Feds Falsely Censor Popular Blog For Over A Year, Deny ...

From Tech Dirt:

Feds Falsely Censor Popular Blog For Over A Year, Deny All Due Process, Hide All Details…

from the copyright-as-censorship dept

Imagine if the US government, with no notice or warning, raided a small but popular magazine’s offices over a Thanksgiving weekend, seized the company’s printing presses, and told the world that the magazine was a criminal enterprise with a giant banner on their building. Then imagine that it never arrested anyone, never let a trial happen, and filed everything about the case under seal, not even letting the magazine’s lawyers talk to the judge presiding over the case. And it continued to deny any due process at all for over a year, before finally just handing everything back to the magazine and pretending nothing happened. I expect most people would be outraged. I expect that nearly all of you would say that’s a classic case of prior restraint, a massive First Amendment violation, and exactly the kind of thing that does not, or should not, happen in the United States.

But, in a story that’s been in the making for over a year, and which we’re exposing to the public for the first time now, this is exactly the scenario that has played out over the past year — with the only difference being that, rather than “a printing press” and a “magazine,” the story involved “a domain” and a “blog.”

There are so many things about this story that are crazy, it’s difficult to know where to start, so let’s give the most important point first: The US government has effectively admitted that it totally screwed up and falsely seized & censored a non-infringing domain of a popular blog, having falsely claimed that it was taking part in criminal copyright infringement. Then, after trying to hide behind a totally secretive court process with absolutely no due process whatsoever (in fact, not even serving papers on the lawyer for the site or providing timely notifications — or providing any documents at all), for over a year, the government has finally realized it couldn’t hide any more and has given up, and returned the domain name to its original owner. If you ever wanted to understand why ICE’s domain seizures violate the law — and why SOPA and PROTECT IP are almost certainly unconstitutional — look no further than what happened in this case.

Okay, now some details. First, remember Dajaz1.com? It was one of the sites seized over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend back in 2010 — a little over a year ago. Those seizures struck us as particularly interesting, because among the sites seized were a bunch of hip hop blogs, including a few that were highly ranked on Vibe’s list of the top hip hop blogs. These weren’t the kinds of things anyone would expect, when supporters of these domain seizures and laws like SOPA and PROTECT IP talk of “rogue sites.” Blogs would have lots of protected speech, and in the hip hop community these blogs, in particular, were like the new radio. Artists routinely leaked their works directly to these sites in order to promote their albums. We even pointed to a few cases of stars like Kanye West and Diddy tweeting links to some of the seized domains in the past.

In fact, as the details came out, it became clear that ICE and the Justice Department were in way over their heads. ICE’s “investigation” was done by a technically inept recent college grad, who didn’t even seem to understand the basics of the technology. But it didn’t stop him from going to a judge and asking for a site to be completely censored with no due process.

The Dajaz1 case became particularly interesting to us, after we saw evidence showing that the songs that ICE used in its affidavit as “evidence” of criminal copyright infringement were songs sent by representatives of the copyright holder with the request that the site publicize the works — in one case, even coming from a VP at a major music label. Even worse, about the only evidence that ICE had that these songs were infringing was the word of the “VP of Anti-Piracy Legal Affairs for the RIAA,” Carlos Linares, who was simply not in a position to know if the songs were infringing or authorized. In fact, one of the songs involved an artist not even represented by an RIAA label, and Linares clearly had absolutely no right to speak on behalf of that artist.

Despite all of this, the government simply seized the domain, put up a big scary warning graphic on the site, suggesting its operators were criminals, and then refused to comment at all about the case. Defenders of the seizures insisted that this was all perfectly legal and nothing to be worried about. They promised us that the government had every right to do this and plenty of additional evidence to back up its claims. They promised us that the government would allow for plenty of due process within a reasonable amount of time. They also insisted that, after hearing nothing happening in the case for many months, it meant that no attempt to object to the seizure had occurred. Turns out… none of that was true.

What happened next is a story that should never happen in the US. It’s like something out of Kafka or the movie Brazil, but it should never have happened under the US Constitution. First, you have to understand the two separate processes: there’s seizure and then there’s forfeiture. Under the seizure laws, the government has 60 days from seizure to “notify” those whose property it seized (imagine having the government swoop in and take away your property, and not even being told why for two whole months). Once notified, the property owner has 35 days to file a claim to request the return of the property. If that doesn’t happen, the government can effectively just keep the property, so it tends to rely on intimidation and threats towards anyone who indicates plans to ask for their property back (usually in the form of threatening to file charges). However, if such a claim is filed, the government then has 90 days to start the full “forfeiture” process, which would allow the government to keep the seized property and never have to give it back. If the claim to return the property is filed and the government does not file for forfeiture, it is required to return the property. Thus seizures are supposedly used as a temporary part of the investigation, to stop criminal activity or to prevent the destruction of evidence. However, that’s not how things always play out in real life.

