Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

RMA changes needed to speed up fibre deploy

June 2nd, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Chorus, the regulated telecommunications network operator, has called on the government to enact changes to the Resource Management Act to speed fibre rollout to multi-unit properties and those with shared driveways, which currently takes six times longer than for stand-alone homes.

The median time to complete a fibre installation in a simple property, such as a stand-alone house, representing 80-to-85 percent of builds, was 18 days, chief executive Mark Ratcliffe told a briefing in Wellington today.

More problematic were more complex builds, with multi-dwelling unit installations taking a median 130 calendar days and a property down a shared right-of-way taking 110 days.

Ratcliffe said the major delays caused in the consenting process came from Chorus having to find neighbours to confirm they didn’t object to the build, or from ongoing disputes between neighbours or third parties.

“The best role the government could play is help with the consenting stuff, that’s the one thing the industry can’t sort out on its own,” he said.

“We’ve got a pool of properties where consents have been refused, and the way that those work at the moment, we don’t get back to those for another six months, otherwise there’s just more cost involved.”

I support RMA changes in this area. Neighbours shouldn’t be able to say no to a fibre installation any more than they should be able to stop power or water to a house.

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The future for public transport

May 29th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Don’t get too attached to your steering wheel and brake pedal because self-driving cars could be hitting our roads sooner than you think.

The first privately-owned driverless vehicles could start appearing in New Zealand in as little as two years, once European manufacturers start bringing them to market, Transport Minister Simon Bridges says.

Bridges is in the German city of Leipzig to attend the International Transport Forum’s annual summit, where a lot of the talk has been about the rapid pace of driverless car technology and how it could dramatically reduce the number of vehicles clogging up our roads.

Yep, they may be a great way to reduce congestion.

The International Transport Forum – a global think-tank for transport policy – unveiled the results of a major study into the impact of self-driving cars at its summit on Thursday.

It discovered that a fleet of self-driving shared cars could make 90 per cent of conventional cars in a mid-sized city superfluous.

Researchers used actual transport data from Lisbon, Portugal to model the impact of two types of self-driving cars: those shared simultaneously by several passengers, dubbed TaxiBots, and those that pick-up and drop-off single passengers, known as AutoVots.

It found that a large-scale uptake of TaxiBots, in conjunction with high-capacity public transport, would remove nine out of every ten cars from the road without hindering people’s mobility.

I’d happily get rid of my car, if affordable taxibots were available for the occasional car trip. Most of us only use our cars a fraction of the day.

Sarah Hunter, head of public policy at Google’s technology development facility Google[x], said the world was on the cusp of having cars and planes that required no interaction from humans at all, apart from inputting a destination.

“It can take you from A to B without you ever being involved. In fact, it’s so autonomous, it doesn’t require a steering wheel or brake.”

Such vehicles would dramatically reduce the number of road accidents, which statistics showed were 94 per cent down to human error.

“It’s not the car that brakes, it’s the human that doesn’t brake,” she said.

“[Self-driving cars] never get drunk, they never get tired, they never get distracted by a text message.”

Self-driving cars would also improve the quality of life for many, including the blind and elderly who cannot drive.

The is the future, and it will be in our lifetime.


Auckland Council consents

May 29th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Richard Harman blogs at Politik:

MPs today heard a revealing account of antiquated systems within the Auckland Council’s Building Control Department.

The Department — which deals with over 17,000 applications for building consents a year – does most of its work on paper.

Sarah Lineham, Sector Manager, Local Government at the Office of the Auditor General told Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee that the Council used approximately $3.5 million of paper in the building consents department because only a few applications were handled online.

That’s a staggering total.

She was being questioned on a report on the Auckland Council’s handling of Building Consents which said that the reliance on paper within the department meant that staff spent 6000 hours a year simply scanning application documents.

That’s three staff who do nothing but scan documents in!

It said staff at one architectural firm estimated that they used two kilometres of A1-size paper a month, much of it for building consent applications.

The Council should make a priority to have an online tool for consent applications. Not just to save millions of dollars of paper, but actually to simplify and speed up the whole process. Ideally consent applications that conform with the unitary plan should be able to be approved with no human review – just like registering a company – all automated.


Another Uber reason

May 25th, 2015 at 3:15 pm by David Farrar

I’be blogged before on how much I’m enjoying Uber – their booking app, the ability to see where the car is, and the automatic payment to your card.

