Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

Monopoly power on the feudal Internet

June 21, 2017

Maciej Ceglowski, a writer and software entrepreneur in San Francisco, spoke at a conference in Berlin last May about monopoly power on the Internet: –

There are five Internet companies—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook.  Together they have a market capitalization just under 3 trillion dollars.

Bruce Schneier has called this arrangement the feudal Internet.  Part of this concentration is due to network effects, but a lot of it is driven by the problem of security.  If you want to work online with any measure of convenience and safety, you must choose a feudal lord who is big enough to protect you.

Maciej Ceglowski

These five companies compete and coexist in complex ways.

Apple and Google have a duopoly in smartphone operating systems.  Android has 82% of the handset market, iOS has 18%.

Google and Facebook are on their way to a duopoly in online advertising.  Over half of the revenue in that lucrative ($70B+) industry goes to them, and the two companies between them are capturing all of the growth (16% a year).

Apple and Microsoft have a duopoly in desktop operating systems.  The balance is something like nine to one in favor of Windows, not counting the three or four people who use Linux on the desktop, all of whom are probably at this conference.

Three companies, Amazon, Microsoft and Google, dominate cloud computing. AWS has 57% adoption, Azure has 34%. Google has 15%.

Outside of China and Russia, Facebook and LinkedIn are the only social networks at scale.  LinkedIn has been able to survive by selling itself to Microsoft.

And outside of Russia and China, Google is the world’s search engine.

That is the state of the feudal Internet, leaving aside the court jester, Twitter, who plays an important but ancillary role as a kind of worldwide chat room.  [1]

There is a difference between the giant Silicon Valley companies and Goldman Sachs, Citicorp and the big Wall Street banks.   The Silicon Valley companies have created value.  The Wall Street banks, by and large, have destroyed wealth.

I depend on Google; I found Ceglowski’s talk through Google Search.   I use Apple products; I’m typing this post on my i-Mac.  I don’t use Facebook or Windows, but many of my friends do.  I try to avoid ordering books through Amazon, because I disapprove of the way Jeff Bezos treats Amazon employees and small book publishers, but I use subscribe to Amazon Prime.

I don’t deny the achievements of the founders of these companies, nor begrudge them wealth and honor.  But I do not think that they or their successors have the right to rule over me, and that’s what their monopoly power gives them.

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The case against the Internet

March 29, 2017

Double click to enlarge. Source: Visual Capitalist.

Andrew Keen’s book, The Internet Is Not The Answer (2015), which I recently finished reading, is a good antidote to cyber-utopians such as Kevin Kelly.

Keen says the Internet is shaping society in ways we the people don’t understand.  Some of them are good, some of them are bad, but all are out of control.

Like Kelly, he writes about technology as if it were an autonomous force, shaped by its own internal dynamic rather than by human decisions.  Unlike Kelly, he thinks this is a bad thing, not a good thing.

He does not, of course, deny that the Internet has made life easier in many ways, especially for writers.   But that is not the whole story.  He claims that—

  • The Internet is a job-destroyer.
  • The Internet enables business monopoly
  • The Internet enables surveillance and invasion of privacy.
  • The Internet enables anonymous harassment and bullying.
  • The Internet enables intellectual property theft

Keen quotes Marshall McLuhan’s maxim, “We shape our tools, then our tools shape us.”

What he doesn’t quite understand is that the “we” who shape the tools is not the same as the “us” who are shaped by them.

Or to use Marxist lingo, what matters is who owns the means of production.

Technology serves the needs and desires of those who own it.  Technological advances generally serve the needs and desires of those who fund it.

Advances in technology that benefit the elite often serve the general good as well, but there is no economic or social law that guarantees this.   This is as true of the Internet as it is of everything else.

Let me look at his claims one by one—

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Your life on the Internet is an open book

March 28, 2017

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How Google Tracks You—And What You Can Do About It by Jeff Desjardins for Visual Capitalist.

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Russia accused of war by using weaponized truth

October 18, 2016

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Russian intelligence services are accused of waging cyber-warfare by releasing embarrassing Hillary Clinton e-mails through Wikileaks.

