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Milwaukee Sewerage District Threatens Menards Over Fertilizer Sales

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We have certainly seen some shitty trademark disputes in the past, but this one that centers around lawn fertilizer may take the proverbial cake. Apparently, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, supposedly focused on keeping the city's public water clean and local flooding from occurring, has something of a side hustle going where it also sells fertilizer to citizens, marketed as "Milorganite". Menards, the well-known home improvement retailer based in Wisconsin, sells its own fertilizer, marketed as e-Corganite. For this reason, in part due to an advertisement Menards put out (more on that in a moment), the Sewerage District has sent letters to Menards threatening to sue for trademark infringement. Worth noting is that Milorganite is actually sold in Menards stores.

The sewerage district has sent a letter to the company asking it to stop using the name e-Corganite for fertilizer it's been selling in Menards stores. Menard is trying to convince shoppers to purchase e-Corganite instead of the district's Milorganite fertilizer, according to the letter from Joseph Ganzer, a MMSD senior staff attorney.The letter includes a photo of a Menard store display showing the two products next to each other."As you can see, the name, bag design, and label are virtually identical to MMSD’s Milorganite bag," Ganzer wrote.
So, about that advertising display, well, here it is.
Now, there is quite a bit to say about that ad display. The names of the product are markedly different. While both use "organite" in the names as a reference to the organic material serving as a fertilizer, "mil" and "e-c" are very, very different. These are not homophones. They're not calling out the same origins. They are flatly different.On the question of trade dress, sure, both products feature a logo at the top of the bag and then a house and lawn in the imagery. The imagery is basically the same as every fertilizer product, or at least most of them. Complaining about including a home and lawn on a home fertilizer product is, frankly, silly. As to the logos at the top of the bag, well, those sure do seem significantly different as well. Different shapes on the borders combine with the prominent use of the different brand names to draw a firm distinction between the two products.As does, you know, the fact that Menards is putting them side by side specifically to distinguish them in the advertising. Nobody is looking at that display and drawing any confusion that the two products are the same, related, or from the same origin. The whole point of the display is to draw a distinction between the two.Yet, despite all of this, the Sewerage District has put the possibility of a lawsuit on its agenda for an upcoming commission meeting.
"The commission action is simply to ensure we may file suit if negotiations break down without having to rush an item to agenda in late summer, especially with August recess," Ganzer said.A lawsuit could seek damages, payment of any profits tied to selling e-Corganite and reimbursement of attorney's fees."However, MMSD has had a long and mutually beneficial relationship with Menards and we hope to continue selling our product in Menards stores," Ganzer wrote in the letter to the retailer. "My hope is that we can come to a resolution of this matter that will allow Menards to produce and market a competing biosolid fertilizer product, while simultaneously eliminating the risk of consumer confusion with MMSD’s product," the letter said.
There is no confusion. Menards has taken great pains to distinguish its products from those of the city. The only real question left is why Menards would bother agreeing to sell Milorganite at all any longer, given that the Sewerage District appears to want to bite the hand that feeds it.

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posted at: 12:00am on 25-May-2021
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Time Magazine Lauds Clearview AI Despite Its Sketchy Facial Recognition Tech

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TimeMagazine released its inaugural list of the 100 Most InfluentialCompanies, featuring an array of large and small corporations that“are helping to chart anessentialpath forward.”Disturbingly, among its choices of “disruptors” isClearview AI, the controversial facial recognition start-up known forillicitly scraping Americans’ images and demographicinformation from social media and selling the data to lawenforcement. By celebrating a company that engages in illegal masssurveillance, Time is complicit in the degradation of our privacy andour civil liberties.Even cursoryscrutiny by Time would have uncovered Clearview AI’sdisreputable practices. Perhaps Time was satisfied with the vagueexplanation from Clearview AI’s CEO, Hoan Ton-That, that thecompany is “working with law enforcement to balance privacy andsecurity.” But it’s hard to understand why, aftersubstantialreporting by other members of the media, Time chose toaccept Ton-That’s word when there is conclusive evidence thatClearview AI continues to violate civil liberties by supplying lawenforcement agencies, private banks and sports teams with billions ofillegally collected images.Widespread concernabout facial recognition technology’s threatsto civil liberties and its propensity for inaccuracy and racial biasfueled the public outcry that ensued after the New York Times firstbroke news about Clearview AI. Amidcalls from civil rights advocates for lawmakers to ban the use offacial recognition technology, membersof Congressquestioned Clearview AI about its technology and its potential forabuse against First Amendment-protected activity. Since then, agrowing listof U.S. cities havebanned police use of the technology.Despitethe bans and lawsuits, both locallyand internationally,against Clearview AI, the company’s indiscriminate collectionof Americans’ personal data without specific links tocriminality continues unabated. ClearviewAI’s troubling history and ongoing illegal activity should havedissuaded Time from elevating it in the public sphere. Yet the outletonly vaguely summarizes serious concerns about Clearview AI in itsprofile, mentioning briefly that “civil rights advocates fearabuses” of its technology despite reports of both the companyand its clients misleadingthe public. Without evidence, Time also credits Clearview AI for assisting in the arrest of individuals connected to the breach of the U.S. Capitol earlier this year, while sweeping aside Clearview AI's ties to misinformation.ClearviewAI’s secretive practices that Time lauds as “influential”and “disruptive” represent a dangerous disregard for oursocial norms and expectations of privacy. We have come to expect tocertain tradeoffs with technology providers: we share somedemographic information in exchange for the ease, convenience andconnectivity their products bring to our daily lives. However, anymarginal benefits of Clearview AI do not hold up against itssignificant potential for harm, and Time should have acknowledgedthat. The company’s technology paves the way to a dystopianfuture devoid of privacy and anonymity, both online and offline.Clearview AI is creating an environment where anyone - an ICE agent,a stalker or an individual bad actor within government – cantake a photo of an individual anywhere and automatically pull up thatperson’s Instagram, TikTok, blog, or other personal informationwithout their knowledge or consent.Itis a future civil society advocates have long warned about and willcontinue to fight against. Time should acknowledge these warnings inits report, especially since its readers are among Clearview AI’stargets. As an iconic publication that has been a part of America’smedia and social landscape for almost 100 years, Time has effectivelychronicled the struggle for civil liberties over the decades. It is adisgrace that when it came to covering today’s most influentialcompanies, Time instead chose to endorse a company that isdistinguished only for its unrelenting commitment to destroying thosesame liberties.FreddyMartinez is a policy analyst at Open The Government.

