30 posts categorized "April 2013"

Question: How is social media like pornography?

Answer: You know it when you see it.

Read on.

Photoshopped monitorThe Washington State legislature has now passed a social media account password protection bill. It goes to the Governor of Washington State, Jay Inslee, now; if Gov. Inslee signs it, it will be a law.

Here's a link to the bill as passed by both houses.

It's getting more complicated than those that have gone before, or at least those of other states which we have looked at here. More complicated in the sense that it doesn't just spell out that it's not okay for employers to demand user names and passwords from employees, but it goes further and expressly specifies that it's not okay to look over an employee's shoulder and watch while she or he logs on to a "personal social networking account." The Washington bill also makes it expressly not okay (well, against the law, assuming the bill is signed and becomes law) for an employer to demand that the employee friend or follow the employer! Take that, LinkedIn!

But here's the biggest surprise: though the Washington bill is eager to list out all varieties of coercion, it doesn't actually craft a defined term for "social media" or "social networking." Courts, presumably, will have to figure out what a "personal social media account" is.

Score one for our graders, who some months back said this was the right way to go (though I also like how Arkansas just went ahead and listed some incumbent players, e.g. Facebook and Twitter, as examples).

Photo: viZZZual.com / Flickr.

Hitting the back button

Evgeny Morozov's new book, "To Save Everything, Click Here," is of a similar mind as his last one, "The Net Delusion."

Both ridicule the facile utopianism of marketers and apologists for the internet. The internet is great and worth attention, Morozov says, but it ain't all that.

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The two books are of a similar mind, but each tours a different landscape.

You might say "The Net Delusion" critiques internet-centrism in international affairs, and is more serious. Its upshot is nothing less than life and death: tyrants use the same information tools to identify and suppress revolution as Facebook insurgents do to foment it.

The landscape of the new book Is domestic, less urgent, but more insidious: technologies are being put into the service of avoiding the very contradictions and inefficiencies that are the warp and weave of a meaningful life.

Thus, lifeloggers quantify calories consumed and BTUs expended, but are steered away from questions that require answers in the form of narratives rather than numbers. Cities set up systems to predict crime and even prevent lawbreaking, but the citizenry barely assesses the impact on civic-mindedness that must surely follow once neighbors are deprived of the need to confront moral questions.

Facebook, Google and other advertising-based businesses ask us, without any trace of irony let alone chagrin, to bring our authentic selves online. But identity is a work in progress, not a graph of pre-determined relationships and consumer habits. By surrendering privacy to corporate services spinning internet platitudes, Morozov suggests, we deprive ourselves of the spaces in which authentic selves are continually being remade, reconsidered.

"The internet" may not even be an it, an identifiable thing, at least not when we use the term to mean something more than physical infrastructure and protocols. One thing of which Morozov convinces you, especially in the new book, is that "the internet" has become a smokescreen for political correctness, a way to shut down debate, bypass political consensus, even bully individuals from engaging in self-reflection.

Both books are must reads, the new one especially so for those of us on the west coast of the United States, where corporate apologists for the internet are in ascendence. Read through it and see what rings true.

"A lovely piece of hardware"

"I predict the lovely couple here will be leaving any minute now," Frank says to Robot as they case a joint they mean to rob, the house of a obnoxious, wealthy young couple.

"I don't think so, Frank," Robot says, watching with what would appear to be perfectly undistracted attention. Frank patters on.

Frank and Robot casing a joint

Within a minute, the couple do, indeed, get up to leave the house. "Like I thought," Frank says.

"Impressive. I missed the pattern," Robot concedes, it dawning on him that planning a heist is doing more to improve Frank's mental health than nutrition, exercise and conventional games.

"That's right," Frank says. "The human brain. Lovely piece of hardware."

In many ways, Robot and Frank is a formulaic movie. Most of the characters are types and not really needed in the film. But the chemistry between Frank Langella and Peter Sarsgaard, playing the voice of Robot, that is really special. Excellent performances.

Cherry tree gone green

Here's a photo from a couple days ago, one of the cherry trees I snapped Easter Sunday in full bloom.

I notice that other cherry trees on other blocks in the neighborhood are still in bloom, but here, this block is now on the Summer side of Spring.

Cherry tree gone green

Ditch the income and net worth standards in the accredited investor definition?

At a Congressional hearing last week, SEC Commissioner Elisse Walter made a number of comments about Rule 506 and the accredited investor definition.

