Monthly Archives: September 2011

Interview with the Full Circle Podcast

I was away in sunnier climes when Robin Catling released episode ten of the Full Circle “side pod”, featuring a long interview with me about Barefoot Into Cyberspace. But I’m back, I’ve listened to it, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out, so I thought I’d flag it here. The interview starts at 26:48.

Robin asks me a lot about how I got into writing about the tech counterculture, and we then go into quite a detailed discussion on privacy in the digital age. You can find out more about the Full Circle podcast here.

Too much information: week ending 30 September

Internet Governance Forum begins in Nairobi
The Internet Governance Forum, a multi-stakeholder forum created as a result of the UN’s World Summit on the Information Society and now in its sixth year, began in Nairobi, Kenya this week. The .nxt internet governance blog highlights competing bids by China, Russia, India, Brazil, South Africa and the EU for a stronger role for governments in internet control. And a paper prepared for the summit by Jeremy Malcolm of the Giganet network of internet governance scholars charts the decline of “multi-stakholderism” in internet governance.
Report | Paper

Kyrgyzstan to switch off foreign TV channels for elections
TREND reports that cable television cables in Kyrgyzstan will switch off transmissions of foreign TV channels this week until the end of October, in order to comply with laws governing the broadcast of political campaign messages.

Windows 8 secure boot: the return of “Trusted Computing”?
ZDNet report on a security measure proposed by Microsoft to link operating system (OS) software to the computer that runs it, a development that could have widespread ramifications for the computer market. The Light Blue Touchpaper blog likens the proposal to previous attempts by major computer firms to lock down computer hardware, concluding “The extension of Microsoft’s OS monopoly to hardware would be a disaster, with increased lock-in, decreased consumer choice and lack of space to innovate. It is clearly unlawful and must not succeed.”
ZDNet | Light Blue Touchpaper

Copyright reform back on the agenda in Canada
Proposed reforms to copyright law, which had been delayed by national elections, were scheduled to be re-introduced in the Canadian Parliament this week. Michael Geist analyses the political mood surrounding some of the proposal’s most controversial provisions and highlights the role the US played in promoting legal change, as revealed by leaked US State Department cables published since the elections took place.

89 countries ranked in world’s first rating of right to information laws
Access Info Europe and the Centre for Law and Democracy celebrated International Right to Know Day (28 September) this week by launching a detailed analysis of the legal provisions for exercising the right to information across 89 countries. Among the study’s findings are that more recent laws protect the right to know more strongly, and that countries in Europe, particularly those with older laws that are limited in scope and have weak appeals mechanisms, account for 15 of the bottom 20 rankings.

Anonymous accuses Chaoda of fraud
The Financial Times reports that “Anonymous, the amorphous cyber-collective, has made its first foray into securities analysis by accusing a scandal-plagued Chinese company of fraud”. The company in question is Chaoda Modern Agriculture, and the 38-page “Anonymous Analytics” report released this week accuses them of falsifying financial statements and swindling investors.

New website tracks net neutrality violations in Europe
Two European digital rights organisations, Bits of Freedom and La Quadrature du Net, have launched a new website called “Respect My Net”, which invites European users to report violations of net neutrality principles committed by their Internet Service Providers.

Six provocations for big data
This paper, presented by sociologist danah boyd to the Oxford Internet Institute last week, contains some interesting observations on how the current trend towards making extremely large data sets the object of scholarship “creates a radical shift in how we think about research… a profound change agt the levels of epistemology and ethics”.

Why the world is scared of hacktivists
This Financial Times feature by Joseph Menn provides excellent history and context on the activities of Anonymous and other hacktivists.

Audio: Cyber-spies
This podcast of the BBC’s flagship investigative radio program, File on Four, provides an excellent overview of the issues surrounding digital surveillance in open and closed societies.

Video: Evgeny Morozov on digital utopianism
This feature-length video for Dutch TV programme Tegenlicht invites Evgeny Morozov to respond to a range of video clips which explore ideas of digital utopianism. Although broadcast for a Dutch-speaking audience, the footage (from about 2 minutes in) is mainly English-language with Dutch sub-titles and is well worth watching.

Audio: Yochai Benkler on his new book “The Penguin and the Leviathan”
David Weinberger talks to internet and legal scholar Yochai Benkler about his new book “The Penguin and the Leviathan: How cooperation triumphs over self-interest”, which challenges the popular notion that human beings are entirely self-motivated.

