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IT Matters

Technology policy insights

Music Piracy: Streaming to an App Near You

The distribution of music has evolved over time, from records, tapes, and CDs, to downloading and streaming online from computers, mobile devices, and a growing array of connected devices in the home and car. Music piracy has also evolved as those peddling and consuming infringing content adapt to new technologies. A new study from MusicWatch (a research firm that focuses on the music and entertainment industries) highlights the changing nature of music piracy and shows that while there is no “silver bullet” to combating online piracy, stakeholders involved in protecting intellectual property need to adapt their efforts to meet this evolving challenge.

The study has four main findings: music piracy is still prevalent; “streamripping” of music has emerged alongside the rise in legitimate music streaming services; music apps and app stores play an increasingly important role in music piracy; and piracy has a substantial negative impact on musicians and content owners.

First, the MusicWatch study shows that music piracy is still rampant, with an estimated 57 million Americans engaged in some form of illegal online downloading or streaming of music. In December 2015, the study surveyed 1,000 U.S. respondents aged

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Policymakers, Don’t Take Your Clues from “Techno-pocalypse” Movies

Movies capture the popular imagination, mirroring society’s hopes and fears. But science fiction is exactly what the name describes: fiction. It is meant to bring enjoyment to the viewer, and these wild depictures of technology run amok should not affect policy decisions. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

For example, take concerns about Artificial Intelligence (AI). Recently, a number of prominent scientists and well-known luminaries have warned that in the not-so-distant future, humans could lose control of AI, thus creating an existential threat for humanity. This paranoia about evil machines has swirled around popular culture for more than 200 years, and these claims continue to grip the popular imagination. In fact, one 2015 study found 22 percent of U.S. adults are afraid of AI (which is more than fear death), despite no evidence that this technology is anywhere near being as sophisticated as it is portrayed in movies.

But policymakers should not use science fiction films to guide their understanding of science and technology. For example, at a 2013 Senate hearing about threats from space, a senator cited the movie Armageddon—where a team of astronauts try to

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With PrivacyCon, FTC Packs the Stage with “Yes People”

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted the first annual PrivacyCon in January 2016, an event designed to highlight the latest research and trends for consumer privacy and data security. The FTC’s stated goal was to bring together “whitehat researchers, academics, industry representatives, consumer advocates, and government regulators” for a lively discussion of the most recent privacy and security research. Unfortunately, not only did the event not reflect the diversity of perspectives on these issues, but the whole event seemed to be orchestrated to reinforce the FTC’s current regulatory strategy.

First, the “data security” side of this discussion was almost non-existent in the agenda. Of the 19 presentations, only 3 were about security. Given that the FTC has been flexing its regulatory muscle on corporate cybersecurity practices, this was a missed opportunity to delve into important cybersecurity research that could inform future oversight and investigations.

Second, the FTC mostly selected papers that jibed with its current enforcement agenda. As Roslyn Layton, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, noted recently, of over 80 submissions that the FTC received for PrivacyCon, it selected 19 participants to give presentations with

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Innovation Fact of the Week: Commercial Value of Illegally Installed PC Software Totaled Nearly $63B Globally in 2013

(Ed. Note: The “Innovation Fact of the Week” appears as a regular feature in each edition of ITIF’s weekly email newsletter. Sign up today.)

The global market for PC software is huge, but 43 percent of all PC programs that individuals and businesses installed in 2013 were not properly licensed, according to the BSA Global Software Survey. The commercial value of those illegal installations was $62.7 billion that year, up from $47.8 billion in 2007 when the illegal rate was 38 percent.

The United States has the world’s lowest rate of unlicensed software use (18 percent in 2013), but it is such a large market that the commercial value of those illegal installations is the world’s highest at $9.7 billion. In China, by contrast, 77 percent of all PC software installations were illegal in 2013, with a commercial value of $8.9 billion, the world’s second-highest total.

By region, the average rate of unlicensed software use was 59 percent or higher in Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region. That compared to 19 percent in North America and 29 percent

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How Did Data Privacy Day Go From #PrivacyAware to #PrivacyScare?

Today is Data Privacy Day, an annual reminder to all of us to check our digital zippers. But while Data Privacy Day was originally devoted to educating consumers about how to protect their data online, in recent years it has become better known for the privacy activists who participate in such rowdy traditions as midnight Twitter rants and feats of endurance like “Who can sound the shrillest?” The kids might even get swept up in the festivities and help their parents build tin-foil hats.

Some years back privacy activists realized that Data Privacy Day was a perfect opportunity to further peddle their stories of a coming digital apocalypse brought about by Big Brother and Big Data. And faster than you can say “fundraising bonanza,” Data Privacy Day morphed from an attempt to improve people’s cyber hygiene to the activist-fueled orgy of fear, where everyone is invited and tips are appreciated.

