Yottabytes: Storage and Disaster Recovery


June 19, 2017  12:04 PM

Pence AOL Email Costs State $100K

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher
Email, government, privacy, Security

Here’s another reason why politicians shouldn’t use private email accounts to conduct official business: It can cost your state $100,000.

This is reportedly what the state of Indiana is spending to hire people to deal with the backlog of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for former governor, now vice president, Mike Pence after it was ascertained that he used an AOL.com email address for official business.

“Emails released to IndyStar in response to a public records request show Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with top advisers on topics ranging from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe,” wrote Tony Cook for the Indianapolis Star when Pence’s AOL account was revealed in March.

In May, a number of papers reported on the FOIA backlog. “The administration of Pence’s successor as governor, Eric Holcomb, entered a one-year contract last month with a Shelbyville firm, McNeely Stephenson, to handle the ‘unusually high’ number of requests, records show,” writes the Associated Press. “More than 50 such requests are pending.”

“A portion of the requests are generic and ask for emails related to state business sent or received by Pence,” write Cook and Kaitlin Lange in the Indianapolis Star, adding that the paper has two outstanding requests of its own. “Others have asked for emails from Pence’s personal account relating to the 2016 election, voter fraud and RFRA. Among those making requests were national reporters from the New York Times and Rewire, a publication that covers reproductive health issues.”

Interestingly, Lange and Cook report that the $100,000 is to be divided, with $30,000 to be paid in 2017 and the remaining $70,000 in 2018, indicating that the law firm doesn’t expect to respond to the requests soon. On the other hand, if the years are fiscal years rather than calendar years, fiscal 2018 would start on July 1, 2017, and that time period would be less surprising.

It is not clear why Pence chose to use a personal email account for some messages, such as whether he was trying to hide the messages from Indiana citizens, or simply used whatever email address was convenient. The official response was, “Similar to previous governors, during his time as Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence maintained a state email account and a personal email account. As Governor, Mr. Pence fully complied with Indiana law regarding email use and retention. Government emails involving his state and personal accounts are being archived by the state consistent with Indiana law, and are being managed according to Indiana’s Access to Public Records Act.”

At that time, the office released 29 pages of email messages from Pence’s AOL account, but declined to release an unspecified number of others “because the state considers them confidential and too sensitive to release to the public,” Cook writes.

Yes, the messages too confidential and sensitive to release to his constituents were sent using AOL. Oh, and it got hacked. “Pence’s account was actually compromised last summer by a scammer who sent an email to his contacts claiming Pence and his wife were stranded in the Philippines and in urgent need of money,” Cook writes. After that, Pence reportedly set up a different AOL account.

Aside from the security aspect, the private email account also raises troubling issues of government transparency, Cook writes. “Advocates for open government expressed concerns about transparency because personal emails aren’t immediately captured on state servers that are searched in response to public records requests.”

And while Indiana state officials are advised to copy or forward their email messages involving state business to their government accounts to ensure the record is preserved on state servers, there is no indication that Pence took any such steps to preserve his AOL emails until he was leaving the governor’s office, Cook adds, when he sent his staff with 13 cartons of printed email messages to the Indiana Statehouse to be archived. The law firm is trying to get digital access to the messages to speed up the public records response process, according to the AP.

As you may recall, Pence criticized Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for using a private email server for all of her email messages. “Pence fiercely criticized Clinton throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, accusing her of trying to keep her emails out of public reach and exposing classified information to potential hackers,” Cook writes.

 But that’s different, Pence said.There’s no comparison whatsoever between Hillary Clinton’s practice — having a private server, misusing classified information, destroying emails when they were requested by the Congress,” he responded in March to the Indianapolis Star article. “We have fully complied with Indiana’s laws. We had outside counsel review all of my previous email records to identify any that ever mentioned or referenced state business.”

Pence supporters also say that sending all messages through a private email server that one controls is not the same thing as sending some messages through a commercial email provider. One can argue the relative benefits and weaknesses of the two systems.

Good news, though: Pence has reportedly stopped using AOL since taking office as vice president.

June 13, 2017  2:29 PM

Amazon Unlimited Storage Goes Away

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher
Amazon, cloud, Storage

Sorry, kids. Amazon has decided to eliminate its unlimited storage plan.

Announced in March, 2015, the plan gave subscribers unlimited storage for $60 a year. While there’s been a lot of storage price wars over the past few years, it was hard to beat unlimited.

