California Advances Age Verification Law For Porn Access

It is about time the most important progressive State gave the tone and sent a clear message that this not about politics. The bill received 65 votes and 15 abstentions, nobody voted against it. It must pass two more steps before it comes into effect. Regardless of where I stand on IP protection, I will …

FTC Bans Non-Competes To Boost Innovation And Fight Exploitation, Canada Must Follow

Noncompete agreements are a widespread and exploitative practice that prevents workers from taking a new job or starting a new business. Non-competes foster toxic work environments, by often forcing workers to either stay in a job they want to leave or bear other significant harms and costs, such as being forced to switch to a …

Amazon One Seems Ideal For Age Verification For Aylo Sites

Not sure why I am learning about this contactless biometric ID tool today (living in Canada for the past 4 years must be it) but the thing exists since 2020 as a payment method throughout the USA, being deployed in no less than 500+ Wholefoods locations. I am not trying to advertise for Amazon here, but palm recognition technology strikes me as a way more sophisticated approach than mobile pay, microchipping, or physical credit cards and paper ID.

I am frankly astonished that, during the pandemic, palm recognition wasn’t used to verify immunization status. I totally hated showing my QR code along with government issued ID to randos on a powertrip behind a plexiglas carefully studying my papers while I wanted to kill them. To the extent possible, I refused to comply, rushing past QR lines like a “distracted consumer” from hell, robust EDM blasting through my headphones, occasionally displaying a “talk to the hand” sign, shouting out “do not comply!” here and there to my alienated co-citizens… Who knew that “talk to the hand” would have been a literal solution. A palm scan would’ve totally saved me the humiliation (and subsequent PTSD). By 2022, I had entirely stopped going to venues and restaurants altogether and am still unable to return due to these painful memories.

And it sucks in a way because I love order and compliance, and all of a sudden I had no choice to boycott venues and intentionally behave like a dork contrary to my nature, because I couldn’t reconcile my law-abiding character with my absolute duty to oppose tyrannical bullshit (in my case it was the health status disclosure that broke the camel’s back, since I was cool with distancing and still am very much into it). For a minute I embraced the idea that I may be a conspiracy theorist, although I only got acquainted with such theories for the first time mid-2020 and in general I have very low opinion of politics. The rule of law is above politics and division, right (RIGHT!) Wrong. The rule of law never stood a chance next to an executive order that took 2 minutes to draft on toilet paper… now, how about a few hundred thousand of executive orders!

Although it’s too late to go back and fix that entirely avoidable fiasco, here we are 3 years later, the same government that brought us the privacy invading mandates is now suuuuper worried about the privacy of porn-consumers. I’m not here to judge, but we have a French Canadian proverb “tu ne peux pas avoir le beurre et l’argent du beurre”. You can’t have it both ways, keep the butter and the money from the butter. Or can you!

The good news is that palm recognition is a win-win. When you register with Amazon One, you would link your palm scan (that also records your veins for a unique biometric configuration) with your credit card, ID and mobile number. This data is only available to Amazon One and purportedly not shared with third parties or law enforcement (unless there is a warrant).

To access Aylo material, all you’d need to do is hold your hand in front of your device camera to ascertain you are not a minor. No names, addresses, or any personal data whatsoever are ever disclosed or stored, nobody looks at government issued IDs, so that, privacy is fully shielded. A VPN will be useless in that respect, as would be Tor, as would be a fake ID. Palm recognition could also be used to block children from accessing social media and literally anything parents decide to block them from. On a side note, please don’t use Tor for porn, it slows it down for everyone else.

In the eventuality of a (cough) new pandemic, palm recognition would also contain your immunization status and I mean your entire vaccination track-record from childhood, dispensing with the need to show government issued ID QR codes and immunization booklets. It would facilitate and speed up visa issuing (i.e. you need 2xPolio, HepB, Dengue, etc for India). All you’d need to do is hover your hand over a scanner and get your visa, board a plane or train, or access whatever venue you need to go to.

And finally, if enough stores take up palm recognition, you wouldn’t need to carry a phone or physical wallet anymore.

A TikTok Ban? Yawn.

