Joho the Blogpolicy Archives - Joho the Blog

October 25, 2016

[liveblog] Tim Wu

Tim Wu [Twitter: superwuster] is giving a talk jointly sponsored by the Shorenstein Center and the Berkman Klein Center. His new book is The Attention Merchants.  He is introduced by Erie Meyer, a Shorenstein fellow this year.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Tim begins by noting that he was at the Berkman Center at its beginning, when it was pretty much just Charlie Nesson and Jonathan Zittrain.

He says that his new book is the “history of a business model”: the re-sale of human attention. This model has “long anchored the media,” but now has “exploded into all parts of our lives.” It’s part of many business models these days. Even the national parks are selling naming rights to trails.

“Maybe a thousand times a day, something tries to get us to spend maybe a micro-second” to notice something. “The deepest ambition of the book is to say that this is having an effect on the human condition.” He points to the casino effect where you get distracted by links and an hour later you say, “What just happened?” He’s concerned about a model that has us taking our attention away from people and our surroundings and into a commercial space.

The book is a history, he says. “”Newspapers once upon a time were not a mass media.” In 1830 NY’s biggest paper’s circulation was 2,000.”“Newspapers once upon a time were not a mass media.” In 1830 NY’s biggest paper’s circulation was 2,000. Papers were expensive. So, Benjamin Day — “the first attention merchant” — lowered the price of his paper to a penny, and covered a broader range of topics, “human interest stories for a mass audience.”. E.g., the first story in his paper, The NY Sun, was about tragic lovers. He was selling his audience to the advertisers.

“We’re in a time when we’re almost addicted to free stuff — free content, free services.” But people have begun to realize that we are then the product. “What’s being resold is something very scarce: human attention.” And as food, shelter, clothing, etc., are abundant, so the scarce things become even more valuable. We have 168 hours in a week, and that is one of the last scarce resources. “The models of free are scrambling to get at that resource.”

ERIE: You say in the book that trash-talking grabs our attention.

TIM: Many of the current techniques are quite old. E.g., Trolls. The NY Sun attracted competitors, including the NY Tribune. The Trib got attention by picking fights with other newspaper editors. He was the first troll. It worked. “We’ve seen recently that you can run an entire campaign just by insulting people.” The Sun fought back with even more salacious stories. E.g., “it reported that a scientist had discovered life on the moon, including trees, horse-like animals, and man-bats. They never retracted it.”it reported that a scientist had discovered life on the moon, including trees, horse-like animals, and man-bats. They never retracted it.

ERIE: As you point out, one of them grabbed attention by being pro-Abolition, which caused the others to become rabidly anti-Abolition.

TIM: The book doesn’t totally condemn that attention-seeking model, but it warns about its tendency to run to the most lurid content. This makes for constant ethical problems.

ERIE: You talk about the Oprah model…

TIM: “Orpah Winfrey is one of the great innovators in this area.” She was a fully integrated celebrity, production company, advertising company, and a tv network, all in one. She created product endorsements that drove a lot of advertising. She also married the appeal of ministry (salvation, forgiveness, transcendence) and commercialism. By 1995, she was making more money in entertainment than anyone else and gave rise to celebrities who are themselves attention merchants. E.g., Martha Stewart, Donald Trump: the celebrity builds her/his own media empire. Tim expects this to be the future.

One of the subtexts of the book, Tim says, is that the value of human attention was not widely recognized until the 20th century, except for organized religion. The entities interested in what you spent your time doing, before the 20th century, were organized religions that wanted you praying, and going to church, and in various ways to keep God on your mind.” In some ways, Tim says, the story of the book is the story of government and business figuring out that this is valuable resource. The govt realizes it when they see they can raise an army through govt propaganda. Industry, after govt, realizes they can sell products if they have public attention.

ERIE: Can you talk about micro-celebrities?

