December 28, 2005
A Study in Contrasts: eBay sales of medical devices

The Washington Post studies Used Medical Devices Being Sold on EBay:

Consumers can buy and sell almost anything on eBay, the giant online auctioneer -- including a used tube designed to be inserted into a patient's jugular. ...

EBay Inc. says it is not its role to oversee the buying and selling of such devices on its service. "We don't take responsibility for items sold on the site," said company spokesman Hani Durzy. "We're a marketplace."

That means buyers and sellers of reprocessed single-use medical devices on eBay operate largely under the radar. In many cases, there is no certain way of knowing where sellers obtained such used medical devices and no sure way of knowing who bought them, interviews and records show.

Those of you who have been watching this space will recognize the divergence from eBay's intellectual property practice, where participants in a "Verified Rights Owner" program can get expeditious removal of listings merely by registering and reporting claimed infringements of their trademarks or copyrights. So Mars Candy can stop the sale of M&M-patterned pillows with a letter, but eBay is just "a marketplace" when it comes to percutaneous lead introducers and biopsy instruments.

Now I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the sale of refurbished medical equipment, provided it's properly checked and sterilized by its purchaser, nor that there's anything right about the sale of pirated movies. There's just something strange about a system that gives a market more incentive to police pictures than pacemakers.

Posted by Wendy at 04:13 PM
December 12, 2005
Crawford and Post on "The Moose of Cyberspace"

Cyberprof Susan Crawford has a nice preview of David Post's forthcoming work, Mr. Jefferson's Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace.

Jefferson's moose was a specimen brought to England and assembled there to disprove the notion that America was a land of "degeneracy." Post and Crawford ask: What would you exhibit from cyberspace to prove its worth to a foreign observer?

I started my cyberlaw class with an exploration of analogy in Reno v. ACLU: What is cyberspace like (a telephone network with dial-a-porn, a radio broadcast, a magazine shop, a city block)? and ended by noting the limitations of any analogy to capture the Internet's communicative potential. It's not just "a phone network, with pictures" or "a magazine shop where anyone can publish a zine," but a new beast with the potential to be those and much more -- and that frightens regulators and incumbents who know the old and face competition from the new. So along with analogies to older technologies, we need specimens of what's possible with the new. Happily, the Net provides us new ones daily -- and we don't even need to pack them for shipment across the Atlantic.

Blogging will be light here while my students take their exams. Wouldn't want anyone to think there were secret answers hidden in blog entries. But how could I pass up the excuse to post moose photos from Jackson Hole?

Posted by Wendy at 10:31 AM
December 10, 2005
Hidden in Plane View

Via IP, a fascinating Guardian story on "planespotting": How planespotters turned into the scourge of the CIA.

Planespotters make a hobby of tracking airplanes by their takeoffs and landings. Using the connectivity of the Internet, they can now build detailed records of flight patterns -- including deviations from pattern that secretive government agencies would prefer to hide: the "rendition" of terror suspects to secret camps or torture spots.

The recording of flights by spotters like Paul from places as far afield as Bournemouth and Karachi has unintentionally played a significant role in helping journalists and human rights groups expose the scale of the CIA's renditions system. But his impact on such international intrigue largely passes Paul by.

Aggregation and enhanced search capability make public things that were once secret by obscurity. The government uses this to its advantage when it tries to purchase large private databases to datamine for suspicious stand-outs, and now it's feeling the heat on the other side. Why do I suspect we won't reach a David Brin-like entente?

Posted by Wendy at 02:15 PM
December 08, 2005
ICANN: how to listen to the individual Internet user

The recent ICANN meeting in Vancouver touched upon many issues important to ordinary Internet users: privacy in domain name registration; the cost and terms of .com domain names; internationalized domains; introduction of new domain suffixes. But there were few "ordinary Internet users" at the meeting. Few people can roam the globe to keep up with ICANN's travels, and not many more participate in online forums.

This doesn't mean that individuals are unaffected by ICANN or uninterested. Collectively, individual users have substantial legal and financial interests in ICANN policies; they are clearly the most numerous affected class. However, they tend to have many diffuse interests, not one sharp connection. Unlike those whose businesses depend on ICANN-related issues, many individuals may not feel their personal stakes justify high-intensity involvement with the ICANN process. How, then, does ICANN listen to those voices?

