Monthly Archives: May 2012

Too much information: links for week ending 25 May

Pakistan: Twitter goes through weekend of censorship
Global Voices reports on a Twitter blackout in Pakistan last weekend, established by Pakistani Internet Service Providers at the behest of the Pakistan Telecommunications Authority. Twitter service was restored nine hours later, seemingly in response to public outcry.

European Commission urges Google to change search practices
The New York Times reports that the European Commission have warned Google to change its search practices or face possible antitrust proceedings: “In issuing the ultimatum, European regulators sent their strongest signal yet that they believe Google, which has long said its search results are neutral, tips the scales in its favour”.

Facebook users force vote on privacy changes
The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) reports that Facebook will be forced to allow its users to vote on a new privacy policy, after more than the required 7,000 users lodged comments on the proposed changes. The vote will only be binding if more than 30% of Facebook’s users participate.

Open Access advocates issue call to action on US research funding policy
Open Access advocates have issued a call to action, asking those who favour public access to publicly funded research in the US to sign a petition calling for President Obama “to implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research”. The groups hope to raise 25,000 signatures in under 30 days. The Chronicle of Higher Education provides useful background to the story.
Call to action | Petition | Background

Civil Society groups protest ITU process over internet governance fears
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports that more than thirty civil society organisations have signed a letter of protest calling on the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a secretive UN agency, to open up the planning process around this December’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT). Civil society groups fear the conference, from which they are currently broadly excluded, will be used to re-open negotiations on an international telecommunications treaty in order to allow greater government control of the internet. Global Voices provide background to the story.
EFF | Global Voices

Exporting copyright: Inside the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership
This long report by Ars Technica from the Dallas round of negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), throws the spotlight on the secret new treaty critics fear contains draconian intellectual property enforcement measures, and the organised resistance that has sprung up to face it.

“Exit, stage left some of the Masters of the Universe”
Russel Southwood analyses how telecoms business models are evolving in Africa.

“Private: some search engines make money by not tracking users”
Ars Technica profiles three new search businesses that make a virtue out of protecting their users’ privacy.

“The rise of Europe’s private internet police”
Rebecca MacKinnon puts the spotlight on the increasing role of private internet companies in policing their users’ behaviour, in this feature for Foreign Policy magazine.

Newspapers: building a “print edition” for the web
British designer and programmer Phil Gyford explains in this blog post what inspired him to use the Guardian’s content API to make a “print edition for the web”, and details the design choices he made during the project.

“Universities that offer the elite to all”
The Financial Times profile Coursera, a for-profit online educational resources platform.

Book: Accelerating development using the web
Tim Unwin promotes a new volume edited by George Sadowsky and supported by the Rockerfeller Foundation, the World Wide Web Foundation and the UNDP, which explores “ways through which the Web can be used by some of the world’s poorest and most marginalised people to enhance their lives”.

Video: Howard Rheingold on web literacy
This video from the MIT Media Lab features a lecture by Howard Rheingold on the five essential survival skills he thinks we all need in today’s connected world.

Silence is a Commons
This 1983 address by Ivan Illich argues that “Computers are doing to communication what fences did to pastures and cars did to streets”.

Too much information: links for week ending 11 May 2012

Brazil: Lawmakers approve forensic DNA database regulations
Genewatch UK and The Center for Technology and Society, at Rio de Janeiro’s Fundação Getulio Vargas have written to Brazil’s president asking him to reject a proposed law regulating the collection of forensic DNA, following its approval last week in Congress. They have expressed concerns that the regulations do not mandate the destruction of biological samples, or provide enough clarity about the timescale for retention of innocent people’s records.

US: FBI demand “wiretap-ready” websites
CNET reports on discussions between the FBI and various social network, VoIP and email providers about new proposals that would require them to build security backdoors into their products, in order to provide access to their users’ communications to FBI agents.

UK: Proposed libel reform makes Parliamentary timetable
A long-awaited proposed law to reform the UK’s draconian libel provisions has finally made it onto the Parliamentary timetable. Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, who have led the campaign for reform, welcomed the news: “Over the past three years, the Libel Reform Campaign has shown how our unfair libel laws are causing legitimate books to be pulped and publishers to engage in unnecessary self-censorship”.

Avaaz President answers cyber attack doubters
Last week, online campaigns group Avaaz announced it had been the victim of intense cyber-attacks, and launched a fundraising campaign to beef up its security. The move was greeted with some scepticism by the security community, and requests for more information on the attacks. Ricken Patel, the president of Avaaz, has spoken to Teck Week Europe to answer some of the criticisms levelled at the campaign.

Online education developments roundup
The New York Times reports on two recent developments in online learning in the US. The first is a partnership – edX – between Harvard and MIT, and the second is a major cash investment in an online education startup called Coursera.
edX | Coursera

Spotlight: Facebook
Ahead of their stock market launch in a few weeks’ time, Facebook have released a video showcasing their company and outlining their future ambitions. In his essay “The economics of digital sharecropping”, Nicholas Carr outlines from where most of that value derives: us. And in a long feature for Politico, Michelle Quinn details the concerted political investments Facebook are making in Washington, to make sure privacy regulation doesn’t curb their ambitions for “frictionless sharing” of our personal data.
Video | Carr | Quinn

Everything you know about Anonymous is wrong
In this feature for Al Jazeera, Gabriella Coleman addresses recent essays on Anonymous by Yochai Benkler and Evgeny Morozov (both featured in previous digests) and argues that both the utopian and the dismissive view of the online rabble-rousing group are misguided.
Coleman | Benkler | Morozov

“Why the open data movement is a joke” – follow up
Tom Slee’s blog post criticising the open data movement (featured in the digest last week) drew a lot of attention. This new, more considered, follow-up post, has attracted engagement from top names in the movement, including John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation, and Tim O’Reilly.