TIM: There’s a fascinating change in celebrity. (Tim name-checks me for the line “In the future, everyone will be famous to 15 people.”) And reality tv offers the lottery of fame to anyone. This has some consistency with the American dream: Everyone can have their own land and be sort of wealthy. “We have this idea that everyone can be famous.” The negative side of this is that in fact the disparities remain: it’s extremely hard to become famous, and the pursuit of it leads to empty lives. “It’s not like you write something and people read it.” The main reason is biological: ““The default setting of our brain is to ignore everything.”The default setting of our brain is to ignore everything.”

You can control attention to some degree, but it’s always darting around, and you can really only attend to one thing at once.

ERIE: You say the first ad blocker was a remote control…

TIM: In the 1920s, Zenith was a maverick company. The head of it (“The Commodore”) thought commercials had ruined radio. He had his engineers work on ad-blocking software for TV. They came up with the remote control. Originally it was a gun so you could shoot out the commercials. There have been other revolts. In Paris, there was a revolt against posters. In Paris, advertising is still restricted to certain areas. We may be in another such period now. (He mentions the Brave browserthat blocks ads from the gitgo.) “I believe in the power and legitimacy of results.”

ERIE: “You’ve said that if you have a mission in life, it’s to fight bullies.” What should aspiring entrepreneurs do?

TIM: I struggle with this. “A lot of people who have gone into tech have been very idealistic people.” The pay-for-content models haven’t worked so well. One chapter tells the story of decision-making at Google. At one point, it was bleeding money and didn’t know what to do, so they thought about advertising. But in 1996 Larry Page had written a manifesto that declared that advertising-funded search engines will always be biased and will never serve the interests of people. But Google thought it could square the circle with Adwords: a form of advertising that made the product better and didn’t bother people. That was true at the beginning. If an ad showed up, which usually didn’t happen, it’d be useful to you.

But the demands of the ad-based model have increased. The longer it gets, the worse it gets. They’ve increasingly blurred the lines between the organic results and the ads. Google Maps shows us things and it sometimes unclear why. Most of the major platforms haven’t gotten much better for consumers over the past few years, but have gotten better for advertisers. A developer said, ““The best minds of our generation have gone to getting people to click on ads.”The best minds of our generation have gone to getting people to click on ads.”

Tech is a key driver these days, he says. “Which has changed your life more? Government or tech?” I wish Google had considered a different kind of corporate form or model. “I give Wikipedia a lot of credit for going non-commercial. I give even more to the original creators of the Internet who just built it and put it out there.” E.g., the creator of email didn’t look for a business model. Likewise for the creators of the Internet Protocol or the Web.

ERIE: Have you ever clicked on an ad on purpose?

TIM: I think yes. I think I wanted to buy those razors.

Q & A

Q: Two positive examples: FB put out the call to register to vote. Services raise money for worthy causes.

A: Yes. Gathering up attention for some purpose isn’t inherently good or evil. The book argues for carving out quiet spaces, but I believe in the Habermasian public sphere.

Q: Platforms can abandon ads but show us content based on who pays them. How can we rebel against what we can’t see?

A: Ad-blockers are not the most sustainable form of rebellion. I’ve decided that my attitude that I should never pay for anything on the Web came from my adolescent years. You have to support the content you like. “”There’s a difference between buying and supporting.””“There’s a difference between buying and supporting.”

Q: How about “Society as Spectacle“? And Kevin Kelly’s True Fan theory?

A: Paid models support a much broader variety of content. Ad models require the underlying content to more generally be mass content. That’s one of the reason that TV has gotten better over the past fifteen years. Ad supported TV drove to the middle. TV now gets 50% of its revenue from non-advertising.

Q: What’s been your hardest struggle to regain control of your attention?

A: All books probably come from a personal place. Control of attention is a struggle for me. One of the places I decided I needed to write this book was during a 10-day solo trip in the Utah desert. Time seemed to pass in very different ways. An hour could feel like a week. I felt like the modern regime was having me lose control. I like the Web, but I found I didn’t like the way I’d spent my time. I wish I’d spent time on activities I’d consciously chosen. I like JS Mills’ Chapter 3: Life is a matter of autonomy and self-development, and you need to make decisions that are yours.

