Category Archives: The Web

Satire is dying because the internet is killing it

Arwa Mahdawi writes for The Guardian:

‘Forget self-driving cars or virtual reality nano-technology algorithms, the newest innovation to emerge from Silicon Valley is square brackets. Facebook is testing a “satire tag” that will clearly label fake news stories from well-known satire sites like the Onion as [satire]. No longer will you need to rely on outdated technology such as common sense to realise that content like Area Facebook User Incredibly Stupid is [satire], the square brackets will do it for you.

It should perhaps be noted that Facebook isn’t introducing the satire tag because it thinks we’re all morons, but rather because it knows we’re all morons. In a statement, the social network explained that it had “received feedback that people wanted a clearer way to distinguish satirical articles from others”.’

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Children: The New Billionaires

Why US tech lobbyists have descended on Brussels

Nancy Marshall-Genzer reports for Market Place:

‘Brussels is home to the European Parliament, but it’s also hosting lots of lobbyists for the U.S. tech industry. Walk down the street near Parliament and you’ll see office blocks that are home to lobbyists representing the likes of Facebook, Google, and other tech companies.

They’ve set up shop because many U.S. tech companies oppose strict new online privacy legislation that members of the European parliament are considering. “It’s gotten a bit out of hand. Very, very emotional,” says Jean-Marc Leclerc, director of the digital economy policy group for a trade association called Digital Europe. Among its members: Apple and Microsoft. Leclerc says there were “thousands of amendments, night votes. It really went crazy.”

Why was it so crazy? The EU is considering an online privacy bill that would give consumers the right to have personal data erased. There would also be new limits on online profiling. The tech lobby says the legislation would hurt commerce and innovation on the Web, and would also create mandatory data reporting requirements that would be a burden for business.’

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Adam Curtis: The Hidden Systems That Have Frozen Time and Stop Us Changing the World

Editor’s Note: Adam Curtis is a documentary film maker who focusses on “power and how it works in society“. His films include ‘The Power of Nightmares‘ and ‘The Century of Self’ among many others. Watch them, watch them all.

Adam Curtis writes on his BBC blog:

frontaltIf you are an American politician today, as well as an entourage you also have a new, modern addition. You have what’s called a “digital tracker”. They follow you everywhere with a high-definition video camera, and they are employed by the people who want to destroy your political career.

It’s called “opposition research” and the aim is to constantly record everything you say and do. The files are sent back every night to large anonymous offices in Washington where dozens of researchers systematically compare everything you said today with what you said in the past.

They are looking for contradictions. And if they find one – they feed it, and the video evidence, to the media.

On one hand it’s old politics – digging up the dirt on your opponent. But it is also part of something new – and much bigger than just politics. Throughout the western world new systems have risen up whose job is to constantly record and monitor the present – and then compare that to the recorded past. The aim is to discover patterns, coincidences and correlations, and from that find ways of stopping change. Keeping things the same.

We can’t properly see what is happening because these systems are operating in very different areas – from consumerism, to the management of your own body, to predicting future crimes, and even trying to stabilise the global financial system – as well as in politics.

But taken together the cumulative effect is that of a giant refrigerator that freezes us, and those who govern us, into a state of immobility, perpetually repeating the past and terrified of change and the future.’

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Authors Place Full Page Advert in New York Times Against Amazon

Alison Flood reports for The Guardian:

‘Readers of the New York Times will have to steel themselves this weekend, as the unseemly brawl between Hachette and Amazon erupts on to the tranquil pages of the Grey Lady. Perhaps the most incendiary item in Sunday’s edition is due to be a full-page ad paid for by a group of bestselling authors – and backed by over 900 other writers – calling on Amazon “in the strongest possible terms to stop harming the livelihood of the authors on whom it has built its business”.

The extraordinary move is the latest salvo in a battle over terms which has seen Amazon delay delivery and remove the possibility of pre-orders on a swathe of books by Hachette authors, including JK Rowling and James Patterson. The online leviathan Amazon says it is attempting to “lower ebook prices”; publishing conglomerate Hachette argues that it is seeking “terms that value appropriately for the years ahead the author’s unique role in creating books, and the publisher’s role in editing, marketing, and distributing them”. Both sides have gradually sharpened their rhetoric over recent weeks, with Hachette saying that it would be suicidal to accept Amazon’s proposals, and Amazon that Hachette should “stop using their authors as human shields“.’

