Author Archives: Luke Pelican

SEMPO Urges FTC To Review Search Labeling Transparency

The Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO), a trade association of search and digital marketers, wrote a letter to the FTC yesterday, suggesting that the agency’s review of search transparency practices should not be limited to Google alone but apply to the entire search industry. A full review would promote a “level playing field” for the search market, SEMPO wrote, further noting:

“If the present FTC guidelines on paid placements are being widely flouted, or if certain industry segments – such as vertical search sites – harbor particular practices that mislead consumers, result in fraud, or offer unfair competitive advantage to their commercial customers, the public and the business community deserve to know. “

SearchEngineWatch’s Danny Sullivan made a similar case to the FTC back in June, and we agreed, writing:

In recent years, the FTC has undertaken public workshops to analyze issues — including privacy and the future of the news industry — in greater depth and gather public comment. It ought to do the same with search engine labeling and transparency. The search industry has changed in the past decade and continues to change with integrated results, mobile results, specialized shopping, real estate and local search engines, and voice-activated searches. And perhaps the FTC should be examining these search practices not from the viewpoint of the Competition Bureau but from the viewpoint of the Consumer Protection Bureau.

Mobile Patent Wars Panel – 10/16

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt called the patent battle between Google and Apple the “defining fight” of the mobile industry. If you want to know more about the implications of this fight, you’re in luck.

Tomorrow afternoon, the Congressional Internet Caucus will host a panel on the topic of whether patents will stifle innovation in the mobile and tablet device markets. Panelists include USA Today’s Rob Pegoraro, George Mason University law professor Adam Mossoff, American University law professor Jorge Contreras, and Marvin Ammori. The event will be  moderated by the Caucus Advisory Committee’s Eric Hinkes.

The panel kicks off at noon in the Rayburn House Office building, Room 2226. You can RSVP here.

And here is more information about the event:

You have seen the headlines: Patent litigation continues to roil the exploding smartphone and tablet marketplace with consumers literally caught in the crossfire. Recent high profile smartphone court cases have consumers and policymakers deeply troubled that courts will strangle the incredible pace of mobile innovation and competition. Recent litigation between leading smartphone manufacturers has also caught the attention of Congressional members. The number of smartphone patent lawsuits in multiple countries and jurisdictions around the globe is dizzying and could threaten to keep the best new mobile phones off the market. How will the public be affected by these lawsuits as new mobile devices continue to rollout? Will a competitor force your favorite mobile device off the market?

A diverse set of panelists will tackle important questions including: 1) Can mobile device companies simply innovate around these intellectual property disputes?; 2) Are these constant lawsuits just the natural byproduct of rapid innovation?; 3) Must Congress step in with legislation? The panel will also debate the impact of the recently passed America Invents Act on the smartphone litigation inferno and share their thoughts on what patent issues lie on the horizon in the competitive mobile device space.

At the 2012 State of the Net Conference in January, the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee facilitated a dynamic discussion on this emerging issue between stakeholders by hosting a focused panel discussion(“Patent Warfare: Will Your Next Smartphone Get Caught in The Crossfire?”) on the then-recently enacted America Invents Act, which sought to reform the nation’s patent laws for the first time in nearly 60 years. Since this panel was convened, the potential effect on innovation has only become more critical, as companies continue spending billions of dollars to acquire massive portfolios of patents through mergers and acquisitions.

 

The Next Big Battle in Internet Policy

Marvin has a piece up on Slate today, in which he argues that the net neutrality debate will take on greater significance as mobile growth explodes and the “Internet of things” continues to evolve. From the article:

Without wireless network neutrality, then companies like AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile would have the legal power to block mobile software or mobile devices that want to use their networks to communicate with other devices. The person who makes the chip in your car would need the permission of a mobile carrier; so would the person creating software to allow your iPhone to control all of your appliances. These developers of machine-to-machine devices and software would have increased legal and business costs, and some of them might never see the light of day. It could set back the future, making our world of things less connected.

Cyber Gridlock: Why the Public Should Care

The Wilson Center is hosting a panel discussion at 12:30 Eastern on cyber threats facing the country, the debates (and stalemate) in Washington over how to respond to those threats, and how best to increase public awareness of and participation in these debates. Panelists include the Wilson Center’s Director Jane Harman, Head of US Cyber Command Gen. Keith Alexander, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero. You can watch the event live here.

