer value). Since the page you came from was a Google search and the search terms are part of the URL, every page you visit gets to see the terms you used to find them. Google SSL removes that keeping your search terms private from websites you visit.

Combine this with the "private" browsing functions of all major Internet browsers and you'll leave little to no record of anything you search on your computer or the networks in-between. It still doesn't solve the problem of Google recording your search history against your will, but it's a great start!

Note that only web search and not others (like image search) are secured at this time, but Google may be looking to add those in the future.

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FreeCreditReport.com Class Action Suit!

This totally made my day:

A Wisconsin college student filed a class-action complaint against Experian this week, claiming that the company's ubiquitous ads for FreeCreditReport.com led her to believe she could use the site to get a no-cost credit report.

Go figure! Someone believed that FreeCreditReport means you can get a free credit report? What are the odds!?

How this has gone on this long I'll never know. Even after 11,000 Better Business Bureau complaints the most that's been done to date was the very cool FTC spoof videos making fun of FreeCreditReport's TV ads where they did everything short of calling them crooks.

It's such an exquisite pleasure to watch this bogus company go down; let's hope this suit sticks.

Update June 2010:

It's probably been a month or two (or three or four) since this happened, but as a result of the lawsuit, the FTC has required them to put a giant banner on the top of their website saying essentially that they're full of it. Granted, the site should just have been shut down, but it's still nice to see.

Hard to sell your supposedly free reports now isn't it?

Looking back from 2019:

The FTC filed their own lawsuit and won, but the measly ~1 million fine was so much less than the $72 Million they could afford just for theirdeceptive ad campaign, it just goes to show that founding a company in fraud is a solid business strategy. But I suppose it's not all bad… there was brand new legislation passed as a result of their scam:

The advertising practices of FreeCreditReport.com were specifically addressed in the Credit CARD Act of 2009. Now any company who advertises a 'free credit report' on TV or radio must include the statement: "This is not the free credit report provided for by Federal law." The law also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to issue new rules that will force free credit report advertisers to inform consumers that the only place for a free credit report is AnnualCreditReport.com.

On a lighter note, the Federal Trade Commission was so fed up with Freecreditreport.com, they made these awesome spoof videos:

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Force Windows 7 To Install No Matter What Kind of Key You Have

Windows7
(Image used under: Creative Commons 2.0 [SRC])

If you lose or break your original installation CD for Windows 7, you're going to have a tough time. Maybe your neighbor has a copy, but it's the home edition and you have the pro. What can you do? Right now, a Windows 7 installation key is specific to the type of disk. However, all is not lost thanks to the Ei.cfg removal utility.

Although your Windows installation disc may say "Home Premium Edition," it still contains the other versions (such as Pro or Ultimate) on the disc—it just has a very small file called ei.cfg that tells the disc what version to install. The ei.cfg Removal Utility creates a new ISO of your install disc that ignores this file, thus letting you choose what edition you want when you start the installer.

It won't let you upgrade for free since your key will still have to match the version installed, but at least if you and your neighbor have a matching bit version (32 or 64) of Windows 7, you can use their disk for your reinstallation regardless of which package they purchased. Also, for people who routinely help friends with their computers, having a generic disk that can install any version of Windows easily is a huge help and cost savings.

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Nordstrom’s Deserves Respect For Fighting Christmas Creep

Source

While complaining about the ills of society and bringing attention to stupidity and abuse are vital (and fun) activities, it is equally as important for us to band together and promote the positives by saluting those who are actually doing it right.

Today, the company that deserves our praise is Nordstrom's. Check out this sign found outside one of their stores:

Christmas creep is a problem of greed and of commercialization of holidays. It's an assault on our peace of mind and of the very few American traditions that we have. Or put simply, Christmas creep ruins Christmas. No music, no decorations, no nothing until AFTER Thanksgiving. It has always been and will always be that way in my house and I respect and support any company with the guts to keep to the same policy.

Nordstrom's, for today at least, you are my friend.

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Google Dashboard is a Good Step for Privacy

Better privacy controls? Yes please!

For as long as Google has existed, it has been and continues to be my favorite search engine by far. I like the company, their services, and just about everything about them except for one thing: abysmal privacy policies.

Though Google has legitimate use for storing search records to see how long it takes someone to find what they're looking for, there's no need to store an IP address along with the search records. Any unique identifier would work. There's certainly no reason why Google should store your records for 18 months, let alone 18 minutes.

To be fair, sometimes they get things right like when they strongly resisted government invasion of search records, but the information is there and that creates a risk.

While that issue is still in the air, Google recently made another step in the right direction with their Google Dashboard feature. When logged into any Google service, you can go to http://www.google.com/dashboard to see a consolidated listing of everything Google knows about you. Documents, chat records, search history, etc.

The service gives you single-page access to the privacy controls for every service that you're using with Google. This not only makes what they have on you more transparent, but easier to manage. Granted, they have more work to do in giving you control over what's stored and what isn't, you can at least delete some of the data. For instance, if you've made searches in the past that list your home address or medical information and you don't want Google to have that on file, you can delete it.

Of course, that doesn't get rid of every copy that exists, but it at leasts takes it out of their current records and makes it less likely to get swooped up by government snooping or any future data breaches that Google might suffer. All in all, a very good step in the right direction so make sure to check it out if you use Google services.

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Transunion to Offer Free ONLINE Credit Freezes!!

