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September 2020
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Smart Locks Could Make Heartless COVID Evictions More Efficient

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Like most internet of broken things products, we've noted how "smart" door locks often aren't all that smart. More than a few times we've written about smart lock consumers getting locked out of their own homes without much recourse. Other times we've noted how the devices simply aren't particularly secure, with one study finding that 12 of 16 smart locks that they tested could be relatively easily hacked thanks to flimsy security standards, something that's the primary feature of many internet of broken things devices.In addition to being easily compromised, there are additional layers of concerns arising from the use of such locks. Privacy experts, for example, say many smart lock vendors' terms of service are overly broad, allowing the sharing of too much data with valued partners and landlords. And as smart locks become the norm in "smart" cities, there's also growing concern that such technology could make it easier than ever for landlords to evict users without much in the way of transparency or renter rights.While the smart technology in this case is advertised as an increase in efficiency, ethicists studying the rise of "smart" cities worry that the detachment created by the removal of physical interactions will make it easier to distance a landlord from the impact of his decision:

Adam Henschke, an applied ethicist working on areas that cross over between ethics, technology and security at the Australian National University, tells me that one of the concerns that people like himself have with smart cities is exactly this the power that such technologies have over access to basic goods and services. Henschke admits that while it's not uncommon for landlords to have the power to change people's locks as part of normal eviction processes, this technology obviously raises a bunch of other issues."His first concern is that it could be psychologically easier for a landlord, real estate agent or building manager to lock a person out. If this is done in person, then whoever changes the locks likely has to confront the tenant in person, says Henschke. Whereas, as this is being done remotely, it can be psychologically easier to make the decision to lock the tenant out.
That said, the piece includes some quotes by folks who believe existing legal protections will simply extend to protect renters and homeowners under an automated system where eviction becomes less of a physical affair and simply a cold few lines of code. And you'd certainly hope that's the case. But when you look at some of the new companies being created to make evictions a more efficient, gig-economy affair, fused with massive COVID-19 financial headaches, smart locks, and an apathetic/incompetent government, you have to pause and at least think about the potential ramifications of making eviction too automated and efficient:
"Civvl aims to marry the gig economy with the devastation of a pandemic, complete with signature gig startup language like "be your own boss," and "flexible hours," and "looking for self-motivated individuals with positive attitudes:" "FASTEST GROWING MONEY MAKING GIG DUE TO COVID-19," its website says. "Literally thousands of process servers are needed in the coming months due courts being backed up in judgements that needs to be served to defendants."
You'd hope that existing law and oversight steps up to protect the consumer, but as we work to make the eviction process a more automated and gig-worker backed affair (as usual only thinking about any potential problems after the fact if at all), it's kind of hard not to think we're going to find some creative ways to make existing problems worse.

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posted at: 12:00am on 29-Sep-2020
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BrewDog's 'Elvis Juice' Now An Approved Trademark In The UK, But Not the EU

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You will hopefully recall that a few years back we discussed a trademark dispute between BrewDog, a UK-based brewery, and the Elvis Presley estate. At issue was BrewDog's grapefruit IPA dubbed "Elvis Juice" and the trademark application BrewDog had filed for it. Somehow, on first review, the UK IPO managed to side with the Presley estate, despite the fact that Elvis is a common first name, that the trade dress for the brew had nothing to do with Elvis Presley, and that this was all occurring in a country where Elvis Presley might not even be the most famous singing Elvis on the market. Fortunately, BrewDog appealed and won, so Elvis Juice is a registered trademark in the UK.But not the European Union. Side note: did you guys know that the UK stupidly got out of the EU? Crazy! Anywho, BrewDog also had an application to trademark Elvis Juice in the EU. The Elvis Presley estate also opposed that trademark. And, this time, the Presley estate won.

The craft brewing company, based in Ellon, had won the right to register the brand as a trademark in the UK in 2018. However, they have been denied exclusive rights to the name in Europe – potentially threatening sales on the continent.
Unlike its UK counterpart, the EU bought the Presley estate's line that throughout Europe people buying an IPA called Elvis Juice would somehow think it was associated with a crooner from the American 50s as opposed to, say, Elvis Costello. Or the two Elvises that legally changed their name to Elvis that also own BrewDog. How that makes any sense, or how anyone is making this connection in, for instance, Spain is beyond me.
In the case documents, the EU Intellectual Property Office ruled: “It is clear that the applicant’s submission based on the peaceful coexistence of the marks cannot succeed. No evidence actually demonstrating such peaceful existence on the pertinent market has been shown. In short…there exists a likelihood of confusion… A likelihood of confusion for only part of the relevant public of the European Union is sufficient to reject the contested application.”
I mean, if this were two years ago, when the UK IPO decision came down, the UK would have been part of that pertinent market. And that should have been all that was needed to side with BrewDog. This, somehow, went the other way.And, as a result, it's an open question as to whether BrewDog will keep its Elvis Juice branding as a whole, given the EU decision. Meanwhile, the EU IPO also ordered the brewery to pay the Presley estate costs.