Putting Innovation On The Map

Startup incubators and accelerators play a critical role in today’s ever-changing economic environment. This summer, Marvin and I undertook a research project to find the country’s technology-focused incubators and accelerators, to see how they are helping entrepreneurs launch new businesses and promote innovation. Today, with the help of the great folks at Engine Advocacy, we’ve released a map showing the results of our research. As I wrote in a guest post at Engine’s blog:

The maps shows the innovation spaces that exist from coast-to-coast, in all 50 states. If you’re a startup looking for help launching or growing your technology company, check out the incubators and accelerators in your region. If you’re an incubator or accelerator but don’t see yourself on the map, fill in your information so we can add you.

Head over to the site and check it out.

I’ve Got a Golden…GPS-Equipped Candy Bar

Switzerland-based confectioner Nestlé launched a new publicity campaign in the United Kingdom involving the placement of GPS devices within six candy bars. Upon one of these bars being unwrapped and “activated,” Nestlé will seek out the lucky purchaser and award him or her with £10,000 (~$16,000). This is not the first campaign of its kind – a couple years ago, Unilever included similar devices in Omo laundry detergent containers, though that effort suffered from some privacy hiccups:

Omo might not have been as cool since it couldn’t be compared to Willie Wonka; but it might have been even more creepy on the privacy invasion scale since winners with GPS-enabled detergent boxes had their pictures as well as a map pinpointing their homes put up on the “Try Something New” website.

Nestlé’s “We Will Find You” endeavor is limited to the UK, but I wonder if we’ll soon see a similar effort  in the US (if one hasn’t happened already), and what the public reaction to it might be. Although I find the thought of a cash-toting Oompa Loompa getting the drop on me somewhat disconcerting, I doubt it would bother me enough that I’d turn down $16,000.

FairSearch Event Recap

FairSearch, an Internet-industry advocacy group whose members include Microsoft, Expedia, and Foundem, hosted an event at the Newseum Thursday morning called “Searching for Innovation and Competition Online.” With its two panels, FairSearch purportedly sought to address the competitive landscape of the Internet search market, and evaluate solutions to barriers to innovation in that market. What followed was more akin to mudslinging and name calling.

The first panel briefly began as a higher level exploration of market dynamics in the online search industry, but quickly descended into what can charitably be described as Google bashing. Former FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour, now a private attorney whose clients include Microsoft, railed at Google for its “pattern of questionable business practices.” Harbour and other panelists referenced the multiple investigations across the world into Google’s business practices, highlighting a case brought in Brazil (which Google incidentally just won this week); the Google StreetView/WiFi imbroglio, for which the FCC fined Google $25,000 for obstructing the investigation, but found the company did not break any laws; as well as cases brought and lost by Google competitors like TradeComet. Supposedly all of these incidents shed light on how Google’s potential antitrust violations, but we can’t really see how. Rather, it made for an altogether confusing presentation.

Some panelists also presented inaccurate or debatable statements as fact, further obscuring the discussion. Among them: everyone agrees Google is dominant and that there are clear market definitions (the Brazilian court referenced above found Google’s market share was not monopoly dominance, and in fact the company is facing steep competition from competitors like Amazon and Facebook), and that Google requires Android manufacturers to keep its search engine as the default (a claim Google denies, and one that is manifestly false, given Bing’s recent grab of the coveted default search engine position for Amazon Kindle Fires, which use the Android OS).

Together, these circumstances made the event seem less like a high level competition discussion and more like a rhetorical pin-the-tail-on-the-search-engine. One last note – the event’s moderator, FairSearch spokesman Mark Corallo, began the discussion by announcing the results of a FairSearch-commissioned poll. That poll, of 800 “likely” registered voters, focused on public sentiment towards the FTC’s antitrust investigation of Google, and found 78% percent favored the FTC’s investigation into Google.

A friend of mine, and employee of the National Taxpayers Union, attended the event and attempted to distribute results of another survey, commissioned by NTU of 2,000 respondents. NTU’s poll found 76% of Americans felt increased antitrust intervention into the Internet market would be worse for consumers, and that 87% percent felt they could easily switch search engines if they weren’t pleased with the one they were using. She was promptly escorted out of the event before she could finish distributing the surveys, only managing to cover a single row of attendees.

All is fair at a FairSearch event…except, of course, inconvenient polling data.

