Monday, April 23, 2018

Maybe Mark Zuckerberg really did conquer the world the way an alien would!

On GMA on ABC this morning, as I had a “free” vegan sausage (party) in hotel bar, I saw Aleksandr Kogan “apologize” for his “misuse” of Facebook consumer data, as in this New York Times story from Matthew Rosenberg.  Kogan’s historical perceptions and his rationalization of them at the time were interesting to me (as they would be to Dr. Phil).  The article reviews why Facebook thought it had taken care of the problem in 2015.

Then Amanda Taub and  Max Fisher explore “Where countries are tinderboxes and Facebook is a match” here, with a flaming gif illustration.

Facebook was designed for western countries with strong institutions to buffer social stability against mobs.  But even in the West, as we saw, tribalism erupted after 2014, as we saw from BLM and then the “alt-right”.   

Brian Resnick’s article on what draws people to extremism (the alt-right) even in the US is rather unsettling.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Will Facebook's easing into GDPR be good enough in the U.S. for most users?

Staci Krame chastises Facebook in the Sunday (April 15) Outlook section, “Facebook could easily make privacy the default. It hasn’t.” 

She wants a standard of opt-in rather than making you opt out through several screens.
Emily Stewart of Vox explained on April 18 what you need to know about the new privacy settings. 
This is supposed to comply with Europe’s General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR).  For example, you can tell it if you want target ads.

But others say that Facebook won't fully comply with GDPR in North America, at first at least. 

It’s significant that you can opt out of facial recognition (should that be an opt-in) although I don’t see how that stops false tagging in photos (that has happened to me only once). But the facial recognition problem seems to comport with the skittishness that some people have these days about being photographed in bars, where the etiquette expected is narrower than it was say ten years ago.
The other deeper question is how public people want to be.  I did want to make myself public when I wrote the first DADT book because, according to the standards of the time, the arguments I wanted to make were unique enough that they demanded my own personal narrative become public and searchable to back it up.  That isn’t generally true of most people, and I don't think what I did is a model for others to follow, generally speaking.  However,\indeed, in the past few years we’ve seen a disturbing trend of people being coerced to support other people’s causes (sometimes workplace or reputation related) on their own personal social media accounts.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

In LiveJournal case, plaintiff tries to outflank the DMCA Safe Harbor

Here’s a DMCA copyright case to watch: Mavrix Photography v. LiveJournal, as explained by Corynne McSherry at Electronic Frontier Foundation, link.  

The problem is that the plaintiff sued anyway, bypassing waiting for a takedown under DMCA Dafe Harbor, on the “theory” that the site moderated the content but did so inadequately.

And unfortunately the Ninth Circuit, usually favorable to free speech, is letting it go to trial.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Supreme Court takes up expansion of Internet sales tax

On Tuesday,  April 17, 2018, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on litigation brought by the State of South Dakota on whether the a state can collect sales taxes from residents buying online from out of state retailers where retailers don’t have a physical presence in the state.
The NBC News story by Peter Williams is here.

Very much as the case with legislation that has been proposed, the measure could make compliance much more costly for small businesses.

Businesses normally register to collect sales taxes only in the states that they operate. But conceivably a system could be developed to route payments among states, and could be offered by hosting providers along with payment portals to businesses.  Automatic transfer of payments is common;  I worked on mainframe systems that could do that back in the 1990s when I was “working”.

Update: April 17

Here is the transcript of the oral arguments today.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Brass musician explores the copyright and monetization issues on YouTube when making transcriptions

Peter Opaskar plays the tuba and like to make transcriptions of music for the tuba.  He has devised a sophisticated technique of recording separate sessions of himself and superimposing them, and idea I have recently considered for the close of my own third Sonata (to be discussed in more detail later on a Wordpress blog). 

But his article in Ars Technica is important because it shows the tricky problems in trying to monetize on YouTube.  At one time he was not allowed to run ads because his transcriptions were considered copyright infringement.  Later, YouTube changed its mind on the maskup issue, especially after some songwriters indicated they had no objections (sometimes royalties had to be shared).

