Shorts for July

HTC-Incredible-S-SmartphoneToday I am going to look at a few short topics that I found of industry interest.

Comcast Ordered to Identify Commenter. The Illinois Supreme Court ordered Comcast to disclose the identity of a subscriber who was identified in a defamation suit. That is of interest both to people who make comments on the Internet as well as to ISPs.

The particulars in the case are that an anonymous poster compared Bill Hadley, who was running for a county Board seat, to Jerry Sandusky, who is convicted of child molestation. Hadley has persisted in seeking the identity of the poster through several layers of state courts.

The order is an interesting precedent because if it holds then it means that people cannot hide behind avatars and imaginary names and that they can be held responsible for what they say on the Internet. So Internet trolls, beware. But it also puts ISPs in an awkward position. Your customers want to believe that you will protect their identity and if ISPs have to routinely turn over these kinds of records it will be one more reason for people to not trust their ISP.

Computers Don’t Get Sarcasm. There are companies doing data analytics on comments left on websites like Twitter and Facebook to get an indication about how the country feels about topics in the news. One thing they have discovered is that they are unable to get their computers to understand sarcasm.

This matters because they try to classify what people say on a given topic as positive or negative, and they regularly misclassify sarcastic comments. This is not surprising since the primary purpose of sarcasm is to say a thing one way but mean just the opposite. This has implications beyond big data, because as we move towards having digital assistants that are more sophisticated than Siri, they will have to understand the way we really talk, including the ability to recognize sarcasm. I can picture numerous bad consequences arising from having a smart car, for example, misunderstand a direction because it doesn’t recognize when someone is being sarcastic.

Cell Phones Can Enable Stalking. Both Microsoft and Apple phones will soon have the ability for people to track the locations of others. Apple has had an app for a while called Find My Friends and now Microsoft has developed an app called People Sense. Both of these apps let you follow friends across a map to see their location and soon will get more sophisticated and let you initiate communication with people just by touching their dot on the map.

I can understand why some people find this of use and this could be a good way to keep track of your teenagers. But I find these applications disturbing for several reasons. First, it means that it will be even easier for your cell phone provider to keep tabs on where you go. I am further disturbed by the lack of privacy and wonder if people are ever going to have real privacy in the future as these kinds of apps become widespread. Finally, I can imagine hackers sneaking these applications onto phones and then stalking somebody in real time. I know that this is the sort of things that smartphones can be good at, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a good idea.

Court Rules that Butt-Dials are Not Private. Almost everybody with a smartphone has butt-dialed a call from time to time. I have one business associate that seems to butt-dial me fairly often. Good etiquette is to hang up on a call when somebody butt-dials you and not listen to what is happening at the other end.

But the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals just ruled that people have a right to listen to a call made in this manner. The case in question involved a person who butt-dialed somebody and then talked for 90 minutes about firing the boss of the person who was called. The person who received the call recorded part of the call.

The court rejected the argument that the person who made the accidental call had any expectation of privacy. Instead, the court said that it’s up to people to implement apps, lock their phones, or in some other way make sure that they don’t make such calls.

This is obviously an important lesson for anybody. Before you have a conversation about anything sensitive you ought to check to make certain your phone isn’t broadcasting your conversation.


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