Video: Zeynep Tufecki on Social Media and Dynamics of Collective Action under Authoritarian Regimes
This Berkman Luncheon Series video features Zeynep Tufecki talking about the role of social media in energising networks of dissent under authoritarian regimes, drawing on data gathered in Tahrir Square during the uprisings in Egypt.

Too much information: links for week ending 9 September

WikiLeaks name names in full-text post of secret cables
At the end of last week, WikiLeaks published over 251,000 leaked US diplomatic cables from a set it had previously been releasing in redacted form with media partners all over the world. The cables were released in unredacted form, an action almost universally condemned for the lives of named informants it might inadvertently put at risk. This IT World report provides important details of the events that led up to WikiLeaks’ action.

Leak shows US influence on intellectual property policy around the world
The Toronto Star reports on US diplomatic cables that reveal significant US influence on proposed copyright and copy protection enforcement measures put forward in Canada in 2010. The cables show cabinet minister Maxime Bernier “raising the possibility of showing US officials a draft bill before tabling it to Parliament” and “even have a policy director for then industry minister Tony Clement suggesting it might help US demands for a tough copyright law if Canada were placed… on an international piracy watch list”. The story has made frontpage news in Canada. Meanwhile, Knowledge Ecology International’s James Love writes a strong and detailed piece for the Huffington Post on the important revelations the newly-released cables offer about the US government’s close collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry in its dealings with low and middle income countries seeking access to medicines, including Guatemala and the Philippines.
Toronto Star | Huffington Post

Global congress issues declaration challenging US trade policy
Information policy experts from around the world have released a joint statement that challenges the dominant direction of negotiations on intellectual property (IP) in US trade agreements. The Washington Declaration on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest is the result of a global congress hosted by American University Washington College of Law, and calls for a refocussing on public interest concerns in IP negotiations, emphasising limitations and exceptions to copyright protection and the checking of enforcement excesses. Individuals and organisations are invited to sign the declaration to indicate their support.

Putin says state should not control the internet
Reuters report that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said that modern states should not restrict internet freedoms, noting “One can always impose control, but the question is … whether the state has the right to interfere”.

Fake Facebook page targets pro-revolution Syrian users
The Information Warfare monitor reports on a new attack – suspected to be the work of the pro-regime Syrian Electronic Army – which harvests the Facebook login credentials of pro-revolution Syrians.

New evidence in case against Cisco
The New York Times reports that the Human Rights Law Foundation, who are pursuing a case against Cisco Systems under a US law that allows American companies to be sued for violations of human rights abroad, will present new evidence “showing that Cisco customized its products specifically to help Beijing go after members of the religious group Falun Gong”.

Google certificate hackers may have stolen 200 others
The Wired Threat Level blog reports that “Hackers who obtained a fraudulent digital certificate for Google may have actually obtained more than 200 digital certificates for other top internet entities such as Mozilla, Yahoo and even the privacy and anonymizing service Tor”. The hackers are believed to be targeting Iranian users, and could have used the fake certificates to intercept traffic that users thought was secure.

Political Repression 2.0
Evgeny Morozov highlights the links between surveillance systems used by repressive governments and the Western corporations who manufacture them, and urges the US State Department to address the issue, in this editorial for the New York Times.

How to create sustainable open data projects
Tom Steinberg, Director of civic hacking organisation MySociety, weighs in on a debate started on the O’Reilly Radar blog about ways that data owners, funders and civic hackers need to change their practice in order to make sure open data projects are sustainable and successful.
Steinberg | More debate

Uzbekistan launches its own Facebook, except it’s not for everyone
This feature for the Radio Free Europe Tangled Web blog looks in depth at a new state-sponsored social networking site launched in Uzbekistan, and surveys state-sponsored social networking sites across the world.

Shouting fire in a crowded hashtag
This post by Andrés Monroy-Hernández analyses the case of sixteen people in Mexico charged with spreading rumours on Twitter, putting it in the context of the security and media environment surrounding drug-related crime in Mexico.

Audio: Cathy N. Davidson on the future of education
Duke University professor Cathy N. Davidson talks to SPARK radio host Nora Young about her book “Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn” and about how education needs to evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century.

