Platform Access

Why Every Entrepreneur Should Care About Nintendo’s Pokémon GO

By: Mike Montgomery

Pokémon GO has changed the game.

By that, I don’t just mean the world of video games. There’s no question that the mobile game, which at last count was being f you haven’t played, the game works with a GPS map that shows you where Pokémon are in the real world (you can tell a Pokémon is nearby via a virtual rustling of leaves). When they’re close enough, they appear as augmented reality on your phone and you try to catch them. The result is entertaining and adorable.

Although augmented reality has been around for years, this is by far the best use of the technology. Video game designers all over the world are probably scrambling to include augmented reality in whatever project they are currently working on.

But the impact of Pokémon GO is bigger than that. It’s even bigger than Nintendo’s 100% stock climb over the past few weeks. The game is also creating amazing opportunities for brick-and-mortar entrepreneurs.

Players don’t only try to catch Pokémon in the game. They also congregate at Pokéstops (where they can collect Pokéballs and other bonuses) and gyms (where they can battle other teams). Pokéstops and gyms are locations in the real world. Bookstores, churches, restaurants and murals that happen to be gyms or Pokéstops are suddenly being inundated by Pokémon GO players.

Businesses didn’t have a chance to sign up for this. The maps of key locations come from a previous game from Niantic (the studio behind Pokémon GO) called Ingress.

But they can take advantage of the business. For example, businesses can put out lures, which temporarily increase the number of Pokémon around that business. Inc calculated that lures only cost $1.19 per hour and they can drastically increase foot traffic. A friend who was playing Pokémon GO with her son noticed a lure at a local candy shop. Her son caught a bunch of Pokémon and she ended up buying him some candy.

Read the full article here.

Congress must resolve net neutrality once and for all

By: Mike Montgomery

When the U.S. Court of Appeals backed the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) so-called netneutrality rules this week, PC World nailed the problem with its headline: “The decision will be challenged, and the case could drag on for years.”

Regardless of how the court ruled, net neutrality was destined to play out in courtrooms for the next decade as policymakers, technologists and consumers grapple with how to ensure open access to the internet while not crushing innovation and discouraging investment that created the Web in the first place.

Today the battle is largely between ISPs and edge providers. But as we’ve seen with buyers’ remorse statements from companies such as Netflix and Cloudflare, as well as EFF’s John Perry Barlow, in the future these legal battles may become more muddled as tech titans realize that they could be captured by the rules designed to keep the internet accessible to all.

These battles would test the patience of Bill Murray’s character in “Groundhog Day,” which is why there is only one entity that can settle the issue once and for all: Congress. Critics of the FCC contend the agency overstepped its bounds and applied 20th Century rules to innovative and rapidly changing technologies. At the same time, everyone wants to ensure that the internet continues to remain open and that we don’t create fast lanes, ban blocking and enhance transparency.

Only Congress can solve this problem by rewriting the laws that the FCC uses to base its rules. However well meaning the FCC was with its approach, two obvious negatives exist. The first is that the uncertainty over a decade-long legal fight leads tech companies – both those that supply the pipes and those who rely upon them – to play wait and see on new investments or innovations. That’s bad news for consumers and really bad news for an economy that needs a tech jolt.

The second is that we risk accepting that the Web deserves to be treated no differently than our water or electrical utilities – plodding and innovation-free, devoid of competition. That harms consumers and innovators alike due to a lack competition, choice and investment.

Read the full article here.

Periscope and Facebook shine a bright light on democracy

By: Mike Montgomery

Justice Louis Brandeis said, “sunshine is said to be the best of disinfectants.” A ray of digital sunshine emerged last week as a new kind of disinfectant, one that may make sure our nation’s elected representatives keep cameras on.

Last Wednesday, a group of Democrats staged a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives to draw attention to the gun responsibility debate raging across the country in the wake of the Orlando shootings. Republicans blocked a piece of legislation that would have made it illegal for people on the no-fly list to purchase guns. In protest, Democrats vowed to “occupy” the floor until Republicans allowed a vote on the bill.

