Free Markets, Free People

internet


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 23 Mar 14

This week, Bruce, Michael and Dale talk about Russia, ICANN, and Bill Quick’s new novel, Lightning Fall.

The podcast can be found on Stitcher here. Please remember the feed may take a couple of hours to update after this is first posted.

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A little good news: US will not ratify latest UN attempt at grabbing power over the Internet

Thankfully, the US has taken the proper position on this one:

The United States said Thursday that it will not sign a United Nations telecommunications treaty that U.S. technology companies warn would disrupt governance of the Internet and open the door to online censorship.

The U.K. and Canada also said they would not ratify the treaty after negotiations ended at a conference hosted by the U.N. International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Dubai.

Kramer, who led the U.S. delegation during the conference, told reporters on a conference call that the U.S. could not sign the treaty because there were “too many issues here that were problematic for us.”

The treaty is intended to govern how telephone calls and other communications traffic are exchanged internationally. While it is not a legally binding document, Kramer said the U.S. opposed extending the scope of the treaty to include Internet governance and online content matters.

“The U.S. will continue to uphold and advance the multi-stakeholder model of the Internet,” Kramer told reporters.

The U.S. believed the treaty should not apply to Internet providers or private and government networks. Instead, U.S. delegates argued that only traditional telecommunications operators, such as AT&T and Verizon, should be subject to the updated rules.

Another attempted power grab by the UN and more importantly, something to provide a thin veneer of legality to all the 3rd world dictators attempts to control the net.  Not that they won’t do that anyway, they just wanted it to be “legal”.  So they will ratify this treaty.

“What is clear from the ITU meeting in Dubai is that many governments want to increase regulation and censorship of the Internet,” a Google spokesman said in a statement. “We stand with the countries who refuse to sign this treaty and also with the millions of voices who have joined us to support a free and open Web.”

Good.

~McQ


DHS monitoring the internet … er, so?

There’s a tempest in a tea pot brewing right now that I’m not sure I understand.

The story from Reuters:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s command center routinely monitors dozens of popular websites, including Facebook, Twitter, Hulu, WikiLeaks and news and gossip sites including the Huffington Post and Drudge Report, according to a government document.

A "privacy compliance review" issued by DHS last November says that since at least June 2010, its national operations center has been operating a "Social Networking/Media Capability" which involves regular monitoring of "publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites and message boards."

The purpose of the monitoring, says the government document, is to "collect information used in providing situational awareness and establishing a common operating picture."

The document adds, using more plain language, that such monitoring is designed to help DHS and its numerous agencies, which include the U.S. Secret Service and Federal Emergency Management Agency, to manage government responses to such events as the 2010 earthquake and aftermath in Haiti and security and border control related to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Let’s see … a department that has the job of “homeland security” monitoring open source internet venues to collect information in order to maintain situational awareness.

Wow.  For some reason I’m underwhelmed.  My goodness, haven’t we seen shots of various command centers over the years with split video screens showing Fox, CNN and MSNBC?   They’re good sources of immediate information that help those engaged in all sorts of rather benign activity (disaster relief?) keep abreast of breaking news. 

Why all the hyperventilating over something that is and has been fairly routine for all sorts of agencies over the years?  

Look, everyone here knows I’m not a fan of big intrusive government, but what would you do here, ban the department from gathering information and intelligence from sites that are open to everyone else?   Should we also ban them from “monitoring” the NY Times and Washington Post.

Oh, and by the way, this isn’t news.  As the Reuters story claims, this has been going on since June of 2010.  And guess who broke the story then?  The Volokh Conspiracy.  As Stewart Baker points out:

The story is that people at DHS are, gasp, browsing the Internet. As I said then, there’s no scandal, other than the electrons wasted by DHS agonizing over the privacy implications of browsing public Internet sources to find out what’s happening in the world.

And if it was a nonstory in February of 2010, what does that make it in January of 2012?

Actually, it’s a lesson — that both the mainstream media and the blogosphere are doggedly overreporting anything that could be deemed a privacy violation by government, especially DHS.  If you only followed these things casually, you’d be sure that DHS was constantly violating Americans’ rights, and reports like this would be a key bit of evidence.  But when you give the “story” a little scrutiny, all you find is an agency that needs to know what’s happening in an emergency and that is looking at public social media sites for information, just like the rest of us.  There’s no privacy issue there at all, despite the heavy breathing and the headlines.

