Ryan Calo's blog

Stanford's Center For Internet And Society Seeks Leave To File Amicus Curiae Brief in Bunnell v. MPAA

On Thursday, July 31, 2008, the Center for Internet and Society at Stanford Law School sought leave to file a "friend of the court" brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on behalf of two of the original designers of the protocols that govern the transfer of information across the Internet, M.I.T. computer scientists Dr. David Clark and Dr. David Reed. Read more about Stanford's Center For Internet And Society Seeks Leave To File Amicus Curiae Brief in Bunnell v. MPAA

J.B. White On Advertising

J.B. White, my former professor, has written a powerful essay (pages 98-103) on the evils of reducing the human experience to mere economics. Here is an excerpt:

"One particularly strong feature of the culture of consumption is an immense and relentless campaign, so pervasive and so normalized as to have become invisible, to persuade the public to accept and act on its premises. I refer here to the world of consumer advertising, especially to its apotheosis in television. This kind of advertising persuades people not only to buy this or that item, but more importantly, to accept and live by the whole infantile dream of the consumer economy. It is only in a narrow sense that advertisements compete with each other; in a deeper way they reinforce each other constantly."

Professor White retires this year following a long and distinguished career at Chicago and Michigan, where he held a joint appoint at the law school and English department. The full essay will appear in a book to be published by the University of Michigan Press in early 2009. Read more about J.B. White On Advertising


It’s official: Wired Magazine has placed worrying about privacy on Gmail in the final column marked “expired.” (What’s “wired”? Worrying about privacy on Google Health.) Yet here I am, continuing to fret over Google’s eons-old practice of scanning incoming and outgoing messages in order to display contextual ads.

In my defense, I don’t think some evil Google Adwords employee is sitting in his brightly lit hexagonical reading through my email and twisting an ironic mustache. I recognize that it’s a dispassionate (for now) computer that scans for keywords and selects contextual ads.

My concern has to do with competition: Gmail puts Google’s advertisers in a position to use the content of their competitors’ emails to compete with them. Read more about Gmailosaurus

Why SDNY, Why?

Wired's Threat Level is reporting that a court (the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York) has ordered Google "to turn over every record of every video watched by YouTube users, including users' names and IP addresses, to Viacom, which is suing Google for allowing clips of its copyright videos to appear on YouTube." (I believe the author means to refer to “user IDs,” not the proper names of the users.)

The Electronic Frontier Foundation argues on its website that such disclosure would violate the Video Privacy Protection Act. More disturbing still is the threat to a user's right to review material – including material at the core of the First Amendment – anonymously. See, e.g., Julie Cohen, “A Right to Read Anonymously: A Closer Look at 'Copyright Management' in Cyberspace,” 28 Conn. L. Rev. 981 (1996) (available online here).

I would think it clear that Viacom and its co-plaintiff should get, if anything, just that information necessary to determine what percentage of download activity involves copyrighted works.

UPDATE: Reuters reports that Google and Viacom have reached an agreement, wherein Google will anonymize YouTube user data before turning it over. Read more about Why SDNY, Why?

Google Adds Privacy Link, Videos

I notice that Google now has a privacy policy link on its homepage. Congratulations to Marc and others who pushed for this.

It's tempting to view this move cynically as a dragged-out response to a long-standing complaint from the privacy community. My understanding, however, is that there has been internal debate at Google over whether to include a privacy link on the homepage for some time. One argument against such a link is that it conveys the sense that a given company respects privacy, irrespective of the actual content of the policy (which, as we know, often goes unread).

I'm not saying Google did this on purpose, but I think that many more people are likely to click on the privacy link, given that it appeared suddenly on the zealously sparse Google homepage. (Unless, of course, they get distracted by the fireworks.) Read more about Google Adds Privacy Link, Videos

Hi Rubber. Have You Met My Friend, The Road?

Threadbare as it already is, the privacy rubber may not even be meeting the road. A recent study conducted by the Ponemon Institute implies a disconnect between the perception of privacy officers – charged with formulating company policy – and marketing departments – entrusted with actual custody of customer data – with respect to how consumer information may be used. Read more about Hi Rubber. Have You Met My Friend, The Road?

City of (Big) Brotherly Love

I imagine the subset of individuals that read the Center's blogs but not, for instance, Boing Boing to be in the (low) single digits. I still could not resist posting this news story about bearded, community-gardening, anti-surveillance activists in Philly whose house was raided, initially without a warrant. In fairness, the facts are disputed: for instance, local police are calling a structure on the top floor of the raided house a possible "bunker," whereas resident Daniel Moffat (pictured) is calling it a definite "greenhouse." Read more about City of (Big) Brotherly Love

You Go, Google!

Daniel Begun of Hot Hardware News reports that "Google will take an even more active role in the debate [over net neutrality] by arming consumers with the tools to determine first-hand if their broadband connections are being monkeyed with by their ISPs." Read more about You Go, Google!

Oh (Big) Brother

Author and fellow SLS fellow Laura K. Donohue brought this deliciously ironic picture to my attention. Click here for a close up.

If you happen to be in the DC area this week, Laura is speaking on her new book, "The Cost of Counterterrorism: Power, politics, and liberty," at GW Law School on Wednesday, June 11, and the Women's Foreign Policy Group on Friday, June 13. Read more about Oh (Big) Brother

Coming Soon: Smell, Touch, And Dead People

In arguing for the ongoing constitutionality of the commercial/noncommercial distinction in billboard regulation in the wake of City of Cincinnati v. Discovery Network, I wrote (in 2005) that billboards “can talk and they can listen.” (103 Mich. L. Rev. 1877, 1877). I was referring to the ability of highway billboards to interact with passing motorists by, for instance, eavesdropping on their radio station. No surprise that my three-year-old statement about billboards now seriously undersells them. According to a recent New York Times article:

"[Advertisers] are equipping billboards with tiny cameras that gather details about passers-by — their gender, approximate age and how long they looked at the billboard. These details are transmitted to a central database. . . . Read more about Coming Soon: Smell, Touch, And Dead People

Ruiz v. Gap, Inc.

Was March National Privacy Month and no one told me? (October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, so don't try to hack anything.) In addition to a March 31, 2008 decision by the D.C. Circuit holding that “actual damages” under the Privacy Act need not necessarily include pecuniary harm (blogged here by Lauren Gelman), the Northern District of California affirmed the standing of a class action plaintiff to sue for negligence over a stolen laptop containing personally identifiable information, based on the mere risk of identify theft. These are both important cases in that they may signal a trend toward greater recognition of the emotional and dignitary interests implicated by the exposure of personal data. Read more about Ruiz v. Gap, Inc.

Facebook 'Em, Dano

EPIC fellow Guilherme Roschke writes about the sophisticated Facebook presence of Greater Manchester Police and its ramifications for citizen privacy. He notes that "[l]aw enforcement use of applications will significantly expand the reach of what law enforcement can see, and also provide a more surreptitious viewing ability."

Please find his post here. Read more about Facebook 'Em, Dano

Bork, Blockbuster & Beacon

Ars Technica reports:

"Texas native Cathryn Elaine Harris has filed a lawsuit against Blockbuster, alleging that the company is actively and knowingly violating the Video Privacy Protection Act by reporting users' activities back to Facebook. The suit seeks to be certified as a class action, and asks that Blockbuster pay out $2,500 per incident in which it disclosed personally identifiable information." Read more about Bork, Blockbuster & Beacon


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