TIME Technology & Media

Time Warner Cable Outage Raises Questions About Comcast Merger

National Cable and Telecommunications Association Cable Show
The Time Warner Cable Inc. logo is seen on the exhibit floor during the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA) Cable Show in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, June 11, 2013. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It's a redundancy issue

Updated 1:05 p.m.

Thousands of Time Warner Cable customers woke up Wednesday morning, took a shower, poured their morning coffee, opened up their computers, and… nothing.

A massive outage that TWC later said was the result of an infrastructure problem triggered during routine maintenance affected subscribers from the East Coast to Los Angeles, as shown by a map in which wide swaths of the country glowed a bright, troublesome red—a color that probably matched the faces of customers who tried calling customer service hotlines only to be met with a busy signal.

Thankfully for TWC customers, the outage struck in the wee hours of the morning, when big maintenance projects are typically undertaken exactly because there’s a lighter load and fewer folks who stand to be affected if something goes wrong. The issue was also fixed relatively quickly, considering the number of people it touched. But Wednesday’s glitch could cause headaches later on for TWC—and even more so for Comcast, the cable and content behemoth that’s looking to merge with TWC in a landmark deal that, if allowed, would create the single largest Internet provider in the country.

Comcast can’t go right ahead and buy Time Warner Cable like you can buy a magazine at a newsstand. A deal this big—worth about $45 billion—and one raising significant antitrust and public interest concerns needs to get the government’s go-ahead before it can be completed. Two federal agencies have the power to put the kibosh on the whole shebang: the Department of Justice, which will evaluate antitrust issues, and the Federal Communications Commission, which could block the merger on broadly-defined public interest grounds.

In preliminary hearings and statements about their proposed merger, Comcast and Time Warner Cable have argued the deal should go ahead as proposed because it wouldn’t significantly change the cable industry’s competitive makeup: Comcast and TWC, the companies accurately say, don’t currently compete in specific geographic territories, so individual customers won’t really be losing an option for getting cable (or fiber) to their home.

But as the anti-merger crowd says, a merged Comcast-TWC would have unprecedented size and scale both in content delivery and creation, especially when considering its recent purchase of NBCUniversal. That size and vertical integration, anti-merger advocates say, would mean Comcast could really turn the screws on the few cable or fiber companies with which it would compete in various regions, like Verizon, Charter and Cablevision. If a post-merger Comcast chose to engage in anti-competitive practices or if its regional rivals just couldn’t keep up, those advocates say, it will eventually be the consumers who lose out.

However, Wednesday’s outage brings up a point that hasn’t been talked about much in this debate: Physical infrastructure redundancy.

If TWC’s Internet infrastructure—the routers, switches and other physical stuff which help get Internet traffic into and out of your home—is added to Comcast’s, that would result in a pretty giant network. Therein lies a potential redundancy issue: If millions of post-merger subscribers are on the Comcast network and a catastrophic failure like Wednesday’s happens, millions more people would potentially be affected than would otherwise be the case. And in a post-merger world, those customers could wind up with fewer options for leaving Comcast if they got fed up with network issues, putting less competitive pressure on the company to address any network issues that arise.

Comcast’s network engineers are undoubtedly already thinking about this, but as the debate over the Comcast-TWC merger continues to heat up, expect this map to show up again — and sure enough, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday afternoon he’s ordered an investigation of the Time Warner Cable outage as part of a merger review.

“Dependable Internet service is a vital link in our daily lives and telecommunications companies have a responsibility to deliver reliable service to their customers,” Cuomo said.

TIME Technology & Media

10 Great Books That Aren’t on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (Yet!)

Today - Season 62
Pictured: Malcolm Gladwell appears on NBC News' "Today" show NBC NewsWire—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Amazon's Kindle Unlimited isn't lived up to its name yet

Amazon announced Friday its new Kindle Unlimited service, which allows customers to read an unlimited number of e-books for $9.99 per month. Essentially, Kindle Unlimited is to books as Netflix is to movies. It’s a potentially a game-changing new platform, could be deeply disruptive to the publishing industry, and will likely divide authors in the same way that music streaming divided musicians.

