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Bitcoin and game theory: we’re still scratching the surface

Freedom to Tinker - 1 hour 45 min ago
In an earlier post I argued why Bitcoin’s stability is fundamentally a game-theoretic proposition, and ended with some questions: Can we effectively model the system with all its interacting components in the language of strategies and payoff-maximization? Is the resulting model tractable — can we analyze it mathematically or using simulations? And most importantly, do […]

We Can’t Hear You: The Shameful Review of Bill C-51 By the Numbers

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - 4 hours 23 min ago

The Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security will hold its clause-by-clause review of Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism bill, this morning. The government is expected to introduce several modest amendments that experts note do little to address some of the core concerns with the bill. While there is some tinkering with the information sharing provisions, the law will still allow for widespread sharing without effective oversight from the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Moreover, key concerns with respect to the CSIS Act (warrants that can violate Charter rights) and broader oversight and accountability remains untouched.

None of this comes as a surprise. Earlier in the committee hearings, Green Party leader Elizabeth May lamented that “the hearing process is a sham. They’re not listening to witnesses.” Now that the hearings have concluded, the data bears this out. Witnesses from across the political spectrum called for changes to the information sharing rules, to oversight, to the CSIS powers, and to the advocating or promoting terrorism provision, yet Conservative MPs never bothered to listen.

Few legislative issues are as important as the security and privacy of Canadians, but the entire hearings were structured to avoid hearing from experts, to asking irrelevant questions, or to bringing in witnesses with scant knowledge of the proposed bill.  Just how bad was it? The Bill C-51 hearings by the numbers:

Conservative MPs (Roxanne James, Rick Norlock, Diane Ablonzcy, LeVar Payne, Ted Falk)

49: Number of external witnesses
16: Number of hours spent in committee with external witnesses
25: Number of times a Conservative MP asked a substantive question about a Bill C-51 provision (Payne (7), Falk (6), Norlock (6), Ablonzcy (3), James (3))
3: Number of times a Conservative MP asked a critic a substantive question about a Bill C-51 provision (Falk (2), Ablonzcy (1))
4: Number of times a Conservative MP asked one or fewer questions during their time due to long statements (Norlock (2), Ablonzcy (1), James (1))

3: Number of times LeVar Payne asked if CSIS or the RCMP is too busy to ask government for information on protesters (Davies, Morrison, Toronto Police Association)
2: Number of times Roxanne James interrupted critics of Bill C-51 with points of order or questions to the chair during their statements or responses (CCLA, Open Media)
4: Number of times Diane Ablonczy asked about jihadi or ISIS threats (Cooper, NCCM, Heritage Foundation, CIJA)

1: Number of times Diane Ablonzcy questioned whether the witness was committed to fighting terrorism (NCCM)
1: Number of times Rick Norlock asked a witness if they “opposed taking terrorists off the street” (BCCLA)
1: Number of times Roxanne James asked witnesses to comment on “unhelpful information” being circulated about information sharing (Davies)
1: Number of times Diane Ablonczy said she struggled with the relevance of former Senator Hugh Segal’s concerns (Segal)

The Witnesses

9: Number of witnesses who did not comment on C-51 specifics in their opening statements (Davies, Collacott, Gora, Neumann, Quigan, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Nawaz, Boisvert, Center for Security Policy )
8: Of those who were supportive of Bill C-51 (Davies, Collacott, Gora, Neumann, Quigan, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Boisvert, Center for Security Policy)

12: Number of Canadian privacy commissioners who have publicly criticized Bill C-51
0: Number of appearances by the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
0: Number of appearances by any Canadian (federal or provincial) privacy commissioner
3: Number of U.S. groups with no Canadian connections who appeared as witnesses (American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Heritage Institute, Center for Security Policy)

135: Number of pages Professors Craig Forcese and Kent Roach wrote in four background papers on Bill C-51
3: Number of questions posed directly to Forcese and/or Roach by Conservative MPs

1: Number of immigration “experts” who could not answer a direct question (asked three times) on the immigration provisions in Bill C-51 (Collacott)
1: Number of witnesses who argued that critics of Bill C-51 were unaware of the increasing threat of terrorism and tide of hatred of Canadian university campuses (Benlolo)
1: Number of witnesses who pointed to the need for Parliamentary oversight and claimed that Bill C-51 included it (Center for Security Policy)
1: Number of witnesses who, when asked what gaps Bill C-51 fills, responded that it allows police to monitor what people say in public (Sheehy)

The post We Can’t Hear You: The Shameful Review of Bill C-51 By the Numbers appeared first on Michael Geist.