In retaliation, the Republican leadership sent the house into recess, which caused C-SPAN’s cameras to go dark. The public window to the Hill is only open when the House is actually in session. Without cameras to watch, Republicans assumed they were taking the wind out of the Democrats’ protest sails.

But a few tech-savvy staffers and representatives quickly realized there was a way to keep the protest on the air. Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., was the first to take out his phone and start broadcasting the protest on Twitter using Periscope. C-SPAN soon started broadcasting the feed, eventually switching back and forth between Peters’s feed and Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s Facebook Live feed.

Needless to say, this was an historic use of technology driving government transparency, one that will mark a real turning point in how we see our elected officials in action. Both Periscope and Facebook Live, per Politico, have been trying to become bigger parts of this election year by forming debate-night partnerships. But Wednesday, both sites showed just how powerful livestreaming can be when users can work around traditional media blackouts without tripping the piracy alarm like Periscope did when it burst onto the scene during the the Mayweather-Pacquiao boxing match.

Read the full article here.

The Dark Web Is Still A Huge, Difficult Problem

By: Tim Sparapani

If you want to buy someone’s private data, it’s disturbingly easy to do. It’s all there for sale on the dark web, a completely anonymous twin of the web most of us use daily.

The dark web (or deep web, if you prefer) is “dark” because the sites on it cannot be indexed by a web crawling browser, such as Google. That makes it hard for ordinary people, and law enforcement, to find specific websites. This anonymity has the advantage of creating a zone of free speech where individuals can communicate, think and explore ideas without government interference.

But it also creates a haven for illicit activity, including the buying and selling of drugs, child pornography and individuals’ private information such as social security numbers, health records and passwords.

People who don’t closely follow privacy issues probably associate the dark web with Silk Road, the infamous illegal drug marketplace that did millions in business before the FBI managed to shut the site down in 2013.

But the death of Silk Road didn’t put an end to the dark web. This shady technological playground is still going strong, and many sites that thrive on the dark web are a daily threat to privacy and the economy.

Over the past three months, the website LeakedSource has uncovered huge caches of account data being sold on the dark web from eight websites including Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn. In some cases, those accounts came from privacy breaches at the web companies. In other cases, data thieves were able to steal information directly from users.

The way the account information was stolen matters less than the fact that so much of it is for sale. Need a Netflix password? They’re available for pennies on the dark web. You can also get stolen passwords for Hulu, HBO Go and Spotify.

The dark web has also become a haven for child pornography. According to an article on Wired, over 80% of dark web searches are related to pedophilia.

Read the full article here.

The Disappointing Strategy Behind The Losing Battle To Force-Feed Set-Top Boxes To Consumers

By: Mike Montgomery

Despite the short window for public comment now being closed on the FCC’s unnecessary and harmful set-top box (STB) proceeding, efforts to rationalize and mislead the public continue in earnest. Yesterday, and likely in consultation with the FCC, a group of well-known individuals was assembled to push back on the massive group of detractors to the proposal.

We’re not talking about a few, scattered voices who dislike the FCC’s anti-innovation mandate. We’re talking about tech coalitions, business entities which would undoubtedly benefit from the proposed scheme, labor unions, broadcasters, content creators and an enormous bipartisan group of members of Congress (180 members!) that is seemingly growing by the day.

The best way for allies of the FCC’s ill-fated scheme to chip away at the groundswell of opposition that is rallying against the proposal is, apparently, to continue spewing erroneous facts and take personal potshots at members of Congress. It’s a strategy. But it’s not a mature strategy.

These proponents continue to bang away at the supposed size of the market, saying it’s a $20 billion dollar a year industry. They rely upon a Moore’s Law-ish theory that the price of consumer electronics falls over time and therefore the price of boxes should fall over time, but haven’t. These numbers and theories were pulled out of thin air. They fail to account for the innovation that has occurred. A few years ago, one couldn’t watch HD, couldn’t record a show and watch it later, and couldn’t watch video on demand. Today, I’m able to go all-HD, I can record, at the same time, far more programs than I can watch and can pull up an episode of Dora and Friends for my daughter or Mr. Robot for me — on demand. I can store hundreds of hours of programming. Do I love my box? Not really, but I don’t hate it either. I dream of a not-to-distant magical world where the box is marginalized, not demonized. I want a world where the box is unnecessary, not forced into my living room by government mandate.

