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Internet Privacy and Blogger Rights

With Apple on the attack in court and AOL running defense against concerned consumers, two major corporations whose products are extremely popular in the Mills community are deeply involved in two separate debacles.

Beyond functionality, stability or simple preference, many Apple owners remain loyal to Apple products because of the company’s image as a trendy underdog. The Cupertino-based company’s actions in recent and pending court cases, however, may be sabotaging their own hip façade, revealing something much less friendly underneath.

In December 2004, Apple Computer began litigation in Santa Clara County against three unnamed persons for leaking confidential information about an unreleased product to news sites and Mac enthusiast Web sites.

In their hunt for information on how the information was obtained, Apple has subpoenaed the e-mail records of the dePlume Corporation LLC, owners of the Mac enthusiast site, and, the e-mail service provider to another site.

The unreleased device in question is codenamed Asteroid, or Q7, and is alleged to be a FireWire audio interface for the popular personal recording suite GarageBand, which debuted as part of the iLife04 software pack.

On March 11, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg ruled in favor of Apple, saying that the three independent Web journalists should have to reveal their sources because they are not protected by the “shield laws” that protect conventional journalists.

The crux of the matter is that Apple and the courts feel justified in putting pressure on the bloggers, which dovetails into other recent debates concerning First Amendment protection for Web-based journalists.

“Defining what is a ‘journalist’ has become more complicated as the variety of media has expanded,” said Judge Kleinberg. “But even if [Web-based writers] are journalists, this is not the equivalent of a free pass.”

Apple also filed a suit against ThinkSecret, separate from its “John Doe” suits, to the tune of a trade secrets “stolen property” violation.

In response, ThinkSecret has filed a motion to dismiss Apple’s suit under the California Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation statute, which is meant to discourage lawsuits that threaten to chill valid constitutional exercises of free speech.

While Apple’s case snakes through the courts, America Online is taking heat over the wording of their Terms of Service document, which most users click through without reading during instant messenger installations.

According to the TOS, “by posting Content on an AIM Product, you grant AOL, its parent, affiliates, subsidiaries, assigns, agents and licensees the irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide right to reproduce, display, perform, distribute, adapt and promote this Content in any medium. You waive any right to privacy. You waive any right to inspect or approve uses of the Content or to be compensated for any such uses.”

This news came down the pipe and emptied into many tech enthusiast Web sites on March 12. In the forum reaction of one popular “nerd news” site,, user cerberus4696 commented, “I suppose if they want the rights to some irreversibly encrypted garbage, they can go right ahead.”

In response to the baffled bloggers and worried Web enthusiasts, Andrew Weinstein, spokesman for America Online said, “There seems to be a misimpression that the change was recently made. In fact, the current AIM Terms of Service was last updated in February 2004 and has been in place for more than a year. The prior terms of service had very similar language reserving the same rights.”

The general reaction to this can be best wrapped up in the words of another Slashdot user, mwilliamson. “Folks, it is time to start putting your letters in an envelope. You can no longer trust the letter carrier to protect your privacy. Envelopes are cheap…so start using them.”