Q: Is your a book is a manifesto for policy change, or a self-help book?

A: Can I have a third option?

Q: Are there policy implications?

A: I struggled with how much to make this legally prescriptive. Should I end the book with policy proposals? I decided not to, for a number of reasons. One had to do with craft: those last chapters of policy prescriptions, after a book covering 200 years, are usually pathetic. It’s very hard to regulate well. A lot of it has to do with how people conduct their lives. Policies aren’t sensitive to individual situations. I have complex feelings about it and didn’t want to cram into the book. And then people focus on those prescriptions at the expense of the rest of the book.

“If you get down to it, there is room for a new era of consumer protection” that tries to protect attention. Especially when it’s not consensual. E.g., the back of a taxi cab where you’re forced to be exposed to ads. “Non-consensual things reaching you…in law we call that ‘battery’.”

Q: Is commerce in attention span part of a democracy? People have to learn things they would not willingly learn.

A: If we perfect our filters, we may live in worlds where we learn only what we want to learn. I have complicated ideas about this. The penny press did a good job of creating the sense of a public and public opinion. But I resist the idea that to be a democracy we have to all attend to the same sources of information. “In the 19th century, America was a flourishing democracy and there was no national media”In the 19th century, America was a flourishing democracy and there was no national media, and lived in geographically defined filter bubbles. I don’t pine for the 1950s when everyone watched the same news broadcasts. Building one’s character means making your own information environment.

Be the first to comment »

September 21, 2016

[iab] Privacy discussion

I’m at the IAB conference in Toronto. Canada has a privacy law, PIPEDA law (The Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) passed in 2001, based on OECD principles.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Barbara Bucknell
, the director of policy and research at Office of the Privacy Commissioner where she worries about how to protect privacy while being able to take advantage of all the good stuff data can do.

A recent large survey found that more than half of Canadians are more concerned about privacy than they were last year. Only 34% think the govt is doing enough to keep their privacy safe. Globally, 8 out of 10 are worried about their info being bought, sold, or monitored. “Control is the key concern here.” “They’re worried about surprises: ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were using my information that way!'”

Adam Kardash [this link
?] says that all the traditional approaches to privacy have be carefully reconsidered. E.g., data minimization says you only collect what you need. “It’s a basic principle that’s been around forever.” But data scientists, when asked how much data they need for innovation, will say “We need it all.” Also, it’s incredibly difficult to explain how your data is going to be used, especially at the grade 6-7 literacy rate that is required. And for data retention, we should keep medical info forever. Marketers will tell you the same thing so they can give you information about you what you really need.

Adam raises the difficulties with getting consent, which the OPC opened a discussion about. Often asking for consent is a negligible part of the privacy process. “The notion of consent is having an increasingly smaller role” while the question of control is growing.

He asks Barbara “How does PEPIDA facility trust?”

Barbara: It puts guardrails into the process. They may be hard implement but they’re there for a reason. The original guidelines from the OECD were prescient. “It’s good to remember there were reasons these guardrails were put in place.”

Consent remains important, she says, but there are also other components, including accountability. The organization has to protect data and be accountable for how it’s used. Privacy needs to be built into services and into how your company is organized. Are the people creating the cool tech talking to the privacy folks and to the legal folks? “Is this conversation happening at the front end?” You’d be surprised how many organizations don’t have those kind of programs in place.

Barbara: Can you talk to the ethical side of this?

Adam: Companies want to know how to be respectful as part of their trust framework, not just meeting the letter of the law. “We believe that the vast majority of Big Data processing can be done within the legal framework. And then we’re creating a set of questions” in order for organisations to feel comfortable that what they’re doing is ethical. This is very practical, because it forestalls law suits. PEPIDA says that organizations can only process data for purposes a reasonable person would consider appropriate. We think that includes the ethical concerns.

Adam: How can companies facilitate trust?

Barbara: It’s vital to get these privacy management programs into place that will help facilitate discussions of what’s not just legal but respectful. And companies have to do a better job of explaining to individuals how they’re using their data.