Read the full post here.

Stuck in Wet Concrete: The Supreme Court Tells the Ninth Circuit to Rethink What Harms Our Privacy

By: Tim Sparapani

The US Supreme Court has just made the law of privacy in the US about as settled as wet cement. Now, neither consumers nor companies handling consumer data know where things stand.

This all came about when a data broker – a company that gathers data about individuals, typically without their knowledge or consent, and then resells that data – created a file of wholly inaccurate information about an individual for resale. Upon learning about the data broker, Spokeo’s, actions the individual sued Spokeo citing a violation of his rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. That federal statute creates a right to sue for violations. The trial court, nevertheless, dismissed the case but the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit allowed it to proceed. The Supreme Court overturned that decision and sent the case back for additional consideration because the Ninth Circuit had not determined whether the plaintiff’s alleged injury was sufficiently real, tangible, or, what it deemed “concrete” enough to meet Constitutional standards for sustaining a lawsuit.

The result of effectively a non-decision by the US Supreme Court coupled with it providing the barest of guidance has created tremendous privacy law controversy. Now a debate is raging in Washington and in the offices of General Counsels of corporations and plaintiffs attorneys nationwide about what it takes to satisfy this vague standard. Pitched battles are being waged to influence the interpretation of that non-decision and influence what happens next because so much is at stake in a time when our economy is driven by identifying and unlocking value from consumers’ data.

How do we know when a company’s actions using a consumer’s data – especially erroneous data – harmed that consumer’s privacy? The whole debate will turn now on the definition of the term “concrete.” It’s a word that’s hard to lock down. Dictionaries provide only slightly more help than the thin guidance provided by the US Supreme Court. “Concrete”, an adjective meaning, “based on sure facts or existing things rather than guesses or theories.” Cambridge English Dictionary. “Specific particular. Real, tangible.” Merriam Webster’s Dictionary.

This non-decision has corporate America celebrating because fewer privacy cases will be successful. Influential privacy and consumer advocates, in contrast, argue that giving the lower court a do over, in effect, changes nothing. The truth lies somewhere in between, of course.

This is, no doubt, a blow for plaintiffs trying to bring lawsuits. By forcing people who want to sue to describe a tangible injury – and perhaps barring ephemeral or hard to explain or quantify privacy harms, even when Congress created a statutory right to sue – the barrier is now higher to successfully sue to vindicate privacy invasions. While that’s not the end of all suits regarding privacy as some have erroneously claimed, it does mean that some privacy cases that would have gone forward in the past will not make the cut. That surely means that some not-well-articulated but nonetheless important privacy harms will go unaddressed in the courts.

Read the full article here.

Roku’s stance speaks volumes about problems with FCC’s set-top box proposal

By: Mike Montgomery

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to mandate technology standards for TV set-top boxes in the name of creating more retail competition is being opposed by an unlikely source: set-top box maker Roku.

On the face of it, the FCC’s scheme is designed to help companies like Roku. The mandate would deconstruct the video streams coming into your living room’s traditional set-top box so they could be repackaged and served to you by any company with an interest in building a set-top box.

Roku already makes a device that streams video to televisions. The FCC’s proposal would give Roku, already an established player in the market, access to a whole new source of video programming – the consumer pay-TV packages forced open by the FCC regulation. That would seem like a powerful supplement to Roku’s current line-up of streaming video from sites like Netflix, Hulu and Crackle as well as content that lives on apps from networks like ESPN, CNN and Fox. If the FCC proposal went into effect Roku could directly stream live feeds from every broadcast and cable network.

Despite this supposed opportunity, Roku submitted a filing with the FCC opposing the scheme. In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal Roku CEO Anthony Wood said, “This might seem like a great deal for consumers and companies like mine, but once you start peeling back the layers, the picture changes.” In its FCC filing, Roku stated, “rather than accelerate the pace and change of innovation, the FCC’s proposed rules could actually inhibit the transition from traditional programming delivery models to OTT services.”