But then the composer/transcriber/performer found that YouTube had a new rule:  you couldn’t monetize until you had a minimum number of unique visitors and visits.
In classical music, transcriptions are sometimes regarded as legitimate separate compositions (this is most common with variation sets, or with prelude-and-fugue on a theme, often of Bach).  Some composers have said that all composition involves some copying (rather like my statement in a high school chemistry class that all learning is memorizing – in organic chemistry, maybe it is). 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Democrats blame Zuck, Facebook for their own past laziness

Daniel Henninger puts the most convincing spin yet on Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony.  That is to say, it wasn’t Mark’s job to catch Russian bots, it was Obama’s.  Hillary Clinton didn’t lose the election because of Facebook, or because of the Comey letter;  she lost because she ran a complacent campaign and had behaved badly herself, at least in terms of showing the technical competence to run things now. And, of course, there is the Electoral College problem. 
Of course, Trump isn’t competent either;  and both parties now have problems attracting the right kind of talent to run for public office.  That’s a systematic failure.  You can imagine people a lot more capable of actually doing the job of being president:  Chris Cuomo, Anderson Cooper, both journalists and both rather geeky.  David Hogg turned 18 today, and he talks like he really wants to do public service.  17 years too young.  The irony is one wonders how Mark Zuckerberg would function in office.  Asperger’s syndrome in the White House?  You can imagine some business executives a lot more suited than Trump – Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran (both on Shark Tank), and Tim Cook.  Suddenly the idea of LGBT candidates comes up, maybe even trans (who knows national security better than Kristin Beck?)
Seriously, we really do have a problem.  Raising money for candidates seems pimpy and unwelcome.  But that’s part of our own cultural divide, the enemies can exploit.  Maybe we have to get over that. 
Of course we have to take into account Cambridge's claim that the data wasn't used for the election -- and now there is speculation about a possible paid version of Facebook. 
There is a conceptual problem with the way we have leveraged user-generated content, offered by speakers who (like me) want to be noticed and be seen as “influencers” without going through the grime of partisanship.  We sensed some of this back around 2005 when there was a flap over the idea that bloggers could be unintentionally making de facto campaign contributions with free content (not paying its own way the way normally published material did).  Since vanity publishing had not become a practicable vehicle for self-expression until the late 90s, there is a certain gratuitousness to it – apart from its challenge to working with others in a spirit of shared partisanship (or “solidarity”).  That alone sets up the possibility of combining truly hacked information (like from Equifax) on the dark web with provocative speech to target identifiable individuals – taking what the Russians did with groups (pitting them against each other) to a new, more dangerous level.  But a lot of this had been going on before Cambridge made its heist.  This sounds like a profound problem in the way we conduct our “politics” and it relates to our personal morals, our personal stake in other people.  
April 13:   I had a conversation today indicating that Aleksandr Kogan was the main conduit for misuse of Cambridge data, based on one personality survey he had put on Facebook

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Tribal societies expect men to sacrifice themselves for women and children

Suzanne Fields, who has a syndicated column in the conservative paper “The Washington Times”, has a rather old-fashioned column about cis masculinity, “A Good Man Is Still Hard to Find”.   

There is an interesting quote from Sebastian Junger, which may be a little out of context (although Junger’s “The Tribe” says some of these things).

Suzanne lays it on the line when she quotes Joyce Benson’s definition of a man, as someone you can depend on in dealing with an enemy.  Men by definition have to allow themselves to become fungible within the tribe.  She means that four of the men who died in the Aurora shooting died shielding women.

To say the least, some of us have trouble dealing with this being expected when we grow up.  But that’s how it was in the days we had a male-only draft.
George Gilder had indulged in this kind of thinking in his book “Men and Marriage” (1986), which had rewritten “Sexual Suicide” (1973).

Now we see the idea coming back in debates on what we now expect of teachers.  But laying your self on the line has crossed tribal and familial lines in modern society.  Look at the openness to offer organ donations online, something not possible when I was growing up.
 Another good piece to look at is "The Anthropology of Manhood" by Sebastian Junger (March 2018) in National Review. 

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Internet "surveillance capitalism" business models in real trouble; DHS wants to monitor "media influencers" (like me?)

Back in January, HuffPost had already run a big story on why the “surveillance capitalism” business model of both Google and Facebook is in trouble, by Paul Blumenthal.    There are new rules called the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, set to go into effect in May.  And we all know the “national security” threat of Russian meddling – and the controversies of the Internet and campaign finance that date back to the early 2000’s and were forgotten.

Pondering what I wrote yesterday – I can counter-ponder:  Hillary Clinton lost the election because she ran the campaign poorly, and because of the Electoral College, not just because of the “Russians”.   And users do know that the content they are fed is based on their past activity, especially likes and commenting activity (“Likenomics”). True, it drove them into bubbles.  But users should know that if they kept on liking birtherism, that’s what they’ll see in their news feeds.
All of this matters as Congress is surely going to consider restricting the use of CDA230 (Section 230) to protect social networking sites that manipulate what users see.