Be the first to comment »

March 1, 2016

[berkman] Dries Buytaert

I’m at a Berkman [twitter: BerkmanCenter] lunchtime talk (I’m moderating, actually) where Dries Buytaert is giving a talk about some important changes in the Web.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He begins by recounting his early days as the inventor of Drupal, in 2001. He’s also the founder of Acquia, one of the fastest growing tech companies in the US. It currently has 750 people working on products and services for Drupal. Drupal is used by about 3% of the billion web sites in the world.

When Drupal started, he felt he “could wrap his arms” around everything going on on the Web. Now that’s impossible, he says. E.g, Google AdWords were just starting, but now AdWords is a $65B business. The mobile Web didn’t exist. Social media didn’t yet exist. Drupal was (and is) Open Source, a concept that most people didn’t understand. “Drupal survived all of these changes in the market because we thought ahead” and then worked with the community.

“The Internet has changed dramatically” in the past decade. Big platforms have emerged. They’re starting to squeeze smaller sites out of the picture. There’s research that shows that many people think that Facebook is the Internet. “How can we save the open Web?,” Dries askes.

What do we mean by the open or closed Web? The closed Web consists of walled gardens. But these walled gardens also do some important good things: bringing millions of people online, helping human rights and liberties, and democratizing the sharing of information. But, their scale is scary . FB has 1.6B active users every month; Apple has over a billion IoS devices. Such behemoths can shape the news. They record data about our behavior, and they won’t stop until they know everything about us.

Dries shows a table of what the different big platforms know about us. “Google probably knows the most about us” because of gMail.

The closed web is winning “because it’s easier to use.” E.g., After Dries moved from Belgium to the US, Facebook and etc. made it much easier to stay in touch with his friends and family.

The open web is characterized by:

  1. Creative freedom — you could create any site you wanted and style it anyway you pleased

  2. Serendipity. That’s still there, but it’s less used. “We just scroll our FB feed and that’s it.”

  3. Control — you owned your own data.

  4. Decentralized — open standards connected the pieces

Closed Web:

  1. Templates dictate your creative license

  2. Algorithms determine what you see

  3. Privacy is in question

  4. Information is siloed

The big platforms are exerting control. E.g., Twitter closed down its open API so it could control the clients that access it. FB launched “Free Basics” that controls which sites you can access. Google lets people purchase results.

There are three major trends we can’t ignore, he says.

First, there’s the “Big Reverse of the Web,” about which Dries has been blogging about. “We’re in a transformational stage of the Web,” flipping it on its head. We used to go to sites and get the information we want. Now information is coming to us. Info, products, and services will come to us at the right time on the right device.”

Second, “Data is eating the world.”

Third, “Rise of the machines.”

For example, “content will find us,” AKA “mobile or contextual information.” If your flight is cancelled, the info available to you at the airport will provide the relevant info, not offer you car rentals for when you arrive. This creates a better user experience, and “user experience always wins.”

Will the Web be open or closed? “It could go either way.” So we should be thinking about how we can build data-driven, user-centric algorithms. “How can we take back control over our data?” “How can we break the silos” and decentralize them while still offering the best user experience. “How do we compete with Google in a decentralized way. Not exactly easy.”

For this, we need more transparency about how data is captured and used, but also how the algorithms work. “We need an FDA for data and algorithms.” (He says he’s not sure about this.) “It would be good if someone could audit these algorithms,” because, for example, Google’s can affect an election. But how to do this? Maybe we need algorithms to audit the algorithms?

Second, we need to protect our data. Perhaps we should “build personal information brokers.” You unbundle FB and Google, put the data in one place, and through APIs give apps access to them. “Some organizations are experimenting with this.”

Third, decentralization and a better user experience. “For the open web to win, we need to be much better to use.” This is where Open Source and open standards come in, for they allow us to build a “layer of tech that enables different apps to communicate, and that makes them very easy to use.” This is very tricky. E.g., how do you make it easy to leave a comment on many different sites without requiring people to log in to each?

