News Center

E-Sig E-Rased, Now E-Cceptable

Businesses use them to make contracts, ship mail, even sell your house:  Digital signatures are becoming more commonly used in e-commerce because they facilitate business across the state, nation, and globe.  But earlier this month, a CA Superior Court judge axed the use of e-signatures for ballot measures. Silicon Valley’s Verafirma attempted the high-tech feat, collecting signatures using iPhones. Secretary of State Debra Bowen sided with the court, saying the state’s election code doesn’t allow use of e-signatures in initiative drives.  She also shared her handwriting capabilities: “I think my scrawl on the checkout stand in the grocery store bears no resemblance to the signature on pen and paper.” We think this might be a case of legacy regulations losing relevance – in light of digital signatures used by credit card companies and mail services, perhaps it’s time to start saving some green in the ground and in the wallet and revise the laws keeping us in the age of Walley and the Beavs.

The concept itself is by no means new; telegraphed signatures date as far back as the Civil War, and we’ve been faxing signatures since the 80’s.  So we ask – why pause progress?  Especially in the state that’s home to dozens of electronic signature service companies.

But this month brought hope.  Despite her recent efforts, it doesn’t look like Bowen has the authority to derail the proverbial tech-train.  Eight Santa Clara county residents have registered to vote by signing their names on mobile touchscreens. County Registrar Jesse Durazo gets the credit for making history as the first American election official to allow that kind of voter registration, which can be done on iPads, iPhones and other mobile touchscreen devices.  Here at CALinnovates we applaud Durazo and Verafirma, (who created the proposal), for paving the way for democracy, technology, and all other 57 counties to get “signed”-up.  Some worry the signatures may be hard to verify and provide the chance for fraud, but when top banks like Wells Fargo allow customers to open accounts via electronic signature…who can argue?  Certainly not us.  And although the California election code doesn’t include Mac friendly jargon like “iPhone” or “iPad”, maybe it should.  Unless someone sues Durazo, the e-signatures will stand, and we’re right there behind ‘em…chicken scratch and all.


Earlier this month, the arrest of a bakers dozen from the Gambino family for their alleged illicit activities advertised on Craigslist heated up the scrutiny surrounding the posting and use of cash collected in the advertising of what the feds and several state attorney generals claim is the unlawful solicitation of teenage girls.  The New York Times reported in April that they estimate Craigslist will collect in excess of $36M this year for the placement of these ads. A subpoena issued by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who although recently cinched CT’s dem nomination for the senate seat being vacated by Chris Dodd (who has his own trials with the truth) was met with knee-jerk defensive ridicule from Craig himself in a blog posting.

Come on Craig, young girls are getting sold on Craig’s list!  At least have the presence of mind, or the publicist, to denounce the unlawful solicitations and vow to help eradicate the abhorrent activities versus attacking the AG and saying that what you are doing is “legal”.  What about “moral?”

To date, Craigslist, and other online resources for the unseemly and unlawful, have hidden behind Section 230(c) of the Communications Decency Act, which says: No provider or user of interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.  This provision of federal law has allowed Craig and his list to successfully defend a case alleging the site was liable for offensive ads posted on Craigslist that violated the Fair Housing Act, the federal law that makes it unlawful for landlords to refuse to rent to someone because of their race or religious background (for example, ads were posted on Craigslist that said NO MINORITIES).

My question–and go ahead, call me a prude–is why is it that regulators aren’t doing more around this?  Sure, the first amendment reigns supreme, both in my house and in this country, but it does not give you the right to advertise unlawful activities, especially unlawful activities involving minors. If online resources are knowingly being used to advertise these services, it seems to me the law should be crafted in a way to both protect lawful free speech, and to curtail the unlawful peddling of pre-pubescent girls by renown crime syndicates.  It’s true, the law is taking its time to catch up to the web, and mostly, that’s a good thing; leaving the internet unregulated has created an environment that is ripe for innovation and I’m all for that, but this is different. If given the chance to save one 12-year-old from being hawked on Craigslist I’d take it, even if it means I don’t get to unload that horribly uncomfortable and equally hideous sleeper-sofa on some unsuspecting college kid who has no option but to furnish his room with Craigslist cast-offs. And sure, as the Craigslist defense asserts, if these girls aren’t being exploited on Craigslist they might be elsewhere, in either the virtual or bricks and mortar world.  Hey, I’m a dreamer, I’d like to think our regulators might actually get ahead of this one and find a way to prevent the sale of girls in plain site (intended misspelling).

