Sunday, February 28, 2016

Forner CIA and NSA official makes case for Apple's argument, that a "hidden door" for even one FBI case can make us all less safe

Michael Hayden, former NSA and CIA director, and Bill Gates, guru of Microsoft and worldwide philanthropy, spoke today on Fareed Zakaria GPS about the Apple-FBI case, with mixed results (podcast link here )

Hayden argues that the government’s making Apple write special software to essentially jailbreak an unbreakable phone’s encryption can make the public less safe against foreign cyber terror in the long run (especially to components like the power grids), no matter how careful the government thinks it can be in securing the decryption method.  One reasons is that people will buy un-decryptable phones from overseas anyway, and it won’t be politically acceptable to make their possession illegal.

Part of Hayden’s thinking is that cyberterror has become the biggest threat – subjunctively speaking. I somewhat disagree.  I think that in the end physical WMD, especially EMP, are the most dangerous.
 It’s possible to communicate in ways that are almost undetectable – all the way back to the use of couriers in the early 2000s.  It would be possible to “communicate” through steganography attacking ordinary amateur websites (an idea sure to occur to Donald Trump eventually if he wants to take down those tubes), something feared right after 9/11 but not really reported yet.  But if an enemy is determined enough, untraceable communication can always be imagined, so that gives some weight to Hayden’s remarks.

USA Today has an account of Hayden’s views here  and Hayden’s new book is “Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror”.

Bill Gates is right on the edge with this issue, as reported by “The Verge”, saying he was at first misinterpreted, here.
Update: March 1

Mark Cuban writes that there is no way the decryption code could be kept absolutely secret here.  But Maybe there could be an intermediate key piece that says behind the NSA?

Update: March 3

CNN has explained that the proposed software would merely disable the feature that wipes out the iPhone's contents after 10 failed logon attempts.  But the software would not be put on the phone; it would be warehoused in a "Cheyenne Mountain". 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Trump wants to "open up our libel laws to sue media"

Today Donald Trump said, in Texas, “We’re going to open up libel laws to sue media”, a banner that CNN ran for a while. Trump throws around a lot of accusations himself, although the term "Little Rubio" is not libel.
I’m not sure exactly what accusations he refers to (maybe those about his “University” or income tax returns).  But it’s not hard to imagine that this could morph into a threat to Section 230. One theory would be that user-generated content doesn’t account for itself, and that only speech that pays its own way should stay out there.  I know some people in the traditional media world feel that way.  Remember, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have proposed "shutting down those tubes" (ordinary amateur Internet use) as a security measure if necessary in war, to stop terror threats (Dec. 8 and 16, 2015).

Over time, big social media (Facebook) have earned most of the ad revenue from UCG, as direct ad revenue for bloggers has tended to diminish as blogs become less visible in comparison to the big social media companies.

Another question is whether small speakers should be held to the same legal standard for libel. Technically, they are, and that fact has stimulated trolling sometimes.  Many people think incorrectly that only big media companies have defamation liability, and we know that isn’t true, from, for example, the lawsuits over “bad reviews”.

Update: Feb. 28

On Sunday, CNN commentators pointed out that Trump's comment was largely based on a New York Times article (by Susanne Craig and David W. Chen) that belittled his influence in NYC, and that Trump, as a public figure, would have to show willful malice or knowledge of falsehood to prevail in court, according to a 50-year-old Supreme Court decision. So Trump may want to lower the standard for showing defamation of a public figure.  What about the "Opinion Rule"?

Friday, February 26, 2016

University of Missouri professor fired, in part because of interfering with lawful journalism at a protest, an irony

Assistant communications professor Melissa Click at the University of Missouri has been terminated according to news reports, such as this one in the Columbia Tribune.   A factor in her termination was her attempting to order journalists out of a public space on the campus during a protest related to race.

Mark Schierbecker shoots the incident with Concerned Student 1950

Schierbecker discusses her “apology” further here.   

Some activists have wanted “media free zones” even in publicly owned spaces.   In practice, I’ve noticed in the past that some activists in the “Occupy” movement get angry if I photograph them but don’t “join in”.

Schierbecker has a picture link on Twitter showing objection to his journalism from others.  The tone of the text embedded in the picture is angry and shocking.  The activists see this as an "us v. them" combative event to which people either join in or stay out. 
Private property owners can ban journalists from private gatherings, of course.