Now, however, for $60 you get a terabyte. “If you currently have a paid Unlimited Storage subscription, you can continue to use your current subscription until the plan expires,” Amazon said. “At the end of your current plan, you will automatically be entered into a 1 TB plan if you have 1TB or less of content, unless you’ve disabled auto-renew on your current subscription.” (Which means, if you didn’t use your unlimited storage very much, you might want to check your plan and see how much money you can save now.)

If you already have more than a terabyte stored, Amazon will give you options for other pricing plans – basically, an additional $60 per terabyte per year, up to a limit of 30 terabytes. “If you have more than 1 TB of content stored, or if you’ve disabled auto-renew, you will not be automatically renewed. You will have the opportunity to select a new plan that covers your content needs by visiting Manage Storage.” You have six months (180 days) of being over quota before Amazon starts zapping your files, last first, to bring you under the limit.

It’s not like unlimited Amazon storage was necessarily great shakes anyway. People who used it when it was first announced two years ago reported on Reddit that it was slow and had an awkward interface. Hmm, almost as though they didn’t want to make it too easy to use for fear people would use it too much. Note that cloud storage companies that want to encourage people to use a lot of storage have been offering services where you could send in a hard disk drive, eliminating the upload delay problem.

Other companies that have tried to promise “unlimited” storage have also had to back down. Microsoft announced unlimited storage for OneDrive in 2014, backing off from it a year later.

The issue is that when people get the opportunity to do anything unlimited, the really heavy users come out of the woodwork, Jared Newman wrote in Fast Company in 2015. “Drawing on its knowledge of how people used traditionally priced, tiered storage services, the company had assumed it would see a fairly even distribution between lighter and heavier users,” he wrote. “Combined with ‘de-duplication’ technology that prevents redundant data from being stored more than once in the cloud, Bitcasa figured it could keep costs down and stay in the black. But after launch, the sheer demand from heavy storage users blew up those assumptions.”

Gleb Budman, CEO of BackBlaze at the time, told Newman that people consume five to 10 times more data when presented with an unlimited plan. And Microsoft reported that some of its customers were using up to 75 terabytes, he wrote.

“One particularly messy issue for storage providers is that they can’t weed out legitimate high-volume uses from those that violate their terms of service,” Newman pointed out. “If a user with an unlimited consumer-grade plan is backing up their business servers or running a homegrown streaming video service, the provider should be able to shut that down. But doing so would involve looking at the actual files, which would be a breach of privacy and may not even be possible if the data is encrypted.”

It isn’t clear whether the problem here is that people were abusing it; Amazon didn’t say why it had decided to discontinue the service. Some analysts, in fact, believe that this was Amazon’s plan all along – to attract people with low storage prices and then hope they’ll stay when the prices went up. “Remember, this is the consumer market; and while more technically advanced users may utilize a multi-cloud strategy, moving from one cloud to another is a daunting task for most, and one that most people will balk at. Imagine a customer who has 1.5TB stored on Amazon Drive, their propensity to move all that data, and any links, pointers, etc. that pointed to that data, is very small,” writes Neuralytix. “They are more likely to pay the extra $60/year to allow the data to remain at Amazon. Neuralytix believes that this was Amazon’s intent from the beginning, and we believe that they have executed their plan very well.”

In the meantime, all U.S. customers receive 5 GB of free storage for use with Amazon Drive and Prime Photos, and Prime members continue to receive unlimited photo storage as a benefit of their Prime membership, Amazon said. Also, photos taken with and uploaded to Amazon Drive from a Fire Phone or eligible Fire tablet are stored for free in an Amazon Drive, and Kindle personal documents stored in your Amazon Drive using Send to Kindle tools and services do not count against your Amazon Drive storage limit, the company added.


May 31, 2017  10:54 PM

E-Discovery Proportionality is Now a Thing

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher
ediscovery

There isn’t often much that’s new and different about e-discovery lately, but a lot of legal people are excited about a new word: proportionality.

Basically, proportionality means asking for a reasonable amount of electronic documents in the context of the legal case you’re fighting – the don’t-use-a-sledgehammer-to-swat-a-fly theory. And, expectedly, the reason it’s coming up is that in some legal cases, people weren’t being proportional, and as we’re reaching the 18-month anniversary of implementing the proportionality rule, judges are calling them on it.

