Category Archives: The Web

How we sold our souls – and more – to the internet giants

Bruce Schneier recently published an excerpt from his book Data and Goliath at the Guardian:

barbie‘[…] Surveillance is the business model of the internet for two primary reasons: people like free and people like convenient. The truth is, though, that people aren’t given much of a choice. It’s either surveillance or nothing and the surveillance is conveniently invisible so you don’t have to think about it. And it’s all possible because laws have failed to keep up with changes in business practices.

In general, privacy is something people tend to undervalue until they don’t have it anymore. Arguments such as “I have nothing to hide” are common, but aren’t really true. People living under constant surveillance quickly realise that privacy isn’t about having something to hide. It’s about individuality and personal autonomy. It’s about being able to decide who to reveal yourself to and under what terms. It’s about being free to be an individual and not having to constantly justify yourself to some overseer.

This tendency to undervalue privacy is exacerbated by companies deliberately making sure that privacy is not salient to users. When you log on to Facebook, you don’t think about how much personal information you’re revealing to the company; you chat with your friends. When you wake up in the morning, you don’t think about how you’re going to allow a bunch of companies to track you throughout the day; you just put your cell phone in your pocket.

But by accepting surveillance-based business models, we hand over even more power to the powerful. Google controls two-thirds of the US search market. Almost three-quarters of all internet users have Facebook accounts. Amazon controls about 30% of the US book market, and 70% of the ebook market. Comcast owns about 25% of the US broadband market. These companies have enormous power and control over us simply because of their economic position.’


The rise of the Internet police

Ian Sherr writes for CNET:

[…] Online harassment isn’t new. From the earliest message boards to the newest social apps, if there’s a way for people to say something, you can bet someone will say something awful. But it’s gotten even worse. Those operating in the shadows can now connect to billions of users through Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, and disseminate racist and hate-filled messages. Some publish disturbing images of murder, child exploitation and sexual abuse while others resort to so-called revenge porn to humiliate former lovers. Perhaps most distressing: A few threaten rape and other forms of violence, then release their victims’ addresses and phone numbers so strangers can terrorize their targets even further.

“Dangerous people are everywhere, but when they have the power of anonymity behind them and the power of distance, they become more dangerous,” says Karen Riggs, a professor of media arts and studies at Ohio University. “It’s part of human nature: We have people who will be abusive and lurid.”

The Internet just makes it that much easier.’


Snoopers’ charter set to return to law, Tory majority could lead to huge increase in surveillance powers

Andrew Griffin reports for The Independent:

The law, officially known as the Draft Communications Data Bill, is already back on the agenda according to Theresa May. It is expected to force British internet service providers to keep huge amounts of data on their customers, and to make that information available to the government and security services.

The snoopers’ charter received huge criticism from computing experts and civil liberties campaigners in the wake of introduction. It was set to come into law in 2014, but Nick Clegg withdrew his support for the bill and it was blocked by the Liberal Democrats.

Theresa May, who led the legislation as home secretary, said shortly after the Conservatives’ election victory became clear that she will seek to re-introduce it to government. With the re-election of May and the likely majority of her party, the bill is likely to find success if the new government tries again.’


How the NSA Converts Spoken Words Into Searchable Text

Dan Froomkin reports for The Intercept:

Most people realize that emails and other digital communications they once considered private can now become part of their permanent record.

But even as they increasingly use apps that understand what they say, most people don’t realize that the words they speak are not so private anymore, either.

Top-secret documents from the archive of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show the National Security Agency can now automatically recognize the content within phone calls by creating rough transcripts and phonetic representations that can be easily searched and stored.

The documents show NSA analysts celebrating the development of what they called “Google for Voice” nearly a decade ago.

Though perfect transcription of natural conversation apparently remains the Intelligence Community’s “holy grail,” the Snowden documentsdescribe extensive use of keyword searching as well as computer programs designed to analyze and “extract” the content of voice conversations, and even use sophisticated algorithms to flag conversations of interest.’


