November 30, 2003

Recent Report Readership - Statistical Analysis

I ran some statistical analysis regarding the readership for my recent Google report (Google Bayesian Spam Filtering Problem? - http://sethf.com/anticensorware/google/bayesian-spam.php). I wanted to know how much audience it had, and where it came from.

So far, 2088 hits total. Not bad for day's work.

A nice person advertised my report in a Slashdot comment. That was 1251 referers, or 60%.

Then no referer source, at 473 (I think this was also mostly Slashdot, not every hit has a referer).

Then my own site (sethf.com) at 138. This is from the blog, and also I put it on the front page.

Then a few dozen each from a handful of search engine sites, and miscellaneous noise.

I hate to sound like a broken record, but, oh, tell me again about THE MIGHTY POWER OF THE BLOG! Of the great and glorious democracy of cyberspace, where everyone has, err, an equal chance to win the lottery. Let us blow a bouncy bubble of breathless buzz, where all is bright and beautiful, as long as we never actually come down to earth. Blather, bibble, babble ...


Update: Despite being trackback'ed from three blogs, this message has been read by a grand total of around 112 people. Sure, I suppose one of them could be the President, and another could be the Pope. But it's not likely :-(

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in statistics | on November 30, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (10) | Followups
November 29, 2003

Cites & Insights December 2003, and blog audience math

Walt Crawford's library 'zine "Cites & Insights" has had the December 2003 edition available for a few days now. It's excellent reading as always.

The meatiest civil-libertarian material is in the portion concerning "Hysterical Librarians, Attorneys General and Section 215", which collects some great critiques.

I'm quoted in the Feedback section, "on a Variety of Topics", including Open Censorware vs. Child Pornography Sites and the math of six degrees of separation.

Further on math, the discussion of the mathematics of blogs caught my eye:

The most interesting part of [the Perseus blog survey] is the conclusion, "Nanoaudiences are the logical outcome of continued growth in blogs." The mathematics are tough to challenge, but they state an "average" in a field where averages are wholly meaningless. If we get to the point where 100 million people regularly read blogs, and each of them reads 50 blogs (an awfully high number), and if there are 20 million active webloggers, then the average audience per weblog will be 250 people. So?

So, as I'm quoted (later in Cites, not the survey) blogs won't "revolutionize politics, overthrow journalism as we know it, or change the world into cyber-utopia.". Almost all people won't reach much of an audience.

The key is realizing that, mathematically, this ficticious mean average gives an upper bound for the actual median average. That's how it's meaningful. In a world of perfect equality, everyone would have 250 readers. Now any skewness means some people are going to have more, and some people less.

And so a blog-peasant with 25 readers is going to be effectively powerless against a blog-royal with 25,000 readers (much less big media with 250,000 readers).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on November 29, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
November 28, 2003

Technology vs. offshore outsourcing ("Jobs come and go")

[I wrote this in reply to the message "Jobs come and go" today on Dave Farber's IP list, but it apparently didn't make the cut]

> [Walter E. Williams]
> But there's no significant economic difference between an industry
> using technology to reduce production costs and using cheaper labor
> to do the same.

Ah, but there is - by this logic, there's no difference between using robots and slaves. The fallacy thus should be obvious. The difference is that the robots aren't also part of the economy. By "economic", he means there is no economic difference to the industry management. Which is not the same as there being no economic difference to the industry labor force.

The argument for technology is that ultimately, it expands the economic pie (since the robots don't count as participants). This is not the same as simply playing labor off against each other, which is merely fighting over the portion of the pie (unless you also think that workers don't count as participants, a view many people do have!).

Slave labor is unarguably a cheaper method of production. But it does not follow then that society benefits from it.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in politics | on November 28, 2003 11:57 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 27, 2003

Give me that old-fashioned Thanksgiving ...

"I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighbourhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land."

-- Jon Stewart

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in quotes | on November 27, 2003 08:11 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 26, 2003

Google Bayesian Spam Filtering Problem?

New Google report from Seth Finkelstein:

Google Bayesian Spam Filtering Problem?
http://sethf.com/anticensorware/google/bayesian-spam.php

Abstract: This report describes a possible explanation for recent
changes in Google search results, where long-time high-ranking sites have disappeared. It is hypothesized that the changes are a result of the implementation of a "Bayesian spam filtering" algorithm, which is producing unintended consequences.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , infothought | on November 26, 2003 09:07 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 24, 2003

Boston Globe Google article, and blog peasants without cake

Dave Winer has a good account of being distorted in meaning for a Boston Globe article on Google. Derek Powazek concurs on extensive misportrayal ("Just for the record, I do not hate Google, nor am I its enemy."). But then Dave makes a comment which is an excellent example of something where the blog-hype is simply, thoroughly, wrong:

It's a new world ladies and gentlemen. In the old days, the BigPubs would put words in your mouth, and what could you do? Today each of us have a platform to tell our own story, so when they screw it up, we can run a correction, immediately.