Of course you remember that proportionality came up during the most recent revision to the Federal Rules for Civil Procedure, which were modified in 2006 to support electronic discovery and enhanced in 2015, taking effect on December 1. Proportionality had actually been a thing in regular paper discovery, but of course when it’s so easy to say “Give me every piece of email for the past 20 years,” it was much more critical in the age of e-discovery, when it was being used for fishing expeditions. But it’s taken until now for the legal profession and the courts to really start sinking their teeth into the whole proportionality thing.

“Within days of its enactment, amended Rule 26(b)(1) began being utilized and referenced in opinions,” write H. Chrisopher Boehning and Daniel Tahl in the New York Law Journal. “Dozens of courts have cited to the amended Rule and many have conducted a proportionality analysis,” they write. “One court even noted that ‘proportionality has become the new black, in discovery litigation, with parties invoking the objection with increasing frequency.’ Some of these early decisions underscore that judges are now focused on proportionality when deciding whether to grant or deny motions to compel discovery.”

Boehning and Tahl went on to describe three recent cases where judges had thrown out e-discovery requests for being overly broad – or, in other words, not proportional. For example, in one case, judges found that complying with an e-discovery request could involve a search of “as many as a million pages” and a review of potentially “200,000 pages” to result in a small number of documents, the court writes.

At the same time, simply saying that a request is not proportional is not a Get Out of Jail Free card for defendants, writes Michael Miles for the American Bar Association. “Defense counsel must be prepared to demonstrate why it is not proportional,” he writes. “This will require a thorough understanding of both the claims asserted—to show how the discovery at issue is not significant to resolving the case—and the available sources of information to potentially offer less burdensome alternatives. A plaintiff may not be entitled to a full search of all electronically stored information where a simple interrogatory would suffice.”

Instead, courts are supposed to take six factors into consideration when deciding whether an e-discovery request is proportional, according to Kristien Jones in the National Law Review.

  1. How much will getting the information cost, compared with how valuable it is to the case?
  2. The information should come from the easiest place.
  3. If the party’s own actions are what’s making the request burdensome, that should count against them.
  4. There needs to be actual evidence that the data is needed, not just assertions.
  5. There’s more to determining whether something is burdensome than money – staff and IT is also a factor.
  6. Parties should consider using automated tools to make the job easier.

Meanwhile, get ready: there’s a new batch of e-discovery rules planned for this December.


May 31, 2017  12:37 PM

Another Breakthrough in Microsoft DNA Storage

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher
Microsoft

Following up on its announcement last fall, Microsoft plans to develop a DNA storage appliance by the end of the decade.

The company had said last fall that it had succeeded in saving 200 megabytes of data in DNA. While this wasn’t a new concept, the amount was a new capacity record.

Now, Microsoft has said it formalized a goal of having an operational storage system based on DNA – about the size of a large, 1970s-era Xerox copier — working inside a data center toward the end of this decade, writes Antonio Regalado in MIT Technology Review.

The biggest advantage in DNA storage over disk and tape storage used today is its density, Regalado writes. “DNA can hold 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 (aka a quintillion) bytes of information in a cubic millimeter,” he writes. “Formatted in DNA, every movie ever made would fit inside a volume smaller than a sugar cube.” Or, in another interesting analogy, “the system could, in principle, store every bit of datum ever recorded by humans in a container about the size and weight of a couple of pickup trucks,” writes Robert Service in Science, or 215 petabytes in a gram of DNA. Capacity is particularly an issue because developers are running out of ways to make traditional storage more dense.

That 215-petabyte capacity was based on another enhancement in DNA storage announced earlier this year, the “DNA fountain,” which breaks apart the data into pieces and includes tags to reassemble it, Service writes. That method would be similar to how TCP/IP and other communications protocols send computer data reliably. At that time, though, researchers said it would be another five to seven years before it could be practicably used.

DNA storage’s biggest disadvantage is its cost. “Converting digital bits into DNA code (made up of chains of nucleotides labeled A, G, C, and T) remains laborious and expensive because of the chemical process used to manufacture DNA strands,” Regalado writes. “According to Microsoft, the cost of DNA storage needs to fall by a factor of 10,000 before it becomes widely adopted. While many experts say that’s unlikely, Microsoft believes such advances could occur if the computer industry demands them.”

After all, a 10-megabyte hard drive used to cost as much as my first PC. So it’s not out of the question.

Another problem with DNA storage is the amount of time it takes to write to storage. Right now, writing data into DNA happens at about only 400 bytes per second, which Microsoft says needs to increase to 100 megabytes per second, Regalado writes. The good news is, the speed of reading DNA storage data only has to double before it is practical, he adds. Consequently, the use case for DNA storage would likely be archival records for legal or regulatory reasons, such as police body-cam video or medical records, or files that would be prohibitively large stored in more conventional methods, such as high-definition video, he explains.

