SOPA hearing today

For all of those interested in protecting the Internet today is the last day to try to prevent congress from passing SOPA. This law, would censor the internet. There have been a lot of people talking about this law on both sides of the argument. Chris Dodd president of the RIAA is pushing heavily for this law. He argues that if China has the same ability to control content in China, then the US should have the exact same authority. In a previous blog I argue that this is the biggest killer to internet innovation. Effectively this would create a Great FireWall of the US.

Opponents of the law have started a censorship the internet campaign. I tweeted one of these yesterday. Effectively it blocked out parts of your writing in simulation of the final impact of the law. In addition to these campaigns a few other big hitters have come out against the law, including the Writers’ Guild of America. This group understands that copyright laws shouldn’t dictate the future of the internet and it’s openness. In addition yesterday the EFF posted an open letter from internet leaders arguing that SOPA would crush innovation. I strongly suggest reading this letter. It’s written by the people that created things like IPv6. These people know what they are talking about.

We users have had a blessing in disguise with the MegaUpload and Universal Music Company DMCA Take down issue. Effectively, they took down legal songs using a copyright provisions in addition to taking down videos ABOUT the discussion.

So what are some of the key problems with this bill? It requires DNS level blocking. Which could potentially break the internet. It takes down entire domains if there is a single alleged copyrighted material online. It can block payment to sites through requiring Master Card and Visa to shut down payment for the site. All of these have to happen within Five DAYS. Nothing gets done in five days in any business.

There are additional problems with these laws and our foreign policy. Recently Hilary Clinton gave an extensive speech on net freedom and how repressive regimes are censoring the internet and killing free speech. So, our international rhetoric is completely out of line with what we’re doing internally. Furthermore, this is going to create problems with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has decided to institute a policy framework which is effectively the opposite that everything SOPA stands for. Finally, this has a negative impact with the #NoDisconnect policy that the EU has recently pushed for.

If you want to keep up to date with the comments being discussed in the hearing today. Follow @EFFLive as they are tweeting comments from congressional leaders about the problems with this law. Additionally, please contact your congressional leaders today (scroll down to the bottom) about this issue.

Watch Live Stream Here: http://www.keepthewebopen.com/sopa

Additional Reading:
Internet Blacklist vs. Constitution – EFF
SOPA and Educators – EFF
Recent SOPA amendments – TechDirt
DC Decided to Regulate Hollywood to prevent innovation – TechDirt

Owning your data

Yesterday Facebook and the FTC came to an agreement on privacy settings. This will require Facebook to undergo privacy audits twice a year by a third party firm. In Europe Facebook users are already able to download their data as I mentioned in a previous post. I think we’re living in an age where users will need to be well educated on the impact of the privacy policies of websites on the users personal data. However, how can we do this? I personally never look at the privacy policy on a website. Why? Because I don’t really trust them. Effectively, just by going to the website I agree to these policies and effectively whatever is stated in the privacy information I’m bound to. However, I have to go to the website before I can read it, thus creating a catch-22.

If I did disagree with something written in the privacy policy, I’ve already agreed to accept their terms and if they said “we’re going to steal all your cookies and sell them for profit” and I object to that it’s too late. They already did it.

This puts us users in a bind. We enjoy the benefits of cookies. We don’t have to always remember our passwords, we automatically get logged into our favorite websites. Personal settings pop up as soon as we log in. There are plenty of benefits from using cookies. We lose all of these as soon as we use services like Incognito from Google Chrome. Some of my readers have commented that they have switched to using an Incognito window, but it’s much more of a pain to log into Facebook and they have actually started using the service less. In terms of Facebook to compensate I use TweetDeck which pulls my news feed from both twitter and Facebook. However, it doesn’t get everything including messages from friends, which is annoying, but not the end of the world.

To deal with these privacy issues, the EU is proposing a pan-European standard for privacy policies that a website has to get approved. Companies like Facebook are actively fighting against this rule. I think that this is a great step. I know a lot of people don’t like new government regulations. However, in this case the public is woefully uninformed and find getting informed on these topics cumbersome. A lot of money is being made off of people’s ignorance. Now, many people would say that’s their fault for not properly investigating this topic.

There are a few resources out there to help with getting a better understanding of how to protect yourself. The EFF has an entire section of their website devoted to privacy issues. The ACLU has a Technology and Liberty section which includes topics like privacy.