It may look almost impossible, but global projects like Drupal can have an impact, Dries says. “We have to try. Today the Web is used by billions of people. Tomorrow by more people.” The Internet of Things will accelerate the Net’s effect. “The Net will change everything, every country, every business, every life.” So, “we have a huge responsibility to build the web that is a great foundation for all these people for decades to come.”

[Because I was moderating the discussion, I couldn’t capture it here. Sorry.]

Be the first to comment »

January 13, 2016

Perfect Eavesdropping

Suppose a laptop were found at the apartment of one of the perpetrators of last year’s Paris attacks. It’s searched by the authorities pursuant to a warrant, and they find a file on the laptop that’s a set of instructions for carrying out the attacks.

Thus begins Jonathan Zittrain‘s consideration of an all-too-plausible hypothetical. Should Google respond to a request to search everyone’s gmail inboxes to find everyone to whom the to-do list was sent ? As JZ says, you can’t get a warrant to search an entire city, much less hundreds of millions of inboxes.

But, while this is a search that sweeps a good portion of the globe, it doesn’t “listen in” on any mail except for that which contains a precise string of words in a precise order. What happens next would depend upon the discretion of the investigators.

JZ points out that Google already does something akin to this when it searches for inboxes that contain known child pornography images.

JZ’s treatment is even handed and clear. (He’s a renown law professor. He knows how to do these things.) He discusses the reasons pro and con. He comes to his own personal conclusion. It’s a model of clarity of exposition and reasoning.

I like this article a lot on its own, but I find it especially fascinating because of its implications for the confused feeling of violation many of us have when it’s a computer doing the looking. If a computer scans your emails looking for a terrorist to-do list, has it violated your sense of privacy? If a robot looks at you naked, should you be embarrassed? Our sense of violation is separable from our legal and moral right to privacy question, but the two meanings often get mixed up in such discussions. Not in JZ’s, but often enough.

Be the first to comment »

November 6, 2015

My odd talk on Monday

The Emerson Engagement Lab (of which I am a fan) is having me in for a talk that is apparently open to the public on Monday at 2pm. I’m talking to Paul Mihailidis‘ course in Emerson’s Greene Theater about whether and how we’ve managed to let the Internet become just yet another mass medium or possible the Worst. Mass Medium. Ever. I’ll be talking about why my aging cohort had such high hopes for the Net, how well the Argument from Architecture has held up, and why I am not quite as depressed as most of my friends.

This is an odd talk in part because I’m not using slides or notes. That changes things. For the better? Well, there are reasons why people use slides and why people like me, who only have three remaining neurons devoted to memory, use notes.

Has anyone seen my keys?

 


Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to talking with Penn State’s Center for Humanities and Information this afternoon. I’m giving a talk about our changing ideas about how the future works, but I believe there will be lots of time for conversation.

1 Comment »

October 31, 2015

What the Internet actually is: A reminder for policy-makers

Just in case you’ve confused the Internet with the entities that bring us access to the Internet or with the machines that instantiate the Internet, here’s an actual goddamn definition:

RESOLUTION:

“The Federal Networking Council (FNC) agrees that the following language reflects our definition of the term “Internet”.

“Internet” refers to the global information system that —

(i) is logically linked together by a globally unique address space based on the Internet Protocol (IP) or its subsequent extensions/follow-ons;

(ii) is able to support communications using the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) suite or its subsequent extensions/follow-ons, and/or other IP-compatible protocols; and

(iii) provides, uses or makes accessible, either publicly or privately, high level services layered on the communications and related infrastructure described herein.”

This is from a 1995 report by The Federal Networking Council, which is too old even for the Wayback Machine. According to Wikipdia, the FNC was “was chartered by the US National Science and Technology Council’s Committee on Computing, Information and Communications (CCIC) to act as a forum for networking collaborations among US federal agencies…” It was dissolved in 1997. But its words are still good.

More than good. The definition quote above comes recommended by a coupla guys who know something about the topic: Robert E. Kahn and Vinton G. Cerf. In their classic article, What is the Internet?, they refer to it as follows:

The authors believe the best definition currently in existence is that approved by the Federal Networking Council in 1995, http://www.fnc.gov and which is reproduced in the footnote below [xv] for ready reference.