But, for example,  in the distant past the presence of journalists at gay pride events has been a source of real concern, as people could get fired.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from UM campus by Adam Proctor, CCSA 3.0 license.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Yelp! employee gets fired for viral post to her CEO about low wages

Yelp! apparently fired a customer service associate, Talia Jane (pseudonym), in San Francisco for an “open letter” on Medium dealing with the difficulty of living there on her low wage.

Vox describes the incident in a story by Tora Golshan, here.

The post on Medium is addressed “Dear Jeremy” and titled “an Open Letter to my CEO”

Reaction by others, as Vox notes, is mixed.  But Business Insider reports a “Letter to the Editor” by EEE Stevenson who writes “Competent, hardworking millennials getting shafted by older employees who feel they deserve bigger salaries” and who notes she doesn’t wish that others should have to prostrate themselves in the workplace as she did.

,=,br /> So, you complain about your employer in public social media, you get shafted.  I’ve dealt with my own version of the “conflict of interest” problem in the media.  Well, this associate took it a step further, writing to her boss this way.  And it’s ironic that the employer is well known for hosting reviews that get the posters sued (but not Yelp itself, which is protected by Section 230).
Companies like Yelp though can look into operating in lower cost states around, like Utah or Arizona, to get around the cost of living problems for associates.  But libertarians (Mary Ruwart) are correctly pointing out that zoning laws, supported by rentier and crony capitalists, prevent new competitive lower-cost housing from being built in expensive low-land cities, resulting in unacceptable rents for lower-wage workers.  (That’s not Yelp’s fault.) But look at how it is in China, where millennial assembly line workers (to make the products we buy more cheaply) live in dorms.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why don't some media projects (mine included) get more heavy sales promotion?

Some parties wonder why I am not more “aggressive” about selling my books with their “Do Ask Do Tell” series name and “brand”.  And similarly, there are several media projects that other people have why I wonder why they aren’t farther off the ground, Wright Brothers style.

The nature of my own narratives makes it harder to “sell” in a conventional sense.  My own life runs a long a cliff (or maybe low pressure trough) of moral enigmas.  I could say it’s hard to sell what used to be viewed as physical or emotional “cowardice”, even if it focuses away from the usual idea of being responsible just for one’s own personal choices.  This is not something you can fill a hotel ballroom with for a weekend seminar, like an Amway event or a spiritual crusade.  Yet I sometimes get rather rude calls asking why I won’t push this.

With several other projects around the country or even entire world with some logical connection to me, I do wonder sometimes why they haven’t moved further off load point.  I have varying degrees of knowledge of the particular circumstances in each case, along with abilities to make useful contacts or arrange meetings among people of some common interest (playing agent).

There are cases where people produce media and video, some of it very compelling, which gets shown to “the choir”, to others personally involved with the subject matter, especially in churches or religious settings (Christian or not).  Typically the showings are open to the public and mentioned in social media (even without privacy settings) but probably not widely circulated outside particular groups of persons who already know one another.  The owners of the content might even feel that widespread commercial distribution of content (which might really find a market and attract mainstream awards, like even Oscars) would undermine the personal experience of fellowship for the participants.
That’s sometimes the case in campus settings, too, where protestors say they want “media free” zones and yet behave in a manner that could affect the free speech of others.  And another situation happens with talk groups or personal meetup or therapy groups.  Generally, the things said in these encounters are supposed to be confidential. There have been lawsuits over people attending such encounters becoming recognizable characters in novels later.

It's also well to remember how things used to be in the LGBT communities, where people were advised to sit in certain parts of an auditorium or sanctuary in gay-related events so they wouldn't appear on television.  For some people, that kind of sensitivity can still happen sometimes today. Double lives, or even private lives where some events are off the books, don't seem to exist today (but then, you say, 'Bill, you don't use Snapchat, that's what it's for').
There is a possibility that a blogger attends an event (religious or social) where some media is presented that may be infringing somehow on another’s trademark or copyright.  The blogger really isn’t intereste in sharing in the interpersonal emotion (or religious experience) as much as the other participants. The presenting group doesn’t expect widespread global coverage.  But the blogger’s report on it is found in search engines by the copyright owner (possibly “trolls”), leading to legal complications for the group.  (It’s noteworthy, by the way, that the church hymn business has a strong copyright enforcement mechanism for music and text.) This is also possible when bloggers travel around different states and report on similarly named retail or food businesses unaware of one another.
It's also possible that a "meta-post", a blogger's linking to or referring to an offensive story in order to offer "constructive comment" will be seen by some people as hidden advocacy and therefore harmful (even subject to litigation).
Over the years, since I first started posting on the web (in late 1996) there have been very few incidents where parties asked me to remove content – three that I can remember, and in all three there were some unusual circumstances about rather minor matters.  (That doen’t could the big incident in 2005 over my “screenplay” when I worked as a substitute teacher.)  But the fact that my books are searchable online is potentially relevant.  In the past, the books would not have been online at all, or have even been published at all and remained available if they could not carry their weight commercially.  Today it is more likely that relatively obscure things will be remembered and re-discovered, with both good and possible troubling consequences.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Apple (and Silicon Valley) v. FBI: here's the national security case

