The Wearable Solution

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It’s happened again. An armed white cop guns down an unarmed man of color who apparently presented no actual threat, after an altercation during a routine traffic stop. It’s interesting to note that simply because a passerby caught the entire thing on video, the cop involved has been arrested for murder rather than been given administrative leave pending investigation and cover up.

As I have mentioned probably half a dozen times before in this very blog, there is a simple wearable solution to the problem of our over militarized largely racist police problem. It’s called a body camera. In a perfect “slamming the stable door shut after all the horses have escaped and murdered a bunch of people of color” the Mayor of the town involved announced that they would be acquiring an additional 150 body cameras in an attempt to control their out of control police organization. With the 150 cameras they already have on order that’s enough to equip every officer on their streets.

It need not be expensive either, the 64 GB 1080 HD Muvee I have costs less than $200. They are already in wide use elsewhere, even the local animal control officer I met the other day was wearing one. It makes no sense that teens on skateboards boast better wearable tech than the guys who are supposed to protect and serve us.

I’m sure over time wildly over priced wearable “engagement visualization and analysis” equipment will be integrated with other secure systems which will not only cut down the police on public violence but will also be useful in identifying suspects and risks. That’s great…let’s call that the full on RoboCop 2015 solution. For now, every single cop on patrol on every street in this country should have $200 of wearable tech attached to their $500 Kevlar vest to serve as a reminder that it’s we who they are supposed to be protecting and serving and as a deterrent to more acts of casual murder.

It’s All A Matter Of Choice

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The crowd of angry villagers carrying pitchforks and torches seeking to kill the Google Beast has been reduced by one…perhaps more.  This is one of those inside baseball stories which only those directly involved and a handful of search nerds like me will probably care about at all…but it’s worth mentioning.

This story hinges on an anti trust case brought by Feitelson Et Al (who is this “Al” guy…and why is he involved) in which they sought to make the case that by bundling in lots of Google apps (like YouTube and GMail) along with the free Android operating system Google was in effect acting monopolistic-ally much in the same way that Microsoft did in the early days of the desktop.

Initially the judge kicked the case out at the end of February now the group behind the action has decided to throw in the towel and not re-file. Google respectfully declined to comment but if you listen carefully you can hear the champagne bottles popping over at the Mountain View.

At the core of the case is choice. Google argues (and I have to say I agree) that nothing they are doing is preventing anyone from doing pretty much anything. In the brave new world of apps if you don’t want to use any given Google product there’s pretty much nothing stopping you from getting a similar rival product and installing it in about the same time it takes to read the cover page of the court documents. The fact that many people don’t bother because they are quite satisfied by the toys Google gives them for free is really neither here not there. There are a handful of platforms spread between different kinds of mobile and desktop devices and most of them will run most of the hundreds of thousands of apps out there.  There are also other search engines and browsers. It’s reasonably easy to live a Google free lifestyle.

Given those factors it’s tough to carry the day by arguing that Google is a monopoly which prevents users from functioning without them…it’s not a true monopoly…and the bit which looks monopolistic isn’t compulsory.  None of this prevents the Google hating cohorts of the EU legislative bodies from pursuing their agendas…but it does make any subsequent case in the US look much less likely.

Getting On The Wrong Side Of History

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I’m the first to admit that I simply don’t understand how part of America thinks. I think it’s insane how so much of the conversation is driven by thinking which in the vast majority of the civilized world would be thought of as simply nonsensical. The poster child for the kind of intellectual dishonesty which drives much of this thinking is of course Indiana who passed a “Defense of Religious Freedom’ bill which essentially gave anyone with “sincerely held religious beliefs” the right to refuse service to anyone they don’t like without fear of legal consequences. As you have no doubt noticed the roof caved in on the Governor with major companies and even the NCAA threatening or taking punitive action. The response by Indiana legislators has been that they will pass “clarification” language which makes it clear that the bill does not entitle people to withhold services….really? The honest thing would have been to simple repeal the legislation as a bigoted rush of blood to the head and move on.

What’s remarkable is the role which social media has played in orchestrating the backlash against this ill thought legislation. Apparently the vast majority of internet users think that it’s It’s not OK to discriminate  in the US. Companies which do so run the risk of serious financial impact…even jail in extreme cases. For the legislator to craft a bill which could encourage (but certainly protects) companies who wish to discriminate on pretty much any grounds they care to is shocking. Social media led an onslaught of bad publicity against this move. I’m sure there are many people who wish they could safely discriminate for any reason but the increasingly diverse majority of this fail country are down with that and social media empowers that discussion.