When misquoted by any agenda-driven journalist, "we" have to suffer that asshole. Dave Winer, A-list, Harvard Berkman Fellow, President of Userland Software Inc, has a platform to tell his own story. J. Random Blogger would do better standing outside a subway station with a picket sign to tell their own story for themselves (ie., not counting attracting the support of some other journalist).

The numbers are stark. The Boston Globe circulation is "a daily circulation of 474,845 and a Sunday circulation of 704,926". Let's look at that number - 474,845. HALF A MILLION, roughly. Very, very, few bloggers have a readership which can oppose that.

This is simple mathematics. Note any calling me a name, "negative" or "cynical" or some such, does not change the numbers. On the one hand, HALF A MILLION readers. On the other hand, what, for the ordinary person, a handful of family, friends, and a few random fans?

In fact, I shouldn't write this post, from a strictly rational viewpoint. Because if I get slammed from a BigBlog, my ability to effectively reply is nil.

It's great that a few people can meaningfully take on journalists. It really is, good for them. But statements such as the above "new world" are downright cruel to peasants who do not have cake to eat.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , journo | on November 24, 2003 10:12 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3) | Followups
November 23, 2003

Treacherous Xboxes - "Trusted Computing" and Xbox-ization

[I wrote this as a contribution to a discussion thread regarding "Trusted Computing" and whether the goal of that is to turn the PC into restricted console similar to the gaming machine "Xbox"]

Date: Sun, 23 Nov 2003 17:01:27 EST
To: dmca_discuss[at-sign]lists.microshaft.org
Subject: Treacherous Xboxes

Seth-DS, [David Schoen] I believe there is a slight disconnect between what you are thinking regarding the meaning of the phrase "not trying to turn the PC into an Xbox", and where "treacherous computing" is in fact trying to turn the PC into an Xbox. And this is leading to some talking-past-each-other.

There is indeed some subtlety here. That is, there are two senses where the above can be true. The Axis-Of-Copyright would like the PC to be an Xbox in terms of it being an appliance which is a dedicated terminal for their marketing. The vendors would like the PC to be an Xbox in terms of having it be restricted to running only approved, licensed, hardware and software. These are not quite the same thing. The subtle difference is, I believe, the only thing which is saving us from having TCPA platforms mandated immediately (see Broadcast Flag).

Both of these, however, are thoroughly inimical to owner control! Hence the users-are-enemies orientation you've noted yourself.

In either case, "Owner Override" is contradictory, so it won't ever be allowed.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in security | on November 23, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 22, 2003

In Memoriam, Nov 22 anniversary

This is a minimal post in memoriam. Sometimes there's not much to say.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in politics | on November 22, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 21, 2003

Slashdot / Symantec

As a follow-up to my post "Slashdot Respect" from two weeks ago, it does seem to have been "merely a special favor which won't be repeated" as opposed to "a harbinger of things to come". That is, since my inquiry as to whether things had changed was ignored, it means things haven't changed :-(. Well, I appreciate the favor, I really do. But I'm also disappointed it apparently didn't portend some healing in the wake of my DMCA victory.

Adding to stir the pot, the rumor that Michael Sims had been fired as a Slashdot "editor", was indeed untrue. Which is consistent with the "special favor" case rather than the "change and healing" case.

It's easy, and comforting, to dismiss this all as "personal". But the implications are meaningful. No change means there's no reason which invalidates my having quit for lack of support. And where that mattered, for example, was where the thought crossed my mind of further investigating the Symantec Says No To Pro-Gun Sites story. I had thought it "old news", but it seems to have value. I've already decrypted that censorware blacklist, in the past. But is talking about the sites enough for coverage? I wish I could be supported here. And if not, I'll just be told my report wasn't worthwhile, it's hard to argue with that.

This is exactly the type of situation that I felt I needed to avoid. That is, being subject to temptation to push the legal boundary just a little further, just a little further, to go that much closer to the edge so as not to have the report languish in marginalized ostracized obscurity. And thus risk having it blow-up in my face in a devastating lawsuit.

The more things don't change, the more they stay the same ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism , censorware | on November 21, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 20, 2003

"Smith & Metalitz LLP", greetings!

I've often lamented the small reader-base for my blog. In response, sometimes I'm told that it's not how many readers you have, it's who they are. Maybe there's a grain of truth to that adage. Occasionally I find I have some very interest(ing|ed) readers.

So, I noticed some unusual blog activity today, from someone apparently searching intently for my throw-in-the-towel-on-censorware-investigations post (digression for a hint to the searcher: If the result you get isn't what you want, but it says "This is a prelude for some other material I plan to write in a few days, more then", well, it's a good idea to read a few posts later - and if you don't find it with one search, it isn't going to appear if you repeat the exact same search, no matter how many times you do it!)