But I’ve now got another reason. On Friday grabbed an Uber and the car smelt a bit of smoke (it was a driver who is also a taxi driver, not a dedicated Uber driver). So when the app asked me for feedback I gave it 3/5 only and commented about the smokey smell.

30 minutes later I had an e-mail from Uber apologising and saying they will talk to the driver, saying that doesn’t meet their standards. Great customer service.

And also impressive is that the next day I got an automated e-mail from them asking me to rate the quality of their response.

Compare that to trying to complain about a taxi driver to their company!


Police will love this app!

May 24th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Cannabis users looking for someone to share a joint with have a new app that lets them find like-minded smokers around the world.

The creator of the Who is Happy app, a Brazilian epilepsy sufferer who wants the drug decriminalised, says his software is a kind of “Foursquare for stoners”, comparing it to the app that allows users to rate restaurants and other places they visit.

“The app is the first global platform of its kind allowing cannabis consumers to connect and unite to promote happiness while de-stigmatizing and hopefully decriminalising cannabis use around the world,” Paulo Costa said.

Users who anonymously log their location will see a green cloud appear on the app’s map, covering a 1-km  radius. They can then check to see if others are partaking anywhere nearby, or elsewhere in the world. A greater number of users increases a location’s “happiness” quotient.

I can see this app becoming very popular with undercover police officers – a way for people to tell the Police to come and arrest them!


Just desserts

May 24th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Back in April I blogged that I had little sympathy for Chris Roberts who was arrested after he tweeted onboard a flight:

“Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? “PASS OXYGEN ON” Anyone ? :)” his tweet read.

It turns out he did more than tweet about hacking planes – he actually did it – and often.

Stuff reports:

A security researcher hijacked an airplane’s engines after hacking its in-flight entertainment systems, according to the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. 

Chris Roberts, a well-known US security researcher, told FBI agents in February that he’d hacked in-flight entertainment systems on over a dozen flights and on one occasion hijacked an aircraft’s thrust management computer and briefly altered its course. 

“[Roberts] stated that he thereby caused one of the airplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights,” FBI agent Mark Hurleywrote in a warrant application filed in April and obtained by technology publication Wired on Friday. 

The FBI seized Roberts’ computers and questioned him after he was escorted off a United Airlines flight last month, because he’d posted a tweet — apparently in jest — hinting he could tap into the aircraft’s crew alert system and cause passenger oxygen masks to drop. 

According to the document, during interviews in February and March, Roberts said he’d compromised in-flight entertainment systems on 15 to 20 flights between 2011 and 2014. Each time he’d pried open the cover of the electronics box located under passenger seats and would connect his laptop to the system with an ethernet cable. He’d also scan the network for security flaws and monitored communications from the cockpit. 

I have even less sympathy for him now. Taking over a plane by hacking is not a world different from taking it over with a gun.

Details of the warrant emerged as United Airlines launched a new program that will reward researchers with up to one million frequent flyer miles when they report to it new security flaws in its apps, websites and portals but not in-flight systems. 

The program takes a leaf from bug bounties run by Google and Microsoft, which collectively paid millions of dollars last year to researchers.

That’s a good idea. A true security professional would have immediately reported any vulnerability.

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Online voting requirements

May 13th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Louise Upston has announced:

Councils now have the guidance they need to decide if they want to offer online voting at the 2016 local body elections.

The Government has been looking into the feasibility of enabling local authorities to undertake an online voting trial in response to requests from councils, and a set of requirements for councils interested in undertaking a trial has been released today.

“Local authorities must show they can meet these requirements before the Government can give the go-ahead to trial online voting,” Associate Minister of Local Government Louise Upston said. …

The requirements document, which is available at, was prepared in consultation with a range of stakeholders including the Society of Local Government Managers, Local Government New Zealand, election and online voting service providers, and online security experts.