I’ve remarked before that social movements like the Arab Spring and the over throw of dictatorships in places like Myanmar and Egypt has been made possible by social media which acts as the spotlight to focus on dark deeds. Whether it’s the continued mass imprisonment of young men of color for minor drug crimes, the reckless murder of those same young men by our over armed police or the the deliberate attempt by a group of ideological driven anti gay bigots to cloak their primitive thinking in religious garb social media is making it uncomfortable or impossible to maintain an uncivilized social norm which is calculated to preserve the rights of the powerful over the powerless.

It’s a bit embarrassing for what is supposed to be an advanced country to be passing retrogressive legislation only for that legislation to be protested and essentially over thrown by the social media tools  invented in that country which is being used by people in much poorer places to over throw tin pot dictators….but if it gets the job done I’m all for it.

Amazon Takes to the North

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Amazon is testing its drone delivery service at a closely guarded, secret site in Canada, following repeated warnings that it would go outside the US to bypass what it sees as the US federal government’s avoidant approach to the new technology. Amazon acquired a plot of open land lined by oak trees and firs, where it is conducting frequent experimental flights with the full blessing of the Canadian government.

Drone technology is seen by many tech companies and aeronautics experts as the next frontier for innovation, with billions of dollars potentially in the balance. Traditionally, the US has been at the vanguard of both tech and aviation innovation, but the approach of the Federal Aviation Authority has been markedly tentative so far compared with that of regulators in Canada and Europe.

Until it opened its Canadian base, Amazon had been limited to indoor testing in its Seattle laboratory, backed up with research outposts in the UK – in Cambridge – and Israel. Requests by the company to begin outdoor testing on company land in the state of Washington have so far largely been rebuffed by the FAA.

The federal agency recently published its guidelines for commercial use of small drones. The new rules will take at least two years to come into effect, a delay which Amazon finds unacceptable. Last July, the company applied for a so-called 333 exemption that would allow it to carry out outdoor experimentation immediately. Eight months later, the FAA has not responded.

The federal body did agree last week, amid considerable fanfare, to award the company a so-called “experimental airworthiness certificate” that can be used to test a specific model of drone. But it took so long for the certificate to come through that by the time it was granted, Amazon said it was obsolete.

The contrast between the relative rigidity of the FAA’s approach to drone testing and the relatively relaxed regulatory regime in Canada is startling. Under the Canadian system, Amazon has been granted a virtual carte blanche regarding its entire fleet of drones within its designated airspace, having gone through a licensing process that took just three weeks.

By comparison, it takes the FAA many months to grant approval. The US regulator insists on an initial 23-page application, a review of 75 pages of further documentation and a four-hour presentation at FAA headquarters followed by a three-hour site visit, together with ongoing reporting and record-keeping obligations.

Early experiments in Canada have focused on a range of individual drone capabilities: sensors that can detect and avoid obstacles in a drone’s path; link-loss procedures that control the aircraft should its connection with base be broken; stability in wind and turbulence; and environmental impact. Once each of these facets has been perfected, a new Amazon prototype drone will be assembled that would be utterly safe and wholly unlike anything seen before.

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag

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Google is superbly good at defending its self from accusations of monopolistic or corrupt practices. A couple of years back, they underwent an FTC investigation and following a few minor negotiated concessions they were given a clean bill of health. The massive amounts of lobbying they do had nothing to do with the matter. The detailed findings were kept secret…’coz why would we the people get to see the results of an inquiry done on our behalf and paid for by us? Subsequently Google has continued to suffer monopolistic accusations fro the EU where a case is still grinding through the Central Court.

I can only imagine the language heard in the Google-Plex last week when the FTC ‘accidentally’ released the details of the Google case in response to a FOIA request about a different subject.  The results weren’t particularly surprising but it’s telling that even though in half of the cases investigated FTC commissioners had “serious concerns” but those concerns did not rise to a case worthy of prosecution. I’m no fan of the FTC but it does look like they were leaning towards some form of retribution for bad behavior and they appear to have been pressured into backing down.  It’s unlikely that the EU commissioners will be as easily convinced, but since Google has made the changes it has and given the fact that nobody ‘has’ to use search to live and breathe I doubt that they will get much more than a harsh tongue lashing from the Europeans. The recent debacle where the Spanish passed legislation to force Google to pay for the content it scrapes from Spanish news sites resulted in tons of Spanish content being kicked out of all Google results produced and triggered an immediate about face has probably weakened their hand even further.

