Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

The socialist paradise of Venezuela turns off the Internet

February 23rd, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Slashgear reports:

Don’t expect one whole heck of a lot of tweets coming out of Venezuela in the immediate future as President Nicolas Maduro’s government has shut down the internet and select TV channels. Having shut down Twitter access for the area this past week, Venezuela’s state-run ISP CANTV has been cut in areas such as San Cristobal. This area is a regional capital in the west of the country and CANTV controls the vast majority of internet connectivity in the area.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation made note that Venezuelans working with several different ISPs lost all connectivity on Thursday of this past week. Users lost connectivity to the major content delivery network Edgecast and the IP address which provides access to Twitter’s image hosting service while another block stopped Venezuelan access to the text-based site Pastebin.

Madura won the presidential election as the Socialist Party candidate. His initiatives have included (am not making this up) a “Ministry of Supreme Social Happiness”. I guess he doesn’t see a role for Internet access in happiness.

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Using data to predict

February 23rd, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Brian Gaynor wrote in the NZ Herald:

Target, the huge American discount retailer, has developed a sophisticated software programme that can determine when a woman is pregnant because purchasing data shows that women change their shopping behaviour when this occurs.

The New York Times Magazine tells the story of a man who went to a Target store in Minneapolis and criticised the store manager because his daughter was being bombarded with pregnancy-related coupons.

“She’s still in high school and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs.

Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?” the man asked.

The manager apologised and called the father a few days later to apologise again.

This time he received a much more subdued response and was told, “It turns out there’s been some activities in my house I haven’t been completely aware of, she’s due in August”.

That’s impressive targeting. But that is minor compared to what Amazon is looking at:

Move over, drone delivery robots, there’s a new way to cut delivery times. It’s unique, it’s exciting and it’s the talk of the etail town.

It’s telepathy.

All-seeing, all-knowing Amazon was recently granted a patent for anticipatory shipping – basically sending you stuff before you even order it. In essence, Amazon thinks it knows you better than you know yourself. The sad thing is that this may well be true.

Not relying completely on unworldly powers, this kind of technological sixth sense comes courtesy of advanced analytics. The masses of data Amazon collects – think order history, basket contents, wish lists and even how long cursers hover over particular items – could be used to identify your heart’s desire, even though you might not know what that is yet. Your anticipated must-have item could then wing its way to you, only to land on your doormat mere moments after you’ve sealed the inevitable deal. 

Anticipatory shipping! There’s a risk you won’t order the item and hence won’t pay for it. But if they get it right, then you’ll get stuff you really want, even quicker.

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Telecom to Spark

February 21st, 2014 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Telecom have announced they are changing their name to Spark. This is a bold but risky move.

Telecom is a very well known brand in New Zealand. For quite long periods of time, the brand was fairly negative, but in recent times has been quite positive. Ditching such an established brand is risky.

However they are now a competitive retailer, not a utility company. The new brand can be a good way to move on from their historic role, and be seen as an exciting new company. Vodafone’s brand has slipped in recent years, so the opportunity is there to do well.

Also of interest is this, as reported by the Herald:

Telecom also announced this morning it was moving into the internet TV market, with what it describes as “a standalone and high-quality internet TV brand, ShowmeTV,” which will launch later this year.

“The upcoming launch of ShowmeTV offers all New Zealanders an exciting new choice about how to get their home entertainment, which we think represents the future of how people will access content. It’s a great example of how this company is changing by delivering the sorts of new services our customers want,” said Moutter.

A great initiative. I hope it works.

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How to become a Netflix customer

February 16th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

One of my most common gripes is that content producers make it so difficult for you to actually pay them money for their content. They use geo-blocking to stop you paying them money for their content – and then wonder why so many people resort to file-sharing.

You used to have to be a bit of a technical guru to get around geo-blocking and the like, but for those who want to pay for their content, it is now a lot easier.

House of Cards Season 2 has just come out of Netflix. All 13 episodes. They look just as great as the first season. So if you want to legally view Season 2, here’s how.

  1. Go to Hola
  2. Install the plugin for your browser
  3. Click on the Netflix site and change your country to US
  4. Sign up for Netflix (US$7.99 a month)
  5. Add a zero onto your credit card zip code so it is a five digit code like the US, but so that your credit card company still counts it as a match
  6. Start viewing

Ridiculous that you have to jump through such hoops to force someone to take your money.

It will take a decade or so, but eventually almost all content will be made available in all countries on the day of release.

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Spammer slammed

February 14th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Auckland-based marketeer Image Marketing Group has been fined a record $120,000 after it admitted sending spam emails and text messages in 2009 and 2010.

The Department of Internal Affairs, which took action against the two-person company after receiving 500 complaints, said the fine approved by the High Court in Auckland was the largest imposed under the Unsolicited Electronic Communications Act, which came into force in 2007.

IMG sent more than 500,000 emails and 45,000 texts in 2009, admitting some were spam. They invited people to buy its database products and mobile phone antennas.