As we’d heard with a number of domain names that had been seized, the government began stalling like mad when contacted by representatives for domain holders seeking to get their domains back. ICE even flat out lied to the public, stating that no one was challenging the seizures, when it knew full well that some sites were, in fact, challenging. Out of that came the Rojadirecta case, but what of Dajaz1?

After continuing to stall and refusing to respond to Dajaz1′s filing requesting the domain be returned, the government told Dajaz1′s lawyer, Andrew P. Bridges, that it would begin forfeiture procedures (as required by law if it wanted to keep the domain). Bridges made clear that Dajaz1 would challenge the forfeiture procedure and seek to get the domain name back at that time. Then, the deadline for the government to file for forfeiture came and went and nothing apparently happened. Absolutely nothing. Bridges contacted the government to ask what was going on, and was told that the government had received an extension from the court. Bridges, quite reasonably, asked how that was possible without him, as counsel for the site, being informed of it or given a chance to make the case for why such an extension was improper.

He also asked for a copy of the the court’s order allowing the extension. The government told him no and that the extension was filed under seal and could not be released, even in redacted form.

He asked for the motion papers asking for the extension. The government told him no and that the papers were filed under seal and could not be released, even in redacted form.

He again asked whether he would be notified about further filings for extensions. The government told him no.

He then asked the US attorney to inform the court that, if the government made another request for an extension, the domain owner opposed the extension and would like the opportunity to be heard. The government would not agree.

And file further extensions the government did. Repeatedly. Or, at least that’s what Bridges was told. He sent someone to investigate the docket at the court, but the docket itself was secret, meaning there was no record of any of this available.

The government was required to file for forfeiture by May. The initial (supposed) secret extension was until July. Then it got another one that went until September. And then another one until November… or so the government said. When Bridges asked the government for some proof that it had actually obtained the extensions in question, the government attorney told Bridges that he would just have “trust” him.

Finally, the government decided that it would not file a forfeiture complaint — because there was no probable cause – and it let the last (supposed) extension expire. Only after Bridges asked again for the status of the domain did the government indicate that it would return the domain to its owner — something that finally happened today. Dajaz1.com is finally back in the hands of its rightful owner. This is really quite incredible, considering the “rush” with which it seized these domain names, claiming the urgency in stopping a crime in progress. But, of course, after realizing that it had no evidence to suggest a crime was ever in progress – there was absolutely no urgency to correct the error.

The level of secrecy in this case makes it sound like a terrorist investigation, not the censorship of a popular music blog. Normally, when there’s a lawsuit, the docket is available on PACER. Even in cases where things are filed under seal or everything is redacted, there’s at least a placeholder for them in PACER. This case does not exist anywhere that anyone can find. The docket was apparently kept hidden in a judge’s office in Los Angeles the whole time. No one knew this was going on, other than the US Attorney and the representatives of Dajaz1 (who still never saw the docket or the extension orders).

Let’s just take stock here for a second. We have the government clearly censoring free speech in the form of a blog that discussed the music world and was widely recognized for its influence in promoting new acts. The government seized the blog with no adversarial hearing and no initial due process. Then, rather than actually provide some sort of belated due process in the form of an adversarial hearing, it continued to deny any and all due process by secretly (even to Dajaz1′s own lawyer) extending the seizure without any way to challenge those extensions. All in all, the government completely censored a popular web site for over a year, when it had no real evidence for probable cause of infringement, as it had falsely claimed in the original rubber stamped affidavit. As we noted in reviewing the affidavit, the case had been put together by folks who clearly did not understand the law, the site or the music space. But to then double down on that and continue to hold the domain for a year in secret? That just compounds the error and takes it to new extremes.

This was flat out censorship for no reason, for an entire year, by the US government… Everyone should be horrified by this. It also shows what a joke the claims of supporters are that since “a judge reviewed the affidavit,” there’s due process. Without the other party, there is no real due process. Not only that, but the government made sure, at every step of the way, that the other party was not heard. That’s horrifying. It wasn’t just an act of omission in leaving out the party, but actively preventing the party from being heard.

