Wisconsin: Don’t lose sight of the big picture.

February 20th, 2011 by rubenr

Much of the nation has noted with intrigue the events in Madison, WI this week. Gov. Scott Walker (R) and the Republican controlled Assembly and Senate are preparing to pass a controversial “budget repair bill” that, among other things, bans collective bargaining for public employees (including teachers). The bill notably exempts fireman and police officers. Tens of thousands have decended on Madison’s Capital Square to protest the bill, primarily motivated by the collective bargaining provisions. Democratic Senators have fled the state in an attempt to prevent a quorum (effectively a state-level fillibuster, except unlike at the federal level, you have to actually do something).

All the attention to the collective bargaining provision by protestors is great. While I sometimes think public employee unions can be short-sighted in negotiations (and that on the teacher front, employing the best and brightest is advantageous to blindedly protecting seniority), the right for collective bargaining is essential to maintaining an effective and robust public work force, avoiding a run-to-the-bottom, insulating civil service from political whims, and protecting workers rights. That said, all the attention on collective bargaining runs the risk of under-emphasizing other really really bad parts of this bill.

For example, The Cap Times had a great piece this morning discussing how the medicaid reforms in the bill could be disastrous, cutting medicaid benefits to 50,000 people, in a state with a strong history on healthcare and in an era when we should be finishing up the job of providing healthcare to all. The Medicaid provisions are particularly important given that Scott Walker’s new health department secretary has repeatedly suggested that states end Medicaid.

Importantly, the bill itself doesn’t make cuts to Medicaid, but gives Scott Walker unilateral authority to do with Medicaid as he pleases. Presumably republican assembly and senate members would prefer not to be on the hook for such drastic changes, and Scott Walker appears more than willing to take the brunt.

Wisconsin is open for business. But not the poor, working class, or unhealthy.

7th Graders Care About Privacy

November 18th, 2010 by rubenr

We live in a brave new world! Privacy is dead! Today’s kids are growing up without privacy! Or so we’re told… often by those with a financial interest in a world where that’s actually the case. Danah Boyd’s done a lot of work showing that, in fact, kids do care about their Privacy. Though the extent to which they care didn’t really hit me until this week (since, my life as a 28-year old Chicago attorney and part-time entrepreneur doesn’t really have me interacting with 13-year olds that often).

This week, that changed. I participated in a great program run by the Constitutional Rights Foundation of Chicago which brings Lawyers into classrooms to run through programs designed to teach kids about law and the Constitution. The lesson plan called for discussing the merits of a simple rule: “You can’t Bring electronic devices to school.” First off, the level of engagement of these kids on the subject matter was off the charts, everyone wanted to say why they thought the rule should or shouldn’t apply to given situations. The hypotheticals we ran through covered all sorts of devices: cell phones, cameras, iPods, medical devices, etc.

One surprising theme came up over and over again in support of NOT allowing electronic devices in School: Privacy. In particular, lots of kids didn’t want their peers taking pictures without their permission that would end up on Facebook. “It happens all the time, and I don’t like it!” I never believed that kids didn’t care about privacy, but I didn’t think they’d care so much as to agree that electronic devices should be banned in school. What’s particularly striking about this is that often the discussion about privacy on the internet as applied to kids revolves around a presumption that the youth of tomorrow “just don’t understand” the implications of online sharing. Where, actually, they get it. They get it a lot. They don’t need to worry about embarrassing information affecting a job interview, they’re worried about embarrassing Facebook info that might affect them the next day at school.

Of course, this gets us into other issues worthy of discussion, such as cyber-bullying. But the idea that kids don’t care or that they don’t get it is SO wrong. They might actually be getting better prepared for a world of online sharing than the generation currently in college.

pii2010 Panel on Competing on Privacy

October 22nd, 2010 by rubenr

In August, I participated in a Panel discussion at the Privacy, Identity, and Innovation conference in Seattle.  The panel’s focus was “Competing on Privacy”.  I discussed my concerns about Facebook’s aggregation of market power, and the implications for privacy.  This took place the day after Facebook announced “Facebook Places”, so there’s some good discussion of that too… including someone shouting “That’s a Lie” from the audience.  Video’s below.


pii2010 panel discussion: Competing on Privacy from Marc Licciardi on Vimeo.

Google + Verizon = Death of Net Neutrality? (or the birth of Network Choice?)

August 6th, 2010 by rubenr

Much has been made about an article in the New York Times this week describing how Google and Verizon are approaching a “deal” on Net Neutrality. The article suggests Google and Verizon are dealing to prioritize Google traffic on Verizon networks, but both Google and Verizon deny the claim. But then Google CEO Eric Schmidt hinted that there’s some sort of “Agreement” in the works. So what gives?

While I don’t have any secret sources at Google or Verizon, here’s what I think is going on: Once again, the term “Net Neutrality” is getting interpreted in 12,000 different ways, and causing a lot of confusion. In my opinion, this has been the #1 problem with the net neutrality debate. Some take the minority (and extreme position) that net neutrality means low-cost broadband for all, or that you shouldn’t be allowed to charge more for bandwidth or higher connection speeds. Others think Net Neutrality is only about not discrimination if offering quality of service. When discussing net neutrality, I think we should focus less on the technological aspects of organizing a network, and focus on what matters most: Consumer Choice. Maybe we should even start rebranding the “Net Neutrality” movement as “Network Choice” or something similar (any suggestions?).