Or perhaps before crying wolf, one ought to take a breath and get into the details of the story.  There are plenty of things to concern one’s self with other than this non-story.

For instance:

U.S. officials told the New York Times that they’re “looking closely” at Shabab’s use of Twitter and their options for legal and other responses. Separately, Sen. Joe Lieberman (@JoeLieberman), Chair of the Homeland Security Committee, called on Twitter to shut down the Taliban’s accounts.

Other Western governments have also turned against Twitter. British Prime Minister David Cameron (@Number10gov), for example, raised the prospect of banning Twitter during social disturbances, following its use by rioters in the U.K., and Mexican prosecutors have accused Twitter users of terrorism for spreading false rumors that have led to real-life violence.

An Israeli legal advocacy group, Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center, has separately threatened Twitter with legal action for hosting the Shabab and Hezbollah accounts. Who will win in court is unclear: It’s a First Amendment versus providing services for terrorists toss-up.

And:

US Representatives Darrel Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced a bill into the House of Representatives in mid-December that would roll back the National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy, which mandates that any published research that was funded by the federal science agency be submitted to the publically accessible digital archive PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication in journals. The bill, H.R. 3699, would also make it illegal for other federal agencies to adopt similar open-access policies.

The legislation, referred to as the Research Works Act, is being applauded by the Association of American Publishers, a book publishing industry trade organization that claims the NIH policy and others like it undercut the scientific publishing business, which seldom receives federal funds. “At a time when job retention, US exports, scholarly excellence, scientific integrity, and digital copyright protection are all priorities, the Research Works Act ensures the sustainability of this industry,said Tom Allen, president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers in a statement.

Want to get your britches in a bunch, there are two stories that should help wad them up.  Censoring Twitter (and that’s precisely where all of that is headed) and making opaque research which you, the taxpayer has funded to help a crony profit?  Now both of those are worthy of condemnation and outrage.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Two new concerns for the freedom of the internet

One is domestic and the other is international.  On the domestic front we’re again confronted with “good intentions” being horribly and oppressively executed via a bad law.

Wending its way through Congress right now is legislation called the “Stop Online Piracy Act” or SOPA.  The intention is obviously laudable.  As “piracy” is usually defined, i.e. the theft of copyrighted material, it is certainly a function of government to attempt stop and or prosecute theft.

The problem isn’t found in the intent of the law, as I said.  It’s in how it would be executed – the regulations it must spawn to meet the law’s requirements. 

Stephen DeMaura and David Segal write about the effect it would have on political campaigns (their particular focus), but it certainly doesn’t take much to translate that effect onto blogs and many other types of websites.  Read through the scenario they outline that demonstrates a possible effect on a political campaign and then think blogs:

Here’s a plausible campaign scenario under SOPA. Imagine you are running for Congress in a competitive House district. You give a strong interview to a local morning news show and your campaign posts the clip on your website. When your opponent’s campaign sees the video, it decides to play hardball and sends a notice to your Internet service provider alerting them to what it deems “infringing content.” It doesn’t matter if the content is actually pirated. The ISP has five days to pull down your website and the offending clip or be sued. If you don’t take the video down, even if you believe that the content is protected under fair use, your website goes dark.

The ability of any entity to file an infringement notice is one of SOPA’s biggest problems. It creates an unprecedented “private right of action” that would allow a private party, without any involvement by a court, to effectively shut down a website. For a campaign, this would mean shouldering legal responsibility for all user-generated posts. As more issue-based and political campaigns utilize social media to spread their message and engage supporters, a site could be targeted not only for the campaign’s own posts but also for well-meaning comments from supporters.

It doesn’t take a particularly bright person to see how this sort of a law could be used in a broader sense to kill freedom of speech via frivolous attacks on a site’s content.  If QandO embarks on a campaign against a particular politician, for instance, and uses content that it deems to be “fair use” (and may indeed be fair use in a legal sense as well), all it takes is one person anywhere, whether they have a real interest or standing in the case, to file a complaint about “infringing content” and we’re gone unless we remove it.  Whether justified or not, the ISP is left in a position of having to enforce removal or face the cost of a lawsuit (whether a lawsuit is ever intended over the claim or not).  They will obviously move to protect their interests and that means dropping the so-called offender like a hot rock.

It would effectively chill free speech. 

