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“The Internet Of Every Damn Thing”: Face It, Personal Gadgetry Tied To The Internet Is Selling Data About Your Habits To Businesses

Federal Trade Commission head Edith Ramirez put the matter plainly: “If I’m wearing a fitness band that tracks how many calories I consume, I wouldn’t want to share that data with an insurance company.”

In a study last year, the FTC found that 12 mobile fitness apps shared information with 76 enterprises. Face it; personal gadgetry tied to the Internet is selling data about your habits to businesses — and in ways you have no idea about.

These devices now range from home burglar alerts to apps that turn off the porch light to toothbrushes. As of this year, there will be 25 billion such things.

Hence, the FTC has just suggested some guidelines for neat but sneaky gear. They’re in a new report, titled “Internet of Things: Privacy & Security in a Connected World.”

I’d sort of given up on the privacy part. The choices have become so complex that I apply a simple rule. Anything I absolutely don’t want the world to see, I don’t put online. Period.

My Facebook friends know they will never see a look-what-I-just-bought post. As for my Web surfing, my life is not an open book, but if someone should disclose my interests, I’d be OK. I have an excuse for everything.

The potential problems arise with those very useful apps that need my personal information to do their job. Sure, I want Google Maps to know where I am. And if I had some serious medical condition, I’d want a monitoring device communicating with my doctor. But there’s a dark side: Some evil being could invade this data flow and change the medical settings.

I don’t see why my movie ticket app should always know my whereabouts. Fandango gives us two choices on giving it access to our location. One is “Never,” and the other is “Always. Access to your location will be available even when this app is in the background.”

Fandango thoughtfully provides a five-page privacy policy written in fluent legalese. It includes a discourse on its use of “Pixel Tags,” invisible files on the Web pages you visit. The point is that few consumers wade through these privacy policies, and even fewer have the faintest idea what they’re talking about.

The electric company sends me reports on my energy use and how it compares with that of neighbors. My most virtuous months seem to be those in which I’m not at home. My vacation schedule is unbeknownst to the company, I hope.

The FTC report calls for new rules governing the sort of information Internet-connected devices may collect, how it is used and how secure it is. This is a valiant effort, and I wish the regulators luck. But if hackers can break in to movie stars’ private photo files, what can we realistically do to protect our secret stashes from prying eyes?

Smartphone sensors can already guess a user’s sour mood, aggressive personality, pathetically low level of physical activity, sleeping difficulties and other behavioral patterns. And such snooping is perfectly legal.

In the end, consumers will have to decide: How much is the convenience of turning up the heat at home before leaving the office worth? What drives me nuts is all the thinking and research we have to do in balancing the trade-offs — and the attention that must be paid to various app settings.

The only current solution is to unscrew what you want kept private from the Internet. If you’ve forgotten how to use paper, you can put the information on a device not connected to the Internet — and then trip over the plug. Five minutes spent on some app’s privacy policy may convince you of the wisdom of primitive living.

 

By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, February 29, 2015

January 29, 2015 Posted by | Federal Trade Commission, Internet, Social Media | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It’s Bad For Consumers”: Merging Cable Giants Is ‘An Affront To The Public Interest’

When it comes to media, bigger is not better. And when it comes to the control of the infrastructure of how we communicate now, the trend toward extreme bigness—as illustrated by Comcast’s plan to buy Time Warner Cable and create an unprecedented cable combine—is accelerating at a dangerous pace.

In the aftermath of a federal court decision striking down net neutrality protections that were developed to maintain an open and freewheeling discourse on the Internet, and with journalism threatened at every turn by cuts and closures, the idea of merging Comcast and Time Warner poses a threat that ought to be met with official scrutiny and grassroots opposition.

The point of the free-press protection that is outlined in the First Amendment is not to free billionaire media moguls and speculators to make more money. The point is to have a variety of voices, with multiple entry points for multiple points of view and a communications infrastructure that fosters debate, dissent and democratic discourse.

When media conglomerates merge, they do not provide better service or better democracy. They create the sort of monopolies and duopolies that constrain America’s promise. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right when he decried “concentration of economic power in the few” and warned that “that business monopoly in America paralyzes the system of free enterprise on which it is grafted, and is as fatal to those who manipulate it as to the people who suffer beneath its impositions.”