Competing After Employment (Part 1)

IPBlog (Calgary) - Mon, 2015/03/30 - 15:00
-  By Richard Stobbe A key employee departs. The employer, worried that confidential information has leaked out of the company, scrambles to respond. After a frenzied period of preparation, the employer starts a lawsuit and seeks an injunction against the ex-employee. In these two recent Canadian cases, those same basic facts apply but with ...

What Happens When a Franchise Agreement Ends, Part Two: Cancellation

IPBlog (Calgary) - Mon, 2015/03/30 - 15:00
By Richard Stobbe  In some cases, a franchise relationship ends after many years of business. At the point of termination, the parties must wrestle with a number of issues, including customers, inventory, and (as we reviewed in Part 1) the impact of any post-termination restrictive covenants. In other cases, however, the franchise ...

Enforcing Keyboard Patents (BlackBerry v. Typo)

IPBlog (Calgary) - Mon, 2015/03/30 - 15:00
By Richard Stobbe A year ago, BlackBerry sued Typo Products LLC for patent infringement, based on the design of a snap-on keyboard. Typo's physical keyboard was designed to attach to an iPhone, in order to mimic a BlackBerry-style QWERTY keyboard. The design was, in BlackBerry's view, imitation that went beyond flattery and ...

Open Source Software: The Costs of Non-Compliance

IPBlog (Calgary) - Mon, 2015/03/30 - 15:00
By Richard Stobbe For software vendors, open source software (OSS) should be treated like a compliance issue - in the same way that corporate, securities or environmental compliance is a concern for many companies. The failure to manage compliance can be costly - just like it would be if a company ignored ...

An American Attorney in Canada (Part 3: Letters of Request in Patent Litigation)

IPBlog (Calgary) - Mon, 2015/03/30 - 15:00
By Richard Stobbe A recent Ontario court decision (Arctic Cat Inc. et al. v. Peter Watson, 2014 ONSC 6874 (CanLII)) dealt with a foreign letter of request, or "letter rogatory" in a cross-border patent infringement case involving the invention of snowmobile prototypes. This type of request is used where a foreign ...

Patent Litigation Trends in 2014

IPBlog (Calgary) - Mon, 2015/03/30 - 15:00
By Richard Stobbe A recent report  shows interesting trends in US patent litigation: 5,002 patent infringement cases were filed in the US in 2014, up from 2,641 filed in 2010; Of those cases filed, the majority (61%) were commenced by NPEs (non-practicing entities), which is a neutral term to describe what are commonly referred to ...

CIPO - EPO PPH

IPBlog (Calgary) - Mon, 2015/03/30 - 15:00
By Richard Stobbe Who can resist an announcement laced with nerdy acronyms? Last week, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) announced the launch of a Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) pilot agreement with the European Patent Office (EPO). The initial pilot will run from January 6, 2015, to January 5, 2018. Canadians can gain ...

Not a utility patent, but a patent utility?

IPBlog (Calgary) - Mon, 2015/03/30 - 15:00
By Richard Stobbe In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Jay Walker, founder of Priceline.com, has proposed a kind of neutral private-sector utility for the licensing of patents. He argues that "We have spent trillions of dollars inventing things and 95 to 98 percent of all patents have yet to make ...

Is “One Dollar” Sufficient for a Patent Assignment?

IPBlog (Calgary) - Mon, 2015/03/30 - 15:00
By Richard Stobbe You may have read the recitals or introductory clauses in a license or an assignment agreement. In most cases, these clauses are just skimmed, if they are reviewed at all. In a recent decision of the US Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, the court reviewed the impact of ...

Copyright in House Plans

IPBlog (Calgary) - Mon, 2015/03/30 - 15:00
By Richard Stobbe A couple, the Ecklunds, approached Oakcraft Homes, a custom home-builder. Based on their discussions, Oakcraft prepared a house plan and gave a copy of the plan to the Ecklunds. The couple later took that plan to a rival home builder, Toscana Developments. Toscana used Oakcraft’s house plan without ...

UPDATE: Helping Human Trafficking and Modern Day Slavery Victims Around the World

Google Public Policy BLOG - Mon, 2015/03/30 - 13:57
According to the U.S. Trafficking In Persons Report, there may be more than 20 million trafficking victims at any time in the world, but only about 40,000 victims are identified each year. To connect victims of human trafficking to the organizations who can help them, we recently launched a new feature that displays human trafficking hotline numbers when users type in relevant keywords in search.

