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Friday, May 3, 2013

Do-Not-Track Talks Could Be Running Off the Rails

After nearly two years of negotiating and little progress, the international group trying to agree on a Do Not Track standard is convening its final official face-to-face meeting next week in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Although many people may not know that advertisers and other third parties operating on Web sites install cookies, which are small bits of code that track users’ browsing history, a small subset of consumers have already activated the Do Not Track mechanisms on their devices. These don’t-track-me browser settings send out signals telling third parties that a user does not want to have his or her online activities tracked.

As of March, for instance, 11.4 percent of the estimated 450 million people worldwide who use the Firefox desktop browser had activated the Do Not Track setting, according to a new report Friday from Mozilla.

Advertisers say they need to collect tracking data in order to show relevant ads to consumers. Without behavior-based ads to support free content and services, they argue, certain sites would have to shut down or start charging for access. Privacy advocates, for their part, argue that consumers have a right to choose not to be tracked by companies they don’t do business with. If the price consumers have to pay is more generic ads that are not tailored to them, they say, so be it.

“Most people don’t realize the extent to which this brazen online tracking is done, but when the practice is described, they want to be able to control it,” John M. Simpson, the privacy project director at Consumer Watchdog, wrote in a blog post earlier this week. “Why should a company I know nothing about, have no say over and no relationship with be able to collect information about my online activity?”

If the tracking protection group of the World Wide Web Consortium or W3C, the international standards body that has been trying to create a consensus for the privacy mechanisms, fails to come to an agreement, however, these signals could end up having no more significance than white noise.

In an effort to get participants to cut a deal, Peter P. Swire, a law professor at Ohio State who is the co-chair of the W3C tracking group, circulated a draft proposal earlier this week.

The proposal said third parties would agree to not collect tracking data on any browser where a consumer had actively turned on the privacy signal. But companies would still collect data for certain permitted uses.

Stuart P. Ingis, a lawyer representing the Digital Advertising Alliance, an industry group that offers consumers an ad choices program, said that, from his point of view, two major issues remained to be resolved: ensuring consumers themselves choose to activate the privacy option and determining the kind of data that third parties could continue to collect and use even after a consumer activated the privacy signal.

“If progress can be made, that could clear a path to a conclusion,” Mr. Ingis said.

Some consumer advocates and technologists see additional sticking points, however, objecting to a number of prescriptive clauses in the proposal that could limit the way browsers present Do Not Track preferences to their users. A few advocates even suggested that the two sides are so far apart that the negotiations might as well be terminated.

The proposal, for example, says any Do Not Track button should be off by default, rather than set to a neutral position that would allow a user to turn the signal on or off. It also says that any Do Not Track mechanism should be located only in the browser setting - not through a browser “installation process or any other similar mechanism.” That would come as a challenge to browsers like Internet Explorer 10, in which Do Not Track is one of the choices offered during installation.

Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy group, said the proposal seemed intended to limit the number of consumers who would turn on a don’t-track-me signal.

“The industry wants to make it hard for people to turn on Do Not Track and that should be a deal breaker,” Mr. Chester said. “It should be prominent, simple and effective. Right now, the proposal fails to deliver that.”

But Mr. Ingis of the Digital Advertising Alliance argued the mechanism wasn’t important enough to consumers to be presented during browser installation.

“By putting it in a browser setting, you create a little bit of friction so that you make it simple enough for people who want to find it,” he said. “But you don’t treat it as if it’s a matter of national security, because it’s not.”

These stances seem so far apart that some now foresee a permanent stalemate. Jonathan Mayer, a graduate student in computer science and law at Stanford University who has been participating in the talks, says it’s time for the group to have a conversation about how to shut down the negotiations altogether.

“I think it’s right to think about shutting down the process and saying we just can’t agree,” Mr. Mayer said. “We gave it the old college try. But sometimes you can’t reach a negotiated deal.”

Shine Starts to Wear Off a Little for Google Glass

The shiny new thing luster of Google Glass may already be wearing off, even before most people have been able to try one on.