As DeMaura and Segal note, there’s an alternative bill sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa:

The Online Protection & Enforcement of Digital Trade Act would create a process for rights holders to protect their property that wouldn’t shut down entire sites over a small amount of copyrighted material. This legislation helps to solve copyright infringement while protecting the vitality of the U.S.-based Internet sector — an industry that has contributed 23 percent of the growth in world gross domestic product and has revolutionized the way we live.

Attack real on-line piracy?  Yes.  Do it with terrible law?  No.  SOPA should not see the legislative light of day.

Problem two?  The UN and other countries around the world want to have the ability to more directly control more of the internet.  Robert McDowell of the FCC lays it out:

The 193-member International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a U.N.agency, will meet in Dubai next December to renegotiate the 24-year-old treaty that deals with international oversight of the Internet. A growing number of countries are pushing greater governmental control and management of the Web’s availability, financial model and infrastructure.

They believe the current model is “dominated” by the U.S., and want to “take that control and power away,” Mr. McDowell said. China and Russia support the effort, but so do non-Western U.S. allies such as Brazil, South Africa and India.

“Thus far, those who are pushing for new intergovernmental powers over the Internet are far more energized and organized than those who favor the Internet freedom and prosperity,” he said.

The reason, of course, is fairly straight forward – cash and control:

While growth of the Internet has exploded under a minimal regulatory model over the past two decades, “significant government and civil society support is developing for a different policy outlook,” according to an analysis by lawyers David Gross and M. Ethan Lucarelli on the legal intelligence website www.lexology.com.

“Driven largely by the global financial troubles of recent years, together with persistent concerns about the implications of the growth of the Internet for national economies, social structures and cultures, some governments and others are now actively reconsidering the continuing viability of liberalization and competition-based policies,” they wrote.

So the plan, apparently, is to wrest control from the US via this treaty:

A bad treaty – which would need the support of only a bare majority of U.N.members to pass and which the United States could not veto – could bring “a whole parade of problems,” Mr. McDowell said.

The U.S. and other Western democracies would likely “opt out” of the treaty, he predicted, leading to a “Balkanization” of the global information network. Governments under the treaty would have greater authority to regulate rates and local access, and such critical emerging issues as cybersecurity and data privacy standards would be subject to international control.

Mr. McDowell said the treaty could open the door to allowing revenue-hungry national governments to charge Internet giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon for their data traffic on a “per click” basis. The more website visitors those companies get, the more they pay.

And, as we’ve watched so many times, a vital and growing market would suffer government intrusion and probable decline:

In 1988, when the treaty was signed, fewer than 100,000 people used the Internet, Mr. McDowell said. Shortly after it was privatized in 1995, that number jumped to 16 million users. As of this year, it is up to 2 billion users, with another 500,000 joining every day.

“This phenomenal growth was the direct result of governments keeping their hands off the Internet sphere and relying instead on a private-sector, multi-stakeholder Internet governance model to keep it thriving,” he said.

Mr. McDowell attributed the massive growth of the Internet to freedom.

“So the whole point is, the more it migrated away from government control, the more it blossomed,” he said.

Freedom?  Blossoming?  Growth?  Can’t have that.  It must have government control and, by the way, contribute much more in revenue than it is now.   Massive growth without significant contributions to government is just unacceptable in this day and time.  And freedom?  Anathema to the cult of government.  

The servant has become the master and masters instinctively try to gather more and more power to themselves.

This is just another in a long line of examples.  The result, of course, will be to cripple something that has been one of the few growth sectors in the global economy.  Government greed and the belief of elites that they must control everything via government will eventually kill this proverbial golden goose.  Instead of trying to enable more growth, they’re embarked on a campaign to limit and control any growth such that it provides increased revenue for government.  Whether it is best for the citizens or economy of the countries so inclined is apparently irrelevant to the quest for more control and cash.

Freedom should be on the march, but instead, we continually see examples of it on the decline.  The UN is one of the main culprits in that decline.  It is a global organization in search of more power.  Under the guise of global democracy, it is involved in killing freedom as it attempts to gather more and more power to itself.  It is as obvious as the nose on your face that global governance is its ultimate goal.  It can’t do that without exercising more control through willing members and generating more income from which it can demand a share. 

To the control freaks and authoritarians out there, the internet is a horrifically dangerous thing.  It provides much too much freedom for those they would control.  Consequently they seek to wrest that control away.  The UN is the perfect vehicle to provide the cover of legitimacy for such a power grab.