The requirements are extensive. There are 125 specific requirements. Some of them are:

  • Online voting must only be made available as an additional option alongside postal voting.
  • Voters must be able to vote online using their own internet-capable device, and without any need to install additional software.
  • Electors must be able to vote online without being required to pre-register.
  • All electors in an election for which online voting is being used must be provided with an opportunity to sign up to receive confirmation that an online vote has been received and recorded under their name, and must be notified of this opportunity.
  • A valid voter ID and access code, enabling an elector to authenticate him or herself online, must be transmitted to electors by way of at least two separate transactions
  • Where an online voting document has been incorrectly marked, the online voting technology solution must inform the voter of the nature of the error that has been made and give them an opportunity to fix the error before submission of the voting document.
  • The design of the online voting system must guarantee that votes submitted online are, and will remain, anonymous, and that it is not possible to reconstruct a link between the content of the vote and the voter.
  • Online voting systems must be designed, as far as it is practicable, to maximise the opportunities that such systems can provide for persons with disabilities.
  • Decrypting required for the counting of the votes must not be carried out until the voting period has closed.
  • The online voting system must allow the voter to individually verify that his/her vote is recorded-as-intended.
  • The online voting system must allow for an observer or independent auditor to verify that votes are counted as recorded.
  • Online voting systems must comply with New Zealand Government standards and industry best practice for web and applications security, including, at a minimum: the New Zealand Information Security Manual (NZISM), ISO27001, ISO27002 and the OWASP Top 10; and should also meet other web security standards such as the ASD Top 35 mitigations and then SANS Top 25.
  • Territorial authorities must use an approved provider from the public service’s ICT Security and Related Service Panel to undertake all security testing, assessment, and certification and accreditation.
  • The online voting system must be auditable end-to-end.
  • The audit system must be designed and implemented as part of the online voting system. Audit facilities must be present on different levels of the system: logical, technical and application.

A very detailed and thorough list of requirements.


Spark launches a campaign on copper prices

May 11th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald reports:

Spark has started a new lobbying campaign in an effort to stop the Commerce Commission setting a big wholesale price rise that will raise copper broadband prices for internet providers.

The campaign is lobbying members of the Commerce Commission rather than politicians.

Called it is the second public relations campaign by the company on the issue and is collecting views from the public over a Commerce Commission draft proposal that will mean big price rises for the wholesale charges.

It is a decision for the Commerce Commission, not the Government. I certainly want lower access prices for copper and good to see Spark advocating this. But I also think that the Commerce Commission has to decide based on the law and the evidence as to what the actual cost is.

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Review websites help make informed choices

May 2nd, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Websites offering customers the chance to review their dining experience were “parasites” on the food industry, says an angry Auckland restaurant owner who’s come out swinging at Zomato.

“At the end of the day the only way those guys make money is off our hard work,” said Jonny Rudduck, owner of Ponsonby Rd Italian eatery, il buco.

“Without us they are nothing and in my view, they’re parasites …”

That view point says more about the owner, than it does about review sites.

Review sites allow customers to have a voice. That is a good thing. Owners can respond to the comments.

I’ll never not go somewhere just because of one bad review. But I will look for patterns – multiple bad reviews. I also look for if the bad review seems to be a one off or a systematic issue.

I use Trip Advisor constantly to choose hotels and restaurants when travelling. The average ratings get it right around 95% of the time. Without such review sites, it would be almost random luck where you go.

Yes it can be frustrating to have an unfair bad review. But the answer to bad data, is more (good) data. Not to try and ban data. Encourage all your happy patrons to review you also.

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Copyright and the Internet

May 1st, 2015 at 4:19 pm by David Farrar

A very useful paper by Susan Chalmers on the issues around Copyright and the Internet. It covers:

  • temporary copy rights
  • text and data mining
  • APIs
  • Geoblocking
  • User-Generated Content

The Government is due to soon commence a review of the Copyright Act. I hope it will be a first principles review that will look at whether the law should focus on use rather than copying.


The sharing economy

April 26th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reported:

By PricewaterhouseCoopers’ projection, the biggest sectors of the “sharing economy” – including transportation and travel companies like Uber, Zipcar and Airbnb – could be pulling in as much as $335 billion in global revenue by 2025.

That’s a massive number (PwC puts it today at about $15 billion), and it reflects, according to a market analysis the company published this week, some fundamental shifts in consumer behaviour. “Access is the new ownership,” and such.

I’m already a big fan of Uber. Yet to use Airbnb, but intend to the next time I want to find a place to stay in the Wairarapa.

PwC does point out one trend in the report that’s a little more revelatory: We’re witnessing the rise of companies predicated on trust among strangers at the same time as general trust in society is actually falling. Only 29 per cent of consumers PwC surveyed said they trust people more today than they did in the past. And 62 per cent said they trust brands less today.