Although there are 600,000 e-book titles to read via Kindle Unlimited, there are still a vast number of great books you can’t read if you sign up. That’s because a number of major publishers, including Penguin, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster have not made their books available on the service.

Are the big publishers opposed to Kindle Unlimited? Or is the availability of their books on the service contingent on renewing contracts with Amazon? The major publishers have not yet publicly taken a stance on Kindle Unlimited and did not return TIME’s requests for comment, so for now, we don’t know. But it’s probably safe to say that Kindle Unlimited’s success will be defined by the number of books the big publishers make available.

For now, here are ten great books that still aren’t available on Kindle Unlimited (some of them were taken from our list of All-TIME 100 Novels):

1. Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

2. American Pastoral by Philip Roth

3. Rabbit, Run by John Updike

4. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

5. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

6. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

7. Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

8. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

9. The Circle by Dave Eggers

10. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

TIME Technology & Media

Aereo Lawyers: We’re A Cable Company Now

And therefore, they argue, entitled to a compulsory license under Section 111 of the Copyright Act

In a letter to a District judge on Wednesday, lawyers for Aereo signaled a shift for the television streaming company whose business was halted in late June following a Supreme Court decision.

Aereo’s lawyers are now implying the company — which transmitted television broadcasts directly to users via the Internet — is a cable system and not a technology service provider as the Second Circuit court found. Because of this, the lawyers say they are entitled to a compulsory license under Section 111 of the Copyright Act and should be allowed to continue operating.

“Under the Second Circuit’s precedents, Aereo was a provider of technology and equipment with respect to the near-live transmissions at issue in the preliminary injunction appeal. After the Supreme Court decision, Aereo is a cable company with respect to those transmissions,” the lawyers write in a letter published by the Hollywood Reporter.

They continue, “If Aereo is a ‘cable system’ as that term is defined in the Copyright Act, it is eligible for a statutory license, and its transmissions may not be enjoined (preliminarily or otherwise).”

Following the Supreme Court decision, which found the company violated copyright law and should be required to follow the same rules as cable and satellite companies, the start-up halted business. Lawyers also say that, given the Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling, any potential legal action against their operations should be limited to the “simultaneous or near-simultaneous streaming of over-the-air television programs.”

Broadcasters argue, however, that Aereo’s arguments are invalid.

“Aereo never before pled (much less litigated) Section 111 as an affirmative defense,” the plaintiff’s lawyers wrote. “Whatever Aereo may say about its rationale for raising it now, it is astonishing for Aereo to contend the Supreme Court’s decision automatically transformed Aereo into a ‘cable system’ under Section 111 given its prior statements to this Court and the Supreme Court.”

TIME

Here’s What Facebook Can Do With Your Personal Data in the Name of Science

Operations Inside The Facebook Data Center
Signage stands outside the Facebook Inc. Prineville Data Center in Prineville, Oregon, U.S., on Monday, April 28, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

It turns out that Facebook pretty much regulates itself

There probably have been times when you wondered what technology companies can do with your data. It might have been all the moments you realized how surprisingly well-targeted Facebook’s ads are. Or maybe it was the time that advertisement ran on your Gmail page, asking whether you and your boyfriend just broke up. (Extra points for Gmail if you really did.)

Facebook aroused the ire of privacy activists across the country and in Europe after news broke last week that researchers manipulated users’ News Feeds as part of a so-called “emotional contagion” scientific study. Working with two outside researchers, Facebook tweaked the number of posts classified as “happy” or “sad” on nearly 700,000 users’ News Feeds in order to see how their emotions would change. It did it without those users’ consent.

Facebook didn’t break any laws in the United States, experts say. But reports of Facebook’s study infuriated many users who felt their privacy had been violated, and that their emotions had been deliberately manipulated without their knowledge.

Many worried that Facebook’s research isn’t subject to the same levels of oversight as research institutions.

What kind of research does Facebook conduct?

