Posts Tagged ‘Internet’

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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The right to be forgotten.

June 16, 2014

The great dream of John Perry Barlow and other Internet pioneers back in the 1990s was that it would become a force for human freedom—that government and corporations would become transparent, and that individuals, through the power of cryptography, would be empowered to act freely and anonymously.

Instead individuals are becoming more and more transparent not only to police and spy agencies, but to employers, lenders, credit rating agencies and advertisers.   The fact that the information is not necessarily accurate or complete makes the situation worse.

It is corporations and government agencies that have the power to alter records and send embarrassing facts down the memory hole, as Winston Smith did in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  

This is not a question of technology, or at least not exclusively a question of technology.  It is a question of whether we the people have the power and the will to set legal limits to power and enforce those limits.

We should start by insisting on transparency of government.  We can’t protect our privacy until we have the means of knowing what is done to invade or privacy.   And we can’t rely on government to protect us from corporate exploitation if its operations are hidden from us.

LINKS

Yes, Jimmy Wales, There Is a Right to Be Forgotten by Ted Rall for PandoDaily.

The Internet With a Human Face by Maciej Ceglowski at the Beyond Tellerand 2014 Conference in Dusseldorf, Germany.

The twilight of net neutrality?

April 24, 2014

Tom Toles Net Neutrality

The Internet was created by research paid for by American taxpayers, and, since it was first opened up to the public, it has operated under the principle of Net Neutrality — the principle that it is equally open to all, regardless of their views, social status or ability to pay.

Now Tom Wheeler, a former telecommunication lobbyist appointed by President Obama to head the Federal Communications Commission, has proposed a change in policy — to allow some companies to pay extra to get better access.

Just two months ago the White House itself gave a good explanation of why that is a bad idea.

Rights of free speech, and the free flow of information, are central to our society and economy — and the principle of net neutrality gives every American an equal and meaningful opportunity to participate in both. Indeed, an open Internet is an engine for freedom around the world.

12217_large_neutral-bitsPreserving an open Internet is vital not to just to the free flow of information, but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity.  Because of its openness, the Internet has allowed entrepreneurs — with just a small amount of seed money or a modest grant — to take their innovative ideas from the garage or the dorm room to every corner of the Earth, building companies, creating jobs, improving vital services, and fostering even more innovation along the way.

Absent net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries. The resulting decline in the development of advanced online apps and services would dampen demand for broadband and ultimately discourage investment in broadband infrastructure. An open Internet removes barriers to investment worldwide

This is from The White House Blog: Reaffirming the White House’s Commitment to Net Neutrality (Feb. 18, 2014).   Evidently the FCC didn’t get the word, or maybe it was the White House spokespeople who didn’t get the word.

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Amazon, the Walmart of the Internet

February 17, 2014

615_Bezos_Amazon_Kindle_Reuters

Amazon is well on its way to monopolizing book distribution.  Its strategy is like Walmart’s.

First you gain an initial advantage through economies of scale and introducing new efficiencies.  So far, so good.  That is how free enterprise is supposed to operate.

Then you leverage your initial advantage in the marketplace to squeeze suppliers and lower your costs.  This enables you to keep prices low so as to knock out small competitors and keep new competitors from emerging.

Meanwhile you treat your rank-and-file employees like dirt.

The parallel is not complete, because the current Walmart owners are destroying their company through their short-sighted greed and stupidity, while Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, may be greedy but he is anything but short-sighted and stupid.

And he is just getting started.  According to one analyst, 93 percent of Amazon’s $75 billion in annual revenues come from products other than books.

George Packer, writing in the New Yorker, says that 50 to 60 percent of the price of a book sold through Amazon goes to Amazon itself.  Another 10 to 15 percent goes for sales, warehousing and shipping.  What’s left over covers printing, editing, publicity and, oh yes, royalties to the author and, oh yes, any profit the publisher may earn.

This is new.  Historically retailers got 30 to 40 percent of the price of a book.

It is illegal for retailers to demand special discounts from publishers, but, according to Packer, Amazon gets around that by charging “cooperative promotion fees.”   Amazon charges publishers this fee for placement of a book title on its page.  Most of the ranking of books on Amazon’s lists are determined by these fees.  The few publishers who have been brave enough to refuse to pay this fee have found there is no longer a “buy” button on Amazon’s page.

“The only point at which Bezos enters the chain is to take all the money and the e-mail address of the buyer,” Colin Robinson, a publisher, told Packer.  “There’s an entire community of people and Bezos stands in the middle and collects the money.”

While Amazon offers bargain prices, its squeeze on publishers is bad for literature in the long run.  Bezos seeks to transition from physical books to digital books, from which Amazon has 90 percent market share.  If traditional book publishing dies out, Amazon will step into the gap, with book selection based on focus groups, surveys and computer algorithms rather than editors’ judgments of literary value.

Packer reported that  Bezos doesn’t care about books as such.  He started Amazon (named for a river into which all things flow) in 1994 because he had vision enough to foresee the importance of Internet marketing, and he chose books as his entry point because they are “easy to ship and hard to break.”  Now he uses the information on customers he gained through book selling to market a wide array of products.

The saving grace of a well-ordered free enterprise system is that when big business executives overreach themselves, there is an opportunity for a smart entrepreneur to jump into the gap they leave.  Such is Colin Robinson, who has started a publishing firm called OR Books, which bypasses Amazon and sells directly to consumers.  OR Books gives up sales but earns a higher profit which, presumably, can be shared with the author.

Robinson is able to stay in business because of Net Neutrality—the law that says Internet service providers have to provide service to all customers on the same terms.  There’s currently a legislative drive to abolish Net Neutrality (and some say the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement has an anti-Net Neutrality provision).  If that were to happen, dominant businesses such as Amazon could squeeze out small competitors by demanding special terms from IPPs, just as Amazon does with publishers.