Barefoot into Cyberspace: figures for August

Below are the figures for how many people read/bought Barefoot into Cyberspace in August. I’m providing them for people who are interested in the nuts and bolts of a book project undertaken outside of the world of mainstream publishing and with a Creative Commons element. I intend to provide these figures on a month-by-month basis.

html 3,619
pdf 2,337
ePub 520
Kindle 177
Print – direct 70
Print – POD 54
TOTAL 6,777

Some explanation:

  • The last two days of July are incorporated in these stats
  • html stats are number of views as reported by WordPress
  • pdf stats are number of reads as reported by Scribd
  • ePub stats are kindly provided by Terence Eden
  • Print – direct stats are the number of copies I have sold directly (mainly at my launch party, and at the Chaos Computer Camp)
  • Print – POD are reported by Lightning Source, the print-on-demand partner for the book. My suspicion (and hope!) is that this figure lags behind actual print sales, but time will tell…
  • Kindle stats are provided by the Kindle direct publishing platform at

More reviews for Barefoot into Cyberspace

This quarter’s edition of the New Humanist magazine contains a review of Barefoot into Cyberspace written by my good friend Bill Thompson.

As a technology journalist Hogge knows just how much technical explanation to offer to ensure that the untrained can understand what is being said without boring her more geeky readers, and this helps to make the book both readable and informative, whatever your background in computing.

It’s not online, so if you want to read the rest, you’re going to have to buy the magazine. The review has now been made available to read online.

I’ve flagged the major media reviews of the book already (ZDNet | Independent on Sunday | Guardian), but I’ve also been paying attention to reviews written by readers across the web. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when someone has read your work and taken the time to write about their response to it. Yes, it helps if they liked the book (and many say they did). But just the fact that someone is paying attention is often enough to have me dancing around my study, punching the air.

Here’s a selection of some of the reviews I’ve been reading since the book was published. If you’ve written a review and you think I might not have noticed it, do please prod me in the comments. And if you’ve read the book but haven’t got around to telling the world what you think about it yet, hopefully this might encourage you to go ahead and let it all out.

Terence Eden (the man who had converted the free html version of the book into an ePub file before I’d had time to get my boots on the day Barefoot launched) writes:

I’ve only just started reading the book, but it’s clear that it’s been written in a very accessible way. You don’t need to be a hard-core techie to understand what’s going on.

David F. Flanders writes on his Opening Walled Gardens blog:

The feel of this book as you read it is as a hard hitting documentary where a journalist has managed to hide out with rebel freedom fighters and survived long enough to bring this story back to the world to expose the real injustices that we are experiencing right now (the most obvious example being the continuous lies that the news corps tell us). The book asks its reader a very serious question: are you a hacker (even though you don’t know it) and if so are you going to fight for your right for freedom on the Web?

Luke Siemens tweets:

just finished @barefoot_techie ‘s barefoot into cyberspace. great net view,thoughts on wikileaks and the current cyber-moment

Laura James (whose bid to open a Makespace here in Cambridge I am following with enthusiasm) tweets:

@barefoot_techie wonderful book – congrats on such a clear presentation and compelling message! Will be recommending it 🙂

Greg at GoodReads writes:

For an instant book, Barefoot into Cyberspace reads remarkably well. Though a little short, it still works as a good first read for those wanting to get a real grasp on the state of internet and why the geek down the street is so incensed about it.

It’s not all back-slapping and adoration. On the Sluggish Software wiki, FuzzGun writes of his disappointment not to learn more about Julian Assange from the book:

It’s a book aimed at a reader who is outside of the hacker culture but curious about the beliefs and motivations behind the various leaks, hacks and other shenanigans of recent times which have made it into the news. This doesn’t present a highly incisive deconstruction of the various ideologies of cyber-utopianism, but it does provide an overview and puts recent events into context as an evolution from earlier countercultural and activist movements.

For anyone obsessed by the cult of personality which is Julan Assange there will be disappointment. Although there is some original Assange material here, it’s not highly enlightening and doesn’t reveal anything significantly additional about his character or beliefs beyond what has already been widely publicised. I’m tempted to use the Pentagon phrase “there is nothing new in this material”, but shall refrain from doing so on this occasion.

It would have been nice if the Assange quotes had been cross referenced with his earlier manifesto narrative, which would have provided some motivational context. Although by definition not much can be said about Anonymous, it might also have been nice to have more of a discussion about it as a current and possibly persistent creature of the political realm.