So why should we care about this? If you aren’t doing anything wrong you don’t have anything to worry about. I’m sorry, but this is a really naive way of looking at privacy issues. Some of you readers out there have fences in your back yard. Many of them are called privacy fences, if you aren’t doing anything wrong why do you have a fence? Others will have a safe to store valuables and important documents, why do you need a safe, if you aren’t doing anything wrong you shouldn’t need a safe.

Putting this into a physical context highlights the absurdity of the not doing anything wrong argument. It also highlights the differences between privacy in the physical world and in the digital world. It’s really easy to understand how to increase your privacy at home build a fence, better curtains better locks, bars on your windows etc.. Fixing privacy on your computer is much more difficult. Security experts have tried to make things as simple as possible by using names like Virus scanner, Firewall etc.  Most people don’t really know how to use these properly.

Adding a Firewall to your computer can make using it difficult and clunky. Services that you use frequently suddenly stop working correctly and it’s not always obvious why at first. There needs to be a movement within security companies to make everything as simple as possible for the broader population. There should be advanced settings for the people who really want to control their data. Basically we need the firewall to turn into a fence for most people but with settings to turn it into the Berlin Wall if an advanced user wants it.

All users need to understand the risks, just like they need to understand risks of burglary, they shouldn’t need to be a security expert though.

Other potential resources (I have no idea if they are any good, I just searched for privacy resources)
http://www.privacyresources.org/
http://epic.org/privacy/privacy_resources_faq.html
https://www.privacyinternational.org/article/ephr-privacy-resources

Biggest threat to internet innovation

Regardless where you live, the largest threat to the internet is the US Congress/Department of Justice and close second may be the UK court system. In this post i’m going to focus on the US congress and DOJ because what they are doing is fairly ridiculous. The US Congress is currently considering a bill called Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA, critics like to call it the E-parasite act. This act, according to various sources, this bill amounts to online black-listing. It’s also being called the Great FireWall of America. This is a complete disaster in my opinion. The internet is one of the fastest growing parts of our economy. Anyone can start up a web based company. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy at first, but over time you’ll get more sophisticated.

The EFF notes three extremely popular sites that are in the cross hair of SOPA. Etsy, because there are simply too many little shops that could be selling illegal material. For instance, the US Supreme Court Ruled that you couldn’t resell AutoCAD, the likelihood of that happening might be low, but what about a screen printed shirt with some band logo? That’s just as illegal. Another site is Flickr, which is pretty obvious because it’s so easy to claim a picture as your own. The last they mention is Vimeo for the same reasons. I would also expect YouTube to be on that list as well.

So aside from a black list what does the actual bill do? What legal censorship isn’t enough for you to be outraged against this bill? I mean we’re talking about Turkey and Pakistan level of censorship of sites here. It’s not unrealistic to expect facebook and Google to get black listed with this law. Facebook could get hit if some one quotes stuff illegally or posts video with copyrighted material on it. Since you’re able to post and stream through facebook, it might raise some questions over copyright.Google of course links to a huge amount of copyright material that a user can get illicitly.

Ok, what else is there you really want to know? The rights holders can request payment processing companies (read Visa, Mastercard and ad companies) to block payments to your site. For some people that will mean no more YouTube money, for others it will be a death sentence. Does the court get involved with any of this? Nope. The companies have 5 days to respond to a payment stop. Which means even if you are in the clear, if a request happens, you likely won’t get paid. Check the EFF’s break down for more details.

But this is ‘Merica! Surely something like this won’t happen. They’ll take our jerbs! Yes, they could in fact take away your jobs. Is anyone fighting against this? Yep. Google, Facebook, Zynga, Twitter, Michelle Bachmann (Yes the crazy lady), Ron Paul (Yes the crazy in a different way guy) and a small list of Congress members from both sides of the aisle are banding together to try to kill the bill. They are arguing that the bill is too broad and doesn’t appropriately address the problem is trying to “fix.”

What do most Americans feel about copyright legal action? As a whole they are against it. In fact most only think that a small fine of a maximum of $100 is appropriate for a downloaded song. Many have indicated that as more legal alternatives have appeared users have been less likely to use the illegal versions. Of course this is self reported data so it could be skewed, but even if you add 10 points it’s still showing that legal alternatives are best deterrent for illegal downloading.

You can email your representatives here. I strongly suggest you do. The more voices that speak out in protest the more likely at least a few people will hear. Personally, I don’t think the US government should even be talking about copyright right now. They need to be working on jobs.