@nickconfessore: The Unlikely Activists Who Took On Silicon Valley — and Won

[A teachable moment in activism that’s an important read to see all the swamp monster machinations that Silicon Valley puts us all through.  The post is extremely well-written but does take a bit of a commitment to read to the end.  Highly recommended that you stick with it to the end of the story.]

The way Alastair Mactaggart usually tells the story of his awakening — the way he told it even before he became the most improbable, and perhaps the most important, privacy activist in America — begins with wine and pizza in the hills above Oakland, Calif. It was a few years ago, on a night Mactaggart and his wife had invited some friends over for dinner. One was a software engineer at Google, whose search and video sites are visited by over a billion people a month. As evening settled in, Mactaggart asked his friend, half-seriously, if he should be worried about everything Google knew about him. “I expected one of those answers you get from airline pilots about plane crashes,” Mactaggart recalled recently. “You know — ‘Oh, there’s nothing to worry about.’ ” Instead, his friend told him there was plenty to worry about. If people really knew what we had on them, the Google engineer said, they would flip out….

Facebook and Google were following people around the rest of the internet…using an elaborate and invisible network of browsing bugs — they had, within little more than a decade, created a private surveillance apparatus of extraordinary reach and sophistication. Mactaggart thought that something ought to be done. He began to wonder whether he should be the one to do it….

Almost by accident, though, Mactaggart had thrust himself into the greatest resource grab of the 21st century. To Silicon Valley, personal information had become a kind of limitless natural deposit, formed in the digital ether by ordinary people as they browsed, used apps and messaged their friends. Like the oil barons before them, they had collected and refined that resource to build some of the most valuable companies in the world, including Facebook and Google, an emerging duopoly that today controls more than half of the worldwide market in online advertising. But the entire business model — what the philosopher and business theorist Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism” — rests on untrammeled access to your personal data. The tech industry didn’t want to give up its powers of surveillance. It wanted to entrench them. And as Mactaggart would soon learn, Silicon Valley almost always got what it wanted.

Read the post on The New York Times.

@zeynep: It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech

 

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Emporers Zuck and Medvedev

 

For most of modern history, the easiest way to block the spread of an idea was to keep it from being mechanically disseminated. Shutter the news­paper, pressure the broad­cast chief, install an official censor at the publishing house. Or, if push came to shove, hold a loaded gun to the announcer’s head….

In today’s networked environment, when anyone can broadcast live or post their thoughts to a social network, it would seem that censorship ought to be impossible. This should be the golden age of free speech….

And sure, it is a golden age of free speech—if you can believe your lying eyes. Is that footage you’re watching real? Was it really filmed where and when it says it was? Is it being shared by alt-right trolls or a swarm of Russian bots? Was it maybe even generated with the help of artificial intelligence? (Yes, there are systems that can create increasingly convincing fake videos.)

Or let’s say you were the one who posted that video. If so, is anyone even watching it? Or has it been lost in a sea of posts from hundreds of millions of content pro­ducers? Does it play well with Facebook’s algorithm? Is YouTube recommending it?….

Here’s how this golden age of speech actually works: In the 21st century, the capacity to spread ideas and reach an audience is no longer limited by access to expensive, centralized broadcasting infrastructure. It’s limited instead by one’s ability to garner and distribute attention. And right now, the flow of the world’s attention is structured, to a vast and overwhelming degree, by just a few digital platforms: Facebook, Google (which owns YouTube), and, to a lesser extent, Twitter.

Read the post on Wired

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Michael H. Keller: The Flourishing Business of Fake YouTube Views

Martin Vassilev makes a good living selling fake views on YouTube videos. Working from home in Ottawa, he has sold about 15 million views so far this year, putting him on track to bring in more than $200,000, records show.

Mr. Vassilev, 32, does not provide the views himself. His website, 500Views.com, connects customers with services that offer views, likes and dislikes generated by computers, not humans. When a supplier cannot fulfill an order, Mr. Vassilev — like a modern switchboard operator — quickly connects with another.

“I can deliver an unlimited amount of views to a video,” Mr. Vassilev said in an interview. “They’ve tried to stop it for so many years, but they can’t stop it. There’s always a way around.”

After Google, more people search on YouTube than on any other site. It is the most popular platform among teenagers, according to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, beating out giants like Facebook and Instagram. With billions of views a day, the video site helps spur global cultural sensations, spawn careers, sell brands and promote political agendas.

Read the post on the New York Times

@GiniaNYT: Uber and the False Hopes of the Sharing Economy

The passage of extensive legislation by New York’s City Council on Wednesday, curtailing the previously unchecked powers of Uber and other ride-hailing services, suggests the extent to which the false promises of the sharing economy are becoming better understood and, how much more aggressively they still could be counteracted.