Facebook experiments run the gamut from simple A/B testing (marketing jargon for learning what consumers prefer by presenting them with two scenarios) to more elaborate research published with outside help, like the emotional contagion study. Data teams use advertisement targeting tests to find out what ads users prefer to click on, and reshuffle users’ News Feeds to see which format users engage with best. Facebook does that kind of research a lot.

Does Facebook have any restrictions in the kinds of research it can do?

Facebook has few limits on the kinds of research it can conduct with your data, as long as that research is internal to the company. Here’s the crucial clause in Facebook’s data privacy policy:

…in addition to helping people see and find things that you do and share, we may use the information we receive about you… for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.

What Facebook is saying is that after people have agreed to its terms and conditions, Facebook can do the data research it wants to do.

“When someone signs up for Facebook, we’ve always asked permission to use their information to provide and enhance the services we offer,” a Facebook spokesperson told TIME. “To suggest we conducted any corporate research without permission is complete fiction.”

Facebook also controls your News Feed, meaning that it can essentially do what it wants to change it, which includes rearranging statuses on your page, as it did in the controversial study. It says as much here, in its terms of service:

…we may make friend suggestions, pick stories for your News Feed…

So once you click on the terms of service, there’s not much stopping Facebook from doing what it wants with your information, and changing the way you interact with the platform. And it does it all the time.

“There aren’t a whole lot of legal constraints on the things that Facebook and other online service providers can do in terms of dealing with data they have about their own users,” Jon Penney, a lawyer and research fellow of internet policy at Harvard University told TIME. “In terms of U.S. law, if Facebook is abiding by its terms of service, they’re going to be fine.”

How does Facebook monitor the ethics of its own research?

Most research institutions have a highly formal internal review processes that involve panels called Institutional Review Boards. But Facebook doesn’t have the same internal review processes that universities and institutions do.

Until recently, Facebook’s review process was largely informal and ad hoc.

“While I was at Facebook, there was no institutional review board that scrutinized the decision to run an experiment for internal purposes,” Andy Ledvina—a data scientist at Facebook until March 2013 and a software engineer until April 2014—told TIME. Most research (A/B testing, advertisement targeting, News Feed tweaking) did not require formal review.

But, Ledvina said, any research that went to a journal looped in public relations and Facebook’s legal department over what could be published. “People aren’t just running experiments willy-nilly,” Ledvina said. “Those who do run such experiments, have very high ethical standards and experience running experiments both inside and outside academia.”

Facebook has since tightened its review standards, formalizing a review process over the course of 2013. By the start of 2014, research intended for publication had to be reviewed by privacy and legal experts.

Also, more prosaic research like A/B testing and ad targeting is now reviewed for privacy implications as well.

Facebook views customer research as a normal company practice that improves users’ time on the social media site. After all, Facebook is far from the only company that uses data to target customers. Grocery stores keep tabs on what sells and what doesn’t; advertisers conduct in-depth market surveys; and retailers target demographics and customer profiles.

“Our research is designed to understand how people use Facebook and how we can make our services better for them,” Facebook’s spokesperson said.

But what worries privacy activists about Facebook is the sheer intimacy of users’ content, and the vast quantity of exposed data. “Facebook has unmatched social data based upon your seemingly natural interactions with your friends,” James Grimmelmann, a law professor at the University of Maryland, told TIME. “That’s the value proposition they’ve told their investors and their advertisers who they work with that they’re trying to leverage.”

Okay, so we’ve been talking about Facebook’s own research. What about when it works with other scientists outside Facebook?

When data leaves the company, Facebook says, it’s anonymized and de-identified, meaning that there’s theoretically no way to for outside researchers to track down individual Facebook users. Facebook believes it’s not violating anyone’s privacy when it collaborates with outside researchers.

But if Facebook collaborates with a university on a study of human behavior, the study would in most cases be subject to a formal review. And in studies like the one that involved manipulating users’ News Feeds to alter their emotions, the users would likely have to give consent—or the institution could risk losing federal funding.