France passes new surveillance law in wake of Charlie Hebdo attack

Angelique Chrisafis reports for The Guardian:

Demonstrators hold placards reading "Stop to Mass Surveillance", and "Members of Parliament Protect our Freedom", during a gathering at Invalides, Paris, to protest against the emergency government surveillance lawThe French parliament has overwhelmingly approved sweeping new surveillance powers in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris in January that killed 17 people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher grocery in Paris.

The new bill, which allows intelligence agencies to tap phones and emails without seeking permission from a judge, sparked protests from rights groups who claimed it would legalise highly intrusive surveillance methods without guarantees for individual freedom and privacy.

Protesters for civil liberties groups launched a last-ditch campaign against the bill under the banner “24 hours before 1984” in reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel about life under an all-knowing dictatorship. Groups including Amnesty International warned of “extremely large and intrusive powers” without judicial controls.

But despite opposition from green and hard-left MPs, the bill won the overwhelming backing of the majority of MPs from the Socialist and rightwing UMP parties, which said it was necessary to tackle the terrorist risk. The bill was passed in the national assembly by 438 votes to 86, with a handful of no votes from Socialist MPs.’


The Ars Technica guide to digital policy in the UK’s 2015 general election

Glyn Moody writes for Ars Technica:

As the passage of the UK’s technologically illiterate Digital Economy Act in 2010 demonstrated, many UK politicians are completely at sea when it comes to modern technology. But even they recognize that the digital world forms a crucial part of modern life, and that any political party hoping to enter government needs to have policies for issues the Internet raises. That said, the different political parties have very different views and priorities when it comes to legislating for the digital world.

Ahead of the UK’s General Election on May 7, Ars has put together a guide to what the manifestos say on a number of key topics: surveillance; privacy and data protection; copyright and patents; web blocking; freedom of speech; digital rights; and various forms of openness—open data, open standards and open government. The policies come from the following manifestos (in alphabetical order): Conservatives, Green Party of England and Wales, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Pirate Party,Scottish National Party, and UKIP. The Open Rights Group has usefully collected statements on these and a few other areas in the form of a single web page, organized by party.’


‘Democracy is about more than just a cross in a box every five years’: Interview with Loz Kaye of Pirate Party UK

Editor’s Note: This interview was recorded just over a month ago.

Loz Kaye, head of the UK branch of the Pirate Party, talks to Going Underground host Afshin Rattansi about the upcoming election, manifestos, and mass surveillance. The Pirate Party is ‘crowd sourcing’ their manifesto, allowing the public to vote on what policies they have, as ‘democracy is about more than just a cross in a box every five years.’ He says that whilst new movements like Syriza, Podemos and M5S have grown across Europe, in Britain even the supposed new kids on the block, UKIP and the Greens, are decades old, and what we need are new solutions for new problems. He plans to look at things like tax dodging, accusing no one else of looking at the root causes of the problem, tax loopholes for intellectual property. He also believes it’s important to stop the myth that piracy harms content-producers, saying that ‘so-called pirates are the best spenders online.’ He thinks that there has to be an end to warrantless blanket surveillance, by having ‘oversight with teeth.’ He also says they are the only party putting ‘big pharma gouging profits from the NHS’ on the agenda. And if you think it’s time for change, ‘the only way that they will get that message is if you think different and vote different.’’ (Going Underground)

The most concerning element of Facebook’s potential new power

Trevor Timm writes for Columbia Journalism Review about Facebook’s growing power over news content:

[…] What this discussion has missed is perhaps the most crucial element of Facebook’s new power: the right to chose between the free expression of ideas or to instead impose censorship when it deems content unworthy. That should worry the public, because when given that power in the past, Facebook has ruled with an iron fist.

The New Yorker was famously banned from Facebook for a short period in 2012 for posting a cartoon with a tiny bit of nudity in it. Breastfeeding photos have been the source of takedowns and controversy. And that’s even when they’re not censoring other photographs or news commentary by “mistake.”