Yes, but while you may not trust individual people, you trust the wisdom of the masses.

Many years ago I used to decide which movies to go to on the basis of if the Listener film reviewer hated them, they were likely to be very enjoyable. I didn’t trust their reviews as we had different tastes.

But the reviews of 100 or so professional reviewers (accumulated on Rotten Tomatoes) I do tend to trust, like I may trust the ratings from 100,000 people on IMDB.

Here is PwC’s smart answer: “If trust in individuals and institutions is waning or at best holding steady, faith in the aggregate is growing.”

In other words, I don’t trust you, Random Guy Giving Me a Ride Home, but I do trust the 4.9-star average rating of all the people who’ve been in your car before. Maybe I don’t have all that much trust in one woman renting her home on Airbnb, but I do trust the aggregated input of the 24 people who’ve given her high marks.


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April 24th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Economist reports:

A number of companies have bold ambitions to use satellites, drones and balloons to bring the internet to the unconnected

EVER since the early 1990s, when it moved out of universities and was embraced by the general public, the internet has grown relentlessly. Only 2% of the world’s population was online in 1997. By 2014 the proportion had risen to 39%, or about 3 billion people (see chart below). But that still leaves another 4 billion who live an internet-free existence.

Most of the bereft are in the developing world, where only 32% of people are online, compared with 78% in rich countries. And those numbers disguise plenty of local variation. Just 19% of people in Africa were internet users in 2014. Like most infrastructure, the internet is easiest to provide in cities. People scattered in the countryside—even those in rich countries—must often do without.

Yet that may be about to change. Four technology companies are pursuing ambitious plans that could, eventually, provide reasonably fast, high-quality connections to almost everyone on Earth. Google dreams of doing so with a globe-circling flock of helium balloons. Facebook’s plan requires a fleet of solar-powered robotic aircraft, known as drones. And two firms—SpaceX, a rocket company, and OneWeb, a startup based in Florida—aim to use swarms of cheap, low-flying satellites. By providing an easy route to the internet at large, local telecoms firms should be able to provide high-speed, third- or fourth-generation mobile-phone coverage to areas far away from the big cities.

Sounds great. And there would be rural parts of NZ that would love that also.

The article is very interesting about the challenges of latency and coverage and some of the ideas out there.

An extra benefit is you could beam uncensored Internet into countries that supress it like North Korea.


No sympathy

April 24th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

USA Today reports:

A computer security researcher on his way to give a talk about computer security vulnerabilities at a major conference was told he couldn’t fly on United Airlines Saturday, due to comments he’d made on Twitter.

My first reaction was this seemed over the top.

United made the decision not to allow Roberts to fly on United “because he had made public statements about having manipulated airfare equipment and aircraft systems,” said Rahsaan Johnson, United Airlines spokesman.

“That’s something we just can’t have,” he said.

So what did he say?

Roberts’ troubles began Wednesday when he flew from Denver, where his company is based, to Syracuse, N.Y.

Once onboard, he pondered on Twitter whether he would be able to hack into the flight’s onboard computer settings.

“Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? “PASS OXYGEN ON” Anyone ? :)” his tweet read.

EICAS refers to the plane’s onboard communication system, the “engine-indicating and crew-alerting system.”

He tweeted about interfering with the plane’s systems, while on board the plane. That’s just stupidity, and he gets little sympathy.

EFF, which has taken on his case, said Saturday that United’s refusal to allow him to fly “is both disappointing and confusing. As a member of the security research community, his job is to identify vulnerabilities in networks so that they can be fixed,” EFF’s Andrew Crocker said on the organization’s website.

Yes, but you don’t do that by publicly tweeting about them while on a plane.


The geo-blocking lawsuit may be a good thing?

April 22nd, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

For two years, before Netflix’s New Zealand launch and Sky’s Neon streaming offering, a clutch of internet service providers, including Slingshot and Orcon, have provided Global Mode – technology allowing customers to watch programmes on overseas video streaming sites, sometimes months before they are shown by New Zealand broadcasters.

In contrast to tech-savvy youngsters’ use of torrenting sites and other shady methods to “unblock” trending programmes in the United States or Britain, Global Mode came with at least a veneer of legitimacy. While the tool is offered free, viewers still must subscribe to the overseas screening site – such as US Netflix or BBC iPlayer – satisfying customers with scruples that the content creator isn’t losing out. Nor does it require technical smarts: there’s no software to download or configurations to change.