Justice Mary Peters said IMG sent more spam emails in 2010, but the volumes were not known.

Internal Affairs dropped its action against IMG’s sole director, Brendan Battles, as part of the court-approved negotiated settlement.

Battles is a recidivist spammer. Great to see such a large fine. Hopefully he now desist.

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But what do they charge?

February 11th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

New Zealand is ranked second worldwide for percentage of hotels offering internet access, according to a survey.

The United States came first in the survey of more than 700,000 hotels listed on hotel comparison website trivago, with 89 per cent of its hotels offering internet via wi-fi or ethernet cable.

New Zealand followed with 82 per cent and Romania came third with 78 per cent.

Australia was ranked surprisingly low at 16th with 66 per cent of hotels offering internet, trivago said.

Almost every hotel or motel I’ve encountered now has Internet access. That’s not the important stat to me.

The important stat is do they charge for it, and how much.

Sadly New Zealand is woeful there. Many hotels have a daily charge of around $40 for Internet access. That’s equal to $1,200 a month. When I travel overseas, generally the Internet access is free. I now just use tether to my mobile phone when travelling domestically, but I feel sorry for tourists who don’t have this option and may face such outrageous charges.

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Retailers trying to kill off Internet sales

February 5th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The chances of GST being applied to all overseas web-based retail purchases appear more distant after the Government changed tack on a review into tax of online shopping.

The chances are not more distant. They are zero, and have always been zero.

New Zealand consumers can avoid GST on many goods bought for less than $400 on foreign websites, such as online retail giant Amazon.

The Retailers Association wants GST applied to all online purchases to “level the playing field”, saying the current gap in the tax system makes it more difficult for local businesses to compete against their overseas online competitors, while also losing the country up to $300 million in annual GST revenue.

The Retailers Association effectively want someone to un-invent the Internet.

One can have a reasonable debate about whether the $400 threshold is at the right level, but there is no practical way to apply GST to foreign companies unless you impound every letter and parcel at the border. Even then, electronic purchases of music and e-books would not be affected.

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Pilcher on banning Facebook

February 5th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Pat Pilcher writes in the NZ Herald:

Back in the 70′s Cambodia descended into chaos. This was thanks to the Pol Pot regime, whose crackpot ideologies saw some brutal policies put into practice. The upshot is now well known, many died and Cambodia is recovering.

Sometimes political madness starts from a single crazy idea with little thought given to issues such as feasibility or what the impacts are likely to be.

I raise this because of a bizarre policy idea floated by Labour (who’ve also since stomped the policy out of existence). The proposed policy would have involved a Labour government preventing tax avoiding multinationals from accessing the Internet in New Zealand.

Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple – all banned. Maybe even the NZ Herald and Stuff as their owners are arguably tax avoiding multinationals!

Even though the thought of multinationals setting up shop locally and not paying their fair share strikes me being somewhat repugnant, the proposed policies really gave me pause for thought, leaving me wondering if Labour had really thought through just how it’d work or if they’d finally lost the plot completely.

To be fair, it was probably a brain fart. But what is worrying is they defended the policy for a full 24 hours before ruling it out.

Facebook would also continue to operate Facebook.com anyhow, as it is hosted offshore. Because of this, a Labour government would have to block access to Facebook from within New Zealand. Odds are that any such move would be a double-edged sword for Labour in that most voters would take a particularly dim view of any attempt to block sites such as Facebook.

They’d be slaughtered.

If the whole concept strikes you as being just plain wrong, you’re not alone. Internet New Zealand have also strongly objected, saying that “InternetNZ does not support filtering of the Internet in any kind”.

Absolutely. That’s a slippery slope that ends badly.

Should multinationals begin to leave, the number of skilled jobs is guaranteed to shrink pretty darned quickly. The really crazy thing is that under this scenario, that not much more corporate tax would be paid anyhow.

Worse still, the governments of the nations where these multinationals are headquartered are also likely to be lobbied and could in turn react unfavourably, and this would jeopardise trade.

So there you go. Had Labour actually decided to implement this madness and been elected, we could’ve ended up with unworkable Internet censorship, disgruntled voters, corporate flight, unemployment and deteriorating trade. 

As I said, the amazing thing is it took them more than 60 minutes to disown David Clark’s statement.

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An iPad for every student

February 4th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A state primary school is giving each of its students an iPad for their own use – and says government money and fundraising were enough to pay for the project.

About 250 new iPad minis were given to children starting the new year at Te Akau ki Papamoa, a decile 4 school in Bay of Plenty, yesterday.

Decile 4, not 10. How did they afford it?

Every student in Years 4 to 6 received an iPad yesterday. The plan is to extend the programme to the junior school eventually.

While many schools would balk at the cost, Mr Jepsen said it had been possible with careful budgeting and some fundraising.

A Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust subsidy will pay 50 per cent of the initial $101,000 cost. But Mr Jepsen insisted the school was committed to the initiative with or without assistance, with another $60,000 budgeted for that purpose.