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Drowning in Information? On Memory, the Internet, and Reading Comprehension

Alan Farago writes for CounterPunch:

‘Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about memory. I’m sensitized by family members in their 90s. Each are in flagging health and suffering memory deficits; from dementia, Alzheimers, to simple cognitive decline. It’s sad and I do worry about the road ahead, but I’m also troubled by the road I’m on.

On the way to writing this post, I went online for a New York Times OPED that had interested me; how reliance on the internet has diminished the ability of consumers to fully process what we are reading. I’ve noticed that when I read a newspaper online, my retention of information is qualitatively different from when I read a printed newspaper in my hands. It’s an unscientific result reached after many years of reading and writing to earn readers’ attention.’

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Russia signs decree requiring ID for access to public WiFi

Reuters reports:

Russia further tightened its control of the Internet on Friday, requiring people using public Wifi hotspots provide identification, a policy that prompted anger from bloggers and confusion among telecom operators on how it would work. The decree, signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on July 31 but published online on Friday, also requires companies to declare who is using their web networks. The legislation caught many in the industry by surprise and companies said it was not clear how it would be enforced.

A flurry of new laws regulating Russia’s once freewheeling Internet has been condemned by President Vladimir Putin’s critics as a crackdown on dissent, after the websites of two of his prominent foes were blocked this year. Putin, who alarmed industry leaders in April by saying the Internet is “a CIA project”, says the laws are needed to fight “extremism” and “terrorism”… A pro-Kremlin lawmaker said the measure was needed to prevent Cold War-style propaganda attacks against Russia.

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Are we creating personalized propaganda bubbles?

Mark Strauss writes for i09:

The Biggest Source of Disinformation On The Gaza Conflict Is Ourselves‘New data visualizations give a startling picture of online activity during the latest conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. And they reveal just how much online media and social networks help us to create our own information bubbles, customized to reinforce our political beliefs.

Gilad Lotan is the chief data scientist at betaworks, which has launched high-profile companies that include SocialFlow and bitly. Looking at Lotan’s network graph of Twitter traffic from his blog i love data, I can’t help but feel that we really are living in a version of The Matrix. The media constructs our reality and we’re plugged into it 24/7. Except here, in theory, we have the freedom to make our own decisions.

In Lotan’s view, however, that’s a big part of the problem…’

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Why Bitcoin Puts Governments on Edge: Interview with David Seaman

Abby Martin speaks with author and journalist, David Seaman, discussing the growing popularity of Bitcoin, as well as other in-the-news issues such as Gaza, and President Obama’s comments on America’s use of torture on terror suspects.’ (Breaking the Set)

Visit the Wrong Website, and the FBI Could End Up in Your Computer

Kevin Poulsen writes for Wired:

‘Security experts call it a “drive-by download”: a hacker infiltrates a high-traffic website and then subverts it to deliver malware to every single visitor. It’s one of the most powerful tools in the black hat arsenal, capable of delivering thousands of fresh victims into a hackers’ clutches within minutes. Now the technique is being adopted by a different kind of a hacker—the kind with a badge. For the last two years, the FBI has been quietly experimenting with drive-by hacks as a solution to one of law enforcement’s knottiest Internet problems: how to identify and prosecute users of criminal websites hiding behind the powerful Tor anonymity system.

The approach has borne fruit—over a dozen alleged users of Tor-based child porn sites are now headed for trial as a result. But it’s also engendering controversy, with charges that the Justice Department has glossed over the bulk-hacking technique when describing it to judges, while concealing its use from defendants. Critics also worry about mission creep, the weakening of a technology relied on by human rights workers and activists, and the potential for innocent parties to wind up infected with government malware because they visited the wrong website. “This is such a big leap, there should have been congressional hearings about this,” says ACLU technologist Chris Soghoian, an expert on law enforcement’s use of hacking tools. “If Congress decides this is a technique that’s perfectly appropriate, maybe that’s OK. But let’s have an informed debate about it.”’

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Paedophile snared as Google scans Gmail for images of child abuse

Martin Evans reports for The Telegraph:

From 'Am I pretty?' to 'Why won't he have sex with me?', it's Google we ask about all our darkest worries. So how did a search engine become our closest confidant? ‘Technology giant Google has developed state of the art software which proactively scours hundreds of millions of email accounts for images of child abuse. The breakthrough means paedophiles around the world will no longer be able to store and send vile images via email without the risk of their crimes becoming known to the authorities. Details of the software emerged after a 41-year-old convicted sex offender was arrested in Texas for possession of child abuse images.