Whether it’s three years or five to seven years, or even further, it’s going to be interesting to see how this develops, especially since the idea of commercial DNA storage was ludicrous enough for BackBlaze to use it as its April Fool’s story this year. Who knows, perhaps it could figure out a way to reproduce itself. Could the summer blockbuster movie on the concept  be far behind?


May 25, 2017  11:15 PM

Reporters Say Trump is Deleting Data

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher
Data, government, Security

As you may recall, no sooner was Donald Trump elected President than people began saving copies of government data that they feared he might delete, such as years of data about the environment. Now here we are, four months later, and it turns out there did indeed appear to be some cause for worry: While the data may not be gone, it’s no longer possible to gain access to some of it, and isn’t that just about the same thing?

Access to some data disappeared literally on Inauguration Day, though White House spokespeople said at the time that it had to do with reorganizing websites. Since then, however, other data has vanished.

For example, on the eve of the Peoples Climate March in April, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that “its website would be ‘undergoing changes’ to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information,” write Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin in the Washington Post (where it received more than 1,000 comments). “One of the websites that appeared to be gone had been cited to challenge statements made by the EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt. Another provided detailed information on the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan, including fact sheets about greenhouse gas emissions on the state and local levels and how different demographic groups were affected by such emissions.”

The changes were to remove “outdated language” from the website, explained an agency spokesman. Other examples of missing data were an explanation of climate change that had been on the website for more than two decades, and the influence of human activity on climate change, Mooney and Eilperin write, though they add that an archive of the previous data was still available. A description of the Obama era Clean Power Plan was also no longer on the site.

In an indication of how jumpy people are about the issue, a message on the EPA’s Open Data Web service saying that the site wouldn’t be available, due to the government shutdown, was taken by many to mean that the data was going away altogether, writes Andrew Griffin in the Independent UK. “Since this story was first published, EPA officials have denied that the website will be taken offline and that it may continue to operate throughout the government shutdown,” he writes. (Congress ended up passing a continuation that prevented a shutdown in the first place.) “The pop-up and claims by a contractor that the site was being turned off permanently were based on confusion about the government shutdown, they suggested.”

Whether the data is gone or merely inaccessible, ThinkProgress is dealing with the situation by filing a series of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests intended to force the government to make the data accessible again, writes Joshua Eaton of the organization. “We’ve already filed Freedom of Information Act requests for six disappeared websites,” he writes. “And we’ve already scored a victory: In response to requests by ThinkProgress and others, the Environmental Protection Agency posted a snapshot of its website as it existed on January 19.”

Other examples of missing data for which ThinkProgress is filing FOIAs include the Department of Energy’s online phonebook, an inventory of data.gov data when almost 40,000 datasets appeared to vanish for three months, and Bureau of Land Management ecological assessments, Eaton writes. The site MuckRock tracks FOIA requests, including Eaton’s. “Other data taken down from federal websites include regulatory enforcement actions, like fined abuses at dog and horse breeding operations and workplace injuries cited by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration,” writes The Week. “The Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations had regularly publicized fines levied against companies to encourage workplace safety, but business groups opposed such ‘naming and shaming’ disclosures.”

Some of the FOIA requests have deadlines of mid-June. It will be interesting to see what sort of responses they get – or if they’ll have a new set of FOIA requests to keep them company. In addition, the site DataRefuge continues to make and store copies of government datasets.


May 13, 2017  11:40 PM

Another Judge Rules on Smartphone Encryption

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher
Encryption, Security, smartphone

Courts are still trying to decide if law enforcement can make you unlock your smartphone, with some ruling one way and some ruling the other. In the most recent case, they ruled that you have to. And, for once, it wasn’t a case involving child pornography or terrorism.

As you may recall, the whole issue boils down to how a device is encrypted. Traditionally, courts have ruled that you can be compelled to give up something you have, such as your fingerprint, which is used to encrypt your phone, but you cannot be compelled to give up something you know, such as a password. That’s because simply admitting you have the correct password on a particular encrypted phone or other storage device could be considered self-incrimination.

In this particular case, Hencha Voigt and co-defendant Wesley Victor were accused of threatening to release sex videos stolen from a phone belonging to a Miami socialite known as YesJulz, writes David Ovalle in the Miami Herald. After the phone was stolen, YesJulz received a series of text messages demanding money. After consulting with police, YesJulz set up a fake meeting with the extortionists, and the two were arrested. At the time, they had four phones with them, the contents of which prosecutors want to examine, he continues.

