When fact is stranger than fiction…

For about $12, Sprint will soon let subscribers buy a wireless plan that only connects to Facebook.

For that same price, they could choose instead to connect only with Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest—or for $10 more, enjoy unlimited use of all four. Another $5 gets them unlimited streaming of a music app of their choice.

Link (Techdirt)

EFF’s Stupid Patent of the Month

U.S. Patent No. 8,762,173, titled “Method and Apparatus for Indirect Medical Consultation.” This patent issued on June 24, 2014, and dates back to an application filed in November 2007. And what was the novel, nonobvious, deserving-of-patent-protection invention? Here is claim 1 in a nutshell (the full claim is at the end of this post, for those interested)1:

a. take a telephone call from patient
b. record patient info in a patient file
c. send patient information to a doctor, ask the doctor if she wants to talk to the patient
d. call the patient back and transfer the call to the doctor
e. record the call
f. add the recorded call to the patient file and send to doctor
g. do steps a. – f. with a computer.

This is a stupid patent. This is a patent on a doctor’s computer-secretary, or put another way, intermediated communications with a computer. In fact, we don’t see much difference between this patent and the patent invalidated by the Supreme Court in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank, which claimed the abstract idea of intermediated settlement with a computer.

Given that this patent seems like it should not have been allowed because of its abstract idea, we looked at the file history (the publicly available record of what happened at the patent office). What we found was that the original claim 1 (which was similar but not identical to the claim that eventually was patented) had not claimed a computer. The examiner correctly issued a rejection, saying the claim was abstract and thus wasn’t something that could be patented. In response, the applicant added element (g) (“providing a computer, the computer performing steps “a” through “f””). And the rejection went away.

Link (EFF)

UK Government Report Recommends Ending Online Anonymity

It’s not a true “real names” proposal — as the idea is that web services would be required to collect real names at signup, but then could allow those users to do things pseudonymously or anonymously. But, still, their actions could then easily be traced back to a real person if the “powers that be” deemed it necessary.

Link (Techdirt)

Latest Abuse: Feds Reading Emails Between Prisoners And Their Lawyers

Inmates’ calls to or from lawyers, however, are generally exempt from such monitoring. But across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners’ emails to lawyers — a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case.

The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers — a question on which federal judges have been divided.

Link (Techdirt)

NUDE SNAPS AGENCY: NSA bods love ‘showing off your saucy selfies’

Edward Snowden has given an interview to The Guardian from his Russian hideout and warned that, among other things, those naked selfies people send to their loved ones are common currency among NSA staff.

“You’ve got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22 years old. They’ve suddenly been thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility where they now have access to all of your private records,” he said in the video interview.

“During the course of their daily work they stumble upon something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense – for example, an intimate nude photo of someone of in a sexually compromising situation, but they’re extremely attractive. So what they do? They turn around in their chair and show their co-worker.”

Such activities are seen as a “fringe benefit” of the job among certain analysts he claimed, and the internal auditing procedures at the NSA are so lax that there’s no comeback if they swap nudie pics. As proof of the laxity shown by the NSA, he pointed out that he, a 29-year-old, had managed to walk out of the agency’s offices with a large chunk of their internal files.

Link (The Register)

Writing about an Australian Snowden would land Vulture South in the clink

Comment Australia isn’t just passing a spooks’ charter: it’s creating a regime in which journalists would be as much at risk as the whistle-blowers whose efforts they chronicle.


In spite of Attorney-General George Brandis’ insistence that the government doesn’t intend to target journalists with the laws, the legislation itself certainly opens that possibility. For example, the legislation includes provisions “enabling the Minister responsible for Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) to authorise the production of intelligence on an Australian person who is, or is likely to be, involved in activities that pose a risk to, or are likely to pose a risk to, the operational security of ASIS”.

If ASIS believes an operation has been leaked to a news outlet, it seems trivially easy to make the case that the recipient of the leak is an operational risk.

Link (The Register)

Copyright Office To Aereo: Quack All You Want, We Don’t Think You’re A Cable Service

(…) following the Supreme Court’s decision that said Aereo was a cable service solely because it looked like one, and therefore had to pay retransmission fees, we warned that this would lead to a legal mess. Some people insisted Aereo could just start paying retransmission fees, but we wondered how that would fit with the ruling in the ivi case, that said internet companies didn’t qualify for statutory licenses on retransmission fees, because internet companies are not cable companies.

Aereo made a filing with the court that basically said that given the Supreme Court’s “look like a duck” test finding it a cable service, it seemed pretty clear that the ivi ruling was overturned, and thus it now wants a statutory license to pay retransmission fees. In addition to telling the court this, Aereo also filed with the Copyright Office its application to be eligible for those fees, leading the Copyright Office to send back a somewhat passive aggressive letter saying that it will “accept” the letter “on a provisional basis” but refuses to “process” it because, in its opinion, the ivi ruling means Aereo cannot be a cable company and nothing about the Supreme Court calling Aereo a cable company changes its opinion of that fact.

Link (Techdirt)

The Beach Babysitter by Albert Culmer

Or perhaps, (it’s crazy, I know) you could try to actually watch your kids? Instead of tying them up to a pole like dogs?

Parents need to know they have a safety device that will help to keep their children safe while they are at the beach. The new safety device that I invented is called The Beach Babysitter. I am raising funds for The Beach Babysitter in order for me to get one of my first ideas in the marketplace. I did a walk survey at the beach and I got ratings from 1 to 10 from 124 people and most all my ratings were 10’s. Then I took my idea to WalMart to try to market it myself, and they took me into a back room, where I talked to a couple of the managers. They liked the idea after I showed them what it looked like, and after I described the purpose of it to them.

Link (Kickstarter)