Data Brokers and Privacy

Three articles this week highlight data mining and the companies that profit from it.

First, Reuters reports that a US consumer protection agency has proposed that data brokers be required to disclose more information about their practices.

Next, World Privacy Forum offers a website with links and information about how to opt out from data collection and have your personal data deleted, although this must be done on a per-company basis. (Further, because the opt-out process requires a great deal of personal information, some people have raised concerns that these companies may be data mining the opt-out requests.)

Last, Jacques Mattheij explains how a Google search “privacy” feature does nothing to protect your actual privacy and might even make you a bigger target!

Bad Audio in Porn? These Earbuds Might Help

Ever since the days of VHS tapes, I have found that the kind of erotica I like, namely catfighting and mixed wrestling videos, is usually marred by horrendous audio quality. Even in the digital era, most of these videos tend to sound like they were filmed in an echo chamber, with garbled dialogue uttered in shrill voices.

Enter Winzz, a Taiwanese company that says it has the answer: special earbuds optimized for porn 😀

Ear Buds to Enhance Porn Viewing Hit the Market


Taiwan-based company Winzz announced today the release of earbuds designed especially to enhance porn viewing. Read More>>

Sex Toy Lawsuit Is “Sticky”?

I can’t imagine any legitimate reason for sex toys to be outlawed in this day and age, but I find this article from Xbiz about a sex-toy lawsuit in Georgia quite entertaining when it declares that “previous rulings on similar cases may make the court’s decision rather sticky,” and even cites a law professor named Scott Titshaw 😀

Georgia Sex Toy Ban Could Go to U.S. Supreme Court


The legal resolution of a suit brought against Atlanta suburb Sandy Springs’ reigning sex toy ban may not be so simple due to conflicting previous court rulings related to the issue. Read More>>

Creepy Tattoos, and a Revamped Private Search Engine

This week in privacy news, two stories that indirectly relate to Google.

First, Occupy Corporatism reports that a company which is owned by the data-mining behemoth Google has filed a patent for a removable skin tattoo which contains an RFID chip and “lie detector” capabilities. However, I would regard the Google story with caution until it is confirmed by a more tech-oriented source.

Speaking of tech sites, Tech Crunch reports that the privacy-conscious search engine DuckDuckGo, which I have previously profiled at this blog, has recently been overhauled to add new features such as image search, local search, and even recipes. In limited testing, I found the image search to be somewhat clunky, but still better than the equivalent feature in Startpage.

I have been using and enjoying many other DDG features for some time, including local weather, word definitions, and calculations and conversions, the latter powered by science site Wolfram Alpha. I highly recommend making DDG your default search index for Firefox, Chromium, and other supported browsers.

UK, Europe Also Struggle With Net Neutrality

With the recent debate over Net Neutrality in the US, I should mention that the European Union has also been considering this issue. While the EU has agreed to strong protections for an open Internet, the UK is threatening to derail the proposal because Prime Minister Cameron’s government concedes that the EU law, if ratified by the UK, would preclude Cameron’s pet project to censor “adult content” online. On the bright side, the UK (as well as most of Europe generally) has far more competition for broadband service than the US, somewhat reducing the urgency of approving the EU proposal for now.

Bonus: A story at DSL Reports reveals that, not surprisingly, US senators opposing Net Neutrality have been receiving more “contributions” from the incumbent cable and broadband providers than senators who support stronger consumer protections.

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality; Credit:

Is Topless Dancing a Menace to Society?

Last week, a Texas appellate court upheld a controversial $5 per patron “pole tax” at liquor establishments that provide nude dancing. Under the US Constitution, states can regulate liquor establishments more closely than other kinds of business, although the US Supreme Court has generally required that speech-based restrictions had to be content-neutral (e.g., RAV vs. St. Paul).

The state claims this tax “isn’t directed at nude dancing but on combating social harms” and is meant “to discourage this type of business activity altogether… .” I find this “secondary effects” claim to be hollow, since the law does not target any alcohol establishment that doesn’t feature nudity. For example, a hate-themed bar that featured actors performing in Nazi uniforms would not be penalized, no matter how much violence or disorder it attracted to the neighborhood.

The notion that the state can try to discourage an entire class of lawful business activity is a bit more troubling in light of recent claims that a US federal banking policy has put pressure on banks not to do business with lawful adult content producers, further implicating the free-expression rights supposedly enjoyed by producers of non-obscene sexual content.

Texas Pole Tax. Credit:

FCC Revises Net Neutrality Plan

Amid widespread criticism, and now pressure from his two fellow Democrats on the US Federal Communications Commission, FCC Chairman Wheeler has revised his open-Internet proposal to better protect consumers and content providers from throttling and anti-competitive content discrimination. He has also hinted that the FCC might finally consider correctly classifying Internet service as a telecommunications service, and therefore a utility subject to common carrier rules, although such a move would surely meet with strident opposition from the entrenched ISP oligopoly.

(Wired magazine has an excellent background article explaining how the current situation came to be.)

FCC Story at Xbiz:

FCC Chair Revises Net Neutrality Plan Before Thursday’s Vote

The FCC’s chairman has revised his proposal for net neutrality after receiving considerable unfavorable criticism on a plan unveiled in April. Read More>>

Activists Press FCC on Net Neutrality

As the US Federal Communications Commission prepares to hold a rulemaking hearing on 15 May, open-Internet advocates are speaking out against Chairman Wheeler’s weak “net neutrality” proposal, which would leave a great deal of authority to the arbitrary discretion of present or future FCC commissioners.

One effort is a petition drive by Sum of Us, which cautions that “The proposed FCC rules would change the internet from what we know now to something more like corporate television.” A large group of tech companies has also criticized the proposal on the grounds that it would excessively raise the barriers to entry for new and innovative Internet companies.

In light of the recent flood of objections, an FCC commissioner has called for a delay in the rulemaking process. In the meantime, we should recall that some of the big tech firms that are now protesting the proposed rules, notably Google, are the same ones who helped to write the previous weak, anti-consumer “open Internet” rule.

Internet as a Utility

Another argument for regulating US ISP’s as common carriers: According to Daily Tech Whip, Internet backbone provider Level3 says that ISP’s in markets with little broadband competition, mostly the US, have been “deliberately harming the service they deliver to their paying customers” in order to extract “arbitrary charges” from the backbone companies. Level3 says this problem is not occurring in markets like the UK, which offers consumers far greater choices in broadband providers.

For its part, the Mozilla Foundation has offered its own compromise plan to partially restore Net Neutrality by regulating parts of the Internet as common carriers. Computer World cites Mozilla as explaining that current US telecommunications law is a “historic anomaly, written for a time when a single approved monopoly provider handled interconnection of voice traffic,” and that it must be updated to address current technological developments.