Again, here’s a treaty that has no business seeing the light of day.  However, if I had to guess, it will pass.  And freedom will take another giant step backward.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Who killed the US Postal Service?

Jordan Weissman, writing in the Atlantic, addresses that question.  Why is the USPS in such dire straits?  What is it that has caused that entity to be tottering on the brink of insolvency?

Ok, not on the brink … it’s insolvent, it just won’t admit it.  So how did this happen?

Weissman points first to the Internet:

In the days of yore, sending letters by mail was pretty much the most efficient way to communicate in writing. Then the Internet happened. Although total mail volume stayed relatively steady until 2006, it has dropped an astonishing 20 percent in the past five years. More important, first-class mail, the Postal Service’s biggest moneymaker, has fallen 25 percent during the past decade. That’s a huge problem for its bottom line. The agency now delivers far more "standard mail" — what most of us call junk mail — than first-class mail. According to Businessweek, it takes three pieces of junk to equal the earnings from a single stamped first-class envelope. J. Crew catalogs and pizza menus alone won’t pay the bills.

I disagree here.  While the Internet certainly cut into its revenue, it didn’t put it in the shape it is now.  That had been set in motion well before the Internet became a factor. The Internet has simply pushed it to the tipping point earlier than it might have arrived otherwise.

The two real culprits?  Labor and Congress.

Yet even as its profits have dwindled along with the mail it handles, the agency’s labor costs have remained stubbornly high. Salaries and benefits make up 80 percent of the Post Office’s budget. By comparison, FedEx spends 43 percent of its budget on labor, while UPS spends 63 percent, according to Businessweek. Why the disparity? As the magazine put it, "USPS has historically placed the interests of its unions first." For years, it has happily negotiated contracts with generous salary increases and no-layoff clauses.

Why?  Because it could. 

And there had to be this belief, despite the problems, that it was never going to go out of business.  In other words, it was felt it would be bailed out if push came to shove.  So it happily negotiated away your tax dollars to provide generous benefits to its employees that it would never be able to afford if it were an actual business entity.  Its first priority wasn’t its customers.  It was the interest of its unions.

As for Congress, well the postal service we have today is the result of a 1970 law that was, as Weissmann writes, “intended to transform the mail system from a dysfunctional dumping ground for political patronage into a self-sustaining, independent agency.”

Or it was supposed to become a business. 

But the politicians never really let it. The Postal Service doesn’t receive any taxpayer dollars, funding itself entirely through customer revenue. But it still has to deal with Congress as a micromanager. It isn’t allowed to shutter post offices for purely economic reasons, meaning that roughly 25,000 of its 32,000 now operate at a loss. It needs permission for rate hikes from a special regulatory commission. And for 30 years, it’s been required to deliver mail on Saturdays, even though that day is a money loser.

The Postal Service’s current woes are also due at least in part to Capitol Hill’s meddling. In 2006, Congress passed a new law requiring the agency to pay about $5.5 billion a year into a trust fund for future retiree pensions. When revenues were rising, the idea might have seemed reasonable. But the timing was exquisitely bad. Now that the agency is in the red, the pension burden has helped to force drastic measures like the ones we’ve heard about today.

The Postal Service is begging Congress to let it recoup some of those prepayments, as well as give it more flexibility to manage its business.

A primer in intrusion.  An example of what such meddling does in other areas as well.  Instead of telling the USPS to become more like a business and then letting it do that, Congress has chosen to interfere.

The USPS – an example of the “why” government should stay out of business.  It granted itself a monopoly and is managing to run even that into the ground.

Remarkable.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


Internet “kill switch” legislation back–and no judicial review authorized

What was one of the first thing done by the Egyptian government when protests started to seriously build into threatening government’s further existence?  It turned off the internet.  That is, it abruptly ordered it be shut down along with cell phones in order to hamstring the protesters ability to communicate and coordinate and to not allow tweets, emails and liveblogs from recording the situation for the rest of the world.

It couldn’t happen here, though, could it?

A controversial bill handing President Obama power over privately owned computer systems during a "national cyberemergency," and prohibiting any review by the court system, will return this year.

Yes, it’s back.  And the same sponsors who tried to get it through Congress the last time around are sponsoring it again.

Internet companies should not be alarmed by the legislation, first introduced last summer by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), a Senate aide said last week. Lieberman, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

"We’re not trying to mandate any requirements for the entire Internet, the entire Internet backbone," said Brandon Milhorn, Republican staff director and counsel for the committee.