The New York Times has an op-ed Tuesday by William J. Bratton and John J. Miller, “Why Apple should unlock an iPhone”.  There is a sub-sidebar, “Companies need to be accountable for more than just sales.”  Online, the title is more nebulous, “Seeking iPhone data, through thefront door”. 
Logically, those who favor the “national security” view point out that Apple (nor any other similar company like Motorola, Google, or Microsoft) need put a decrypting tool on the phone.  It would sound plausible to put the decryption tools in some sort of special “Cheyenne Mountain” law enforcement facility with military or FBI supervision (although hackers have previously compromised even these).  Maybe, to the horror of fans of Snowden, Greenwald and Poitras (counting me), that securing agency would be the NSA itself, near Baltimore, or a new facility in Utah.

But I do take seriously the idea that, in the future, a particular phone could have data, not just about a planned rifle attack, but maybe about something “particularly dangerous” like a dirty bomb or EMP device (which, contrary to popular belief, need not necessarily be nuclear). So, as libertarian-leaning Rand Paul once said, “get a warrant.” And in this case, the FBI certainly did. 
The other comment, that companies are responsible for more than just sales and profits (for shareholders), catches my eye.  Individuals can be responsible for the consequences of the easy availability of the tools they use, even when no money is involved but just pride, when others can so easily misuse them. 

Update: February 24

In an exclusive update by David Muir of ABC of Apple's Tim Cook, the Apple CEO said that creating even a secluded back door (or "front door") would be creating the "software equivalent of cancer." He also indicated that the FBI did not handle the phone properly right after recovering it.

Update: February 25

Ellen Nakashima and Todd Frankel report that Apple is making the next generation of iPhones even more unhackable, even after the fact by law enforcement.

Monday, February 22, 2016

"Sci-Hub" site offers "illegal" portal to scientific journals so that "it's free"; Alexandra Elbakyan follows Aaron Swartz

Here’s a big story in the open access movement.  Sunday, Vox published an article by Julia Belluz, “Meet Alexandra Elbakyan, the researcher who’s breaking the law to make science free for all”, link.   That links to another Vox story by Brian Resnick, which explains how her site, “Sci-Hub” works.  It looks for an academic institution that has already met the paywall requirement and connects to it. She comes from Kazakhstan.

NPR has a similar story ("Expensive journals drive academics to break copyright law").  Heather Joseph and Linda Wertheimer discuss.
Vox says that this indeed illegal, comparing it to passing out illegal Kinko’s copies of “The Hunger Games” (or “Do Ask Do Tell” free on the street.  Needless to say, she faces litigation from the Books in Print people and others.

There are moral cases.  It is argued that authors make little money off the papers, but the publishers that own the copyrights do.  Authors gets prestige (and often satisfy university demands to “publish or perish”).

Elbakayn is quoted as saying that copyright should be done away with.  That’s a bit too radical.  But there are real problems with the expense of academic journals even for university libraries, and the clumsiness of getting them. They tend to keep less well-off researchers from playing the game, as Jack Andraka has pointed out in Ted talks.

Here is the url “”.  It does not offer https.  I gave the link on Facebook, wonder if I could get in trouble for doing so.  I won’t give the hyperlink here, just key it in and let Google translate it.  It may be gone or changed tomorrow.  The hyperlink  is available on a Wikipedia article.'   It uses a blackbird drawing as a “trademark”. There is also an “org”  that appears to be unrelated but that says “Support Open Access”.

There seems to be still another similar site called “libgen”.

This sounds like a good topic for a documentary movie, maybe with Kickstarter, perhaps following up on earlier films about Aaron Swartz.  It also reminds me of Reid Ewing’s short satire "It’s Free!"(2011) about visiting a public library in LA, maybe a good way to introduce the problem to an audience.

I can remember when I was in high school that everybody used “Books in Print”, and now I’m told that it is so expensive that few libraries even subscribe to it any more. (Use OCLC Worldcat instead),  What is Reed Elsevier doing?