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posted at: 12:00am on 19-May-2021
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Content Moderation Case Study: Knitting Community Ravelry Bans All Talk Supporting President Trump (2019)

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Summary: When people think of content moderation and political debates, they may not think about knitting. However, the knitting community at the online site Ravelry has become a fascinating place to explore content moderation questions. This actually goes back many years, as Ravelry's content moderation practices (handled by dozens of volunteer moderators) were studied for a PhD dissertation by Sheila Saden Pisa that was published in 2013, entitled: In search of a practice: large scale moderation in a massive online community.Knitting and Ravelry have also been quite political at times. All the way back in 2009, a blog post was written by someone who was kicked off of Ravelry, and she believed it was because of her conservative political views. After the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Ravelry was where the initial plans for the now famous pussyhats (for the Women's March protesting Trump's Presidency) were first released and shared. Ioana Literat and Sandra Markus studied Ravelry's role in online participation, civic engagement and craftivism.

Still, it caught many people by surprise, in late 2019, when Ravelry declared a new policy, saying that it would no longer allow any posts supporting Donald Trump. From the announcement:
We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry.This includes support in the form of forum posts, projects, patterns, profiles, and all other content. Note that we will not destroy project notebook data. If a project needs to be removed from the site, we will make sure that you have access to your data. Even if you are permanently banned from Ravelry, you will still be able to access any patterns that you purchased. Also, we will make sure that you receive a copy of your data.We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy.The Community Guidelines have been updated with the following language: Note that support of President Trump, his administration, or individual policies that harm marginalized groups, all constitute hate speech.
The company noted that this was not a statement of support for other candidates, nor was it saying that it would ban people who (outside of Ravelry) supported Trump. It also made clear that it was not banning other political topics or statements in support of other candidates. Instead, it said: We are definitely not banning conservative politics. Hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions. The decision created quite a lot of attention with many supporters and detractors.Decisions to be made by Ravelry:
  • How do you decide when one politician's positions are so problematic to your community that you ban any support of that candidate?
  • How will this policy be enforced? Should it apply to earlier statements of support or just future ones?
  • How will attempts to get around the ban (such as with hints or euphemisms) be dealt with?
  • Can volunteer moderators be supporters of Trump?
Questions and policy implications to consider:
  • What are the pros & cons of banning support for Trump v. banning all talk of politics?
  • Would other approaches -- such as moving all political talk, or all talk about Trump, to a specific area -- work as effectively?
  • If, as has been suggested in some Section 230 reform bills, the laws change to require political neutrality in content moderation, how will Ravelry's moderation practices be impacted?
Resolution: After Donald Trump left the White House on January 20th, Ravelry reiterated that its policy remained the same, even though Trump was no longer President. A year and a half after Ravelry's decision, the New Yorker published a long, and detailed article about the decision to ban Trump support on the site and how it is going, entitled How Politics Tested Ravelry and the Crafting Community.
On the day of the ban, Kim Denise, one of the volunteer moderators, told me, I was, like, I'm so psyched. I'm so proud to be part of Ravelry. Then the ban happened. And it was, like, Oh, my God. I wish we'd thought this through. Right-wing trolls began signing up for Ravelry accounts and spamming threads with anti-Ravelry or pro-Trump sentiment. Denise described it as hordes of screaming people lining up to sling feces at us. . . . It was terrible. Users scurried to help moderators by flagging posts for deletion. They recruited a retired moderator to help deal with trolls. Within a couple of months, most of the activity generated by the Trump ban had subsided. Conservative users banded together, in a movement hashtagged #RavelryExodus, deleting their accounts and shifting to other platforms to sell patterns.
The company's founder also admitted that after the ban was announced, she realized the difficulty in figuring out the exact boundaries of enforcement:
Jessica admitted that Ravelry has struggled to pinpoint exactly what constitutes inappropriate content. Some of this stuff is so nuanced, she said. Think about what tweet got Trump banned. It was not about attending the Inauguration. She went on, We went through some pretty crazy rabbit holes: 'O.K., this is an eagle, but it isn't really the Nazi eagle. Or is it?' It's just, like, ugh.
Originally posted to the Trust & Safety Foundation website.