The book is well written and by its own admission is a zeitgeist book about a particular culture at a particular time…

And Dmytri Kleiner (who I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time at the Chaos Communications Camp this year, but whose reputation preceded him) honoured the book with his own brand of Venture Communist critique:

What makes Hogge’s work interesting is that she employs a healthy amount of skepticism and retains a critical view of the utopian and heroic aspects of hacker activism, clearing seeing it’s failings. Regrettably though, well researched and clever as she is, she never seems to encounter any genuine political analysis of these failings, but rather reacts only with a self-conscious melancholy.

It’s unfortunate that her journey into cyberspace, where she has met and talked with many seminal figures from Stewart Brand to Julian Assange, she hasn’t come across real politics. Richard Barbrook, Matteo Pasquinelli, Geert Lovink and many others thinking politically about network culture do not apear.

Oh politics Politics POLITICS! Dmytri may be amused to discover that the phrase “false consciousness” actually featured in the first draft (in the bit about – I’m not kidding), but was taken out on the advice of my editor.

This critique aside, the book stirred some political feeling in other readers. Darren Fuller writes:

Finished reading Barefoot into Cyberspace by +Becky Hogge last night, I’ve been glued to this book since I bought it and glad I did. It reminded me of where the internet and the world wide web has come from, those early ideals and the values to which people are still striving towards. It also made me realise that I’ve become apathetic towards my own ideals, something I now hope to remedy.

It’s a great read giving an insight into the minds of some remarkable individuals and of radical hacker culture.

Jonathan Kent writes a nice review for the ORG-zine:

Frankly anyone who can build the movie Easy Rider into her story, quote Steppenwolf lyrics and name-check the great Enlightenment radical Tom Paine deserves to be read. Just as Paine grasped the great issues of liberty of his day, Hogge is tackling the great issues of liberty of ours and for anyone who cares about our freedom’s future this is a must-read.

Finally, I’m sure Stewart Brand, star of the book and the man who coined the phrase “information wants to be free” would not mind me sharing the (full) text of his private email to me, sent a week after the book launched:

Nice work. It’s a nifty book. Congratulations.

Review in last weekend’s Guardian

I was thrilled to see Barefoot into Cyberspace reviewed by Steven Poole in the Guardian last Saturday. He writes:

“Flash published” in paperback and electronically, and bravely self-described as a “zeitgest book”, this is a brisk travelogue (with some awkward local colour) of interviews with modern techno-dissidents. There are leather-coated Germans breaking the security of the GSM network; hippy-hacker pioneer Stewart Brand (the 1960s acid testers, as Hogge puts it, “got tired of tripping and uploaded themselves to a new electronic frontier”); campaigners for “electronic freedom” and citizen privacy; and hacker-intellectuals, such as the particularly interesting Ethan Zuckerman.

Read the review in full here. One day I want to be as cool as Steven Poole.

Barefoot in your own back yard: Little Atoms podcast now live

My interview about Barefoot into Cyberspace for Little Atoms is now live on the Little Atoms website. I listened back to it today and I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. Although it covers some of the same ground as previous interviews about the book, there’s some new stuff (how I got into the hacker scene, electronic voting, my impressions of Julian Assange) and, because I’m talking with Neil, it’s quite chatty and fun:

Barefoot into Cyberspace vs The Revolution will be Digitised

Last weekend, the Independent on Sunday reviewed my book Barefoot into Cyberspace, alongside Heather Brooke’s latest book The Revolution will be Digitised. The review was written by Twitter friend and fellow book-hacker Lisa Gee. Here’s a taster:

Heather Brooke and Becky Hogge are (or in Hogge’s case, were) freedom of information activists.

Brooke is, famously, the investigative journalist whose determined ferreting triggered the MPs’ expenses scandal.

She was also a key player in mainstream press coverage of the WikiLeaked US diplomatic cables. Hogge led the Open Rights Group for two years, withdrawing disillusioned with the UK and European political process, which she compares to a “group of people trying to decide how to direct rush hour traffic by playing an arcane version of cricket”.

Both balance excitement about the internet’s potential to make our world a better, fairer place against concerns for loss of privacy and, most acutely, the personal safety of activists challenging powers-that-be. Brooke is more upbeat, techno-Utopian even, proposing that “instead of re-engineering the internet to fit around unpopular laws and unpopular leaders, we could re-engineer our political structures to mirror the internet … We can create the first global democracy. Hundreds of millions of people are climbing out of poverty … They can join a worldwide conversation and come together in infinite permutations to check power anywhere it concentrates.”