So far, not well. This question has been plaguing ICANN from the beginning, when it established then tore down an individual voting membership. In place of votes for board seats, it gave at-large parties the ALAC, but ALAC has been struggling to be heard within ICANN and working to get in better touch with the individuals.

Why don't we hear more from the individual Internet users? First, we should dismiss the impulse to say "if they don't speak up, it must not matter." It matters to the individual if her web-hosting-plus-domain-name package increases in price without changing in service offered; it matters to the individual if he can't register a domain name for his weblog without making his address and telephone number public; it matters to the (non-U.S.) individual if she can't type domain names in her native character set. But all these users all have other demands on their time, and we need to convince them it's worth their time at least to tell ICANN/ALAC about their concerns. To do that, we need to be able to say that ICANN is listening -- Not necessarily that every concern will lead to a change in policy, but that the aggregated concerns will at least inform policy discussions and form part of the "consensus" that's supposed to guide ICANN policy.

At the moment, I can't honestly encourage groups to join ALAC structures, but I can ask that they speak up so we can tell ICANN what it's failing to hear.

I speak as an individual, and not for ALAC.

Posted by Wendy at 10:12 AM
December 06, 2005
FON: Wifi by community

No sooner do I return from ICANN Vancouver and the spotty Internet access of travel than I find blogs bristling with talk about FON, Martin Varsavsky's project to bring wifi sharing to the masses: Open your wifi access point to the FON-using public, and get access to theirs wherever you go. Or, if you're a "Bill" rather than a "Linus," you can be paid for offering access. Either way, you win, getting more value out of the Internet connection you've already paid for.

It's exactly this kind of creativity we shouldn't allow network monopolies to squash with intrusive regulations. As for frequent travelers, the FON FAQ has your number:

Some Linuses have been wondering if they will be able to connect to access points in other countries? The answer is YES.

Posted by Wendy at 12:18 PM
December 03, 2005
Show us the way

Lighthouse on Vancouver Harbor, as seen on a chilly morning run.

Posted by Wendy at 03:04 PM
December 02, 2005
ICANN: What's in the DOC analysis of the Verisign agreement?

At ALAC's meeting with the ICANN Board, in response to criticism of the price increases built into the Verisign settlement agreement, Paul Twomey suggested that the 7% annual increase had been blessed by U.S. regulators. He said, for the first time, that ICANN had asked the Department of Commerce, which had referred the question to the Department of Justice for competition analysis. The same report was claimed as justification at the public forum the next day.

If these reports are going to be used as a basis or justification for ICANN action, they should be disclosed to the ICANN public. If not, a FOIA request will be in order.

See also John Levine's notes.

Posted by Wendy at 03:04 PM
December 01, 2005
ICANN: ALAC meets the ICANN Board

For three years, I've been a member of ICANN's "Interim" At-Large Advisory Committee, ALAC. At this Vancouver meeting, for the first time, the ICANN Board met with us, and Bret captured it on mp3 for podcast.

ALAC criticized ICANN's proposed settlement with Verisign, and then spoke about the problems with the current structure for at-large participation.

See, if you're an individual interested in the management of domain names and Internet infrastructure, you can't participate directly in ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Instead, you have to form an organization to apply to ALAC for recognition as an "at-large structure"; gather with other such structures to form a "regional at-large organization"; and as a RALO, elect members to the advisory committee that can make statements it's not clear anyone listens to. Although individual board members assured us that they do listen to ALAC statements, it's not a terribly attractive prospect for individuals or organizations looking to deploy scarce time and resources.

ICANN, however, has been using the ALAC to say that it offers representation to individual Internet users. If it wants to claim public support, it must offer the public a more meaningful opportunity for participation. ALAC, as currently structured, is not that public voice. As I said to the Board, I would rather see ALAC disbanded than used as this type of window-dressing. Better still would be to restructure so that the Internet-using public had a real role in ICANN process.

Update: Susan Crawford was listening, and as a newly-selected member of ICANN's Board, will be in a position to help untangle the knots.

Posted by Wendy at 09:52 PM