Vanderwarker’s Pantheon

The Boston Globe raved today about my friend Peter Vanderwarker‘s photography exhibit at the Boston Athenaeum.  (Peter shot the image of the faux-Prada storefront on the postcard in my office window.) Titled “Vanderwarker’s Pantheon: Minds and Matter in Boston” the exhibit consists of 35 large-format photographs of people and places that define Boston for Peter.  Peter’s images are arresting, bold, and beautiful.  If you like photography, want to learn more about Boston, want to visit the Athenaeum–a Boston Brahmin location in its own right, at 10 1/2 Beacon Street–, or some combination of the above then check out the show.  It runs through May 2.

Music Industry Panel Debate

Next Tuesday, March 3, from 7:00-9:00 PM in the School of Management auditorium I am moderating a panel discussion–titled “What Lies Ahead”–on the future of the music industry. Audience Q & A will follow the moderated discussion.   For more information see the event website or the poster below.  Register for the event by joining the Facebook group.


Civility on the Upswing?

Since I’ve posted often about the poor quality of Internet discourse readers might welcome a different point of view. Civility comes to Net by Don Aucoin, in the February 21 Boston Globe, says “[t]here is a quiet but growing movement to forge a truce in . . . [the] ‘arms race of name-calling’ on the Web.”  He cites development on social-networking sites like Facebook of “an informal code of conduct” in which trolls “are either ignored or told to get lost.”  A possible cause of this budding civility could be awareness that what one says online can affect employment, college, and graduate school admission prospects.  I have not noticed this trend, but I could be looking in the wrong places.

Regulating Intermediaries

Declan McCullagh wrote a few days ago about two bills proposed in Congress to enact a federal law that would require ISPs, wi-fi hot spots, and home users, among others,  “to keep records about users for two years to aid police investigations.”  The stated goal is, of course, to “keep[] our children safe.”  The companion bills (one filed in each of the House and Senate) are titled the “Internet Stopping Adults Facilitating the Exploitation of Today’s Youth Act”–in other words, the Internet Safety Act.  Apparently these bills will allow Youth to continue to facilitate the exploitation of other youth.

The bills’ operative language:  “A provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service shall retain for a period of at least two years all records or other information pertaining to the identity of a user of a temporarily assigned network address the service assigns to that user.”  This means I will need to keep records about house guests who go online through my wireless network, as will Starbucks, Boston University, airport wi-fi, everyone who assigns dynamic IP addresses with DHCP.  I’m not set up to keep such records, and for large ISPs or wi-fi access point providers retaining the data required by these bills could be burdensome.

Another brick in the we-gotta-do-something wall.

CMLP on Doninger v Niehoff

Citizen Media Law Project is a wonderful resource.  I assign CMLP materials in the Internet law course and turn to it often for news and analysis of Internet speech, copyright, and privacy issues.  A post on January 29 addressed the Avery Doninger case, which I’ve followed for some time.  (I learned of the case through Andy Thibault, author of Law & Justice in Everyday Life, creator of the Cool Justice column and blog, and a friend from college.  I donated money to Doninger’s legal defense fund and received a heartfelt, appreciative thank you note from her.  Good manners go a long way.)  As a high-school junior in Connecticut Doninger expressed frustration in a blog post over a decision by her school’s principal, and called the principal a “douchbag.”  The school punished Doninger by preventing her candidacy for senior class secretary.  She sued in federal court to be permitted to run for class secretary, resulting in the first in a string of related decisions by the Connecticut U.S.D.C. and the Second Circuit.  Anyone interested in First Amendment speech issues generally, and speech issues in public schools in particular, should read the CMLP post and the linked decisions and documents.


Facebook handled its latest privacy kerfuffle more adroitly than prior dust-ups. (Posts here, here, here, and here.) It started when consumer-rights blog Consumerist publicized a recent change in Facebook’s terms of service.  Facebook eliminated the right of users to remove their content–the profiles they created, pictures they posted, etc.–and added a provision giving Facebook the right to retain a user’s content even after the user’s content was terminated. As Consumerist characterized the changes, “anything you upload to Facebook can be used by Facebook in any way they deem fit, forever, no matter what you do later.” That’s a scary thought, and it rightly stirred up Facebook users.  At first Facebook couched the changes in ways less threatening than they were perceived–explaining, for instance, that after a user terminated his account the comments he posted on another user’s wall would remain on the site, not that Facebook wanted to use pictures of students doing jelly shots until they were old enough for AARP. Then Facebook caved, reverting to the terms of use in effect before these changes.  The site’s chief privacy officer “characterized the event as a misunderstanding, stemming from a clumsy attempt by the company to simplify its contract with users . . .”

This controversy goes to the heart of the latent ambiguity in Web 2.0 applications.  I create the framework, you add the content, I manipulate/mine/exploit the content for my financial gain.  It is a seductive trap.  Users go to the site and see their profiles, their walls, their pictures, their friends, their lives online.  Sites like Facebook are structures on which users hang whatever interests them, and if enough users hang interesting stuff then more users will come.  They can be brilliant examples of the profound, transformative power of the Internet, the network of networks manifested as a community of communities.  The users provide the material from which it is all woven together but once that material is on the site’s servers its ownership can be murky.  It’s a sure bet that most Web 2.0 terms of use give the sites rights in user-created content that do not correspond with the users’ expectations.  Facebook has trampled users’ expectations before and will do so again.  It’s an inevitable result of its business plan.