Instead, Milhorn said at a conference in Washington, D.C., the point of the proposal is to assert governmental control only over those "crucial components that form our nation’s critical infrastructure."

Uh, yeah – that’s those are the same “crucial components” that Egypt used to cut its people off from the rest of the world.   And somehow we’re supposed to trust government not to use its power in ways not yet imagined and certainly not wanted?

I don’t think so.

Portions of the Lieberman-Collins bill, which was not uniformly well-received when it became public in June 2010, became even more restrictive when a Senate committee approved a modified version on December 15. The full Senate did not act on the measure.

The revised version includes new language saying that the federal government’s designation of vital Internet or other computer systems "shall not be subject to judicial review." Another addition expanded the definition of critical infrastructure to include "provider of information technology," and a third authorized the submission of "classified" reports on security vulnerabilities.

I don’t know about you but given government overreach in the last two years, I see nothing about this that gives me a warm fuzzy.  And I certainly don’t want anything to do with a bill which gives the executive or legislative branch power not subject to judicial review.   That’s how rights get trampled.

And yes, friends, it’s all about protecting you from, well, something:

"For all of its ‘user-friendly’ allure, the Internet can also be a dangerous place with electronic pipelines that run directly into everything from our personal bank accounts to key infrastructure to government and industrial secrets," he said.

Hey Joe, I’m a big boy – I’ll take care of myself… hands off the Internet, m’kay?

But they won’t.  You know it and they know it.   Its there and since it is there it must be taxed, regulated and controlled by government.

Here’s the initial criteria for the supposed “vital internet or other computer systems”:

Under the revised legislation, the definition of critical infrastructure has been tightened. DHS is only supposed to place a computer system (including a server, Web site, router, and so on) on the list if it meets three requirements. First, the disruption of the system could cause "severe economic consequences" or worse. Second, that the system "is a component of the national information infrastructure." Third, that the "national information infrastructure is essential to the reliable operation of the system."

At last week’s event, Milhorn, the Senate aide, used the example of computers at a nuclear power plant or the Hoover Dam but acknowledged that "the legislation does not foreclose additional requirements, or additional additions to the list."

Yeah, “just give us this little bit – no more”.  Uh huh.  The proverbial camel’s nose under the tent that is not subject to judicial review.  Let me stress that for the third time  – none of this, if passed into law, is reviewable by the judiciary. And, of course, once passed, they won’t decide other parts of the infrastructure belong on there, will they? Oh, no.

As Berin Szoka of TechFreedom says, “blocking judicial review of this … essentially says that the rule of law goes out the window if a major crisis occurs.”

Well, yeah … and guess who gets to decide what is a “major crisis”?  Without judicial review. 

Sound good to you?

~McQ


Internet down

Sorry about the delay in posting but the hamster apparently died last night and the internet is down at the house.  I’m sure they’re training a new hamster to take over.  In the meantime

I’m at the local coffee shop getting ready to do my thing.

~McQ


Off the net

I’ve been off the internet since 3pm yesterday because of a system outage via my provider. I called their “helpful” help line and got an automated recording – after I provided my phone number – saying the outage would be fixed by 6:31pm. Not 6:30, but 6:31.

Well 6:31 came and went and still no ‘net. I waited an hour and called again. Same recording and the same time for it to be “fixed”. I finally figured out how to get a human on the line and waited 30 minutes. A very nice lady finally answered and I told her my problem.

She looked up the problem in my area and said, “yes, your area still has an outage.” I asked, “how long do they anticipate the outage to last?” She looked and I heard, “oh, my. Your outage won’t be fixed until 8pm tomorrow”.

I had her repeat the time because I wasn’t sure I’d actually heard it properly. “8PM?”

Now that is customer service – /sarc.

So here I sit in a local wi-fi hotspot (the only one in the store at the momemet) drinking a nice cup of joe and trying to get some content up.

Sorry for the delay.

~McQ


The Internet: Still Not Getting It

It’s been an interesting week for me, because I’ve run into three situations that illustrate to me that, even though the Internet has been around since 1995, and has been hugely important to business–and politics, of course–since 2000, it’s clear that many people are still unclear about it.  Ive been a web developer since ’96, and have been the Managing Principal of WebmasterDeveloper.Com since 2003.  There was a time when I just assumed that no one knew anything about the Internet, and that sort of attitude among customers was defensible. In 2010, however, those days should be long gone.