And yet the feds and private companies continue to say we should just “trust them” to get these kinds of things right? Even more bizarre, they want to expand their ability to do this incontestable censorship through laws like PROTECT IP and SOPA? If anything, this massive screwup on the part of ICE, the Justice Department and the RIAA should lead us to go in the other direction. ICE and the DOJ should be investigated and reprimanded, if not directly penalized, for clear First Amendment violations, while the ICE program for seizing domains should be dismantled. John Morton, who led ICE’s domain seizure program, should tender his resignation or be fired. Victoria Espinel, the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, who defended these seizures to Congress, should issue a public apology, and begin a process to revamp the government’s role in such enforcement actions (and consider tendering her resignation as well). The federal government should issue a huge apology to the operators of Dajaz1 and make it clear that it will no longer take such drastic censorship actions. The RIAA should be investigated for providing claims about the site that were not true, and which it had no right to make.

If Congress needs to do anything, it should be to investigate the lawless, unconstitutional, cowboy censorship and blocking of due process by both Homeland Security and the Justice Department. The last thing it should be doing is allowing more such actions. This whole thing has been a disgrace by the US government, starting with a bogus seizure, improper and illegal censorship, followed by denial of due process and unnecessary secrecy. Dajaz1 is currently reviewing its options in terms of whether it can or should take further action as a result of this, but at least it has its domain back. And people wonder why we’re so concerned about these seizures and new proposals to further such censorship.

Netflix Hikes Prices… For Better Or Worse

So I got the following email from Netflix last night:

We are separating unlimited DVDs by mail and unlimited streaming into two separate plans to better reflect the costs of each. Now our members have a choice: a streaming only plan, a DVD only plan, or both.

Your current $9.99 a month membership for unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs will be split into 2 distinct plans:

   Plan 1: Unlimited Streaming (no DVDs) for $7.99 a month
   Plan 2: Unlimited DVDs, 1 out at-a-time (no streaming) for $7.99 a month

Your price for getting both of these plans will be $15.98 a month ($7.99 + $7.99). You don’t need to do anything to continue your memberships for both unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs.

These prices will start for charges on or after September 1, 2011.

You can easily change or cancel your unlimited streaming plan, unlimited DVD plan, or both, by going to the Plan Change page in Your Account.

We realize you have many choices for home entertainment, and we thank you for your business. As always, if you have questions, please feel free to call us at 1-888-357-1516.

–The Netflix Team

My first reaction was, “Are they serious?  The streamable movies are not that great, and mostly not current, except for a few exceptions, and the so-called Unlimited DVD is still one DVD at a time, and sometimes, means 1 DVD per month.”  I could go to Red Box and get the same DVD for $1.  My first reaction was to cancel the service, luckily I calmed down and didn’t do that, instead electing to wait till the end of my current subscription to cancel the service.

The news of the price hike, surprisingly, was met with happiness by Netflix’s shareholders:

Investors in Netflix – who have already enjoyed a big year on the stock – took some more upside Tuesday afternoon after the company essentially hiked its rates for subscribers who use both its streaming service and one of its mail-order DVD plans.

Around midday, Netflix NFLX announced a plan to separate its streaming and mail-order plans for U.S. subscribers. The rate for the unlimited streaming plan will remain at $7.99 per month, while the rate for a mail-order plan that allows 1 DVD out at a time has been cut to $7.99 per month from $9.99 per month. The cost for the 2-DVD plan was trimmed to $11.99 per month from $14.99 per month.

However, subscribers will no longer be allowed to have both under the same service. So the cost for someone using both an unlimited streaming plan along with having 1 DVD out at a time has jumped to $15.98 from $9.99 – a hike of 60%.

Shares were flat before announcement, but traded up up 1.4% to $294.85 in later action.

The company said in its statement that the change was made “to better reflect the costs of each and to give members a choice.”

Unsaid was the fact that the company now faces little primary competition in this market. Amazon.com AMZN allows subscribers to its Prime shipping service to view a limited number of movies through its own streaming service.

Apple AAPL sells or rents movie downloads a la carte, and Hulu also offers streams at $7.99 a month without having to worry about shipping DVDs and running fulfillment centers.

Some analysts complain that Netflix is over-valued, with a 67% run-up this year and a share price near the $300 mark. Some believe the shares have more room, with the highest price targets currently sitting at $325.

The next catalyst – either up or down – will likely come with the company’s second quarter earnings report on July 25.

However, not everyone was pleased with the news, including over 23 million plus subscribers to the Netflix service:

Netflix’s Facebook page attracted more than 28,000 comments as of Wednesday morning, most of them critical of the move. And thousands of consumers were voicing complaints under #DearNetflix on Twitter….

