Don’t lose track of reality in Gizmodo-iPhone-Apple mess

The first thing you’ll notice in this post is this is going to be one of the rare ones where I don’t link to anything. There’s been a lot of shadiness as far as the way this story has progressed to the point where I’m not going to risk giving page views to Gizmodo.

That said, here are my thoughts on the iPhone story as it stands.

I don’t believe a lot of the story that’s been told so far. Yes the basic facts are true: A guy lost his phone in a bar, someone found it, got money for it and a site got a bunch of hits. But the details keep changing and are too murky.

I’m offended by the possibility of Gizmodo being protected under the California Shield Law. While I’m all for having protection for reporters — bloggers included — Gizmodo has done nothing but make a mockery of the journalism process.

They outed the Apple engineer who lost the phone. I could understand if there was an ounce of newsworthiness to this, but nothing good or important will come of this. It’s just gossip and dragging someone into the public spotlight who didn’t need to be.

But by far the thing that offends me the most is the fact they paid their source. That $5,000 in itself is a slippery slope. If you start creating an economy in which sources are paid for news stories, you open up an authenticity wormhole.

As has been the case throughout this ordeal, stories have changed as the police begin questioning. What started as a scoop on a new piece of technology quickly turned into a tale of questionable ethics run amok. Gizmodo went from trumpeting the fact it paid $5,000 to get the phone to saying it was merely a fee to a source and not for the phone. When it realized that under California law that it’s a no-no to knowingly buy stolen property, its story changed.

This is a symptom of what happens when information becomes the property of the highest bidder instead of those who look for sources and dig for information. Gizmodo bought a massive scoop without thinking of the ramifications and threw it up as quickly as they could behind a wall of exclusivity. They didn’t stop to check the facts. They didn’t stop to check the laws. They rushed the story to get the most bang for their buck. And yes, they succeeded in the short term. But in the long run, things may not be so rosy.

Of course Gizmodo is now the victim in this case of a big mean justice system coming down hard on them by raiding one of its employees apartments. I just hope people don’t excuse the mountain of wrongs that Gizmodo has committed just because an overzealous district attorney wanted to grab headlines.

GAO: The RIAA and MPAA are full of crap

The non-partisan Government Accountability Office took a look at the RIAA’s and MPAA’s claims about the toll piracy is taking on the business and said the numbers often used by the groups is crap:

Three commonly cited estimates of U.S. industry losses due to counterfeiting have been sourced to U.S. agencies, but cannot be substantiated or traced back to an underlying data source or methodology. First, a number of industry, media, and government publications have cited an FBI estimate that U.S. businesses lose $200-$250 billion to counterfeiting on an annual basis. This estimate was contained in a 2002 FBI press release, but FBI officials told us that it has no record of source data or methodology for generating the estimate and that it cannot be corroborated. Second, a 2002 CBP press release contained an estimate that U.S. businesses and industries lose $200 billion a year in revenue and 750,000 jobs due to counterfeits of merchandise. However, a CBP official stated that these figures are of uncertain origin, have been discredited, and are no longer used by CBP. A March 2009 CBP internal memo was circulated to inform staff not to use the figures. However, another entity within DHS continues to use them. Third, the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association reported an estimate that the U.S. automotive parts industry has lost $3 billion in sales due to counterfeit goods and attributed the figure to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The OECD has also referenced this estimate in its report on counterfeiting and piracy, citing the association report that is sourced to the FTC. However, when we contacted FTC officials to substantiate the estimate, they were unable to locate any record or source of this estimate within its reports or archives, and officials could not recall the agency ever developing or using this estimate. These estimates attributed to FBI, CBP, and FTC continue to be referenced by various industry and government sources as evidence of the significance of the counterfeiting and piracy problem to the U.S. economy.

These are the same numbers being used to push ACTA in closed-door negotiations.

The best part of this by the way was the fact that it came as the result of the PRO-IP Act that the industries had pushed. Oh sweet irony.

Carve up Comcast’s monopoly for the Internet’s sake

We could be in big trouble soon.

The Federal Communications Commission’s attempt to regulate the Internet was shot down by a federal appeals court on Tuesday. The court ruled that the FCC couldn’t levy a fine against Comcast for its packet-shaping efforts in 2008 since the commission lacked the power under the law.

This is a massive blow at the potential dawn of an era where a cable company, phone service provider and Internet service provider could become content creator. Comcast has agreed to buy NBC, though the move is likely to face heavy scrutiny from the federal government.

What that deal would set up is a scenario where Comcast owns the pipes and decides NBC content should be allowed priority over any traffic that goes through the pipes. A monopoly grows into an even larger monopoly.

While I’m not a fan of government intervention in every part of our lives, this is a point where someone needs to step forward for the users. After going through the various broadband speeds in the area that were submitted, I noticed there’s a big gulf in terms of cost and speed. AT&T’s speeds were somewhere in the 1-5 MBpS range while Comcast’s averaged well over 10 MBpS speeds. I did a little research and found something interesting

When I wanted to upgrade my DSL, I talked to a company called DSL Extreme about finding a faster speed. According to its site I could magically get up to 6 MBpS, or 4x faster than what I was getting now. However, when I talked to a customer support agent and told them that the fastest AT&T could get me was 1.5 MBpS, the agent brought me some sad news.

AT&T is required to share its line with other, smaller DSL providers. That meant I couldn’t access anything faster than what AT&T provided since any DSL would travel over the same lines.

Guess who isn’t subjected to those same regulations? Cable companies like Comcast.

This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that Comcast was the only cable company in the area, meaning they have a monopoly on cable Internet access and prices.

I would love to see a legislator have the guts in an election year to stand up for their constituents and sponsor some kind of legislation to require cable companies to have the same requirements as DSL providers. Just because it’s a different cord, it shouldn’t be magically protected from competition. And if that legislator was feeling particularly gutsy, they would make this competition a requirement for any possible merger with NBC.

Memo to Rep. Wally Herger: My birthday is in a few weeks. This would be the ultimate present.

April 2010 Appeal-Democrat pages

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