In July 2014, we launched this feature for the U.S., Japan and South Korea and today we are making it available in 9 more countries in 14 different languages. From working with our partners across the globe, we know that these hotlines play an indispensable role in the fight against human trafficking. Victims may be unfamiliar with support agencies or organizations in their area or unaware there is help available at all.

These hotlines can make life-changing connections to services like crisis response, emergency housing, counseling, and legal aid at the moment victims need them. Confidential hotlines make certain victims receive the anonymity and protection they need to stay safe.This search feature was made possible because of the work the following organizations do every day to fight human trafficking around the world: Polaris (US), Lighthouse Support Center for Human Trafficking Victims (Japan), Dasi Hamkke Center (South Korea), Taipei Women's Rescue Foundation (Taiwan), La Strada (Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Moldova, Poland and Ukraine), The A21 Campaign (Greece), ASTRA Anti-Trafficking Action (Serbia), and International Organization for Migration (Turkey).
Since the launch, this feature has already helped National Human Trafficking Resource Center to identify at least 25 human trafficking cases in the U.S. We hope that many more human trafficking victims and potential victims will be able to discover the help that they need when they need it.
Posted by Kasumi Widner, Program Manager, Social Impact and Chris Busselle, Principal, Google.org

Really, Rupert?

Google Public Policy BLOG - Fri, 2015/03/27 - 16:10

Last year Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp, accused Google of creating a "less informed, more vexatious level of dialogue in our society." Given the tone of some of your publications, that made quite a few people chuckle.
This week you were at it again.  One of your newspapers, The Wall Street Journal, accused Google of wielding undue political influence.  Blimey!

More seriously, given the inaccuracies that have been published, we wanted to give our side of the story. Here goes.

Wall Street Journal:
“The findings [from the Bureau of Competition] stand in contrast to the conclusion of the FTC’s commissioners, who voted unanimously in early 2013 to end the investigation”.   

Google:
As the FTC made clear this week:  “... the Commission’s decision on the search allegations was in accord with the recommendations of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, Bureau of Economics, and Office of General Counsel” (something the Journal has chosen not to report).

Wall Street Journal:
“Since Mr. Obama took office, employees of the Mountain View, Calif., company have visited the White House for meetings with senior officials about 230 times …  In comparison, employees of rival Comcast Corp., also known as a force in Washington, have visited the White House a total of about 20 times … Google’s knack for getting in the room with important government officials is gaining new relevance as scrutiny grows over how the company avoided being hit by the FTC with a potentially damaging antitrust lawsuit”.

Google:
Of course we’ve had many meetings at the White House over the years.  But when it comes to the information the Journal provided to Google about these meetings, our employment records show that 33 of the White House visits were by people not employed here at the time.  And over five visits were a Google engineer on leave helping to fix technical issues with the government’s Healthcare.gov website (something he’s been very public about).  Checking through White House records for other companies, our team counted around 270 visits for Microsoft over the same time frame and 150 for Comcast.  

And the meetings we did have were not to discuss the antitrust investigation.  In fact, we seem to have discussed everything but, including patent reform, STEM education, self-driving cars, mental health, advertising, Internet censorship, smart contact lenses, civic innovation, R&D, cloud computing, trade and investment, cyber security, energy efficiency and our workplace benefit policies.  For example:  
  • Several visits were advertising industry meetings attended by Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and others.  Yes, Microsoft, the main complainant in the FTC’s antitrust investigation;
  • Over a dozen visits were for production crews covering the YouTube interviews with the President following the State of the Union and photographing the White House art collection for Google’s Art Project;
  • One of the meetings specifically called out by the Journal was actually a meeting with our Chairman, Eric Schmidt, and Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, with several other technology companies to discuss copyright legislation (the draft SOPA/PIPA laws that were ultimately dropped by Congress).

As the FTC has said, the Journal "makes a number of misleading inferences and suggestions about the integrity of the FTC's investigation. The article suggests that a series of disparate and unrelated meetings involving FTC officials and executive branch officials or Google representatives somehow affected the Commission's decision to close the search investigation in early 2013. Not a single fact is offered to substantiate this misleading narrative". 

We understand you have a new found love of the regulatory process, especially in Europe, but as the FTC’s Bureau of Competition staff concluded, Google has strong pro-competitive arguments on our side.  To quote from their report “... the record will permit Google to show substantial innovation, intense competition from Microsoft and others, and speculative long-run harm”.  