So some help from the community, but also an internal prioritising decision.

I think this is a great thing. Tablets can be a huge boon for learning.

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Labour says Apple et al plundering NZ economy

January 30th, 2014 at 7:03 am by David Farrar

Labour continue with their jihad against the tech giants. From Hansard yesterday:

Hon DAVID PARKER: … Neither do we think it is fair that some of the multinationals plunder the New Zealand economy—like Google, like Apple, like Facebook—take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the New Zealand economy, compete with New Zealand – based companies, and pay virtually no tax. 

Wow I didn’t know that there were NZ companies competing with Apple, Google and Facebook. Is David Parker saying that Microsoft, Yahoo and Bebo are NZ based companies?

But regardless we can all agree that multinationals who plunder the NZ economy are evil and must be shunned. I await all Labour MPs giving up their iPhones and closing down their Facebook accounts.

As I have often pointed out Fairfax and APN also pay virtually no (income) tax. Will Labour shun these multinationals also?

We in the Labour Party are willing to move on that, but the Government is not because once again it is preferring the interests of the wealthy. It is not willing to take on the multinationals, despite the fact that there is a glaring unfairness there, that they should pay their fair share of tax too, which they do not, and that there are mechanisms that could be used. 

Here’s my challenge to David Parker who wants to be Minister of Finance. It is a very simple challenge. Name these mechanisms that can be used. You don’t even have to name them all. Just name one of them. Just give us one specific example of how they would change the law in a way that would require those companies to pay more tax?

In related news, 3 News reports:

Banning Facebook was an extreme suggestion from Labour Party MP David Clark – and it took party leader David Cunliffe just 24 hours to shut it down.

Mr Cunliffe has now ruled it out completely, but ridicule from the Government still came hard and fast.

Half the population, nearly 2.3 million, are on Facebook, and Mr Cunliffe’s own page has more than 8000 likes.

The social networking website has been accused of avoiding paying its fair share of taxes in New Zealand.

To recoup the cost, yesterday, Labour’s tax spokesman David Clark suggested the Government should “always have in its back pocket the ability to ban websites as an extreme option”.

But Russell Norman says he thinks it is “ridiculous” to consider banning Facebook or any other website.

When the Greens call a Labour policy ridiculous, you know how bad it is.

Labour’s musing on banning Facebook has even gone international, making the International Business Times.

Anyway the next time you see a Labour MP using an iPhone or iPad or Apple laptop, make sure you tell them off for using an evil company that plunders the NZ economy.

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Whale under attack

January 29th, 2014 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

NBR reports:

Cam Slater’s Whaleoil site was offline early this afternoon after being swamped by a denial-of-service attack (which sees a malicious hacker buy space on a network of hijacked PCs to send an avalanche of connection requests that overwhelm a website’s capacity).

“It’s a DoS attack, originating in New Zealand,” Mr Slater told NBR.

The site went down several times last night under DoS attack, then was taken offline completely at around 8am this morning.

The controversial blogger has no shortage of enemies. He named a couple of people covered by recent Whaleoil stories whom he thought could be responsible for today’s attack – but you’ll have to wait until his site goes back online to read those (so far) unsubstantiated allegations.

“I have also been getting death threats via text and on Facebook,” Mr Slater told NBR. 

The cellphone and Facebook threats do not seem to be related to the DoS attack; it’s just a particularly bad day at the Whaleoil office.

“I have notified police, especially [over] the text messages,” Mr Slater said.

The death threats are bad enough, but the threats against Cam’s children are so far beyond the pale that I hope those responsible are getting visited by the Police.

The DOS attacks are probably unrelated, but obviously are arranged by someone who thinks that a site that says something you disagree with should be closed down.

Hopefully Whale Oil will be back online in the near future.

 

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Labour jumps the shark

January 28th, 2014 at 8:25 pm by David Farrar

3 News reports:

The Labour Party has put forward a possible solution to force multi-national corporations to pay more tax – ban them from the internet.

It says the Government should first talk with companies like Facebook, but if that doesn’t work it is important to have a backup, something Labour is describing as a credible threat.

Facebook is the world’s largest social network by far, but pays little tax here in New Zealand.

“The Government should always have in its back pocket the ability to ban websites,” says Labour revenue spokesman David Clark.

No they shouldn’t. At all.

But Finance Minister Bill English says “frankly, that sounds nuts”.

“Fine print, he’s going to close down Facebook,” says Prime Minister John Key. “That’ll be interesting.”

Not just Facebook. Labour says Google, Apple and Amazon also don’t pay enough tax, so I presume they are included in the list of sites they might try and ban. Perhaps EBay also?

Why stop there. Fairfax and APN pay no tax, or very little tax, in New Zealand. Maybe Labour will also try and ban the NZ Herald and Stuff websites.

“Paedophile websites are banned the world around,” says Mr Clark.

Oh my God. He is comparing Facebook to paedophile websites. How can anyone think Labour is even close to ready for power, when they come out with this crap.