On the other hand, hosting providers don’t do that.  They just serve up what a user goes to (the user has paid for the domain name and hosting service, or could have provided his own).  The same with blogging platforms.

Robert Kuttner weighs in further with a more recent article on How to Regulate Facebook.
There is also a story, by Michelle Fabio of Forbes, that the Department of Homeland Security wants to maintain a database if journalists and “media influencers”.  Maybe that includes me!!   Count me in.  I was willing to allow my likenomics to be sold in order to have influence (and escape having to be loyal to other groups to be heard).   Beyond what has happened already, when this gets matched up with data on the dark web from other hacks, I could imagine how this could lead to new kinds of personal intimidation and terrorism by foreign influences even in the US, not just by the government.   Hasn’t really happened yet.
Look at the Fibbies page on Media Monitoring Services.  

Friday, April 06, 2018

The bad karma of free content -- and how it feeds the new cultural wars begging for authoritarianism

Once again, we ponder one big problem with user-generated content from gratuitous speakers like me – karma. That is, using a "free" (more or less) platform that could not exist if it couldn't allow bad behavior of others.  This gets down to personalizing the question, "Am I my brother's keeper?"  We could wind up telling speakers that they must be so, or else they become thieves.  Yup, it sounds a little Commie, even if it comes from the far right as well as the left. 
No, I don’t spam, recruit people, or gather user information, or traffic anything, display porn (I do get into PG-13 territory), and so on.  I also don’t support specific candidates in elections – which is both good and bad.  I am not very partisan and not tribalist.  I try to use reputable sources.    On something like the gun debate, there really are two sides – and the opposing camps serve different positions in life on this planet. So what I try to do is remind visitors of the nuances on so many interrelated policy questions (even if this all started with “don’t ask don’t tell” two decades ago).  With some issues, like DADT, my approach has been influential. With some others, maybe I'm "in the way". 
And I am able to do this without joining anyone else’s “intersectional” movement and screaming (with "solidarity") in a crowd about oppression (particularly without carrying somebody else's picket signs).  In my case, such claims for myself would make no real sense.
What’s bad is that I depend on an Internet (including social media and Facebook) infrastructure that needs a business model to pay its way, and that business model could not exist without some actors doing bad things.  So we’ve needed Section 230 to protect providers from downstream liability, because there is no way from them to tell bad from innocuous prospectively.  Furthermore, the most recent news stories on the Facebook scandal suggest that these platforms could not pay their own way without the “bad actors” using them and driving ad revenue (and share prices).
I remember Donald Trump’s December 8, 2015 (post here) proposals to “shut down those tubes” and even Hillary Clinton hinted at that, to curb the gratuitousness that has led, for example, to so much cyberbullying, trafficking (FOSTA), terrorist recruiting and instructions on how to build weapons (which are out there in print anyway). 
Then Trump (despite his distrust of computers and now his hatred of Amazon) went the other direction, using Twitter to announce his policies (like the half-transgender ban in the military) and his grievance against his own version of the improperly privileged. He seems to have much more gripe against established media companies (except Fox, and now OANN and Sinclair which are getting more prominent)  than individualistic and perhaps libertarian oriented speakers (me, even Milo). 
Could the “bad karma” lead to some kind of edict shutting us all down?  We can imagine that war happens first – a nuclear blast (or more than one) somewhere from North Korea, or an EMP level one attack that might shut down tech companies unless they had caged their data (there is some evidence they are doing just that, not talked about much).
As a Milo-Dangerous thought experiment, we can imagine that no free content is allowed:  everything that is available to the entire public has to pay its own way.  Free blogs (like this one) are gone.  Of course, you can say, you can pay for hosting.  Or you can pay to self-publish a book.  But even that goes.  Anything out there has to meet a real “need” or “want” that a consumer will pay for. That could mean that even a self-paid book has to sell minimum volume or it is speaker is shuttered, maybe forever.  Then at least you solve the karma problem of the business models.  Milo has recently made most of his content paid subscription, which I first thought was curious, but could that be his point?  I can think of a lot of obvious problems with this idea – starting with porn (when Congress has just cracked down on supporting sex trafficking and prostitution, remember?)