There is no direct evidence of where Wikileaks got the Clinton e-mails, but the Russians have the capability and the motive to hack her system.

Would this be an act of war?  I for one would welcome war by means of weaponized truth.

If revealing accurate information about your geopolitical enemy is a form of warfare, I think escalation of this kind of warfare would be a good thing and not a bad thing.

I think the NSA and the CIA should retaliate by arranging the release of damaging secret information about Vladimir Putin—maybe through Wikileaks as a form of poetic justice.

In fact, there are those who think they already have done so, through the Panama Papers leak

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Kevin Kelly’s technological determinism

September 22, 2016

Kevin Kelly is a smart and influential thinker who has good insight into the potential of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality and data tracking.

He has written popular books on technology with titles such as Out of Control, What Technology Wants and his latest, The Inevitable.  I haven’t read them; they’re no doubt worth reading.  I quarrel with the assumptions reflected in the titles of the books.

His mistake, in my opinion, is in treating technology as an autonomous force to which human beings must adapt, whether they like it or not.

Technology is not out of control.  The fact that we the public don’t control it doesn’t mean that nobody does.   Technology didn’t develop itself.  It developed they way it did because it served the needs of corporations, governments and other institutions.

Technology doesn’t want anything because it isn’t sentient.    Only human beings want things.   Technology ought to exist to the wants and needs of people.   People do not exist in order to serve the requirements of technology

There is nothing inevitable about the path of technological change.   Which technologies are developed is a matter of choice—by somebody.   Devices such as the steam engine existed for centuries before they were put into us.

Ned Ludd would not have destroyed weaving machines if the weavers had owned the machines.  As a Marxist would say, it all depends on who owns the means of production.  Technology works to the benefit of those who own it.

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Rural America invests in high-speed Internet

August 8, 2016
highspeedinternetsmalltownsYES!

Graphic from YES! magazine

Small American cities and rural communities are developing high-speed Internet service for themselves, following failures of President Obama’s plan to finance such service under his stimulus plan.

I read two articles on-line this morning—an old one in POLITICO about the mismanagement of the stimulus plan by the Rural Utilities Service (successor to the Rural Electrification Administration) and a recent one in YES! magazine about how local governments are acting on their own initiative to provide these services for themselves.

The two articles fit in with a long-held belief of mine—that role of government is to provide public services, such as public roads, public schools and law enforcement, under neutral rules, and not to divide up the public into worthy claimants and unworthy claimants.

I’m sure federal grants have made possible some worthy local projects that otherwise wouldn’t have taken place.  Certainly the original Rural Electrification Administration did a lot to improve the lives of American farm families.

But very often grantsmanship becomes disconnected from actual needs.  There is a cost in going through the grant approval process, maybe with the help of a professional grant application writer, and in documenting compliance with the requirements for the grant, which may have nothing to do with local priorities.

LINKS

Wired to fail by Tony Romm for POLTICO (2015)

Tired of Waiting for Corporate High-Speed Internet, Minnesota Farm Towns Build Them on Their Own by Ben DeJarnette for YES! magazine.

U.S. Constitutional rights, on-line and off-line

May 6, 2016

internetcensorshipsurveillance20120202Source: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

If newspapers die, will we lose anything?

March 23, 2016

My friend and former editor Anne Tanner worries about the future of journalism, and of newspapers in particular, as I do.  She e-mailed me a link to an article in Britain’s Prospect Magazine about the future of newspapers, from which I pull the excerpt below.

So far, the online news world has had a slightly shabby reputation.  On the one hand there are endless feeds simply repeating or re-tweeting the same basic information; the spread of lazy list-based journalism; and the parasite websites, picking the dirty bits out of the teeth of the major news corporations.  On the other hand there is the reactive underworld of almost incoherent anger, the moon-faced, flabby-fingered trolls who reduce all public argument to puerile sexual abuse.

newspaper-2Yet as more and more of us turn to our laptops, the news is getting better.  When I am researching I like to “read sideways”—that is, find a story or a footnote, trace it down to its origin, and keep going from there.  This sideways reading, made possible by hyperlinks, is the essence of the best of what is on the web.