I don’t use Global Mode, but I do use Hola to allow me to subscribe to Netflix in the US, so that I am paying someone for the content I am watching.

Now, broadcasting behemoths TVNZ, MediaWorks and Sky have joined forces with Spark (which both supplies broadband and on-demand product Lightbox) in a bid to squash the upstart. On April 2, they sent “cease and desist” legal letters to BNS and its customers giving them until Wednesday to close the service down. Some smaller internet providers folded; BNS and Call Plus (owner of Slingshot and Orcon) stared them down. Court papers are due to be served and, to no one’s surprise, Hollywood studios are joining the action.

I an understand that the broadcasters are not happy that they pay global content providers for an exclusive licence for NZ, and they find out it isn’t that exclusive.

Big Media say the technology breaches exclusive rights licensing agreements between overseas content-holders and local broadcasters. They claim this breaches copyright law; that the streaming rights of offshore providers such as Netflix US, Hulu, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer do not extend to New Zealand.

It is far from clear it does break copyright law. The argument is that people who use global mode are just doing the equivalent of parallel importing – something the NZ Parliament has specifically legislated to be legal.

Slingshot chief executive Taryn Hamilton says internet viewing options make the broadcasting rights model of selling the same product multiple times in different territories “completely out-of-date. The music industry were kicking and screaming about this a decade ago; they wised-up and changed their business model and now there’s a thriving economy for music.

“The broadcasters need to go back to the rights-holders and say exclusive geographic content is a failed model.”

I agree.

And this is where the lawsuit may be useful. If the broadcasters lose the lawsuit, then it will have global reverberations. It will be a clear court ruling that someone with rights to one country can’t stop people dealing with people with right’s in another country. Just like Whitcoulls can’t stop you buying off Amazon.

If the broadcasters lose, then they can go back to the rights-holders and say our rights are no longer exclusive. You have no legal capacity to make them exclusive, so all we’re going to do is pay you for non-exclusive rights. And this could set off a global change in breaking down the idea of being able to make rights exclusive by country in an Internet connected world.

So the broadcasters may win, even if they lose.

What if the broadcasters win?

Probably not much. The ISPs who use global mode will stop offering it, but most of their customers will then either use individual services such as Hola, or VPNs, or just simply go from paying for content to torrenting it. The one thing they won’t do is say “Oh I’m going to wait four months to see my favourite TV show, once an exclusive holder in NZ decides I can see it”.

So I think a loss for the broadcasters will be even better for them than a win.

A win for the broadcasters will be bad for the ISPs, but not affect end users much.


Why does the TAB have a sports monopoly?

April 20th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Nathan Guy has announced:

A working group has been appointed to shed some light on the growth of New Zealanders engaging in offshore online racing and sports betting, Racing Minister Nathan Guy announced today.

I suspect “shed light” means trying to ban.

“The TAB is operated by the New Zealand Racing Board and has a national monopoly on all racing and sports betting.


Wouldn’t it be nice if National stood up for a belief in competition and choice and allowed any reputable provider who met accreditation standards to offer sports betting?

The Racing Board is required by law to distribute all profits from this betting back to the racing industry, which relies on these distributions to survive. National Sporting Organisations also receive a percentage of sports betting turnover,” says Mr Guy.

Again one could require all betting operators to give a percentage of betting turnover to respective sporting bodies, but allow competition.

“When New Zealanders place their sports and racing bets with overseas betting operators online, they operate outside of our regulatory framework. This means that offshore organisations make money on New Zealand racing and sports without paying their fair share of tax, or making contributions back to the racing industry or sporting organisations that make the betting possible in the first place.

“These New Zealanders are also operating outside the safety net of gambling harm mitigation that we have here,” says Mr Guy.

This sounds very nanny state like. If New Zealanders are choosing to use overseas betting sites, then that shows the monopoly held by the TAB is not satisfying New Zealanders. The solution is to allow choice and competition within NZ.

The working group will commence this month and is due to report back with recommendations for the Minister later this year.

