Category Archives: The Web

New ‘Facebook for Rich People’ Costs Just $9,000 to Join

Chloe Albanesius reports for PC Mag:

‘Don’t you just hate it when you want to talk about is your latest all-nighter in Ibiza or how Jeeves packed the wrong Rolex for last weekend’s Hamptons excursion, but your Facebook friends are all “Help me, I’m poor!”

Not to worry, Netropolitan is here to save you from having to hob-knob with undesirable 99 percenters. And it will only cost you $9,000 a year. Netropolitan is a new social network that bills itself as “the online country club for people with more money than time.” It launched today and organizers insist that it’s not a joke.’

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Snowden Leaks Didn’t Make Al Qaeda Change Tactics, Says Report

Mike Brunker reports for NBC News:

‘There is no evidence that Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA spying inspired Islamic terror groups to hide their electronic communications behind more sophisticated encryption software, according to a new analysis that challenges other recent research and assertions by U.S. officials about the impact of the leaks.

The analysis by Flashpoint Global Partners, a private security firm, examined the frequency of releases and updates of encryption software by jihadi groups and mentions of encryption in jihadi social media forums to assess the impact of Snowden’s information. It found no correlation in either measure to Snowden’s leaks about the NSA’s surveillance techniques, which became public beginning June 5, 2013.’

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The NSA and GCHQ Campaign Against German Satellite Companies

Andy Müller-Maguhn, Laura Poitras, Marcel Rosenbach, Michael Sontheimer and Christian Grothoff report for The Intercept:

‘Treasure Map is a vast NSA campaign to map the global internet. The program doesn’t just seek to chart data flows in large traffic channels, such as telecommunications cables. Rather, it seeks to identify and locate every single device that is connected to the internet somewhere in the world—every smartphone, tablet, and computer—”anywhere, all the time,” according to NSA documents. Its internal logo depicts a skull superimposed onto a compass, the eyeholes glowing demonic red.

The breathtaking mission is described in a document from the archive of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden provided to The Intercept and Der Spiegel. Treasure Map’s goal is to create an “interactive map of the global internet” in “almost real time.” Employees of the so-called “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance—England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand—can install and use the program on their own computers. It evokes a kind of Google Earth for global data traffic, a bird’s eye view of the planet’s digital arteries.’

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New Zealand Launched Mass Surveillance Project While Publicly Denying It

Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher report for The Intercept:

Featured photo - New Zealand Launched Mass Surveillance Project While Publicly Denying It‘The New Zealand spy agency, the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), worked in 2012 and 2013 to implement a mass metadata surveillance system even as top government officials publicly insisted no such program was being planned and would not be legally permitted.

Documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the government worked in secret to exploit a new internet surveillance law enacted in the wake of revelations of illegal domestic spying to initiate a new metadata collection program that appeared designed to collect information about the communications of New Zealanders. Those actions are in direct conflict with the assurances given to the public by Prime Minister John Key, who said the law was merely designed to fix “an ambiguous legal framework” by expressly allowing the agency to do what it had done for years, that it “isn’t and will never be wholesale spying on New Zealanders,” and the law “isn’t a revolution in the way New Zealand conducts its intelligence operations.”’

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Dropbox Reports 80% of Gov’t Subpoenas Contain Gag Request

Michael Mimoso reports for Threat Post:

dropbox1‘Most U.S. government subpoenas for data on Dropbox users are accompanied with a request not to inform the user in question. Dropbox legal counsel Bart Volkmer said those gag orders are repelled unless there is a valid court order.

The revelation accompanied the release of the cloud storage service’s Transparency Report, which going forward will be released twice a year. Yesterday’s report covered January to June of this year, a period during which Dropbox received 268 requests for user information from law enforcement agencies. There were zero data request for Dropbox for Business users, the company said.’

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Yahoo $250,000 daily fine over NSA data refusal was set to double ‘every week’

Dominic Rushe reports for The Guardian:

‘The US government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day if it refused to hand over user data to the National Security Agency, according to court documents unsealed on Thursday.

In a blogpost, the company said the 1,500 pages of once-secret documents shine further light on Yahoo’s previously disclosed clash with the NSA over access to its users’ data. The size of the daily fine was set to double every week that Yahoo refused to comply, the documents show.

The papers outline Yahoo’s secret and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle to resist the government’s demands for the tech firm to cooperate with the NSA’s controversial Prism surveillance programme, revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last year.’