Experts say current rules discourage Facebook from collaborating with outside researchers. In the scientific world, research is regulated by federal rules, and within Facebook, it isn’t. It means Facebook is freer to do what it wants when it doesn’t disclose its research, and encourages Facebook to act in secret.

“The incentives that we’re giving them are completely backwards,” said Grimmelmann. “We’re telling them, hoard this data and go ahead and conduct all the experiments that you want and don’t tell anyone. Which is the very opposite of what we want for people using Facebook and for society.”

TIME Technology & Media

Aereo’s Turning Off After Big Loss at Supreme Court

Supreme Court Rules Aereo Violates Copyrights
Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia holds one of the company's small antenna, May 22, 2014. Lane Turner—The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Aereo's TV service will be defunct Saturday morning as the startup plots its next move

Controversial TV streaming startup Aereo said Saturday it’s shutting off its services after a Supreme Court ruling against the company’s methods dealt it a major setback from which it may not recover.

Aereo’s cloud-based antenna services will be inaccessible after 11:30 a.m. ET on Saturday. CEO Chet Kanojia told customers in an email that the shutdown would be temporary while the company determines how to proceed.

“We have decided to pause our operations temporarily as we consult with the court and map out our next steps,” Kanojia said.

A Supreme Court ruling Wednesday found that Aereo should be subject to the same rules as cable and satellite companies, which pay broadcasters expensive fees to retransmit broadcasters’ content — something Aereo does not do. Because Aereo doesn’t pay those fees, the Court found its service, which provides $8-per-month streaming of broadcast television, violates copyright law. Aereo could theoretically return if it begins paying the broadcasters, but it’s not likely it can afford to do so without shifting that cost to its customers, who may be unlikely to pay more for a service that’s theoretically free.

Aereo argued before the Court that it was simply providing a remotely located antenna, making it easier for people within range of broadcasters to access the signals they could already get for free by placing their own antenna on their television or atop their house.

“The spectrum that the broadcasters use to transmit over the air programming belongs to the American public and we believe you should have a right to access that live programming whether your antenna sits on the roof of your home, on top of your television or in the cloud,” Kanoja said Saturday.

Aereo Email to Customers

The New York City-based startup said it will refund its customers for a month’s worth of subscription fees following its loss at the Court. Kanojia’s full letter is embedded above.

TIME Technology & Media

Supreme Court Rules TV-Streaming Startup Aereo Violates Copyright

Aereo Supreme Court
Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia leaves the U.S. Supreme Court after oral arguments on April 22, 2014 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

A victory for broadcasters and a defeat for Aereo

A company that grabs over-the-air broadcast TV signals and lets consumers pay to store them online and watch on their computers is violating copyright law, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

The court’s ruling, in a hotly awaited decision, is a potentially fatal blow for the small, Brooklyn-based TV-streaming startup Aereo, and a victory for traditional broadcast companies like NBC, ABC and CBS.

In a statement, Aereo CEO and founder Chet Kanojia described the decision as a “massive setback for the American consumer” and worried that it “sends a chilling message to the technology industry.” The consumer interest group Public Knowledge also expressed concern that the decision “leaves consumers beholden to dominant entertainment and cable companies that constantly raise prices and gouge consumers.”

The 6-3 decision centered on the idea that Aereo, despite its claims to the contrary, should be subject to the same rules governing how cable and satellite companies pay to retransmit the content from broadcast companies’ signals. The majority of justices found that “behind-the-scenes technological differences do not distinguish Aereo’s system from cable systems, which do perform publicly.” It has been infringing on broadcasters’ copyright by transmitting their public signals without paying for those rights, the justices ruled.

Media mogul Barry Diller, who is one of Aereo’s primary backers, conceded that the battle was lost. “We did try, but it’s over now,” he told CNBC Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, National Association of Broadcasters trade association, along with broadcasters like 21st Century Fox, commended the Court’s decision, calling it a victory for copyright law.

“Today’s decision sends an unmistakable message that businesses built on the theft of copyrighted material will not be tolerated,” wrote NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith in a statement.