Then there are the hostage negotiations country’s governments are increasingly engaging in. Turkey blocked Facebook and Twitter across the entire country just this week because users were sharing a photo that was clearly newsworthy, and vowed to continue blocking it unless the social networks removed it (which they did). Two weeks after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Facebook began censoring images of prophet Muhammad after Turkey made yet more demands.

And what happens when Mark Zuckerberg brings Facebook to China? Will Facebook be just as quick to censor the New York Times posts at the whims of foreign governments as it does for individual users?’


Who’s Watching Your Baby?

‘A family in Minnesota was shocked to discover that someone else was controlling their “nanny cam” from a different country. CNN affiliate KTTC has more.’ (CNN)

French lawmaker mocked after draft law copied and pasted from Wikipedia

Rick Noack reports for The Washington Post:

French politician Valérie Boyer and her staff seem to like Wikipedia — too much, maybe. Their admiration for the online encyclopedia will now be forever documented in governmental transcripts, after the opposition politician presented a draft law which was allegedly  copied from the platform in large part. She and her assistants didn’t even remove Wikipedia’s footnotes, according to French newspaper Le Figaro.

On Tuesday, French media outlets exposed the plagiarism when they analyzed the law proposal which argues that France should recognize the Assyrian genocide during the World War I under the Ottoman Empire.’


Out-Of-Date Proverbs: ‘A Trouble Shared is a Trouble Halved’

Why Jay-Z’s Music App Tidal Sounds Doomed

‘Giving away music is how you get people to pay for it. That might seem crazy, but it’s true, though Jay-Z doesn’t want to listen. He just launched a music streaming service called Tidal with Beyoncé, Daft Punk, Kanye, Arcade Fire, and Rihanna as co-owners contributing exclusive content. The goal is to get artists properly paid. Josh Constine talks about Tidal’s new music streaming service.’ (TechCrunch)

Facebook May Host News Sites’ Content

Ravi Somaiya, Mike Isaac, and Vindu Goel report for The New York Times:

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 1.36.09 PMWith 1.4 billion users, the social media site has become a vital source of traffic for publishers looking to reach an increasingly fragmented audience glued to smartphones. In recent months, Facebook has been quietly holding talks with at least half a dozen media companies about hosting their content inside Facebook rather than making users tap a link to go to an external site.

Such a plan would represent a leap of faith for news organizations accustomed to keeping their readers within their own ecosystems, as well as accumulating valuable data on them. Facebook has been trying to allay their fears, according to several of the people briefed on the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were bound by nondisclosure agreements.

Facebook intends to begin testing the new format in the next several months, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions. The initial partners are expected to be The New York Times, BuzzFeed and National Geographic, although others may be added since discussions are continuing. The Times and Facebook are moving closer to a firm deal, one person said.’


‘Social media giant Facebook is making a new move that could see its users lingering on the site more than any other. The company is working on an agreement with at least a half a dozen media companies with the aim of hosting content inside Facebook instead of linking to their external site.’ (RT America)

Where are ISIS supporters tweeting from?

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Is using encryption suspicious? Half of Americans say yes, according to Pew

Andrea Peterson reports for The Washington Post:

Surveillance Programs Prompt Some to Change the Way They Use TechnologyNearly two years after former government contractor Edward Snowden revealed details of extensive government surveillance programs, a Pew Research report suggests that the news has prompted some Americans to change their approach to online privacy.

The group surveyed about 500 adult Americans, finding that nearly 90 percent of them had heard about government surveillance programs and more than a third of those aware of the programs “have taken at least one step to hide or shield their information from the government,” the report said.

Though the report found that a majority of Americans are skeptical of government surveillance programs, it also found very few are taking the extra step of encrypting the content of their e-mails. In fact, half of those surveyed said using encryption software gives the government enough suspicion to monitor a U.S. citizen’s communications.’