“The only way that this is terrific for the customer is if you plan to offer your entire collection available for streaming,” wrote Scotty Fagaly, a self-described longtime customer whose comment was “liked” more than 4,800 times. “Otherwise, this is just yet another way to choke more change out of your customers.”…

However, the streaming program’s convenience and ubiquity is sometimes overshadowed by its dearth of quality movies available for streaming, relative to those contained in Netflix’s extensive DVD catalog.

“I realize Netflix cannot stream what the studios do not allow, but this is a disparity that really should be acknowledged in the price scheme,” wrote Travis McClain, a decade-long Netflix subscriber who felt compelled to express his frustrations on the company’s website.

 This prompted The Atlantic to post up an interesting list of “7 Reasons Why Netflix’s Price Hike Is a Bonehead Move,” which lists seven very valid points, and the two most interesting bits of information were:

 Netflix Doesn’t Need the Money

The oddest part about this rate hike is that Netflix doesn’t really need the money. It recently increased its fees (announced last November) by between 7% and 17%. Moreover, its profits have been strong over the past couple of years. And in the first quarter its profit soared 28%. It may want additional revenue to acquire more licensing to stream more titles, but a big rate hike like this may do more harm than good.

Netflix May Lose Money

In fact, this pricing change could easily cause a decline in Netflix’s revenue. Last night, when I got home from work I told my wife about the rate hike. She was coincidentally watching an old Diane Lane movie she found scouring the Netflix streaming library. But without taking a beat, she said, “Oh, we can cancel streaming. It isn’t that good.” If you don’t think a service is worth its price at the moment you’re using it, that’s a pretty bad sign. Many subscribers will agree that streaming isn’t worth the extra money at this time. 

How much could Netflix lose? Let’s do a quick analysis. According to one estimate, about 80% of Netflix subscribers currently have by-mail service that includes free streaming. Of that portion, let’s say half cancel streaming but keep by-mail service. Remember, many people don’t use streaming at all. In particular, if you don’t have an Internet-ready device connected to your television with a Netflix widget, then streaming is far less attractive. Through Netflix’s new pricing, by-mail only service will be about 20% cheaper than the current rate that includes free streaming.

If you assume that all of its revenue comes from subscribers, then its first quarter revenue would decline by 8% to $661.1 million from $718.6 million. This would reduce its profit of $60.2 million by $57.5 million, or by 95%! Netflix will have some subscriber growth as well, but the assumptions above aren’t crazy. If a large portion of subscribers shed their streaming, then Netflix could see a huge hit to its profits. And remember, this assumes that no subscribers cancel altogether. Some will.

 Ultimately, only time will tell if Netflix loses money from this decision, or actually ends up making more money.  But one thing is clear, they are going to lose subscribers.  The best way to view this decision is summed up by Matt Burns in Tech Crunch, whose article is humorously titled “Dear Netflix, Thanks For The Customers!  Signed, Red Box”

I am pretty sure I will be canceling my service in a week or so, when my subscription cycle ends.  And I am pretty sure I am not the only one who feels that way.  Are you going to stay on Netflix, or quit the service in protest?  Ironically, Netflix’s shares rose today, before taking a dive after trading stopped.  THe coming weeks will provide judgment if this decision and business model is successful, which may prompt many other online businesses to consider adopting the same practice of increasing prices while offering nothing new in return.

Apple Issues Response To iPod Tracking App

Steve Jobs and Apple deny tracking iPhones.  What do you think?  Do you believe it?  Should the tracking be completely removed?  Or do you feel its an invasion of your privacy?  Share your thoughts.

From http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/27/us-apple-idUSTRE73Q3Q320110427

Apple denies tracking iPhone customers


Apple CEO Steve Jobs appears on stage during a news conference at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California, July 16, 2010. REUTERS/Kimberly White

Apple CEO Steve Jobs appears on stage during a news conference at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California, July 16, 2010.Credit: Reuters/Kimberly White


NEW YORK | Wed Apr 27, 2011 5:00pm EDT

 NEW YORK (Reuters) – Steve Jobs, responding to growing public pressure, broke Apple Inc’s silence on Wednesday to defend the iPhone’s use of location data and stressed that it had never tracked the movements of its customers.

Jobs, who is on medical leave, sought to control a firestorm that has broken out over whether Apple is monitoring the whereabouts of its customers, promising to adjust the mobile software to store less location data.

Jobs denied that it was tracking the movements of its iPhone customers during interviews with AllThingsD, a blog owned by News Corp, and others. He also said the company would look forward to testifying before Congress and other regulators.

