Top 10 reasons why people hate listicles - and yes, this is a joke headline
The trickiest part of writing these Weeklies is choosing a topic. I thought I had a doozy for this week, talking about what’s being called the “carceral state.” I first came across the term when I read U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in Utah v. Strieff, which I wrote about in the August 16, 2016, Weekly.
Well, you know how those best laid plans can go.
I got halfway through the article – talking about everything from Ta-Nehisi Coates to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., to Plato and St. Thomas Aquinas – before I realized I was thoroughly bored. If I was bored writing the danged article, I can only imagine how bored you’d be trying to read the monstrosity.
So what looked like a good topic came up snake eyes, and my backup topic – services that promise to let you know what personal information you’re giving up to Facebook, Google, and other online services – just isn’t ready because the “products” are still vaporware and may never see the light of day.
Welcome to Plan C
There are always little odds and ends I’m tempted to tell you about, but there’s never enough “topic” to them to distill into a full-on article. Since my other ideas came up snake-eyes, why not? Here’s the first (and likely only) edition of the Weekly Leftovers!
Internet hoax sites generate clicks (and money) by writing and promoting fake, inflammatory news stories: There used to be a Washington Post column called “What Was Fake on the Internet This Week” that was dedicated to revealing Internet hoaxes. As of last December, the column went out of business. It did so not because of a shortage of hoaxes – far from it. The last column written by Caitlin Dewey on December 18, 2015, explained that Internet hoaxes have become big business.
Sites with names like Now8News and World News Daily Report write stories that are completely fabricated and intended to affront the over-sensitive sensibilities of “middle-aged conservatives,” who are the demographic most likely to spread the lies via social media. One such site uses the domain “NBC.com.co” to capitalize on its similarity to a “real” news site. For example, the sites write “outrageous” crime stories and post them with stolen mug shots of poor people – often African-Americans.
Just warning people away from these sites threatens to increase traffic to them, and traffic is all the sites care about because the more eyeballs and clicks they attract, the more money they make. They will contrive any kind of terrible lies just to attract some revenue-generating attention. Dewey’s last word on the subject of identifying fraudulent Internet sites is to read their “about” or “disclaimer” section.
For the record, two legitimate hoax-busting sites are Snopes.com and Hoax Busters.
Leader in the fight to make public information public: There’s this guy named Carl Malamud who has spent years publishing and making available for free all types of public information. Two noteworthy examples are the Securities and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR database of financial filings, and opinions of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Now Malamud is being sued by a group of nonprofit Standards Development Organizations, or SDOs, that claim copyrights on portions of the legal code that they helped to write. Steven Levy profiles Malamud and his work in a September 12, 2016, article on Back Channel.
Government regulations often refer to codes relating to product safety, buildings, and infrastructure; these codes are “incorporated by reference,” or IBR, and as such they become a part of the law. Malamud’s war cry is a quote by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer: “If a law isn’t public, it isn’t a law.” When Malamud publishes this information and makes it available for free on his site, Public.Resource.Org, the SDOs object. He’s also being sued by the state of Georgia for publishing the annotated state code, and by a German organization over his publication of the European Union's baby-pacifier regulations.
As I mentioned in the August 2, 2016, Weekly, government agencies can’t be copyright holders. Whether quasi-governmental agencies have a right to enforce copyrights on public information is a question for the courts to decide. A leading decision on the matter is Veeck v. Southern Bldg. Code Congress Int'l, Inc., 293 F.3d 791 (5th Cir. 2002), which ruled that the Constitution trumps copyright law. Levy quotes part of that decision: “Public ownership of the law means precisely that ‘the law’ is in the ‘public domain’ for whatever use citizens choose to make of it.”
Any way you look at it, putting laws behind a paywall is a terrible idea.
Use of fitness trackers can be hazardous to your (financial) health: My friend Michael sent me information about a new kind of malware that targets the data collected by fitness trackers such as FitBit. Researchers were able to access and falsify the information gleaned from the devices and stored on cloud servers. At first I wondered whether your fitness-tracked data poses any kind of privacy threat. Then I found a February 11, 2016, article by Atlanta TV station WSB-TV about a criminal case in rural Pennsylvania that turned on data collected by the alleged victim’s FitBit.
The woman claimed she was the victim of a sexual assault by an unknown intruder. Since the attack was said to have occurred in the heart of Amish country, the citizenry – and the local police – found it “pretty alarming,” according to the DA handling the case, Craig Stedman. Police were dubious of the woman’s claims from the outset, and they had probable cause to get her FitBit data, which told a very different story than she did.
The woman had taken about 1,000 steps between the time she said she went to bed and the time she called police. According to the police, this showed that the woman staged the scene of the alleged attack before reporting it. The woman was subsequently charged with filing a false police report and tampering with evidence.
Fitness trackers aren’t the only connected devices that pose a threat to your privacy. In an article dated today, Ars Technica’s David Kravets reports on a federal privacy lawsuit filed by a group seeking class-action status against Standard Innovation, the maker of the We-Vibe vibrator and the application that goes with it. The plaintiffs claim that the company recorded the details of their use of the vibrators – how often, for how long, at which settings – without the customers’ knowledge or consent.
There’s no indication the data – which Standard Innovation stores on its Canadian servers – has been subpoenaed in conjunction with any divorce proceedings – yet.
Now, aren’t you glad you were spared all that St. Thomas Aquinas/Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr./Plato gobbledee-gook? Next Weekly, more tedious stuff about privacy and tracking and lousy politicians… unless something better comes along!