Ryan Calo's blog

Does NAI’s Opt Out Tool Stop Consumer Tracking?

I heard a rumor that I hope isn’t true. Specifically, I heard that opting out of behavioral profiling may not stop advertising companies from tracking you as you travel across the Web. Rather, according to the rumor, in many cases you merely opt out of seeing the tailored ads your web history might otherwise trigger.

The ability to opt out of behavioral profiling essentially underpins the argument for self-regulation by the industry. The idea is that (1) people like tailored ads and (2) those that worry about the practice, for instance, from a privacy perspective, can opt out of it. Setting aside the apparent frailty of cookie-based opt out (when you delete your cookies, you delete your opt out as well) and the availability of other means to track users (like flash cookies), this seems pretty straightforward and convincing.

But what does “opting out” mean, exactly? A close look at the Network Advertising Initiative website, which offers an opt out tool on behalf of most major online advertisers, turns up no guarantee that opting out will stop a company from logging where a user has traveled. Read more about Does NAI’s Opt Out Tool Stop Consumer Tracking?

The True Danger Of The Internet: What Occurs To Us

The most interesting aspect of cyberspace is not what happens for a time to its visitors. It’s not the absence of regulation nor the presence of perfect regulation; it’s not the staggering variety of content nor the sudden arbitrariness of geography; it’s not the constant threat of surveillance nor the occasional absence of accountability. The most interesting aspect of cyberspace flows from its status as an engine of realization: cyberspace widens the range of what we think of as possible. The Web is home to phenomena that never quite happened before—not because the technology was untenable, but because no one thought to do it. The importance of cyberspace is not what occurs to you when you visit; it’s what occurs to you.

If you’ve visited Google’s physical campus in Mountain View, you likely noticed that the sign in procedure amounts to a click-wrap. Google requires that you accept a non-disclosure agreement, presented on monitors by the front door, before it will print you a visitor pass. It occurred to the Internet giant that it could treat its campus like an Internet service by requiring visitors to click-through a terms of use at the entry portal. This generates a record that you either agreed to play by the rules, or you were trespassing.

This is hardly an isolated example. Read more about The True Danger Of The Internet: What Occurs To Us

Have Fun Watching The Country

826 National is an incredible non-profit dedicated to improving writing and other skills among children ages to six to eighteen. A few days after the election of Barack Obama, 826 centers in seven cities asked children to offer advice to the new president. The result was the deservedly celebrated book Thanks And Have Fun Running The Country.

As you might imagine, this book is a major tour de cute. One 9-year-old in Los Angles opines that if he were president, he “would help all nations, even Hawaii.” A Seattle 7-year-old suggests that President Obama “turn on the heater, so it won’t be cold.” In short: awwwww.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I came across the following suggestion from a Boston 12-year-old: “Dear, Barack Obama, … You should also build cameras all around our city to find out who is breaking the law, and also in movie theatres so we can tell who is making illegal copies.”

Wait, what??? Did the DOJ and RIAA have a child together? The rest of this writer’s suggestions are eminently reasonable—more power efficient cars, less smoking, and the like. Still, it’s not often that you see a 12-year-old proponent of ubiquitous surveillance! Read more about Have Fun Watching The Country

Privacy And Free Speech (ACLU No. Cal. Primer)

The ACLU of Northern California has published a primer (PDF) on the advantages to businesses of good privacy and free speech practices. The primer assembles many real-world instances of harms and benefits to companies due to their choices around user privacy and value speech. Congratulations to Nicky, Chris, and no doubt others in putting this together. Read more about Privacy And Free Speech (ACLU No. Cal. Primer)

A Short Tour Of Robot Case Law

“Robots again.” That’s how federal appellate judge Alex Kozinski begins his dissent from the Ninth Circuit’s decision not to rehear Wendt v. Host International. The “robots” refers to animatronic replicas of Cliff and Norm from the TV series Cheers built by an airport bar chain as a gimmick. The “again” refers to the earlier case of White v. Samsung, where Samsung ran ads depicting a robot version of Wheel of Fortune’s Vanna White with the tag line “Longest-running game show, 2012 A.D.” She sued. (To her credit, however, Ms. White kept her head. She did not turn into a car and drive over to Samsung headquarters, as was no doubt her first instinct.)