Another public policy favorable to Amazon is anti-trust policy.  Historically anti-trust laws were directed against “the curse of bigness.”  But in the Carter-Reagan years, policy-makers decided that it was all right for a company to dominate its market if there was some benefit to consumers.  The problem with this reasoning is that the benefit to consumers is likely to last only so long as the dominant company has effective competition.  Without competition, the benefits of efficiency and economies of scale don’t necessarily flow to consumers.

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Click on Cheap Words: Is Amazon Bad for Books? to read the whole article by George Packer in the New Yorker.  It’s long, but packed with good information.

Click on a review of Brad Stone’s The Everything Store by Deborah Friedell for The London Review of Books for more.  Her review has additional good information that’s not in the Packer article.

151369543.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-large

How digital networks promote inequality

January 7, 2014

Jaron Lanier, a virtual reality pioneer, has become an outspoken critic of claims made for the benefits of the digital economy.  Here is an excerpt from a review of Lanier’s latest book, Who Owns the Future?, by Joe Nocera of the New York Times.

Lanier’s thesis […] is that the digital economy has done as much as any single thing to hollow out the middle class. […] His great example here is Kodak and Instagram.  At its height, writes Lanier “Kodak employed more than 140,000 people.” Yes, Kodak made plenty of mistakes, but look at what is replacing it: “When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only 13 people.”

Which leads nicely to Lanier’s final big point: that the value of these new companies comes from us. “Instagram isn’t worth a billion dollars just because those 13 employees are extraordinary,” he writes. “Instead, its value comes from the millions of users who contribute to the network without being paid for it.” He adds, “Networks need a great number of people to participate in them to generate significant value. But when they have them, only a small number of people get paid. This has the net effect of centralizing wealth and limiting overall economic growth.”  Thus, in Lanier’s view, is income inequality also partly a consequence of the digital economy.

via NYTimes.com.

Lanier’s other point is that when Big Data accumulates, it becomes too complex for human beings to manage.  The illusion of control leads to system crashes.

Click on Will Digital Networks Ruin Us? for Joe Nocera’s full review.  Hat tip to Daniel Brandt.

What’s the problem? Food for thought 11/22/13

November 22, 2013

The Skunk Party Manifesto by Yves Smith.

Software Engineering in Crisis: Healthcare.gov Is Just the Dead Canary by Bob Goodwin for naked capitalism.

Does Your Job Create Real Value? by Noah Smith for The Week.

Don Jon: how porn is rewiring our brains by Nisha Lilia Diu for The Telegraph.

The Internet Ideology: Why We Are Allowed to Hate Silicon Valley by Evgeny Morozov for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

All Can Be Lost: The Risk of Putting Our Knowledge in the Hands of Machines by Nicholas Carr for The Atlantic.

Democracy won’t save us, free enterprise won’t save us, and technological progress won’t save us without a strong moral foundation for society.

At home & abroad: Links & comments 11/21/13

November 21, 2013

The Wahhabi-Likudnik war of terror by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Sandbagging Negotiations between U.S. and Iran by M.J. Rosenberg for the Washington Spectator.

The Coming Drone Wars: Iran Unveils Its Own Drone, With a 1,200-Mile Range by Juan Cole.

President Obama deserves credit for responding to Iranian peace overtures, but he faces greater obstacles both at home and abroad than did Presidents Reagan and Nixon did in making peace with the USSR and China.

Iran embassy bombing scene

Iran embassy bombing scene in Beirut

Foreign correspondent Pepe Escobar speculates on who was behind the suicide bombing of the Iranian embassy in Beirut, an act of terrorism that left 170 wounded and at least 23 dead.  M.J. Rosenberg discusses the forces in Washington that oppose U.S.-Iran peace negotiations.  And Juan Cole notes that Iran is developing its own flying killer drones, probably based on reverse-engineering a U.S. surveillance drone that was captured in Iranian air space.

U.S.-Afghan Security Pact in Doubt After Hamid Karzai Rejects Provision by Reuters.  Hat tip to Psychopolitik.

Kerry, Karzai put pact before jirga by Radio Free Europe.  [added later]

Kerry, Karzai reach Afghan security agreement by the Deutsche Welle broadcasting network.  [added later]

The U.S. government won agreement of Afghan President Hamad Karzai to allow 13,000 U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, without being subject to the jurisdiction of Afghan courts.  Their mission will be to advise and assist Afghan forces in resisting a Taliban return to power.  Before the agreement goes into effect, it must receive approval from the loya jirga, a traditional Afghan council, for approval, and then ratification by the official Afghan parliament.  [rewritten to reflect the Kerry Karzai agreement].

Obama Meets Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki as Terror Rages Across Country by Stephen Collinson of Agence France Presse.

Two years after the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, Prime Minister Al-Maliki asks for U.S. high-tech armaments to put down an insurgency which he says is led by Al Qaeda.  What will happen if his request is turned down?  Will he get the weaponry he wants from Russia or China?  From the U.S. standpoint, there are no good options, except to try to minimize U.S. involvement in other nations’ conflicts to begin with.  Getting-out-of is always harder than getting-into.  [revised]

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‘Syrian Electronic Army’ hacks U.S. media

August 28, 2013

militaryforcesaroundsyra

The United States and its allies have overwhelming military force compared to the government of Syria.  But that doesn’t mean an attack on Syria or an invasion could be carried out without consequences.

For example.

For a good chunk of Tuesday, website administrators at Twitter, The New York Times, and other high-profile media outlets appeared to be locked in a high-stakes battle with self-proclaimed Syrian hackers for control of their Internet domains.

Just as quickly as twitter.co.uk, nytimes.com, and other domains were returned to their rightful owners, Internet records showed they’d be seized all over again and made to point to a Russian Web host known to cater to purveyors of drive-by malware exploits and other online nasties

via Ars Technica.