Is Stanford too close to Silicon Valley?
This long feature in the New Yorker examines how Stanford University “has established itself as the intellectual nexus of the information economy”, and scrutinises the ethics and consequences of its close ties to Silicon Valley.

Paper: Political Activism 2.0
This paper by Mohammed El-Nawawy and Sahar Khamis compares the role of social media in the 2011 Egyptian revolution and the “Green movement” uprising following the elections in Iran in 2009.

Audio: The digital human
The BBC has begun airing a new series investigating the social effects of digital technology. The latest episode – Control – explores the psychological effects of maintaining separate online and offline lives.

Too much information: links for week ending 4 May

Austria: Thousands stand up against data retention
European Digital Rights (EDRI) reports on a complaint against Austria’s implementation of Europe’s Data Retention Directive that has been filed with the Austrian Constitutional Court and joined by 7,000 Austrian citizens. The Austrian government had resisted implementing the directive until a European Commission infringement procedure was brought against them. The constitutional complaint looks set to be the biggest complaint in Austria’s history.

US: Controversial “cybersecurity” law approved by legislators
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) reports on the decision of US legislators to approve the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), “a bill that would allow companies to bypass all existing privacy law to spy on communications and pass sensitive user data to the government”. Their campaign to stop the damaging legislation will now move on to the next stage of the legislative process. President Obama has already indicated that he disapproves of the proposed law.

UK: British ISPs ordered to block the Pirate Bay
Wired Threat Level reports that the UK High Court has ruled that five UK internet service providers (ISPs) must block their users from accessing the Pirate Bay, a popular torrenting site, on the basis that the website assists copyright infringement.

US releases Special 301 report
The office of the United States Trade Representative has released its annual report (known as the “Special 301 report”) naming countries it claims do not meet adequate standards to safeguard intellectual property. As Knowledge Ecology International observes, the choices of countries named “are largely driven by lobbying efforts of right holders, and often bear no real relationship of more objective standards regarding intellectual property policies”. Michael Geist analyses the report, concluding that it does not stand up to even passing scrutiny, and observing “perhaps the most shameful inclusion in this year’s report are a series of countries whose primarily fault is being poor”.
KEI | Geist

Google Wifi data harvesting “was not a rogue act”
The New York Times reports that, according to new details from the full text of a regulatory report, “Google’s harvesting of e-mails, passwords and other sensitive personal information from unsuspecting households… was neither a mistake nor the work of a rogue engineer, as the company long maintained, but a program that supervisors knew about”.

Spotlight: Digital rights in India
The Centre for Internet and Society (CIS) uses a recent visit from Privacy International to reflect on growing concerns around online privacy in India. Meanwhile, a report in India’s details the various laws that mean “there are more ways to ban content online than there are to ban physical books and other forms of media” in the country. Global Voices details grassroots and civil society responses to India’s encroaching online censorship: “Indian Netizens are not sitting idle”.
CIS | FirstPost | Global Voices

“Why the open data movement is a joke”
Tom Slee attacks the Open Data movement for its corporate sensibilities and ability to provide cover for governments that are anything but transparent. Meanwhile, the FierceGovernmentIT blog reports on a recent research paper detailing the usability failings of several government open data portals.
Slee | Research

“Why Hillary Clinton should join Anonymous”
Evgeny Morozov’s thought-provoking column for Slate shows how both the US State Department’s Internet Freedom agenda and the activities of Anonymous may end up significantly reducing our online rights.

The rise of electronic monitoring in criminal justice
This short piece for Counterpunch details how “prison overcrowding and state budget crises have made electronic monitoring an alternative of choice”, observing the complex issues that arise from the fact that “electronic monitoring is not only a policy device, but an industry”.

“I spy, with my big eye”
The Economist detail developments in facial recognition technology, and their application in mass surveillance projects around the world.

The Data Journalism Handbook
Last weekend saw the launch of the Data Journalism Handbook, a joint initiative of the European Journalism Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF). The handbook includes contributions from dozens of data journalism’s leading advocates and best practitioners, and is available for free download.

The Land Matrix
The Land Matrix is a public database of large-scale land deals worldwide. A joint project of Tactical Tech and the Land Coalition Partnership, it documents over 2,300 large-scale land acquisitions over the past 15 years. There are three different ways to view the information: big picture summaries that give insights in to the content of the database, more in-depth views that pick out major trends, and direct access to the data in map and table format for more in-depth exploration and analysis”.

Data visualisation: Three years of Kickstarter projects
The New York Times charts the history of the Kickstarter crowd-sourced funding platform in numbers.

Audio: The Library of the Future
Matthew Battles and David Weinberger talk about approaches to information management in the 21st century, in this recorded conversation for Radio Berkman.

When Funny Goes Viral
This weekend sees the third instalment of ROFLCon, a conference exploring net culture hosted in Boston, US. This memorable essay from the New York Times about a previous ROFLCon makes the case that some of the weird and offensive aspects of internet culture such as trolling, micro-celebrity and satirical internet memes need to be taken seriously as part of public discourse.