There must be some sort of Murphy’s Law that when a database reaches a certain size, law enforcement is going to want to get their hands on it.
We’ve seen this recently with 23andme, a database of information compiled through voluntarily offered genetic material (spit, actually), which recently hit a million users.
If you don’t remember 23andme, they made headlines in 2007 by offering people the chance to test their genetics for susceptibility for a number of various diseases, as well as look at their ancestry. People who couldn’t resist the opportunity to find out just what percentage of Neanderthal they had were soon coughing up $99 for the chance to spit at these people and, in the process, find out what weaknesses their flesh might be heir to.
This, however, caught the attention of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which declared in 2013 that the company was offering tests that the FDA hadn’t approved, and the company pulled the test kits off the market.
The kits were still available for ancestral testing, though, and people continued to submit their genetic material, albeit more slowly. While the company had 500,000 subscribers by 2013, it took until this year to hit a million, according to the New York Times.
That’s when the cops started getting interested.
It’s not unusual for police officers to obtain DNA evidence at crime scenes. And here was a database of a million people’s DNA. Did the police really think that criminals were coincidentally also having their ancestries tested? No, but certain components of DNA are passed down through the father and mother. It could happen that a relative of a criminal would be tested and in the database, which would help narrow down the search.
“People who submitted genetic samples for reasons of health, curiosity, or to advance science could now end up in a genetic line-up of criminal suspects,” writes Kashmir Hill in Fusion. “If you’re a cop trying to solve a crime, and you have DNA at your disposal, you’re going to want to use it to further your investigation. But the fact that your signing up for 23andMe or Ancestry.com means that you and all of your current and future family members could become genetic criminal suspects is not something most users probably have in mind when trying to find out where their ancestors came from.”
Hill has been on the forefront of this issue; as long ago as 2010, she was warning in Forbes about the possibility. “How far should law enforcement be allowed to go?” she wrote then. “Should prosecutors be allowed to subpoena a company’s DNA database of thousands of people if they suspect it contains a match to a crime suspect?”
The problem is, such genetic testing isn’t foolproof; among other things, someone could be adopted, illegitimate, or cuckolded, and never know it. That may be what happened in one case earlier this year, when police officials used a similar database, operated by Ancestry.com, to compare it with DNA material from a crime scene. (Ancestry.com has since taken the database down, Hill writes.) Police then looked up all the relatives of the person in the database who matched, found a likely prospect, and got him to submit a DNA sample – which ended up exonerating the person, but still.
Meanwhile, 23andme and Ancestry.com come right out and says they’ll cooperate with law enforcement when served with a warrant. And they don’t really have any choice. Since they’re not doctors, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other laws that could protect people don’t play into it.
This concerns a number of civil liberties organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “if the cops can access private databases—especially private databases like Ancestry.com and 23 and Me that collect matrilineal and patrilineal markers—everyone’s risk increases,” the organization writes. “People should be able to learn about their ancestors and relatives and about possible risks for genetic diseases without fear that their data will be shared with the cops without their consent.”
“Civil liberties groups have called for laws that would prohibit the use of private genetic databases for law enforcement purposes, but until one comes into existence, the only thing standing between police and the spit you send to a private DNA company is the company’s lawyers,” Hill writes.
What 23andme is doing, like companies such as Facebook and Google, is hiring a privacy officer and publishing a quarterly government transparency report that tracks how many such requests it gets. It just published its first report, which notes that it’s had five requests. It will be interesting to see how it trends; similar reports from other vendors have shown sharp increases over time.
Interestingly, just a week after news got out about police requesting the data, the FDA decided to give 23andme permission to once again offer the genetic tests, meaning it will be able to collect even more data. (Not to mention, that knocked all the stories about police access to the database off the front page as well.) Is it getting too much into black helicopter territory to wonder whether law enforcement agencies asked the FDA to lay off of 23andme so that it could help them do their jobs?
After years of on-again, off-again retirement plans, the 68-year-old chairman and CEO of the Hopkinton, Mass., storage company is on his way with a $27 million golden parachute, according to David Goldman in CNN Money.