Whether or not these hackers really were Syrians, the incident shows that small countries have ways of retaliating that don’t involve armed force or violent terrorism.

LINKS

Twitter and New York Times clash with hackers for control of their sites by Dan Goodin for Ars Technica.

Pro-Assad ‘Syrian Electronic Army’ boasts attacks on New York Times, Twitter, Huffington Post on Boing Boing.

Terrorism, the Internet and free speech

August 14, 2013

I’ve posted a good bit lately about abuses of power by the National Security Agency and other U.S. intelligence agencies.  My friend Daniel Brandt recently e-mailed me some links to articles by a UK news service called The Kernel which are a good reminder that there are Islamic terrorists who really should be spied on.

islamic-awakeningThe articles describe how terrorists are recruited through Islamic jihadist discussion forums.  Typically there will be an open forum which argues the radical Muslim jihadists are justified.  People who post on the forum and have someone to vouch for them are then admitted to closed forums which discussed actual terrorism.

I don’t believe the NSA and the other Homeland Security agencies should spy on all Americans.  I don’t believe they should spy on peaceful protesters.  I don’t believe they should encourage and then entrap people into terrorists plots.  But they do have a right and duty to monitor pro-terrorist web sites so they can nip plots in the bud.

Here are links to The Kernel series.

The scariest sites on the Internet by Jeremy Wilson.

The hosts keeping radical Islamic forums online by James Cook.

CloudFlare: ‘terrorists little helper’ by James Cook.

Chaos on campus: Islamists and social media by Jeremy Wilson.

When ‘free speech’ means defending evil murderers by Milos Yiannopoulos, editor-in-chief.

The Kernel is especially concerned about an Internet company called CloudFlare.  Daniel Brandt also is critical of that company.  What CloudFlare purports to do is to provide services by which web sites can product their anonymity, survive denial of service attacks and optimize their efficiency.

cdn-hosting-cloudflareThe Kernel writers criticize CloudFlare for protecting radical Islamic web sites against denial of service attacks by US and UK intelligence services.  Daniel Brandt’s criticism is broader.  He says CloudFlare also provides a shield for malicious hackers, cyber-bullies, hard-core pornographers, copyright pirates and other kinds of lawbreakers.

Here are links to statements of CloudFlare’s position.

CloudFlare and Free Speech by Matthew Prince, chief executive officer.

Ceasefires Don’t End Cyberwars by Matthew Prince.

Here are links to statements of Daniel Brandt’s position.

Web watchdog’s new site: CloudFlare Watch.org

CloudFlare Watch

What it all comes down to is which you fear more, abuse of freedom or abuse of power.  This is not an easy question.  What Milos Yiannopoulos fears most is abuse of freedom.  What I fear the most is abuse of power.

Yiannopoulos thinks Twitter, YouTube and CloudFlare should be regarded as publishers, like Huffington Post, and exercise pro-active responsibility to take down dangerous content, based on their own judgment.  He doesn’t think this is censorship, but what else would you call it.

I think Twitter, YouTube and the like should be regarded as public utilities, like Rochester Telephone, which provide services to all members of the public unless there is a specific legal reason not to do so.

What do you think?

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We’re already in the middle of a cyber-war

June 13, 2013

Evolution of Warfare

The United States is in the middle of an undeclared war with Iran, a cyberwar that is a much greater threat to the nation and its institutions than Al Qaeda ever was or could have been.   Nations depend on computer systems and Internet communications for everything from electrical distribution to banking.   Computer viruses and malware that disrupt these systems could be devastating.

nsaThe nature and seriousness of the cyberwar is revealed in two new articles, one by James Bamford in Wired magazine and the other by Michael Joseph Gross in Vanity Fair.   Bamford, who has reported on the National Security Agency for more than 30 years, profiled General Keith Alexander, who is director of the National Security Agency, chief of the Central Security Service and commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, which gives him command the Tenth Fleet, the 24th Air Force and the Second Army.  Alexander’s aim is full spectrum dominance of cyberspace, equivalent to U.S. military domination of the air and space.

The cyberwar with Iran was begun in the mid-2000s with the launching of the Stuxnet malware system to shut down of the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz.   As with the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Stuxnet took warfare to a new technological level, and it was the United States that led the way.

 Since then there have been other computer attacks on Iran and Iranian interests, and what appear to be counterattacks.   A computer virus wiped out the memories of the Aramco computer system in Iran, and there was a “distributed denial of service” attack on U.S. banks in May.  Both of these are a foretaste of what may happen.  Somebody hacked into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers records on 13,991 high-hazard dams—dams whose failure could result in loss of human life.

In parallel to this, the NSA has conducted a massive and highly successful electronic espionage campaign against China, according to Matthew M. Aid in Foreign Policy magazine.   This is spying, not sabotage.   But it may explain why Chinese President Xi Jinping probably isn’t impressed with President Obama’s complaints about Chinese espionage.   And it also may explain why Edward Snowden may think he can get political asylum in Hong Kong.

The significant thing about all this, for me, is that the United States has been plunged into virtual war in secret, without any public knowledge or debate until after the fact.   We have a visible government and an invisible government, and the invisible government is the more powerful of the two.

Click on the following for more.

NSA Snooping Was Only the Beginning.  Meet the Superspy Leading Us into Cyberwar by James Bamford in Wired.

The Changing and Terrifying Nature of the New Cyber-Warfare by Michael Joseph Gross in Vanity Fair.

Inside the NSA’s Ultra-Secret China Hacking Group by Mathew M. Aid in Foreign Policy.

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If you want to keep something secret … …

June 10, 2013

If you want to keep a secret, you shouldn’t tell anybody.   The more people you tell a secret “in confidence,” the greater the certainty that it will cease to be a secret.  Everybody knows this.