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posted at: 12:00am on 29-Sep-2020
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This Week In Techdirt History: September 20th - 26th

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Five Years AgoThis week in 2015, a major scandal began when Volkswagen was accused of using software to cheat emissions tests. The White House was the FBI, CIA and much of the military were not doing basic email encryption — but in India things were going in the opposite direction. The monkey selfie saga began a new chapter with PETA filing a lawsuit on behalf of the monkey, and then an even bigger copyright bombshell hit when a judge ruled that Warner Chappell doesn't hold the copyright on happy birthday. Plus the world got a new famous villain with a sudden hike in drug prices introducing everyone to a man named Martin Shkreli.Ten Years AgoThis week in 2010, Intel was threatening to break out the DMCA anti-circumvention lawsuits against anyone using the recently-leaked HDCP master key, state AGs were turning their attention to Backpage (which was gearing up to fight back), and movie studios were freaking out about fan pages. The MPAA was apparently fishing for censorship tools in ACTA by talking about Wikileaks, while the Senate was offering them a gift with a new bill that would enable global censorship of "pirate sites" (with a special loophole allowing the DOJ to avoid due process. And we saw a variety of interesting developments in various lawsuits: one judge was entertaining the notion of implied licenses in a Righthaven lawsuit while another was shutting down US Copyright Group subpoenas, a UK judge was similarly not impressed by copyright pre-settlement campaigns, and a judge in Spain smartly ruled that Google is not liable for user uploads.Fifteen Years AgoThis week in 2005, there was a mess of internet jurisdiction cases in Canada with one ruling being overturned on appeal while another court muddied the waters with a ruling based on the overturned ruling. Hollywood was pouring money into an ill-fated attempt to build better DRM technology, which could be described as them calling their own bluff. Following the Supreme Court's decision in their case, Grokster was scrambling to sell to a "legit" company, as were several other file-sharing software providers. And one judge in a RIAA lawsuit thankfully recognized that parents aren't liable for their kids downloading music.

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posted at: 12:00am on 27-Sep-2020
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Content Moderation Case Study: Twitter's Algorithm Misidentifies Harmless Tweet As 'Sensitive Content' (April 2018)

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Summary: While some Twitter users welcome the chance to view and interact with "sensitive" content, most do not. Twitter utilizes algorithms to detect content average users would like to avoid seeing, especially if they've opted in to Twitter's content filtering via their user preferences.

Unfortunately, software can't always tell what's offensive and what just looks offensive to the programmable eye that constantly scans uploads for anything that should be hidden from public view unless the viewer has expressed a preference to see it.A long-running and well-respected Twitter account that focused on the weirder aspects of Nintendo's history found itself caught in Twitter's filters. The tweeted image featured an actor putting on his Princess Peach costume. It focused on the massive Princess Peach head, which apparently contained enough flesh color and "sensitive" shapes to get it -- and the Twitter account -- flagged as "sensitive."The user behind the account tested Twitter to see if it was its algorithm or something else setting off the "sensitive" filter. Dummy accounts tweeting the image were flagged almost immediately, indicating it was the image -- rather than other content contained in the user's original account -- that had triggered the automatic moderation.Unfortunately, the account was likely followed by several users who never expected it to suddenly shift to "sensitive" content. Thanks to the algorithm, the entire account was flagged as "sensitive," possibly resulting in the account losing followers.Twitter ultimately removed the block, but the user was never directly contacted by Twitter about the alleged violation.Decisions to be made by Twitter:
  • Are false positives common enough that a notification process should be implemented?
  • Should the process be stop-gapped by human moderators? If so, at what point does double-checking the algorithm become unprofitable?
  • Would a challenge process that involved affected users limit collateral damage caused by AI mistakes?
  • Does sensitive content negatively affect enough users that over-blocking/over-moderation is acceptable?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • Should Twitter change its content rules to further deter the posting of sensitive content?
  • Given Twitter's reputation as a porn-friendly social media platform, would stricter moderation of sensitive content result in a noticeable loss of users?
  • Should Twitter continue to remain one of the only social media outlets that welcomes "adult" content?
  • If users are able to opt out of filtering at any point, is Twitter doing anything to ensure younger users aren't exposed to sensitive material?
Resolution: Twitter removed the flag on the user's account. According to the user behind the account, it took the work of an employee "behind the scenes" to remove the "sensitive content" warning. Since there was no communication between Twitter and the user, it's unknown if Twitter has implemented any measures to limit future mischaracterizations of uploaded content.

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posted at: 12:00am on 26-Sep-2020
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