On websites such as Buzzfeed, there is delight as well as disappointment.  The disappointment is that although there are in-depth essays and some foreign coverage, it’s still a long way from the regular, reliable foreign news service that the average news junkie would expect from the average serious newspaper.  The delight is about the ingenuity and creativity of its staff—if you haven’t seen Kelly Oakes’s “If newspaper headlines were scientifically accurate” you are missing something special.

It’s not only possible to become a really well-informed and engaged person by reading the news—it’s getting easier all the time. But relying on a single, under-funded, pressurized editorial team and a dampish wodge of flattened spruce arriving on your doormat every day is no longer the best way to go about it.  You just have to be more proactive and spend a bit more time to get what you need

Source: Prospect Magazine

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The passing scene – August 18, 2015

August 18, 2015

Peculiarities of Russian National Character by Dmitry Orlov for ClubOrlov.

Expansion of Russia Under the Czars.

Dmitry Orlov provided good insight into Russian history and how Russians deal with enemies and invaders.  But he neglected Russian expansionism.   It wasn’t by successful defense that the Russian Tsars acquired one-sixth of the world’s land surface, the largest empire in history except for the short-lived Mongol Empire.

Orlov mentioned President Putin’s offer to European nations to join his Eurasian Economic Union instead of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.  I’m glad that no important European leaders are interested in Putin’s EEU, but Russia and its partners, as exporters of energy and raw materials, would complement Europe’s manufacturing industry, and I presume that Putin’s proposed agreement doesn’t involve special privileges for multinational corporations.

Permaculture and the Myth of Overpopulation by Lisa DePiano for the Permaculture Research Institute.

Environmental degradation is due more to the behavior of rich people than to the number of poor people, and it is due more to unjust systems than to large families.   Lisa DePiano rightly says that people of good will should focus on self-determination, including reproductive rights, and not talk about human population as if it is a problem in wildlife management.

Why Bill Clinton’s Apology and Barack Obama’s Prison Drive-By Token Clemencies Are Election-Year Posturing by Bruce A. Dixon for the Black Agenda Report.

Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, through their ability to relate to African-Americans on the emotional level, have won their votes even though their policies promoted mass incarceration of black people..

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Playing at work in an imaginary office

July 1, 2015

3036728-inline-i-1-business-live-action-role-players-blarp-is-a-thing.

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These are the internal documents of an imaginary company born on the Facebook page of an Australian teen-ager named Thomas Oscar.  It exists only on the Internet, but has more than 2,500 bogus “employees”.

LINKS

Office Role-Play?  Meet the People Who Pretend to Work in an Office Together by Justine Sherrock for Fast Company.

Teen’s office parody gets out of hand by News.com.au.

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World empires of the Internet

June 16, 2015
Double click to enlarge

Double click to enlarge

Source: Information Geographies

Internet companies are an extension of their nations’ soft power.  This map, based on data compiled in 2013, shows the number of Internet users and the most-visited web site in each country.

What stands out for me is the global reach of U.S.-based Internet companies whose dominance, however, ends at the borders of China and Russia.

Google has been squeezed out of China.  It still has a reported 30 percent market share in Russia, based partly on the popularity of its Android hand-held device, but faces anti-trust charges in that country.

I don’t think Russia, any more than China, is willing to tolerate a strong foreign Internet presence.

Another thing that stands out is the huge Internet penetration in the Southeast Asian nations of Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines, compared not only to Burma, Laos and Cambodia, which barely register as dot on the map, but also compared to Australia and New Zealand.

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Anybody can post anything on the Internet

June 15, 2015

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Long before the autopsy, London police could guess what killed Yuri Gadyukin. When they pulled his body from the river beneath the Hammersmith Bridge on July 26, 1960, they saw a bullet-sized hole that had ripped apart his skull.

Authorities had been searching for the Russian director for weeks.  By the time they yanked him from the Thames, they’d surely heard rumors percolating down through country’s film community of catastrophic arguments on the set of his latest film, The Graven Idol, between Gadyukin and the film’s star, Harry Weathers.  Others whispered that Gadyukin owed money to a local gangster—cash he’d used to finance the film.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Gadyukin?  He was a star of early Soviet cinema before fleeing to England.  You can read about his life on a fansite and a Facebook group.  You can watch him melt down in a British television interview, storming off stage in spittle-spewing rage.  For nearly four years, there were Wikipedia and Internet Movie Database articles about him, brimming with citations from authoritative Russian sources.