Keep it ready for reference the next time an access provider complains about regulations as if the access providers are or own the Internet. The Internet is bigger than that. And deeper. And ours.

Be the first to comment »

June 26, 2015

Too happy to blog

That is all.

1 Comment »

May 19, 2015

John Kerry on the importance of an open-ish Internet

Secretary of State John Kerry gave a speech in Seoul yesterday about the Internet, setting out five principles of cybersecurity.

The talk is quite enthusiastic and progressive about the Net. Sort of. For example, he says, “[t]he United States considers the promotion of an open and secure internet to be a key component of our foreign policy,” but he says this in support of his idea that it’s crucial to govern the Internet. On the third hand, the governance he has in mind is designed to keep the Net open to all people and all ideas. On the fourth hand, predictably, we don’t know how much structural freedom he’s willing to give up to stop the very Worst People on Earth: those who share content they do not own.

Overall, it’s a speech that we can be pretty proud of.

Here’s why he thinks the Net is important:

…to begin with, America believes – as I know you do – that the internet should be open and accessible to everyone. We believe it should be interoperable, so it can connect seamlessly across international borders. We believe people are entitled to the same rights of free expression online as they possess offline. We believe countries should work together to deter and respond effectively to online threats. And we believe digital policy should seek to fulfill the technology’s potential as a vehicle for global stability and sustained economic development; as an innovative way to enhance the transparency of governments and hold governments accountable; and also as a means for social empowerment that is also the most democratic form of public expression ever invented.

At its best, the internet is an equal-opportunity platform from which the voice of a student can have as much reach as that of a billionaire; a chief executive may be able to be out-debated by an entry-level employee – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Great, although why he needed to add a Seinfeldian “Not that there’s anything wrong with that” is a bit concerning.

He then goes on to say that everyone’s human rights extend to online behavior, which is an important position, although it falls short of Hillary Clinton’s claim while Secretary of State that there is a universal “freedom to connect.”

He then in an odd way absolves the Internet from blame for the disruption it seems to cause:

The internet is, among many other things, an instrument of freedom. It’s a tool people resort to in response to the absence and failure or abuse of government…Anyone who blames the internet for the disorder or turmoil in today’s world is just not using their head to connect the dots correctly. And banning the internet in a misguided attempt to impose order will never succeed in quashing the universal desire for freedom.

This separates him from those who think that the Net actually gives people an idea of freedom, encourages them to speak their minds, or is anything except a passive medium. But that’s fine since in this section he’s explaining why dictators shouldn’t shut down the Net. So we can just keep the “inspires an ambition for political freedom” part quiet for now.

“The remedy for the speech that we do not like is more speech,” he says, always a good trope. But he follows it up with an emphasis on bottom-up conversation, which is refreshing: “It’s the credible voices of real people that must not only be enabled, but they need to be amplified.”

To make the point that the Net empowers all sectors of society, and thus it would be disastrous if it were disrupted globally, he suggests that we watch The Day the Earth Stood Still, which makes me think Secretary Kerry has not watched either version of that movie lately. Klaatu barada nikto, Mr. Kerry.

To enable international commerce, he opposes data localization standards, in the course of which he uses “google” as a verb. Time to up your campaign contributions, Bing.

Kerry pre-announces an international initiative to address the digital divide, “in combination with partner countries, development banks, engineers, and industry leaders.” Details to follow.

Kerry tries to position the NSA’s data collection as an enlightened policy:

Further, unlike many, we have taken steps to respect and safeguard the privacy of the citizens of other countries and to use the information that we do collect solely to address the very specific threat to the United States and to our allies. We don’t use security concerns as an excuse to suppress criticisms of our policies or to give a competitive advantage to an American company and any commercial interests at all.

You have our word on that. So, we’re good? Moving on.

Kerry acknowledges that the Telecomm Act of 1996 is obsolete, noting that “Barely anybody in 1996 was talking about data, and data transformation, and data management. It was all about telephony – the telephone.”