When Google introduced Google Glass last year, tech nerds salivated over these augmented reality goggles from the future. But not everyone was excited. Some not on the proverbial bleeding edge of gadgetry wondered if the high-tech eye wear would offer salvation from smartphones, or turn them into zombie-eyed obsessives staring into tiny screens a few inches from their eyeballs.

Over the last two weeks, as Google Glass has started to trickle into the real world, the split of tech aficionados and regular folks has only grown.

Robert Scoble, an obsessive tech pundit, wrote a glowing review of the new augmented reality glasses and said, “I will never live a day without them.” He then showed off a picture of himself showering while wearing the glasses.

Is that a good or bad thing? As Marcus Wohlsen, a tech reporter for Wired, noted Thursday, seeing a large, hairy tech enthusiast half-naked in a shower while wearing Google Glass could put the device in the company of products lauded by the tech set and generally ignored by everyone else. “The Segway. The Bluetooth headset. The pocket protector,” Mr. Wohlsen wrote.

Worrying if Google Glass ends up in the same tech graveyard as the Segway might be the least of Google’s worries. After a developer showed off an application for the glasses that lets people sneak a photo of someone simply by winking, the headlines around the new gear focused quickly on privacy.

“The Creepiest Google Glass App Is a Stalker’s Dream,” wrote Rebecca Greenfield of The Atlantic, ,who called the secret photo-taking application a “privacy nightmare.”

“Google Glass: Let the evil commence,” wrote Jason Perlow of ZDNet, who noted that in the “Explorer” version of Google Glass that has recently shipped to a first generation of users, there is no “recording LED indicator” light on the device, “so that one could stealthily record without any indication to the subject that they are being captured on-camera.”

A Google spokesman said the company was carefully monitoring the type of apps developers were building for Google Glass to ensure they addressed privacy concerns before the product shipped to mainstream users. “Right now Glass is being made available primarily to developers who signed up to our Explorer program,” the spokesman said. “The goal of the program is ensure that our users become active participants in shaping the future of this technology and for developers specifically to hack together new features, find exploits and build amazing new apps ahead of a wider consumer launch.”

If you were active on social media over the last few days, chances are you saw the latest Tumblr Web site, White Men Wearing Google Glass, making the rounds. The site has been shared thousands of times on social networks over the last few days. ”White Men Wearing Google Glass. This doesn’t make me want a pair,” wrote Jason Zada, an award winning director, on Twitter. Another person simply wrote that Google Glass looks “lame.”

Still, some tech heavyweights professed their enthusiasm for Google Glass. Marc Andreessen, a partner in the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, said, ”You put it on and you’re like ‘Oh my God, I have the entire Internet in my vision. Where have you been all my life?’ ”

A photo of Mr. Andreessen wearing the glasses is also the main icon featured on White Men Wearing Google Glass Tumblr Web site.

California Wildfire Jumps Pacific Coast Highway

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A video of the fast-moving wildfire captured from a home in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Thousands of people fled their homes as a wildfire burned more than 10,000 acres across Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, damaging more than a dozen buildings and motor homes, fire officials said.

High winds are fueling the flames of what officials are calling the Springs Fire. It started around 7 a.m. Thursday in Camarillo, south of the 101 Freeway, and jumping over the Pacific Coast Highway on Friday. Officials warned that it could threaten homes in the Deer Creek and Yerba Buena areas.

On its Facebook page, the Naval Base Ventura County Point Mugu shared updates on the fire and multiple photos of the smoke-filled skies around Laguna Peak. But officials said that it was not “currently threatening the main facility or housing areas.” There were no evacuations late Friday morning. The base’s airfield remained open with mission-essential staff.

Ellen DeGeneres’ iPhone Game Quickly Becomes a Sensation

On her talk show, Ellen DeGeneres plays a game with celebrity guests where she holds a card up to her forehead showing a word or name, like “Justin Bieber.” The guest then give clues to Ms. DeGeneres to help her guess the word.