Those entries are now gone.  Yuri Gadyukin did not owe money to a gangster.  His final film was not swirling out of control.  Weathers did not kill him.  His body was not found beneath the Hammersmith Bridge.

Gadyukin never died, in fact, because he never existed.

For the full story, click on Behind The greatest Wikipedia hoax ever pulled by Kevin Morris for The Verge  [Hat tip to naked capitalism]

A note on the transparent society

June 10, 2015

Yesterday I bought a Timex wristwatch at a local JC Penney store.

Today I clicked on a link on my own web log and an ad for Timex wristwatches at JC Penney popped up.

Coincidence?  I think not.

It is chilling to think that I am being tracked by data miners who can figure everything about my life—including things I don’t know myself.

It is even more chilling to think that these data miners aren’t human—just computer algorithms programmed to mimic human surveillance.

LINKS

The Hypocrisy of the Internet Journalist by Quinn Norton for The Message.  [Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist]

Why Google Is a political matter: A conversation with Julian Assange by John Keane for Australia’s The Monthly.  [Hat tip to naked capitalism]

The passing scene: Links & comments 2/21/2015

February 21, 2015

China pivots everywhere by Pepe Escobar for RT News.

EU Reeling Between US and Russia by Pepe Escobar for Sputnik News.

A couple of years ago, President Putin proposed an economic partnership between Russia and the European Union, which would have been to Europe’s benefit.

Now, with Germany caught up in the U.S.-lead conflict with Russia over Ukraine, this has been wiped off the blackboard.  Now Russia looks to China as its economic partner.  If there is any winner in the Ukraine conflict, it is China.

I have misgivings about linking to RT News and Sputnik News.  They are as much organs of the Russian government as the Voice of America is an organ of the U.S. government.

But I’ll make an exception in Pepe Escobar’s case, just as I did some years back with Julian Assange’s short-lived interview show. I think Escobar is both intellectually acute and independent.

Ukraine Denouement: the Russian Loan and the IMF’s One-Two Punch by Michael Hudson for Counterpunch.

A New Policy to Rescue Ukraine by George Soros for the New York Review of Books.

One of the sidelights of the Ukraine situation is the pivotal role of the wealthy speculator George Soros.  A major contributor to the Democratic Party, he has urged a $50 billion loan to Ukraine in order to fight Russia.

Michael Hudson reported that Soros’s funds are drawing up lists of assets they’d like to buy from Ukrainian oligarchs and the Kiev government when the International Monetary Fund demands they be sold by pay down Ukaine’s debts..

A Whistleblower’s Horror Story by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

It’s not just the federal government that shields wrongdoers while doing after employees that expose them.  Wall Street buys its way out of prosecution while blacklisting employees who reveal its misdeeds.  A case in point: Countrywide / Voice of America whistleblower Michael Winston.

The plight of the bitter nerd: Why so many awkward shy guys wind up hating feminism by Arthur Chu for Salon.

‘I’m Brianna Wu And I’m Risking My Life Standing Up to Gamergate’ by Brianna Wu for Bustle.

Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire by Michelle Goldberg for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Mike the Man Biologist)

Harassment of women on the Internet is no joke, as is shown by this woman’s story of doxing (tracking down and publishing home addresses and other personal information), swatting (sending false emergency calls in her name) and death threats.

Technology and its discontents: Links 2/17/15

February 17, 2015

Socialize the Data Centers! an interview of Evgeny Morozov by New Left Review.

Knowledge really is power.   Information available on the Internet enables big organizations to know—or think they know—everything important about you.  Evgeny Morozov, a technology writer and critic, believes Big Data should be subject to democratic control and privacy safeguards, not monopolized by private companies such as Google.

One American City Enjoys a Hyperfast Internet—Any Surprise Corporations Don’t Control It? by Thom Hartmann for AlterNet.

Chattanooga, Tennessee’s publicly-owned fiber-optic Internet utility operates at a speed of 1,000 gigabits per second—about 50 times faster than in the average American city where Internet service is provided by for-profit companies.