If TikTok hadn’t tried so hard to be like Meta (and vice versa) and if we hadn’t already seen a few hundred uniquely ludicrous bills strut their stuff on the legislative catwalk of the past few years, I would possibly maybe care about this ban. I would maybe even give advice on how to bypass the ban. The fact that two different US administrations keep coming up with the same monopolistic and totalitarian idea again and again shows us that this has nothing to do with national security, just like the online harms bill was never about protecting children. Even before the “ban” was announced, I wondered if Meta hadn’t already acquired TikTok. The algorithm acts suspicious for months now. I don’t trust it anymore.

I was all over TikTok in 2019. Now, TikTok is no different than Meta or Google as it openly prioritizes ads and sponsored content over organic content.

The main issue is that social media engagement has dropped significantly over the past years, and continues to decline due to algorithmic discrimination and censorship that have become impossible to hide since the pandemic. Another issue is TOO much data and not enough reliable filters, in other words, there are way more bots in this world than users, but bot-generated data ends up in the same place as organic data. It is counterproductive for analytics and creates bot-bubbles. A simple way to fix this is to charge users a symbolic sum for social media use and link each user with their digital wallet or credit card (with banking info being centralized to a universal digital ID). This will grant full control over the identity and conduct of all active users while bot farms will be virtually eliminated. But we all know that the day users are de-anonymized and bots are eliminated, advertising revenue will also instantly disappear. Human users are already curbing their expression (or speech in US terminology) and human users don’t watch ads. Only bots and very ancient humans who don’t know how to bypass ads watch ads. Only bots (and paid influencers) at this point have a semblance of free speech because their speech is narrowly scripted into one of the two ideological doctrines (right or left). Speech that is logical or falls anywhere in the middle will be shadow-banned, so technically you won’t be able to see it even if it exists. And if nobody sees a major portion of engagement, an army of bots needs to step in to replace the hidden engagement with non-organic or programmed “approved” engagement (for advertising revenue purposes). The vicious circle is that very little of any engagement on the main social media platforms can be attributed to actual human beings.

In a way, the very thing that put social media on the map is turning out to be a series of potential harms and a national security risk.

If national security was of any concern, no mobile app would be allowed (for years) to collect, store, use and share the personal information of users located outside of its assigned territorial jurisdiction or the country of incorporation. So, if it is a Chinese app, it shouldn’t operate anywhere outside of China. If it is a US app, it should only work in the US. It means Meta wouldn’t be allowed to legally operate anywhere except in the US. If a phone would leave the US borders, the Meta app should be automatically blocked. And I could go on if I cared, but I don’t. Do you?

Age Verification Bill Is Preferable to (too little too late) Online Harms Bill

Age verification to access adult content online is the only viable and sensible way to counter the irreparable damage pornographic platforms cause to society. The fact that Pornhub prefers to block access to their content in jurisdictions that enforce age verification is a sign that Pornhub is nothing less than a criminal platform. If all adult sites are truly “sketchy” to cite our prime minister, and couldn’t be trusted to verify ID, then I don’t understand why they are allowed to legally operate. They should simply be blocked and it would save the government a great deal of money.

Last time I checked, everyone in Canada (and many places in the US) needs to show their papers to buy alcohol, cigarettes, or government weed. Even nightclubs want to see your papers before letting you in. If you don’t want to show your papers, you don’t get in. If you’re too young, you don’t get in. Not once have I been able to get into a club in our (extremely liberal) Quebec before the age of 18, or the (more conservative) province of Ontario before the age of 19. We also hear stories of the time when porn content was only available on tangible format (magazines, videotapes, dvd’s) people had to show ID to access such content. Yet, online porn of the vilest kind has always been accessible to children in Canada. How does that make any sense?

I personally worked on cannabis legalization memoir during my second year in law school in 2016 (two years later, it was legalized) and age verification was always a sine qua non for legalization, given how harmful weed can be to the developing brain. In the same manner, I also recommended a system preventing the sale of cannabis to people experiencing mental health issues. It didn’t get implemented, but it should. You can hate me for it but the science is clear, if you have a diagnosed mental health condition, weed will make you psychotic and likely a danger to yourself and others. In order to counter the overdose epidemic, I am also a proponent of the legalization of opiates, and mainly pharmaceutical opiates that should be available to all addicts, who are often patients in need of pain-management let down by the health system, to be administered by certified nurses in every pharmacy of this country.