Update: April 8

Ars Technica gives a detailed account by David Kravets, "A spiritual successor to Aaron Swartz is angering publishers all over again".  It points out that NIH requires all of its papers to be free within one year (which seems to be White House Office of Science and Technology Policy).  On March 30, Michael S. Rosenwald published in the Washington Post "This student put 50 million stolen research articles online, and they're free." Rosenwald update the story this morning Friday, April 8, 2016 on the front page, "Thief? Or liberator of knowledge from the tyranny of profit?"  Mysteriously, the Post has not posted this article online yet as of noon today, and I have a subscription (and have the print article in my lap right now).

Sunday, February 21, 2016

No, GOP, the sky won't fall if Obama can appoint a "moderate" replacement for Scalia now; there are particularly troubling free speech and self-defense questions that cross party lines

Would the prospect of a “liberal” fifth Supreme Court justice threaten my own liberty, as Ted Cruz and other Republicans imply?

OK, start with the Second Amendment.  I do insist on the ability to defend myself and property at home.  I don’t think that’s threatened.  But what about the ability to defend myself in a public space?  That’s a mixed bag.  I actually know of cases where a particular individual(s) might have been at less risk had the individual(s) been allowed to be armed in public.  Their becoming a casualty would be horrible.  Generally, public spaces (subways, theaters, bars, malls, schools) are much safer if weapon-free, but maybe not against a deliberate attack by a determined enemy.  Here there is a question of sharing a common good and common accountability.  I’m somewhat an essentialist on this.  Part of the reason for vulnerability to determined enemies is inequality.  Some of it is misplaced foreign policy.  So we all share some of the persona risk of becoming casualties.  It is a little bit like looking at the draft.

In fact, it’s a good question whether a GOP-dominated Congress, executive and judiciary would back ending Selective Service registration, if it still objects to absolute gender equality on paper and women in combat.

A more interesting moral question is whether the ability to defend the self and others in some situations is a positive responsibility.

On free speech, we have interesting questions.  It’s true that liberal judges might be more inclined to reign in on moneyed political speech and lobbying.  But a bit over ten years ago, we had a major controversy whether amateur blogging about political issues could be viewed as a “political contribution”, which could have threatened blogging as we know it (as the Washington Times wrote in 2005).  That blew over.  We could have a controversy whether the government could curtail “gratuitous speech” (free user-generated content that doesn’t pay its own way) in time of war as a public risk, and it’s not clear that this would follow party lines. Trump’s statements on this matter make me nervous (Cruz, not so much).

On religious freedom, the main issue at hand seems to be the threat that some churches would be forced to perform same-sex marriages.  No they wouldn’t, and the right to remove a clerk’s name from a license may be a sensible “compromise” (from some sort of “conflict of interest” issue). But should employers have a “right” to discriminate in a secular job based on their own personal religious perceptions?  Some libertarians say they should, but generally public sentiment is, no, it’s not a legitimate right.  Hiring and supervision in the workplace comes with its own brand of responsibilities.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

U.S. Copyright Office will seek public comments about abuse of DMCA Safe Harbor takedown procedures

The United States Copyright Office will do a study of possible abuses of the takedown procedures associated with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act Safe Harbor process, and is seeking public comments.   Electronic Frontier Foundation has posted the document called a “Section 512 Study Notice of Inquiry”.

Many of the most abusive takedowns seem to be instigated by large public companies that believe they have a fiduciary duty to protect intellectual property from posts, especially on YouTube, that in a “real world” could not possibly lead to piracy or have a material effect on their ability to make money from their content.  These include many parodies and mashups.

I still, when picking videos to embed, try to stick to items that appear to be posted by the original content owner (like a media company, book author, or motion picture distributor) whenever possible.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

I've posted by own wishes for any future "digital executor"

I have placed a special page on my Wordpress “Media” blog, called “Executor”, which give instructions as to how others can work with my media projects (novel, screenplays, music) should something happen to me suddenly, either passing or incapacitation. Accompanying this page is a lockbox list of individuals whom an executor could contact;  this list will not be published online.

I have been planning to leave these instructions for a long time.  But the sudden passing of a controversial Supreme Court Justice, seven years older than me, does give me reason to think about it further.

Because of the nature of this post, I am not right now announcing it on whitelisted social media (Facebook and Twitter). I’m counting on people to finding in due course by normal surfing, which it seems like “they do”.

