The Writing on the (Facebook) Wall

Mene mene tekel upharsin.
Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting.

It seems each time I post on the IT blog, I have more to say about the article I’m pointing to, and have to do my own post, to explore the idea more deeply. This time, it’s the question of Pre-Crime.

Ever see the movie Minority Report? The idea was that pattern recognition, when compiled from a sufficient number of sources and properly cross-referenced, could be used to predict, with some degree of accuracy, whether or not someone would commit a crime. In the film, the complication was that pattern recognition could never be completely accurate–there was always a quantum of uncertainty, the question of whether or not the person would actually take that final step, cross the line and commit the act. In the film this is part of what ends up undermining the main protagonist’s deep-seated faith in the system.

According to this article in Datamation, it looks as though something similar might be making an appearance in the here-and-now thanks to data-mining companies that harness massive amounts of processing power in order to comb through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blog posts, among many other public sources, in order to create a composite assessment of an individual’s personality that they claim allows them to spot patterns and create a character assessment that you would hope has a high degree of accuracy. Categories like “poor judgement” and “demonstrating potentially violent behaviour” are among those used in the report that is generated. The rationale is that this is meant to protect the company from liability, loose canons, people whose behaviour might end up casting the company in a bad light.

But surely there’s always that quantum of uncertainty–and the possibility that the behaviour might never manifest? Does the fact that the information is publicly available make it okay? Could an argument be made that someone is hoist with their own petard, if their public web presence brings up red flags?

The questions raised in my Financial Crimes class add further nuances to this issue. By my understanding, under C-45, if it is found that a “senior officer” at a corporation has some awareness of illicit activity, then if he does not take appropriate steps, the corporation itself could be charged with criminal activity. So, the hypothetical that immediately springs to mind is the very angle that the data-mining companies are using to sell their product–the potential for liability. If a company has access to this kind of assessment service, then is there a positive duty that would require them to make use of it and take steps, as part of their risk management or due diligence strategy? If they declined to do so, then could they be liable, or assessed as having been willfully blind?

The Grand Moot

The Grand Moot was a few days ago–and the scenario was particularly topical, concerning a “C20” summit, riots in the streets, and the alleged violation of Charter rights re detainment. Was it justified under s. 1?

Tune in to find out…

Sadly, I couldn’t stay for the whole thing, as I had a class. Fortunately, this year, they had an overflow room where it was broadcast on closed circuit tv, so I was able to watch from there and dart out when needed. And after class, I partook of some yummy treats at the reception and got the lowdown on the rest of the arguments.

And for those who are wondering: “just what is a moot”? Look no further. A moot is generally a mock trial at the appellate level (court of appeals), where the focus is on arguments and points of law. At U of T, we either have to do a compulsory or a competitive moot to graduate. The Grand Moot takes that up a notch: there is usually a Supreme Court Justice, one from the Court of Appeals and one from the Superior Court, present and grilling the mooters. And did they ever grill them! Hot seat indeed. But, at least from what I saw, the mooters showed grace under pressure and answered the questions put to them with impressive aplomb.

To add even further to the pressure, this particular contest takes place in front of a goodly number of classmates and profs, who turn up to watch. It reminds me a little of a jousting or quidditch match–there’s a similar air of festive competition among the spectators–but the contest is one of words, wits and arguments, rather than of physical prowess.

All in all, a grand spectacle indeed!


Sent from my mobile, so please pardon any typos!

Check out the Grand Moot for yourself.

Music Streaming away from the Canadian Market

I did a pointer post on the innovation law blog yesterday, regarding this Globe article. We’re supposed to do mostly pointers, and the posts are supposed to be short–three sentences or so. My three sentences were on the long side, and even so, I have more to say.

The Globe article basically says that streaming music companies like Pandora are being priced out of the Canadian market, because between the cuts demanded by SOCAN (which collects and distributes fees to composers and music publishers) and Re:Sound (same kind of function, apparently, but for record labels/producers and performers. As an aside: despite the DH’s involvement in the music industry and his studies of the music business etc, I actually hadn’t really heard of Re:Sound until now). Re:Sound is asking for a cut based on one of two different figures–whichever is the higher–either 45% of gross revenues, or 7.5 tenths of a cent for every song that is streamed in Canada. And this is on top of the SOCAN fees, mind. This kind of narrowing of providers’ margins have meant that we don’t have access to many such streaming services. Other streaming services claim that they would be undeterred by the prospect of having to give that kind of cut–but that they’d simply be passing along the higher cost to the consumer, which in turn would mean that they’d get fewer subscribers.

I really believe that composers, musicians, producers et al. all do deserve a slice of the pie. I think there is an intangible property right inherent in each of those contributions to the finished product. That’s not controversial to me at all. What I have a problem with is the short-sightedness of demanding such a high cut. No-one is benefitting from streaming music providers staying out of Canada because the desired fees are too high: 45% of 0 is 0. Production companies don’t get a return on their investment–and musicians and composers don’t get any royalties.

Given that, I’d love to hear the rationale for demanding this kind of take. Otherwise, it just comes over as poor advocacy skills–which would be particularly unfortunate if they actually have good reason or solid numbers to support why they want such a large take. The portrayal of their position in the Globe article has overtones of stubbornness–like they’re digging their heels in and saying, “if the Copyright Board approves, then we must be right–oh and some other countries have a similar fee structure” (but do they have streaming media deals and a second group for composers also taking a separate cut?). It might just be bias on the part of the Globe, of course, especially given that the only comparators they cite are the ones provided by the streaming music companies–namely, radio and fitness clubs, both of which have a far better deal. Or, maybe those are the correct comparators, and Re:Sound et al. needs to start doing the math on how well zero divides into itself.

A final point in the article had to do with Canada’s reputation as an illegal music downloading haven, presumably thanks to the popularity of peer-to-peer technologies, which makes it far easier for people get music illegally than to pay for it. The iTunes/iPod success story has some bearing for me, here. I think that if you make it easier for people to pay for something and legally download it than it is for people to get it illegally, then they will pay. By easier, I’m talking about some combination of price point and format. ITunes’s brilliance comes from its integration with the iPod interface. It’s slightly (or significantly) more of a hassle to go to a peer-to-peer program, search out a song and possibly make several unsuccessful attempts to download it then import it into iTunes (not that I would know about any of *that* firsthand), than it is to go to iTunes, download for a nominal fee, and have it seamlessly load onto your iPod. Plus, I do believe that it makes a lot of people feel good to know that they’re putting money towards a band or musician whose music gives them pleasure. The feel-good factor might not win out over ease of process (if it’s easier to do the illegal thing), but it adds positive reinforcement to the legal route, if all the other factors are aligned.

Make it affordable and easier than the alternative, and most people will do it.

Runnymede Library

I am going to try to revive my mobile blog over the next while. I’m out and about again, and part of the fun of this blog is that I end up being more attuned to the world around me.

I’m also going to be doing posts for the law and technology blog at school this year–I’m looking forward to that, though it promises to be a busy year! It provides a great excuse to keep up on the latest headlines and news in the tech sector and its legal implications.

And so this blog will be more experiential once again.

Saw these great carvings around the doorway of Runnymede Library. They’re pleasantly ominous and a little gothic–precisely what I like best in a threshold, especially one that leads to a repository of knowledge.


Sent from my mobile, so please pardon any typos!