Finally, he gets to governance:

So this brings me to another issue that should concern us all, and that is governance – because even a technology founded on freedom needs rules to be able to flourish and work properly. We understand that. Unlike many models of government that are basically top-down, the internet allows all stakeholders – the private sector, civil society, academics, engineers, and governments – to all have seats at the table. And this multi-stakeholder approach is embodied in a myriad of institutions that each day address internet issues and help digital technology to be able to function.

“Stakeholders” get a “seat at the table”? It’s our goddamned table. And it’s more like a blanket on the ground than polished rare wood in a board room. Here’s an idea for you, World Leaders: How about if you take your stakes and get off our blanket?

Well, that felt good. Back to governing the Internet into the ground. And to be fair, Kerry seems aware of the dangers of top-down control, even if he doesn’t appreciate the benefits of bottom-up self-organization:

That’s why we have to be wary of those who claim that the system is broken or who advocate replacing it with a more centralized arrangement – where governments would have a monopoly on the decision-making. That’s dangerous. Now, I don’t know what you think, but I am confident that if we were to ask any large group of internet users anywhere in the world what their preferences are, the option “leave everything to the government” would be at the absolute bottom of the list.

Kerry now enunciates his five principles.

  1. First, no country should conduct or knowingly support online activity that intentionally damages or impedes the use of another country’s critical infrastructure.

  2. Second, no country should seek either to prevent emergency teams from responding to a cybersecurity incident, or allow its own teams to cause harm.

  3. Third, no country should conduct or support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property, trade secrets, or other confidential business information for commercial gain.

  4. Fourth, every country should mitigate malicious cyber activity emanating from its soil, and they should do so in a transparent, accountable and cooperative way.

  5. And fifth, every country should do what it can to help states that are victimized by a cyberattack.

Two particular points:

First, #2 establishes Internet repair teams as the medical support people in the modern battleground: you don’t fire on them.

Second, #3 gets my goat. Earlier in the talk, Sect’y Kerry said: “We understand that freedom of expression is not a license to incite imminent violence. It’s not a license to commit fraud. It’s not a license to indulge in libel, or sexually exploit children.” But the one crime that gets called out in his five principles is violating copyright or patent laws. And it’s not even aimed at other governments doing so, for it explicitly limits the prohibition to acts committed “for commercial gain.” Why the hell is protecting “IP” more important than preventing cross-border libel, doxxing or other privacy violations, organizing human trafficking, or censorship?

Oh, right. Disney. Hollywood. A completely corrupt electoral process. Got it.

Now, it’s easy to be snarky and dismissive about this speech — or any speech — by a Secretary of State about the Internet, but just consider how bad it could have been. Imagine a speech by a Secretary of State in an administration that sees the Internet primarily as a threat to security, to morals, to business as usual. There’s actually a lot to like in this talk, given its assumptions that the Net needs governments to govern it and that it’s ok to spy on everyone so long as we don’t do Bad Things with that information that we gather.

So, before you vote Republican, re-read Hillary Clinton’s two speeches [2010 2011] on Internet freedom.

1 Comment »

May 14, 2015

The Matrix glitches and puts Bruce Schneier next to the head of the NSA

Bruce is one of the most visible, articulate, and smartest voices on behalf of preserving our privacy. (His new book, Data and Goliath, is both very readable and very well documented.) At an event at West Point, he met Admiral Mike Rogers, Director of the NSA. Bruce did an extensive liveblog of the Rogers’ keynote.

There was no visible explosion, forcing physicists to rethink their understanding of matter and anti-matter.

 


Tim Hwang started a little memefest by suggesting that that photo was announcing a new movie. Contributions by the likes of Tim, Nathan Mathias, Sam Klein, and Ryan Budish include:

  • Security Chasers : The Chastening

  • US Confidential: What you don’t know you don’t know can kill you

  • Selma and Louise: Deep Cover

  • Tango and Hooch: The Spookening

  • Open and Shut: The Legend Begins

  • Phreaky Friday

1 Comment »

September 17, 2014

The problem is not with our imaginations

Yet another brilliant post by Ethan. (I think I’m going to turn that into a keyboard macro. I’ll just have to type ^EthanTalk and that opening sentence will get filled in.) It’s a reflection on the reaction to his piece in the Atlantic about advertising as the Net’s original sin, and the focus on his “confession” that he wrote the code for the Net’s first popup ad.