The group will chaired by former Minister, Chris Tremain. Other members are: New Zealand Racing Board Chief Executive, John Allen; the Chair of Sport New Zealand, Sir Paul Collins; breeder, racehorse owner and the NZRB’s Thoroughbred representative, Greg McCarthy; and two Internal Affairs officials.

Chris Tremain is a good guy, but a group dominated by the racing industry is going to look at what is best for the racing industry, not what is best for the public good.

There is no chance they’re going to say the way to reduce NZers using overseas betting sites, is to allow more choice within NZ. They will probably try to criminalise NZers using overseas sites, or even worse demand the Internet be censored to try and prevent access to them.

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m pessimistic about where this may go.

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Patent trolls getting worse

April 19th, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The same week that Alex Haro and Chris Hulls raised $50 million for their mobile app, Life360, the business partners got a letter.

It said they had three days to pay licensing fees to a company they had never heard of because their app violated its patented technology.

Haro and Hulls traced the company, Advanced Ground Information Systems, to a coastal home in Jupiter, Florida, with a phone number that initially went to an anonymous voicemail.

They couldn’t find any employees on LinkedIn.

To Haro, it was “a punch in the gut,” he said.

On the other side of that letter was Malcolm “Cap” Beyer, Jr., a 76-year-old who had filed patents a decade ago on cellphone mapping.

He said his attorney told him that he had a strong case against the start-up, even though the general technology had been widely used for years.

Beyer insists the mobile app’s $50 million in fundraising had nothing to do with it.

In the end, a jury sided with Life360 on all counts – but not before Haro and Hulls shelled out nearly $1.5 million in legal fees.

Winning can still be losing. They will probably never get their costs back. This is what patent trolls rely on – that it is cheaper to pay them some money, than fight them in court.

The bill has become a top lobbying priority this year for the tech industry, which says it repeatedly fends off frivolous lawsuits because of poorly written software patents and laws that favour patent holders.

NZ has intelligently removed software from being patentable. It can be copyrighted, but not patented. Patents and intellectual property laws are very important, but if the laws are unbalanced, they can cause more harm than good.

“Patent trolls” generally refer to businesses that buy up patents, particularly in technical areas like computer chips, cloud computing and wireless routers, with the sole intention of filing lawsuits or demanding licensing fees from tech companies, particularly start-ups around the time of their public offering.

Not wanting to pay for a protracted legal fight, the defendants almost always settle even if they think they’d win.

Kramer calls it a vicious cycle – the more companies settle, the more lawsuits are filed.

“It’s like a legal version of a mob protection racket,” said Noah Theran, a spokesman for the Internet Association, a coalition of web-based companies.

Patents are meant to protect and foster innovation, but with patent trolls they actually stifle innovation.

Last year, the House passed the “Innovation Act” by House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

The bill would toughen requirements when filing patent challenges in court, such as limiting the amount of documentation that can be demanded before a judge makes an initial ruling.

The bill also opens the door to a requirement that plaintiffs pay legal bills of the defendants if they lose.

Supporters said they suspect trial lawyers with close ties to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., helped scuttle the bill.

Reid is now minority leader with plans to retire next year.

Likely to replace him as the Senate’s top Democrat is Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. – an advocate of patent reform.

President Barack Obama has said he supports patent reform.

So it might happen with Harry Reid out of the way.



April 17th, 2015 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar reports:

JENNIFER Ringley was the first person to broadcast her life online.

In 1996, the 19-year-old bought a webcam and set it up in her room to take a photo every 15 minutes and post it to her website: JenniCam.

Her experiment offered the world a glimpse into our digital future long before Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the Kardashians.

I remember Jennicam. 1996 was the year I first went online. Hadn’t thought of the site for a long long time, but it was the pioneer of the “sharing” which was to come.

Who else remembers Jennicam? Did you watch it often? I would check it out occasionally, but wasn’t a regular.

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NZ broadband speeds soaring

April 6th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Amy Adams announced:

Latest international figures on broadband speeds have reported New Zealand’s average connection speeds have increased by almost 60 per cent in the past year, said Communications Minister Amy Adams.

The Akamai State of the Internet report found that New Zealand’s average peak connection speed rose to 34.3 Mbps in the December 2014 quarter, representing a 59 per cent annual improvement – the highest increase in the Asia Pacific region.

The report also found that the average broadband connection speed rose to 7.3 Mbps (from 7.0 Mbps in the previous quarter) – representing a 39 per cent year on year increase.