Merging the two largest cable providers is a big deal in and of itself—allowing one company to become a definitional player in major media markets across the country—but this goes far beyond cable. By expanding its dominance of video and Internet communications into what the Los Angeles Times describes as a “juggernaut” with 30 million subscribers, the company that already controls Universal Studios can drive hard bargains with content providers. It can also define the scope and character of news and public-service programming in dozens of states and hundreds of major cities—including Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, DC.

That’s too much power for any one corporation to have, especially a corporation that has been on a buying spree. Comcast already controls NBCUniversal and a broadcast and cable empire that includes NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, the USA Network, Telemundo and various other networks.

It’s bad for consumers.

“In an already uncompetitive market with high prices that keep going up and up, a merger of the two biggest cable companies should be unthinkable. The deal would be a disaster for consumers and must be stopped,” says Craig Aaron, the president of the media-reform group Free Press.

It’s bad for musicians, documentary makers and other creators.

“Comcast’s proposed takeover of Time Warner would give one company incredible influence over how music and other media is accessed and under what conditions,” says Casey Rae, interim executive director of the Future of Music Coalition, who noted “the ever present danger of a huge corporation like Comcast—which already owns a major content company—disadvantaging competition or locking creators into unfair economic structures.”

And it is bad for the democratic discourse of a nation founded on the premise memorably expressed by Thomas Jefferson in 1804 when he wrote, “No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press.”

The idea that “all the avenues to truth” would be controlled by a monopoly, a duopoly or any small circle of multinational communications conglomerates is antithetical to the understanding of the authors of a free press, and of its true defenders across the centuries.

So yes, US Senator Al Franken—the Minnesota Democrat who has proven to be one of the most serious and savvy congressional watchdogs on communication policy—is absolutely right when he says, “There’s not enough competition in this space; we need more competition. This is going in the wrong direction.”

Franken has written to the US Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, urging each of them “to act quickly and decisively to ensure that consumers are not exposed to increased cable prices and decreased quality of service as a result of this transaction.”

The FCC, in particular, has broad authority to review telecommunications-industry mergers, with an eye toward determining whether they are in the public interest. And watchdog groups have been pressuring the commission’s new chairman, Tom Wheeler, to assert the FCC’s authority. For Wheeler, a former president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the lobbying organization for the cable industry, this is will be a critical test of his leadership.

But challenges to this proposed merger must also come from the anti-trust lawyers at the Department of Justice and the congressional watchdogs over consolidation and monopoly issues.

“Stopping this kind of deal is exactly why we have antitrust laws,” says Free Press’s Aaron.

The congressional role cannot be underestimated. The Department of Justice, the FTC and the FCC get cues from Congress. And the voices of members of the House and Senate will play a critical role in determining whether the merger goes forward.

Some of the initial signals have been good.

“This proposed merger could have a significant impact on the cable industry and affect consumers across the country,” says Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar, the chair of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, who announced: “I plan to hold a hearing to carefully scrutinize the details of this merger and its potential consequences for both consumers and competition.”

The ranking Republican on the committee, Utah Senator Mike Lee, supports the review, as do public interest groups ranging from Public Knowledge to Consumers Union.

But hearings will not be enough. The Senate, in particular, must send clear signals.

Former FCC Commissioner Mike Copps is precisely right when he says of the idea of creating an even larger telecommunications conglomerate, “This is so over the top that it ought to be dead on arrival at the FCC.”

Copps, who now serves as a special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative, is also right when he says, “The proposed deal runs roughshod over competition and consumer choice and is an affront to the public interest.”

But the public interest will prevail only if the public, and its elected representatives, raise an outcry in defense of the robust competition that opens “all the avenues to truth.”

 

By: John Nichols, The Nation, February 14, 2014

February 15, 2014 Posted by | Cable Companies, Consumers | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wisconsin Recall Election Threat Prompts State Republicans To Rush Agenda

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker and GOP leaders have launched a push to ram several years’ worth of conservative agenda items through the Legislature this spring before recall elections threaten to end the party’s control of state government.