Apparently…Craig might have a conscience (or more likely a belabored pool of PR consultants).  First, in early May the SF-based company sent out a bunch of unsolicited checks to human rights groups–at least some of which were returned un-cashed.  Then, in the middle of the night Craigslist unilaterally announced it would no longer host the ever-popular “Erotic Services” category on its site, and, as of last week, there would be a new category called “Adult Services”, which would be scoured for impropriety by some new Craigslist employees.  So, the news: mobsters–new category to advertise in; unemployed voyeurs–apply to Craigslist, apparently they’re hiring…

Cross-posted on DailyKos


Managing workloads with your inbox

A few weeks ago I was asked to help out the crisis communications team managing the oil spill in the gulf.  As I was wading into my first day at the disaster something became incredibly clear – there was no centralized data management – no customer relations management (CRM) – no content management system (CMS).  I suspect that the National Guard and the Coast Guard were using some sort of closed system in the command center (not having had the honor of serving, I’m unfamiliar with military protocol), but there was nothing else in use to manage all the other corporate, state and local resources.  In the midst in the one of the worst disasters in recent American history, I found myself thinking about this simple question – why was the best and the brightest of our nation managing the crisis via email?

The only reason that I can seem to come up with is the same one used for explaining why government tends to remain in the dark ages on most matters of tech – policy makers are the last frontier to adopt new technology.  I’m sure you had a Facebook account long before Barack Obama launched his new media campaign for president, and it’s only a recent development that I can pay parking tickets online in San Francisco – yet content management isn’t new.  37signals (the creators of Basecamp, Backpack, etc) launched more than a decade ago.  During that decade hundreds of content management systems have been developed – from social media based to internal closed systems – it’s not the availability of the CMS, but the adoption that has stalled.

If policy makers in California want to truly be prepared for the next disaster or crisis, we need to start thinking about CMS not as good idea, but as a necessity.  Email became mainstream because it’s convenient and useful for basic communication – but it’s awfully cumbersome as a tool to manage or share information, especially during a crisis.

One out of every five

But here is another statistic that is even more striking: one out of every four. That’s how many of America’s high-tech jobs were based in California just 20 years ago. That’s a 35% decline in the last two decades.

What is happening to California’s high-tech economy?

During the last 20 years we have seen our state’s economic environment change. The same state that once inspired two graduate students to invent Google in their dorm room now is watching as many of its largest technology companies outsource jobs to other states and even other countries. And why not? China, for example, has tripled its R&D investment since 1998.

The time has come to acknowledge that the battle for leadership of the technology economy is underway. And California is no longer winning it.

The time has come for a new strategy to help our state once again become innovators in the high-tech sector.

And the time has come for CALinnovates.

A few weeks ago, a group of industry experts, thought leaders, tech innovators, policy makers and consumers joined together to form CALinnovates, a non-partisan organization to promote innovation, create new jobs, spur investment and support tech-friendly policies.

Our issue is simple: we believe California’s economy and California’s future will be determined by our innovation.

Our challenge is great: we believe we must reverse years of decline in California’s high-tech sector.

And our strategy is straightforward: we want to make California the leader in innovation again.

The state that gave us Google, Apple and Hewlett Packard can surely give us new ideas, new initiatives and new innovation. But we need to get started; and we need to get started now.

A recent survey that we commissioned shows that while 96% of Californians believe technology and innovation are an important part of our state’s economy, 80% of those same Californians believe our state is on the wrong track. And they are right.

So how can we turn this around? How can we reverse the brain drain? How can we again make California the innovation leader of our country and our world?

At CALinnovates, we want to begin the conversation about how to create innovation in California. We want to be a resource for policy makers in California and beyond as they grapple with policy that affects the innovation economy. From our dynamic new media platforms that feature California’s innovators and tech leaders, to meetings and briefings with California’s chief policy makers – CALinnovates not only provides a medium for companies to network, but helps to connect the ideas of today for an economy of tomorrow.

And as part of that effort, we are launching a new app so that Californians can follow the 2010 elections in general and technology issues specifically.

Want to know how your legislator is voting on innovation issues? Get the CALinnovates app.

Want to see what innovation issues are being discussed in the campaign? Get the CALinnovates app.

Want to be involved in politics and make sure policy makers are paying attention to innovation issues? Get the CALinnovates app.

Let’s encourage our political leaders to have a serious debate about innovation. Let’s find out what they believe and why. And let’s keep the focus on this crucial issue.

And remember: we’re Californians. We invented the technology revolution. Now we’re going to re-invent it.

Hollywood vs. Pirates

In honor of the Oscars, we at CALinnovates thought we’d go all Hollywood on you and bring attention to the policy making emanating out of Lalaland.