And as it happens paedophile websites are not banned in NZ. It is illegal to download or upload paedophile images, and browsing such a site may be a criminal offence, but the Government has no power to ban any website.

Putting aside the sheer lunacy of advocating the Government should try and ban Facebook if they don’t pay more tax, isn’t there something deeply malevolent about an aspiring Government making such threats. If you think a company should pay more tax, then you change the law to close down loopholes. But to declare as an MP that you have unilaterally decided Company X should pay more tax, and that you will threaten to ban them from New Zealand unless they voluntarily agree to pay more tax is what you expect from some tin pot third world dictatorship, not a so called serious political party.

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Scoop, Newsroom and the Internet Party

January 25th, 2014 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

As many will have read by now, Alastair Thompson has resigned as interim General Secretary of the Internet Party:

Scoop website co-founder Alastair Thompson has resigned as interim general secretary of the Internet Party.

Mr Thompson is not available for further comment.

This is obviously a bad look for the Internet Party, losing the key administrative officer a week into it.

It also leaves Alastair in a vulnerable position. Can he immediately return to Scoop, despite having affiliated with a political party – even if now departed.

By coincidence also out yesterday was this announcement:

Sublime Group Ltd is increasing its presence in the media business by seeking to acquire NewsRoom from NZX, says Craig Pellett, CEO of Sublime Group (www.sublimegroup.net). The NewsRoom acquisition is expected to be formally completed shortly.

“Our acquisition of NewsRoom is designed to support our recent investment in and restructuring plans for Scoop Holdings Ltd, which owns Scoop.co.nz,” says Craig Pellett.

“The acquisition is a clear indication that we are committed to being a serious player in the online media sector in New Zealand.”

“NewsRoom is both separate from but also highly complementary to Scoop’s suite of products and when the two are formally aligned under a common legal and management structure together they will provide a strong foundation for future growth. That is our intention, subject to agreement by the board and shareholders of Scoop Holdings Ltd,” he says.

Scoop was a breakaway from Newsroom over a decade ago, and so it is interesting they have ended up back together again. I suspect they’ll merge at some point.

A related challenge is that both media outlets will now be under the effective control of Selwyn Pellett, a prominent Labour activist and donor. How will they deal with editorial independence?

So interesting times in the online media and political worlds.

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Dotcom issues

January 22nd, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Josie Pagani blogs at Pundit:

If the FBI case is weak, that begs the question, why are the New Zealand Police continuing to pursue it?

Because it is not their role to decide if a case is weak. If a valid extradition request is received, the NZ Police are obliged to act on it, just as we expect the FBI to respond to extradition requests from NZ.

Whether a request results in extradition will be effectively decided by a New Zealand Judge (and rubber stamped by the Minister of Justice). It is a legal decision, not a political decision.

The NZ Judge does not decide if someone is guilty or not, just that the charges laid are ones that would also be crimes in NZ, and that there is a prima facie case to answer.

So the fate of Dotcom in a legal sense is a decision for Judges, not politicians. First a NZ Judge has to decide if he can be extradited, and then a US Judge (and possibly jury) will decide if he is guilty of the offences he has been charged with.

As I have said in the past, he may have run Megaupload in such a way that it stayed within the law. Again that is a decision for a judge (or jury to make). The US is not Albania. It has a robust court system, with guaranteed rights under the Bill of Rights.

If a NZ Judge finds that he should not be extradited, then good on him. And if he is extradited, and is found not guilty, then also good on him.

The New Zealand government better hope that Dotcom doesn’t get extradited and then win his case, because the damages owed will be in the millions. It was our police who shut down a multi-million global business. It’ll be New Zealand tax payers who pay the reparation.

This is not correct. NZ Police did not shut it down. The FBI did. NZ taxpayers are not responsible for reparation. What NZ taxpayers may be responsible for is mistakes made by the Police in his arrest, and that is (as it should be) being heard in court.

Now we turn to the politics, and that should be separate to the legal issues, but they get mixed up. National has the misfortune to be in Government when the charges were laid and extradition requested. Hence Dotcom blames them. If Labour had been in power, I suspect exactly the same would have occurred to him, and he would now be railing against the evil Labour Government and Helen Clark.

Dotcom is obviously not keen to face trial in the United States. He is trying to turn a legal issue into a political one. I don’t blame him for that. If I was in his shoes and with his money, I’d try to do exactly the same.  If you are a political party leader, then that make extradition a political issue, not a legal issue. You extradite alleged criminals, not politicians.

So whenever Dotcom does something in the political sphere, I ask a simple question. Would he be doing this, if he wasn’t facing extradition to the United States on these criminal charges?

My preference is for Dotcom to have his day in court (first NZ and then if extradited, the US). If he wins at either of these, then I’d welcome all his plans to invest in a new cable, promote more fibre, have encrypted file sharing etc. But again, would he be throwing parties for 25,000 people if he wasn’t facing extradition?