“Tucci’s severance package includes $7 million in cash, equal to triple his annual salary and bonus,” Goldman writes. “The other $20 million comes in the form of EMC stock that Tucci had been awarded, according to executive compensation research firm Equilar. Had he not sold EMC to Dell, he otherwise would have needed to remain at the company to receive that stock.” In addition, EMC will pay Tucci for his unused vacation time, plus his life, disability, accident and health insurance benefits for himself and his dependents for three years, he adds.
This is all courtesy of what is said to be among the largest tech acquisitions of all time, the $67 billion acquisition of EMC by Dell. Yes, even bigger than HP and Autonomy. It remains to be seen whether the Dell-EMC acquisition will prove to be more successful. (It could hardly be worse.)
Incidentally, HP’s Meg Whitman, herself presiding over the conscious uncoupling of HP, criticized the Dell-EMC deal. “Of course, Whitman is hardly an impartial witness to the mega tech deal,” writes Matt Egan in CNN Money. “The new Dell is going to fiercely compete for business customers with HP Enterprise, which is splitting itself from HP on November 1. HP Enterprise, led by Whitman, will be focused on selling hardware like servers and also cloud technology, big money makers for Dell and EMC.”
People have been talking about Dell and EMC for more than a year, and the consensus then was that there was too much disparity in size and too much overlap in their product lines, so it’s going to be entertaining (if you’re not an EMC or Dell customer, that is) to see how that works out.
There are, of course, a few other loose ends to the acquisition.
- What of all the various other heirs to the EMC throne who have been suggested as Tucci’s successor somewhere along the line? They include David Goulden; CEO of EMC’s information infrastructure unit; Patrick Gelsinger; CEO of VMware; and Paul Maritz, who retired from EMC satellite Pivotal Software earlier this year. Four of them – CNN Money didn’t say who – are also in line for tens of millions in golden parachutes. Dell founder Michael Dell now has the role, meaning Tucci never had to choose.
- What about VMware? EMC owns about 80 percent of it, and yet, VMware also provided about three-quarters of EMC’s value. Divesting VMware is what some people wanted EMC to do all along, but as recently as last month, VMware’s value was such that some people speculated that VMware would buy EMC. VMware stockholders are also nervous.
- What about all the other dribs and drabs of EMC that Dell might not want? Most notably, there’s the content management software Documentum, which has languished under EMC’s benign neglect. Pay attention to whether Documentum is sold to a competitor, which would likely kill it, or sold privately, writes industry watcher Laurence Hart.
The other interesting aspect of this – and it’s hard to know whether Tucci did it on purpose or it was an unintended consequence – is that EMC, which was put into this position by virtue of being a public company that was hijacked by activist investor Elliott Management Corp, will never again have to go through this, because as part of Dell, it’s now a private company. (Well, sort of. Mostly.)
“Anyone who has talked to [Michael] Dell in recent years has witnessed the huge smile on his face when he discusses the joys of being private,” concurs Alan Murray in Fortune. “In his view, this transformation couldn’t have happened in the public markets.”
That said, even Dell is owned by a conglomerate including Silver Lake, which reportedly was shopping around Dell’s PC business just last week. We may yet see bits and pieces of EMC up on the auction block.
Here we go again. Is an encryption key more like a physical key or the combination to a safe?
Courts have been deciding back and forth on the issue for several years now and, most recently, have decided that a phone password is more like the combination to a safe.
It matters because something that is the expression of one’s mind, like the combination to a safe, is protected under your Fifth Amendment rights not to incriminate yourself. A physical key, something you possess, is something you can be forced to produce.
This all came up when the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) began investigating Bonan and Nan Huang (who are not related to each other) for insider trading, writes Orin Kerr in the Washington Post.
“The two worked at the credit card company Capital One as data analysts,” Kerr writes. “According to the complaint, the two allegedly used their jobs as data analysts to figure out sales trends at major U.S. companies and to trade stocks in those companies ahead of announced company earnings. According to the SEC, they turned a $150,000 investment into $2.8 million.
“Capital One let its employees use company-owned smartphones for work. Every employee picked his own passcode, and for security reasons did not share the passcode with Capital One. When Capital One fired the defendants, the defendants returned their phones. Later, as part of the investigation, Capital One turned over the phones to the SEC. The SEC now wants to access the phones because it believes evidence of insider trading is stored inside them.”