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posted at: 12:00am on 15-May-2021
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Steam Still Can't Seem To Keep Its Hands Off Some 'Sex Games' Despite Hands Off Policy

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It's been three or so years since Valve announced a new "hands off" approach towards approvals for games on its dominant Steam storefront. This new "policy" was unfortunately rolled out in an extremely Steam-like manner: vague and largely indecipherable, full of holes, and all with a caveat baked in that Steam could still do basically whatever it wants. Later, the company clarified that the chief goal with all of this was to allow for more adult-oriented games while still giving Steam the ability to disallow "troll games", as though that actually clarified anything. Predictably, this new policy set off confusion all over the place, and even years into the change its application appears to be aggressively inconsistent.Three years in and it's still a problem. The developers of Holodexxx, a VR sex game featuring VR-rendered real-life porn stars, has expended thousands of dollars to try to comply with Steam's policies only to find the game banned from the platform. Interestingly, the developers of the game appear to have intended this to be less of a gross or trollish look at a sex video game and more as something that is both adult-oriented but a "sex positive" experience.

Holodexxx is a game in which simulated versions of real adult performers interact with the player in virtual reality, with AI guiding elements of the performance. Its creators bill it as an ethical, sex-positive game being made in conjunction with and featuring real sex workers. Steam, at this point, carries a plethora of games that include adult content—some of which venture into much dicier thematic territory than Holodexxx. But that didn’t stop Valve from chasing Holodexxx off its holodeck.
On pre-2018 Steam, this is a game that would absolutely not be allowed on the platform. But the whole point of the change in policy was supposed to be to allow for more content of this nature, so long as it didn't dive into "troll" territory. And, to some extent, that policy shift achieved its goal. There are a great many adult sex games on Steam these days, with the level of raunchiness in those games playing across a spectrum for that sort of thing. But in this case, the game has been rejected several times, no matter what the developer tries to do to comply with Steam's policy.
In a recent lengthy blog, the game’s developers outlined everything they’ve tried over the course of multiple months. To begin, they submitted a “PG-13 experience” to Steam starring a clothed version of adult film actress Riley Reid, along with a censored video of live adult stars. Valve, say Holodexxx’s developers, blocked the submission “with a boiler-plate explanation that video pornography was not allowed on Steam.” So then the developers spent additional time creating a new demo without video of adult stars, in which the player could instead look at a model of adult film actress Marley Brinx in a virtual environment. Again, Valve blocked it on the basis that it was “pornography.”At that point, Holodexxx’s developers went back to the drawing board and spent “months” on Holodexxx Home, a more elaborate interactive experience with dialogue systems and direct physical interactions. It involves undressing a character, but so do other games on Steam, so in theory, it doesn’t necessarily activate any of Valve’s tripwires. However, you can probably guess what happened next.“We submitted Home and waited a few weeks,” wrote Holodexxx’s developers. “After poking Steam via help tickets, our build was reviewed two days later... and banned. The explanation was again, that Steam does not allow ‘pornography’ on their platform.”
In all, the developer claims that it has spent something like $20,000 just trying to get a version in place that would meet Steam's guidelines. Unfortunately, that effort appears to have failed as that last rejection once again simply regurgitated the anti-pornography stance previously iterated.Now, let's be clear on a couple of things. First, you may not like the idea of adult games showing up on Steam. That doesn't really matter for this story. Steam shifted policies to allow for more of them and they can run their platform as they choose. Secondly, I'll reiterate that point: Steam can block this game from its platform if it wants.But the problem here is the lack of clarity in the policy and the inconsistency with which it is applied. If you need this broken down further, I'll put it this way: when a developer can spend five-figures trying to comply with a platform's policy and can't manage to do so, the problem is on the platform's end. Either the policy isn't clear enough for developers (check!), hasn't been applied in a way that's consistent enough to allow it to be interpreted (check!), or the communication in feedback to developers about the policy as it applies to their specific games hasn't been handled well (check!).In this case, Steam has failed at all three levels. Again, the platform can do as it pleases with its property, but if the platform is going to have a policy, it might as well make it one that actually works.

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posted at: 12:00am on 14-May-2021
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