France To Require Internet Companies To Detect ‘Suspicious’ Behavior Automatically, And To Decrypt Communications On Demand

Glyn Moody reports for Techdirt:

Techdirt has been charting for a while France’s descent from a bastion of enlightenment values to a country that seems willing to give up any freedom in the illusory hope of gaining some security. According to a story in Le Figaro, even worse is to come in the shape of a new law (original in French, found via @gchampeau):

[the proposed law] wants to force intermediaries to “detect, using automatic processing, suspicious flows of connection data”. Internet service providers as well as platforms like Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter would themselves have to identify suspicious behavior, according to instructions they have received, and pass the results to investigators. The text does not specify, but this could mean frequent connections to monitored pages.


Digital lives of Millennials: Few worry about online privacy

The American Press Institute reports:

‘Born in 1980, this first generation of digital natives entered high school as the web became a public space. Half of this group, those age 26 and under, entered high school with social media, first MySpace and soon enough Facebook.

For most of this generation, in other words, the digital revolution does not represent disruption. It represents the norm and, to a significant degree, their generation’s opportunity.

Perhaps as a consequence, few Millennials are worried much about privacy, and particularly not about the data kept by government or corporations.’


The Wolf Is Guarding the Hen House: The Government’s War on Cyberterrorism

John W. Whitehead writes:

The game is rigged, the network is bugged, the government talks double-speak, the courts are complicit and there’s nothing you can do about it.”—David Kravets, reporting for Wired

Nothing you write, say, text, tweet or share via phone or computer is private anymore. As constitutional law professor Garrett Epps points out, “Big Brother is watching…. Big Brother may be watching you right now, and you may never know. Since 9/11, our national life has changed forever. Surveillance is the new normal.”

This is the reality of the internet-dependent, plugged-in life of most Americans today.

A process which started shortly after 9/11 with programs such as Total Information Awareness (the predecessor to the government’s present surveillance programs) has grown into a full-fledged campaign of warrantless surveillance, electronic tracking and data mining, thanks to federal agents who have been given carte blanche access to the vast majority of electronic communications in America. Their methods completely undermine constitution safeguards, and yet no federal agency, president, court or legislature has stepped up to halt this assault on our rights.’


Twitter plans to make content generated by users available to commerce, academia and even police involved in crowd control

Juliette Garside reports for The Guardian:

Twitter user about to start up Twitter on a phone‘Computer systems are already aggregating trillions of tweets from the microblogging site, sorting and sifting through countless conversations, following the banter and blustering, ideas and opinions of its 288 million users in search of commercial opportunities.

[…] Selling data is as yet a small part of Twitter’s overall income – $70m out of a total of $1.3bn last year, with the lion’s share of cash coming from advertising, but the social network has big plans to increase that. Its acquisition of Chris Moody’s analytics company Gnip for $130m last April is a sign of that intent.

Google and Facebook have built their businesses around sharing data, but their control of our private and public information has become a source of huge controversy.’


Data and Goliath: Bruce Schneier on the Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World

‘Leading security and privacy researcher Bruce Schneier talks about about the golden age of surveillance and his new book, “Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World.” The book chronicles how governments and corporation have built an unprecedented surveillance state. While the leaks of Edward Snowden have shed light on the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices, less attention has been paid to other forms of everyday surveillance — license plate readers, facial recognition software, GPS tracking, cellphone metadata and data mining.’ (Democracy Now!)

iSpy: The CIA Campaign to Steal Apple’s Secrets

Jeremy Scahill and Josh Beglet report for The Intercept:

‘Researchers working with the Central Intelligence Agency have conducted a multi-year, sustained effort to break the security of Apple’s iPhones and iPads, according to top-secret documents obtained by The Intercept.

The security researchers presented their latest tactics and achievements at a secret annual gathering, called the “Jamboree,” where attendees discussed strategies for exploiting security flaws in household and commercial electronics. The conferences have spanned nearly a decade, with the first CIA-sponsored meeting taking place a year before the first iPhone was released.