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FCC Spells Out Net Neutrality… in 400 Pages

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The Federal Communications Commission spelled out how it will preserve the open Internet, releasing a 400-page detailed PDF that reviews its new, stricter regulations for broadband services found here.

The agency’s commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the order last month but did not release the order itself. Instead, Chairman Tom Wheeler and the agency served up select details through a fact sheet, press conferences and an appearance earlier this month at the Mobile World Conference trade show in Barcelona.

It marked the first chance for the public to get a full look at the order, which reclassifies broadband as a so-called Title II telecommunications service under the 1934 Communications Act. That reclassification allows the FCC to regulate providers using rules originally established for the old telephone network. This legal definition establishes broadband as a “common carrier,” a centuries-old concept that means carriers’ networks must be open to everyone. It also gives the FCC unprecedented authority over the industry.

Despite its length, the order is a must read for anyone interested in the issue, known among regulators and the industry as Net neutrality.

While consumer advocates and online businesses such as video-streaming service Netflix cheered the FCC’s stricter regulations, broadband providers such as Verizon and Comcast will likely sue the FCC to block the order. Their concern is that the Title II reclassification gives the FCC authority to set rates and impose tariffs that could translate into higher fees to consumers, stifle innovation and discourage companies from building new broadband networks and improving existing ones.

The FCC’s order is culmination of a roughly yearlong debate, complete with increasingly heated rhetoric. The Net neutrality issue went mainstream in June after comedian John Oliver delivered a 13-minute rant that went viral, resulting in a flood of comments to the FCC that temporarily crippled its public-comment system.

While the full document runs to 400 pages, the actual text of the new rules is only 305 words long. The rules prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing traffic on both wired and wireless networks. They also ban Internet service providers from offering paid priority services that could allow them to charge content companies, such as Netflix, fees to access Internet “fast lanes” to reach customers more quickly when networks are congested.

Reclassifying broadband as a utility gives the FCC its best shot at withstanding legal challenges. The courts have twice tossed out earlier rules aimed at protecting Internet openness. The FCC chairman has said repeatedly the agency does not intend to set rates or add new taxes to broadband bills. More than 100 pages of the 400-page document released Thursday explain that forbearance.

20:20 Hindsight

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As an amateur prognosticator I get to call ahead on all kinds of things…yesterday I hit two in one. Back on January 23rd I suggested that Google was about to announce as a mobile phone service provider and Tada! at the big mobile event in Barcelona this week that came to pass.  Beyond the fact that anything Google does could be important, the interesting nuance about this story is that Google is talking about being more than just another carrier…offering calling over cell and WiFi and Bluetooth…an altogether more integrated thing than just another carrier.

The other thing I hit right on the nose was much less edifying. I have been ranting on and on about police on African American violence and the need for wearable tech to muzzle our out of control police forces. On December 5th last year I lamented the dual standard for the police and the unarmed and or mentally ill people of color they routinely kill in close to cold blood.  This week a group of LA’s “finest” (An oxymoron if ever there was one) tussled with and killed a homeless person of mental illness and color …again filmed by passers by. Yesterday the federal investigation into the Ferguson shooting confirmed (what we all I think suspected) that the police in that jurisdiction were insanely even comically racist in the way they applied the rules to the black residents they “protect and serve.” At the risk of sounding smug back then I railed “This isn’t a tech problem, it’s not “a black problem” it’s an American problem. We have armed the guys who couldn’t get the grades to go to college with sophisticated weapons, given them impunity and “hero” status. They aren’t, they are, in many cases, blue collar guys with way to much power an institutional disregard for our civil rights and a cultural contempt for certain parts of our society”.

I take little satisfaction in either case…the Google story was in the zeitgeist and …well if you live in the same culture I do the police thing won’t be a surprise to you either. Happy March BTW.

An Early Test for Body Cameras

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The officer-involved shooting Sunday on skid row that left a man dead could be an early test of the Los Angeles Police Department’s new body camera program for officers. The encounter was recorded by body cameras worn by at least one of the officers involved in the incident. Other videos have emerged showing parts of the incident, but the actual altercation that led to the shooting is not clear.

The department planned in December to outfit every officer with a body camera that will record interactions with the public. The 7,000 cameras will help bring clarity to controversial encounters, guard against officer misconduct and clear cops accused of wrongdoing.