As far as the “Afterlife” matters, I disagree somewhat with Stephen Hawking;  I think there is increasing reason to believe from physics that it must exist, and it is more nuanced than any one theology says.  I talked a lot about this on Dec. 12 (the “hollow heavens” v. the higher “focus” levels, which the Monroe Institute seems to support).  I think that one does know when one is gone, and may even get some “information” about what others are doing with one’s output.  One can do nothing about it, apart from possibly reincarnation (and that sounds like a good sci-fi movie plot, to be reborn and rediscover the life you left behind before).

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Apple's resistance to doing a "special job" of decrypting a phone for the FBI; it will become a regular thing

The media has discussed all day a judge’s order to Apple to help the FBI crack the encryption of an iPhone belonging to the San Bernadino terrorists.  There is no simple way to do this with an individual phone, as there is no back door.  Apple would have to write more code (and be compensated for the work). The basic concern is that once this code exists, it sets a precedent for other requests. Moreover, the code could be discerned and reverse engineered by terrorists or foreign governments, endangering customers, especially overseas and in non-democratic parts of the world.

Right now, 10 unsuccessful attempts to unlock a phone erases the data on the phone, right now. New methods need to be coded to overcome this feature.

There is no privacy issue about the phone, because it belonged to the County.

Apple’s own letter to customers is here.

Techdirt seems to have one of the best explanations of the problem. And check NBC here.

This battle may not matter much to the “average person” in the US.  Where it can matter is if someone has somehow motivated a very determined adversary or enemy, particularly with a political agenda.

Generally, unusual security measures to protect the public from war-like threats can be encapsulated with a “Cheyenne Mountain” approach.  But that gets harder with open communications and asymmetry.  The ability that the FBI needs now to solve this particular case could be within Vladimir Putin’s pocket (or North Korea’s or ISIL’s) in a month. So Tim Cook thinks.


Ted Cruz says (in a Town Hall with Anderson Cooper) that the order applies to this phone, and that the unlocking software need not be put on consumer phones.  It would be used only used "after the fact" with a court order on a specific phone.  But Apple thinks that once the software is available, hackers could jailbreak any consumer phones.

Timothy B. Lee of Vox separates the apples from the oranges in the argument, "Apple's battle with the F.B.I, over iPhone security, explained".  It strikes me that the final conclusion is, Apple really can do this with a specific phone under warrant if it "really has to." So maybe Ted Cruz is right.  Tim tweeted an even more detailed third-party explanation of the coding issues, here, I guess I left the world of doing my own coding too soon (in 2001)!

Will this wind up before an 8-member Supreme Court?  Maybe not so fast.

Mark Cuban offers a similar suggestion on his "Blog Maverick" here.

Forcing Apple developers to work for the FBI or maybe NSA could be viewed as a form of "conscription", about which I have written a lot.

The Justice Department is complaining that Apple's concerns are mostly about "marketing", Wall Street Journal article by Devlin Barrett, Feb. 19.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

"Against Crony Capitalism" has a more subtle take on inequality, and it's not so personal

The site “Against Crony Capitalism” has an interesting short missive and graphic, “The Issue Is with thee Crony Rich, not the Deserving Rich”.

“Earners, Entrepreneurs, Protectors” are on the good side.  I suppose that would include technical innovators, at least at the outset.  Bad are the “Predator, Cronies, Rent-seekers”.  That would sound like the “second-handers” in Ayn Rand’s vocabulary.  Are people who made money by setting up credit default swaps examples of predators? Are the "rent-seekers" landlords like Donald Trump or the "rentiers" of Piletty's "Capital"?

The comments on  the post on this site (not just the Facebook comments) are quite lively.

The radical left uses the word “parasite” in a personal way, sometimes as a pretext for Maoist morality.
It can get very confrontational and group-think (as in this Facebook post where I discuss a physical assault based on reverse class hatred).

In my DADT-III book I made a dichotomy between inequality and innovation (explained here   in a press release). Bur it’s clear that passive wealth-sitting is much more objectionable that its use to create more real wealth with real work.  I’m headed toward a “universal” moral principle that almost any advantage in wealth involves some good luck and hidden dependence on others which invites the moral obligation to “give back” (in a decentralized, voluntary way in a libertarian society less dependent of bureaucratic gate-keeping), but is continued innovation (toward sustainability, universal Internet access, clean energy, security) itself a sufficient form of “giving back”, even if it is less “personal” or doesn't cost you some "radical hospitality"? (see Drama blog, Feb. 26, 2012).

Monday, February 15, 2016

Mobile app and web developers are getting silly in the necessary quest to make money

The Washington Post offers a curious story this Presidents’ Day, front page, “In messaging apps for teens, talk of dangers and dollars”, by Michael S. Rosernwald.