Everybody, it seems, except the Homeland Security agencies.  Dana Priest and William R. Arkin reported three years ago that there were at least 854,000 Americans with top-secret clearances—not just access to classified information, but access to top secrets.   It wouldn’t be surprising if the number now exceeded 1 million.  If the top secrets are known to hundreds of thousands of people, how secret can they be?

top.secretDaniel Ellsberg, who made public the Pentagon Papers, which outlined the secret history of the Vietnam war, was a member of the inner circle of government.  He was a consultant to Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger, and helped write the Pentagon Papers.   A low-ranking person like Bradley Manning or Edward Snowden would not have had access to that information.

In the novels of John Le Carre, the fictional spy George Smiley never writes down any of his big secrets.   In the National Security Agency, the supposedly big secrets are put on slides for Power Point presentations.   It seems to me that when you disseminate information this widely, it is bound to leak out to the general public.

The alleged crime of Edward Snowden is to alert foreign terrorists to the fact that their electronic communications are being monitored.  But they already know that.  Osama Bin Laden and his lieutenants stopped using e-mail or cell phones years ago, and communicated only by courier.   What Snowden did in releasing the PRISM slides is to provide proof to the public of what most well-informed people had believed all along.

The real way to keep secrets is:  (1)  Minimize the number of top secrets.  (2) Minimize the number of people who know the top secrets.

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Big Brother really can be watching you

June 7, 2013

Prism

The National Security Agency, the top-secret U.S. electronic eavesdropping agency, has access to your e-mails, Internet searches and data files if you use Google, Apple, Microsoft, YouTube, Facebook or any of the other major e-mail, search, video or communications services.

The program, called Prism, was revealed by The Guardian newspaper in London.  The Guardian also broke news of a secret court order to Verizon to turn over call records to the NSA.  Presumably this is the tip of the iceberg.   The call records will give the NSA clues on who to check, the Prism program will give the capability of surveillance.   I wonder if the Associated Press or James Rosen of Fox News use Verizon or some other service.

Julian Assange of Wikileaks, reviewing a book entitled The New Digital Age in last Sunday’s New York Times, wrote that Google’s technology epitomizes the death of privacy and the advance of authoritarianism.  He may have written more truly than he realized (or maybe not).

This same weak the court-martial of Bradley Manning began at Fort Meade, Md., home of the NSA.   The principle on which Manning was court-martialed is that the U.S. government has a right to keep its activities secret from the people.   The principle on which the NSA operates is that the people have no right to privacy from the government.   Neither principle is compatible with American freedom as I was brought up to believe in it.

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Web watchdog’s new site: CloudFlare-Watch.org

February 2, 2013

Daniel Brandt, who has spent decades researching the Central Intelligence Agency, covert action and government conspiracies, and the last 10 or so years as an investigator and critic of Google and Wikipedia, has turned his attention to a obscure (to me) Internet company called CloudFlare.

I asked Daniel to explain in layman’s terms just what was so significant about CloudFlare.  This was his answer.

Thanks, Phil, for your invitation to write about what I’m trying to do with my new site, CloudFlare-Watch.org.

You are right — this CloudFlare-Watch stuff is much too technical. To confuse it more, CloudFlare is not a hosting provider, but merely a DNS provider (domain name system).  This is why CloudFlare tries to claim that they are unable to exercise any authority over content, since they do not host content for anyone.

cloudflarewatchHowever, it is impossible to get to a website without going through DNS.   If you deleted the records for a domain that uses CloudFlare’s nameservers, that site becomes unreachable within minutes.  Moreover, CloudFlare actually does cache some of their customer’s pages on their servers, in order to speed up access.  They currently claim that half a million domains are using their nameservers.  They offer several levels of service, and the lowest level is free of charge.

You asked about laws, which instantly means that one has to make a huge number of distinctions.  The DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) applies to sites hosted in the U.S.  Probably over half of CloudFlare’s clients are hosted in other countries, even if the person creating the content is still in the U.S.  The DMCA only covers copyright, and only covers providers in the U.S.  Thankfully, CloudFlare is headquartered in San Francisco, which means that they try to make it appear that they are minimally cooperating with DMCA requirements.  I believe that they are not doing this in good faith, and I provide evidence of this on my site.

Child porn, on the other hand, is universally illegal, which makes it easier to prosecute.  Even here, you have to identify the< hosting provider and hope that this provider will hand over the identity of the person operating and hiding behind the server.  In the U.S., a hosting provider will cooperate with the FBI if it involves child porn because they don’t want any servers seized at their data centers.  If the FBI wanted to play tough, they could haul off a few extra racks of servers just to be sure they get it all.  This would mean that many innocent customer sites in that data center would go down, and stay down.

badguyBut what about providers in other countries?  Will you need a court order to get anywhere?  You might even discover that the hosting provider is hidden behind a chain of “tunneling” servers in one or more countries.  From the point of view of an FBI agent, this means that you have to deal with authorities in various places —  Romania, Ukraine, etc., just to work your way toward identifying the perp.  That’s a huge amount of work.

Defamation?  Forget it.  The laws are all over the place, and these are mostly civil laws, which means that you don’t have the assistance of law enforcement. Your chances of identifying the person you need to sue are minimal. Are you rich enough to sue someone in another country, even if you are lucky enough to find them?

At the corporate level, everything is even more confused.  In 1996, the Communications Decency Act in the U.S. (Section 230) granted immunity to providers that host content, but do not create or monitor content.  The federal law trumps all state laws in the U.S.  Criminal laws are not affected, and copyright is handled by the DMCA, but that still leaves room for lots of nastiness on the web that is difficult to address. 