Cable and satellite companies pay “retransmission consent fees” to broadcast companies in order to retransmit what the court calls a “public performance” of TV content. The court found that Aereo’s unique business model was designed to exploit a loophole in copyright law.

Aereo owns tens of thousands of itty-bitty antennas, each of which is about the size of coin, and each of which is rented to individual subscribers for a fee of about $8 a month. Using those tiny antennas, Aereo captures free, over-the-air broadcast signals and saves the content to the “cloud.” Paying customers stream that content through an Internet connection on demand. Aereo argued that since it operated differently than other cable and satellite companies, it did not have to pay broadcasters so-called “retrans fees” to deliver their channels to customers. Aereo said it was simply helping customers to snatch broadcast signals from the public airwaves, which, it argued, is a “private performance” under the Copyright Act.

Aereo’s business model was based on the premise that it’s legal for anyone to purchase an antenna, put it on the roof, capture local broadcast signals, and then watch those available stations for free. In the 1980’s, the Supreme Court also decided that it’s legal to record the broadcast signals captured through an antennae using equipment like VCRs. So long as consumer are not recording those broadcast signals to play during a “public performance,” such recording is legal, according to past court decisions.

In this case, which came before the Supreme Court in April, Aereo’s lawyer David C. Frederick argued that the company was not “performing” at all. He described Aereo as nothing more than an “equipment provider.”

In a dissenting opinon, Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito agreed with Aereo. Scalia wrote in dissent that Aereo’s business model does not constitute a “performance” at all, within the meaning of the Copyright Act.

But the majority decided that Aereo—a commercial enterprise with paying customers—was legally different than an individual capturing those signals with his or her own antenna and saving them onto a physical DVR.

The decision sides with the broadcasters, which were backed by the Department of Justice. They argued that Aereo’s business model was obviously designed to exploit a loophole in the Copyright Act. ABC’s lawyer Paul D. Clement argued that by capturing copyrighted television programming and then transmitting it back to thousands, or tens of thousands, of users, Aereo is acting exactly like a cable company and should pay retransmission fees.

The decision could have implications for cloud computing, including popular applications like Dropbox or iCloud, which allow customers to save files, including movies and TV shows, onto the “cloud” and then access them again at anytime with an Internet connection.

Aereo’s lawyers argued that if the Court determined that when someone plays back a file he or she saved on the cloud that constitutes a “public performance,” then that would put cloud computing companies, like Dropbox or iCloud, in a difficult position. Aereo argued that if cloud computing companies can be held responsible for determining if their clients originally purchased their files legally, then that would open them up to potentially fatal litigation.

In a statement following the decision, Aereo founder Kanojia said it was “troubling” that the Court explicitly said that if companies “are concerned with the relationship between the development and use of such technologies and the Copyright Act, they are of course free to seek action from Congress.'” Kanojia suggested that statement could lay the groundwork for “a permission-based system for technology innovation.”

TIME

Police To Question Murdoch Over Phone Hacking After Trial

The Television Academy's 23rd Hall Of Fame Induction Gala
Rupert Murdoch attends the Television Academy's 23rd Hall of Fame induction gala at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on March 11, 2014 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Jason LaVeris—FilmMagic/Getty Images

After a court found a top editor at a Murdoch-owned tabloid guilty

Rupert Murdoch will reportedly face questions from Scotland Yard as investigators extend their probe into News of the World, a Murdoch-owned British tabloid embroiled in an expansive phone-hacking scandal.

The Guardian reports that investigators have officially requested an interview with Murdoch, according to sources close to the investigation. Murdoch will reportedly undergo the interview “under caution,” a legal warning that signals to the interviewee he is a suspect in the investigation and his answers can be used as evidence in court.

The news comes just after a court found former News of the World editor Andy Coulson guilty of conspiring to hack phones. Handwritten documents suggested that Coulson had attempted to target upwards of 5,500 people. The conviction of a senior editor heightens the risk that the Murdoch’s company itself, News UK, and its senior managers could be held liable for the hacking scandal under UK law.