I am no fan of the way the Hollywood entertainment industry have tried to cripple the Internet and some of the laws they have tried to get countries to enact. In fact I have fought against them. But in terms of applying the law, that is a decision for courts, not politicians.

In terms of the political impact of the proposed party, Liam Hehir writes in the Manawatu Standard:

Is Kim Dotcom’s new “Internet Party”:

a) A new party geared towards internet- conversant millennials;

b) Another Left-wing party entering an already crowded field; or

c) Some new force poised to tap into massive disillusionment with politics-as-usual?

No matter what the party’s founders intend, the voters will come to their own conclusions. The answer will determine what impact (if any) the new party has on the electoral landscape.

The first possibility would be a potential threat to the National Government. More than a few libertarian-ish millennials vote National by default. The “ish” suffix is appropriate because these voters are not particularly ideological. They can abide neither Labour’s slavish political correctness nor the Marxian economics of the Greens. They do not have any particular love for National.

They do care about issues an internet-oriented party could capitalise on.

Take, for instance, the matter of geo-blocking. This occurs when media rights holders prevent access to pay-services by New Zealand addresses. The most obvious example is the popular service Netflix, which streams television and movies over the web for a pretty reasonable cost. Like many such services, it is closed to New Zealanders.

Geo-blocking is one of my pet hates. It is not something that NZ can do anything about, but eventually I believe it will die, and we will have one global market for content.

On the other hand, if the Internet Party is seen as just another anti- John Key party – along with Labour, the Greens, Mana and New Zealand First, then I think any threat to the Government will be negligible. Its existence could even help National in a tight election year.

The Greens are sounding rather hostile to the party, and Labour less than enthused. If even 2% of their supporters vote for it, and the vote is wasted, that may be enough to keep National in power. Intentions and impacts are not the same thing.

The final possibility is that the Internet Party could become a true protest party – absorbing the votes of the disenfranchised and generating new voters from among the increasing numbers of those who would otherwise not turn out.

This is the hope of at least some of Mr Dotcom’s Left-wing boosters. In a gushing write-up by socialist commentator Chris Trotter, for instance, the Internet Party was heralded as a potential parallel to Italy’s Five Star Movement, an ‘anti- politics’ party which rode a wave of voter disgust to a stunning electoral performance in that country’s elections last year.

But New Zealand is not Italy. Going into its last election, the latter country had been forced into austerity by a sovereign debt crisis. Things were so bad that, at the time, Italy was actually being governed by an unelected proconsul of the European Union. By contrast, our leaders have generally steered a good path through the recession and the economic forecast is now fairly sunny.

One can understand why the Government’s antagonists might be frustrated at the apparent immovability of the polls. If they are counting on some groundswell of disenchantment with New Zealand politics to wash John Key away, however, I think they do so at their peril.

It will be interesting to see the impact, if they ever get around to an actual launch, policies and candidates. I’ll probably like some of their policies. But there are policies I like (to varying degrees) in most political parties (except Mana probably).

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Top 10 tech stories in 2013

January 20th, 2014 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Sarah Putt of IITP blogs the top 10 NZ tech stories for 2013:

  1. The NSA revelations
  2. The Chorus and copper issue
  3. The Patents Bill
  4. The IRD transformation project
  5. Novopay
  6. Launch of the Cloud Computing Code of Practice
  7. The Sky TV investigation
  8. Tech IPOs on the NZX
  9. Launch of 4G Networks
  10. The launch of Network for Learning
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Blogger wins first amendment case

January 20th, 2014 at 8:21 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A US federal appeals court ruled has that bloggers and the public have the same First Amendment protections as journalists when sued for defamation: If the issue is of public concern, plaintiffs have to prove negligence to win damages.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial in a defamation lawsuit brought by an Oregon bankruptcy trustee against a Montana blogger who wrote online that the court-appointed trustee criminally mishandled a bankruptcy case.

The appeals court ruled that the trustee was not a public figure, which could have invoked an even higher standard of showing the writer acted with malice, but the issue was of public concern, so the negligence standard applied.

Gregg Leslie of the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press said the ruling affirms what many have long argued: Standards set by a 1974 US Supreme Court ruling, Gertz v Robert Welch Inc, apply to everyone, not just journalists.

“It’s not a special right to the news media,” he said. “So it’s a good thing for bloggers and citizen journalists and others.”

I expect we will see this case cited in the appeal over whether Cameron Slater has to disclose sources in the defamation case brought by Matthew Blomfield against him.

The appeals court upheld rulings by the District Court that other posts by Cox were constitutionally protected opinion.

Though Cox acted as her own attorney, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who had written an article on the issue, learned of her case and offered to represent her in an appeal. Volokh said such cases usually end up settled without trial, and it was rare for one to reach the federal appeals court level.

 

“It makes clear that bloggers have the same First Amendment rights as professional journalists,” he said. “There had been similar precedents before concerning advocacy groups, other writers and book authors. This follows a fairly well established chain of precedents. I believe it is the first federal appeals court level ruling that applies to bloggers.”