It’s a game that many have played in college dorms or bars. Some call it Celebrity; others might call it Charades. Why not turn this into an iPhone game?

That’s the idea the producers of the Ellen show came up with in October. They hired an iPhone app development studio, Impending, to design and code the game, and released it Thursday in Apple’s App Store.

“Big news!” Ms. DeGeneres said on her Twitter account. “I’ve got a brand new game! Its called ‘Heads Up!’ and you’re appsolutely gonna love it.” Within several hours, Heads Up! had soared to the No. 1 spot on Apple’s list of best-selling apps.

In Heads Up!, you can pick a category like blockbuster movies, animals or music. Then you hold the iPhone up to your forehead with the screen showing the word, and your friends shout clues at you. After you guess it correctly, you put the phone face down and hand it to the next player, who gets a new word. The players pass the phone around, guessing as many words as they can until time runs out.

“We have 700 videos uploaded already,” said Daniel Leary, digital producer of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and a creator of the app. “We’re getting a video a minute, it’s pretty crazy.”

The game costs $1 in the App Store. Mr. Leary declined to comment on how the revenue would be divided between Warner Brothers, the Ellen show and the app developers. But Bob Mohler, a senior vice president of Telepictures Productions, which produced the game, said its purpose was to expand Ms. DeGeneres’ brand in digital media. The show already has accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest, he said.

“We expand Ellen’s digital footprint pretty broadly,” Mr. Mohler said. “We’re just constantly trying to find the next idea to continue to grow.”

Investigation Suggests American Journalist Missing in Syria ‘Likely’ Held by Government

James Foley, an American journalist, has been missing in Syria since November.Steven Senne/Associated Press James Foley, an American journalist, has been missing in Syria since November.

James Foley, an American journalist who has been missing in Syria for 162 days, “was most likely abducted by a pro-regime militia group and subsequently turned over to Syrian government forces,” the news site GlobalPost reported on Friday. Before he disappeared, Mr. Foley had contributed reports to GlobalPost and Agence-France Presse as a freelance correspondent.

The news site said that its conclusion was based on “a five-month investigation inside Syria and the wider Middle East.” Philip Balboni, the GlobalPost president, said at an event marking World Press Freedom Day in Boston:

We have obtained multiple independent reports from very credible confidential sources who have both indirect and direct access that confirm our assessment that Jim is now being held by the Syrian government in a prison or detention facility in the Damascus area. We further believe that this facility is under the control of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence service. Based on what we have learned, it is likely Jim is being held with one or more Western journalists, including most likely at least one other American.

Mr. Balboni provided no details about who those other captives may be, but another American freelance journalist, Austin Tice, went missing in Syria last August.

Although the Syrian government has not acknowledged holding Mr. Foley, representatives of the news organization met with the Syrian ambassador to Lebanon in Beirut, Mr. Balboni said.

There has been no information about Mr. Foley’s condition or whereabouts since he went mising outside of Idlib in northern Syria in November. Following his disappearance, the journalist’s family and supporters launched an online appeal for support for information about his whereabouts. On Friday, they greeted the news about his possible detention by government forces with relief in messages posted on Twitter.

Until the day of his disappearance last year, Mr. Foley used Twitter to post updates from and about Syria as he reported on the conflict.

Mr. Foley was one of 21 journalists abducted in Syria in 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which calls Syria the most dangerous country in the world for journalists. A further 28 reporters were killed in Syria last year.

Liberty Bell Visit by Fidel Castro’s Sexologist Niece Angers Cuban-Americans

Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raúl Castro, during an appearance at an academic conference in San Francisco in 2012.Eric Risberg/Associated Press Mariela Castro, the daughter of President Raúl Castro, during an appearance at an academic conference in San Francisco in 2012.

The Liberty Bell will receive a controversial visitor this afternoon.