But the SEC has been thwarted by Judge Mark Kearney, which ruled that the passwords were indeed protected by the Fifth Amendment. Exactly why is a very long how-many-angels-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin discussion that lawyers love to have. But it boils down to whether the SEC actually wants the password itself, or access to the documents. And since it wants access to the documents, the proper way to approach it is to have the defendants enter the password, providing access to the documents but without revealing the password, Kearney writes.
And for people debating between company-provided cellphones and BYOD, that angle is involved, too: Is a password to a company-provided cell phone considered a corporate record? If it were, then the Fifth Amendment wouldn’t apply, but Kearney doesn’t believe it is.
Indeed, because Capital One specifically told the analysts to keep their passwords secret and not write them down, that made them products of the mind and not corporate records, Kearney writes.
As with other cases of this ilk, it’s likely that, eventually, the Supreme Court is going to need to rule on the issue.
To add an additional wrinkle, recall that a suspect can be forced to give up a fingerprint, if that’s being used to secure the phone. That’s because a fingerprint is something you have, similar to the way that you can be compelled to give up a blood sample to test for alcohol. (Consequently, what you’d want in an ideal is to protect a phone both through encryption and a fingerprint, but not all phones can do that.)
So all that business about not writing down your password? Turns out it was more right than you knew.
Those of us of a certain age have fond memories of hunching by the radio with a mike and our portable cassette recorder, waiting for them to play our favorite song and please-God-don’t-let-the-DJ-talk-over-the-intro-this-time.
Guess what: The cassette is coming back.
In the same way that some retro purists have brought back vinyl, some artists such as Arcade Fire and Transviolet are actually still issuing music on cassette tape. In 1983, cassettes began outselling records, until 1991, when the CD became the most popular medium, writes Zach Sokol in Motherboard.
As it turns out, there’s at least one factory – National Audio Co., in Springfield, Mo. — that still manufactures cassette tapes, and it says business is better than ever: Last year is the best year it’s had since it opened in 1969, writes Jeniece Pettitt in Bloomberg. “The profitable company produced more than 10 million tapes in 2014 and sales are up 20 percent this year,” she writes.
Why, it’s hard to say. In the case of vinyl, there is an argument to be made that it sounds “better,” though any quality improvement might be wasted on a generation that grew up listening to MP3s. And like vinyl, there are those who claim the analog sound of tape is preferable to digital recordings. Also, in a day and age where so much of our content is digital, some people really like having something tangible, Pettitt writes.
“Certain kinds of music sound good on cassette,” wrote Nick Sylvester in Pitchfork on the eve of Cassette Store Day in 2013. “The public perception is that tape is ‘warm’ and ’fat,’ but not all tape is equal, and recording to 2-inch tape on an old Studer is very different from playing a cassette in a car stereo. In the cassette heyday, people weren’t exactly seeking out cassette releases for their sonic character. Mastering engineers did everything they possibly could to ‘beat’ the cassette, to make the music sound pretty damn close to the original recording despite the ways tape stock can roll off the highs, stuff the low-mids, and hiss above 1khz.”
“Nostalgia’s a potent drug, and the music industry has changed abruptly enough that even twenty-somethings like me feel wistful for the lost ‘90s,” Zach Schoenfeld wrote in Newsweek during the first Cassette Store Day. “Though I’m not yet 30, I can recall my very first cassette (Red Hot Chili Peppers’ much-maligned One Hot Minute) far more easily than I can name my first CD or MP3 or Spotify stream.”
As we’ve mentioned, part of the problem with recording data on old media is finding a way to read it later, and indeed that is a problem for some people who didn’t save their Walkmans. (Walkmen?) And there’s the occasional story about Kids These Days who mistake the cassette player in an older car for an iPhone dock, to hilarious results.
Count your blessings, though: So far, nobody’s talking about bringing back the 8-track.
We have always been at war with Eastasia.
In an era where people have to resort to smartphones and the Internet just to look up phone numbers, people are warning that the next wave of hacking might not take information, but add or change it instead.
“Most of the public discussion regarding cyber threats has focused on the confidentiality and availability of information; cyber espionage undermines confidentiality, whereas denial of service operations and data deletion attacks undermine availability,” wrote Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, in testimony presented to the House Subcommittee on Intelligence earlier this month. “In the future, however, we might also see more cyber operations that will change or manipulate electronic information in order to compromise its integrity (i.e., accuracy and reliability) instead of deleting it or disrupting access to it. Decision making by senior government officials (civilian and military), corporate executives, investors, or others will be impaired if they cannot trust the information they are receiving.”
