Google Files Cert. Petition in Street View Case

Google Street View carI noted back in October that Google had hired “noted Supreme Court advocate Seth Waxman” as it was preparing its petition for rehearing in the Street View case, “indicating perhaps how far they intend to take this.” (For background, see my earlier posts Part I, Part II, after the panel decision, and on the petition for rehearing.) My suspicions were accurate — after losing again at the rehearing stage in late December, Google has now filed a petition for certiorari, asking the Supreme Court to reverse the Ninth Circuit.

Google’s petition primarily makes the same substantive arguments it made in its petition for rehearing. The Ninth Circuit in the decision below adopted what I’ve called the “radio means radio” approach — “radio communications” in the Wiretap Act means only communications that you can receive with, you know, an ordinary AM/FM radio. I’ve argued that that is mistaken, and Google unsurprisingly agrees with me. Google provides three reasons why the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation cannot be sustained. Continue reading

My Official Super Bowl Television Post

kitten bowl[Madisonian readers: I wrote this for a general audience. I'm reposting here for your amusement/fact-checking.]

The 48th annual Super Bowl is tomorrow, which means of course that people are thinking about intellectual property law. (Doesn’t everyone?) No, I’m not going to talk about whether your local grocery store infringes on the NFL’s trademark when they advertise “Super Bowl Savings,” except to pose the question of whether a single person ever has been actually confused about whether that indicates a relationship between the NFL and the grocery store. Or the makers of this thing. Rather, I’m going to talk about television. Specifically, what size television can you watch the Big GameTM on?

The NFL caused a bit of confusion on this score when they sent a cease and desist letter to an Indiana church back in 2007 that was planning on hosting a Super Bowl party for church members, with a fee for attendance and the game displayed on a “giant” TV. (I can’t find a description of the exact size.) In the letter and in subsequent pronouncements, the NFL took the position that it was a violation of copyright law to display the Super Bowl to a public gathering on a screen larger than 55 inches diagonally. In the face of likely congressional legislation in 2008, the NFL backed down and said it would not enforce its rule against church groups. But it still maintains that others cannot display the game publicly on sets larger than 55″.

News stories about the controversy have gotten some parts of the relevant copyright law correct, but are still a bit confusing on the 55-inch “rule” and where it comes from. So I’ll try to clarify. The short version: There is no 55-inch rule, at least not for the game itself. Continue reading

What the Heck Is Drawbridge?

scaredy catYou won’t find out from this New York Times front-page story from yesterday, which is disappointingly long on alarmism but scarce on details, a phenomenon all too frequent in privacy reporting. In the third sentence — immediately after anthropomorphizing smartphones — the story tells us that “advertisers, and tech companies like Google and Facebook, are finding new, sophisticated ways to track people on their phones and reach them with individualized, hypertargeted ads.” Boy, that sounds bad — exactly what horrible new thing have they come up with now?

The third paragraph tells us only what privacy advocates fear. The fourth mentions the National Security Agency. The fifth quotes privacy scholar Jennifer King saying that consumers don’t understand ad tracking.

The sixth paragraph finally gives us a specific example of the “new, sophisticated ways” advertisers and tech companies are “track[ing] people on their phones”: Drawbridge. What does Drawbridge do? It’s “figured out how to follow people without cookies, and to determine that a cellphone, work computer, home computer and tablet belong to the same person, even if the devices are in no way connected.” But this doesn’t tell us much. There are more and less innocuous ways to accomplish the goal of tracking users across devices. On the innocent end of the scale, a website could make you sign into an account, which would allow it to tell who you are, no matter what computer you use. On the malevolent end of the scale, it could hack into your devices and access personal information that is then linked to your activity. The key question is, how is Drawbridge getting the data it is using to track users, and what is in that data? Continue reading

Google Calls in the Cavalry in the Street View Case

satellite-antennae-618125-mI do intend to get back to my four-part series on whether Google’s collection of information from residential Wi-Fi networks violated the Wiretap Act. That issue is being litigated in the Northern District of California in a consolidated class action of home wireless network users, and the earlier posts in my series examined the plaintiffs’, Google’s, and the district court’s arguments on this issue. See Part I; Part II. Since I wrote the first two posts, the Ninth Circuit weighed in, affirming the district court’s denial of Google’s motion to dismiss, allowing the plaintiffs to proceed with their complaint.

Since that post, there’s been another development: Google has filed a petition for rehearing and rehearing en banc. And they’ve brought in a bigger gun to do so — noted Supreme Court advocate Seth Waxman — indicating perhaps how far they intend to take this. Google has two basic arguments for why a rehearing should be granted. First, Google attacks what I called the panel’s “radio means radio” interpretation of the term “radio communications” — “radio communications” means “stuff you listen to on a radio” — is unworkable. Second, Google argues that the panel should never have reached the issue of whether wi-fi communications are “readily accessible to the general public” under an ordinary-language approach to that term, because that question involves disputed issues of fact. In the rest of this post I’ll review these two arguments. Continue reading

Ninth Circuit Rejects Google Wi-Fi Argument

car radio dial tnTime, and the Ninth Circuit, wait for no man. You may recall that I was halfway through my four-part series on the arguments in Joffe v. Google, the “Wi-Spy” case in which Google’s Street View cars intercepted and stored data captured from residential wireless networks. Google argued that that activity did not violate the Wiretap Act, because the Wiretap Act does not apply at all to Wi-Fi. There’s an exception in the Wiretap Act for “electronic communications readily accessible to the general public,” and the Act defines “readily accessible” for “radio communications” to mean that the communications must be encrypted or otherwise protected. Wi-Fi is broadcast over radio, and the plaintiffs did not set up encryption. Here’s Part I and Part II if you want to read more.

Earlier today, the Ninth Circuit issued its decision: the district court’s denial of Google’s motion to dismiss is affirmed; the exception does not apply. The Ninth Circuit essentially signed on to the district court’s “radio means radio” approach: Continue reading