Monthly Archives: October 2010

Links for week ending 29 October, 2010

Google ends secret wifi data gathering as international privacy watchdogs investigate
Google Vice President Alan Eustace has stated that his company is “mortified” that its Streetview cars have been “inadvertently” collecting and storing personal data while scanning wifi networks. The Streetview cars, which travel the world taking photographs to upload to Google’s controversial Streetview service, had also been gathering information about the location of wifi networks to improve the company’s geolocation services, a practice Google say they will now stop. Privacy watchdogs in the UK, Germany, France and Canada are currently investigating the issue.

Mobile operators under pressure in Mozambique
In a move understood to have followed the widespread use of SMS to organise protests during September’s food shortages, the government of Mozambique will require mobile operators to register the SIM cards of all their customers by mid-November. This week, the government announced that a levy imposed on mobile phone subscribers that would contribute to a government-controlled Transport and Communications Development Fund would now be shifted onto operators in order to avoid constitutional issues around introducing new forms of taxation.

Livejournal bloggers expose suspicious government IT contracts in Russia
Global Voices report that Russian bloggers with IT expertise have launched a new campaign to scrutinise government IT tenders, after they noticed that the Ministry of Health was inviting companies to tender for contracts on unfair or suspicious terms. The campaign has already seen at least three tenders cancelled, with one official responsible for a suspicious tender being forced to resign.

Vatican speaks out against unduly aggressive IP protection
In an address to the General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization last month, a Vatican spokesperson has condemned aggressive intellectual property (IP) protection that harms access to medicines in poorer countries. Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Permanent Representative of the Holy See to the United Nations remarked: “on the part of rich countries there is excessive zeal for protecting knowledge through an unduly rigid assertion of the right to intellectual property, especially in the field of health care.”

Future internet scenarios
The Internet Society have shared the results of a scenario planning exercise they engaged in to reveal plausible courses of events that could impact the future “health of the Internet”. The results are presented in a compelling way, and represent a useful framework for understanding current issues such as censorship technologies, the rise of web hyper-giants like Facebook and Google, and cyber security concerns.

Judging the cyber war terrorist threat
In this essay for the New Yorker Seymour Hersh gives context and depth to Western governments’ current obsession with cyberwar, tallying the potential cost to civil liberties of an over-reliance on the military to respond to cyberthreats.

Ten theses on Wikileaks
Internet scholars Geert Lovink and Patrice Riemens present ten competing analyses of the status and prospects of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks. This week Wikileaks disclosed hundreds of thousands of US Army reports pertaining to the war in Iraq, which revealed greater civilian casualties than previously reported, and allegations of widespread torture of detainees.

How to examine copyright’s impacts on innovation
This United States National Academy of Sciences has set up a committee to examine and enrich the evidence base informing current copyright practice. In this blog post, Public Knowledge summarise their submission, which urges the committee to re-examine several issues including the length of copyright term and the cost effectiveness of imposing liability for copyright infringement on internet service providers.

How Useful is Humanitarian Crowdsourcing?
Ushahidi critic Paul Currion of humanitarian.info attempts to advance the debate on crowdsoucing and humanitarian response: “My critique of crowdsourcing – shared by other people working at the interface of humanitarian response and technology – is not that it is disruptive to business as usual. My critique is that it doesn’t work.”

Spotted! Me at Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge

I will be appearing on a panel after a screening of RIP: A Remix Manifesto at Cambridge Arts Picturehouse this Saturday. The screening starts at 3pm. Why not buy a ticket and come along?

RIP artwork

Here’s what the Arts Picturehouse website has to say about the film:

Biomedical engineer turned live-performance sensation Girl Talk, has received immense commercial and critical success for his mind-blowing sample-based music. Utilizing technical expertise and a ferocious creative streak, Girl Talk repositions popular music to create a wild and edgy dialogue between artists from all genres and eras. But are his practices legal? Do his methods of frenetic appropriation embrace collaboration in its purest sense? Or are they infractions of creative integrity and violations of copyright?