While talking about Kik, Line, WhatsApp,, Whisper, and of course Snapchat (Hillary – “those messages disappear all by themselves) the writer is highlighting the pressure on companies and developers to figure out ways to sell to people and make money.  So teens are the focus.

The whole culture of sales has become murky, as so much of it moves from person-person to apps.  The culture of Web 3.0 is that people need to be in constant touch with large counts of others, with the ability to layer the content and sometimes make the content disappear without a trace – the opposite of 1.0 where being noticed for self-publishing (the “Pharisee’s much speaking”) was becoming a cultural norm around the year 2000.

Much of this comes from the obvious economic fact:  Most people have to make a living and support others.  (I think of that famous line in “Judas Kiss” where Shane  Lyons (Timo Descamps) says to Danny (Richard Harmon), “Most people walk in the direction they’re heading.”)  Manipulating others, with a “Touch of Evil”, becomes tantamount to economic survival. It helps to be a little mean, but maybe not a little spoiled.

Selling used to be more personal, and respectable.  My father did it for 30 years.  So, no wonder, om 2005, three years after the end of my mainstream I.T. career in a life company, I get a call begging me to become a life insurance agent.  In an interview, I’m asked why I won’t to struggle as a writer when I could “sell” what I must have learned all those years on the job (and what younger candidates, more socially talented, had not).  The interviewer was almost rude in pursuing this, as if my own purposes in life could become bargaining chips.

But that seems to be the tenor of today’s superficial idea of selling online.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Little known provision of old Communications Decency Act could have made "annoying" someone a felony

Here’s an important history piece by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, “To annoy or not to annoy, that was the question”, by Clinton Fein,  The writer gives a long discussion of a little-notice provision of the 1997 Communications Decency Act, which could have made it a felony merely to “annoy” someone online. Imagine how that could apply to unwelcome replies on Twitter, a topic I have taken up before. “Annoy” has an interesting history in its fight as Apollo Media v. Reno.  Eventually, the government agreed that this would apply only to “obscene” communications, not just culturally combative ones.

The article notes that the US Navy tried to claim copyright protection of a 1976 recruiting poster, trying to prevent journalist Randy Shilts from publishing the poster in illustrating the history of the discharge of a black sailor for being gay (in the 1994 book “Conduct Unbecoming”).  But the poster would have been in the public domain (a fact that Wikipedia notes repeatedly with photos taken by federal employees in the job).

The CDA has a long history.  It would be followed by COPA, the Child Online Protection Act, which would not fall officially until 2007 (documented on my special blog for it about “filtering Internet content”).
But another provision connected to the CDA as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, immunizing service providers from downstream tort liability (mainly libel) for user posts is very important to our world of user generated content today.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Twitter's retreat worries tech investors; some propose ways for it to become "sustainable" and less "dangerous"

Farhad Manjoo writes in the New York Times today,"Twitter, to save itself, must scale back its world-swallowing expectations."  He hints that Twitter might be better off if re-taken private, although the management doesn’t want to do that; of it might do better as a division of a larger company (Facebook?) or as a non-profit like Wikipedia.  He also suggests that, being “too easy to join” isn’t such a good thing, and may add to stalking, harassment, and even terror recruiting (which Twitter doesn’t have a really effective way to stop, if the enemy is determined enough).
Yet, it is a “public utility” we take for granted, next to Facebook.

Manjoo describes Instagram as like a “luxury cruise”.

But Hayley Tsukayama writes in the Washington Post, p. A14, about Twitter’s loss of core users in the fourth quarter, as its share price declined.

But I can remember a few years ago when Ashton Kutcher (who at one time blogged a lot on Myspace) describing to Larry King how great an invention Twitter is. Now, even the proper behavior on Twitter is a subject of disagreement or (if you will) “choice, not chance”.

And nobody seems to be debating the 140-character limit just right now.

It's worthy of note that Twitter's growth hit a snag about a year ago, too, as with this video from Bloomberg:

In the meantime, I continue to get questions as to why I won’t join more things, or pimp content aggressively, like “most people”.  Some people whine that others giving away their stuff passively by search engines is breaking their business models, almost in a manner analogous to the collapse of oil prices.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Facebook and Twitter put in difficult position "censoring" material sensitive for some specific populations (especially overseas)

People have found that posts about some topics (like “drone strikes”) have been blocked, as reported in a CNN Money story Feb. 4 by Sara Ashley O’Brien.  Twitter users find some links blocked if deemed unsafe. (By the way, there are several indie films about the US military conducting remote drone strikes.  Would FB block links to my reviews of these films?)