The hope is that the cameras will help with investigations of use-of-force encounters just like Sunday’s. Increasing transparency could improve the public’s trust. But there are many implications that remain unexplored, including the impact on people’s privacy, how the public and defense lawyers can access the footage and how long footage will be kept before it is destroyed.

Police agencies around the country are grappling with similar issues as they try to figure out the best way to implement body cameras. The devices were among a list of recommendations included in a report released Monday by a task force appointed by President Obama to explore ways to improve relationships between police and the public.

Cameras have the long-term potential to help cut down on civilian complaints and lawsuits, speed up criminal cases and reduce paperwork. That is why he sees Sunday’s case an important test of body cameras’ potential to ensure speedy and fair use-of-force investigations.

There is some debate about making the videos that are involved in the altercations public. The department doesn’t intend, in general, to release the recordings unless required by a criminal or civil court proceeding. The LAPD considers the recordings evidence, investigative records exempt from public release under California’s public records law. But at community forums, some residents said they thought videos should be released as a form of transparency.

Creeping Grass Roots of Democracy?

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I have long lamented the slow lingering death of our democracy, stifled by big brother and big business…I wonder if tech that might finally be changing that. Two stories gave me hope this week…both have been around for a good while and you could hardly find more different topics. The first is Net Neutrality.

This became an issue when the supreme court threw out their earlier rulings last year, essentially requiring that the FCC had rule on Net Neutrality or “Open Internet” and in spite of all the lobbying dollars spent by Big Telco they came down on the side of regulating the Internet like water or electricity. Naturally people will still get different service levels depending on what service they subscribe to but your ISP will not (legally) be able to slow down your access to a service because it’s not offered by them or one of their partner companies. In spite of the obvious benefits of this measure the right wing-nuts and the big business they shill for are complaining up a storm that this is government interference. What’s fascinating…even amazing is that the FCC received over four million messages about this issue, the vast majority of which were private individuals expressing support of Open Internet. Four million!  The campaign to support Open Internet was waged by all kinds of companies and entities through social media, Podcasts and millions of discussions on thousands of online news stories in a desperate attempt to stop us falling further under the sway of Big Telco… and it worked. technology facilitated the discussion and gave the people a voice.

At the other extreme end of the spectrum recreational Marijuana was legalized (after a fashion) in Alaska and Washington DC this week.  In both cases the “powers that be” fought the measures tooth and nail, even threatened to jail the mayor of DC if it passed. Unfortunately the ground swell of people who are sick to death of being told what they can and can’t do by an over bearing militarized police state carried the day. Like Marriage Equality the corrupt right wing, big business religious bigotry which has held sway over so much of our history is coming up short because with social media and the increasingly fragmented media they can no longer control the message or the media. We can expect to see prison reform next on the agenda.

It’s fascinating to see that just as social and new media has driven the democracy campaigns across the Middle East and Asia the very same channels are allowing people in America to register their protest and make their voices heard. God Bless The USA….and Twitter.

Score One For The Bad Guys

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Q: What do you call 10,000 lawyers chained together at the bottom of the ocean…A: A good start.

I imagine I’m not alone in the category of business people who loathe large chunks of our legal system. Among the most repulsive are the patent laws. In a case announced today Apple has been hit with an absurd fine of $533 million over alleged infringement of patents claimed by SmartFlash LLC. Thankfully the ridiculous size and basis of the award will more than likely mean that it will be rightly thrown out in the appeals process but the award will likely encourage the foul occupation of patent trolling to continue.

Just in case you missed my earlier rants on this topic the patent trolls are essentially investment companies who buy up old patents (typically absurdly general and wide ranging ones granted before the patent courts had any handle on technology) and hold companies of all sizes to ransom by suing for infringement. The poster child for this process who just won against Apple has no employees, makes no product, has no revenues and only solely exists to attempt to exploit defunct overly general patents. This is a toxic business…it’s a tax on any company trying to business in this fair country and makes us look ridiculous as a nation. I wish Apple all the best possible luck in overturning this toxic verdict.  The verdict was (of course) issues in the same East Texas jurisdiction as most of the other patent Troll cases. I have no idea why a particular set of Texan judges have set them selves up as the arbiters (and cheer leaders) for the patent troll cases but they have…one can only assume they have their own internal rewards structure in place to make it worth their while.

As in increasingly tech based economy this kind of nonsense is harmful to growth and stifling of innovation. Unfortunately the trial lawyers are a huge political force so getting legal reform is going to be an uphill battle. Until then us tech folk will keep wasting time and money fighting absurd law suits…Thank you Texas