The report is here. Good to see us increasing but still a long way to go – our average speed of 7.3 is 43rd in the world.


A geo-blocking lawsuit?

April 4th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Entertainment and television players Spark, MediaWorks, SKY and TVNZ have fired a warning shot to Slingshot, Orcon and Bypass Network Services, saying they are breaching copyright and operating outside the law by providing customers access to otherwise blocked international TV and movie services.

In a joint statement issued today, the four companies say they have sent the two telcos and others requests to cease the operation of “Global Mode” or similar services that get around the blocks stopping people in New Zealand accessing certain services. …

Slingshot’s Global Mode, for instance, has long allowed New Zealanders access to the US-version of Netflix, which only launched here last month.

The country’s biggest media players and Spark’s Lightbox television streaming service said “companies who set out to profit by marketing and providing access to content they haven’t paid for are operating outside the law and in breach of copyright.”

“We pay considerable amounts of money for content rights, particularly exclusive content rights. These rights are being knowingly and illegally impinged which is a significant issue that may ultimately need to be resolved in court in order to provide future clarity for all parties involved,” the four companies said.

I have some sympathy for the media companies. They have paid for the exclusive rights to content for NZ, and of course they will not like people accessing that content through companies in other countries.

However it is far from clear that giving people a work around geo-blocking is illegal. It would be a fascinating court case, if one occurs.

The problem for the media companies also is that even if your ISP doesn’t help you get around geo-blocking, individuals can do it very easily themselves. The Hola plugin for Chrome allows me to appear to be from any country in the world – and even better different countries for different sites. And it is free and takes 30 seconds to install.

Ultimately business models based on artificial separation of content rights by country, will not work in a global Internet world. The future will be selling content rights to global companies, who will sell in all countries.

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Trade Me transparency report

April 1st, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Trade Me have published their 2014 transparency report detailing requests for information from Government agencies.

The requests in 2014 were:

  1. IRD 44,638 (info on no of members rather than individual inquiries)
  2. Police 1,663 (+80 from 2013)
  3. Disputes Tribunal 478 (+32)
  4. MBIE 181 (-88)
  5. MPI 89 (+19)
  6. MSD 76 (-83)
  7. IRD 62 (+11)
  8. Commerce Commission 29 (-19)
  9. ACC 28 (-15)
  10. SIS 28 (+15)
  11. Customs 26 (-14)
  12. NZDF 24 (+16)
  13. NZTA 17 (+3)
  14. Medsafe 14 (+8)
  15. DIA 12 (-10)
  16. EQC 7 (-16)
  17. DOC 7 (-9)
  18. SPCA 7 (-3)
  19. MCH 6 (-2)
  20. EPA 3 (+2)
  21. Corrections 2 (-1)
  22. REAA 2 (nc)

Good on Trade Me for being open about who they are getting requests from, and how many.


Harmful Digital Communications goes to committee stage

March 25th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A new law to stamp out cyber bullying has passed through another parliamentary stage.

MPs debated the second reading of the Harmful Digital Communications bill on Tuesday night. It will create a new offence of sending messages or posting material to cause harm, punishable by up to two years in jail or a $2000 fine. 

Inciting someone to commit suicide will carry a maximum three-year jail sentence.

National and support partners United Future, ACT and the Maori Party voted for the legislation. 

But the bill has critics – including Labour and NZ First. There are concerns the new law will limit free speech, and may criminalise teenagers with harsh penalties.

The law also goes much further than proposals in Australia and the UK, which are less punitive.

Labour’s Clare Curran says she supports the intent of the bill – and cyber bullying is “horrible.”

But the legislation is poorly drafted and there was no input from young people, she added.  Labour are willing to work with Justice Minister Amy Adams with any amendments at the next committee stages.

United Future leader Peter Dunne said he had raised “major concerns” about the bill with Adams and cannot guarantee his support at the next Parliamentary stage.

He said there may be some amendments from the Government which will allay fears, but won’t confirm his vote until he has seen them.

“I have given no commitment to support the Bill beyond the second reading, in view of the concerns that have been expressed, and pending the government’s response to those concerns,” he said.

His concerns centred on “criminalisation and law of unintended consequences…concerns about scope of coverage, and enforceability.”

The bill as currently drafted is quite flawed, and I hope the Government does make changes at the committee stage.