However, when it comes to porn, I believe the societal damage exceeds that of any drug. I believe that online porn (through the nonconsensual user generated model that is being pushed and rewarded on popular platforms) is the main factor behind the mental health epidemic amongst minors. Many kids never really fully get to understand how consent works. Those who believe they need to perform the violent acts depicted in porn videos, become suicidal. For many people, it is the first introduction to heterosexual relations and it makes kids hate society and their biological sex. It is not a coincidence that so many kids refuse to conform to their gender.

Given that online porn tends to obfuscate the notion of consent for profit, which in itself promotes content depicting self-harm and assault, studies are proving now and again that online porn is the main driver of nonconsensual content, antisocial behaviour, intimate partner violence, criminal harassment, cyberbullying (to name a few), and now identity theft via deepfakes.

This is not an ideological or political issue. I don’t understand why online pornographers in Canada should be exempt from age checks. Even less do I understand why the federal government keeps giving these platforms a free pass to make their content available to everyone, for free (a paywall would fix a few issues). But, this is the feeling I am getting when reading the Online Harms Bill that took 5 years in the making, with its convoluted system of takedown enforcement, as if Canada ever enforced anything. I myself spent 4 years in court to take down commercial nonconsensual stuff and it only worked out when the adverse party corporation declared a bankruptcy, briefly went out of business, and their international distributor finally caved because even Google intervened before the courts reluctantly did. Canadian courts in general are mildly useless, as they seem to spend most of their efforts in further sexualizing survivors and siding with the adverse parties’ commercial interests (like the government consistently sides with Pornhub). Nobody can tell us how Canada under the online harms bill will enforce “hefty” fines on platforms that operate in Sweden, South Korea, Morocco, or Iceland for example. In my case I had to take down over 5400 pieces of online content spread over 50 countries and an extraterritorial interlocutory injunction wasn’t enough. It was only the beginning. But oh, age verification has nothing to do with Digital ID (something that will happen anyway, don’t worry). It has to do with common sense.

Not once in my life have I heard an argument saying that parents should be the ones to enforce a ban on cigarettes or cannabis, rather than the state to impose age verification at the stores. Not once have I heard the argument that age verification to access cannabis is infringing on the privacy of old farts who want to buy legal cannabis. And don’t start me on the times we needed to disclose our health status AND show government ID to buy food at Costco or Walmart, a trauma that feels like yesterday… (will not forget, neither forgive). Why is online porn so different and important to the federal government that it should be accessible for free to children at all times?


Update: Although Australia failed to follow up on introducing age checks last year, given their unique diaspora of single-user sex workers and (not human trafficked) entrepreneurs, the UK is already surprisingly advanced into determining “trusted and secure digital verification services” with a focus on “layered” checks. It is encouraging to know that government ID alone won’t be enough to access adult sites in the UK, and that users will need to submit at least one instant selfie (timestamped at the moment of access) to prove they really are who they say they are. If photos on ID don’t match selfies, users’ access to the sites will be blocked. This is easily enforceable through third party facial recognition AI that will not store any personal information, face scans, or selfies, and will only assess age on a moment to moment basis. Contrary to banks who regularly leak users personal information for the simple reason that they need to store such data, it won’t be possible for pornsites to leak anything because they won’t have access to any personal information, and the third party AI verifying it won’t be allowed to store it.

If we worry so much about porn sites handling sensitive information, then we should bar them from taking users credit cards for their premium content. As it is now, they have large databases of credit cards. A credit card is sufficient to perform a full credit check on the holder, so it is pretty damn sufficient at identifying a user.

Canada should follow in the steps of the UK and rewrite the online harms act, first to remove the bizarre ideological sections regarding hate speech (we already have hate speech offenses in the criminal code and more than enough caselaw on the matter), as well as the bizarre life sentence for vague ideological thought crimes, since it has nothing to do with protecting children. I wouldn’t mind a life sentence for child porn producers and pedophiles, however, who currently get out with a slap on the wrist; (2) borrowing from the UK Online Safety Act, to mandate the use of trusted and secure digital verification services including real time facial recognition, face scans, digital wallets, government ID, selfies and many combinations thereof. Of course the cost will be relayed on platforms. This will unite Bill S210 and C63 on same footing; (3) similar to the UK Act, Canada should exempt Twitter, Reddit, and other mainly text-based platforms; (4) leave the 24 hour takedown requirements, but create an expeditious appeal process to affected users to reinstate content that doesn’t fall under the purview of the act, and impose dissuasive fines including the payment of attorney fees for frivolous takedown requests (à la DMCA by analogy). (5) to err on the safe side, Canada should mandate all mobile providers to automatically block porn sites, so that only computer cameras would be used for real time face scans and face video.