I watched it a while back on the small screen, and I have yet to see a film that betters it at explaining the nuances of the copyright debate.

With me on the panel will be John Naughton, Jussi Parikka and Geoff Gamlen, all chaired by the wonderful Bill Thompson.

My aim will be to use the term “semiotic democracy” at least once. If you’re coming, and you hear me succeed, holler out.

Links for week ending 22 October 2010

High internet, SMS costs slow Rwanda rural project
The Rwandan Development Board is considering inviting competing telecommunications providers to take part in Rwanda’s e-soko project after users of the market price information service complained that SMS and internet costs associated with it were too high. 30,000 farmers, traders and consumers in the country are using the service.

Russian police investigating Wikipedia
Russian police are reported to be investigating claims that the Russian instance of Wikipedia is hosting “extremist” content proscribed by the Russian justice ministry. So far Wikipedia editors have not been told which works are under suspicion. Earlier this year a local Russian court ruled that YouTube should be blocked after complaints about extremist videos, although that decision was later amended to oblige Russian internet service providers to block only certain pages, and not the entire service.

Microsoft expands efforts to protect non-profit groups from piracy crackdowns
The New York Times reports that Microsoft is planning to provide software licences free-of-charge to more than 500,000 advocacy groups and independent media organisations in countries including Russia and China. The move follows on from reports that repressive governments were “using software piracy inquiries as a pretext to suppress dissent”.

Google offers piracy help to Big Media, at a price
CNet reports that Google has written a letter to executives at two music industry trade groups offering to help them track down pirated material online, for a price. The move comes in the context of Google’s ongoing licensing negotiations with the content industry following a recently launched “Google TV” service and a planned digital music service.

‘Scrapers’ Dig Deep for Data on the Web
The Wall Street Journal reports on the growing trend for media research firms, data brokers and other commercial entities to “scrape” websites for personal data and package it on at a price.

Peter Thiel launches new fellowship for young tech entrepreneurs
PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has launched 20 fellowships incorporating cash grants worth up to $100,000 each, for people under 20 years old “to further their innovative scientific and technical ideas”. The fellowships include mentoring from key members of Thiel’s extended network of successful technology entrepreneurs.

Open Access Week
This week is international Open Access Week, a global event to promote Open Access as a new norm in scholarship and research. To celebrate, the OSF blog interviewed the Information Program’s Melissa Hagemann about the successes in the open access movement so far, and the challenges it faces in the future.
Open Access Week | Interview

Decrypting the Web
Siva Vaidhyanathan writes a thoughtful and well-informed piece for Dissent magazine, recalling failed attempts in the nineties to regulate everyday use of strong cryptography, and detailing how the US government’s recently reported desire to “wiretap” the encrypted net will meet with the same fate.

Garage biotech: Life hackers
This Nature feature on “bio-hacking” is an excellent introduction to trends in garage microbiology and DIY genomics. It traces parallels between the activities of these hobbyists and the history of early personal computer development and computer hacking.

OER: Interview with Nicole Allen
Creative Commons interview Student Public Interest Research Group Campaign Director Nicole Allen on the topic of open educational resources (OER).

Research report: “Campaign Takedown Troubles”
This new report from the Center for Democracy and Technology documents the extent to which overly aggressive copyright enforcement claims made under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act have inappropriately stifled online political speech during recent US election campaigns.

Links for week ending 15 October

French police accused of maintaining illegal Roma database
French police are denying accusations that they maintain a secret and illegal database of Roma and other travelling minorities. The Register report that the existence of the database “came to light by chance, when a 48-page powerpoint presentation…turned up on the internet.” Human rights groups are calling for a swift public response to the revelations, and Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP has urged the European Commission to investigate France’s “anti-Roma policies”.