In particular, hackers or terrorists could wreak havoc by changing data about infrastructure, postulates Patrick Tucker, technology editor for Defense One. Remember that as far back as Die Hard 2, the bad guys were crashing planes by feeding them incorrect data on their actual altitude.
Clapper isn’t the only one to suggest this. For example, when the Office of Personnel Management revealed earlier this year that it had been hacked, some speculated that more could be involved than simply taking information. “For those of us who wear tinfoil hats – what if records were not only taken, but some were added as well?” writes Steve Ragan in CSO Online. “Would the OPM be able to tell?”
As it turns out, Clapper has actually been saying this for some time; articles quoting him talking about hackers who could “change or manipulate” information have been published since at least February, when he testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee. “[Clapper] described future attacks which will change or manipulate [there’s that phrase again] electronic information in order to compromise its integrity,” Business Korea wrote in March. “In the future, hackers may launch more clandestine cyber espionage programs that manipulate data so victims lose credibility.”
What might it have done, for example, if at some point someone had added data to government records to make it appear that President Obama actually had been born in Kenya?
People have always added fake people to rosters to get additional paychecks and other benefits – remember M*A*S*H’s “Captain Tuttle”? – but doing it through the computer can make it a lot easier. “A doctor pulls up your electronic medical records to discover that they have been changed and you have been receiving the wrong dosage of a lifesaving medicine,” writes Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas), who chairs the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies, and sits on the Judiciary Committee, in The Hill. “Now imagine this happening at every hospital in the United States.”
Think the whole notion of messing things up by changing information is farfetched? How many “Han shot first” arguments have you seen? And that’s with film that millions of people have seen – not to mention someone who actually admits that they changed something.
Of course, if you really want to drive yourself crazy, you can remind yourself that this is the age of Edward Snowden. Maybe Clapper is warning us to beware of hackers changing data because he wants us to be suspicious of our data. Maybe he’s going to be changing the data – and is laying the groundwork now to blame it on hackers.
If you need me, I’ll be hiding under the bed.
“Joe, I know how we can make a mint. We just get a database full of personal information for a bunch of really gullible guys with something to hide, and then we can sell it!”
“That’s great, Ron, but how do we get the database of personal information in the first place?”
Which is what gave me the idea for a database that will actually be the most elaborately designed honeypot in history.
Okay, work with me here.
First of all, we find a bunch of guys who admit to strangers that they’re looking to cheat on their wives. They even provide their contact information.
Heck, they’re even willing to pay for the privilege!
Meanwhile, we create a bunch of fake female profiles. And not only do these guys not realize the women are fake, but they have conversations with them! We just send out messages periodically from these fake women so the guys think there’s really women on this database interested in cheating with them.
Who knows. Maybe we can even convince the guys to pay more to talk to these fake women.
Oh, sure, some guys are going to figure it out, or feel guilty, and drop out. But the ones who keep on – we know we’ve got ‘em.
And the ones who do drop out, and feel guilty, and want us to delete all their information so their wives never find out? We tell them they have to pay more to delete their information! And most of them pay it!
And then we don’t delete it all!
After all, data is valuable.
Then, when the database gets big enough, we tell them it’s been hacked! And all their information has been stolen! And to make that more plausible, we’ll use a really simple encryption technique that would make it easy for someone to hack it.
(Not that we need to worry much about that. They’ll end up picking really common, easy passwords.)
That’s when we can sell the data. We can market it as “Gullible guys with lots of disposable income who won’t want to go to the police.”
We can even sell the database to blackmailers. Sure, none of these guys actually cheated – but how would they convince their wives of that? Just the fact that they signed up to be in a database of cheaters is damning enough, isn’t it?
And yes, some of the guys might be kind of upset. There might be some collateral damage. We have to be prepared for that.
But think of the money we’d make! Plus, we can do it again! All the publicity will probably cause even more gullible guys to join!
Still. Maybe we don’t want to do it for real. Maybe we should just write a movie script about it.
Naah. Nobody’d believe it.