Read the full article here.

Proposed LA Airbnb Regulations Raise Serious Privacy Concerns

By Tim Sparapani:

Los Angeles is considering new regulations around Airbnb, and other home-sharing platforms, that should deeply worry anyone who cares about keeping their personal information private. If approved, the regulations would require people who rent out space via a home-sharing platform to hold on to three years’ worth of information about who rented their property for how long and at what price. The Office of Finance would have the right to inspect these records at any time.

It’s unclear exactly why the government is proposing this level of privacy invasion. The main thrust of the proposed legislation, which will eventually need to be approved by the LA City Council, is to set out guidelines and fines that would ensure a level of safety and accountability for home rentals. This market is growing quickly. According to a recent poll by Time magazine, 26% of the population has used a home-sharing service. As such, it’s not a stretch for the government to set some commonsense rules around the market and collect taxes from commercial activity.

But the invasion of privacy outlined in the Los Angeles proposal will create unnecessary risks for consumers.

Think about when you check into a hotel. If you pay with a credit card, the hotel will likely look at your driver’s license to make sure it matches the name on the card, but they don’t have to. If you pay with cash, they don’t need any kind of proof of identity. You pay your money and you get your room.

So why is the sharing economy potentially going to be held to a different standard?

Read the full article here.

ASCAP Just Proved The Continuing Need For The Consent Decrees

The licensing mega-group’s settlement with the DOJ is proof that the consent decrees are as important and relevant as ever.

By Mike Montgomery

On Friday, the American Society of Composers and Performers agreed to pay the Department of Justice $1.75 million to settle allegations of anticompetitive behavior. Despite the presence of consent decrees that specifically bar ASCAP (and BMI) from interfering with songwriters’ ability to strike direct deals for the licensing of their works, the licensing behemoth was caught red-handed flexing its oversized market muscle to block – not once, not twice, but 150 times – its songwriter and publisher members from licensing their performance rights directly to streaming services.

ASCAP is basically agreeing to do what it was legally required to do all along, but now throwing nearly $2 million down the drain that should instead have been distributed to songwriters.

It would be unbelievable were it not so typical of ASCAP’s consistent bad behavior.

ASCAP (and BMI, which collectively hold the rights to 90 percent of all music licenses) has proven how willing it is to wield its market power to squash competition, which harms songwriters and the prospects of a healthy, modern music marketplace. They trot their members out to Capitol Hill to cry poverty then report record annual royalty revenues of $1 billion – where is all that money going? They claim to have the best interest of their songwriters at heart, but at the same time leverage their enormous market power and comfy relationships with publishers on their Board (a clear conflict of interest that DoJ also is shutting down as a result of the settlement) to prevent songwriters from negotiating direct deals that may actually be in their best interest.

ASCAP’s response to DoJ? They had the audacity to say, “(w)ith these issues resolved, we continue our focus on…key reforms to the laws that govern music creator compensation.”

Why should the government award such behavior by even considering altering the consent decrees? The consent decrees have protected artists and helped enable the rise of music streaming, which is proving to be the most promising new revenue source for artists since the CD came along. Clearly they remain not only relevant, but essential.

Allowing a few big players at the top to use their market power to artificially increase the pricing of music won’t help songwriters. What it will help do is divert revenue opportunities from songwriters, chill innovation and competition, and turn consumers away from legal sources of music.

It doesn’t take a Berklee degree in Music Business to see that this will ultimately lead to a depression, not acceleration, in royalty revenues for songwriters and artists and what’s needed is increased transparency and a continuing adherence to the consent decrees.

Whether ASCAP likes it or not, the consent decrees work. They keep those tempted by untoward acts in-line. If anyone thinks that wouldn’t happen without the consent decrees, they need only to look to ASCAP’s settlement for proof.

Mike Montgomery is executive director of CALinnovates, a technology advocacy coalition.

This piece originally ran in Radio & Television Business Report, and can be viewed here.

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