 

WSJ’s Tech Café Opens in London

As part of the roll out, the pop-up café is hosting a three day event for entrepreneurs in London, providing them advice and insight on how to launch and maintain their startups. Today’s focus is on relationships with VCs, and how best to navigate that arena. Later today, representatives of Google and Facebook will discuss the technology industry’s outlook on Europe.

Tomorrow’s focus will be on business-to-business opportunities for tech startups, and Friday will deal with how startups and government can work together.

The Journal’s Tech Europe Blog will cover the events, so keep an eye on it for the latest from London.

The Continued Rise of Citizen Reporters

This isn’t  exactly a new trend, as demonstrated by the deal reached in April between the Associated Press and a Swedish live streaming start-up.

But this NY Times story about a shooting incident over the weekend is further evidence of the development. Police chased a knife-wielding man near Times Square Saturday afternoon after approaching him under the impression he was smoking marijuana; upon the man allegedly lunging towards officers with the weapon, the police fatally shot him.

Amid the altercation, bystanders realized what was going on in front of them and readied their cell phones to record the affair:

 The man pulled out a knife, and the officers pulled out their guns.

“And that’s when I started taking photos,” Mr. Rocha said.

Other visitors and New York residents joined in, including Jeffrey Gibson, 39, of Richville, N.Y., whose video captured the pursuit, along with a frighteningly prescient warning shouted by another bystander: “They’re going to shoot you, boy.”

Recordings of this nature can do a lot of good for law enforcement, for potential criminal defendants, and the legal system more generally.  These recordings also add depth to news coverage and promote a better understanding of how law enforcement policies play out in local communities.

But it can be difficult for video to reach the Internet when police stop people from recording or attempt to seize the video or photographs, as was the case here:

Julian Miller, 22, who was visiting New York from Boston, said the police confiscated his phone after he recorded video of the confrontation. He said in an interview that he followed the pursuit from Times Square to 37th Street and Seventh Avenue, his phone recording as he ran to keep up. He said a police detective pulled him aside after the shooting and asked to see his phone and the video.

“His eyes got big when he saw the video,” Mr. Miller said, adding that he had captured the shooting on video. “He went to go show his boss, and then they took my phone away.” He said the officer told him not to speak with the news media.

Timothy B. Lee at Ars Technica recently wrote about one city in which that interference should be subsiding – Washington DC:

In a new legal directive first noticed by DCist, Washington DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier explains the constitutional rights of DC citizens and gives her officers detailed instructions for respecting them. She addresses a number of scenarios that have led to controversy in recent years.

Importantly, the directive states that “in areas open to the public, members shall allow bystanders the same access for photography as is given to members of the news media.” The directive also provides that officers shall not order individuals to stop recording or demand identification of them.

The ubiquity of smart mobile devices enables average citizens to play a crucial role in keeping the public informed and holding the public officials accountable. Other cities should follow Washington DC’s example and provide their law enforcement personnel with clear guidelines on not interfering with wholly legal activities.

Amicus Brief in Kirtsaeng First Sale Doctrine Case

eBay, Google, CDT, NetCoalition and others have filed an amicus brief in Kirtsaeng v. Wiley, an upcoming case before the Supreme Court, addressing the application of the First Sale Doctrine to goods manufactured outside the United States. As discussed earlier, the case has important implications for Americans in an age of global online commerce and vast second-hand markets for goods:

Both the District and Second Circuit courts held that any product manufactured abroad is not subject to the first-sale doctrine. For instance, that iPad you sold. You noticed this statement: “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” Same for the iPods you’ve owned, the iPhones, and the MacBooks. Because those products were manufactured abroad, according to the Second Circuit, the first-sale doctrine doesn’t apply to them. You need the permission of every copyright holder to sell the iPad.

That means, you need to ask Apple for permission, and probably Google, whose Maps software comes bundled with the iPad, and includes Google copyrights. Under this rule, when you sell some of your stuff on eBay or Craigslist (a couch, some books, electronics, posters, an old television, a toaster), you have to look up whether it has a copyrighted logo anywhere and find out whether the product was manufactured in the U.S. or abroad.

You can read the brief here.

If you’re interested in learning more about the issue, visit Citizens for Ownership Rights, a petition site put together by a coalition of groups including EFF, Fight for the Future, and Public Knowledge.