Republicans, in a rapid sequence of votes over the next eight weeks, plan to legalize concealed weapons, deregulate the telephone industry, require voters to show photo identification at the polls, expand school vouchers and undo an early release for prisoners.

Lawmakers may also act again on Walker’s controversial plan stripping public employee unions of their collective bargaining rights.  An earlier version, which led to massive protest demonstrations at the Capitol, has been left in limbo by legal challenges.

“Everything’s been accelerated,” said Republican Rep. Gary Tauchen, who is working on the photo ID bill. “We’ve got a lot of big bills we’re trying to get done.”

The speed-up is the latest move in a tumultuous legislative session that followed last fall’s midterm elections in which Republicans won the governorship and control of both houses of the Legislature. In other states where conservatives won major victories, such as Ohio, Florida and Michigan, the GOP has moved more deliberatively.

Walker got off to a fast start in January, passing a slew of measures before he unveiled a two-year budget designed to plug a $3.6 billion shortfall. That legislation, involving deep cuts to a wide range of programs, was expected to consume months. Other measures were on tap for next year. But a three-week boycott by Democrats in the winter and recall efforts targeting nine legislators have changed the strategy.

“They know there’s a very strong possibility their days of controlling every level of government are numbered,” Democratic Assembly Leader Peter Barca said. “You’re moving forward huge pieces of legislation that dramatically change the direction and traditions and values of this state. Generally, doing that takes much longer.”

Recall campaigns likely will force six Republican senators to defend their seats this summer. Three Democrats may also be on recall ballots. A net victory of three seats would give the Democrats control of the Senate, which the GOP now controls 19-14. The first elections are scheduled for July 12.

At least publicly, Wisconsin Republicans deny they’re rushing legislation for fear of losing their majority.

“Right now, I don’t foresee (losing the majority),” Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald said. “Obviously, I’m sure it will be in the back of your mind, but you’ll have to see how that plays out later this summer.”

But Rep. Robin Vos, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget-writing committee, which will attempt to handle two months of budget legislation in half the usual time, acknowledged, “It’s a factor. For the budget, yeah, I want to get it done by June 30.”

Four of the 12 Republicans on the committee are targets of the recall.

The blitz has created an almost frantic atmosphere in the Capitol.

Major bills, like the one to legalize concealed weapons, were introduced just days before public hearings. A major revision to the photo ID proposal was released late on a Friday afternoon, just four days before a committee passed it, prompting complaints from the nonpartisan board that oversees elections.

“There has been no time for the careful evaluation and vetting needed to ensure the best options for voters and election officials is enacted,” wrote Kevin Kennedy, head of the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board.

Republican leaders scheduled a full Assembly vote on a bill deregulating the telecommunications industry only a week after a hearing, leaving little opportunity for public comment.

Walker said his plan to move his agenda is unchanged.  “From our standpoint, it’s really been about being aggressive from the beginning,” he said in an interview.

At the same time lawmakers are pushing through conservative policies, they will be wrestling with Walker’s budget proposal. Walker wants to cut roughly $1 billion from schools and local governments, split the Madison campus from the University of Wisconsin System and slow the growth of Medicaid by $500 million.

The Legislature also may try to quickly pass a redistricting plan, a politically charged process that would reshape congressional and legislative districts with new 2010 census data.

If the Legislature votes again on Walker’s plan stripping public workers of their union negotiating rights, it can sidestep the legal challenges to the first vote, which came after 14 Senate Democrats fled to Illinois to deprive the Senate of a quorum. Unions and Democrats claim the original vote violated the open meetings law and the state constitution’s quorum requirement. The case is pending before the state Supreme Court.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he and other leaders are just trying to make up the time lost during the earlier turmoil. “There is an expectation that some of these bills would be completed early on,” he said.

By: Scott Bauer, Huffington Post, May 7, 2011

May 8, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Economy, Education, Elections, Gov Scott Walker, Government, Ideologues, Lawmakers, Medicaid, Middle Class, Politics, Public Employees, State Legislatures, States, Wisconsin, Wisconsin Republicans | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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