In January, the Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) joined the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), Directors Guild of America (DGA), International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts of the United States, Its Territories and Canada (IATSE) and issued a response to the FCC’s request for input on it’s proposed Net Neutrality regs.  Hollywood is concerned with pirates – and not the Johnny Depp type of pirate (as clearly we can’t get enough of that) – but the web based variety.

View Source

Gates @ TED on Energy

What, there’s no crisis you say?  Mr. Gates and the jar of domesticated fireflies that accompanied him to TED would disagree as he pointed out that all the world’s batteries could only hold 10 minutes worth of its energy needs.  Working with his former CTO, Nathan Myhrvold, Gates is creating nuclear technology that entails an underground reactor that uses, in part, spent fuel from other reactors so as to make it an even cleaner means of energy.

So what does this all mean for California?  Will Gates weigh in as California grapples with the current assault on AB 32?  Let’s hope he and other visionaries do – so that California can remain the leader in new economy jobs as it continues to prove to the rest of the country that renewable energy is not only environmentally responsible but also economically viable – case in point: CALinnovates member NRG West which owns and operates the largest photovoltaic solar farm in the country in Blythe, CA.

We’re proud that California is blazing the trail in renewable energy.  And it’s not just us.  In the statewide survey we fielded in late January nearly 80% of voters said that they supported legislation that would promote renewable development including the extension of tax benefits.  That’s a tall order with a $20 billion deficit.  But it is California, where the sun shines and the wind blows regardless of who is elected governor.

Mass. Migration

When proclaiming the end of the ‘California Dream’ there are two basic areas that naysayers point to: taxes/high cost of living and environmental regulation. Let’s look at taxes first. It’s true, California has a high sales tax but then again, so do Washington, Texas, and Nevada (another state often cited as a supposed destination for fleeing California businesses). The last time I checked, Seattle had a couple successful technology businesses to its credit. What about corporate taxes you say? Well, if you thought our corporate income tax rate was bad, you obviously, haven’t done business in Minnesota, Rhode Island, or yes, even Massachusetts, lately. Each of those states has higher corporate income tax rates than California.

As far as environmental regulation goes, I would invest in and protect our unparalleled natural resources rather than let polluters run amuck any day of the week. And if some companies are going to head out of state to avoid environmental regulations, well, they aren’t going to Massachusetts. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and California Sen. Barbara Boxer are currently co-sponsors of a recent and wide-reaching climate bill. California and Massachusetts have been national leaders in environmental regulation in terms of both legislation and state funding and will probably continue to be less-than-ideal destinations for environmentally irresponsible companies.

Of course, California does come with a high cost of living. But that’s not unfathomable for an extremely populous state with rich human capital (not to mention our unpolluted natural wonders).

None of this is to say that I believe we can afford to be cavalier about retaining a thriving technology industry. We absolutely can’t. California is lucky enough to be a highly desirable location to live and work in and we need to ensure that tech businesses can always find the best and brightest minds here in the Golden State. That’s one reason California’s universities are so crucial to the future of California’s technology industry.

For the time being, we need to be vigilant in ensuring that the choices California makes contour to the needs and desires of tech businesses (those in our state currently and those considering relocating here). But instead of lamenting the imminent end of California’s tech industry, let’s celebrate the reasons we’re a technology leader in the first place and get to work, ensuring that they never change.

Three areas California DOES need to take action:

1. The cost of energy.
2. Further economic incentives for new and existing tech businesses (especially where energy/green tech is concerned).
3. Maintaining our leading colleges and universities that are educating and training the next generation of innovators.

Attracting Technology to California

A little more than two weeks ago, Governor Schwarzenegger and Cobalt Technologies held a press conference about technology in California billed as: important to ‘the state’s future economic vitality’. At the event, Schwarzenegger applauded Cobalt, which commercializes biobutanol as the type of business that was beneficial environmentally as well as economically. The Governor explained how companies like Cobalt were going to spur economic development and create jobs in our financially troubled state (for the record, Cobalt plans on building an even larger facility here in CA in the next three years).

So, one way the Governor hopes to attract businesses like Cobalt to California is with tax incentives. Just this week Schwarzenegger proposed sales tax exemption for the purchase of green tech manufacturing equipment.  In addition to tax incentives, the Governor and other officials have pushed funding and partnerships in recent years, that are designed to boost the state’s leading tech universities’ most innovating programs- a move the state hopes will propel research and attract the nation’s brightest, young minds in fields like cleantech, biotech, and nanotech.

California is already home to 1 in 5 technology jobs in the U.S., but it’s unclear if lawmakers and officials seem to understand the importance of retaining that distinction.  Making California an economically friendly environment for tech businesses, while educating the next generation of tech innovators, seem to be two strategies that will ensure California remains a leader in technology and innovation.