New High-Tech Farm Equipment Is a Nightmare for Farmers by Kyle Wiens for Wired.

Tractlor manufacturers such as John Deere make it virtually impossible and maybe illegal for farmers to repair and reprogram their own tractors.

The invisible network that keeps the world running by Tim Maugham for the BBC.

Containerized shipping enables the global supply chain to function.  It requires complex coordination that can be done only by computer networks.  The author speculates that someday the process of sorting, loading and unloading cargo may be completely automated, with no human beings in the loop.  What, I ask ironically, could possibly go wrong?

South Korean woman’s hair ‘eaten’ by robot vacuum cleaner as she slept by Justin McCurry for The Guardian.

Technology is an extremely useful servant, but, as any rich person can tell you, people with servants need to keep an eye on them.

My first five years as a blogger

January 20, 2015

Today is the fifth anniversary of my starting this web log.

I’m grateful to my good friend David Damico for pointing out that it’s possible to do a blog on a web host such as WordPress without paying any money and without any particular knowledge of computers and the Internet.  If not for him, I might not ever have started a blog.  If I had known what he told me earlier, I might have started this blog years ago.

blogID-10088265When I retired from newspaper work, people asked me if I planned to continue writing.  My answer was that I did not intend to write anything in the future that somebody else had the power to change.  For many years my only writing, aside from articles for newsletters of organizations I belong to, consisted of e-mails to my circle of friends.

I still send an e-mail at least once a month commenting on books I’ve read recently.  I post on my blog about the more noteworthy of those books.

My blog is a perfect means of self-expression, from my standpoint.  I can write as much or as little as I please, although I find myself almost always spending on time on my posts than I originally intended.

I had hoped and expected, when I started my blog, that it would be a means of generating discussion and comments among my circle of friends.  In fact, the majority of my friends seldom or never read it.  But I’m compensated by being brought in contact with a circle of acquaintances in distant states and even foreign countries whom I’d never have met otherwise.

Since Jan. 20, 2010, I’ve made 3,049 posts which have elicited a total of 2,440 comments and been viewed a total of 601,009 times (not counting today).   The most views I ever got in a day was 2,199 on Election Day in 2014.

On a web site called URLmetrics, I’m ranked, as of early last year, number 2,201,006 among U.S. blogs in daily visitors and number 4,066,146 in daily views.  I don’t know whether that is good or bad.

blagofaireSource: xkcd.

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Ernest Hemingway’s new typewriter

December 20, 2014

Tom the Dancing BugFrom Tom the Dancing Bug.

The passing scene: November 13, 2014

November 13, 2014

Thank you for your service by Elizabeth Herrin for Medium.

All of My Friends Are Dying by Vince Emanuele for World News Daily.

John Fogarty defends ‘Fortunate Son’ song choice at Concert for Valor by Randy Lewis for the Los Angeles Times.  (via Bill Harvey)

Can you honor veterans for their service, while still thinking that the war they served in was wrong, or even that all wars are wrong?  My answer is: Yes.

College Athletes of the World, Unite by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for Jacobin magazine.  (via Bill Harvey)

I thought that star college athletes had it good, but evidently not.  This article was an eye-opener for me.

The Mystery of Ray McGovern’s Arrest by Ray McGovern for Consortium News.

CIA critic Ray McGovern was arrested for trying to attend a panel discussion in which CIA ex-chief David Patraeus participated.  His ticket was bought under somebody else’s name.  So how did the police at the door know to be on the lookout for him?

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A map of the on-line world

October 2, 2014
Internet-Pop

Click to enlarge.

Hat tip to The Big Picture

Rise of the machines: Links & comments 8/19/14

August 19, 2014

The Internet’s Original Sin by Ethan Zuckerman for The Atlantic.

The basic problem with the commercial Internet, according to this writer, is the use of advertising to finance Internet services.

Because an individual advertisement on the Internet has little impact, the value of advertising is based on the ability of the firm to target individuals who are interested in this particular product.  And the only way to do this is to gather data and use it to profile individuals.

Invasion of privacy is not a bug.  It is a necessary feature.  The reason it is necessary is that most people would rather give up their privacy than pay for Internet services.