By targeting essential security keys used to encrypt data stored on Apple’s devices, the researchers have sought to thwart the company’s attempts to provide mobile security to hundreds of millions of Apple customers across the globe. Studying both “physical” and “non-invasive” techniques, U.S. government-sponsored research has been aimed at discovering ways to decrypt and ultimately penetrate Apple’s encrypted firmware. This could enable spies to plant malicious code on Apple devices and seek out potential vulnerabilities in other parts of the iPhone and iPad currently masked by encryption.’


ISC Report: UK Citizens Must Give Up Right To Privacy Because ‘Terrorism’, Reveals Huge Secret Gov’t Databases

Glynn Moody writes for Techdirt:

GCHQ composite[…] The heart of the report’s failure can be found in its discussion of bulk surveillance:

Our Inquiry has shown that the Agencies do not have the legal authority, the resources, the technical capability, or the desire to intercept every communication of British citizens, or of the internet as a whole: GCHQ are not reading the emails of everyone in the UK.

But of course, nobody said GCHQ was doing that. The problem is that it is ingesting disproportionate quantities of the Internet’s traffic passing into and out of the UK, and then analyzing it — in other words, engaging in indiscriminate mass surveillance. The report pretends to address that issue, writing:

GCHQ’s bulk interception systems operate on a very small percentage of the bearers that make up the internet.

A “bearer” refers to one of the main connections to the Internet — typically fiber-optic cables capable of carrying many gigabits of information per second. The issue is not how many such bearers GCHQ taps, but which ones. One of Snowden’s earliest and most important leaked documents suggests that spying on even a “very small percentage” of the bearers gives GCHQ almost total oversight of everyone’s Internet activities.’


Don’t let the Islamic State usurp the press freedom agenda

Samantha Libby writes for Columbia Journalism Review:

‘There were 11 days between the first Islamic State video revealing the captivity of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto and the one purportedly displaying his murder… As the events of those 11 days show, this is one of the most dangerous times on record for journalists, and the Islamic State is not the only cause. In January 2015, at least 16 journalists were killed in direct relation to their work, all except Goto working in their own countries. In other words, in the first month of this year, the Committee to Protect Journalists had already documented more than a quarter of the total number of journalist deaths recorded in 2014—and that does not account for beatings, arrests, threats, or disappearances. These press freedom abuses, most of which did not spur a worldwide hashtag campaign, frontpage newspaper coverage, or slots on primetime television, went largely unnoticed in comparison to Goto’s public execution. We were Charlie and we were Kenji. But were we also Moisés Sánchez and Seymur Hazi and Damián Pachter?’


The Orwellian Re-Branding of “Mass Surveillance” as Merely “Bulk Collection”

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

‘Just as the Bush administration and the U.S. media re-labelled “torture” with the Orwellian euphemism “enhanced interrogation techniques” to make it more palatable, the governments and media of the Five Eyes surveillance alliance are now attempting to re-brand “mass surveillance” as “bulk collection” in order to make it less menacing (and less illegal). In the past several weeks, this is the clearly coordinated theme that has arisen in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as the last defense against the Snowden revelations, as those governments seek to further enhance their surveillance and detention powers under the guise of terrorism.

This manipulative language distortion can be seen perfectly in yesterday’s white-washing report of GCHQ mass surveillance from the servile rubber-stamp calling itself “The Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament (ISC)”(see this great Guardian Editorial this morning on what a “slumbering” joke that “oversight” body is). As Committee Member MP Hazel Blears explained yesterday (photo above), the Parliamentary Committee officially invoked this euphemism to justify the collection of billions of electronic communications events every day.