From the beginning, Uber appealed to drivers on the premise that partnering with the company would allow them to do what they really wanted to do, which was not ferrying 24-year-olds to beer halls or actuaries to the airport as a means of full-time employment.

A series of Uber ads that ran in conjunction with the Grammy Awards this year showed some of the artists nominated, in cars, with drivers who were singers and producers themselves. Other ads introduced us to drivers who were nursing students or aspiring businessmen — Uber could fund your creative and professional ambitions, or make it easier to go to Disney World or buy new appliances.

The reality though appears quite different.

Read the post on the New York Times

Labels Follow BMG Rights with Lawsuit Against Cox Communications for Massive Infringement of Sound Recordings

Some of you may recall the resounding victory scored by BMG Rights against Cox Communications challenging the gaping holes in Cox’s alleged repeat infringer policy as documented by Rightscorp.  (Read the hilarious transcript from BMG v. Cox case denying EFF’s amicus brief as quoted in the Supreme Court amicus brief filed by David Lowery, Blake Morgan, East Bay Ray and Guy Forsyth in the current cy pres case brought by Ted Frank.)

In a follow on from the BMG Rights case, a group of record companies are essentially drafting behind BMG on the sound recording side in their own lawsuit against Cox.  This, of course, was to be expected since the evidence unearthed by BMG reflected such a cavalier disregard for the company’s repeat infringer policy and what infringes the song also infringes the sound recording.

Why is that repeat infringer policy so important?  In an oversimplified (but accurate) interpretation, no repeat infringer policy, no safe harbor.  That is enough to send the shredders humming all over the world and explains why the EFF was so interested in trying to influence the outcome of the case.  It also explains why Rightsflow’s investigative services are so important to rights holders as they were instrumental in proving the basic case (although Cox did a very good job of measuring the rope and testing their own noose all by themselves).

It also must be said that Cox never participated in the Copyright Alert System (to my knowledge) which could have gone a long way to helping them getting their repeat infringer policy in line with something that existed in the known universe.  They had a chance.  One final point is that it is an odd thing that BMG is to date the only publisher to enforce their rights against an ISP that I know of, although I’m happy to be educated otherwise.

If you think lions are lying down with lambs, think again.

According to Celebrity Access:

The plaintiffs allege in their suit that Cox is not effectively policing their subscribers who are violating copyrights, even when those alleged violators are brought to their attention by rights holders.

Per the lawsuit:

“Cox deliberately refused to take reasonable measures to curb its customers from using its Internet services to infringe on others’ copyrights—even once Cox became aware of particular customers engaging in specific, repeated acts of infringement. Plaintiffs’ representatives (as well as others) sent hundreds of thousands of statutory infringement notices to Cox, under penalty of perjury, advising Cox of its subscribers’ blatant and systematic use of Cox’s Internet service to illegally download, copy, and distribute Plaintiffs’ copyrighted music through BitTorrent and other online file-sharing services.”

The lawsuit takes issue with a provision of the DMCA, a law passed in 1998 that creates a safe harbor for online service providers such as Cox against copyright infringement liability, provided that they have an effective plan in place to deal with infringers.

The lawsuit cites a previous suit brought against Cox by a group of labels led by BMG. In that case, BMG Rights Mgmt. LLC v. Cox Communications, Inc. and CoxCom, LLC, BMG made substantially similar accusations against Cox, claiming that the company did little to deter rampant copyright infringement taking place via its service.

In 2015, a jury agreed with BMG Et Al. and awarded them a $25 million dollar judgment in that case. The judgment was later overturned on appeal, but the appeals court largely sided with the label’s challenge to Cox’s implementation of the DCMA rules.

ipolicy: CyberTurfing: The Way Democracy Ends

On August 3, 2017 the Moab, Utah Times-Independent published an innocuous-looking letter urging support for net neutrality. Moab, in Utah’s 3rd Congressional district, was facing a special election to replace retiring Representative Jason Chaffetz and the writer argued that support for net neutrality and Title II should be an issue:

It’s time for policymakers in Congress to take a firm stand for our access to a fast, free, and open internet. Unfortunately, we in Moab no longer have a congressperson whom we can urge to speak to this issue. We need a congressperson who will come out in support of strong net neutrality protections — specifically the Open Internet Order and Title II.

The letter was completely fake, however. It was generated by a “CyberTurfing” tool marketed by a company that runs fake grass-roots campaigns for any company or cause willing to pay its price. We know this because the company – New/Mode – brags about it on their web site (click on “like this one”). (The mention of Title II is suspicious in its own right since most people have no idea what it entails.)