Zuckerman thinks this is the reason that NSA surveillance is no big deal for most Americans.  We’re already accustomed to giving up our privacy.

He doesn’t have a good answer as to what to do about all this, and neither do I.

How We Imprison the Poor for Crimes That Haven’t Happened Yet by Hamilton Nolan for Gawker.

The science-fiction movie Minority Report imagined a world in which it was possible to predict when people would commit crimes and to arrest them before the crime occurred.  A predictive science of human behavior does not exist, but that does not stop people in authority from acting as if it did.

American courts are increasingly using what’s called “evidence-based sentencing” on which the severity of the sentence is based on a computer algorithm’s determination of the likelihood that the person will commit another crime.

In practice, what this means that that poor youth who grew up in a family without a father will get a worse sentence than a middle-class youth with access to psychiatrists and good job opportunities.

This is contrary to the basic principle of equal justice under law.   If you commit a crime, you should be punished for what you did, not for what somebody thinks you may do.

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The passing scene: Links & comments 8/7/14

August 7, 2014

New Snowden? Leaks indicate more than one hole in American national security community by Ben Mathis-Lilly for Slate.

The Intercept is reporting new information about the National Security Agency that apparently comes from someone still on the inside.   The huge U.S. national security apparatus has too many secrets and too many people with access to those secrets for those secrets to be truly secure.

My guess is that for every Edward Snowden who patriotically tells the American public what their government is doing behind their backs, there are one or more people who really are spies and are selling information to Russia, China or other foreign governments.

The economics of a McDonalds franchise by Cathy O’Neil as Mathbabe.

The terms and conditions under which McDonalds grants restaurant franchises make it impossible for the restaurant owner to pay a living wage and still make a profit.  That’s why it was both just and important that the National Labor Relations Board decided to allow restaurant employees against McDonalds as a joint employer.

While I am disappointed in President Obama’s record overall, I have to say that such a decision would not have been made under a McCain or Romney administration.  Whether the decision will be upheld in the courts is another question.

Flight MH17 – What You’re Not Being Told by SCG News.

There are many unanswered questions about the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukrainian rebel-held territory, and circumstantial evidence that it was a false-flag attack by conspirators.  All I am willing to say is that we the public don’t know the facts, and that the tragedy should not be used as an excuse to start a new cold war with Russia.

Data Mining Your Children by Stephanie Simon for Politico.

Book review: To Save Everything, Click Here by Evgeny Mozorov. (Daniel Brandt)

Facebook’s Gateway Drug by Evgeny Mozorov for the New York Times Book Review (Daniel Brandt)

Technology is a good servant but a fearful master.

 

Rewiring America: Links & comments 7/26/14

July 26, 2014

How America’s Internet can become the fastest on earth by John Aziz for The Week.

Americans created the Internet, and the United States has some of the fastest commercially-available Internet connections on earth.   But the USA as a whole is only No. 31 in average speed of Internet connections, behind such nations as Uruguay and Romania and barely equal to Russia, which is far from being a technology leader.

Digital-MediaJohn Aziz says the reason is the balkanized U.S. Internet system, in which, unlike in other countries, companies with broadband service don’t have to open up their service to other broadband companies.

Rather than try to force corporate owners to do something that is not in their interest, Aziz advocates spending $140 billion to build a nationwide fiber optic new with bandwidth equal to Google Fiber, which provides 1Gbps—50 times faster than the average U.S. Internet connection now.   That would be only 1/5th the cost of the TARP Wall Street bailout and less than 1/25th the cost of U.S. interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I think this is a good idea.  What makes a community, or a nation, a good place for entrepreneurs is to provide a benefit that is unique to their place or better than anyplace else.

Hundred of Cities Are Wired With Fiber—But Telecom Lobbying Keeps It Unused by Jacob Koerber for Motherboard.

life before the internetWell, maybe the USA is no longer capable of carrying out ambitious large-scale projects.  The least that could be done is to allow American municipal governments to wire their cities with fiber optic.  Current state laws forbid this in most places in order to protect private companies from competition.

The Server Needs to Die to Save the Internet by Natasha Lomas for TechCrunch.