The bill addresses a very real problem, but sometimes the cure can be worse than the problem.


2 degrees buys Snap

March 24th, 2015 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

2degrees is on a better footing to compete with giants Spark and Vodafone with the purchase of smaller telco Snap, and the addition of home phone lines and home broadband to its mobile service.

No price was disclosed for the purchase of the telecom and internet service firm, although an industry report has said 2degrees had agreed to buy Snap for $26 million.

2degrees first announced it planned to move into the fixed-line market in August 2012.

The two will combine under the 2degrees brand, delivering broadband and mobile service to consumers, businesses and enterprise customers nationally.

This is a good thing for consumers. A third full service telco will be good for competition. 2 degrees has been a real success story in the mobile space, and hopefully they’ll do well in other areas.


Reviewing Uber

March 23rd, 2015 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

I finally got around to actually using Uber yesterday, and after just two trips in it, I can’t see myself going back to taxis anytime soon. Why?

  • A really easy to use app
  • Shows you the location of the car coming towards you, and its number plate
  • No delay once you’re at the destination by paying driver – automatically charged to your credit card
  • Around a third cheaper than taxi fares, and you don’t have the fare increasing buy the minute as you get stuck in traffic
  • Allows you to rate your driver (and vice versa) and refuse a driver without a good enough rating
  • You get a GPS map of your trips with them, in case you need to query a charge

The first driver I had is a full time Uber driver. He loves it, as he has lots of jobs, has a great 4.9/5.0 rating, and gets to pick the hours he works. Also He commented they get a better class of clientele with Uber. I’ve had four drivers so far and they all love being Uber drivers.

You may have to wait slightly longer for an Uber driver than a taxi. The first ride was an 8 minute wait, and the second a 3 minute wait. However the fact you can see when they are about to arrive is superb, as you only need to go outside once they are arriving.

If you want to give Uber a go, use the promo code uberdpf and you get your first ride of up to $10 free (as will I).

Three of the four cars I had were both very nice cars, similar to what you may get with Corporate Cabs. Drivers all excellent. I’m hooked.


GST online

March 18th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The Prime Minister has warned New Zealanders they could soon be paying GST on online purchases as small as a song download from iTunes.

Mr Key said it was inevitable that the cost of online shopping would go up as GST was charged to more goods and services.

GST is not currently charged on imported digital products such as music and film downloaded from services including iTunes.

Because they are not NZ companies. Good luck getting global companies voluntarily agreeing to put their effective prices up so they collect tax for the NZ Government. It is unfair to NZ companies, but there is no easy fix.

A suicidal government could try and ban NZers buying goods from companies not registered for tax in NZ. Ban access to iTunes, Netflix and the like. I think david Parker proposed banning Facebook if they didn’t pay more tax in NZ. National is not so stupid.

The only real solution is for the major economies to agree that a company resident in one country will register for GST type taxes in each country it sells to. But if even one major economy doesn’t become part of such an agreement, then it won’t work. The OECD does have a work programme for this.

Physical goods bought online and worth less than $400 also usually escape GST.

Because the cost of stopping every envelope and parcel at the border, and holding it until GST is paid by the buyer, would cost tens of millions. The de minimis amount should be set at the point which the revenue would significantly outweigh the collection costs. This may be less than $400, or more than $400.

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March 16th, 2015 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar reports on the spectacular backfiring of Hamas attempting to reach out with a #AskHamas campaign on Twitter.

My favourite response was:

If a tree falls in the woods, and there’s no one to hear it fall, is it still Israel’s fault?

Other good ones are:

  • how it chooses human shields
  • Given a choice, is it better to hide a weapons cache in a hospital’s radiology or pediatrics unit?
  • Why did you murder 30 civilians, including 20 people over the age of 70, at a Passover Seder in Netanya in 2002?
  • Are your brave billionaire ‘leaders’ still urging you and your children to martyrdom from the luxury of a 5-star hotel in Qatar?
  • When is the Gaza City gay pride parade this year?
  • Please provide the exact date of your next rocket campaign vs . And how many dead civilians before you accept a ceasefire?
  • Why did you murder my friends Orit Ozarov and Livnat Dvash and 9 other innocent Israelis at the Moment Cafe on March 9th, 2002?
  • When you drag someone into the street to execute them do you prefer paper or cloth bags over their heads?
  • Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?
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