Police in the United States revealed that Google’s sophisticated search system had identified suspect material in an email sent by a man in Houston. Child protection experts were automatically tipped off and were then able to alert the police, who swooped after requesting the user’s personal information from Google. It is hoped the software will play a significant role in the ongoing fight against paedophiles who believe they can use the Internet to operate in the shadows and avoid detection.’

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The Privacy Debate Isn’t About Secrets, It’s About Control

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes for Forbes:

All seeing eye‘While the US government’s snooping on citizens, and the somewhat regular hacking of consumer log-in and credit info have prompted much of the debate about privacy, the really thorny angle is lurking just under everyone’s radar.

…Every time people use the Internet, they lob a bit more information over this wall, thereby empowering service providers (and their commercial clients) and/or the government. There’s really no good way to get a handle on it, let alone control it. And it’s only going to get worse, as more aspects of their lives, especially their activities in geophysical space, are monitored by the Net’s watchful eyes via smart devices of all sorts and uses.

Even if Internet search yielded an accurate, fair, crowd-vetted record of all human experience – which it doesn’t – those records no longer belong to individuals, but rather to the faceless mechanisms of social discourse and surveillance. Sure, the loss of privacy can be embarrassing or frustrating, but it’s a side effect of this thornier issue of giving up control.’

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Total Information Awareness in Singapore

Shane Harris writes for Foreign Policy:

‘In October 2002, Peter Ho, the permanent secretary of defense for the tiny island city-state of Singapore, paid a visit to the offices of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the U.S. Defense Department’s R&D outfit best known for developing the M16 rifle, stealth aircraft technology, and the Internet. Ho didn’t want to talk about military hardware. Rather, he had made the daylong plane trip to meet with retired Navy Rear Adm. John Poindexter, one of DARPA’s then-senior program directors and a former national security advisor to President Ronald Reagan. Ho had heard that Poindexter was running a novel experiment to harness enormous amounts of electronic information and analyze it for patterns of suspicious activity — mainly potential terrorist attacks.

The two men met in Poindexter’s small office in Virginia, and on a whiteboard, Poindexter sketched out for Ho the core concepts of his imagined system, which Poindexter called Total Information Awareness (TIA). It would gather up all manner of electronic records — emails, phone logs, Internet searches, airline reservations, hotel bookings, credit card transactions, medical reports — and then, based on predetermined scenarios of possible terrorist plots, look for the digital “signatures” or footprints that would-be attackers might have left in the data space. The idea was to spot the bad guys in the planning stages and to alert law enforcement and intelligence officials to intervene.’

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House of Lords report on “social media and criminal offenses” recommends scrapping anonymity online

Mike Masnick writes for Techdirt:

‘Every so often, people who don’t really understand the importance of anonymity or how it enables free speech (especially among marginalized people), think they have a brilliant idea: “just end real anonymity online.” They don’t seem to understand just how shortsighted such an idea is. It’s one that stems from the privilege of being in power. And who knows that particular privilege better than members of the House of Lords in the UK — a group that is more or less defined by excess privilege? The Communications Committee of the House of Lords has now issued a report concerning “social media and criminal offenses” in which they basically recommend scrapping anonymity online. It’s not a true “real names” proposal — as the idea is that web services would be required to collect real names at signup, but then could allow those users to do things pseudonymously or anonymously. But, still, their actions could then easily be traced back to a real person if the “powers that be” deemed it necessary.’

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Kid Makes App That Exposes Sellout Politicians

Hannah Ewens reports for Vice:

‘With US politics swimming in so much corporate money that it’s pretty much an oligarchy, it can be hard to keep track of which particular set of lobbyists is trying to milk more cash out of health care, fossil fuels, and other very important issues from one week to the next.

But thanks to 16-year-old Nick Rubin, keeping track of just how much politicians have sold out has become a lot easier. He created Greenhouse, a new browser plug-in that operates under the motto “Some are red. Some are blue. All are green.” The plugin aims “to shine light on a social and industrial disease of today: the undue influence of money in our Congress.”‘

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#direnkahkaha: Turkish women defy deputy PM with laughter

Constanze Letsch reports for The Guardian:

Turkish Women laugh on twitter‘Twitter in Turkey broke into a collective grin on Wednesday as hundreds of women posted pictures of themselves laughing. They weren’t just happy. They were smiling in defiance of the deputy prime minister, Bülent Arinç, who in a speech to mark Eid al-Fitr on Monday said women should not laugh in public.

