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Free scanned books are just piracy by another name

June 2, 2020, 1:14 PM UTC

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There long has been a strand of Silicon Valley thought that declared that “information wants to be free.” It reached its zenith with the failed music-stealing site Napster. Google built an empire by freely, but legally, scraping intellectual content it didn’t create. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter did it one better by capitalizing on “user-generated” information for which they don’t pay a dime.

Book publishers are pushing back on the latest effort by presumptuous netizens. Four big publishers have sued the Internet Archive, an online group that scanned more than one million books and made them available for free. The Internet Archive rationalized that it’s okay to do so because folks can’t get to the library right now. Never mind that many libraries lend electronic copies of books—copies they pay for.

My allegiance is clear here. Two of the four leading publishers that brought the suit, Penguin Random House and Hachette, have published my books. And I’m a member of the Author’s Guild, which is supporting the litigation. Its president called the Internet Archive’s scheme of posting “copyrighted books without the consent of authors, without paying a dime … piracy hidden behind a sanctimonious veil of progressivism.”

Quite so.


Speaking of books and works of art worth paying for, I’ll briefly share, and in one case re-share, some recommendations, each of which might be helpful for those inclined to think quietly about race relations without scanning Twitter or turning on the news.

In December I shared that I had read Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, which I called “ a crushing, elegant, highly readable novel about racism in America.” It has since won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Just recently I finished watching the four-part HBO documentary The Defiant Ones about the producers Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. It’s really good, and if you don’t know the history of ’90s gangster rap, the story will be eye-opening and sadly relevant today. Finally, because I often like to read alongside a certain middle schooler, I’m currently reading, for the first time in about 40 years, To Kill A Mockingbird. The story was fresh in my mind because I saw the Broadway version last year. But it’s a trip to read Harper Lee’s witty dialogue and shockingly raw portrayal of racism.

Reading and watching aren’t the same as speaking out. But they can help with understanding.

Adam Lashinsky


This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Aaron Pressman.


I'm all lost in a supermarket. Twitter continued to have its hands full implementing its policies against misinformation. The service blocked posts spreading rumors of a blackout in Washington D.C. and labeled a post from Rep. Matt Gaetz for "glorifying violence." Confusion reigned on TikTok, where posts with hashtags including #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd showed zero views, as if they were being blocked. But TikTok said it suffered a technical glitch affecting many hashtags. In reality, posts tagged with #BlackLivesMatter were viewed over 2 billion times, the company said.

Anticipation is making me wait. Events in the tech community that were shifted from in-person to virtual are now being postponed altogether amid the national protests. Cisco said its Cisco Live customer event would not start today, but did not set a new date. Sony postponed a virtual event about the future of gaming and the new Playstation 5. And Google delayed the introduction of Android 11, which had been scheduled for Wednesday.

A little too close for comfort. With little consensus about how to proceed with contact tracing apps, states and countries are choosing different paths. Some in Congress are concerned that some of those paths are not protecting user privacy sufficiently. A bipartisan group of senators led by Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, is backing legislation to regulate data collection by contact tracing apps. “We’re all irritated our browser history might be sold a thousand times over,” Cantwell said, “but when it's your healthcare history it’s a whole new realm.”

All you can eat. Samsung has a new bundle for its biggest phone fans. For $37 to $48 per month (that's $444 to $574 a year), the new Access service includes a brand new Galaxy S20, S20 Plus, or S20 Ultra, a subscription to Microsoft 365 apps, and 1 TB of cloud storage. Subscribers can upgrade their phones as frequently as every nine months, too.

No one has the range. In the markets, a busy week for the letter Z. Game developer Zynga is buying Turkish mobile-game creator Peak for $1.8 billion. And cloud business data firm ZoomInfo is planning to go public (and confuse would-be investors of that super-popular video conferencing company). Away from the Z's, online car seller Vroom is also planning an initial public offering soon.


Mega retailer Walmart has been testing an artificial intelligence app to catch shoplifters at its self-checkout counters. But the app, developed by an Irish company called Everseen, doesn't work well, at least according to a video some Walmart employees made and sent to Wired. Staff writer Louise Matsakis followed up.

In interviews, the workers, whose jobs include knowledge of Walmart’s loss prevention programs, said their top concern with Everseen was false positives at self-checkout. The employees believe that the tech frequently misinterprets innocent behavior as potential shoplifting, which frustrates customers and store associates, and leads to longer lines. “It’s like a noisy tech, a fake AI that just pretends to safeguard,” said one worker.

The coronavirus pandemic has given their concerns more urgency. One Concerned Home Office Associate said they worry false positives could be causing Walmart workers to break social distancing guidelines unnecessarily. When Everseen flags an issue, a store associate needs to intervene and determine whether shopliftng or another problem is taking place. In an internal communication from April obtained by WIRED, a corporate Walmart manager expressed strong concern that workers were being put at risk by the additional contact necessitated by false positives, and asked whether the Everseen system should be turned off to protect customers and workers.


Struggling augmented reality startup Magic Leap is losing founder and CEO Rony Abovitz. He'll stay on until a replacement is named...Zoom Video Communications hired Damien Hooper-Campbell as its first chief diversity officer. He was in the same role at eBay, and worked at Google and Uber...PayPal CMO and former Apple exec Allison Johnson left the company after 18 months...AT&T's WarnerMedia hired Richard Tom as CTO, replacing Jeremy Legg, who shifts to become EVP and CTO at AT&T Communications. Tom is the former CTO of Hulu...Wipro named Thierry Delaporte as CEO, replacing Abidali Neemuchwala, who stepped down. Delaporte was the COO of Capgemini Group.



Facebook workers slam Mark Zuckerberg over Trump’s inflammatory posts. Here’s what they said By Danielle Abril

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Cleaning robots have their moment in the fight against COVID-19 By Jeremy Kahn

As Amazon shares top $2,442, Charles Schwab is the latest to offer ‘fractional’ shares By Lucinda Shen

We can’t let the coronavirus slow the march toward gender equality By Hanzade Dogan Boyner

Police scanner apps surge as protests grip America By Robert Hackett

The Coronavirus Economy: A private jet cabin host on what to expect when flying during a pandemic By Rachel King

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. There is a 50% discount for our loyal readers if you use this link to sign up. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)


Some web sites take you right back to when the Internet was mostly just a good thing. That's how I felt when I discovered Adam Amran's Untools site this week. It's a bunch of guides and frameworks "to help you solve problems, make decisions and understand systems." Insanely useful. (And hat tip to the Dense Discovery newsletter for the link.)

Aaron Pressman