UAE will not ban BlackBerrys
The BBC report that telecommunications regulators in the United Arab Emirates have been satisfied that BlackBerrys are compliant with the country’s security needs, and will not therefore ban the service this week, as had been originally threatened. Research in Motion, makers of the handheld device which routinely encrypts communications data, said it would not reveal the details of their discussions with UAE regulators.

iCow wins Apps 4 Africa competition
Apps4Africa, a competition funded by the US government, has awarded its first $5,000 prize to a voice-based application which uses smart phones to track the fertility of cows. The creator of “iCow” is Charles Kithika from Kenya.

Libya takes hard line on .ly link shortening domains
The co-founder of an “adult friendly” url shortening service that used the Libyan top level domain .ly has warned that the Libyan domain registry service may deregister other .ly domains without warning, after his site was taken off the web.

HTML5 may weaken privacy
The New York Times reports on the next version of Hypertext Markup Language, HTML5, focussing on the new capabilities for online behaviour tracking the website programming language will introduce. Privacy campaigners have called HTML5 a “Pandora’s Box”, but the World Wide Web Consortium, which is overseeing the specification of HTML5 say they are taking questions of user privacy “very seriously”.

Creating a National Digital Library
Director of the Harvard University Library lays out the path toward a US National Digital Library in this excellent post on the New York Review of Books blog.

A civic hacktivism abecedary
Tony Bowden has been working with the OSI Information Program and mySociety for the past year identifying viable and exciting civic hacktivism projects in Central and Eastern Europe. This ABC guide will eventually list the 26 favourite lessons he’s drawn from the experience. Topics so far include “B – Bypass Bureaucracy” and “F – Facebook Will Destroy You”.

Interview with Chiranuch Premchaiporn of Thai Netizen Network
The EFF interview Chiranuch Premchaiporn (known as Jiew), a Director and webmaster of alternative Thai news website Prachatai, and founding member of the Thai Netizen Network. Jiew was recently charged under the Thai Computer Crime Act, and may face a sentence of 82 years. She discusses flaws in the law under which she was charged, and the effect the charges have had on her life.

The Atlantic syllabus series
Starting in August, the Atlantic magazine has been running articles which ask academics teaching courses on ethical, cultural and social issues in technology to share their syllabi. The result is this fascinating series.

Who’s Who in Internet Politics
A concise, US-focused primer for decision makers on the advocates and issues that surround regulation of the internet: “Some might argue that these issues are transitory and will recede in importance as the digital economy matures. But there is good reason to believe otherwise: The debates that pit online consumers against resistant middlemen are likely to continue as new forms of online distribution evolve.”

Video: Public domain calculators
This short video explains the European Public Domain Calculators project, which aims to create an algorithm to establish whether a particular work is in the public domain. In a separate but complementary development, this week Creative Commons have launched a new, machine-readable “public domain mark”, which will help users of the web search for public domain material. Both projects aim to exploit the power of new technology in order to make better use of public domain works.
Public domain calculators | Public domain mark

Infographic: The True size of Africa
Like any good infographic, this image speaks for itself.

Help raise £20K in 20 days for Just Do It, an exciting new CC film about climate change activism

One of the last things I did before I quit being ED of ORG was to visit Brussels to implore MEPs not to extend copyright term in sound recordings. The hearing was dominated by members of the Green grouping. I remember one of them commenting after the speech that the various extensions to copyright law – both in term and in scope – that Brussels has been asked to consider over the years were contributing to a sort of pollution that would eventually damage the cultural landscape irrevocably. It was a powerful metaphor, and one which has stuck with me.

For the past year I’ve been helping, in a very modest way, to advise the talented team behind Just Do It, a documentary about climate change activists, their cause and the way they go about advocating for it. Emily James, the Director of the film, is a passionate and inspiring film-maker, whose past credits include (as writer/producer/director) The Luckiest Nut in the World, (as producer/director) The Battle for Broadway Market and (as Executive Producer) The Age of Stupid. Just Do It is currently in post-production: once finished it will be released Creative Commons NC ND. Which, of course, is excellent news.