Of course, spontaneous user-generated content backs up a free press (the Fifth Estate backs up the Fourth) and is a check on authoritarianism.  It’s a little harder for potential dictators to get away with things.  On the other hand, hyperindividualsim can, if challenged, lead to a reaction that causes a desire for authoritarianism and “rules consistency” to bubble up from the bottom, and lead back to fascism.
I do wonder if we’re entering a war on introverts and sophists (certainly schizoids and aspie-types -- and all the Rosenfels "subjective feminines").  The simple idea of “personal responsibility” that libertarians articulated so well late in the Clinton years (until 9/11) has become layered.  Now, your immediate community as a whole means something, which is a way to giving less competitive (and more tribally minded) people in that community more meaning.  That means everyone has to lean to take care of their own first – including the childless  - everybody must "belong" to some group.  [Right off the bat, I wonder about the incredible generosity to strangers I do see online, like the willingness to undergo intrusive organ donation procedures, an idea unthinkable in the more closed culture that I grew up in.] You see that in the talk of “demographic winter” and in authoritarian leaders’ (like Putin’s) idea that the gay community is discouraging other people from procreating.  We may well be heading toward a culture where you are not heard from until you have your own skin in the game – like having your own children first.  
What seems so shocking is that a lot of people around the world want this kind of culture back. But it  isn’t as surprising as we think.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Facebook drastically narrows its privacy policies for app developers, after count of compromised accounts rises to 87000

Facebook has announced major changes in its policies with regard to the ability of developer apps to access user and especially Friends’ data, with its own news story link here.  Techcrunch has a nice summary.  CNBC reports here
I have often been queasy about announcing (with checkin) that I would attend certain events, particularly when I was living alone in a detached house.  There are situations where I would prefer not for it to be known in advance on who will come.
Facebook has raised the estimate of the number of people whose personal information was impropertly shared with Cambridge up to 87 million, from 50 million.

The new changes will perhaps make account recovery more difficult, especially in countries with certain personal naming language conventions (mostly in Asia).

Facebook has also announced some restrictions on its own subsidiary, Instagram (the marketeer's dream),  My own doesn't work in Chrome on Windows right now. 
Mark Zuckerberg will testify before Congress on Wednesday, April 11, 2018.  He has announced certain changes requiring verification of some users already, story

Friday, March 30, 2018

Music Modernization Act might actually help some wannabe music creators

In a post that could be correlated with my music and drama blog, I wanted to mention new legislation contemplated in Congress, a Music Modernization Act (HR 4706) to create a more robust and responsive system to compensate songwriters, composers and music publishers when the composers’ works are played on digital services like YouTube. 

Mitch Stolz of Electronic Frontier Foundation explains the act in a post here. The article does have some reservations in that the bill may favor establishe music publishers and distributors as opposed to self-published artists.   The article also mentions some other legislation that could politicize copyright in the direction of work an administration favors.
The article is critical of the bill’s picking winners with a Classics act, that strengthens copyright for recordings made before 1972 (when I was engaged in my own vinyl record collecting).

Monday, March 26, 2018

Multiple public safety and systemic security problems -- and foreign misuse -- threaten the environment that enables user-generated content; is "gratuitous speech" a problem? It's not just Backpage

This Monday morning, I give myself a pep-talk, maybe like the song “Soliloquy” in the musical “Carousel.” (Movies blog, Dec.. 30, 2016). 
I ask myself, what do I have to “sell” to real people, whose needs or wants are met if they pay for it  The endgame (rather like pawn promotion) comprises two or three major elements.  One is a couple of big music pieces of mine, the two large sonatas, with some smaller component miniatures – because they are post-romantic and address certain compositional problems, I think they could get an audience, if I could complete producing them technically (with some assistance). They could be real crowd pleasers.  Yup, I can fantasize about Poisson Rouge or 930 Club.  But they would go outside the usual loop of how works are commissioned (to give composers income) and that’s a problem right off the bat. 

Another component is the novel, “Angel’s Brother”, which I have finally started the charting off (to find any loose ends).  And the layered screenplay “Epiphany” of my three books as backstories to a sci-fi plot on a space station, with an outer plot setup that loosely resembles “Crypto” (which I supported and which is due this summer). Both pieces give an original take on "are we alone?" and answer "who are the angels?"' but by today's standards of intersectional political correctness may see, too elitist and exclusionary.  There isn't room for everybody on the ark, after all.

dSo, you ask, why do I keep blogging the news?  I have long seen that as a way to become known (and I think it has worked), as an alternate path to success since I missed out on the more usual opportunities from the music or film establishments.  But of course, that’s dicey.  We don’t want to see the world as a zero-sum game, but of course for new actors to succeed, the established companies and celebrities have to risk distraction from newbies with lower costs.

But I think I have established value as an independent commentator (quasi journalist), as I keep covering potential existential problems that the mainstream media sleeps on (for example, EMP) –  possible real threats that are no less real just because only conservative media pays attention to them. 