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Tech industry signs on to USA Freedom Act, gets expansive immunity for aiding US gov’t spying

Marcy Wheeler (@e) reports for Salon:

‘President Obama just announced war (of sorts) in the Middle East — but he’s not going to wait for Congressional authorization to go to war. But that’s not the only area where the president is threatening to make Congress an afterthought.

In spite of  reports that the bill may not get a vote before November’s elections, supporters of the  USA Freedom Act have done several interesting things to push its passage in the last weeks.

Last week, the bill’s author, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy released a letter from James Clapper and Eric Holder. A number of news outlets incorrectly  reported the letter as an unambiguous endorsement of Leahy’s bill.

It wasn’t.’

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Proposed Anti-Terror Law in France Would Erode Civil Liberties

Jillian York reports for the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

‘A proposed anti-terrorism law in France has freedom of expression advocates concerned.  The bill, as our friends at La Quadrature du Net frame it, “institutes a permanent state of emergency on the Internet,” providing for harsher penalties for incitement or “glorification” of terrorism conducted online.  Furthermore, the bill (in Article 9) allows for “the possibility for the administrative authority to require Internet service providers to block access to sites inciting or apologizing for terrorism” without distinguishing criteria or an authority to conduct the blocking.

Apart from specific concerns that the bill treats online speech as distinct from other speech, other provisions are just as problematic.’

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Get Ready for the ‘Internet Slowdown’

Amy Goodman writes for Common Dreams:

‘Next Wednesday, Sept. 10, if your favorite website seems to load slowly, take a closer look: You might be experiencing the Battle for the Net’s “Internet Slowdown,” a global day of grass-roots action. Protesters won’t actually slow the Internet down, but will place on their websites animated “Loading” graphics (which organizers call “the proverbial ‘spinning wheel of death’”) to symbolize what the Internet might soon look like. As that wheel spins, the rules about how the internet works are being redrawn. Large Internet service providers, or ISPs, like Comcast, Time Warner, AT&T and Verizon are trying to change the rules that govern your online life.

The fight over these rules is being waged now. These corporate ISPs want to create a two-tiered Internet, where some websites or content providers pay to get preferred access to the public. Large content providers like Netflix, the online streaming movie giant, would pay extra to ensure that their content traveled on the fast lane. But let’s say a startup tried to compete with Netflix. If it couldn’t afford to pay the large ISPs their fees for the fast lane, their service would suffer, and people wouldn’t subscribe.’

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Pew: Social Media Fosters a ‘Spiral of Silence’ on Controversial Issues

Angela Washeck reports for PBS:

Photo by mkhmarketing on Flickr and used here with Creative Commons license.‘Two years ago, the Pew Research Center reported that more than a third of social media users have used networking sites to post their own thoughts or comments on political and social issues. Simultaneously, nearly 20 percent of those polled said social networking sites were so powerful that their personal views on a political issue had been changed after “discussing or reading posts” about the issue on these platforms. But a recent study from Pew reveals that the tides may be turning when it comes to talking about political issues online — a truth that could hold significant implications for both the social web and America’s political future.

Based on the communication theory introduced by German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, the spiral of silence theory translates to the digital world, too, Pew found in the report“Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence.’” The idea is this: Those who might have an opinion on an issue decide not to share with their close communities — such as family and friends — due to fear of taking the opposing view and being isolated, leading to a monopoly on public opinion. According to Pew, the news about Edward Snowden revealing mass surveillance by the NSA didn’t get the traction on social media many may have expected. That’s right — no matter how opinionated you perceive your Facebook friends and Twitter followers as being, in general, those social websites were not a source of widespread discussion about Snowden or NSA troves of phone and email surveillance.’

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Social Networks Diminish Personal Well-Being, Researchers Say

Alexander Reed Kelly reports for Truthdig:

‘A two-year survey of 50,000 people determined that a lack of face-to-face contact in interactions online—especially on social networks like Facebook and Twitter—reduced feelings of personal well-being. Reduced well-being can be interpreted to mean reduced mental health.

Fabio Sabatini at Sapienza University of Rome in Italy and Francesco Sarracino at STATEC in Luxembourg reviewed answers from residents of 24,000 Italian households recorded annually by the Italian National Institute of Statistics. MIT Technology Review described the study, which drew data from 2010 and 2011, as especially important because it is “the first time that the role of online networks has been addressed in such a large and nationally representative sample.”