First, lightning struck the utility grid used by one of Google’s three data centers in St. Ghislain, Belgium, a small town about 50 miles southwest of Brussels, knocking the center offline and losing some data.
You know how they say lightning never strikes twice? Well, it hit the grid that Google uses four times.
Naturally, there were backup systems, but they failed too, writes Yevginey Sverdlik in Data Center Knowledge. “Besides failover systems that switch to auxiliary power when primary power source goes offline, servers in Google data centers have on-board batteries for extra backup,” he writes. “But some of the servers failed anyway because of ‘extended or repeated battery drain,’ according to the incident report.”
The storage in question was part of the Google Compute Engine (GCE) disks, which allow customers to run cloud-based virtual machines, according to Mike Brown in the International Business Times. “It’s not the first time GCE has had issues,” Brown writes. “In February, GCE experienced a global outage that lasted for nearly two hours affecting businesses that depend on GCE for their day-to-day operations. GCE is seen as a competitor to Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure for dominance of the cloud, but instances like these will shake consumer confidence in the GCE brand as they look for the most stable cloud services possible.”
Brown noted that “To be sure, AWS and Azure have also had their share of outages,” such as Virginia thunderstorms in 2012 that took out major Internet services such as Netflix, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Altogether, Google servers had problems for about five days, with a resultant loss of 0.000001 percent of data, Sverdlik writes. (How many bytes that is, Google didn’t say.) It’s not known which clients were affected, or what type of data was lost, according to the BBC.
“Having worked in data recovery, that’s a remarkable achievement and a definite feather in Google’s bow,” commented one reader.
Google staff apparently had to tweak the servers some to retrieve data as well, wrote the company in its incident report. “In almost all cases the data was successfully committed to stable storage, although manual intervention was required in order to restore the systems to their normal serving state.” The company also pointed out that users needed to make additional copies of data in case of such incidents. “GCE instances and persistent disks within a zone exist in a single Google data center and are therefore unavoidably vulnerable to data center-scale disasters,” Google wrote, recommending GCE snapshots and Google Cloud Storage.
Next, a failed chilled water pipe caused the air conditioning system to fail in a CenturyLink data center in Weehawken, N.J. This data center provides facilities for a number of companies, including education company Pearson, Thomson Reuters, and trading companies BATS Global Markets and Investment Technology Group.
As a precaution, CenturyLink reportedly shut down its systems, meaning that the companies went offline as well. Incidentally, this was happening at the same time the stock market was tanking last week.
And this is just in August.
By the way, the hurricane season typically enters its heaviest phase on September 1. We’re already up through Fred.
“OMG, did you hear? You can now mail a hard drive in to Google to store it on the cloud! Squee!”
Not exactly. Hold your horses, people.
Yes, it’s true that being able to mail a hard disk device for import into a cloud storage service helps a lot when you have a lot of data. Nobody’s arguing with that. As Google points out, trying to upload just a terabyte can take more than 100 days. And as we all know from the station-wagon-full-of-backup-tapes calculation, sometimes that’s just the fastest way.
But this isn’t really a new thing. Sorry.
So, what actually is new here? Well, there’s the name: Offline Media Import/Export.
- Instead of mailing in your device to Google directly, you now do it through third-party service providers. So far, that list is exactly one vendor long: Iron Mountain, which performs the service in North America. Providers for EMEA and APAC are reportedly coming. You can, however, also do it through any other provider you like, Google writes. Meanwhile, it looks like the direct-to-Google service, which was only experimental anyway, might be kaput.
- Previously, you could send in data only on a hard drive, which Google would upload for you for $80 apiece. Now you can also send in data on tapes or thumb drives. Google doesn’t specify what kind of devices or formats it supports; presumably that’s up to the third-party vendor. (Can you send in that box of 8” floppy drives you found in the closet? Who knows?) Incidentally, Amazon has also supported storage devices other than hard drives; Microsoft supports only hard drives, and only up to 6TB.
What happens to the storage device afterwards? That’s up to you, writes Ben Chong, product manager, in a blog post describing the service. “Once data upload is complete, Iron Mountain can send the hard drive back to you, store it within their vault or destroy it.”
