Archive for May, 2006

Every Move That You Make: Internet Privacy at Risk

Posted in Digital Culture, Privacy on May 30th, 2006

Privacy advocates have good reason to worry about a recent flurry of activity related to Internet data retention by ISPs. (In this context, data retention means keeping records about subscribers and their Internet activities beyond what is required for normal business purposes.)

In late April, Colorado Representative Diana DeGette, a Democrat, drafted legislation that would require ISPs to retain data about their subscribers until one year after their accounts were closed (see "Congress May Consider Mandatory ISP Snooping" and "Backer of ISP Snooping Slams Industry").

Then, in Mid-May, it was reported that Wisconsin Representative F. James Sensenbrenner, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was drafting legislation to mandate Internet data retention (see "Congress May Make ISPs Snoop on You"). The Judiciary Committee’s Communications Director backpedaled a few days after this revelation, issuing a statement that said: "Staff sometimes starts working on issues—throwing around ideas, doing oversight—and (they) get ahead of where the members are and what they want to tackle" (see "ISP Snooping Plans Take Backseat").

In late May, the Attorney General was reported to be privately asking major ISP’s to "retain subscriber information and network data for two years" (see "Gonzales Pressures ISPs on Data Retention").

What does data retention mean for reader privacy in an era where users are increasingly turning to Internet-based information resources instead of print resources? It depends on what data is retained, whether the user is authenticated (e.g., some libraries provide unauthenticated public Internet access), and under what circumstances it can be revealed. Let’s assume for the moment that there is fairly detailed data retention (e.g., user A went to URL B), but not total data retention (e.g., user A went to URL B, where the content of B is also retained).

Determining what the user saw at a particular URL may be dependent on how static the content is. Formally published material is presumably static. Access barriers may temporarily prevent the disclosure of licensed and other protected content until such barriers can be overcome by legal means, but nothing stops the immediate disclosure of freely available, formally published static material. Dynamic information, formally published or not, may have changed since the user accessed it, but how much? Information that is not formally published could have simply vanished, but the Internet Archive may permit reconstruction of what the user saw, and, for freely available material, it may also overcome the problem of changing content. In short, it may now be possible, for mandated retention periods, to determine every e-article, e-book, or other e-resource that a reader has used down to the level of specificity that a URL represents (e.g., page views within an HTML-based e-book).

Stepping back, you might ask: How is this different from the familiar library check-out record privacy problem? The difference is that libraries do not check out journal articles and a variety of other materials, such as reference books. Moreover, libraries are not required to retain circulation records, and readers always have the option for unrecorded in-library use. In the digital age, if it’s online, its use can be recorded.

Consequently, reader privacy may be going the way of the dinosaur. Stay tuned.

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    2006 Dr. Ilene F. Rockman Award

    Posted in Announcements on May 25th, 2006

    I was very surprised and deeply honored by receiving the first Dr. Ilene F. Rockman Award yesterday for my work on the "Reference Librarians and Institutional Repositories" issue of Reference Services Review. (Normally, this award, which is one of the Emerald Literati Network Awards for Excellence, is given for the outstanding paper of the year, rather than an outstanding issue.)

    My thanks to the RSR Editors and Editorial Board (who made this award without my knowledge), to Emerald, to the issue’s authors, and, of course, to Ilene.

    The RSR issue in question includes the following IR articles (the links are to e-prints):

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      Forget RL, Try an Avatar Instead

      Posted in Emerging Technologies, Virtual Worlds on May 12th, 2006

      Real life (RL) is so 20th century. Virtual worlds are where it’s at. At least, that’s what readers of BusinessWeek‘s recent "My Virtual Life" article by Robert D. Hof may quickly come to believe.

      You may think that virtual worlds are just kids stuff. Tell that to Anshe Chung, who has made over $250,000 buying and renting virtual real estate in Linden Lab’s Second Life. Or, Chris Mead, whose Second Life couples avatars earn him a cool $90,000 per year. Or the roughly 170,000 Second Life users who spent about $5 million real dollars on virtual stuff in January 2006.

      How about this? For all virtual worlds, IGE Ltd. estimates that users spend over $1 billion real dollars on virtual stuff last year.

      While most users may be buying virtual clothes, land, and entertainment and other services, conventional companies are exploring how to use virtual worlds for training, meeting, and other purposes, plus trying to snag regular users’ interest with offerings such as Well’s Fargo’s Stagecoach Island.

      For the library slant on Second Life, try the Second Life Library 2.0 blog and don’t miss the Alliance Second Life Library 2.0 introduction on 5/31/06 from 2:00 PM-3:30 PM. And don’t foget to browse the Second Life Library 2.0 image pool at Flickr.

      Oh, brave new world that has such avatars in it!

      Source: Hof, Robert D. "My Virtual Life." BusinessWeek, 1 May 2006, 72-82.