And the FTC was not alone when it comes to search ranking and display.  The Texas and Ohio Attorneys General closed their comprehensive competition investigations into Google in 2014. And courts in Germany and Brazil found that there is no basis in the law for Google competitors to dictate Google’s search results.
by Rachel Whetstone, SVP Communications and Policy

Aereo files for bankruptcy

Recording Industry vs The People - Fri, 2015/03/27 - 13:58

Well, it finally happened; Aereo has given up the ghost and filed for bankruptcy. It will be interesting to see whether the the content cartel will be satisfied at having put the company out of business, or will instead look for blood.

March 27, 2015, Order, WNET v. Aereo Ray Beckerman, P.C.

Quebec Takes on the Internet: Government Announces Plans to Require Website Blocking & Studies New Internet Access Tax

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Fri, 2015/03/27 - 06:47

The Government of Quebec released its budget yesterday featuring two Internet-related measures that are sure to attract attention and possible litigation. First, it is moving forward with plans to study a new tax on residential Internet services in order to provide support for the cultural sector. The study was recommended by the Quebec Taxation Review Committee, which is looking for new sources of revenue to support the movie, music, and book publishing industries. There are no further details on how much an ISP tax would be, though the plan would increase Internet access costs at the very time that governments are concerned with improving affordability.

Second, the government says it will be introducing a new law requiring ISPs to block access to online gambling sites. The list of blocked sites will be developed by Loto-Quebec, a government agency. The budget states:

A legislative amendment will be proposed to introduce an illegal website filtering measure. In accordance with this measure, Internet service providers will not be allowed to provide access to an online gaming and gambling website whose name is on a list of websites that are to be blocked, drawn up by Loto-Québec. This measure will be applied by the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux, which should have the necessary resources to fulfil its new responsibilities.

The government views this as a revenue enhancing measure because it wants to channel gamblers to its own Espacejeux, the Loto-Quebec run online gaming site. A November 2014 report found that Espacejeux was not meeting revenue targets since people were using other sites. It believes that the website blocking will increase government revenues by $13.5 million in 2016-17 and $27 million per year thereafter.

This is a remarkable and possibly illegal plan as the government seeks to censor the Internet for its own commercial gain. The plan would likely face a legal challenge, both on free speech and jurisdictional grounds, since the telecommunication regulations fall within federal jurisdiction (Quebec will counter that provinces are empowered to regulate gambling and consumer protection).

More importantly, website blocking in Canada has been exceedingly rare. Canadian Internet providers block access to some child pornography images under the Cleanfeed Canada initiative, but the blocking is not legislatively mandated and involves images that are illegal to access. Online gambling sites are not illegal to view and to legislate blocking for commercial gain sets a dangerous Canadian precedent. In fact, once blocking gaming and gambling sites is established, it is easy to envision the government requiring blocking of sites that are alleged to infringe copyright or blocking e-commerce sites that are not bilingual or do not pay provincial taxes.

The post Quebec Takes on the Internet: Government Announces Plans to Require Website Blocking & Studies New Internet Access Tax appeared first on Michael Geist.

Why the Crull Controversy Is a Symptom of Bell’s Bad Bundles Bet

Michael Geist Law RSS Feed - Thu, 2015/03/26 - 07:42

The furor over Bell Media President Kevin Crull’s banning of CRTC Chair Jean Pierre Blais from CTV news coverage following the pick-and-pay decision made for a remarkable news day yesterday.  From the initial Globe report to the unprecedented response from Blais to the Crull apology, it was a head-spinning day. While Bell presumably hopes that the apology brings the matter to a close, that seems unlikely to be the case as there are bigger implications for Crull, CTV News, and Bell more broadly.

Crull’s future has been the subject of much talk, with some calling for his resignation, particularly since there is evidence that this is not the first instance of the editorial interference. Assuming it has occurred before (the reference to “re-learning” in the Crull apology is telling), CEO George Cope was undoubtedly aware of the practice and must surely have condoned it, suggesting that Crull will survive. However, Crull’s bigger problem may be that his ability to represent Bell Media before the CRTC has been irreparably damaged. Bell could have Cope represent the company rather than Crull (indicating the seriousness of the issues), but Crull will struggle as the public face of the company before the regulator for as long as Blais remains chair.

The CTV News problem is that the Crull apology does not address the broader systemic problems of editorial interference. Unless it plans to have Robert Fife cover all telecom and broadcast matters, its future coverage will be subject to intense scrutiny and skepticism over whether it is unbiased. As Steve Faguy argues, an independent investigation and stronger walls between editorial and corporate executives is needed. Moreover, Peter Nowak calls for an independent ombudsman within the company to address editorial independence.