Apple itself issued a similar denial on a day when privacy issues overshadowed news that it would begin selling a long-awaited white version of its marquee iPhone. Sales are due to begin on Thursday.

“Apple is not tracking the location of your iPhone,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday. “Apple has never done so and has no plans to ever do so.”

Still, Apple and Jobs, who is rarely seen or heard from these days, acknowledged that iPhones keep a database of nearby Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers. That information can then be used to help calculate location for applications such as maps.

At the moment, some of that location information is stored on each iPhone and is backed up in iTunes. This has raised concerns from privacy advocates, who say the process would make it possible, for instance, for someone with access to a person’s computer to retrieve information about their movements.

Apple said it planned to release a software update that would cut the size of the wireless hotspot location database stored on its iPhones, and stop backing up that information. The software will be released in the next few weeks.

Concerns about tracking came to a head earlier this month when two computer programmers presented research showing the iPhone was logging locations. Privacy advocates have sharply criticized Apple, while the Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Sen. Al Franken have asked the company to explain its policy.

“I would expect there are folks who would be interested in looking at this,” said Lydia Parnes, an attorney with Wilson Sonsini, Goodrich and Rosati and a former director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But just saying information is collected doesn’t automatically mean that it’s a problem. It’s all about what consumers understand.”

A spokeswoman for the Federal Trade Commission, which has been known to pursue companies that fail to adequately safeguard customers’ data, declined further comment on Apple.

Google Inc, a fierce competitor of Apple in mobile computing, has also faced sharp criticism over reports that Android-based phones track the locations of users.

In a statement on Wednesday, Google defended its process by saying it was up to consumers whether they want to participate in location sharing on Android-based phones.

“We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices,” the search advertising company said.

Any data that is sent back to Google’s servers is anonymous, it said.

Apple, in seeking to clarify its position, also said the data is anonymous and shows only the location of Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers surrounding the iPhone’s location. It said those geographic points could be more than 100 miles away from the actual location of the iPhone.

Separately, Apple also said a white version of the iPhone 4 would be available on Thursday after failing to deliver the model when it was introduced last year.

Ticonderoga Securities analyst Brian White cautioned against underestimating the consumer frenzy that might be stoked by a white version of Apple’s wildly popular smartphone.

“The purchase of consumer electronic devices is not always a completely rational decision. The delayed launch of a ‘white’ iPhone has created a certain mystique around the product,” White said.

Apple also announced that the newest generation of iPad would arrive in Japan, Hong Kong, Korea and other markets this week.

Apple shares closed down 27 cents at $350.15 on Wednesday.


Phones, GPS, and Your Right to Privacy

So the other day I happened to catch the news on television somewhere while I was shopping, and the report was about how Apple iPhones now have an application built into the phone that tracks the GPS location of the owner of the phone, storing the information so that Apple could access that information and use it for marketing purposes.  What shocked me was that the feature could not be turned off, and that the user had no say in whether or not the information could be recorded, and/or used for marketing purposes.  Now having GSP tracking the location of a phone is not new, it’s in many phones.  But the inability to turn it off is what makes it different from other phones on the market.

An Associated Press article poses some interesting questions and points about the issue:

 The debate over digital privacy flamed higher this week with news that Apple Inc.’s popular iPhones and iPads store users’ GPS coordinates for a year or more. Phones that run Google Inc.’s Android software also store users’ location data. And not only is the data stored — allowing anyone who can get their hands on the device to piece together a chillingly accurate profile of where you’ve been — but it’s also transmitted back to the companies to use for their own research.

Now, cellphone service providers have had customers’ location data for almost as long as there have been cellphones. That’s how they make sure to route calls and Internet traffic to the right place. Law enforcement analyzes location data on iPhones for criminal evidence — a practice that Alex Levinson, technical lead for firm Katana Forensics, said has helped lead to convictions. And both Apple and Google have said that the location data that they collect from the phones is anonymous and not able to be tied back to specific users.

But lawmakers and many users say storing the data creates an opportunity for one’s private information to be misused. Levinson, who raised the iPhone tracking issue last year, agrees that people should start thinking about location data as just as valuable and worth protecting as a wallet or bank account number.

“We don’t know what they’re going to do with that information,” said Dawn Anderson, a creative director and Web developer in Glen Mills, Pa., who turned off the GPS feature on her Android-based phone even before the latest debate about location data. She said she doesn’t miss any of the location-based services in the phone. She uses the GPS unit in her car instead.

“With any technology, there are security risks and breaches,” she added. “How do we know that it can’t be compromised in some way and used for criminal things?”