Succeeding will require a lot of focus and self-discipline on my part. It means a lot more travel, and not postponing trips that I know I need to get done, just because there is another demonstration in town. (That means staying connected when on the road, despite issues with the TSA and airline reliability.)  It is also, quite frankly, to function as another group’s “volunteer” or particularly to join in “action” with the supervision of other groups and their branding.  Making time for that was always a problem in the past when I was working in a conventional job full time, often with unpaid overtime;  it seems to have gotten harder now.

Such is part of the problem with various plans to regulate who can be heard on the Internet.  The threats are many.  Most recently, the Backpage scandal (the first major erosion of Section 230 or #CDA230), resulting in FOSTA (especially the March 19 post).  Others include net neutrality repeal (probably overhyped), but especially the “scandals” over mass abuse of our social media (especially Facebook recently) by foreign interests  In some cases, even local situations (like zoning or condo bylaws) could have the potential to be disruptive.  I spend a lot of time “watching my back” and this interferes with “getting done” – so that there really is more time for “others”.  "Doing the work" is one thing, but the idea of whether a self-deployment plan remains permissible is another. 

Yesterday, I put up review of a working session on free speech and the First Amendment at UVa and the Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville (same blog as noted) with Nadine Strossen and John Whitehead. One idea that kept coming out was subject matter independence and viewpoint neutrality, as buttressed in what may be said and disseminated in the public square.  In fact, Strossen wants Facebook and social media sites to become neutral again in what they pipe to their users – although that could wreck their advertising business models. 

But the other problem seems to be the way the public views the connection between content and the identity and apparent purposes of the speaker.  This idea has much less legal traction (in the COPA trial in 2007 in Philadelphia, the concept was called “implicit content”) than other better known ideas in tort and statutory law, but it does seem to appeal to populists.  The most obvious current example, for example, is that neo-Nazis should not be allowed to speak at all. (Hence, the Twitter Purge in December.)  But I am finding a much more subtle problem, the idea that individuals should not be allowed the floor unless they have a socially favorable purpose.  I could call this the "Pharisee Problem";  I’ve covered this before, in my DADT III book in February 2014 (the subtitle “Speech is a Fundamental Right; Being Listened to Is a Privilege”), and in other essays (“The Privilege of Being Listened to, back in 2005, which figured into that substitute teaching scandal I have talked about).  In fact, it seems that right after publication of DADT-III, the world seemed to take big turns overseas (with Russia, ISIS, and the BLM demonstrations at home), undermining Obama’s presidency and helping set up a “whitelash” that could allow Trump to win, after foreign elements continued to divide Americans, taking advantage of the aloofness of elites like me to what was really going on in the world of “street smarts”. (And, by the way, isn’t it chilling, in retrospect, what the Russian 2013 anti-gay law foreshadowed?)

The most glaring objection to my own style of speech is that it is “gratuitous”.  It doesn’t pay its own way and meet the needs of real people as customers.  Instead, it expects to be found passively from search engines and word of mouth (it often is, and this idea really worked well in the 1998-2003 time period) and affect policy and conceivable in some cases elections.  To some extent (most of all on the “gays in the military” issue and how I argued it, referring to military conscription in the past) it really worked.  It takes a great amount of work to maintain the blogs and content, as well as “watching my back”.  Of course, this is all “in retirement” (at age 74), rather like “in relief” (from the bullpen) in baseball, perhaps. 