Representative Dennis Heck asked Commissioner Walter if the SEC staff were currently reviewing the accredited investor definition, as permitted or called for under Dodd-Frank.

Hearing screenshot WalterWalter noted some constraints imposed by Dodd-Frank - for example, the net worth standard, as changed by Dodd-Frank, was grandfathered for a period of time - but indicated that the SEC was, indeed, considering how the accredited investor definition might or should be changed.

Here's a transcript (apologies for any transcription errors) of what Commissioner Walter said to Rep. Heck at about the one hour, two minute mark in the archived webcast of the hearing:

“Some of the things we could consider, and I wouldn't rule out others, would be of course raising the numbers that are in the definition.

“Alternatively, we could use a different criterion. I tend to think that if we were to look at the amount an individual had invested, and we're really talking about natural person accredited investors here, we're not talking about entities, but if we were to look at a standard of a person having so much already invested, that prior experience, it wouldn't be perfect, but would be nonetheless an objective indicator that perhaps would be better. 

“We could also look at criteria that are not specifically with respect to the definition. Borrowing from Title III of the JOBS Act, if you look at the crowdfunding provision, there is a provision in there that someone who is going to invest through a crowdfunding site has to go through a process of demonstrating that they understand basic concepts. Essentially an online, it would end up being an online learning module, where you would have to continue to keep going through until you got the answers right, so it would demonstrate a certain degree of knowledge. And we could perhaps consider something like that as well.”

It is the case that regulators, and state regulators in particular, have long pressed for increasing the income and net worth thresholds of the accredited investor definition, or otherwise tightening up and restricting the number of persons who can meet the definition. I think it's also fair to say that the lifting of the ban on general solicitation, and innovations pursuant to Title III of the JOBS Act, put additional pressure on the continuing viability of the current accredited investor definition.

Thanks to Doug Cornelius and Jim Hamilton for posts that flagged this aspect of Commissioner Walter's testimony.

Checking in on state social media password laws

Looks like most states either now have or are actively considering laws to protect employees from having to turn over passwords to social media accounts. There's a terrific resource here, published by the National Conference of State Legislatures, that links to the relevant acts or bills and gives 2013 status reports for 35 states. (Here's a link to the NCSL report on 2012 activity.)

Arkansas state capitol

I like what I see in an Arkansas bill that appears to have become law in that state just this week. The Arkansas statute corrects two things that some of our panel of experts on wac6.com found wanting in earlier state statutes:

  • Arkansas' law addresses the possibility that an employer may legitimately have an ownership or other interest in a person's social media account; and
  • it contemplates that email should be protected.

Here's how the new Arkansas statute defines social media:

"(A) 'Social media account' means a personal account with an electronic medium or service where users may create, share, or view user-generated content, including without limitation: (i) Videos; (ii) Photographs; (iii) Blogs; (iv) Podcasts; (v) Messages; (vi) Emails; or (vii) Website profiles or locations.

"(B) 'Social media account' does not include an account: (i) Opened by an employee at the request of an employer; (ii) Provided to an employee by an employer such as a company email account or other software program owned or operated exclusively by an employer; (iii) Setup by an employee on behalf of an employer; or (iv) Setup by an employee to impersonate an employer through the use of the employer's name, logos, or trademarks.

"(C) 'Social media account' includes without limitation an account established with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, MySpace, or Instagram."

Arkansas' definition of social media is that first I've seen that goes ahead and lists out examples of existing, famous services that are supposed to meet the criteria. I think that's a good idea.

Photo of Arkansas Capital by L. Allen Brewer / Flickr.

Facebook is not the internet

News item: "U. S. employees set to be forced to give bosses their Facebook PASSWORDS."

It's time to stop letting Facebook, the affiliate marketing company, wrap itself up as a proxy for the internet.

FB loginIf you want to defend the internet, why take as a poster child a company whose business is antithetical to openness, transparency and user empowerment? A company that surrenders to an advertising model, as though 20th-century specific publishing models were the natural order of things.

Sheryl Sandberg is way cool, but the great work she is doing in stimulating debate about America's gender skewered worklife has nothing to do with her being an exec at Facebook. She could be at Google. Or John Deere.

If you want to defend the Internet, convince Peter Thiel to pay every Facebook employee $1 million to go back to college and get a liberal arts education. Imagine these guys (that's largely true, right?) read Camus and studied art history at the same time they were let loose with code.

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