Privacy watchdogs note that location data opens a big window into very private details of a person’s life, including the doctors they see, the friends they have and the places where they like to spend their time. Besides hackers, databases filled with such information could become inviting targets for stalkers, even divorce lawyers.

Immediately some questions came to mind:

  • What does Apple do with this information that i collects?
  • Does Apple use this information for its own marketing purposes, or will it sell that information to other marketing companies that may be willing to pay for that information?
  • Will it provide that information to Federal, State, or Local law enforcement freely or require a court order?
  • How safe is the information being collected and stores?
  • If it is being stored on the phone, to be retrieved whenever Apple wants to, can that information be stolen?
  • And if it can be retrieved remotely, can anyone else figure out how to trigger the release of that information by illicit and illegal means?
  • What other information is Apple collecting about its users that have not been discovered yet?

Now, I don’t have anything to hide, and I certainly don’t have a problem if the government needs to track me if they have a suspicion I’m doing an illegal activity (after all, I don’t make it a habit to partake in illegal activities), and it does give me some peace of mind knowing the government can track a potential terrorist if there is evidence of illegal activity. However, what I find more bothersome than big brother following my every move is having corporate America doing the same as well, and in the process, receiving spam email and unsolicited mailings as a result of the tracking.  The issue has clearly caught the attention of the government, and even they are alarmed by the policy to store information unencrypted, even though the government would benefit the most from Apple’s decision to use the GPS technology in that manner.

With geotagging a common practice in many photos taken on cell phones and mobile devices, it is already possible to track where a picture was taken.  A recent incident involved Adam Savage of the TV show “Mythbusters,” in which a photo he posted up provided enough geotag information that provided the location of where he had taken the picture, which was taken in front of his house.  As a result, anyone with a little know how could have hacked the geotag to find his home.  In fact, a new website called “ICanStalkYou.com” is doing just that, by scouring Twitter to find pictures uploaded and demonstrating how the geotag location of the picture could be used to track the user’s location, in some cases, where they live (and since it’s all public information, it’s not really a crime).

Now, I don’t presently own an iPhone, but had considered getting one.  And possibly even an iPad in the future.  But knowing that the tracking application is in place, and not knowing what else could possibly be put in the phone to track our activities, suddenly I’m not so comfortable about the idea of getting an iPhone.  And if Apple is doing this, one can only wonder what other companies might be inspired to do the same.  When do we start getting MP3 players that track what kind of music we like, and then advertise similar music to us.  Then again, does the iPod do that already?

Perhaps one day, where you drive, after GPS tracking information is made available  to marketeers, suddenly you get offers from certain gas stations along the route you drive everyday, perhaps you frequent a specific part of town regularly, and you start getting sales offers from stores and restaurants in that area.  Maybe some of you would like that, but what if you didn’t have a choice on whether or not to receive that information.  Where does this all stop?

 The only good news is that there is a new app available for free that prevents the storing of location tracking, by deleting the database on a regular basis to prevent the information from being remotely access by Apple.  The program, called Untrackered, is available for free from the third party App Store Cydia.  Still, despite this free app, the phone is still tracked, and one has to wonder how long it takes Apple to eliminate storing tracking data on the phone and opting instead to update and send the data directly to Apple to eliminate the need to track and store the device, but it would still be collecting the data.

What does this technology mean for the right to privacy of Americans?  How do you feel about this?  And are you concerned or unconcerned by a corporation being able to track a customer, something not even the Federal government may do without a court order.  And if this only the first step, how long before corporations find new and inventive ways to spy on our lives?

Dial 911…? After Finishing Tweeting First…

Many of you may have heard the story about Kitty Genovese in 1964.  In case you haven’t, I’ve included the following excerpt that sums up the store.

For more than half an hour 38 respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens.

    Twice their chatter and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out, and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead.

    That was two weeks ago today.

    Still shocked is Assistant Chief Inspector Frederick M. Lussen, in charge of the borough’s detectives and a veteran of 25 years of homicide investigations. He can give a matter-of-fact recitation on many murders. But the Kew Gardens slaying baffles him–not because it is a murder, but because the “good people” failed to call the police.

    “As we have reconstructed the crime,” he said, “the assailant had three chances to kill this woman during a 35-minute period. He returned twice to complete the job. If we had been called when he first attacked, the woman might not be dead now.”

    This is what the police say happened at 3:20 A.M. in the staid, middle-class, tree-lined Austin Street area:

    Twenty-eight-year-old Catherine Genovese, who was called Kitty by almost everyone in the neighborhood, was returning home from her job as manager of a bar in Hollis. She parked her red Fiat in a lot adjacent to the Kew Gardens Long Island Railroad Station, facing Mowbray Place. Like many residents of the neighborhood, she had parked there day after day  since her arrival from Connecticut a year ago, although the railroad frowns on the practice.