Arguably, I could be “expected” to use my resources in retirement in collectively defined goals for others – volunteering (as supervised by others) and taking sides and joining groups for specific causes (the recent March for our Lives, however spectacular and compelling, is just still “one” issue that would take capital away from others).  I also know the argument, if I had kids (that is, previous intercourse with women – sorry, Stormy Daniels, I wouldn’t have been interested!) I would have more of my own “skin in the game” to take sides. (Look at the comment to  libertarian writer Timothy B. Lee here, it seems relevant.)  Yup, keeping my own “brand” separate from others could mean that other activist groups are weaker than they might otherwise be.  I am the low cost competition that the “Hollywood” of activism sees as a problem, disruptive to solidarity, even “counter-revolutionary”.  Yup, I see shades of Marxism in some of the bombastic “donate” and “take action” emails that I get, some of them sounding threatening, that I will be personally silenced soon.  (The emails from “Truth-out”, even though their articles are often provocative, are among the most offensive.)   Sometimes I get the impression a few people think that “I” am “the Russians”! . 
So, we come down to the idea that you could make the world “safer” and force more attention real-world help for the disadvantaged, if you limited the floor to speakers on the Internet.  Thought experiments and speculations abound.  But one “obvious” idea is requiring strict vetting of anyone before they have a social media account, or even their own domain name.  That could mean requiring not only identification the way banks do (and that is not absolutely foolproof, as we know, from identity theft scams), and possibly hefty personal liability insurance (see posting March 23).  That would shut me down, of course, and shut me up, and force me to “join up” and “enlist” (and “resist”) – although you might not like which side I choose.  In fact, the mechanisms to do and enforce anything like this are not very well set up (as I have covered on previous posts), fortunately.  And it’s pretty obvious that such a measure would destroy the value of many tech companies, as Wall Street sees them, and destroy a lot of tech jobs.  Many companies would indeed fold and disappear, inasmuch as they would no longer have workable business models.  This may sound like going back to the world of the early 90s and before, when self-distribution was not possible for most people.  It was a world where the well-established interests could keep out the newbies and force individuals to “rightsize” themselves by their rules (which labor unions and guilds loved).  This sounds a lot like China or perhaps Singapore today.  You can’t say, however, that an economy where individuals have less sway and are forced into enlistment can’t work.  Look at China’s success and disdain for western free speech.
But the challenges to the world of spontaneous speech as we know it are mounting (Facebook’s[not Backpage or Net Neutrality] strikes me as the most serious), and the real debate is more about who the speakers are than what the content is.  The permissive “Wild West” atmosphere has indeed allowed many bad actors to jeopardize the safety of the less well-off, and like it or not, that has become bad karma for the rest of us, including me. It's certainly possible to say that the idea that everyone of us can get recognition for our own "TV stations" and therefore need not share the goals of others in some kind of structure could turn out to be a grand illusion. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

YouTube expands ban on weapons material to include demos; may be to forestall more weakening on CDA230; seems motivated by Parkland and expanding gun debate

YouTube is jumping ahead on future downstream liability problems, and probably also on its relations to advertisers, by announcing it will tighten its ban on some material regarding weapons, especially sales and demonstrations of assembly.  Niraj Chokshi has a detailed story on p. B2 of the New York Times on Friday, March 23.  The Washington Post has a similar story by Allison Chiu.   Bloomberg was even more explicit that the new policy will ban demonstrations on how to build weapons.   It would be common sense to presume this includes other weapons like pressure cooker bombs (as in the Boston Marathon or possibly Austin incidents)
The policies will go into effect in early April.  Here is YouTube’s own TOS text. Note that YouTube bans links to such sites (selling or demonstrating firearms).
YouTube has long attracted criticism for censoring (or taking from advertisers) some content of a sexual nature, for example.  I thought we might see a statement by now from the company regarding FOSTA but it probably believes that its controls in place are already in compliance.

In February 2015, Blogger had announced a policy banning sexually explicit images (and probably embedded videos) on its site. See my February 25, 2015 post.  Due to protests, Blogger withdrew the policy, that had been intended to go into effect in late March 2015.  Yet, during that waiting time, I had removed some embeds that required adult verification (by sign-on to a Google account), for which there were not very many. I have not added any more such embeds since then and have acted as if the policy were in place. 

I am a bit concerned about any policy banning hyperlinks.  I have made a lot of small videos on YouTube (and larger ones on Vimeo) but certainly nothing that violates these policies.  I presume the links policy could be applied to Blogger.  I don’t recall any such hyperlinks over the years, but there is no way to be sure, retrospectively.  There is a real issue with “meta-speech” – journalistic content intended to make the public aware of a particular underreported hazard.  Some persons could interpret such speech, especially from an “amateur” or non-established press sources, as “gratuitous” and intended to incite less intact individuals.  One of my blogs (the “cf” blogs) focuses on unusual threats to public safety, including, for example, EMP weapons, which are not often discusses and, contrary to a lot of impression, do not have to be nuclear.  Popular Mechanics had reported on these ironically just before 9/11, and then the topic was conveniently “forgotten”, except by some conservative sources (like the Washington Time in 2009).  There is plenty of material on YouTube on how to protect electronics from such weapons – which should not be confused with promoting or building such weapons – and I have indeed linked to some of this material on defending your own property against an unusual terror incident.  So far this has not happened – but it is vigilance from the media that can help prevent it.  YouTube bans on weapons material could harm keeping the public properly informed on how to protect itself.

There are speculative claims that YouTube will ban movie trailers that show gun activity, as well as video game trailers that do the same.  The latter is rather silly, as a lot of video games are animated and don’t present real life threat.  (See my movie review March 17 of the short film “Hecarim” which Reid Ewing provided:  technically excellent, and by no means real world.  Could this kind of material be banned?  Ridiculous.) 