Emily tells me that as she’s gone around the country explaining what she’s up to (this woman is seriously tireless), she’s often had to give her climate-conscious audience a primer in Creative Commons, because they’ve never heard of it. She says that once they hear about Creative Commons, though, they love the idea, and I have to say I’m not surprised. Like the planet, the sum of human knowledge is a common resource, a public good, and yet much like free market capitalism does for natural resources, the copyright system is getting worse and worse at protecting the public good aspects of human knowledge. Libraries find it increasingly difficult to archive our cultural heritage, creators find it increasingly difficult to use the signs and symbols around them to tell stories to the rest of us without bumping into a grumpy lawyer from a global media corporation.

Given this similarity, what’s even more interesting is the way that the establishment goes into lockdown when IP reform campaigners and climate change advocates alike try and voice their concerns. We’ve just seen the final round of the secret Anit-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement wind down in Tokyo. The result is less worrying than everybody feared – thanks to the excellent work of KEI and La Quadrature du Net at smoking out those rats. But what’s really frightening is that democratic governments ever thought it was okay to make law like this, given that last time I checked institutions like WIPO, that have worked hard to establish a voice for civil society in the small matter of the enclosure of the mind, are still alive, well, and providing excellent meeting facilities in Geneva. Similarly, part of the story of Just Do It is about the measures law enforcement have taken to silence those activists willing to devote their lives to saving the planet for all of us, often using legislation meant to combat terrorism.

So three cheers for Just Do It. Although I thought my begging days were over once I’d left ORG, it seems that I’ve got one last puff left in me, so here goes. The team are trying to raise £20,000 towards finishing the film and Lush cosmetics will match anything you donate in the next 20 days. So I’m coming over all Charles Satchi and donating £150 today. I hope you will too – visit this page to find out why they’re crowdsourcing funding, what they’ll spend the money on and what privileges you get when you become such an esteemed patron of the arts. Go on, get off your arse and change the world!

Links for week ending 8 October

US internet censorship bill delayed
Following significant public pressure, including an open letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee from 96 founding internet scientists and engineers, the EFF report that the “Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeit Act” will not be considered further until after the US midterm elections in October. It had been feared that the deeply flawed bill, which included proposals to use the internet’s Domain Name System (DNS) to boot suspected copyright infringers off the ‘net, would be rushed through without proper scrutiny in order to appease lobbyists.

India ID project begins in earnest
India’s project to create a unique, biometric-linked identification for each of its 1.2 billion citizens kicked off in earnest this week, amid stiff resistance from civil society groups, who say the project is intrusive, expensive, and possibly illegal.

New media law in Syria to target bloggers?
The New York Times report that a draft law being proposed in Syria would force bloggers and journalists to register as syndicate members and submit their writing for review: “Other Arab countries regularly jail journalists who express dissident views, but Syria may be the most restrictive of all”.

e-Voting dealt double blow
Flawed electronic voting technologies were dealt a double blow this week, with hacker infiltration ending an online voting trial in Washington DC, and the Indian Electoral Commission bowing to mounting pressure to provide a paper trail alongside their electronic systems. e-Voting campaigners are now calling for all charges against Indian security researcher Hari Prasad – who was arrested in August after he revealed flaws in e-voting machines – to be dropped.
US | India

ACTA “Ultra-Lite” emerges from Tokyo negotiations
The Tokyo round of negotiations of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement concluded last week, with mixed messages coming from country delegates, and in particular the US and the EU, about whether a final agreement had been reached. A draft of the consolidated text released this week shows that harmful provisions had been watered down, including those to do with intermediary liability for copyright infringement and the circumvention of digital locks to enable fair use of copyrighted works.