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        Scholarly Electronic Publishing Weblog Update (5/9/06)

        Posted in Announcements on May 9th, 2006

        The latest update of the Scholarly Electronic Publishing Weblog (SEPW) is now available, which provides information about new scholarly literature and resources related to scholarly electronic publishing, such as books, journal articles, magazine articles, newsletters, technical reports, and white papers. Especially interesting are: "Another OA Mandate: The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006," "Library Access to Scholarship," Podcasting Legal Guide: Rules for the Revolution, and "Preserving Electronic Scholarly Journals: Portico."

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          "Strong Copyright + DRM + Weak Net Neutrality = Digital Dystopia?" Preprint

          Posted in Announcements, Copyright, Digital Copyright Wars, Digital Culture, Digital Rights Management, Net Neutrality, Open Access on May 3rd, 2006

          A preprint of my "Strong Copyright + DRM + Weak Net Neutrality = Digital Dystopia?" paper is now available.

          It will appear in Information Technology and Libraries 25, no. 3 (2006).

          This quote from the paper’s conclusion sums it up:

          What this paper has said is simply this: three issues—a dramatic expansion of the scope, duration, and punitive nature of copyright laws; the ability of DRM to lock-down content in an unprecedented fashion; and the erosion of Net neutrality—bear careful scrutiny by those who believe that the Internet has fostered (and will continue to foster) a digital revolution that has resulted in an extraordinary explosion of innovation, creativity, and information dissemination. These issues may well determine whether the much-touted "information superhighway" lives up to its promise or simply becomes the "information toll road" of the future, ironically resembling the pre-Internet online services of the past.

          For those who want a longer preview of the paper, here’s the introduction:

          Blogs. Digital photo and video sharing. Podcasts. Rip/Mix/Burn. Tagging. Vlogs. Wikis. These buzzwords point to a fundamental social change fueled by cheap PCs and servers, the Internet and its local wired/wireless feeder networks, and powerful, low-cost software: citizens have morphed from passive media consumers to digital media producers and publishers.

          Libraries and scholars have their own set of buzz words: digital libraries, digital presses, e-prints, institutional repositories, and open access journals to name a few. They connote the same kind of change: a democratization of publishing and media production using digital technology.

          It appears that we are on the brink of an exciting new era of Internet innovation: a kind of digital utopia. Dr. Gary Flake of Microsoft has provided one striking vision of what could be (with a commercial twist) in a presentation entitled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Imminent Internet Singularity," and there are many other visions of possible future Internet advances.

          When did this metamorphosis begin? It depends on who you ask. Let’s say the late 1980′s, when the Internet began to get serious traction and an early flowering of noncommercial digital publishing occurred.

          In the subsequent twenty-odd years, publishing and media production went from being highly centralized, capital-intensive analog activities with limited and well-defined distribution channels to being diffuse, relatively low-cost digital activities with the global Internet as their distribution medium. Not to say that print and conventional media are dead, of course, but it is clear that their era of dominance is waning. The future is digital.

          Nor is it to say that entertainment companies (e.g., film, music, radio, and television companies) and information companies (e.g., book, database, and serial publishers) have ceded the digital content battlefield to the upstarts. Quite the contrary.

          High-quality thousand-page-per-volume scientific journals and Hollywood blockbusters cannot be produced for pennies, even with digital wizardry. Information and entertainment companies still have an important role to play, and, even if they didn’t, they hold the copyrights to a significant chunk of our cultural heritage.

          Entertainment and information companies have understood for some time that they must adopt to the digital environment or die, but this change has not always been easy, especially when it involves concocting and embracing new business models. Nonetheless, they intend to thrive and prosper—and to do whatever it takes to succeed. As they should, since they have an obligation to their shareholders to do so.

          The thing about the future is that it is rooted in the past. Culture, even digital culture, builds on what has gone before. Unconstrained access to past works helps determine the richness of future works. Inversely, when past works are inaccessible except to a privileged minority, it impoverishes future works.

          This brings us to a second trend that stands in opposition to the first. Put simply, it is the view that intellectual works are "property"; that this property should be protected with the full force of civil and criminal law; that creators have perpetual, transferable property rights; and that contracts, rather than copyright law, should govern the use of intellectual works.

          A third trend is also at play: the growing use of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technologies. When intellectual works were in paper form (or other tangible forms), they could only be controlled at the object-ownership or object-access levels (a library controlling the circulation of a copy of a book is an example of the second case). Physical possession of a work, such as a book, meant that the user had full use of it (e.g., the user could read the entire book and photocopy pages from it). When works are in digital form and they are protected by some types of DRM, this may no longer true. For example, a user may only be able to view a single chapter from a DRM-protected e-book and may not be able to print it.

          The fourth and final trend deals with how the Internet functions at its most fundamental level. The Internet was designed to be content, application, and hardware "neutral." As long as certain standards were met, the network did not discriminate. One type of content was not given preferential delivery speed over another. One type of content was not charged for delivery while another wasn’t. One type of content was not blocked (at least by the network) while another wasn’t. In recent years, "network neutrality" has come under attack.

          The collision of these trends has begun in courts, legislatures, and the marketplace. It is far from over. As we shall see, it’s outcome will determine what the future of digital culture looks like.

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            DigitalKoans

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            Digital Scholarship

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