Mariela Castro, Cuba’s premier sexologist and the daughter of President Raúl Castro, is visiting Philadelphia as a guest of the Equality Forum, a gay rights organization that is holding its annual conference there. Ms. Castro plans to visit the Liberty Bell and the surrounding Independence Mall around 3 p.m., organizers of her trip said. Detractors of her father’s government objected to the visit, though.

“It’s insulting that the Cuban dictator’s daughter and standard bearer of the Castro dictatorship would visit a symbol of America’s successful struggle for freedom from its colonial masters,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican. “Ms. Castro and her family represent everything that the colonists fought and died to overcome. She should be ashamed of herself, but that would be asking too much of her.”

Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Equality Forum, which will honor Ms. Castro on Saturday for pushing for gay rights in Cuba, took a different view, telling The Times: “The Liberty Bell is a symbol of freedom not only for America, but a symbol around the globe.”

Ms. Castro, the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, was granted a diplomatic visa to attend United Nations meetings in April, but the State Department had initially refused her request to relax a rule that bars Cuban diplomats from traveling to other parts of the U.S. without prior authorization. The Equality Forum received word on Monday that the State Department decided to lift the restriction so that Ms. Castro could attend the Equality Forum 2013 Summit this weekend.

In an interview with CNN during a visit to the U.S. in 2012, Ms. Castro discussed her efforts on behalf of Cuba’s gay community.

Vegas Web Site Is Test for Legal Online Gambling

Las Vegas Web Site Is Test for Legal Online Gambling

LAS VEGAS â€" As the nation’s first legal, pay-to-play poker Web site embarks on a 30-day trial period, players from every state and Europe are logging on, even as casino companies, tech developers, regulators and lawmakers alike examine the technology for strengths and flaws.

Station Casinos, a local company with 16 properties in the Las Vegas Valley, took ultimatepoker.com online on Tuesday. The company hopes to bring some clarity to the debate among gambling officials and lawmakers about online gambling.

At issue is whether the company can verify that the site’s users are over 21 and in Nevada, using identification and geolocation software, among other tools. Visitors to Nevada can register to play before arriving in the state.

Opponents have expressed concern about minors using the site.

The site’s activation accelerated a race that started this year when Nevada passed a law that legalized online gambling, beating New Jersey by a matter of weeks.

Bo Bernhard, executive director of the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, called the site a milestone.

“It’s the first online casino â€" in the state that developed the modern casino resort,” Mr. Bernhard said.

About 30 hours after the site opened, Tom Breitling, the Ultimate Poker chairman, crowed about being “first out of the gate” and said he was surprised to see “pent-up demand” as poker players expressed interest in the site.

Mr. Breitling also pointed to the “huge responsibility” that came with being first, as dozens of companies hope to open similar Web sites in Nevada and other states.

Keith S. Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said “the Internet poses risks for problem gambling,” and pointed to data from Europe that suggests that frequent gambling on the Internet is associated with problem gambling, or addictive behavior.

Mr. Whyte said he wants to see online gambling in the United States unfold with controls like those in Europe, including software that tracks gambling behavior online and displays for user information like account balances and time spent playing. He said that Nevada’s legislation did not have such requirements.

“Nevada is in some ways playing with fire,” he said.

A. G. Burnett, chairman of Nevada’s Gaming Control Board, said that comments and observations would be gathered from users and Ultimate Poker during the 30-day trial. The board will decide whether the site should be allowed to continue operating and, two weeks after that, the Nevada Gaming Commission will make the final decision.

The same procedure is followed for every new game introduced in Nevada casinos, Mr. Burnett said. Approving a form of gambling that takes place over the Internet, instead of in a bricks-and-mortar casino, means “we’re entering into a different world.”

“Everybody’s going to be trying to test it, hack it, get into it,” he said.

Nearly two dozen companies have obtained licenses to participate in some aspect of online gambling, including MGM Resorts International, Bally and Caesars, often through subsidiaries or in partnership with other companies.

A version of this article appeared in print on May 3, 2013, on page B5 of the New York edition with the headline: Las Vegas Web Site Is Test For Legal Online Gambling.