Other countries see things differently.  Google, for example, has court orders against them in Japan, Italy, Spain, Australia, and Argentina, based on search results that those courts have ruled are defamatory.  Google can ignore them by pointing out that the relevant content is not based in that country.  What’s the judge going to do, block all of Google?  Hardly.  That would be a career-killer.  Google basically does not respond to defamation complaints at all, even when it involves content on their servers (blogspot.com, YouTube, etc.) as opposed to mere search results.  For search results, Google consistently pretends that the algorithm did it, and they are not to blame — as if the algorithm was not created by Google’s engineers, and cannot not be fixed by those same engineers!   Google knows this, but they’re too busy laughing all the way to the bank.

cfhackerCloudFlare thrives in a legal gray area that was already gray even before they came along. They are exploiting this.  Cyberwars are happening.  You may think this is movie fiction and hype, but it’s not.  CloudFlare is a cyberwar profiteer.  They deliberately attract both sides in this war — the cyber criminals as well as the cyber victims.  My new CloudFlare-Watch site is trying to sound the alarm so that CloudFlare’s chances of getting a second round of venture funding are diminished.  It feels like I’m a voice in the wilderness — everyone else is hyping CloudFlare as much as possible.

But I’m used to it.  I was the first Google critic at a time when webmasters ridiculed me on forums for arguing that Google was saving everything they could get on everyone (Google-watch.org started in 2002).  I remember one whiz-kid webmaster who argued that you couldn’t possibly fit much information into a little cookie.  I tried to explain that all you need in a cookie is a globally-unique ID of maybe 20 characters, and that this ID is what is used to reference all your information.  The actual data on you is kept offline somewhere in the Googleplex, and you don’t get to see it.  He couldn’t grasp what I was saying.

Much bigger fish than I are trying to tame Google these days, and this means that I can retire from Google criticism. Google’s search engine emerged into public consciousness around 2000, which was two years after they incorporated. In 2001 I noticed that there were some nagging questions that needed to be addressed, such as Google’s cookie that had an expiration date of 2038.  I knew your hard disk wouldn’t last that long, but this wasn’t about hard disks.  Rather, it was an important clue to Google’s state of mind about user privacy.  It turned out that I was right.

Now it’s time to concentrate on CloudFlare, which is less than three years old, before it becomes the next web monster. The basic problem I have with CloudFlare is that it offers one more way to hide the location and identity of your hosting provider, and it’s easy and free to use.

cloudflare-vid-splash2I believe in privacy for passive web users. For example, someone who is doing research on Google deserves privacy, and that’s why I ran Scroogle for seven years. But what about web publishers?  Anyone who publishes information on the web that can affect other people should not be allowed to hide behind a screen name, or behind CloudFlare, or behind VPNs (virtual private network or “tunneling” servers), or hide by cherry-picking a provider in whatever country they choose.

People who publish content that can affect others should use their real names so that they can be held accountable. Everyone who uses CloudFlare’s nameservers is some sort of web publisher, and CloudFlare should reveal the IP addresses of their hosting providers without any questions asked.  They should have a search box on their home page that spits out the IP addresses with date stamps for every domain that uses their nameservers.

The problem, from CloudFlare’s perspective, is that this would mean that half of their clients would disappear overnight. It would mean that their hype about protection against DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks would be null and void, because the attackers could now target the original provider. And cyber-criminals who use CloudFlare to hide would have to go elsewhere.

Their entire package of hype would fall apart. All that would be left of CloudFlare is a DNS and caching service, which would not be nearly as enticing. It would, however, be much more socially responsible.

— Daniel Brandt

________________________

Click on A watchdog and iconoclast of the Internet for my profile of my friend Daniel.

Click on CloudFlare-Watch.org for his CloudFlare site.

A watchdog and iconoclast of the Internet

January 30, 2013

NameBase Book Index

CloudFlare Watch

My out-of-town friend Daniel Brandt for years was a one-person intelligence operation, compiling a data base on the Central Intelligence Agency, covert action and government conspiracies.  Later he became a critic of abuses of power by Google, Wikipedia and now a little-known company called CloudFlare.

nbsmHe created a searchable data base on the Central Intelligence Agency, covert operations and governmental conspiracies, based on indexing of more than 100,000 names when mentioned in over 700 books and many thousands of articles in newspapers and magazines.  If you wanted to know what there was to know on the public record about, say, James Angleton or Dan Mitrione, you could search Daniel’s data base and find pretty much everything that was publicly known.  Click on Olliegate for an example of how that worked.  Daniel put the NameBase index on a web site in 1995, with articles and book reviews on intelligence related subjects.  Click on Counterpunch for a 2003 interview of Daniel Brandt about NameBase.

wikwatchDaniel Brandt became a leading monitor and critic of Google and Wikipedia, and published his findings on his Google Watch and Wikipedia Watch web sites.  He pointed out, among other things, how Google keeps files on everyone who uses Google, recording every search and every transaction, and how Wikipedia runs articles that are not only inaccurate, but libelous, without liability.  Click on WikiScandal for the story of how John Seigenthaler, a respected civil rights lawyer and newspaper publisher, was falsely accused in a Wikipedia article of being a suspect in the Kennedy assassination.  The article doesn’t tell how Daniel used his Internet skills to track down the culprit, who was shielded by Wikipedia.  Seigenthaler forgave him.

scroogleAs an alternative to Google, Daniel Brandt started a service called Scroogle, which enabled users to do Google searches without revealing any personal information to Google.  Last year Daniel’s web sites were taken down by malicious DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks.  About the same time Google was finally blocking Scroogle more efficiently than it has before, so Scroogle was retired after a run of seven years.

Daniel is back on the Internet.  NameBase Book Index is the old NameBase web site, of interest mainly for the archive of book reviews and articles therein.  CIA on Campus is a collection of articles about the activities of secret intelligence agencies on campuses.  These articles are of more than historical interest.  Nothing has happened to limit the activities of intelligence agencies since these articles were written.

grab6Google Watch is a collection of cartoons and illustrations from the old Google Watch site.  The Great Google Book Grab  provides articles and information about Google and copyright issues.  Wikipedia Watch is a continuation of Daniel’s original Wikipedia Watch site.