[The Guardian]

 

 

TIME Technology & Media

More Americans Than Ever Are Watching TV Online, Report Says

TV Mobile Device
Gareth Cattermole—Getty Images

And they're also increasingly watching TV on mobile devices

More people than ever are watching TV on the Internet, according to a new report Wednesday, as online television rapidly establishes itself as part of Americans’ viewing habits.

Online viewing of broadcast shows from channels viewers subscribe to on their cable or satellite network increased 246 percent over the course of the last year, according to the state-of-the-industry report by Adobe. Examples of online viewing include HBO Go, Watch ESPN, Cartoon Network, as well as Comcast’s TV Go.

“More than one fifth of all pay-TV households in the U.S. now watch TV online across screens,” said Jeremy Helfand, an Adobe vice president. “With rapidly rising consumer expectations for TV across devices, the TV industry is moving through a rapid transformation and finding new ways to bring TV to whatever screen audiences want to watch.”

Mobile video viewing also increased dramatically, with Apple’s iOS apps now the leading access points for watching TV online with 43 percent of market share. Meanwhile, web browsers fell behind with a 36 percent market share compared to 47 percent a year ago.

The analysis looked at data from over 1,300 media and entertainment sites in 2013, and 1.3 billion TV Everywhere authentications, covering 99 percent of pay-TV households in the U.S.

TIME Technology & Media

Google Takes to the Skies With New Satellite Venture

Google's logo at the garage where the company was founded on Google's 15th anniversary in Menlo Park, Calif., on Sept. 26, 2013.
Google's logo at the garage where the company was founded on Google's 15th anniversary in Menlo Park, Calif., on Sept. 26, 2013. Stephen Lam—Reuters

Google's multibillion-dollar project is part of a Silicon Valley race to extend Internet access to underserved corners of the globe

Google plans to launch a fleet of satellites that will expand Internet access around the globe as part of a new project that will cost the company at least $1 billion, according to a new report.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reports the project will start with 180 small satellites orbiting the earth at lower altitudes, extending Internet access to unwired corners of the globe—and boosting its business. Google has between 10 and 20 people dedicated to the project. The project’s price tag could reach as high as $3 billion, the Journal reports.

Google is already building solar-powered drones and designing high-altitude balloons to provide broadband service to remote parts of the globe, and joins Facebook an in effort to reach underserved regions and ultimately boost revenue. If Google succeeds, it “could amount to a sea change in the way people will get access to the Internet, from the Third World to even some suburban areas of the U.S.,” Jeremy Rose of Comsys, a London-based satellite consulting firm, told the Journal.

[WSJ]

 

TIME Technology & Media

RadiumOne CEO Fired After Pleading Guilty to Domestic Violence Charges

Fox Searchlight 2009 Oscar Party - Inside
RadiumOne CEO Gurbaksh Chahal Todd Williamson—WireImage/Getty Images

The advertising platform fired its CEO, founder and chairman Gurbaksh Chahal Saturday night, two weeks after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and domestic violence charges for assaulting his girlfriend. Bill Lonergan, the company’s COO, will replace Chahal

Advertising platform RadiumOne fired its CEO, founder and chairman Gurbaksh Chahal Saturday night, two weeks after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and domestic violence charges for assaulting his girlfriend.

RadiumOne’s board voted to replace Chahal with Bill Lonergan, the company’s COO, according to a statement released Sunday.

Chahal faced 45 felony charges for allegedly hitting and kicking his girlfriend 117 times over a 30-minute period. However, the felony charges were dropped after a video that allegedly showed the incident was deemed inadmissible as evidence by the judge because it was illegally taken from his apartment.

Chahal paid a $500 fine and received three years of probation after pleading guilty to the misdemeanor charges.

The now-former CEO defended himself in a blog post Sunday, saying that he merely had a “normal argument” with his girlfriend after he discovered she was having “unprotected sex for money with other people.” Chahal denied injuring his girlfriend in the argument.

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