A welcome precedent.

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The Internet Party

January 15th, 2014 at 12:30 pm by David Farrar

Kim Dotcom has announced the name of his proposed political party will be The Internet Party. Wallace Chapman has also stated he was asked to stand for it, and has declined. He has also been asked to stand for Labour in the past he discloses.

Also of interest is that Martin Bradbury is talking up the Dotcom Party, and states that “urban professional male Gen X National Party voters who don’t derive an income from the Dairy Industry will find Kim Dotcom’s economic vision a genuine way forward

What I find interesting is how Martin knows what that economic vision is, when their policies have not been released. It’s almost as if he is involved. But of course he would disclose that if he was, right?

UPDATE: In an exclusive Whale Oil discloses how two journalists are on the payroll of the Internet Party, or hold a leadership role in it. They key details are:

  • Martyn Bradbury on payroll for $8000 per month plus $5000 advance payment for technology upgrades
  • Bradbury to stand for Auckland Central
  • Scoop General Manager Alistair Thompson is to be the Party’s Secretary (a statutory role)
  • Scoop has registered the domain names for the party

This is the second time that Bradbury has been revealed to be on, or seeking to be on, the payroll of a political party he blogs favourably about, without disclosing it.

There are serious issues for Scoop and the press gallery also. Can a member of the press gallery be a senior office holder of a political party? Is it appropriate to have a party secretary asking hostile questions of the PM at his media press conferences, in his role as a journalist.

UPDATE: Bradbury says he has not yet been placed on the payroll, it was just a proposal. But the problem remains that he is publishing favourable articles on them, while trying to advise them, get paid by them, and be a candidate for them.

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The healthcare portal

January 15th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The face of New Zealand healthcare will change before the year is out as Kiwis are signed into patient portals allowing them to self-manage their medical records, book doctor appointments and chat to their GP online.

The new multi-million dollar electronic healthcare system is a hybrid of internet banking and social networking – giving patients a secure account to view their medical records and test results, but also a private platform to instantly message their GP.

National health IT board director Graeme Osborne said the patient portal service was “ground-breaking”. It would empower Kiwis to take control of their own healthcare.

More than 50 per cent of the country’s general practices would be using the service by the end of 2014, he said.

“This is more than a hope. Each region and each district in New Zealand will roll this out.”

Online services would initially include a list of the patient’s medical conditions and medications, notifications when laboratory test results were available, the ability to book doctor appointments and order repeat prescriptions online and a messaging system to email GPs for health advice.

That would be great. I’d love being able to book appointments online and being able to access my own test results.

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A NZ-Uk op-ed

January 13th, 2014 at 7:03 am by David Farrar

An op-ed in The Guardian by NZ Minister Chris Tremain and UK Minister Francis Maude on digital services:

At the Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit in London in November 2013, New Zealand became the 61st member of a rapidly expanding global movement.

The OGP is all about making governments more transparent, accountable and responsive to citizens. International co-operation and the exchange of ideas are essential to embedding openness and transparency across the world. In different ways Britain and New Zealand are already world leaders in transparency. They have a great deal to learn from one another. And we are already partners in the digital revolution that is helping to make open government an everyday reality for citizens. …

Both our countries have taken significant steps towards a new digital world. After the election in May 2010, the UK established the Government Digital Service (GDS) to drive a new “digital-by-default” agenda through Whitehall. In 2013, the New Zealand government launched a new ICT strategy and action plan focused on using technology to deliver better services. Whether in Britain or New Zealand, the cornerstone of digital transformation is a user-friendly domain for government information.

Until our governments embarked on a new digital push, neither country had a digital portal which met the acid test of really meeting users’ needs. Directgov in the UK was an entry point into a confusing maze of additional sites. It was hard to navigate, duplicated information and had confusing design, presentation and language. User research in New Zealand showed that the newzealand.govt.nz portal could also do a much better job of meeting the needs of users.

I didn’t even know we had such a portal!

New Zealand’s project to replace their portal is called Govt.nz. The site is now in beta stage, for public testing with real users at beta.govt.nz. As was the case with the groundbreaking GOV.UK, Govt.nz is being built through an iterated, user-tested design.

GOV.UK was built for sharing. Most of its code is open source so other countries can use it, rather than having to develop their own. The New Zealand team adapted GOV.UK’s basic design elements, saving time, money and resources.

At the same time, ideas and information are flowing back to the UK. Research in New Zealand corroborated similar studies in the UK which highlighted the need to simplify website design. The Govt.nz team routinely shares the results of its research with its counterparts in the UK, so they can learn from it as well. We know that there’s greater scope for co-operation as independent research and user testing often throws up the same challenges. We look forward to working together ever more closely.

After testing and feedback from the beta site, New Zealand expects the new Govt.nz site to go live in 2014, and by 2017 wants all new government services to be digital-by-default.

Sounds excellent, and good to see the two countries learning from each other rather than operating in silos.