That has never happened to me.  But I have my Twitter posts going to Facebook directly, and some never show up on my timeline.  This may be because the links simply didn’t connect.  I can always post directly, but occasionally the original post has finally shown up, hours later.

There’s a site keeping track of these incidents, just called “Online Censorship”. Note the site's scare headline, "have you had your account suspended?"

And on January 28, the Washington Post ran an article by Caitlin Dewy in “The Intersect” column: “The big myth Facebook needs everyone to believe.   In January, Facebook started “censoring” posts on bullfighting, as if it were prostitution, and that censorship practice really was noticed in Spain.

But it’s also true that what’s acceptable in one community creates tremendous uproar in other parts of the world, or in some minority communities.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

An accidental debate on morality: "to confirm" is not "to conform"

This Sunday Morning (like the name of one of the Four Sea Interludes from Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes”) there was an unusual conversation at a “book forum” held by a visiting minister, Diana Butler Bass, from the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC, for her book “Grounded: Finding God in the World , A Spiritual Revolution” (Harper).  This was a Sunday school session in the sanctuary; the book signing party was at the pot luck after service.  I purchased a copy, and will review it later on my Books blog.

Now this is not a “religious” post.  It is about “moral principles”, so to speak, that I often take up here, in a secular context, in a society that for the most part embraces democracy and classical liberalism.

Bass talked about cycles in nature, which can cause local catastrophes for man who isn’t prepared for them properly, but which are good and necessary in themselves.  Forest fires happen naturally, and are part of an ecocycle for bringing new life (which recovers amazingly quickly with new sprouts after typical western fires).  Hurricanes are nature’s way of keeping higher latitudes, away from the Equator, warmer.  Volcanoes were probably necessary for life to form in the first place.

Man’s problems come from poor choices.  Hurricane Katrina would not have been catastrophic if man hadn’t destroyed the natural estuaries in the marsh with poorly constructed levees.  We made a dubious choice to settle there, or to engineer our settlements poorly.

Now I agree, as a retiree especially, that is is incumbent on me to consider disaster resilience if I move somewhere.  I doubt it would be smart for me to buy a beach house on the North Carolina cape.  I don’t expect the government or other individuals or families to subsidize an unnecessary, gratuitous risk.

But with other choices, like to become a “full time blogger”, like I did in retirement, or to author my books, or to become (or not become) a teacher, or a life insurance agent, for that matter, the moral aspects of my “choice” are much more subtle and nuanced.

There were questions from the audience, with some problems of microphone acoustics in the sanctuary.  I asked a challenging question (getting to stand in front of the lectern as if, as I said, to "pimp" my own books). I said, I grew up in the 1950s, when not everything was about “making choices”.  You had to “conform” to the patterns established by others (your parents, your family, your community, sometimes your country), because you were beholden to the sacrifices others had made for you;  if you didn’t do your part when it was your turn, someone else had to take the risk in your place.  (I didn’t mention the Vietnam era draft from the microphone, but did in conversations afterward.)  She was a bit thrown off balance by the question, and said she didn’t quite understand it, because she was born in 1959, and grew up in the 1970s, when people were past that mentality.  Well, in many parts of the world today, and in poorer communities in the US today, people are not past that.  Perhaps the question sounded like something from Donald Trump, or maybe Vladimir Putin. She consolidated her answer by comparing the concepts of "confirm" with "conform". This reminds me of a particular play on semantics in a high school chemistry class, when I had become a "senior."
Certainly, in my day, military service was not about “choice” in the usual moral sense.  Having a child is about choice (and very costly to others sometimes when out of wedlock or, if as some conservatives claim, done deliberately for “welfare benefits”).  But if forced with eldercare responsibilities, as people live longer, not having children doesn’t come across as just a “choice”.  Or, when taking a job as a substitute teacher, dealing with the needs if special education is not necessarily an informed choice in the usual sense that “libertarian thought” means.

I know this is a loaded idea when referencing many awful situations overseas, but how we respond to coercion and pressure from others, and whether we are prepared to address their needs when they knock on our doors (at least figuratively speaking) is a moral issue.

My third “Do Ask Do Tell” book starts with this idea and takes off with it.  I’ll return to the subject soon.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Maryland considers bill banning consumer gag clauses; so should US House

A bill in Maryland would prohibit companies from placing “gag clauses” in consumer contracts, forbidding them to make online reviews.  That bill is HB 131 and follows a similar law in California. Electronic Frontier reports in a story by Elliot Harmon

The Senate has passed a Consumer Review Freedom Act (S. 2044)  which is stalled as HR 2110 in the House.

