The future is coming ready-or-not

Archive for the ‘Digital Rights’ Category

Managing your identity with ClaimID

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In the Internet's environment of free expression passions often run hot. Flamewars and vitriolic rants enliven online conversations making them interesting and human. But, will those passionate words come back to haunt you? What picture do they paint to a prospective employer, and what inferences will be drawn about you in thirty years time? A digital world is transforming our identities, making them public.

Our online activities leave a trail of bread crumbs behind us that search engines gather together. Try searching yourself on Google or egoSurf, to see what trail you've already left behind. As more of our activities migrate online they become public, indexable and searchable. The read-write web envisioned by Web 2.0 is increasing this trend as it stores social relationships and interactions. Consider what Flickr, Delicious, Technorati and Friendster could reveal about you: this might include information on your holidays, hobbies and work.

Managing our identity is a complex issue because it involves issues of ownership, perception and change. A key problem is we all play a variety of parts (personas) in different social spheres. As Shakespeare said in As you Like it (Act ii. Sc. 7):

"All the world 's a stage, And all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts"

For example, character aspects we emphasise in work may be different to those we accentuate in our local community. The virtual world doesn't recognise social boundaries so merges our interactions into a single identity which may be misleading.

ClaimID is a service that helps you to categorise your personas and present a multi-faceted on-line identity. You gain control by sifting and sorting links about yourself into groups. These groups represent social spheres and together they represent how you wish to be perceived. When someone wants to find out about you, or you want provide information about yourself you can direct them to your ClaimID page.

To use the service you sign up for a home page where you collect and group links that describe and annotate your identity. So you might have a group called Personal where you collect links that describe you personally such as your blog, delicious and flickr. Another group would be Professional with links to organisations and places you've worked. ClaimID lets you specify who authored the link and whether it's about you or not. The completed page is a list of groups that defines your personas and aggregates them into a single meta-identity. This is my page for Steve George.

It's a nice service, cleanly presented and executed. It took me about two hours to decide what groups I wanted and to populate my page. It would have been nice if there were some templates to use, and perhaps a wizard to make searching for yourself easier. The most time consuming aspect was finding links and deciding what was appropriate. My name is very common and my online footprint anaemic so my links were sunk under a army of impostor Stephen George, Steve George and slgeorge pages.

ClaimID doesn't tackle information collecting about you on the Interent. And we often value what we find out about someone more than what they tell us about themselves. Nor does it authenticate us and attest to our identity. But it is an interesting first step to managing our identity.

Do you think that the Internet is changing identity? And, is ClaimID a useful way of managing your identity?

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Written by Steve George

May 23, 2006 at 14:23

Apple iTunes DRM must interoperate say French

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The French parliament is proposing a new law to free consumers from DRM lock-in. Essentially, a media system that operated a format lock-in would have to provide information so that other technical systems could interoperate. There’s more coverage on the BBC and Business Week.

It’s widely seen as an attack on Apple’s iTunes/iPod system as it represents 70% of the digital music market. The impact of the law would be that Apple would have to provide interoperability information to other music player manufacturers such as Sony. Consumers would be able to play content they had bought through the iTunes store on any player. At the moment iTunes music will only play on an iPod due to encryption.

The FT is scathing of this idea, probably because it would have a significant impact on Apple’s share value. The main report, France seeks to fragment Apple’s core, by Waters, Allison and Braithwaire suggests that:

“According to the industry’s received wisdom, these closed systems are characteristic of new technology markets in their infancy”

Odd received wisdom, because as far as I know there’s no proof that closed/proprietary systems open up due to market maturity. And DRM is just the latest extension to the proprietary system tool-box.

Two obvious examples, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Word aren’t infant technologies but their both proprietary and difficult to interoperate, damaging consumers. The rise of interoperable systems has mostly been caused because a technology is a challenger (ethernet versus token ring), or was part of public development (TCP/IP and UNIX). Can anyone think of a technology that has opened up due to market maturity? And does anyone think this will change, particularly considering that reverse engineering is increasingly difficult?

In a point in the main comment piece the FT states “Politicians have no business legislating for interoperability”. On the basis that the market should prevail and that it’s for monopoly authorities to protect consumers. It seems bizarre that consumers should have to accept being locked out from playing content that they’ve legally bought. Proprietary DRM systems secrets are a red-herring, if it’s that important to the content industry they should come up with an open standard.

Actually, consumer protection should go further. Forget Apple and iTunes for a moment. Much of our lives and communications are going online and it’s only going to increase. If we can’t guarantee interoperability between formats then we face the prospect of losing whole chunks of our records and history. For a sane digital age, users must have the ability to interoperate between formats. It’s a basic requirement that is for the good of all.

The Internet proves the long-term benefits of open systems, protocols and formats for all. Consumers and businesses have benefited from the creativity possible with an ecology of open systems. Companies such as Apple will still be able to win through superior products.

What do you think, should formats be open? Has the French legislature gone mad or is this ground breaking law? And, would the proposed law damage Apple?

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Written by Steve George

March 22, 2006 at 16:27

UK ID Cards pass Parliament

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ID cards passed their third reading and have been sent to the House of Lords. While there was a reduced majority, the final outcome is a victory for the government. This legislation enables the government to set-up the ID card system, although a great deal of the detail of how they work and be used is missing. It’s worth skimming some of the debate along with this overview, and for balance the governments view.

There is some coverage in the major news outlets such as the Times, Guardian and Independent. The most positive spin is that with so much opposition it may fail in the Lords.

I find the reasoning for identity cards wholly unconvincing, even the Government seems unsure, constantly chopping and changing. Nonetheless, the opposition hasn’t managed to make any substantial progress, it looks like they’ll pass. I’ve been surprised that by the lack of interest that the UK public has shown.

I don’t think the arguments against ID cards are reaching the general public. I had dinner with a group of intelligent, informed and articulate solicitors a few months ago who seemed completely unaware of what you can do with the technology that underpins ID cards. If these people don’t understand the consequences of what’s happening what hope is there for the man of the clapham omnibus. This lack of interest is reflected by the media coverage; the BBC homepage doesn’t even mention that ID cards passed to the Lords, instead leading with Clarke dropping out of the conservative leadership race – yet of the two ID cards will impact our daily lives far more.

Why do you think there’s been such a subdued reaction to ID cards?

Written by Steve George

October 19, 2005 at 13:40

Protect your digital rights

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Lawrence Lessig believes that we are in a war between a future of proprietary culture or a free culture. A digital world is enabling previously unparallelled ways of regulating how we use content in our every day lives. He believes that those who support a cultural commons are losing the war partially because the terms of the argument are being framed by the opposition and partially because of a lack of action.

This is a wide-ranging roll back of existing freedoms, or the prevention of freedoms that should exist in a world of digitized content. For where this could lead he references an insightful (and I hope inciteful) comment from Bill Gates about one arena of this conflict:

“If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today’s ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today.”

And in a chilling view of where we could go Gates continues:

“The solution is patenting as much as we can. A future startup with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price might be high. Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors.”

Take the 30 minutes or so and listen to the whole presentation. I hope it leave you wanting to do something, and you can quickly and easily!

In the US there is the EFF but in the UK there hasn’t been an equivalent. Danny O’Brien, who you might know from NTK, is workng on the Open Rights Group which will cover digital rights issues such as onerous data retention and restrictive copyright law. Sue Charmman has some great material on her blog about their proposal, check it out and then sign the pledge to support them.

How do you think normal UK citizens can protect their rights?

Written by Steve George

October 17, 2005 at 17:17