Another reason to block adult mobile apps is that all mobile apps are specifically designed to collect and store personal information even when you are not using them. Mobile OS also regularly take photos, videos and recordings of users for the purpose of improving their experience. It is standard practice to collect extensive personal information on mobile users since intelligent phones exist. Cybersecurity experts are able to decrypt such data packets while hackers (or law enforcement with or without a warrant) are able to intercept and use them. If you access porn on your phone, you can safely expect that your most intimate and biometric details are stored in many many places, and you would be even more surprised to learn that you automatically consented to all of it. Age verification would be the least of your problems. There are tons of applications capable of accurately guessing your age based on what you do with your phone.

Finally, we should never leave it to parents to protect children, because if you read criminal jurisprudence, parents and especially foster parents (and other family members) are often factors of child abuse and child pornography in this countryfor the reason that they have unfettered access to these children. Abusive parents also get away with a slap on the wrist. Since we don’t trust parents to respect children’s choice of gender, it would be a little hypocritical to trust them to safeguard their kids from porn. I wouldn’t.


Update 2nd: after wasting a few hours on online harms bill scenarios, I predict the bill has no future other than to target speech criticizing the bill (like this post) and to ban survivor speech (already going on without the help of the bill). So basically, if the bill ever comes to exist, it will achieve the exact opposite effect of its apparent intended purpose. As Australia has shown, nothing concrete will happen in the sphere of child protection anywhere. These bills are all for show, as corporate commercial interests will always trump child safety and consent. Even the UK will only apply age checks from 2025. Why 2025? Because the UK will likely also bail before the promised deadline and drop the checks altogether shortly before 2025. Comparative law should be renamed to comparative inefficiency.

Just like electric cars promises are flopping all over the place, because you can’t tell people to choose between doing their laundry or charging their car to go to work, you also can’t authorize a mega-polluting wetland-destroying Swedish project on unceded Mohawk territory, and pretend to care about the environment or ancestral rights in the same sentence. And very obviously, you can’t make porn accessible to children for free at all times and pretend to be a good person just because you wrote another fake bill (which is not quite written yet).

The point is, do not wait for a bill or a court to save you. As I previously said, the only way to enforce anything in the realm of nonconsensual material is to arm yourself with patience and look for ways in and out of court to apply pressure on local courts via foreign legal mechanisms, file police reports and Interpol reports, seek injunctions, sue platforms, sue banks that continue to work with rogue platforms, use the takedown and delisting mechanisms of search engines, make videos, hit film festivals, write open letters to ministers.. and whatever other grassroots ideas you may come up with. If you sue in damages, sue in the US, not Canada. The important thing is to take action every single day. I love how in the US people pick up the phone and call their state rep or senator. The only way out is to let the whole world know that you did not consent. Don’t stop until everything is taken down to the ground.

AI Voice Cloning Without Consent Is Identity Theft, Human Voice Is A Biometric Identifier

You may have heard by “experts” that “there are no laws” against unauthorized voice cloning. These experts conveniently forget that identity theft is a criminal offense under any jurisdiction in this world. Human voice is a unique biometric identifier linked to human anatomy and identity and soon inextricable from your universal Digital ID. Anyone (yes …

US FTC Memo To Copyright Office Warns Gen AI Causes Unfair Competition, Deceptive Practices, and Consumer Risk

The United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) submitted a comment to the Copyright Office after conducting its own AI study last August. Although the FTC has no jurisdiction over copyright matters, it does have jurisdiction over consumer and competition violations and can indeed investigate and penalize companies for such violations independent of parallel copyright lawsuits, and in spite of …

Shopping For a Non-Intelligent Phone Without GPS, Camera, and Wifi

Do flip phones emit less radiation? Yes, Flip phones and dumb phones are objectively better for those looking to reduce radiation exposure; particularly models without bluetooth & GPS capabilities. Also flip phones without multiple apps running in the background that require constant internet access are speculated to be safer. (Source) The SAR value, also known as …