YouTube, as may other platforms soon, seems to be taking action its own to send a message to Congress that it does not need to weaken Section 230 (or “CDA230”) protections on other public health and safety (and perhaps terror) hazards, beside sex trafficking – the most obvious right now being guns.  It may also be comforting advertisers, but many videos have no ads.  Mine don’t – you have to reach a certain unduplicated volume of users to be allowed to show ads anyway.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Craigslist and Reddit react to FOSTA; could some sort of mandatory reinsurance or bonding of speakers be coming to tech companies and users?

The first signs of reaction from the whole tech community to the quick passage of FOSTA/SESTA Wednesday during a snowstorm, and while the media was distracted by Facebook, came this morning when Craigslist told users it was eliminating personals. 
Craigslist was quite blunt that it saw the law as an existential threat to its type of business. 
Likewise Reddit eliminated some subreddits, including some related to weapons (not directly to prostitution) on the theory that SESTA-like laws regarding guns or weapons manufacture are coming down the pike.
 Ars Technica reports here (Cyrus Darivar).  The Verge (Vox), in a story by Thuy Ong, notes that some kinds of flirts were eliminated by Craigslist, including missed connections and glances, which are somewhat common on print gay papers.  I have certainly had “glances” on the Metro  (one in Sept. 2014 comes to mind particularly), but would never really want to follow up online.   Esquire also sums up the CDA230 problem.
I’ve also noted in the recent fallout from Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, that the media discussion has been attacking Facebook’s practice of financially leveraging not only user information (likes, etc) for ads and “research”, but also the content itself.  The combination of new pressures on Section 230, DMCA (a few years after the SOPA battle), and the most of all, the idea that the Internet is flooded with spammy or fake “self-published” content, often generated by foreign bots, and often targeting less educated user groups, raises the idea of wanting regulate or hinder self-publishing as a whole.  Certainly the business models that have facilitated it for twenty years could become unsustainable under these pressures.  (CNN used the derogatory phrase of some bloggers “punching above their weight”, as if CNN itself were worried about a lower cost competition  -- Monday’s “Hollywood” post.)
The sex trafficking problem sounds relatively easy to isolate, certainly in the minds of those in Congress who voted for it overwhelmingly.  But surely a lot of other problems, especially having to do with terrorism and weapons (as Reddit and Youtube already expect), will come under similar attention in the next year.  In general, it will be much risker, in terms of downstream liability risk, for any but the largest businesses to host user-generated content in the future than it has been, and with ad revenue getting difficult (and with the new chaos over data “breaches” as with Facebook), it will be much harder for business models to support them.  We should not overlook that in this mix there are also some rather come arcane legal concerns over election campaigns and “indirect” donations by bloggers that had surfaced back around 2005 and have since been forgotten – here the lack of transparency of how content, even like mine, is paid for behind the scenes when it seems “free” to users could become legally important . Imagine if every blog had to provide a public CPA statement.
One could look to the insurance industry (with my twelve years in it) for ideas.  Reinsurance has been suggested (as by Susan Collins) as a way to fix the problems with Obamacare (or even replacing it).  A reinsurance idea could be proposed for tech liability, I suppose.  As I joked on Twitter today, I may sound like Jonathan Swift in making such a “modest proposal”, only to see somebody introducing it in Congress soon.  A corollary idea, particularly “Dangerous” (to borrow Milo Yionnapoulos’s trademark) would be to require speakers to have their own insurance or be bonded somehow.  (AUP’s of many hosting providers require indemnification by customers, but this has hardly ever been enforced.)  This follows on to a blog post here March 16, which referred to some commentary on Reason by “the Volokh Conspiracy” essentially on umbrella insurance today.  The insurance business is not set up very well to underwrite this kind of risk properly right now, and I think it has been approached in the property-casualty world carelessly with little attention to how the Internet works (familiar?)  There have been sporadic attempts to provide bloggers effective insurance, by NWU back in 2001, and then again in 2008 (ironically, just before the financial crisis), but as far as I know this has not worked very well.  But the idea sounds bound to come back again now. 

Update:  March 24

Rolling Stone reports on the effect of FOSTA on sex workers.   The site Cityvibe was suddenly closed, as I verified. You get the impression of just how politically motivated this legislation is. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Senate passes FOSTA as is; CDA230 erosion begins; unclear how tech platforms will react at first

At mid afternoon today, the Senate passed the FOSTA-SESTA bill presented here, without alteration, 97-2, despite passionate floor remarks from Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR). Here’s a typical story on “The Hill” by Harper Neidig.  Congress seems unconcerned about the “frivolous lawsuit” problem.  One of the biggest problems for any provider content moderation (especially without Wyden's amendment) would be "meta-speech" where filters cannot detect whether speech is "about" prostitution or actually trying to sell it. It's also not clear if "websites" are handled differently from social media platforms or hosting providers. 