Except, according to Hogge, most people don’t. She quotes the US “hackademic” Ethan Zuckerberg on how “the web is ploughing us deeper into our cultural furrows” with users experiencing “a kind of imaginary cosmopolitanism” instead of genuine, cross-cultural connection. More sinisterly, as Brooke explains, our use of digital technology creates “a handy one-stop shop for the nosy official”. US and European laws require all mobile communications networks to “include an interception capability”: this made it simple for Egyptian, Libyan and Tunisian intelligence services to locate and arrest many pro-democracy protestors earlier this year.

Both authors look to hacker communities for the skills and determination to crack such oppression. As a rule, hackers act. If they don’t like something, they try to build something better, be it hardware, software or society. They don’t do red tape. Their collective attitude is one of empowerment cut with mischief – an enticing contrast to Hogge’s wading-through-treacle Westminster-and-Brussels experience.

You can read the rest of the review here.

For me, reading Heather’s book was a bit like the feeling you might get when visiting the house you grew up in once another family had moved all their stuff in: objectively, you can see how what the new people have done makes sense, but you can’t overcome the feeling that everything is in the wrong place. Heather’s book and mine deal with a lot of the same material – sometimes eerily so – but we often approach that material very differently. I think Lisa captures it well when she says that my “questioning, uncertain approach” is “the perfect complement to Brooke’s surefooted, campaigning rhetoric”.

So tonight’s Little Atoms should be an interesting listen, because Neil and I will be speaking with Heather Brooke about The Revolution will be Digitised. Tune in at 7pm to 104.4FM if you’re within the London orbital, listen live at, or subscribe to the podcast.

Too much information: week ending 2 September 2011

Fake web certificate could have been used to attack Iranian dissidents
The Guardian reports on concerns that a fake web certificate – which could have been used to intercept traffic to Google’s servers that users thought was secure – has been discovered by users in Iran. The certificate was issued by DigiNotar, one of over 650 Certificate Authorities which underpin secure (HTTPS) web-browsing. The ability of Certificate Authorities to secure the web is increasingly coming into question.

New internet blocking order handed down by Tunisian court
 The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) report on the decision of a Tunisian court to order the blocking of all pornographic websites, following a petition brought by lawyers. The Tunisian Internet Agency is appealing the decision at the country’s highest court.

Brazil: campaigns against “menacing” internet law gain 350,000 supporters
Consumers International reports on a proposed “cybercrime” law in Brazil that would limit online freedom and privacy, and the mounting popular sentiment opposing it. The Brazilian Institute of Consumers (IDEC), together with Avaaz and the Mega Não (Mega No) movement, have gathered the signatures of 350,000 Brazilian citizens who oppose the bill. Similar proposals were fought off in 2008 following popular protest.

Momentum on copyright term extension in Europe picks up
The Open Rights Group (ORG) reports on plans at the EU to finalise a law extending the length of time sound recordings attract a copyright. The law is the result of intense lobbying by record labels, and has been condemned by legal and economic experts.

Network security in the medium term: 2061-2561
Science Fiction author Charlie Stross guesses at the sorts of problems network security experts might face in the next 500 years, in this entertaining and informed keynote delivered at the 20th USENIX security symposium.

“Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist”
A provocative editorial from Guardian columnist George Monbiot on the state of academic publishing: “This is a tax on education, a stifling of the public mind”.

The Wrong War: models of cyber threats
This analysis from the Brookings Institute argues that maritime governance in the mid-19th century is a better model for understanding cyber threats than the Cold War: “While would-be cyber Cold Warriors stare at the sky and wait for it to fall, they’re getting their wallets stolen and their offices robbed”.

Are social networks a distraction for revolutionaries?
The New York Times reports on a new paper by a political science graduate that claims that switching off the internet during civil unrest may not be a wise move because “full connectivity in a social network sometimes can hinder collective action”.

Interview with Maria Otero about the open government partnership
The Forbes Magazine blog presents the full transcript of their interview with Maria Otero, the US Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, about the Open Government Partnership, a new international initiative to “harness new technologies to make government more open, effective, and accountable”.

Video: Ruth Okediji at IFLA
Copyright scholar Ruth Okediji gives an overview of legal and policy challenges for libraries in the age of digital books to the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA).