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Tech at Night: Google, Apple, RIM, Al Franken

Tech at Night

Good evening. Sure, it’s technically morning, but when I went to post tonight I realized I had nothing queued up to write about, so I had to make a crash run through my news feeds before I could get started.

But get started we shall tonight with Apple and the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress is apparently entrusted with setting rules for what forms of reverse engineering are allowed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a landmark bill which included (over)broad restrictions on software. In short, the DMCA pretty much bans reverse engineering or circumvention of software or hardware that enforces copyright. Exceptions are given though, and the Library of Congress has announced some more exceptions.

One of them is a doozy: Both major forms of Apple iPhone “jailbreaking” are now expressly legal in this country. It is allowed to circumvent Apple’s restrictions to install legitimate software otherwise inaccessible through the App Store. It is also allowed to buy a used iPhone and circumvent the AT&T carrier restriction in it.

In practice this might not mean much, as jailbreaking activity was already strong due to clear legality in other countries from the start. That fact forced Apple to fight jailbreaking technologically, rather than legally. But now the full might of American engineering may be brought to bear on iPhone jailbreaking, and Apple might have a tougher time going forward.

Moving on to Google, one of the company’s big pushes (as we saw in the Andrew McLaughlin emails) has been to get government to use and even rely upon Google services and tools. In fact, just today Google promoted “Google Apps for Government”, claiming among its users the City of Los Angeles. But there’s a catch: per Inside Google, the Gmail to LA project is a big, heaping, insecure pile of failure. Late and underperforming. Just what we want an already inefficient government using, eh?

RIM’s Blackberry software is so secure, and so effective, the United Arab Emirates are scared. Privacy matters people, which is why governments are so touchy about it.

And lastly, Hillicon Valley chronicles the adventures of Al Franken, who is a Net Neutrality zealot, hates his old SNL employer NBC, and is feeling very uncomfortable about Darrell Issa’s impudent demands that the Congress actually watch what the President is doing. How’s that for reinforcement of where the right ought to be on Net Neutrality?

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