The passage occurred on a snowy day when reporters were distracted by Facebook’s problems with Cambridge-Analytica, and with Mark Zuckerberg’s later (linked earlier today) and interview on CNN tonight.  Actually, the problems are interrelated.  I’d love to hear CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin talk about the Backpage problems and their contagion, in addition to Zuckerberg, Trump, Putin, and Stormy Daniels.  And, by the way, despite the “#DeleteFacebook” movement, I haven’t lost any “friends” today yet. '

The combination of erosion of downstream liability protections and questions about misuse of user data will create serious sustainability business model problems for many tech platforms. 


Here is my own policy statement on what actions I am taking now with comments on my sites. 

Update: April 13  

Trump has officially signed FOSTA (as of April 11).   I thought it had already been signed in late March.  So we may not yet know how all providers will react.  Elliot Harmon writes on EFF that Section 230 does not require platforms to be neutral (in response to some of the questions at the Zuckerberg hearings). 

Google News and its journalistic standards; Mark Zuckerberg makes a statement just now

I recently ran across the Google News Initiative, “Elevating quality journalism on theopen web” article. 
I also wasn’t aware that publishers could submit their work to Google News for consideration, as here

It would be hard to say whether they could normally consider only established news outlets.  They might prefer local news outlets. 

As a blogger, I generally try to connect the dots between different stories and issues, and indicate significance beyond the hard facts.

But I have also tried to emphasize reporting on events where I was present and was an eyewitness.  
These may be events I have gone to, but sometimes I may stumble onto them, as in New York City in September 2016 right after the attempted bombing on 23rd Street.  I missed being injured by that blast by about two hours as I had walked past it that evening.  One or two photos of mine appeared on evening news broadcasts in DC. 

It’s interesting to wonder if news standards would affect how stories are indexed in the search engine.  

CNBC was the first to break Mark Zuckerberg’s statement on Cambridge Analytica, just now, here. This is definitely reputable news. Zuckerberg will appear on CNN tonight. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Senator Wyden's amendment may limit FOSTA-SESTA and slow passage; WSJ expects Section 230 will get gutted on other politically sensitive issues

Senator Ron Wyden, D-OR, has introduced an amendment to FOSTA-SESTA which would relieve the “moderator’s paradox” built within the legislation, providing that reasonable attempts at moderation by a host do not necessarily mean that the provider should have known or detected sex trafficking.  John Samples of the Cato Institute explained this in a blog posting Monday March 18 here.  Samples refers to a detailed Techdirt article by Mike Masnick on Techdirt here. 
The wording of the amendment would say:

“The fact that  provider or user of an interactive computer service has undertaken any efforts (including monitoring and filtering) to identify, restrict access to, or remove material the provider or user considers objectionable shall not be considered in determining the criminal and civil liability of the provider or user for ny material that the provider or user has not removed or restricted access to.”

Note that “provider” and “user” are mentioned interchangeably. It’s not clear whether a web hosting service falls within the idea of “interactive” computer service because the hosting activity is more removed from “interaction” than is, say, social media.

Samples had earlier published a dire article, “The Death of an Open Internet”, Feb 27 here  in which he referred to a long analysis by Eric Goldman. 
Earlier Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal had “connected the dots” in an editorial  (“Facebook joins the club; Big tech is learning what it is like to deal with political risk”)  predicting the passage of SESTA this week and predicting much more similar legislation.  WSJ predicts synergy from Trump and 2018-elected Democrats in Congress in pouncing on liability exemption and socializing risk.
However, it appears that this editorial was written before knowledge of the Wyden amendment, which could slow down passage and cause one more round in the House.
Intuitively, it seems hard to see how Section 230 could protect Facebook if it deliberately manipulates which news items (among friends) users are most likely to see.  YouTube does a little of this by showing previews based on past behavior;  part of the question though would reside in whether algorithms really were "neutral" and considered only your own habits.  Independent blogs, on the other hand, simply display the same thing to everyone.  That's like saying a book author has no right to control who buys his book.
Indeed, the personal scuttlebutt that I deal with (as a visible blogger) all the time is pleading to join collective speech of others (even “intersectional” activism) and become much more personally involved with others in ways that would not have been welcome in decades past.