Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Arrest of Greaves stimulates comparison to COPA issues; CNN relentless in covering it

On Dec. 20, the media started reporting on the arrest of Phillip Greaves II for his infamous Kindle book, rather a “tract”, on Amazon.

The Polk County, FL sherrif’s department apparently set up a “sting” to buy the book and then sent deputies to Colorado to arrest him for obscenity. I’m not sure how the legal extradition worked, but I thought this was harder and required US Marshalls. It’s disturbing that one could be arrested from another state by state authorities without being in the state. The same situation would occur with charges for alleged crimes committed through the Internet.

The Sheriff was clever in calling the tract a “Manifesto”, a word that has taken on a negative connotation, to be sure. (Some people call my first book “The Manifesto”). But it is more like a tract, according to Anderson Cooper.

Sanjay Gupta’s report Tuesday follows:

There would be a question as to whether the lack of images is relevant. But apparently text alone can be obscene (not the case with c.p. in the United States, although the case overseas generally).

I usually don’t put two videos from the same place in one posting, but I think visitors might want to hear reporter’s questions of Greaves. He denies acting on “fantasies” but says fantasy is important, and says that what he describes typically happens in many families. He says he is too poor to make bail.

CNN has really taken this issue as far as possible, with Sanjay Gupta joining Anderson Cooper in the “professional outrage” (as opposed to “recreational outrage”).

Remember, COPA was about the concept of “obscene with respect to minors”. In the Greaves case, the charge is “simple” obscenity, however. The charge might not have been possible under earlier rulings that had been made against COPA (back in 2002).

As a purely legal matter, it sounds as if the State of Florida will have to overcome tremendous First Amendment hurdles to obtain and sustain a conviction.

Friday, December 03, 2010

FOSI discontinues offering ICRA content labeling engine

The Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) is telling visitors to its old ICRA (website url) site  that the FOSI Board of Directors has discontinued offering the content labeling engine, which has been discussed on this blog several times.  It says "Thank you for inquiring about ICRA".

The site says “While all current labels will continue to work with Internet content filters, the ICRA label generator, ICRA tools and Webmaster support will no longer be available.”

It’s not clear why this action was taken, as it would appear that a voluntary labeling system could be useful in addressing many troubling areas of potential Internet regulation, including protection of minors from accidental exposure to inappropriate content (all the COPA strikedowns notwithstanding), and possibly now in regulating tracking by advertisers.

I am not sure when this took place; until recently, ICRA redirected visitors to FOSI.  The ICRA product had been developed in the UK around 2003-2004, while COPA was in litigation in the US.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

"Do Not Track" controversy on web reminds one of the debates over filters and labels to protect minors

There is a controversy over “do not track” proposals, both as legislation and as a facility that users should invoke from browsers (they already can to some extent, especially with IE8).

Critics of the idea say that it would destroy the business model of the Internet, the ability of advertisers to show visitors ads that might actually lead to sales of products or services, pay people’s salaries, and help the economy. Makes sense.

More specifically, they say it would lead to “two Webs”: one with little free content and little advertising and little privacy risk (no need to log on or give personal information), the other where visitors accept some “risk”.

All of this reminds me of the debate on Internet filters for minors as was stimulated by COPA. The use of content labels, as already described here (and advocated by the ICRA, etc) generally promotes the idea of bifurcation of websites, with some intended to be seen by all visitors, and some only by adults or older minors. That’s the way it’s been with movies (and the rating systems) for years.

But to work, the whole web service industry along with advertising sponsors would have to have confidence in a world of relatively well educated or mature adults who can surf safely (and live safely) while accepting more “risk” on the web because they “know what they’re doing.” In practice, that ought to work. But it sounds like a tough sell.

It does sound as though the ICRA techniques for labeling content with metatags and using semantic web tools could be used to distinguish websites that allow advertisers to track, and that visitors could be told when loading a website whether tracking is permitted by their browser according to tags (but see Friday's post).