People suing over robot versions of themselves is just one of the ways robots make ordinary cases more interesting. As personal robotics moves toward the multibillion-dollar market Bill Gates and some analysts predict, we are likely to see more—and more interesting—robot-driven litigation. What follows is a little tour of robot case law to date. Read more about A Short Tour Of Robot Case Law

See Otter

As if we privacy advocates didn't have enough to worry about, this sea otter apparently got a hold of a video camera and was "filming" tourists. Witnesses speculated that some boater dropped the camera and this fun-loving, puppy-of-the-sea found it floating in the Bay. But of course you and I know the terrible truth: DARPA microchips... Read more about See Otter

Women & The Rise Of Code: Is Power A Moving Target?

Outside of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, power does not reside in any one person, object, or place. But it does cluster. An enormous percentage of those “in power,” that is, in a position to make decisions of societal scope, are trained as lawyers. Nearly every judge has been to law school, as have the majority of legislators, many industry and non-profit leaders, and 26 out of the past 44 U.S. presidents. Read more about Women & The Rise Of Code: Is Power A Moving Target?

Sixth Circuit Invalidates Broad Construction of the Community Decency Act


Author: Robert Lopez

John Doe sued SexSearch.com, an online adult dating service, alleging fourteen violations of Ohio law. Each count attempted to hold SexSearch.com liable for Doe’s illicit relationship with a minor who misrepresented her age in violation of SexSearch.com’s terms of use. The Sixth Circuit upheld the ruling of the Northern District of Ohio, but refused to adopt its reading of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). 47 U.S.C § 230(f)(2). The court stated that the district court “read § 230 more broadly that any previous Court of Appeals decision” and that such a reading could “potentially abrogat[e] all state or common-law causes of action brought against interactive Internet services.” Instead, the Sixth Circuit invalidated all fourteen claims holding that each one failed to state a valid claim under Ohio law. Read more about Sixth Circuit Invalidates Broad Construction of the Community Decency Act

Google Books Reaches Settlement With Publishers And Authors


Author: Matt Kellogg

Google recently reached a settlement agreement with the authors and publishers who in 2005 sued the company for copyright infringement. As part of the arrangement, copyright owners will not only receive fees from Google for the use of digitized copies of their books in Google Book Search, they will also have the ability to choose how much—if any—of their works they wish to be displayed. The settlement provides for the creation of an independent organization to oversee its administration as well as special modes of access for public and university libraries. Read more about Google Books Reaches Settlement With Publishers And Authors

Second Circuit Partially Invalidates National Security Letters Section of the Patriot Act on First Amendment Grounds


Author: José Mauro Decoussau Machado

Citing the First Amendment, the Second Circuit invalidated provisions of the Patriot Act that permit the FBI to impose a nondisclosure requirement on National Security Letters without having to seek judicial review. The court also declared unconstitutional provisions that consider as conclusive a governmental official’s certification that disclosure may endanger the national security of the United States or interfere with diplomatic relations. Read more about Second Circuit Partially Invalidates National Security Letters Section of the Patriot Act on First Amendment Grounds

Privacy Policy Workshop: PowerPoint & Audio

As part of Data Privacy Day 2009, the Center for Internet and Society hosted a Privacy Policy Workshop, sponsored by Covington & Burling LLP. I've attached our PowerPoint slide deck. You can follow along to an audio recording of the event by clicking here.

We had a great turn out and a lot of interesting questions. Thanks to Covington & Burling LLP, especially Mali Friedman for her presentation, and to Intel, especially Jolynn Dellinger, for coordinating Data Privacy Day. Read more about Privacy Policy Workshop: PowerPoint & Audio

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