How much will it cost? Google didn’t say, because you now pay the third-party provider, not Google.“Neither Google nor Iron Mountain call out pricing for the service, but it’s likely competitive with Amazon’s rates of $80 per storage device and then $2.49 per hour it actually takes to upload to the cloud,” writes Matt Weinberger in Business Insider. Google’s previous service cost an $80 flat fee with no per-hour charge, plus Google supported drives of up to 400TB; Microsoft charges $80 per disk drive.
Google’s previous service not only supported encryption, it required it. The new service definitely supports encryption, but it isn’t clear whether it’s required. The service’s product page doesn’t even mention encryption, though Chong’s blog post does. “Save and encrypt your data to the media of your choice (hard drives, tapes, etc.) and ship them to the third party service provider through your preferred courier service,” he writes. The encrypted data will be uploaded to Google Cloud Storage using high speed infrastructure.”
So there you go. Always nice to have a new option but it’s not really the Great! New! Thing! That some — including Google, apparently — would have you believe.
Now in its 73rd official year, science fiction fandom is grappling with a very present-day problem: How to archive its history in a way that future generations can reference.
“Archiving for the Future,” a panel session held at this week’s World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in Spokane, Wash., included several science fiction historians as well as archiving professionals who discussed the aging of the fandom population, the lack of a clear repository for the history, and the fact that there’s so much material that no single site could actually serve as such a repository.
In the same way that some comic books became scarce because everyone’s moms threw them out, some irreplaceable science fiction fandom material, such as fanzines, has been lost because it was considered ephemera and discarded, panelists lamented. The problem is, many well-known science fiction authors started out as fans and their early work was included in those fanzines. “You have to save everything because you don’t know who that person will become,” one noted. “Some of those people became Harlan Ellison.”
Moreover, material on paper is vulnerable to a variety of ills ranging from moisture to fire. When you get access to material, share it, panelists were told: You never know when your house is going to burn down or be hit by a hurricane.
Even now, in an era where material is born digital, some is considered ephemeral but is actually significant historically, noted participant Leslie Johnston, whose day job is Director of Digital Preservation at the National Archive.
For example, when the Library of Congress announced in 2010 that it would archive Twitter – a project still under some criticism — some people didn’t understand why they’d want to bother saving details of what people had for breakfast, she said. But Twitter has become the first place a number of historical events and reactions to them were documented, such as the death of Osama bin Laden. “Twitter is today’s diaries,” she said.
And when such material does manage to make it to a collection rather than being thrown out, it’s often missing much of the context that gives it value, panelists said, citing cases of getting hundreds of photographs “from Worldcon” but with none of the participants, or even which Worldcon it was, identified. “It always comes down to the metadata,” said panelist Pierre Pettinger Jr., whose particular specialty is costuming. People have had to resort to such techniques as identifying venues based on the woodwork and carpeting shown in the pictures, panelists reported.
It was suggested, though, that crowdsourcing could help with some of that identification. Crowdsourcing has been used by a variety of libraries, from the New York Public Library to the British Library, to help identify and verify material ranging from maps to menus.
While some people may think that the preservation problem is solved once material is scanned or otherwise digitized, that’s no panacea, either, Johnston said. “Digitization is not preservation,” she said. “It’s creating a whole new set of materials that need to be preserved.”
What’s the issue? First of all, some of the digitized formats themselves are vulnerable. “CDs make me crazy,” Johnston said, because of their fragility, and thumb drives aren’t much better, relating the case of one that went through the wash.
Second, as time goes on, the hardware and software required to read material in particular formats can become hard to find, no matter how popular it once was, Johnston said. For example, the industry stopped manufacturing slide projectors three years ago, which will make it more difficult to look at slides going forward. She praised organizations such as the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Va., which holds a large archive of such hardware and software.
This loss of data isn’t just with old files, Johnston cautioned, noting that even some more recent material, which used early versions of cutting-edge storage formats, is now inaccessible.
Another issue, particularly with photographs, is that of the rights, panelists reported. Pettinger noted that he often posts images online that are of a lower quality than others he has because of concerns that people will appropriate them.
Similarly, panelists discussed the conflicting rights among the people who owned a picture vs. the people who might appear in it. Few of those subjects ever signed model releases, said fan history specialist Joe Siclari, who added that he always takes down images on request from the people in them. Fandom needs a better education in rights and how those rights can be transferred and archived, panelists said.