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Some facts on Wifi

January 11th, 2014 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Paul Matthews blogs:

In terms of Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs), the debate is actually around intensity; the evidence is clear that high strength EMFs – massively higher than wifi signal strength – can be harmful to people. But what is high and low, and can prolonged exposure to very low levels of EMFs also be harmful?

This low vs high intensity question is the same in many other radiation contexts as well. For example, exposure to sunlight in moderation is not considered harmful, however too much of it can cause burning and lead to skin cancer. So where does wifi sit on that spectrum?

Let’s first consider just how strong a signal we’re talking about here. Jonathan Brewer’s Inside Telecommunications blog has a great summary of EMFs and electromagnetic radiation, including the following table (Hat tip @shiftygeek):

 
Type of Radiation
Power Level
  Potential to be Harmful (heat can be felt) 200W/kg
  Maximum Permitted in New Zealand 4.00W/kg
  Highest Radiation Cell Phones (Avg of 20) 1.43W/kg
  50 Watt Cell Phone Transmitter at 10m distance 0.365W/kg
  Lowest Radiation Cell Phones (Avg of 20) 0.32W/kg
  Wi-Fi Device Average between 0.5 and 2m distance 0.0057W/kg

Have a look at those numbers. WiFi is at one 35,000th of the level where it has the potential to be harmful.

The Te Horo School should be ashamed for giving in to hysteria. Matthew concludes:

In short, the science is clear and credible. Following very comprehensive and ongoing research,there is absolutely no evidence of a link between exposure to wifi transmission and adverse health effects. It would appear to make no more sense banning wifi in schools as banning electricity, and neither is supported by the evidence.

Maybe the school should also ban the dangerous dihydrogen monooxide.

 

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The UK Internet Filter

January 9th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The New Statesman reports:

There is no porn filter, and blocking Childline is not an accident

The idea of an internet porn filter has always been a political fiction, a conveniently inaccurate sound bite used to conjure images of hardcore fisting and anal rape in the feverishly overactive imaginations of middle Britain. What activists actually called for – and ISPs were forced to provide – is an ‘objectionable content’ filter, and there is a vast, damp and aching chasm between the two.

The language of the mythical ‘porn filter’ is so insidious, so pervasive, that even those of us opposed to it have been sucked into its slippery embrace. And so even when it turns out that O2 are blocking the Childline and Refuge websites, or that BT are blocking gay and lesbian content, we tend to regard them as collateral damage – accidental victims of a well-meaning (if misguided) attempt to protect out children from the evils of cock.

But this was no accident. It is a good lesson of why filtering is best done by individuals.

Working through secretive negotiations with ISPs, the coalition has put in place a set of filters and restrictions as ambitious as anything this side of China, dividing the internet into ‘acceptable’ and ‘unacceptable’ categories, and cutting people off from huge swathes of it at the stroke of a key.

“As well as pornography, users may automatically be opted in to blocks on “violent material”, “extremist related content”, “anorexia and eating disorder websites” and “suicide related websites”, “alcohol” and “smoking”. But the list doesn’t stop there. It even extends to blocking “web forums” and “esoteric material”, whatever that is. “Web blocking circumvention tools” is also included, of course.”

And the restrictions go further still. Over the weekend, people were appalled to discover that BT filters supported homophobia, with a category blocking, “sites where the main purpose is to provide information on subjects such as respect for a partner, abortion, gay and lesbian lifestyle, contraceptive, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy.”

These filters are automatically applied to all ISP accounts, unless you specifically ask to be exempted. It shows the dangers of allowing a filter for one sort of material, and then seeing it gradually get extended elsewhere. I believe you should prosecute those who upload or download illegal material, but you should not force ISPs to filter the Internet.

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Dom Post on Wifi in schools

January 9th, 2014 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

Parents want the best for their children, and parents’ voices must always be taken seriously. It is understandable that parents at Te Horo school wanted to remove wi-fi from the junior classes after the death of a pupil at the school. This was a tragic event and all parents would obviously want to avoid it happening again. So the school decided to be safe rather than sorry.

Still, the decision is rather odd. The evidence suggests that wi-fi is safe. The Ministry of Health does not believe magnetic fields from wi-fi equipment in schools pose a health risk. The school authorities themselves admitted that the decision was not based on safety grounds.

Board of trustees chairman Steve Joss said the school had consulted widely, and the decision to turn off wi-fi in the junior classrooms was not about safety. “We don’t have concerns about safety with the wi-fi,” Mr Joss said. “But we received enough feedback from parents not wanting it in the junior school that we decided to switch it off.”

This seems to mean that the school is bowing to the wishes of parents even though there is no evidence to back them up. This is not a very good precedent to set when making decisions about children’s education. It’s not unlike the situation of Hamilton, which banned fluoride in its drinking water after the concerted action of a lobby group, although there is no evidence that fluoride is unsafe.

It is much the same, ignoring science and giving into a small pressure group.

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How?