CloudFlare Watch is a new site in which Daniel Brandt critiques a company that functions as a reverse proxy for web sites and offers some protection against DDoS attacks, but which he says is also unapologetic when cyber-criminals use CloudFlare to hide the location and identity of their hosting providers.

I don’t always see eye-to-eye with my friend, but on matters we’ve disagreed about in the past, he has proven to be more right than I have.  In any case, his information is worth knowing and his ideas are worth discussing.

[Added 2/3/13]  Click on Web Watchdog’s new site for more about CloudFlare-Watch.

Julian Assange on the surveillance state

December 1, 2012

Julian Assange gave an an interview yesterday to Democracy Now! about Wikileaks, Bradley Manning and his new book Cypherpunks.  Here’s part of what he said.

There’s not a barrier anymore between corporate surveillance, on the one hand, and government surveillance, on the other.  You know, Facebook is based—has its servers based in the United States.  Gmail, as General Petraeus found out, has its servers based in the United States.  And the interplay between U.S. intelligence agencies and other Western intelligence agencies and any intelligence agencies that can hack this is fluid.

So, we’re in a—if we look back to what’s a earlier example of the worst penetration by an intelligence apparatus of a society, which is perhaps East Germany, where up to 10 percent of people over their lifetime had been an informer at one stage or another, in Iceland we have 88 percent penetration of Iceland by Facebook.  Eighty-eight percent of people are there on Facebook informing on their friends andtheir movements and the nature of their relationships—and for free.  They’re not even being paid money.  They’re not even being directly coerced to do it.  They’re doing it for social credits to avoid the feeling of exclusion.

But people should understand what is really going on.  I don’t believe people are doing this or would do it if they truly understood what was going on, that they are doing hundreds of billions of hours of free work for the Central Intelligence Agency, for the FBI, and for all allied agencies and all countries that can ask for favors to get hold of that information.

William Binney, the former chief of research, the National Security Agency’s signals intelligence division, describes this situation that we are in now as “turnkey totalitarianism,” that the whole system of totalitarianism has been built—the car, the engine has been built—and it’s just a matter of turning the key. And actually, when we look to see some of the crackdowns on WikiLeaks and the grand jury process and targeted assassinations and so on, actually it’s arguable that key has already been partly turned. The assassinations that occur extra-judicially, the renditions that occur, they don’t occur in isolation. They occur as a result of the information that has been sucked in through this giant signals interception machinery.

That’s a strong statement, but I don’t think it is an exaggeration.   Watch the interview and decide for yourself.  The key parts are between the 10th and 20th minute and after the 32nd minute.   Or click on Julian Assange on Wikileaks, Bradley Manning and the Emerging Surveillance State and read the transcript.

Connected but disembodied

August 14, 2012

I’m 75, and don’t have much contact with young people, but friends of mine who teach in college and public schools constantly complain about how their students are wedded to their i-Phones and other electronic devices, and are more engrossed in their text messages than in what the teacher has to say.

Sherry Turkle, in her TED talk shown above, said this is an example of how technology is changing how we relate to the world.  Her idea is that people nowadays don’t want to be alone, so they keep in touch with friends constantly by text messaging and e-mail; on the other hand, they don’t want to be too up close and personal, so text messaging and e-mail also keep people at a distance.  So, she said, our technology keeps us connected but alone.  There’s something to this, but how new is it?  I can remember the pre-electronic era when the great complaint about teenagers was that they were always on the telephone.

Electronic communications media are great for introverts.  I’m an introvert myself.  I grew up before the age of electronic communication, but I’m addicted to print.  I’ve gotten a lot out of a lifetime of reading, but I recognize that to some extent, it has been a substitute for mixing with people.  One reason I became a newspaper reporter instead of an academic was to counteract this tendency in myself.   We should not attribute to technologies that which is a reflection of our personalities.

As I see it, electronic technologies do not disconnect us from other people so much as they disconnect us from physical reality.  We speak of “virtual reality” as if it were an alternative to real reality; we speak of cyberspace as if it were an alternative to so-called “meat space”.  But we are physical beings, not disembodied minds.  In the virtual reality of the Internet and the electronic media, we can pretend that the world is what the postmodern philosophers say it is, a purely mental construct of our own creation.  But there is a real reality that will catch up with us, whether we believe in it or not.

I find electronic communications technology highly useful and highly addictive.  I don’t own a cell phone, I don’t have a Facebook page and I don’t Tweet or Twitter, but I check my e-mail several times a day and I post on this blog almost every day, and I feel deprived if my e-mail or Internet service is unavailable for any reason.  Interacting with the Internet is a form of operant conditioning.  I press a key and (usually) get a stimulus.  Our human brains are hard-wired to like stimulus.

Then, too, the Internet, like books, offers a form of escape.  I know people who spend hours a day interacting with the World of Warcraft, which in many ways is more appealing than the actual world.  In the World of Warcraft, ingenuity and hard work pay off, and no mistake or bad luck is ever irrevocable.

Click on The Acceleration of Addictiveness for Paul Graham’s classic essay on Internet addiction.

Click on Dead Souls for Dimitry Orlov’s classic essay on virtual reality as a substitute for real reality.

Cypherpunks uncut

August 1, 2012

I think the Internet is potentially one of the greatest tools to promote human freedom and access to ideas and knowledge.  I think it also is potentially one of the greatest tools of Big Brother for surveillance and censorship.  For this reason I was particularly interested in the two-part series on the Cypherpunks on Julian Assange’s The World Tomorrow program.  The RT network recently released an uncut version of Assange’s Cypherpunk interviews, which I also viewed with great interest.

The first part is more than an hour long and the second part is two hours long, and my guess is that most people who view this post won’t have the time or the interest to watch them in their entirety.  But I am posting them anyhow, for whoever might be interested, and also am linking to them in my Documentaries menu on the right.