The conclusion is thus more reliable than previous studies that typically surveyed self-selecting undergraduate populations—a category of persons too narrow to allow researchers to extrapolate findings to the general population.’

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The US government can brand you a terrorist based on a Facebook post

Arjun Sethi writes for The Guardian:

facebook surveillance illustration‘The US government’s web of surveillance is vast and interconnected. Now we know just how opaque, inefficient and discriminatory it can be. As we were reminded again just this week, you can be pulled into the National Security Agency’s database quietly and quickly, and the consequences can be long and enduring. Through ICREACH, a Google-style search engine created for the intelligence community, the NSA provides data on private communications to 23 government agencies. More than 1,000 analysts had access to that information.

This kind of data sharing, however, isn’t limited to the latest from Edward Snowden’s NSA files. It was confirmed earlier this month that the FBI shares its master watchlist, the Terrorist Screening Database, with at least 22 foreign governments, countless federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, plus private contractors.

The watchlist tracks “known” and “suspected” terrorists and includes both foreigners and Americans. It’s also based on loose standards and secret evidence, which ensnares innocent people. Indeed, the standards are so low that the US government’s guidelines specifically allow for a single, uncorroborated source of information – including a Facebook or Twitter post – to serve as the basis for placing you on its master watchlist.’

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Federal Cybersecurity Director Found Guilty on Child Porn Charges

Kim Zetter reports for Wired:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services building is shown August 16, 2006 in Washington, DC.‘As the acting cybersecurity chief of a federal agency, Timothy DeFoggi should have been well versed in the digital footprints users leave behind online when they visit web sites and download images. But DeFoggi—convicted today in Nebraska on three child porn charges including conspiracy to solicit and distribute child porn—must have believed his use of the Tor anonymizing network shielded him from federal investigators.

He’s the sixth suspect to make this mistake in Operation Torpedo, an FBI operation that targeted three Tor-based child porn sites and that used controversial methods to unmask anonymized users. But DeFoggi’s conviction is perhaps more surprising than others owing to the fact that he worked at one time as the acting cybersecurity director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.’

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Are we more narcissistic than ever before?

W. Keith Campbell, co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic, writes for The Independent:

‘There was once a young man named Narcissus who was so vain that he fell in love with his own reflection in the water and died. In some versions of the mythological tale from Ancient Greece, Narcissus was transformed into a flower that today carries the name narcissus, or daffodil.

Like the flower, narcissism has continued to flourish in modern culture. “Selfie” was awarded word of the year in 2013 by the Oxford Dictionary. Capturing an image of oneself – once the purview of despondent artists – has become an international pastime. Even politicians rode the trend taking selfies at memorial services. Celebrities continued to be, well, celebrated as well. Miley Cyrus ended 2013 as the most searched person on Google, with Drake and Kim Kardashian coming in at the number two and three spots. Between them they have more “followers” than the population of an average country. And, as both Miley Cyrus’s career trajectory and research findings suggest, the importance of fame is more prominent than ever before.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen the Ice Bucket challenge thrive, but it has been revealed that less than half of people doing the challenge are actually donating. So, for some, is it really about awareness for ALS or self-promotion?’

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Julian Stallabrass: On Selfies

Julian Stallabrass, art historian and photographer, writes for the London Review of Books:

Some selfies‘A few dozen photographs were taken of me as a child. I remember lining up with my family on the beach as a wealthy uncle tried out a new photographic toy and, bright glare of sun off sand in our eyes, being told to stand completely still so as not to ruin the shot. Film and processing were quite pricey, and being photographed was an event. We were behaving just like everybody else, so there is nothing remarkable about the scene except that I remember it. Such an image world must seem fantastically ancient to those today who are used to being photographed – and taking photographs – every day or many times a day.

When the Danish prime minister took a ‘selfie’ at Nelson Mandela’s funeral alongside Obama and Cameron, there was a flurry of alarm in the press. Photographic narcissism, commentators suggested, is now everywhere, the constant mediation of the lens is disrupting experience and memory. Photography, unthinkingly and endlessly made and shared, pollutes awareness of the real world and suppresses memory of anything other than the moment when the image is captured.’

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Gadgets Turning Me Into an Idiot!

Andrew Vltchek writes for CounterPunch:

vintage photo of a salesmen selling a shirt‘[...] The way new-era-gadgets are designed is that after just 1-3 years they become obsolete: applications cannot be run or downloaded and everything becomes incompatible. Entire systems demand a periodical overhaul, but even overhauls have time limitation, at some point they cease to ‘be allowed’. And so, eventually, new equipment has to be purchased, and, that happens with increasing frequency.