    She turned off the lights of her car, locked the door, and started to walk the 100 feet to the entrance of her apartment  at 82-70 Austin Street, which is in a Tudor building, with  stores in the first floor and apartments on the second.

    The entrance to the apartment is in the rear of the building  because the front is rented to retail stores. At night the quiet
neigborhood is shrouded in the slumbering darkness that  marks most residential areas.

    Miss Genovese noticed a man at the far end of the lot, near a  seven-story apartment house at 82-40 Austin Street. She  halted. Then, nervously, she headed up Austin Street toward  Lefferts Boulevard, where there is a call box to the 102nd Police Precinct in nearby Richmond Hill.

    She got as far as a street light in front of a bookstore before the man grabbed her. She screamed. Lights went on in the 10-story apartment house at 82-67 Austin Street, which faces the bookstore. Windows slid open and voices punctuated the early-morning stillness.

     Miss Genovese screamed: “Oh, my God, he stabbed me! Please help me! Please help me!”

     From one of the upper windows in the apartment house, a man called down: “Let that girl alone!”

    The assailant looked up at him, shrugged, and walked down Austin Street toward a white sedan parked a short distance
  away. Miss Genovese struggled to her feet.

     Lights went out. The killer returned to Miss Genovese, now trying to make her way around the side of the building by the
  parking lot to get to her apartment. The assailant stabbed her again.

    “I’m dying!” she shrieked. “I’m dying!”

    Windows were opened again, and lights went on in many apartments. The assailant got into his car and drove away. Miss Genovese staggered to her feet. A city bus, 0-10, the Lefferts Boulevard line to Kennedy International Airport, passed. It was 3:35 A.M.

    The assailant returned. By then, Miss Genovese had crawled to the back of the building, where the freshly painted brown
  doors to the apartment house held out hope for safety. The killer tried the first door; she wasn’t there. At the second door, 82-62 Austin Street, he saw her slumped on the floor at  the foot of the stairs. He stabbed her a third time–fatally.

    It was 3:50 by the time the police received their first call, from a man who was a neighbor of Miss Genovese. In two minutes they were at the scene. The neighbor, a 70-year-old woman, and another woman were the only persons on the street. Nobody else came forward.

    The man explained that he had called the police after much deliberation. He had phoned a friend in Nassau County for  advice and then he had crossed the roof of the building to the  apartment of the elderly woman to get her to make the call.

  “I didn’t want to get involved,” he sheepishly told police.

    Six days later, the police arrested Winston Moseley, a 29-year-old business machine operator, and charged him with homicide. Moseley had no previous record. He is married, has two children and owns a home at 133-19 Sutter Avenue, South Ozone Park, Queens. On Wednesday, a court committed him to Kings County Hospital for psychiatric observation.

    When questioned by the police, Moseley also said he had slain Mrs. Annie May Johnson, 24, of 146-12 133d Avenue, Jamaica, on Feb. 29 and Barbara Kralik, 15, of 174-17 140th Avenue, Springfield Gardens, last July. In  the Kralik case, the police are holding Alvin L. Mitchell, who is said to have confessed to that slaying.

    The police stressed how simple it would have been to have gotten in touch with them. “A phone call,” said one  of the detectives, “would have done it.” The police may  be reached by dialing “0″ for operator or SPring 7-3100.

    Today witnesses  from the   neighborhood, which is  made up of one-family  homes in the $35,000 to $60,000  range with the exception of the two  apartment houses near  the railroad  station, find it difficult to explain why  they didn’t call the police.

    A housewife, knowingly if quite casually, said, “We thought it was a lovers’ quarrel.” A husband and wife both said, “Frankly, we were afraid.” They seemed aware of the fact that events might have been different. A distraught woman, wiping her hands in her apron, said, “I didn’t want my husband to get involved.”

    One couple, now willing to talk about that night, said they heard the first screams. The husband looked thoughtfully at the bookstore where the killer first grabbed Miss Genovese.

    “We went to the window to see what was happening,” he  said, “but the light from our bedroom made it difficult to see the street.” The wife, still apprehensive, added: “I put out the light and we were able to see better.”

    Asked why they hadn’t called the police, she shrugged and replied: “I don’t know.”

    A man peeked out from a slight opening in the doorway to his  apartment and rattled off an  account of the killer’s second attack. Why hadn’t he called the police at the time? “I was tired,” he said without emotion. “I went back to bed.”