Courts generally have been siding with consumers in these cases, which generally come from Yelp! and sometimes Angie’s List.  Actual suits from Facebook posts, tweets, or personal blog posts seem less likely in practice, but probably are covered by these clauses.

I would be particularly concerned about the practice, say, if it occurred in housing or apartment or house rentals.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Happy 12th Birthday, Facebook!

Facebook is celebrating its twelfth birthday today.  On Wednesday, February 4, 2004, a 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg hit “enter” on a dorm room computer (don’t know if it was Windows XP or Mac, or even Linux) and Facebook emerged, as if from some virtual womb, by a kind of immaculate conception.  (February 4, 1999 was an infamous day for employees at Prudential: a big layoff, in a year of Y2K.)

Today, Facebook broadcast a live feed of Zuckerberg talking to some fellow managers at the Palo Alto headquarters.  Zuckerberg made a comment that he soon found that older computer users were not as interested in personal interactions online as were college students, but seemed to hint that many mid-life and senior people did use the Internet to self-publish and be noticed, in the Web 1.0 world.  Since military recruiting had become a controversy at Harvard in the months preceding his launch of Facebook, it seems to me he must have been aware of it, and it is very likely he would have found my “Web 1.0” domain with ordinary surfing in his dorm space, as it was quite prominent in search engines at the time.

Facebook, by 2008 or 2009, would completely eclipse MySpace as the most important social networking forum (and Time would name Zuckerberg as person of the year in 2010 as “the Connector”), even given all the attention “Dr. Phil” used to give to teenagers using MySpace.  The idea of whitelisting people who would likely see content, and layering social interactions as to continuity, would soon run in parallel to Facebook as a self-publishing platform, for user “pages” (for “public figures”, “musicians”, etc.) and for discussion groups or forums.  It strikes me that Facebook could take on the “opposing viewpoints” idea I’ve discussed here before (like Feb. 29, 2012).  It certainly has the database architecture to handle apps set up to so this.

When I make comments on Facebook pages, people often make constructive secondary quality comments on mine.  This is in stark contrast to my own blogs, where comments tend to be patronizing at best, or spammy (and are often filtered out, as by Akismet). For example, consider the discussion of “socialism”, “crony capitalism” and the free market here.  Look here at the debate on a Vox post on voters being open to political revolution to redistribute wealth.    Does this mean expropriation?

I would even buy the idea that Facebook has saved Section 230, and the world of user-generated content as we know it.

In 2020, Zuckerberg will be old enough to run for president.  He could put Donald Trump to shame if he wanted to.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

2008 photo of girl with Down syndrome at a baseball game, promoted as an example of "obesity" and "child abuse", leads to lawsuit

A Facebook post has led to a lawsuit for causing severe emotional distress, defamation, and invasion of privacy.  “Dancing with the Stars” celebrity Val Chmerkovskiy is being sued by a 16 year old girl over a picture taken of her in 2008 at a baseball game.  The picture was put into a Facebook post that said “Everything that’s wrong with America” as an attempt to criticize diet-related obesity.  But the girl has Down Syndrome.  The post claimed that a parent’s allowing a kid to become obese was child abuse.

Some of the claims (like invasion of privacy) would be hard to sustain because she was in a public place.

TMZ has a typical news story here.

But CBS News is also a defendant, for posting the picture.  It would appear that the litigation would not be taking place if CBS had not posted it.  The actual picture was taken by a different photographer (also a defendant) and was in a refreshment area.

Lawsuits based on individual social media postings taken at public venues seem to be rare.  But in bars and discos, the expected standard of courtesy has risen in the past few years (since about 2010) because of the possibility of tagging.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Facebook's ban on gun sales sounds like common sense

The New York Times has commended Facebook for banning gun ads in an editorial Monday

I found the comment that Facebook came late into the world of “person-to-person commerce” interesting, compared to Craigslist, which has long banned gun sales.  And the ban, if observed by users, might prevent some tragedies, since the sales had been outside the control of laws requiring background checks, even with Obama’s new order.

I remember one time in 1985 selling two gold krugerands person-person at a clandestine meeting in East Dallas.  It’s no something I’m into, because, maybe a bit sheltered, I haven’t opted for the sharing economy.

As for public safety, I think it's a bit of a tradeoff, even if "the common good" is the objective.  The public as a whole might be safer from ordinary crime with stricter gun control, but might be more vulnerable to very determined criminals and terrorists.  That distinction is less in countries where gun ownership is higher.