We all know that this is how the ‘market’ works, that this is how ruthless, self-serving ‘entrepreneurship’ is shagging us. We are all bitching about it, but there seems to be nothing that can be done. We have simply become slaves of those vicious, greedy and twisted capitalist companies. We know that they only care about their profits and nothing about the advancement of society and humanity. They are clearly and determinedly robbing creative people, of both time and resources.’

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Study: Cellphone addiction ‘an increasingly realistic possibility’

Terry Goodrich reports for Medical Xpress:

‘Women college students spend an average of 10 hours a day on their cellphones and men college students spend nearly eight, with excessive use posing potential risks for academic performance, according to a Baylor University study on cellphone activity published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

“That’s astounding,” said researcher James Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. “As  functions increase, addictions to this seemingly indispensable piece of technology become an increasingly realistic possibility.”

The study notes that approximately 60 percent of college students admit they may be addicted to their cell phone, and some indicated they get agitated when it is not in sight, said Roberts, lead author of the article “The Invisible Addiction: Cellphone Activities and Addiction among Male and Female College Students.”‘

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Plugged-In Over Preppy: Teenagers Favor Tech Over Clothes

Elizabeth A Harris And Rachel Abrams write for The New York Times:

‘For some teenagers, wearing last season’s jeans will always be unthinkable.But a growing number consider texting on a dated smartphone even worse. For teenage apparel retailers, that screen-obsessed teenager poses a big threat in the still-important back-to-school sales season.

Muscle shirts and strategically ripped jeans no longer provide an assured spot for retailers like Hollister and American Eagle Outfitters in the marketplace of what’s cool at an American high school. The social cachet these days involves waving the latest in hand-held technology.’

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What Happens When You Take Kids’ Gadgets Away

Melissa Dahl writes for New York Magazine:

‘To be a modern American, child or adult, is to spend a third of your day staring at a screen. Children ages 8 to 18 spend an incredible seven and a half hours a day — outside of school — using some sort of electronic media, and adults are slightly worse, racking up an additional half-hour of screen time. It’s not yet clear what impact this is having on face-to-face communication, and that’s especially true for the kids who are growing up glued to an iPad. So one team of researchers decided to try to find out, and they took a creative approach. Instead of measuring what happened to kids who used these devices, they measured what happened to kids whose gadgets were taken away.’

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NSA Created Search Engine Tool To Share Communication Records With Government Agencies

Cat Zakrzewski reports for TechCrunch:

‘A set of classified documents published by The Intercept on Monday shows how the National Security Agency (NSA) makes more than 850 billion records about various forms of communications available to other U.S. governmental agencies through a portal similar in look and feel to a traditional web search engine.

The search tool, called ICREACH, provides access to all communications records collected under a Reagan-era executive order, known as executive order 12333, that targets foreign communication networks. The purview of 12333 has recently attracted negative attention due to the lack of oversight of its surveillance, and the lack of public information regarding its use and breadth.

In the wake of the revelations sourced from documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, much public discourse has focused on how the government uses, and shares data that it collects — which agencies have access to specific information, and how privacy is treated have been key topics of discussion. The Intercept’s most recent report throws light onto one way NSA-collected metadata is shared inside of the larger U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities — simply, widely, and often, it appears.’

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The Internet Has Grown Too Big for Its Aging Infrastructure

Robert McMillan reports for Wired:

Yesterday's Internet Hiccup cause a bit more trouble than usual. ‘Think of it as the internet’s latest growing pain. It’s a problem that networking geeks have seen coming for awhile now, but yesterday [August 12th] it finally struck. And it’s likely to cause more problems in the next few weeks. The bug doesn’t seem to have affected core internet providers—companies like AT&T and Verizon, which haul vast quantities of data over the internet’s backbone, “but certainly there are a number of people that were caught by this,” says Craig Labovitz, founder of network analysis company Deepfield Networks.

The issue affects older, but widely used, routers such as the Cisco 7,600. These machines store routing tables in their memory—directions describing the best way for packets of data to move to their ultimate destination—but some routers max out when their list of routes hits 512,000. Different routers have different total routes in memory, but most of them have been closing in on the 500,000 level for a few months now. Yesterday [August 12th] Verizon published an extra 15,000, kicking many routers over the 512,000 crash-point.’

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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)