Read the post on High Tech Forum

Must Read: @WebSchauder: Anatomy of an Assault on Politics

[Appropos of the MTP post: Factiness EU Style: A Dedicated Group of Like Minded People Carpet Bombs The European Parliament (which gave historical context to the latest manipulation of governments by Google), Volker Rieck at WebShauder gives the view from the ground in Europe of how the assault was manipulated.  In a post-Cambridge Analytical world, no one with a brain can believe this was just spontaneous.  Plus, the methods are nearly identical to those we have seen in “protests” going back to 2009 at least and pointing to the Obama Administration’s practices on not basing policy choices on unreplecatable and unreliable casual polling, anonymous email campaigns and social media.]

The battle cries of “upload filter” deployed in opposition to Article 13 of the directive were not much better. Upload filters were not and are still not mentioned in the directive, but the term is eminently suited to stoking fear. And Reda [the sole Pirate Party MEP] did indeed succeed in her efforts to fool some of her supporters into believing that EVERYTHING on the internet will be filtered in the future if the directive is adopted in its current form and that memes – yes, even people’s much-beloved memes – will all be banned.

While this was completely at variance with the actual content of the directive, that appeared to be of merely tangential interest. What the directive proposed was that platforms (and only platforms) would be strongly encouraged to enter into license agreements with rightsholders covering user uploaded content.

Responsibility for taking out licenses would rest with the platforms, and end-users would be completely in the clear. The idea was simply that platforms would have a duty to maintain transparency to ensure correct licensing and the proper distribution of payments made for licenses to rightsholders. Under the directive, operators of a platform which had not concluded a licensing agreement would have been liable for unlicensed content on their platforms. How operators chose to keep their platforms clean would have been up to them. But preventing copyright violations would have come within their remit of responsibility.

And which platform would be most affected by Article 13?

[C]ontent-sharing platforms [are] the real issue here, let us look at one of the most successful ones, YouTube. The directive is interested only in regulating platforms like this, not in open-source platforms or sales platforms.

For years now, YouTube has been using its Content ID system. This system allows rightsholders who submit content to determine what should happen when users view it. The available options span the gamut from monetization (an end user uploads a video with music, for example, and the rightsholder gets a share of any advertising revenue generated) all the way to – please be brave now, Sascha Lobo and Julia Reda – blocking the video. The primary purpose of this system is to prevent third parties from generating revenue with content they have no entitlement to exploit.

But what about the protests?

This brings us nicely to the issue of the rallies against the new directive. A demonstration was held, of course. It took place on 24 June 2018 in Berlin. Rather unfortunately for the protesters, it rained that day; otherwise they would have been able to count the usual hordes of tourists at the Brandenburg Gate among their numbers. Under the circumstances, only those who had turned up to protest were counted, an estimated 150 people. As with an earlier demonstration focused on the ancillary copyright of press publishers, the turnout was so low that there were presumably more press photographers than activists in attendance.

This is of course exactly what we have seen with so many “protests” mobilized by groups like Fight for the Future and the EFF.  Nobody shows up.  That’s why they need the bots.

And here is where the investigation is required.

What came now was the hour of the bots, the automatically generated emails, the automatically placed phone calls and the miraculous multiplication of protest, or rather its simulation….[T]he inboxes of EU parliamentarians were flooded with automatically generated emails. Some EU parliamentarians reported having received 60,000 emails. In total, 6 million emails appear to have been dispatched to EU parliamentarians in this fashion. Compare that number to the handful of protesters in Berlin.

Almost all the emails were identical in content, phrasing and formatting, and many even came from one and the same sender, presumably following the logic that more is better. A very large number of them were sent from the domain Opendata.eu.
This site has no content. It was registered by an English limited company which is in turn a majority holding of a US Inc. that trades in domains and provides services. No civil rights initiative appears to be involved.

Did accepting responsibility for the relentless online bombardment of parliamentarians seem too risky?

The picture was repeated on Twitter, where accounts were flooded with spam, but also threats.

What had happened? Sites such as Saveyourinternet.eu had made tools available that enable this kind of email carpet bombing.  The supporters of this site include an array of internet lobby groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Anyone who believes that the EFF are a grassroots civil rights movement should take a look at this report.

Same stuff, different day.

And this is why, of course, the Google Shillery is on the attack from multiple corners.  The talking points email has already gone out, no doubt.

This is a must read post by Volker Rieck, and should prompt a complete investigation of the attack.  The crimes, if any, were not committed by the handful of real citizens communicating with their government with good intentions.

The crimes were committed, no doubt, by multinational corporations using the well-intentioned as human shields by manipulating the democratic process in Cambridge Anaytica-fashion.  And the one corporation that stands the most to lose is Google and they should be the first ones under the microscope, particularly since they just got socked with another multi-billion dollar fine by the European Commission.

Read the English translation of the post on WebShauder for even more justification.

ERRATA:  Unfortunately, we didn’t correctly attribute the post to Volker Rieck in the initial draft but thanks to a reader we got the correct information and deeply apologize for the oversight.