Transunion
(Image used under: Fair Use doctrine)

Most credit reporting companies have made it as difficult and cumbersome as possible to get a credit freeze because they desperately hope that by putting barriers in your way, they can discourage you from doing it (in my opinion). That said, Transunion has suddenly decided to offer FREE freezes to everyone, even people who live in a state that allow them to charge a fee. Not only that, but they are also allowing you to do it through an ONLINE system rather than a cumbersome certified mail system.

I'm so shocked I had to to confirm it and here it is. There's no telling how long this will be the case so make sure you get it done now while you can.

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Verizon Drops Mandatory Contracts

What if you didn't have to get tied to a nasty contract for a phone?
(Image copyright Jeremy Duffy)
Brilliant:
First off, Verizon is doing away with contracts under certain conditions. Let's face it, contracts are for cowards. Carriers had to default to them because of the industry's spotty record of customer service. It was their way of preventing you from fleeing.
That aside, the news is that Verizon has decided to no longer force contracts on people who already have a Verizon phone and will only use them when people want to buy a phone at the subsidized rate (in other words, those penny phones that actually cost several hundred dollars). It's hard to believe that a company like Verizon would do such a thing, but the Wall Street Journal confirms it. They say that there will be an activation fee, but no termination fee. Finally! Tags: , ,

One-sided Agreements Don’t Always Survive in Court

(Image is in the Public Domain)

I really hate the kinds of things companies pull in their contracts and terms of service. Even more I hate when people say, "you signed it so quit complaining!" What they don't seem to understand is that even if the information is there, that doesn't mean that people can understand it or its implications. Thus was the case in a Washington supreme court ruling that mightily smacked and slapped around the one-sided AT&T service agreement.

The court had the option of determining that some portions of the contract were legally valid and could be enforced. Instead, the ruling determined that unconscionable conditions pervaded the agreement, rendering it invalid in its entirety
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Congressional Neanderthals Mess Up Big

Congress
(Image is in the Public Domain)

Yesterday the House passed a FISA amendment act which includes a provision shielding telecommunications companies from any liability. In the coverage of the situation by Ars Technica, they were able to quote Nacy Pelosi as being an idiot:

(Bold text in parenthesis is mine)
The most extended apologia came from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who urged that the compromise be judged by comparison with the Senate bill, which she characterized as the only realistic alternative (So we can't ask for a good law, only a less bad one? That's a great standard to live to). She outlined several ways in which the current legislation is preferable to the Senate's version. First, the compromise bill reasserts that FISA is the "exclusive means" for conducting electronic surveillance, which would require the president to ignore such language twice in order to launch an extralegal surveillance program, rather than only once, as under traditional FISA rules (So if the President breaks the law, now it would violate two laws instead of just one. The next time someone breaks a law, I wonder if it will result in jail time if it only breaks the law "once"). Second, it preserves prior judicial review of surveillance authorizations, except in "very, very rare" circumstances, such as when the attorney general asserts that waiting for a judge would entail delay (I think that recent history has shown how much we can trust to the "rarity" of the Attorney General approving anything a president might ask. Has she even been awake in the last decade?). Third, it contains specific provisions barring the use of authorizations targeting parties abroad as a pretext for targeting U.S. persons, presumably to be enforced by a board of psychics. Finally, it provides for an internal investigation of the extent of past surveillance, which Congress will act upon with the same legendary zeal for civil liberties it has displayed over the past seven years (Brilliantly summarized. Ars has some great writers.).

So in one day, the House voted to expand powers of the Judicial branch that they didn't need and shield their conspirators from liability against justice.

Don't get me wrong, if I got a letter from the Attorney General of the United states that required my company to do something and my lawyers said to do it, I would have and maybe that's what happened to the telcos. But if there is no accountability for the Attorney General, the President, and the involved Agencies, then the whole things tastes like Congress cooked us up some chili made of poo.

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The American Civil Liberties Union - ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union - ACLU

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (a.k.a. the EFF) - a nonprofit group of passionate people — lawyers, technologists, volunteers, and visionaries — working to protect your digital rights.

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The RIAA - Who They Are In a Nutshell

Oh no! People download stuff!
(Image used under: Creative Commons 2.0 [SRC])

This is probably the best summary of who the RIAA is and what they stand for that I've ever heard:

The RIAA is like the Prohibitionists of old. In their view, the law cannot allow for something completely reasonable such as legal circumvention because it could be abused. Millions of people are thereby punished. Yet this is not how a civil society typically functions. Life is full of potentially dangerous products, services, and ideas. It's up to individuals to take responsibility for their actions, because we all know that catering to the lowest common denominator does not give birth to a free society, let alone an intelligent one. Yet the RIAA will stop at nothing to make sure that you and I never have the chance to make such decisions for ourselves.

By "legal circumvention", he refers to the the practice of circumventing Data Rights Management (DRM) for legal purposes such as making personal backup copies, educational uses, and other Fair Use practices. The RIAA is against it because they know that all it takes is one user with a DRM-free copy to post a song online for it to be shared everywhere in the world.

Using HTTPS For Secure Login and Payment Online

Making online accounts is useful and fun, but doesn't mean much if someone can capture your login information and use it against you. Make sure to use this simple trick to prevent that from happening.

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Using HTTPS For Secure Login and Payment Online

Making online accounts is useful and fun, but doesn't mean much if someone can capture your login information and use it against you. Make sure to use this simple trick to prevent that from happening.

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