Westlaw and Ross Intelligence Lawsuit Over Gen Ai Goes To Jury Trial

This lawsuit raises the overlooked issue concerning legal databases charging people for money for content that they don’t really own. Anyone who’s been to law school is trained to use Westlaw on a limited academic license, paid for with prohibitive students tuitions, in order to complete research that ultimately is in the public’s interest. Student access to Westlaw opens many doors for employment in the legal trade, because a significant number of law firms cannot afford to pay for Westlaw access, so they rely on interns’ academic access. These paid databases are hurting the public the most. There is no copyright per se on judgments or legislation, or citations. Filed proceedings, except under non-publication orders, are considered public information, which means they should be accessible. For free.

Legal information and trial data shouldn’t be kept behind a paywall

We contend that all legal databases should be free for the public, and by extension free to train large language models. I believe that in this day and age when legislation changes often, with numerous reforms undergoing in a whole brand new world to look forward to, the public should be equipped for free with all the tools traditionally at lawyers disposal, no less to figure out their rights and duties, and become better citizens.

Monetizing a large language model however, that sifts through all this data and answers your questions like a lawyer, is justified, because it will save us thousands of hours of research (if it works at all), will improve access to justice, and will root out frivolous lawsuits. Thomson Reuters is training their own LLM on data they don’t really own, but simply aggregate into databases, they call “proprietary”. And now they want to stop competing LLM’s from training on said databases. For example, CanLII in Canada and some of Soquij also have proprietary elements but remain free for the public for what matters most, namely jurisprudence and caselaw by provision. The parts that are not free yet, such as dockets access, shouldn’t be monetized either. Dockets info is completely free in states like California and in the UK.

It feels like Thomson Reuters wants to stall innovation and monopolize legal LLM’s

Indeed, Thomson Reuters is accusing Ross Intelligence of unlawfully copying content from its legal-research platform Westlaw to train a competing artificial intelligence-based platform. A decision by U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas sending the case to a jury sets the stage for what could be one of the first trials related to the “unauthorized” use of data to train AI systems.

When you pay Westlaw a salty hourly fee to access its databases, nothing precludes you from copying this information at will for whatever purpose you need it for, which evidently includes training LLM’s. If anything, there should be more LLM’s training on Westlaw’s databases.

This is very different from tech companies such as Meta Platforms, Stability AI and Microsoft-backed OpenAI facing lawsuits from authors, visual artists and other copyright owners over the use of their work to train the companies’ generative AI software. Authors, artists and copyright owners actually own copyright over their works that have been used without their consent. The same cannot be said about Thomson and Reuters. Nobody gave them a license to make those databases, because a licence is not required in the first place. In theory, anyone or a bot can make such databases by compiling publicly available information.

The issue revolves mainly around the “headnotes” which summarize points of law in court opinions. These are citations extracted from the opinions themselves. They are something of an extremely detailed bullet point deconstruction of the legal analysis. Students do that every day. Another thing about the headnotes, handy as they are, you do need a bot to go through all of them, because they end up taking up more space than the entire judgment. I don’t agree that they are proprietary. I tend to agree with the defendant that they are fair use.

Ross said that the Headnotes material was used as a “means to locate judicial opinions,” and that the company did not compete in the market for the materials themselves. Thomson Reuters responded that Ross copied the materials to build a direct Westlaw competitor.

The court decided to leave up to the jury to decide fair use and other questions, including the extent of Thomson Reuters’ copyright protection in the headnotes. He noted that there were factors in the fair-use analysis that favored each side. The judge said he could not determine whether Ross “transformed” the Westlaw material into a “brand-new research platform that serves a different purpose,” which is often a key fair use question.

Yes, but it is not the only factor. Fair use analysis would apply if Westlaw had copyright over the headnotes to begin with. I think the headnotes are already fair use in a sense if we accept that judgments and papers are protected by copyright in theory, even though unenforceable in practice. I don’t see why you would need to prove transformative use when training models on someone else’s fair use material in a context where there is no economic right in the core content to begin with. It is indeed an interesting case.

“Here, we run into a hotly debated question,” judge Bibas said. “Is it in the public benefit to allow AI to be trained with copyrighted material?”

I would answer the question with a resounding: YES.