…On Wednesday thousands of women posted pictures of themselves laughing out loud, with the hashtags #direnkahkaha (resist laughter) and #direnkadin (resist woman) trending on Twitter. Turkish men also took to social media to express their solidarity. “The men of a country in which women are not allowed to laugh are cowards”, tweeted one user.’

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Spain Wants to Tax the Hyperlink

Jason Koebler writes for Motherboard:

‘The hyperlink is a crazy thing if you think about it. One of HTML’s most basic building blocks has completely changed the news industry, turning black text into blue (or in Motherboard’s case, purple), and taking a practice that was one completely verboten in journalism—snagging a competitor’s work—and making it commonplace. But soon, if you want to use them in Spain, it’s gonna cost you.

The law, called canon AEDE, would put a tax on aggregation, and would make it illegal for blogs, news sites, and perhaps even Google News to link out to original sources without paying a fee. Make no mistake, this would fundamentally change how the media industry’s link economy currently works (at least in Spain—we’ll see if others follow suit).’

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Mass U.S. Surveillance Targeting Journalists and Lawyers Seen As Threat to American Democracy

‘In a new report, Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union warn that “large-scale surveillance is seriously hampering U.S.-based journalists and lawyers in their work.” The report is based on interviews with dozens of reporters and lawyers. They describe a media climate where journalists take cumbersome security steps that slows down their reporting. Sources are afraid of talking, as aggressive prosecutions scare government officials into staying silent, even about issues that are unclassified. For lawyers, the threat of surveillance is stoking fears they will be unable to protect a client’s right to privacy. Some defendants are afraid of speaking openly to their own counsel, undermining a lawyer’s ability provide the best possible defense. We speak to Alex Sinha, author of the report, “With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale U.S. Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy,” and to national security reporter Jeremy Scahill.’ (Democracy Now!)

Software Bot Produces Up To 10,000 Wikipedia Entries Per Day

Arlington Hewes reports for Singularity Hub:

wikipedia_bots‘While Internet trolls and members of Congress wage war over edits on Wikipedia, Swedish university administrator Sverker Johansson has spent the last seven years becoming the most prolific author…by a long shot. In fact, he’s responsible for over 2.7 million articles or 8.5% of all the articles in the collection, according to The Wall Street Journal. And it’s all thanks to a program called Lsjbot.

Johansson’s software collects info from databases on a particular topic then packages it into articles in Swedish and two dialects of Filipino (his wife’s native tongue). Many of the posts focus on innocuous subjects — animal species or town profiles. Yet, the sheer volume of up to 10,000 entries a day has vaulted Johansson and his bot into the top leaderboard position and hence, the spotlight.’

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Russia offers 3.9m roubles for ‘research to identify users of Tor’

Alec Luhn reports for The Guardian:

Russia‘s interior ministry has offered up to 3.9m roubles (£65,000) for research on identifying the users of the anonymous browsing network Tor, raising questions of online freedom amid a broader crackdown on the Russian internet.

The interior ministry’s special technology and communications group published a tender earlier this month on the government procurement website offering the sum for “research work, Tor cipher”.

Before changes to the tender were published on Friday, numerous news outlets reported that it originally sought “research work on the possibility to obtain technical information about users (user equipment) of the anonymous network Tor”.’

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Wikipedia blocks ‘disruptive’ page edits from US Congress

Joe Miller reports for BBC News:

Capitol Hill‘Wikipedia administrators have imposed a ban on page edits from computers at the US House of Representatives, following “persistent disruptive editing”. The 10-day block comes after anonymous changes were made to entries on politicians and businesses, as well as events like the Kennedy assassination.

The biography of former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld was edited to say that he was an “alien lizard”. One staffer said they were being banned for the “actions of two or three”.

Edits from computers using the IP address belonging to the House of Representatives have been banned before, following similar acts of vandalism. The latest block comes after rogue edits were brought to light by a Twitter feed, @congressedits, which posts every change made from the government-owned address.’

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New broadband users shun UK porn filters, Ofcom finds

From BBC News:

‘The vast majority of new broadband customers in the UK are opting out of “child friendly” filters when prompted to install them by service providers.