What’s needed now is for members of fandom to take responsibility for identifying and organizing the material they have, while they’re still around to do it, panelists said. In addition, fandom should set up a collaborative collection, where it’s accepted that a repository for one kind of material, such as costuming, will be located at one institution, with other institutions acting as repositories for other kinds of material.
Finally, that information also needs to be made available to fandom by creating repository directories, because there’s so much material that no one institution can take it all, Johnston said. That way, aging fans, and their descendants, know the value of the material and the process to follow for donating it.
In addition, there needs to be a canonical list of the types of hardware and software available, and where, that are available to read the different file formats. That way, archivists will be able to find out how to retrieve past material, panelists said.
Ideally, fans of the future would be able to see material in the same way that the writer originally did, Johnston said, citing the example of professor Salman Rushdie’s archive at Emory University.
Meanwhile, people are on their own. “How do we find the place that wants the stuff we have before we croak?” summarized one session attendee.
As you may recall, a year or so ago, activist investor Elliott Management Corp. took a large position in EMC stock, with the goal of “releasing shareholder value” – in other words, selling or reorganizing some of the pieces of EMC and VMware to make more money for stockholders. EMC CEO Joe Tucci has largely been resisting that effort, but a deadline is coming up that may mean something will happen – ranging from EMC buying VMware to VMware buying EMC.
How large is large? Reportedly it was more than $1 billion, which would amount to about 2 percent of its value, and also make it EMC’s fifth-largest shareholder.
So if this is something that’s been going on for a year, why the pressure now? It’s because in January, Elliott and EMC made a “standstill agreement,” which basically means that Elliott would not publicly pressure the company into divesting its holdings in VMware, in return for getting two people on the board of directors, writes Martin Blanc in Bidness Etc.. However, that agreement is set to expire in September, writes Anne Shields in Market Realist.
Moreover, Tucci’s on-again, off-again retirement is on again, Shields writes. “EMC’s CEO, Joe Tucci, is also under tremendous pressure to get EMC on the right track before he retires,” she notes. “David Goulden, CEO of EMC’s information infrastructure unit, as well as Patrick Gelsinger, VMware’s present CEO, are seen as equal contenders for EMC’s future CEO position.”
It might sound weird for the subsidiary VMware to buy out the parent EMC, but it makes sense because VMware stock is worth more than EMC stock, writes Blanc. “The move would likely be backed by Elliot Management as it will unlock more value for investors,” he writes. “Secondly, VMware already makes up for 73% of EMC’s entire market capitalization, so it makes more financial sense.”
Also, in some ways, VMware is the stronger company, with EMC facing pressure from flash drive manufacturers, commodity storage manufacturers, and other sources. “EMC would emerge weaker than before,” writes Arik Hesseldahl in Re/Code, which started this whole speculation. “An EMC-minus-VMware scenario leaves the parent with a value of about $11 a share, or less than half what it’s trading for now.”
A VMware acquisition would work like this, according to Hesseldahl: “VMware would issue somewhere between $50 billion and $55 billion worth of new shares,” he writes. “A portion of those shares — about $30 billion — would be used to cancel EMC’s 80 percent stake in VMware, which currently has a market value of $38.5 billion. The remaining new VMware shares would be issued to current EMC shareholders, who will also get some cash generated from the issuance of about $10 billion in new debt.”
Putting VMware in charge would also make the merged company more forward-looking. “Inverting the company to make VMware the pinnacle would send a message that says storage hardware is not the future and virtualization/cloud (whatever that means) is where the world is headed,” agrees analyst Chris Evans. It would probably also play better with the companies’ various partners, he adds.
Ultimately, some sort of acquisition between the two companies wouldn’t have much effect in the long run about how they operate, writes Chris Mellor in The Register UK. “Not much would have changed fundamentally, on the good ship EMC, apart from the deck chair arrangement and signage,” he notes.
One big change? Integrating the two companies could reduce their operational expenses by almost $1 billion, writes Shields. And indeed, the most recent EMC earnings call hinted at such a possibility, with the company promising $850 million in savings by the end of 2016, though it didn’t say how.
That said, the stock market wasn’t necessarily thrilled about the potential merger news, particularly from the VMware side, writes Shields. “EMC shares rose more than 3%, whereas VMware shares fell more than 5% on August 5, 2015,” she notes.