    It was 4:25 A.M. when the ambulance arrived to take the  body of Miss Genovese. It drove off. “Then,” a solemn police detective said, “the people came out.” 

 That was over forty five years ago.  And yet the same concerns exist even today.  But it’s not concern for safety that prevents some people from contacting help.  The culprit is actually social media.  A recent newspaper commentary discussed the case of Bill Nye the Science Guy, who apparently passed out during a show, and everyone in the audience begin to tweet about his passing out, but no one approached him to check on him or call for assistance.

My wife pointed me to an LA Times story a couple of days ago that made me cringe… The article recounted how TV personality Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) suddenly passed out while speaking at USC. While this caused a tense moment, he appears to be okay now. However what incensed me was how the crowd reacted. Witnesses noted the crowd did nothing, they did not come to his aid, and they were of no help to Bill whatsoever. But the audience was oh-so quick to grab their phones and tweet/IM/Facebook about what they were watching. Therein lies the problem – they were watching, not acting. In today’s post I’m going to explore responsibility as it relates to social media – the responsibility that comes with living in the real world vs. a perpetual state of virtual reality.

As most of you know, I’m a big fan of social media. I use it personally and my company has a social media practice area which offers social media services to our clients. But when social media addiction takes precedence over common sense, over helping another human being, it may be time to reassess the world in which we live. Social tools, platforms and networks are meant to be conduits to broader and deeper relationships. The real benefit of social media is in improving how we interact not in creating barriers to engagement. The digital world is at its best when it brings us closer together and at its worst when moves us further apart.

 Is there a concern that social media like Facebook and Twitter are creating a disconnect in human society?  Some may wonder if the same response would have occured if it was clearly life threatening or a crime was occuring (since Bill Nye has been known to use dramatic flair in his presentation.  A CNN article tells the story of a New Jersey Pastor who recently asked 50 Church Elders to stop using Facebook or quit, after 20 couples experienced marriage difficulties due to adultery as a result of reconnecting with former exes on Facebook .  He continued by asking that members of his congreation also stop using Facebook, although it was not a demand.

A New Jersey pastor is asking married  members at his church to delete their Facebook accounts because he says it encourages adultery.

The Rev. Cedric Miller of Neptune  made the demand after 20 couples at his church ran into difficulties after a spouse reunited with an old love interest, the Los Angeles Times reported in an article.

The article, which quotes an Associated Press story, says Miller had asked married couples in his church to share their Facebook passwords with spouses, but couples still ran into problems.

Miller, pastor at the Living Word Christian Fellowship church, says he’s now demanding that 50 married church leaders delete their Facebook accounts or resign.

Anthea Butler, a columnist with Religion Dispatches magazine, says Miller is invoking an old theme in fundamentalist and conservative churches: that any new media – like movies, television and radio – is  sinful.

What is interesting to me is that the conservative Christian cry used to be stop watching porn on the internet, or  your kids would be pimped out on the internet by perverts. Now, social media has become the latest “sinful” activity.

Still, Butler in her column entitled, “Facebook: Internet Highway to Hell,” says she could sympathize with the pastor.

So I am not surprised that the pastor is demanding all of his leadership cease and desist from Facebook. After all, looking up an old flame or your teenage dream à la Katy Perry is just the first step down the road to perdition – especially if your home life isn’t exactly what it used to be.

Ironically, at the end of the CNN article was an option for readers to “Like” the article via Facebook’s “Like” function.  Is Social Media to blame for societal faults?  Did television and radio face the same challenges when they first became available?  I would hate to imagine the level of protests that will occur when Virtual Reality becomes a reality, and are actually used as tools to simulate the sesnse as shown in the movies “Demolition Man” and “Artificial Intelligence.”

Am I being alarmist?  Probably not, as Virtual Reality glasses for computer gaming is already on the market, and is likely to be a direction that the gaming and entertainment industry will head towards.  After all, six television manufacturers have announced the release of 3D televisions, that utilize 3D glasses.  And to top that, Toshiba has announced that it will soon be releasing a 3D television that does not require glasses.

It may not be long before virtual reality makes us forget to live, as suggested in the Bruce Willis movie, Surrogates.  Is technology de-humanizing us?  Or have we already been on this path already, as evidenced over forty five years ago, on the fatal day 38 people stood by and watched Kitty Genovese get attacked not once, twice, but three times in a 30 minute span.  And the call to police, which would have taken seconds to do, was only made after she had already been killed.

It seems we are the means of our own destruction.