What makes this case unusual is that there is actually settled case law about it in Florida. A December appeals court decision allowed police in Sarasota to force a suspected voyeur, allegedly caught at a mall trying to take photos up women’s skirts, to give up his iPhone pass code, Ovalle writes. The judge who ruled on the Voigt case had to follow that precedent, he said.

Attorneys for the two contend that law enforcement is asking for the passcode so it can go on a fishing expedition, writes Eric Levenson for CNN. “They’re asking for the passcode so they can keep on searching what’s on the phone — which may be incriminating my client — and then use that against her,” Kertch Conze, Voigt’s attorney, told CNN, he writes. Technically, though, that isn’t allowed – law enforcement needs to have a reasonable suspicion that the information they’re looking for is on the encrypted device, Levenson explains.

The judge, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Charles Johnson, explicitly referred to the thing-you-have-vs.-thing-you-know debate by saying that for him, turning over a password is like turning over a key to a safety deposit box – in other words, a thing you have, which you can be forced to surrender, rather than a thing you know, according to the BBC.

Attorneys for the defendants may have telegraphed their strategy going forward by noting that they would need to talk to the clients to see whether they remembered the passcode. On the other hand, in another case, last year one U.S. defendant was arrested for claiming not to remember the password to an encrypted device, and other defendants have been jailed in the UK.

Meanwhile, the case law on either side of the argument keeps piling up, meaning that, eventually, the whole thing is liable to end up in the lap of the Supreme Court – especially now that we have a full complement of Supreme Court judges, meaning that whatever they decide can be used as a precedent in the future. “No question in my mind that the U.S. Supreme Court will need to decide the issue eventually,” Mark Rumold, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told Ovalle. “To me, it’s not so much a question of if, but when.”


April 30, 2017  9:59 PM

New Micron CEO Comes From SanDisk

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher
Flash, Micron, SanDisk

It wasn’t a merger, exactly, but two storage companies have recently gotten together, sort of, when Micron Technology got its new CEO from SanDisk.

Sanjay Mehrotra, cofounder of SanDisk in 1988, had been its CEO from 2011 to 2016, and was instrumental in Western Digital’s acquisition of the company, according to Reuters. He stepped down after the acquisition, which was announced in 2015 and closed in 2016. While he had a seat on the Western Digital board, he stepped down from that position a week after Micron announced its CEO search, writes Anders Bylund in the Motley Fool.

Ironically, Micron had reportedly been one of the other bidders for SanDisk.

The two companies both make flash memory chips, and in fact some analysts had said last year that they were puzzled about why Micron was interested in buying SanDisk. In addition, SanDisk had sued Micron for patent infringement in the early 2000s, write David Staats and Kristine Rodine in the Idaho Statesman. It seems likely that the new CEO will help steer Micron toward further development in the flash arena.

Analysts were ecstatic over the news. “Mehrotra was a model of clarity at Sandisk,” gushed “Electric Phred” at Seeking Alpha. He’d spend all day in analyst presentations with audio (and video!) that worked, enough seats for all would be attendees, piles and piles and piles of excellent slides, and excellent presenters from several layers of management. May Mehrotra bring that much better interface to the investment community! May we have well organized and presented and detailed analyst days such as Sandisk used to have.”

It could not be more telling when the ex-CEO of SanDisk returns to become the CEO of rival and peer Micron,” Mizuho Securities analyst Vijay Rakesh notes in StreetInsider.

“I honestly can’t come up with a better CEO candidate for Micron,” Bylund writes, noting that the stock rose 2 percent on the news. “Today’s stock surge is more than just a sigh of relief over the CEO uncertainty situation — it’s a vote of confidence in the new name.”

Micron needed a CEO because its existing one, Mark Durcan, announced in February that he planned to retire once a replacement could be found. A 30-year Micron veteran who had actually already retired once, he replaced iconoclastic Steve Appleton, who was CEO of Micron until he died in 2012 when his experimental plane crashed.

Mehrotra, who will also serve as president and chairman of the board, is scheduled to start work on May 8, while Durcan will stay on as an advisor until August, according to the company. He is expected to divide his time between Micron’s Boise, Idaho, and Milpitas, Calif., offices. And, causing a sigh of relief to Idaho, where Micron is one of its largest employers, the company said he had no intention of moving headquarters out of Boise, which state officials have worried about for years.