But that attitude is still out there, and I’ve been hit over the head with it repeatedly this week.

Client 1:

This client created an affiliate marketing web site, aimed at a group of customers to which they have direct access through their other lines of business.  They spent months crafting the web site to provide the best affiliate programs they can think of.  After going live with their web site a few weeks ago, they’ve had 1 sale, and about 40 affiliate click-throughs.  They were shocked that their direct marketing of the site to existing customers has had such a dismal response.  In the course of conversation with the client, I asked, “Did you ever do any surveys of your customers to see what kind of offers would have value to them?  The answer:  No.  We didn’t want to spend a bunch of startup capital doing that.

They’ve spent thousands of dollars building a web site without any knowledge about what their customers want.  They’ve never talked to their customers; never gotten any idea of what their customers need, and how to fulfill that need.  They’ve spent every penny on building a web site to fulfill a need they haven’t even defined with their customers.  And now, since the customers aren’t responding, they’re concerned that there may be some sort of technical problem.

Client 2:

“I haven’t been getting any orders from my web site.  Apparently, the web host shut my site down for non-payment, but I don’t remember getting any notifications that there was a problem with my credit card. Anyway, can you see what I owe, so I can pay them, and you guys can download my site and transfer it to another web host?”  As it happens, the web host not only sent out email notifications, but made phone calls to try and collect payment, with no response.  In May of 2009.  Of course, their web site files are loooong gone.

So, the client clearly hasn’t even looked at his own web site for at least 10 months.

Client 3:

This client is completely changing their web site to become the single point of contact with their customer base.  Their customers will have to pay an annual fee just to see the products they sell, then use the web site to submit initial bids for salvage auctions.  I informed the client via email that we needed content from them.  I received an angry phone call from the client, who screamed at me, “I just want to concentrate on my business, which is [widget salvage]!  I don’t want to spend all my time doing web design!  That’s what I pay you for!”

In other words, the client wants to make the web site his sole source of initial interaction with his customers, but he is uninterested in writing any content for it.  His web site will be the primary public access that customers have to his company, but working on the web site is a distraction from his real business.

And the real kicker is, on the day we finished the initial programming, he drops the bombshell that the site’s design–which he approved on January 27–is completely unacceptable, and he wants to completely redesign the site.  This is akin to approving the blueprints for a home construction project, then kiting in on the day the contractor finishes laying the last bits of carpet and exclaiming, “I wanted four bedrooms, not three!”


All of these clients, despite their differing details, have one glaring thing in common:  It’s the assumption that once something goes out onto the Internet, it works because pixies sprinkle magical fairy dust on it.  Tinkerbell waves her wand, sparkly bits fly through the air, and money just comes rolling in to your bank account.

In the real world, the Internet operates on the same principles any brick and mortar business does.  You still have to perform due diligence.  You still need to market to your customers.  You still need to go into the office–even if it’s a virtual one.

Nothing magical happens simply because people can access your business online, rather than jumping in the car and driving to it.


Breaking: Government Figures Out How To Shut Down Blogs

The Federal Trade Commission has just released a ruling (PDF) that requires bloggers to disclose anything–and I mean anything–they receive as a result of their blogging.  Free review copies of books.  Trips to oil rigs.  Payments.  T-shirts.  Whatever it is, you better disclose it, or you get slapped with a fine of $11,000 per infraction.

In other words, the government is now putting all web sites, professional or personal, under its thumb for failing to disclose everything they receive from any source.  And what are the guidelines for disclosure?  Why, none at all.  So, assuming you receive a free copy of a book–even if you don’t review it–you must disclose that you received it.  How do you disclose it?  I dunno.  How do you you know if your disclosure is sufficient?  I dunno.  The FTC, you see, will make those decisions on a “case-by-case” basis.

<sarcasm>I’m sure they’ll be quite fair about it, too.  And I’m quite certain that the FTC will never, ever selectively enforce these new rules so that more scrutiny is given to opponents of the current regime than to its supporters.</sarcasm>

The main thing to remember here is that free speech is not nearly as important as protecting the public from some blogger who doesn’t disclose that he got a free review copy of the book to read, in order to write the review.  And, of course, you’re all too stupid and venal to protect yourselves from the danger to the republic that freebies to bloggers represent.

But, we already knew that.

More info and quotes here.