What is the impact of digital activism?
The impact of digital activism has been in the headlines for most of the past week. A New Yorker essay by Malcolm Gladwell kicked off a lively debate which included input from Evgeny Morozov and Howard Rheingold in the New York Times, and Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber.
Essay | NY Times response | Crooked Timber response

A Tour through the Visualization Zoo
A wonderful crib sheet detailing a wide variety of data visualisation techniques.

Free to Learn: Guide to OER for higher education
This booklet from Creative Commons is aimed at higher education governance officials, particularly boards of trustees and senior academic leaders, to help them better understand Open Educational Resources (OER) and their benefits to students, faculty and institutions.

Rise of the Online Autocrats
Evgeny Morozov shows how officials from autocratic regimes are using social media to disseminate pro-government views and undermine their critics. “The decentralized nature of online conversations often makes it easier to manipulate public opinion, both domestically and globally”

Who’s suing who in the mobile business
A handy visualisation of the many intellectual property lawsuits currently being fought by mobile companies against each other.

Links for week ending 1 October 2010

US wants to make it easier to wiretap the internet
The New York Times report that the Obama administration is seeking to introduce measures that would require all communications providers to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order. The requirements would apply to those providing encrypted communications services, as well as to social networking sites, and voice-over-IP (VoIP) services.

Stuxnet worm detected at Iranian nuclear plant
Iranian officials have confirmed that a computer worm that exploits a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Windows operating system and which targets computers used widely in the management of critical infrastructure has been detected in systems inside the Natanz nuclear facility. Security experts say that the Stuxnet worm is the first example of attackers targeting the specialised computers that control industrial operations. The origins of the worm are unknown.

Civil society shut out of “final” ACTA negotiations
The Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property report how a last-minute change in the schedule for negotiations of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement will keep most civil society representatives from participating fully in the process. Civil society groups including Knowledge Ecology International and La Quadrature du Net have been advocating for a greater emphasis during negotiations on citizens’ rights to access to knowledge, ever since the treaty was first mooted in 2007.

Burma publication claims cyberattack
The New York Times report that The Irrawaddy, a Thailand-based magazine that is a leading source of news and criticism of the Burmese junta, have fallen victim to a politically-motivated distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. Editor Aung Zaw told the newspaper “This is a new game, a new frontier…it shows how vulnerable we are.”

Emails of anti-piracy law firm leaked
Private email correspondence of the anti-piracy law firm ACS:Law have been revealed by a glitch in the company’s website. The emails include correspondence with individuals accused by ACS:Law of violating copyright, as well as correspondence with consumer magazine Which?, who have raised doubts about the legitimacy of ACS:Law’s practice of sending such letters, which demand financial settlement in exchange for not taking their allegations to court. The email glitch occurred following a DDoS attack on the website, allegedly perpetrated by members of the forum 4chan.

Wikileaks undergoing internal revolt
Wired’s Threat Level blog reports on schisms inside the Wikileaks organisation.

Blogs and Bullets: new media in contentious politics
This report from the United States Institute for Peace argues that scholars and policymakers should adopt a more nuanced view of new media’s role in democratisation and social change.

Regulatory approaches to net neutrality in Europe and beyond
This paper by Angela Daly sets out the different regulatory responses to the net neutrality issue, with a focus on the EU.

An interview with Jean-François Cazenave
Interview with head of crisis response telecoms specialists Télécoms Sans Frontières on the occasion of their 12th anniversary.

Africa and television white spaces
Steve Song encourages Africans to demand a similar deal on unlicensed spectrum to the one just agreed by the FCC in the US.

“The death of the book has been greatly exaggerated”
Christopher Mims explains why new media pundits are using the iPad and Kindle to inflate a “hype bubble” around the death of the paper book.

Podcast: Little Atoms
British podcast Little Atoms is an excellent independent weekly talk show “based around ideas of the Enlightenment”. This recent episode features an interview with Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: How the internet is making us change the way we think, read and remember.”