April 26, 2017  11:16 PM

Can Google Books Turn Into Spotify for Books?

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher
Books, copyright, Google, Storage

Isn’t it cool how you can search for a genre of music, run across a new-to-you recording artist, decide you like them, then be able to listen to a whole lot of their work? And then if you like them, you can buy their CDs or higher-quality recordings and keep them forever?

Wouldn’t it be cool to do that with books? Not just current ones, but old ones too?

You almost could. And at some point, you might still be able to. A couple of articles are reminding us of what Google Books was supposed to be: an online repository of all the books in all the libraries, in and especially out of print, and you could search for a phrase or a fact, get a list of books about it, and read that section. And then, if you wanted, you could buy electronic or even published copies of the books.

“You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published,” writes James Somers in the Atlantic. “Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one. At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.”

Granted, you can still do some of that now, after a fashion, but it’s just a whisper of the original plan. Starting in 2004, it saw Google employees manually scanning what turned into 25 million books from libraries such as Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, and the New York Public Library, at a cost of $400 million, into a massive database of up to 50 to 60 petabytes, Somers writes.

“Approximately twenty per cent of all books are in the public domain; these include books that were never copyrighted, like government publications, and works whose copyrights have expired,” wrote Jeffrey Toobin in the New Yorker in 2007. “Google has simply copied such books and made them available on the Web. Roughly ten per cent of books are copyrighted and in print—that is, actively being sold by publishers. Many of these books are covered by Google’s arrangement with its publisher partners, which allows the company to scan and display parts of the works. The vast majority of books belong to a third category: still protected by copyright, or of uncertain status, and out of print.”

And those books, known as “orphan works,” were the problem. The problem, like the early days of Napster and music sharing, was copyright and the rights of the artists to control their work. While that has gotten largely worked out in this day and age for music, there’s not yet a Spotify for books.

“There’s actually a long tradition of technology companies disregarding intellectual-property rights as they invent new ways to distribute content,” Somers writes. “What usually becomes of these battles—what happened with piano rolls, with records, with radio, and with cable—isn’t that copyright holders squash the new technology. Instead, they cut a deal and start making money from it. But even if everyone typically ends up ahead, each new cycle starts with rightsholders fearful they’re being displaced by the new technology.”

Google Books was no different, and litigation over the subject went on for years, with the upshot that people don’t have access to the database of 25 million books that the company had scanned thus far. There was also the interesting nuance mentioned in Backchannel that people don’t have access, but AI systems might. “We know Google can’t legally make its millions of books available for anyone to read in full — but what if it made them available for machines to read?” writes Scott Rosenberg.

And, who knows? Perhaps with the examples of the music industry before it, and in a different political climate, the computer industry can figure out how to do Spotify for books after all. Interestingly, one of the Google executives in charge back in the day was Marissa Mayer; maybe she’d like to get involved again?

“Google Books could turn out to be for out-of-print books what the VCR had been for movies out of the theater,” writes Somers. “The greatest tragedy is we are still exactly where we were on the orphan works question,” Lateef Mtima, a copyright scholar at Howard University Law School, tells him. “That stuff is just sitting out there gathering dust and decaying in physical libraries, and with very limited exceptions, nobody can use them. So everybody has lost and no one has won.”

That said, Somers was wistfully hoping that, somehow, access to the Google Books database could be opened or that the files could somehow become available. “What would it take to make the books viewable in full to everybody? What’s standing between us and a digital public library of 25 million volumes?” he writes. “All you’d have to do, more or less, is write a single database query. You’d flip some access control bits from off to on. It might take a few minutes for the command to propagate.”

Perhaps he was wishing Aaron Swartz was still around.


April 21, 2017  10:36 PM

New York to Destroy IDNYC Data

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher
Data destruction, privacy, Security, Storage

We’ve written before about government agencies concerned that President Donald Trump’s administration could end up destroying data that those agencies find useful but which the administration finds inconvenient. Now we have the opposite situation: Cities that are destroying data to keep it out of the Trump administration’s hands.

While the point of storing data is typically to keep it around, data retention experts actually recommend not doing that, and instead suggest purging data that isn’t needed. It’s not just a matter of saving space on the hard drive, and the time it takes to keep that data backed up and maintained. In an electronic discovery or other legal situation, there’s that much more data to go through to look for relevant information – or that could get you in trouble.