So back to Google: according to Schmidt, Google and Verizon are looking to come up with an agreeable “definition” for what Net Neutrality is. He suggests that quality of service (the idea that some network traffic gets prioritized) is OK, as long as the prioritization takes place based on content rather than source. (So Verizon can prioritize video for a fee, but can’t discriminate amongst video providers). That seems reasonable, but I think a better way to achieve the end-goals of the net neutrality / network choice movement would be to focus on the consumer. Rather than have the networks themselves decide what kinds of content get QoS, end-users should decide what they want quality of service on, whether it be VoIP, video, or some sort of data-intensive gaming experience. And to be clear, I think it makes sense for someone to pay for this QoS, whether it be the end-user or the content provider. The key is that the choice be left to the consumer and that the networks not discriminate amongst various content providers.

I think the choice element is important from an innovation standpoint. If Verizon decides that they’re going to prioritize video, even if they don’t discriminate in that prioritization, it still blocks the opportunity for a non-video competitor to take advantage of prioritization. Effectively, the network operator is making a market changing choice on behalf of it’s consumers. Let’s say that there’s some sort of up-and-coming data intensive game that consumers and providers would like to distribute over QoS, but can’t because it doesn’t fit one of the network-approved mediums worthy of prioritization? As a new venture, it likely won’t have the market power to secure the network operator’s blessing as warranting a QoS channel. If the new technology requires QoS to work, then, it might never get a chance. But if consumers get to choose what they want QoS on, then some users can try it, and this new technology can take root and grow.

This is why focusing on the choice of the end-user really matters. The world Schmidt suggests, where certain “types” of traffic can get prioritized without discrimination might work for Google; but at the cost of up-and-coming yet-to-be-thought of innovators who’d like a shot at QoS.

The Flaws and Dangers of the Nullification Movement

July 26th, 2010 by rubenr

We’ve discussed the increasing use of constitutional rhetoric on DeObfuscate before, but I wanted to delve into the issue a little deeper, and specifically addressing the “nullification movement” (a.k.a.  “tenthers”) and the increasing rhetoric that everything President Obama does is unconstitutional.

If you’re not familiar with the idea of nullification it boils down to this:  States can declare federal laws unconstitutional and thereby “nullify” them and make them void within their state.  It’s the sort of flawed logic that got us into the Civil War, and it’s been a debunked legal theory since 1832.  The primary legal inconsistency is that if Federal law can be nullified by states, then there’s no point in a federal government… and well, we’re basically back to the days of Articles of Confederation (and that worked out oh-so-well).  There are a LOT more issues with nullification, but I won’t get into all of them here.

As an Attorney, you’re generally ethically bound to avoid asserting fringe legal theories as hard and true fact, and if it’s a totally debunked legal theory then you shouldn’t assert it at all.  I have many Conservative Lawyer friends who would probably love living in a world where States can trump federal law whenever they feel like through nullification, but they would never assert that this is such a world.  So I was surprised to see organizations like the Tenth Amendment Center and scholars like Thomas E. Woods describe nullification pretty much as a given. When I started poking around, i realized that Woods is a historian, not a legal scholar, and I couldn’t identify anyone with formal legal training associated with the Tenth Amendment Center.  I don’t mean to suggest that a social or political movement needs attorneys or lawyers, but when your underlying claim is one to Constitutional interpretation, it might help.

But my main point in bringing all this up is the Rhetoric flowing out of if.  Rhetoric has consequences.  If you start with the assumption that the Constitution stands for what “tenthers” say it does, then it’s true: Everything President Obama’s done might be Unconstitutional.   Of course, by that measure everything George W. Bush did was also unconstitutional, as was anything done by Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, Johnson, etc.  all the way back to George Washington.  But that fact is lost in all the rhetoric describing Obama’s supposed unconstitutional assault on our “freedom”.  Rhetoric that leads Representatives in Colorado to call Obama a greater threat than Al Qaeda, or another in Tennessee to suggest secession from the U.S..  Combine that with the below video promoting “Nullify Now” get-togethers,  which features gun-shots and machine guns firing in the background and things look pretty ugly.

As Americans, no matter what our ideology, we’d expect a natural inclination to “honor and defend” the Constitution of the United States.  It’s what our soldiers do, and it’s what our elected officials are supposed to do.  By bypassing a generally acceptable framework for constitutional interpretation and substituting their own as fact, the nullification movement manages to evoke people’s passions while avoiding the more difficult (and likely unpopular) issue of what a world with nullification would actually be like.

So, not that I really want to propound my own flavor of Constitutional Rhetoric, but, given the widely accepted view that nullification is a dead legal concept, those who continue to support it are … well… striving for something Unconstitutional.

Faceboook Privacy Redux

July 15th, 2010 by rubenr

DeObfuscate’s been away for about a month as we worked on other projects (and got married). But we’re back! Before we get to a new post, here’s a note on our post on Facebook’s Anti-Privacy Monopoly.

In that post we described the anti-competitive nature of Facebook’s policy against the sharing of your FB username and password, and FB’s defense of the policy as a promoting a pro-security and pro-privacy internet norm. Well, looks like FB isn’t so concerned when it’s other company’s usernames and passwords at stake:

That’s right, you can’t share your FB password with others because that’s a bad way for internet businesses to behave… but they’ll gladly ask you for passwords to other services in order to grow their network.

We’ll be back on a more regular schedule, and possibly talking about the “Nullification” movement next week.