Unfortunately, many people have fallen victim to these tales of doom.  While we’ve seen this before—the great grandparents of today’s privacy activists were decrying Kodak for inventing the portable camera—privacy activism has reached new heights and now

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Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Poised to Destroy All Jobs but One

In the last few years a growing number of techno-futurists, like venture capitalist Vinod Khosla, former software executive Vivek Wadhwa, MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson, and author Martin Ford have all asserted that advancing technologies like machine learning and robotics will destroy jobs. Khosla for example, recently stated that “machine learning will replace most jobs.” But they and others clearly “don’t get it” and are doing a real disservice to the public by sugarcoating the future.

Never mind that we have been automating work for hundreds of years and employment has kept expanding. This time, everything is different. In fact, these new technologies are so awesome and amazing that they won’t replace most jobs; they will replace all jobs, save one. That job will be held by Zhang Wei, who is now a 15-year-old boy studying computer science at his local high school in Nanjing, China. He will invent the best artificial intelligence system ever and then run the company that puts all other companies out of business. His technology (an AI robot more powerful than Asimov’s Daneel) will be so good that it will do

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Pew Survey Offers Further Evidence of the Privacy Panic Cycle

The Pew Research Center released a survey last week that investigated the circumstances under which many U.S. citizens would share their personal information in return for getting something of perceived value. In the survey, Pew set up six hypothetical scenarios about different technologies—including office surveillance cameras, health data, retail loyalty cards, auto insurance, social media, and smart thermostats—and asked respondents whether the tradeoff they were offered for sharing their personal information was acceptable.

To be sure, some of the questions that Pew asked described one-sided tradeoffs that could have tainted the findings. Nevertheless, the overall results reveal that the Privacy Panic Cycle, the usual trajectory of public fear followed by widespread acceptance that often accompanies new technologies, is still going strong for many technologies.

The Privacy Panic Cycle explains how privacy concerns about new technologies flare up in the early years, but over time as people use, understand, and grow accustomed to these technologies, the concerns recede. For example, when the first portable Kodak camera first came out, it caused a big privacy panic, but today most people carry around phones in their pockets and do not give

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8 Reasons Why Countries Need a National Internet of Things Strategy

The Internet of Things offers many opportunities to grow the economy and improve quality of life. Just as the public sector was instrumental in enabling the development and deployment of the Internet, it should play a similar role in the Internet of Things to ensure its success.

Here are the eight reasons why national governments should create comprehensive national strategies for the Internet of Things:

  1. Network externalities

Many of the social and economic benefits from large-scale deployment of the Internet of Things accrue not to those buying or selling these products and services, but to competitors—through the expansion of network benefits—and to non-users, if the application generates an external benefit. Government efforts can help correct these market failures so that consumers and businesses can seize the full set of benefits.

  1. “Chicken-and-egg” dynamics

The success of some Internet of Things applications depends on the success of other technologies and vice versa. While the market will eventually be able to establish effective interdependent systems, it would take longer and happen much more incrementally than it would with government support to resolve chicken-and-egg dilemmas and encourage mutual adoption of these technologies until

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EFF Accelerates the Privacy Panic Cycle for EdTech

Earlier this month, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) launched a “Spying on Students” campaign to convince parents that school-supplied electronic devices and software present significant privacy risks for their children. This campaign highlights a phenomenon known as the privacy panic cycle, where advocacy groups make increasingly alarmist claims about the privacy implications of a new technology, until these fears spread through the news media to policymakers and the public, causing a panic before cooler heads prevail, and people eventually come to understand and appreciate innovative new products and services.

When it comes to privacy, EFF has a history of such histrionics. The organization has accused desktop printers of violating human rights, spread misinformation about the effectiveness of CCTV cameras, escalated confrontations around the purported abuse of RFID, cried foul over online behavioral advertising, and much more. These claims, even if overblown and ultimately disproved by experience, generate headlines and allow EFF to spread fear, ploughing the ground for harmful regulation or even technology bans.

EFF’s newly launched “Spying on Students” campaign is yet another example of this tendency to put fear ahead of fact. EFF

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Whining Whiners and the Whines They Tell: Ad Blocker Edition

Earlier this week a number of Yahoo Mail users took to social media and online forums to announce that, as a result of recent actions by the company, they were henceforth refusing to use the service. You might wonder what transgression would be so serious that it would cause users to abandon their preferred email platform. Was Yahoo secretly using child labor to run its cloud services? Did the company announce plans to open offices in North Korea? No, Yahoo’s sin was significantly worse—the company told users of its free webmail service that they had to stop using ad blockers to continue using its service.

For those who are uninitiated, ad-blockers are web browser plug-ins that do exactly what their name suggests—block online ads from displaying on a website. Users install these plug-ins because it allows them to view websites without the indignity of seeing ads. As you have surely surmised, this is truly an outrage. How dare a company expect its users to view ads on its free, ad-supported email service? This would be like a restaurant expecting its customers to pay the prices listed on its menu for

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