The Committee actually acknowledged for the first time (which Snowden documents log ago proved) that GCHQ maintains what it calls “Bulk Personal Datasets” that contain “millions of records,” and even said about pro-privacy witnesses who testified before it: “we recognise their concerns as to the intrusive nature of bulk collection.” That is the very definition of “mass surveillance,” yet the Committee simply re-labelled it “bulk collection,” purported to distinguish it from “mass surveillance,” and thus insist that it was all perfectly legal.’


Wikipedia Sues NSA Over Dragnet Internet Surveillance

Cora Currier reports for The Intercept:

‘Wikipedia is suing the NSA over surveillance programs that involve tapping internet traffic en masse from communications infrastructure in the U.S. in order to search it for intelligence purposes.

The lawsuit argues that this broad surveillance, revealed in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, violates the First Amendment by chilling speech and the open exchange of information, and that it also runs up against Fourth Amendment privacy protections.

“The surveillance that we’re challenging gives the government virtually unfettered access to U.S. communications and the content of those communications,” said Patrick Toomey, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is bringing the litigation on behalf of the Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, and a group of human rights and media organizations including The Nation magazine and Amnesty International, who say that their sensitive overseas communications are imperiled by the NSA’s snooping.’


The Fight Against ISIS On Social Media

Major Video Game Companies Agree to Share Customer Data with the US Government

Jason Koebler reports for VICE Motherboard:

With or without controversial new legislation such as the ​Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Protection Act, President Obama is doing his best to make sure companies share the information they know about you with the federal government.

On Friday, the president issued a cybersecurity executive order that creates a new framework for “expanded information sharing designed to help companies work together, and work with the federal government, to quickly identify and protect against cyber threats,” according to an emailed fact sheet from the White House.

The ​Sony hack of late last year made the idea of “cyberwar” all too real for many politicians, including Obama, who has spent much of the last two months talking about the need for ​expanded cooperation between the government and private companies. Considering all that rhetoric, Friday’s move doesn’t come as any real surprise.’


The Internet is a “Black Hole” of History says Google’s Vint Cerf

Michael Rundle reports for The Huffington Post:

We might be accidentally creating a “black hole” in history unless we rethink how to archive the web, one internet pioneer has warned.

Vint Cert, who is recognised for ‘co-founding’ the Internet with Robert Khan, said “we stand to lose an awful lot of our history” if big changes are not implemented.

Cerf is now a vice-president at Google, and won the AM Turing Award in 2004 for his “pioneering work on internetworking, including the design and implementation of the Internet’s basic communications protocols”.

But now he says despite many projects to archive online data for future generations, we might end up not being able to use any of it.


The coming online privacy revolution

Jamie Bartlett has an extract featured from his new book, ‘Orwell vs The Terrorists’ over at Index on Censorship:

Extract from Orwell vs the Terrorists by Jamie Bartlett.Motivated by an honourable desire to protect online freedom and privacy, hundreds of computer scientists and internet specialists are working on ingenious ways of keeping online secrets, preventing censorship, and fighting against centralised control. A veritable army motivated by a desire for privacy and freedom, trying to wrestle back control for ordinary people. This is where the long-term effects will be felt.

Soon there will be a new generation of easy-to-use, auto-encryption internet services. Services such as MailPile, and Dark Mail – email services where everything is automatically encrypted. Then there’s the Blackphone – a smart phone that encrypts and hides everything you’re doing. There are dozens – hundreds, perhaps – of new bits of software and hardware like this that cover your tracks, being developed as you read this – and mainly by activists motivated not by profit, but by privacy. Within a decade or so I think they will be slick and secure, and you won’t need to be a computer specialist to work out how they work. We’ll all be using them.’


Most US investigative journalists fear their government spies on them

Roy Greenslade reports for The Guardian:

Most of America’s investigative journalists believe their government has spied on them, according to a Pew Research Centre study.

Some 64% of participants in Pew’s survey said that the US government had “probably collected data” on their phone calls, emails and other online communications.

The report surveyed 671 members of an organisation called Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), which includes reporters, producers, editors, data specialists and photojournalists.’