A Scottish company named MaidSafe has a plan to protect privacy by creating a network without servers or data centers.  To be honest, I don’t completely understand what they’re doing, but it sounds as if it could be important.

Here Is How Google Works by Andrew Smales for Medium.

The Smales piece is satire—I guess.

The passing scene: Links & comments 7/15/14

July 15, 2014

BRICS against Washington consensus by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

The BRICS countries—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—have agreed to create a development bank as an alternative to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other institutions dominated by the United States, western Europe and Japan.

The new bank may be a constructive alternative for nations who want to escape debt bondage to western financial institutions.  It will be a vehicle for China and Russia to extend their soft power into Latin America and other parts of the world.

The War Nerd: I.S.I.S. and the Western Media by Gary Brecher for PandoDaily.

Iran-Saudi Deal Is Crucial to Resolve Iraq-Syria Civil War by Bob Dreyfuss for The Nation.

The vicious self-described Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is a menace to unarmed civilians, especially Shiite Muslims and Christians, but does not endanger the Baghdad or Damascus governments or anybody else able and willing to fight back.

What’s needed is for the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia to give up financing proxy war between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, and unite to suppress their avowed enemies, the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

Digital identity cards: Estonia takes the plunge by The Economist.

The government of Estonia will provide every citizen from birth a digital identity card that can be used to access government services and to allow verification of their identity over the Internet.  Estonia also will provide digital ID cards, for a fee, to non-citizens who want a reliable means of guaranteeing ID over the Internet.  This could be the start of something important.

Will Social Security be Internet-only service?

June 18, 2014

I like the Internet.  The power to go on-line has enriched my life in so many ways that I feel at a loss when Internet service temporarily shuts down.   What I dislike is the attempt to shut down alternatives to the Internet, which is becoming more and more common in American life.

Wait times on customer-service phone lines have been made so long that you are virtually forced to go on-line.   Book distributors are pushing to replace physical books with Kindle and Nook.  There are even people who seriously propose to get rid of currency and coins, and require all financial transactions be conducted through credit cards, debit cards or otherwise on-line.

socialsecurity.govThe latest example is the Social Security Administration.  Its Vision 2025 plan is to close most of its 1,200 field offices, allow its work force to shrink by 30,000 through attribution and serve clients through “on-line service delivery” rather than face-to-face contacts with human beings.

This follows a widespread business and government model of achieving cost savings and administrative convenience by degrading the quality of service.

People who depend on Social Security for their income probably can’t afford Internet connections, and many people of the Social Security generation aren’t at home with computers.   When I signed up for Social Security nearly 16 years ago, I was pleased at the helpfulness of the woman I talked to.   I would not have wanted to try to communicate with a software algorithm.

The Obama administration apparently is willing to adopt, or at least tolerate, a policy that is bad for two core Democratic constituencies, senior citizens and union workers, and benefits nobody except the high tech companies that will get the contracts to provide this service.

I predict that if this policy is adopted, it will be used by opponents to Social Security as evidence that government can’t work, and that Social Security should be privatized.

LINK

The Biggest Change to Social Security You’ve Never Heard About by J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, for Huffington Post.  Hat tip to Jack Clontz.

The danger of living in an all-digital world

June 16, 2014

Barnes & Noble wants to shift me away from buying printed books and get on their Nook system.  My church wants to stop sending me paper newsletters and send me e-mail instead.  My bank stopped sending me canceled checks, or even photocopies of canceled checks, a long time ago.

My medical records and bank records are all in electronic form, and I’d guess (though I don’t know) that those records have no physical back-up

Digital-MediaNow influential people are talking seriously about phasing out paper money, and doing all buying and selling by means of credit cards or debit cards.

It doesn’t make sense to me to become so dependent on software systems when nobody can guarantee that these systems are completely reliable.

The Internet and digital technology are great blessings.  I just don’t want to become completely dependent on them.

I want to read a book that can’t be deleted because of a windstorm, a software glitch or a corporate or government edict, and I want to be free to do what I please with the book.  If somebody else wants to use Kindle or Nook, that’s fine.   Just don’t deny me access to printed books in order to make life easier for book distributors.

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