Phone camera bill: a symbol of law run amok

A recent Ars Technica article sheds light on a very dumb but well-intentioned bill before Congress, requiring mobile phone cameras to make an audible noise when taking a picture.

The good intentions are obvious (it’s an attempt to curb voyeurism). However, it’s the first step down a slippery slope towards requiring the same thing on every camera, long after technological advances have allowed the feature of silent cameras. (The shutter on my Nikon Coolpix L18 is barely audible from 5 feet away.) That can’t be good.

As bad as that may be, the implications for private investigators and law enforcement are particularly nasty. While an exception could be written into the bill, it makes much more sense to just not pass this bill in the first place.

It is also an attack on the freedom of programmers, who if I read this correctly, will face legal sanctions for disabling this “feature” of the new breed of photographic gadgets.

My favorite quote from the article:

As for politicians and parents who are worried about surreptitious cell phone camera users lurking around in dressing rooms and parks, they might want to, well, watch their children. Just a thought.

Net neutrality checking made simple: Switzerland

I learned of the EFF’s net neutrality auditing tool Switzerland by way of a recent article, and in turn by a recent TechBlog post. A tool like this is long overdue. Right now I’m barely at the stage of downloading and testing out Switzerland but I will definitely keep everyone updated on what I find out.

For the record, at the present time I’m accessing through an ISP I believe to have no real neutrality issues (Speakeasy).

Apple’s sneaky iTunes personal information leak

As (re-)discovered in a recent TechBlog article, Apple is embedding personal information in downloads from its iTunes music store. Assumably this is a way to help catch the “low-hanging fruit” of those who partake in unauthorized copying. Casting aside the ethical issues, this is rather horribly misguided if that’s Apple’s reason.

Consider the following situation: Alice hosts a party where several guests, Bob, Charlie, and a few other close friends of hers are in attendance. Mallory crashes the party (or, even attends as a friend of one of the other guests, it’s really kind of immaterial) and snarfs some of the music files from Alice’s collection, with Alice’s name and e-mail address in them. They wind up on a Web server with a Tor hidden service address, run by Mallory the next morning.

Now, nobody downloading these files will know anything about Mallory. Well, obviously they’ll know some Tor user put these up on a hidden service. But all they will see in the files is Alice’s e-mail address, and probably assume she’s the one who has shared the files.

This can happen any number of ways: stolen storage media strikes me as one of the more likely ones (in fact, Mallory may well have sticky fingers when it comes to USB flash drives in the above example). But I think it’s a great reason why this kind of information should not be in downloaded media files.

Not to mention Dwight does a great job of showing how easy this is to circumvent (converting to MP3). I would not even be surprised if there’s a way to configure a decoder to write the exact same encoded audio sans most of the tags.

Misadventures in Web advertising

I recently found two great examples of how not to advertise on the Web in an entry in Jeff Balke’s blog. I’m reminded instantly of the advice of Eric Bohlman from 1999:

“Catch them while they’re getting up to [use the bathroom]” simply doesn’t work on the Web.

I think both Macy’s and (sadly) the Houston Texans could learn a lot from this decade-old post, as true today as it was then.

I remember a far more recent example: FOX’s just plain obnoxious ads for Prison Break which aired during the 2005 MLB playoffs, including the World Series. I may have tuned in to watch the show; the repetitive air raid siren made sure I never would. It’s one thing to name the halftime show or some silly highlight feature after the highest bidder; that just makes a few nostalgic for the days when we had simply “the halftime show” or “the play of the game.” But a TV network is degrading its product (a sports telecast) by shoving obnoxious promos for its other shows on top of that product.

Prank or crime? Impersonating Joba

A New York Post story which came to my attention via @emoltzen on Twitter is particularly disturbing on more than one level.

It is less than honest to claim to be someone or something you’re not. While I am no real fan of laws which rely heavily on intent (the reasoning behind this I will save for another entry), this is one rare case where the concept may do some good. I don’t think the accused in this story really set out to convince the entire town he was in fact Joba Chaimberlain and exploiting it.

If the bagel shop chose to give this man a free bagel based on resemblance alone, that’s really on them. I think it’s a gross miscarriage of justice to prosecute someone for theft for what is in all honesty, the shop’s error. This is, after all, about a bagel.

I am also disturbed about “disorderly conduct” being tacked on to the list of charges. I don’t see exactly how that comes into play unless the accused really was being disorderly, something not really indicated in the article. This is a disturbing trend, the dartboard approach to criminal justice: throw a bunch of charges at the accused, and hope some of them stick.

I hope for a “not guilty” verdict, and maybe the bagel shop employees finding a way to fine-tune their B.S. detectors. And, if necessary, I’ll write a list of signs that someone who claims to be me isn’t the genuine article. For now, I’ll just say that I rarely eat bagels.