But I think I actually disagree with one of his key points. In other words, I’m very likely wrong. Nevertheless…

Ethan explains why the Net has come to rely on advertising money:

We had a failure of imagination. And the millions of smart young programmers and businesspeople spending their lives trying to get us to click on ads are also failing to imagine something better. We’re all starting from the same assumptions: everything on the internet is free, we pay with our attention, and our attention is worth more if advertisers know more about who we are and what we do, we start business with money from venture capitalists who need businesses to grow explosively if they’re going to make money.

He recommends that we question our assumptions so we can come up with more imaginative solutions.

I agree with Ethan’s statement of the problem, and admire his ability to put it forward with such urgency. But it seems to me that the problem is less a failure of imagination than the success of the power of incumbent systems.Is access to the Net in exactly the wrong hands because of the failure of someone to imagine a better way, or because of the structural corruption of capitalism? Similarly, why are we failing to slow global warming in an appreciable way? (Remember when Pres. Reagan took down the solar panels Pres. Carter had installed on the White House?) Why are elections still disproportionately determined by the wealthy? In each of these cases, imagination has lost to entrenched systems. We had innovative ways of accessing the Net, we’ve had many great ideas for slowing global warming, we have had highly imaginative attempts to get big money out of politics, and they all failed to one degree or another. Thuggish systems steal great ideas’ lunch money. Over and over and over.

Ethan of course recognizes this. But he ties these failures to failures of the imagination when one could just as well conclude that imagination is no match for corrupt systems — especially since we’ve now gone through a period when imagination was unleashed with a force never before seen, and yet the fundamental systems haven’t budged. This seems to be Larry Lessig’s conclusion, since he moved from CreativeCommons — an imaginative, disruptive approach — to a super-Pac that plays on the existing field, but plays for the Good Guys ‘n’ Gals.

Likewise, one could suggest that the solution — if there is one — is not more imagination, but more organizing. More imagination will only work if the medium still is pliable. Experience suggests it never was as pliable as some of us thought.

But the truth is that I really don’t know. I don’t fully believe the depressing “bad thugs beat good ideas” line I’ve just adumbrated. I certainly agree that it’s turning out to be much harder to overturn the old systems than I’d thought twenty or even five years ago. But I also think that we’ve come much further than we often realize. I take it as part of my job to remind people of that, which is why I am almost always on the chirpier side of these issues. And I certainly think that good ideas can be insanely disruptive, starting with the Net and the Web, and including Skype, eBay, Open Source, maps and GPS, etc.

So, while I don’t want to pin the failure of the Net on our failure of imagination, I also still have hope that bold acts of imagination can make progress, that our ability to iterate at scale can create social formations that are new in the world, and that this may be a multi-generational fight.

I therefore come out of Ethan’s post with questions: (1) What about this age made it possible even to think that imagination could disrupt our most entrenched systems? (2) What makes some ideas effectively disruptive, and why do other equally imaginative good ideas fail? And what about unimaginative ideas that make a real difference? The Birmingham bus boycott was not particularly imaginative, but it sure packed a wallop. (3) What can we do to make it easier for great acts of imagination to become real?

For me, #1 has to do with the Internet. (Color me technodeterminist.) I don’t have anything worthwhile to say about #2. And I still have hope that the answer to #3 has something to do with the ability of billions of people to make common cause— and, more powerfully, to iterate together — over the Net. Obviously #3 also needs regulatory reform to make sure the Internet remains at least a partially open ecosystem.

So, I find myself in deep sympathy with the context of what Ethan describes so well and so urgently. But I don’t find the rhetoric of imagination convincing.

3 Comments »

Next Page »