January 7th, 2014 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Labour says it will tackle “aggressive tax avoidance” by multinationals such as Facebook and Google which it says is costing the taxman hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

How? A magic wand?

Local concerns were fuelled last year when iPhone and iPad maker and iTunes owner Apple reported paying just $2.5 million on $571 million worth of New Zealand sales in 2012. Google and Amazon’s tax bills were also tiny in comparison with their reported sales here.

Economic illiteracy continues. Company tax is based on net profit, not on gross sales. Any comparison of tax to sales is misleading.

Labour revenue spokesman David Clark yesterday said: “We certainly think there’s a lot of aggressive avoidance going on.”

He said the party was continuing a major research project on the issue and would be more proactive than the Government in addressing it through policies likely to be released before the election.

Again how? Are you going to ban them from selling to NZers unless they pay more tax here?

If Labour want to be credible on this they need to specify what actual changes they would make to tax laws, so we can assess whether or not it would result in one extra cent of revenue.

 

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Options for Chorus

December 15th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Chorus could cut its funding shortfall for the ultra-fast broadband project from $1 billion to $200-250 million if the embattled-lines company introduced savings initiatives, changes to dividend policy and debt headroom, says an independent report released today.

Chorus said last month that a Commerce Commission ruling to cut wholesale internet prices could lead to a $1.07 billion funding shortfall for its portion of the ultra-fast broadband scheme.

It’s not a funding shortfall for UFB. It is a funding shortfall for Chorus. Chorus does more than UFB. They have signed a contract committing them to UFB in return for a subsidy by way of loan.

The Government then commissioned Ernst & Young (EY) Australia to investigate how the cuts would impact on Chorus’ ability to deliver on its UFB contracts with the Crown.

This report was released today and said Chorus could reduce this $1.07 billion funding shortfall to between $200 and $250 million by introducing “cash-flow savings initiatives”.

Possible revenue, operating expenditure and capital expenditure initiatives could reduce the funding gap by $400 to $450 million, the report said.

The report said that another $290 million of the funding gap could be reduced if Chorus made changes to its dividend policy.

The report suggested that if a two year “dividend holiday ” was introduced and then payouts made of 12.75c per share until 2020, the funding gap would come down by another $290 million.

As well as this, changes to debt headroom could reduce the shortfall by $130 million, the report said.

Even if these changes were made, EY said there was still a risk Chorus might breach its agreements with its banks.

The report is here. It is excellent. They note:

In FY13 Chorus’ return on equity was  29.7%, which is significantly higher than other infrastructure businesses which have average returns of 12.5% (New Zealand peers) and 11.2% (Australian peers).

Even with the Commerce Commission determination, Chorus remains a profitable company. They do run into problems around their debt ratios and these can be a serious issue for them.

Chorus and CFH have already begun the discussions about possible changes to UFB contracts to help close the funding gap.

In releasing the report today, Communications Minister Amy Adams said the Government expected Chorus to meet a “significant part” of the funding shortfall itself.

“The Government will be monitoring closely the progress of discussions between CFH and Chorus,” she said.

This is as it should be. I have said all along that government intervention should be the last resort, not the first.  Chorus needs to do internally what it can to stay within its debt agreements. If after that there is still a shortfall, then some tweaking to the UFB contracts (such as longer repayment times) may well be appropriate.

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Internet titans call for an end to mass snooping

December 10th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Guardian reports:

The world’s leading technology companies have united to demand sweeping changes to US surveillance laws, urging an international ban on bulk collection of data to help preserve the public’s “trust in the internet”.

In their most concerted response yet to disclosures by the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIn, Twitter and AOL will publish an open letter to Barack Obama and Congress on Monday, throwing their weight behind radical reforms already proposed by Washington politicians.

“The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favour of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our constitution,” urges the letter signed by the eight US-based internet giants. “This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for change.”

An excellent move.

“We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens,” they say in the letter. “But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide.”

A separate list of five “reform principles” signed by the normally fiercely competitive group echoes measures to rein in the NSA contained in bipartisan legislation proposed by the Democratic chair of the Senate judiciary committee, Patrick Leahy, and the Republican author of the Patriot Act, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner.

Crucially, Silicon Valley and these key reformers in Congress now agree the NSA should no longer be allowed to indiscriminately gather vast quantities of data from individuals it does not have cause to suspect of terrorism in order to detect patterns or in case it is needed in future.

“Governments should limit surveillance to specific, known users for lawful purposes, and should not undertake bulk data collection of internet communications,” says the companies’ new list of principles.

That sounds like an excellent principle to me.

The companies also repeat a previous demand that they should be allowed to disclose how often surveillance requests are made but this is the first time they have come together with such wide-ranging criticism of the underlying policy.

The industry’s lobbying power has been growing in Washington and could prove a tipping point in the congressional reform process, which has been delayed by the autumn budget deadlock but is likely to return as a central issue in the new year.

They do have significant clout.

If you want some idea of what the US Government could do with the “metadata” it collects, have a look at this ACLU presentation which gives a great example.

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