That’s the situation that a number of states and cities are in. Altogether, about a dozen states offer special driver’s licenses for people who can’t prove citizenship, while more than a dozen cities offer alternative identification programs to help identify people who aren’t necessarily eligible for a more traditional type of ID, according to Jen Fifield in Governing.

One of the biggest such programs, with almost a million cardholders, is New York’s IDNYC program. It’s not just undocumented residents, writes Liz Robbins in the New York Times. “The IDs have also been popular with some of New York’s most vulnerable residents: those living in homeless shelters, victims of domestic violence and transgender people,” she writes. “The cards allow entry to public schools, are accepted by the Police Department as a form of identification for people reporting crimes and grant free admission to museums.”

As recently as mid-November, after President Trump’s election, New York started thinking about destroying all the IDNYC data it had collected in the process of providing those municipal identification cards to undocumented residents, to keep it out of the hands of the federal government. Two New York State assemblymen filed a case to prevent New York from destroying the IDNYC data, claiming it was a risk to national security, but a recent legal ruling found that the city could destroy the IDNYC data if it wanted to.

“A State Supreme Court judge has ruled that New York City has a right to destroy information obtained through its municipal identification card program, IDNYC,” writes Jason Shueh in StateScoop. “Judge Philip Minardo issued the ruling after two Staten Island State Assembly members, Ronald Castorina and Nicole Malliotakis, both Republicans, sued to preserve IDNYC’s application data.”

John Miller, the New York City Police Department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, testified in January that that the IDNYC data could be destroyed without increasing the risk of terrorism, writes Robbins in a different New York Times. The department had not seen such IDs used in terrorism cases in the two years of the program, he testified.

“Under the law that created the ID program in 2014, records of the documents used to apply were to be kept for two years and made available only through a judicial warrant or subpoena,” Robbins writes. “Applicants were promised privacy.”

In fact, keeping the documents offered more of a risk of identity fraud, because they would then be open to hacking, Miller testified.

Not everyone agrees. “This is a scandalous attempt on the part of the city’s government to protect undocumented immigrants from federal law at the expense of public safety and state law,” writes Alexandra DeSanctis, a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute, in the National Review.

Consequently, Minardo did issue a stay to prevent the city from destroying any documents until April 17, pending an appeal, Shueh continues. In any event, the city also decided in December not to keep any supporting documentation once an application had been approved, which a number of the other cities that offer municipal IDs already do, Fifield writes. The stay was then extended until April 21, plus Castorina filed a second suit regarding his efforts to obtain copies of the documents under New York’s version of the Freedom of Information Act, which could prevent destruction of the IDNYC data until after May 3, writes Rachel Shapiro in SILive News.

Other cities that have or are considering their own municipal ID program, such as  Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles, are watching the IDNYC data case closely, because it could serve as a precedent for what they might want to do with their own data about undocumented residents. Boston is considering setting up a municipal ID program and had been concerned about federal government access to the data, Shueh writes. “Boston Mayor Marty Walsh initiated an RFP last January to investigate whether an ID program would benefit and protect residents,” he writes. “Federal warrants to retrieve information on the whereabouts and on immigration status is a chief concern in the study.” Philadelphia is also considering a municipal ID program and has similar concerns, Fifield writes.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, a state program that provided such IDs turned out to be giving information on people living in the country illegally to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, although the state has a policy that prohibits state officials from carrying out federal immigration policy, writes Cory Dawson for the Associated Press. In one such case, the Department of Motor Vehicles was ordered to pay $40,000 to the undocumented resident.

It is not clear what repercussions there might be to a city that destroyed its data, similar to the punishments the Trump administration is reportedly considering for cities that declare themselves to be “sanctuary cities” that won’t cooperate with immigration officials to round up undocumented citizens.


April 17, 2017  11:35 AM

What Does Its Troubles Mean for Toshiba’s Hard Disks?

Sharon Fisher Sharon Fisher Profile: Sharon Fisher
Hard disk, Storage, toshiba

As you may recall, the number of hard drive makers has been steadily shrinking as the product becomes more of a commodity and the industry consolidates.

Now, it looks like, one way or another, Toshiba will be next on the block.

This is not, in itself, an astonishing development. As long ago as 2015, the Motley Fool was predicting that Toshiba would be acquired. “When Western Digital’s leadership gets comfortable with this new partnership, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it develop into yet another hard-drive buyout,” The Fool’s Anders Bylund wrote in October, 2015. “If Western Digital doesn’t own Toshiba’s hard drive operations by 2018, I’ll be shocked.”