The bigger implications are for BCE and Bell Media itself. Crull’s editorial interference reflects what must be enormous corporate frustration with the CRTC. Bell could once reliably count the CRTC as an ally, but the Commission has ruled against it on a host of issues in recent months, including pick-and-pay, simultaneous substitution for the Super Bowl, and the legality of MobileTV service. Those decisions and the Bell frustration speak to the biggest issue of all: the company’s big bet on one bundle – Internet, wireless, broadcast distribution, and content – is falling apart due to market and regulatory changes.

Bell’s bet on vertical integration, which included buying Astral and CTV, was premised on the idea that Canada’s biggest communications company could create the ultimate bundle with consumers buying their Internet access, wireless services, and television packages from a single source. That same source would own the majority of television channels and the Canadian rights to the most popular programs. It could then leverage this control by creating unmatchable offers to entice consumers (ie. data-free mobile access to television services) and give advertisers access to the most comprehensive data on user preferences and online activities.

That might be attractive to business analysts, but the vision has faced steady opposition from government, regulators, and market developments. Government has emphasized the need for more competition in wireless services with spectrum set-asides designed to assist new competitors. As noted above, the CRTC has ruled against Bell on several key issues in recent months and may yet order wholesale access to fibre Internet access. The Privacy Commissioner and/or the CRTC may also rule against the targeted advertising approach. Meanwhile, companies like Netflix have proven to be far more effective competitors than Bell likely anticipated.

It is no coincidence that Bell’s anger boiled over with the pick-and-pay decision, since it was particularly harmful to Bell’s one-bundle vision. A week after the decision, Bell has still not publicly commented on the ruling, but three aspects of the decision represent worst case scenarios for the company. First, pick-and-pay will make it far more difficult for the company to cross-subsidize some of its unpopular channels through bundling. With limited ad revenue and lost subscription revenue, some of those channels will shut down.

Second, the basic service requirement of a $25 package hurts Bell the most, since its Bell Fibe service has the highest price among the major providers for basic service. Further, while it might be inclined to exclude U.S. channels from the basic package, it will be difficult to do if competitors such as Rogers (which argued for inclusion of the U.S. channels in a basic service and is bleeding customers to IPTV services) add them to its service.

Third, as I pointed out earlier this week, the pick-and-pay decision specifically targets vertically integrated companies. For example, starting in September 2018, for every service offered by a vertically integrated cable or satellite company, an independent programming service in the same language must also be offered if available. That policy severely undermines Bell’s ability to leverage its large cohort of channels.

Bell Media has been scrambling to adjust to these developments with calls for blocking U.S. channels, making it more difficult to access U.S. Netflix, levying a TV tax for conventional channels, and challenging the CRTC decisions on MobileTV and simultaneous substitution at the Federal Court of Appeal. But these moves smack of desperation as doubts increase about whether its multi-billion dollar bet on bundling will pay off.

The post Why the Crull Controversy Is a Symptom of Bell’s Bad Bundles Bet appeared first on Michael Geist.

Be wary of one-time pads and other crypto unicorns

Freedom to Tinker - Wed, 2015/03/25 - 18:53
Yesterday, a new messaging app called Zendo got some very favorable coverage from Tech Crunch. At the core of their sales pitch is the fact that they use one-time pads for encryption. With a few strong assumptions, namely that the pads are truly random and are only used once, it’s true that this scheme is “unbreakable” […]

Congress Must Reform Our Surveillance Laws

Google Public Policy BLOG - Wed, 2015/03/25 - 08:45
At the end of May, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act is set to expire. Section 215 is one of the legal authorities relied upon by the U.S. government to conduct surveillance through the bulk collection of communications metadata.

Earlier today, we joined other companies in the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, civil society groups, and trade associations in a letter that underscores the essential elements of any surveillance reform legislation. These elements include ending the bulk collection of communications metadata under various legal authorities, and establishing transparency and accountability mechanisms to ensure surveillance programs are narrowly tailored and subject to broader oversight.
We have a responsibility to protect the privacy and security of our users’ data.  At the same time, we want to do our part to help governments keep people safe. We have little doubt that Congress can protect both national security and privacy while taking a significant, concrete step toward restoring trust in the Internet.
Google has been working hard for the last two years to reform government surveillance laws, and we will continue to push for broader surveillance reforms in the months ahead.
We invite you to join us in asking Congress to enact surveillance reform by adding your name at google.com/takeaction.
Posted by David Drummond, Chief Legal Officer, Google
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