The Cypherpunks are a loose movement whose goal is to promote individual privacy by providing encryption that would allow people to prevent unauthorized people, including government agents, from reading their private communication.  Assange interviewed three notable Cypherpunks—Andy Muller-Maguhn of Germany, a member of the Chaos Computer Club, a hacker organization; Jeremie Zimmerman of France, co-founder of La Quadrature du Net, which advocates for free circulation of knowledge on the Internet; and Jacob Appelbaum of the USA, an independent computer security researcher and a participant in the Tor project to create on-line anonymity systems.

They drew a frightening, but (I think) true, picture of the ability of governments to collect and record every electronic transaction by every individual—e-mails, credit card purchases, Google searches, bank deposits and withdrawals, telephone calls—while themselves operating behind a veil of secrecy.

Applebaum gave an example of a man indicted for posting information on the Internet in violation of a secret law whose text he was not allowed to see.  The judge was allowed to see the law, and the man was acquitted, but presumably the loophole in the law was tightened up.  I have to write “presumably” because there is no way to know.

Muller-Maguhn said that just as the invention of the printing press made everyone a potential reader, the creation of the Internet has made everyone a potential writer.  Anyone, not just professional writers who are able to please professional editors, has the means of writing out what they think and know, and communicating it to the world.  This is valuable and important, and it doesn’t matter that only a little of the writing is of high quality.

These three, and Assange himself, are more libertarian than socialist.  Assange said the three basic freedoms, from which all other freedoms flow, are (1) freedom to communicate, (2) freedom of movement and (3) freedom to engage in economic transactions, and the third may be the most fundamental.  He may have been playing devil’s advocate when he said the latter, but I don’t think so.

I came across these videos on This Day in Wikileaks, a daily blog with daily news and commentary about Wikileaks, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning.  I have put a link to it on my Links menu on the right.

I have put a link to Assange ‘The World Tomorrow’ —Cypherpunks uncut version, the Digital Journal version of the interviews, on my Documentaries menu on the right.

Click on Digital Journal: Cypherpunks Part 1 and Part 2 for the original 25-minute broadcasts.

Julian Assange’s The World Tomorrow was broadcast by the RT (Russia Today) network.  It was started by the Russian government for its own purposes, and for that reason should be regarded with skepticism, but it also provides information and ideas not available through the established U.S. TV networks.  In the same way, the Voice of America is an agent of the U.S. government, but provides information to Russians they might not get from their domestic broadcasters.  When I was younger, I never thought I would ever make this comparison, but times have changed.

A prophetic SF story of a U.S. cyber-police state

August 1, 2012

Poul Anderson’s short story “Sam Hall,” published in Astounding Science Fiction in 1953, foresaw a 21st century U.S. police state which dominated the world, through use of advanced computer and surveillance technology.

Citizen Blank Blank, Anytown, Somewhere, U.S.A., approaches the hotel desk.  “Single with bath.” … …

Citizen Blank takes out his wallet, extracts his card, gives it to the registry machine, an automatic set of gestures.  Aluminum jaws close on it, copper teeth feel for the magnetic encodings, electronic tongue tastes the life of Citizen Blank.

Place and date of birth.  Parents.  Race.  Religion.  Educational, military and civilian service records.  Marital status.  Children,  Occupations, from the beginning to the present.  Affiliations.  Physical measurements, fingerprints, retinals, blood type.  Basic psychotype.  Loyalty rating.  Loyalty index as a function of time to moment of last test given.  Click, click.  Bzzz.

“Why are you here, sir?”

“Salesman.  I expect to be in Cincinnati tomorrow night.”

The clerk (32 yrs., married, two children; NB, confidential, Jewish.  To be kept out of key occupations) pushes buttons.

Click, click.  The machine returns the card.  Citizen Blank puts it back in his wallet. … …

The machine talks to itself.  Click, click.  A bulb winks at its neighbor as if they shared a private joke.  The total signal goes out over the wires.

Accompanied by a thousand others, it shoots down the last cable and into the sorter unit of Central Records.  Click, click.  Bzzz.  Whrrr.  Wink and glow.  The distorted molecules in a particular spool show the pattern of Citizen Blank, and this is sent back.  It enters the comparison unit, to which the signal corresponding to him has also been shunted.  The two are perfectly in phase; nothing wrong.  Citizen Blank is staying in that town  where, last night, he said he would, so he has not had to file a correction.

The new information is added to the record of Citizen Blank.  The whole of his life returns to the memory bank.  It is wiped from the scanner and comparison units, that these may be free for the next arrival.

The machine has swallowed and digested another day.  It is content.

The surveillance technology that Poul Anderson envisioned in 1953 is today’s reality.  Every telephone call, every credit card transaction, every Google search is on record and available to Homeland Security.  The fascist government in Poul Anderson’s story does not exist, but we’re closer to it that we were in 1953, and the legal, institutional and technological infrastructure needed to implement such a police state is in place.

One of Anderson’s characters reflected on how this came to be.

A recollection touched him, booklegged stuff from the forties and fifties of the last century which he had read: French, German, British, Italian.  The intellectuals had been fretful about the Americanization of Europe, the crumbling of old culture before the mechanized barbarism of soft drinks, hard sells, enormous chrome-plated automobiles (dollar grins, the Danes had called them), chewing gum, plastics. … None of them had protested the simultaneous Europeanization of America: bloated government, unlimited armament, official nastiness, censors, secret police, chauvinism. … Well, for a while there had been objectors, but their own excesses and sillinesses discredited them, then later. …

It would be mean-spirited, small-minded and incorrect to blame Europeans for setting a bad example.  But if somebody had described our present Homeland Security state to me back in 1953, I would have thought the person was talking about some central European dictatorship.  I would have thought of our present reality as science fiction.