And in 2011, when Seagate bought Samsung, there was some discussion that Toshiba (which started the whole acquisition merry-go-round in 2009 with its acquisition of Fujitsu) might either buy Samsung itself or be bought by Seagate.

What’s surprising is that Toshiba’s move doesn’t have much to do with its storage industry per se, but with its nuclear construction business, which is threatening to bring the rest of the company down with it. “Toshiba warned this week that there is ‘substantial doubt’ about its ability to stay in business, saying its loss for the year ended in March could hit 1 trillion yen ($9 billion),” writes Sherisse Pham in CNN Money. “Toshiba is pulling out of the nuclear construction sector, the root cause of its current financial debacle. Its troubled U.S. subsidiary Westinghouse Electric filed for bankruptcy last month, and will eventually be removed from the Japanese company’s books, leaving a thick trail of red ink.” Altogether, the company has lost $4.8 billion over the first nine months of its fiscal year and could lose $9.2 billion for the full year, with the result that the stock dropped 8 percent last Friday, according to Jon Swartz in USA Today – after falling 29 percent in the past three months.

That was just the beginning. “Toshiba took the unusual step of reporting third-quarter earnings without approval from its auditors. Toshiba said losses last year had left it with negative shareholders equity of 225.6 billion yen at the end of December,” write Takako Taniguchi and Pavel Alpeyev in Bloomberg. “This further jeopardized Toshiba’s listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The TSE kept Toshiba on its list of securities on alert in a December announcement, after originally being included for overstating profits from 2008 through 2014. Toshiba last month submitted a report detailing plans to improve internal controls. If deemed insufficient, the company will face delisting.”

In response to all this, Toshiba is considering selling its memory chips business, hoping to bring in at least 2 trillion yen ($18 billion), Pham writes. Potential bidders include Apple, which would give the company more control over its supply chain, as well as keeping the Japanese company from being owned by the Chinese, writes Janko Roettgers in Variety. Apple would partner with its supplier Foxconn, a Chinese company, technically known as Hon Hai Precision Industry.

However, this raises another problem: Western Digital, which partners with Toshiba, has reportedly warned that a sale may violate a contract it has with Toshiba, write Alex Sherman, Ian King, and  Pavel Alpeyev in Bloomberg, and that Toshiba should be talking with Western Digital first. This would be ironic, because at one point Toshiba had the ability to stop Western Digital’s 2015 merger with SanDisk, because SanDisk had a partnership with Toshiba. In fact, it was that acquisition and its debt that may limit Western Digital’s ability to put forth a winning bid. At this point Toshiba has put a hold on the whole discussion, they report, though Toshiba itself denies this.

The problem that storage vendors are having with this sort of market consolidation is that the Federal Trade Commission has started to get involved. When Western Digital bought Hitachi GST in March, 2012, it had to sell to Toshiba assets that Hitachi GST used to make and sell desktop hard-disk drives. In addition, the European Commission required Western Digital to sell one of Hitachi’s 3.5-inch manufacturing plants and associated intellectual property for making these drives. In return, Western Digital received a Toshiba plant that had been damaged in the Thai floods.

As of Friday, Reuters reports that Toshiba has four bidders: U.S. chipmaker Broadcom, which has partnered with private equity firm Silver Lake Partners; South Korea’s SK Hynix; Foxconn, and Western Digital. “Broadcom has put in the highest first-round offer of 2.5 trillion yen ($23 billion), while Foxconn offered 2 trillion yen,” Reuters writes. Toshiba expects to pick a final winner by its shareholders’ meeting in June. It’s also expected that the company will receive some level of government bailout.

The sale discussion so far primarily covers Toshiba’s memory chips, not its disk drive business itself (sales of which Toshiba bragged about as recently as last month).  But it isn’t clear where, after the dust settles, the disk drives are actually going to end up. There had been some discussion in January 2016 that it was shopping around its disk drive business but nothing came of it, though some people are speculating again.

“Selling the HDD unit along with the flash unit could be one outcome, in that case Western Digital would be the obvious favored suitor, since Toshiba and Western Digital co-own NAND flash fabrication facilities and Western Digital has an established HDD business,” writes Tom Coughlin for Forbes. “Would the Japanese government consider co-ownership of the memory plant with Western Digital, which already owns part of the Toshiba/WD joint memory fabs in Japan, in order to keep flash production in Japan and out of the hands of the Chinese? Would WD get Toshiba’s HDD business as part of such a deal?” Toshiba could also sell the business to Seagate, he adds.

Hard drives could be most of what Toshiba has left.


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