The industry watchdog Ofcom found fewer than one in seven households installed the feature, which is offered by BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media.

The filters block pornographic websites, as well as pages promoting self-harm or drug taking.’

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Man tweets about bad service, gets kicked off plane, told to delete tweet before re-boarding

The Independent reports:

‘Twitter has long been the go-to platform for customers to vent their fury at bad customer service, and usually a complaint on social media will lead to a swift apology if nothing else. But not for Minneapolis man Duff Watson, who says he and his two children were ejected from their flight for a tweet criticising Southwest Airlines’ service.’

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UK definition of terrorism ‘could catch political journalists and bloggers’

Alan Travis reports for the Guardian:

‘The current British definition of terrorism is so broadly drawn that it could even catch political journalists and bloggers who publish material that the authorities consider dangerous to public safety, said the official counter-terrorism watchdog. David Anderson QC, the official reviewer of counter-terrorism laws, said Britain had some of the most extensive anti-terrorism laws in the western world, which gave police and prosecutors the powers they needed to tackle al-Qaida-inspired terrorists, rightwing extremists and dissident Northern Irish groups.

“But if these exceptional powers are to command public consent, it is important they need to be confined to their proper purpose, and recent years have seen a degree of ‘creep’ in parliament that could be reversed without diminishing their impact” In his annual report to be published on Tuesday [July 22nd], Anderson is expected to give three examples of how the terror laws were too widely drawn. They included “actions aimed at influencing governments”, hate crime and what he called the “penumbra of terrorism”.’

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Blackmail Insurance Sale & The Germ Code

‘In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert discuss reputational apartheid and delusion insurance as we all become blackmailable. In the second half, Max interviews microbiologist, Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Code, about what germs can teach us about the modern economy and about the similarities between Las Vegas and C.Dificile.’ (Keiser Report)

Occupy Silicon Valley & the Facebook Cop: Interview with Robbie Martin

Abby Martin speaks with journalist and host of Media Roots Radio, Robbie Martin, going over why Facebook is hiring police officers to aid in surveillance, as well as why more people aren’t outraged about private sector surveillance.’ (Breaking the Set)

Ethical Journalism Network Director Speaks to Russia Today About Ethics in Journalism

Porn Sniffing Police Dogs

Why Audiences Hate Hard News—and Love Pretending Otherwise

Derek Thompson writes for The Atlantic:

‘You may not realize this, but we can see you. Yes, you. The human reading this article. We have analytics that tells us roughly where you are, what site you’ve just arrived from, how long you stay, how far you read, where you hop to next. We’ve got eyeballs on your eyeballs.

Why is it so important that digital news organizations track which articles you’re reading on our websites? The obvious answer is that it teaches us what you’re interested in. The less-obvious, but equally true, answer is that it teaches youwhat you’re interested in.

If we merely asked what you wanted, without measuring what you wanted, you’d just keep lying to us—and to yourself.’

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Why Opposing the Israel Lobby Is No Longer Political Suicide

Phyllis Bennis writes for The Nation:

Palestinian woman‘[...] Something is different this time. And not only that the assault is different, and worse. The difference is the political environment in which this attack is happening, especially the political environment here in the United States. For those of us who’ve been working on changing US policy in the Middle East for decades, the bad news is in front of us every day: that policy hasn’t changed, and billions of dollars in aid money and uncritical political, diplomatic and military support for Israel remains constant.

But there is some good news. It’s only obvious when you can back up for a moment to look past the daily bad-news reality. The good news is that the discourse has shifted dramatically—in mainstream news coverage, punditry, pop culture and more. It’s much better than ever. They don’t get it right, still, but things are changing. Twelve years ago, during the siege of Yasir Arafat’s compound in Ramallah and the surrounding of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, we didn’t hear many Palestinian voices in the mainstream press. In 2006, during Israel’s attack on Gaza,The New York Times and NPR didn’t send their reporters to the Khan Younis refugee camp or to Gaza City.

But the coverage had already begun to shift during Cast Lead, the three-week Israeli war against Gaza in 2008–09, and we realized then how much the media changes reflected the overall discourse shift. Despite Israeli efforts to exclude the international press, Al Jazeera and other Arabic channels were broadcasting live out of Gaza. The Times had a terrific young stringer, Taghreed el-Khodary, filing hour by hour. Israel probably wouldn’t have allowed her into the Strip, but they couldn’t stop her, she was already there—born and raised in Gaza and living with her family.’

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