The NSA Is Building the World’s Largest Spy Center (Watch What You Say) for an article by James Bamford in Wired.  Hat tip for this to Hal Bauer.

Click on Assange ‘The World Tomorrow’ — Cypherpunks uncut version for an extended discussion of Internet surveillance, privacy and freedom.

Outsourcing local U.S. news coverage to Asia

July 26, 2012

When I was a newspaper reporter, I used to console myself with the thought that at least I had a job that could not be shipped overseas.  This is no longer true.  Some newspapers are outsourcing editing and even reporting of local news to countries such as India and the Philippines.

All this is made possible by the Internet.  A lot of information is available on-line.  You don’t have to walk to city hall or the county courthouse to get it.  You don’t have to be in the same city to interview a local official by phone.  Press releases are available on-line, and you can rewrite them as easily in one place as another.  Some public meetings are televised and even available on YouTube; you don’t have to be at the meeting to summarize what was said.

What is lost is the background knowledge that comes from living in a community, which enables you to understand the significance and context of what you report.  But this is not quantifiable.  For certain newspaper executives, particularly executives of newspaper chains who spend only a few years in each place, what counts is cutting and improving the next quarter’s financial results.  Longer-term consequences are somebody else’s problem.

Click on Now They’re Even Outsourcing “Local” Journalism for a report by Ryan Smith on Journatic and Blockshopper, two journalism outsourcing companies.  He told how he worked for Journatic as a copy editor of articles  written about local news in Chicago, Houston and other U.S. cities by far-distant reports in, among other places, the Philippines.

Click on Outsourcing Journalism for an older report on outsourcing local news editing and reporting to India.

Click on Journatic Blockshopper and Mindworks Global Media Services for the home pages of three news outsourcing companies.

Click on Media Outsourcing and Journatic: Hate the Player, Not the Game for a defense of news outsourcing.  The argument is that by giving up the low-end side of reporting, you free up reporters for higher-value activities..

Click on Clayton Christensen for the home page of the man who wrote the book on what happens when you give up on the basic “low-end” work.

Julian Assange and the cypherpunks (2)

June 12, 2012

We live in a world in which information about the private lives of individual citizens is becoming increasingly available to powerful organizations and to governments, and in which the activities of powerful organizations and citizens are increasingly hidden from individual citizens.  Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, sought to penetrate the secrecy of powerful organizations and governments.  The cypherpunk movement sought to protect the privacy of individuals through creation and distribution of cryptography.

Assange, on his The World Tomorrow program, interviewed three leading lights of the cypherpunk movement, Andy Muller-Maguhn, a member of the Chaos Computer Club, a German hacker association; Jacob Applebaum, an independent security researcher involved in the Tor project to create an online anonymity system; and Jérémie Zimmerman, co-founder of the French La Quadrature du Net, which advocates free communication on the Internet.

Assange is under house arrest in Britain, facing deportation to Sweden to face charges of sexual misconduct, from which he fears deportation to the United States to faces charges of espionage.  Yet he manages to attract a wide array of fascinating characters to his weekly TV program, people I don’t think I’d get to see otherwise, and he seems to be having a good time doing it.

Click on Digital Journal for summaries, transcripts and commercial-free videos of the latest and previous World Tomorrow broadcasts.

Click on Julian Assange: the Cypherpunk Revolutionary for a long but interesting and sometimes unflattering article by an Australian about Julian Assange’s background

Google, Facebook and the filter bubble

June 11, 2012

Eli Pariser, former director of the online organization MoveOn, discovered a surprising and alarming thing about Google.  When he does a Google search, the menu he sees on a give topic is different from the menu one of his friends would see.  That is, Google has algorithms, based on his past Google searches and his demographic characteristics, that give him a unique menu based on what he is likely to be interested in.  Facebook, too, deletes links from his Facebook page that its algorithms determine that he is not interested in.  He found Facebook deleted links from his conservative friends because he clicked on them less often than links from his liberal friends.

The problem with this, he said, is that unless you proactively seek out diverse sources of information, you will wind up in a bubble in which everything you get through Google or Facebook will confirm what you already think you know.  He wrote a book about this (which I haven’t read) entitled The Filter Bubble:What the Internet Is Hiding From You.

What this means is that unless you proactively seek out diverse sources of information, you’re not going to get diverse sources of information.  That is a fixable problem.  The more serious problem is the other uses that Google, Facebook and other Internet companies make of the data they come on us.  By integrating seemingly minor bits of information from diverse sources, they can come up with a well-informed guess about what products you’ll buy, your politics and religion and even your personal habits.

The problem with this is that (1) this information can be made available to credit reporting agencies, employers, the Department of Homeland Security and other organizations who will use it in ways adverse to your interests and (2) the information may not be accurate.  Parisi in the TED video above says that if you drink milk rather than wine with your meals, and you frequent fast-food restaurants, demographers would say you’re probably a political conservative.  Well, I drink more milk than wine, and I greatly enjoy an Arby’s roast beef sandwich, and I consider myself a political liberal.

Years ago I used to joke that the same software that Amazon uses to determine that “people like you liked the following books” could be used by the Department of Homeland Security to determine that “people like you committed acts of terrorism.”  I no longer think of this as a joke.  President Obama and the Central Intelligence Agency use computer algorithms in drawing up kill lists of people in tribal areas of Yemen and Pakistan.

Click on A little bird tells me… from Making Light for a benign example of individuals using data mining.

Click on Bubble Trouble for an argument by Jacob Weisberg of Slate that Parisi exaggerates the problem.  Weisberg had friends of different political beliefs do Google searches on highly charged political subjects, and found little difference in the results.

Click on Google Personalization for directions as to how to turn off the Google personalization feature.

Click on The Filter Bubble for Eli Pariser’s web log.

Hat tip to Steve B. and Daniel B.