Guys, in case you don't know, The Power Of The Google works in both directions. Peekaboo, I see you, "smith-metalitz.iipa.com" (IIPA == International Intellectual Property Alliance, Steve Metaliz == Axis-Of-Copyright lawyer, relevant here as the other, but minor, censorware exemption opponent, vs James Tyre, in the DMCA circumvention hearings).

So ... tell me, tell me, who you are, if you please. I doubt it's Smith. Could I be graced by the readership of Metalitz himself? One of the "associate" Smith & Metalitz LLP attorneys? Or, as I suspect, do I rank more a mere researcher, who doesn't even rate website entry status?

No need to be shy. I know you're searching me, and now you know I know you're searching me. Abbie Hoffman used to invite the government agents assigned to surveillance of him, to have (do) lunch with him. I won't go that far (David Burt is not my buddy, and neither are you). But I must confess an inveterate curiousity about opposition people who get employed to research me, and what they think. I never heard from the "Cooley Godward" reader, pity.

I've been lamenting I don't have an effect. But sometimes I suppose I should remind myself to be careful what exactly what I wish for, because I might get it ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on November 20, 2003 10:51 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 19, 2003

UK Legalise Cannabis site censorware'd from UK libraries

This deserves wider distribution, especially with US libraries having to deal with the CIPA censorware law:

http://groups.google.com/groups?selm=2fqervoe91d26pno6gf6oe5utl7kd44e8s%404ax.com

 
From: Phil Stovell (phil[at]stovell.org.uk)
Subject: UKCIA Press Release - Essex County Council censorship
View: Complete Thread (19 articles)
Original Format
Newsgroups: uk.politics.drugs, uk.politics.censorship, talk.politics.drugs, uk.politics.misc , uk.local.east-anglia
Date: 2003-11-16 04:15:23 PST

UKCIA
The GreenHouse
Bethel Street
Norwich

Tel 01603 766854 (home) 01603 773044 (office)

Press release from the UK Cannabis Internet Activists http://www.ukcia.org

During the week of 11th November it was drawn to our attention that UKCIA along with other drugs campaigning websites was being censored on computers in libraries run by Essex County Council.

This was happening because the council has taken the decision to ban access to websites which carry information about the use and sale of illegal drugs, even though such sites are not illegal in this country. Indeed, any site which supports harm reduction will carry that sort of information. This decision was taken by a sub committee of the strangely named "Peoples network project board" and seemingly never challenged nor checked.

It should be noted that this ban only applies to libraries in Essex and not schools, so whilst Essex children are permitted to see drugs information sites, adults aren't.

The site was being blocked because the council had decided to use a filter provided by the Smartfilter censorware, provided by the American company Secure Computing which can ban sites which "provide information on the purchase, manufacturing, and use of illegal or recreational drugs", cannabis sites are mentioned specifically.

Fortunately, following an e-mail from UKCIA Smartfilter have realised their mistake and will move UKCIA from the "Drugs, politics/religion" category to "'politics/religion/opinion" and so UKCIA will again be available in Essex when the change takes effect. However, this doesn't address the cause of the problem, which is Essex CC's policy of blanket information censorship.

UKCIA isn't the only site being censored by Essex CC. At the time of writing the LCA (http://www.lca-uk.org) is blocked as is the Dutch language version of Drugtext (http://www.drugtext.nl), although not the English version (http://www.drugtext.org/) for example. Most of the smaller drugs sites aren't blocked however because they're not listed on Smartfilter's database.

UKCIA will try to establish on what grounds Essex decided to censor access to sites such as UKCIA and what parameters they have set for doing so. We'll also try to find which sites are censored, although owing to the way censorware works. Essex CC has no way of knowing which sites are in fact blocked, it's a blind blanket censorship which has no place in British libraries.

UKCIA will be available in Essex libraries again from November 18th

Derek Williams
Webteam UKCIA

Notes:

Smartfilter censorware website
http://www.securecomp uting.com/index.cfm?skey=85
Check to see if Smart filter is blocking your website
(http://ww w.securecomputing.com/cgi-bin/filter_whereV301.cgi)
Confirmation of change of category from SmartFilter
(http://www.ukci a.org/library/censored/censoreware.htm)

UKCIA is the website of the British Legalise Cannabis campaigns and contains a wide range of information relating to cannabis, its uses and the culture it supports. We do not seek to encourage the use of cannabis but we do seek to provide accurate information from referenced sources.

--
Phil Stovell
South Hampshire, UK

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 19, 2003 08:41 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 18, 2003

N2H2, PR, and lying with statistics, CNN example

I recently discovered that censorware company N2H2's press release about hyped web sex site statistics, which I dissected in a series of posts a while back, was even in a CNN show:

Reliable stats are hard to come by. The number of commercial porn Web pages soared 18-fold over four years, according to the Internet filtering firm, N2H2, 260 million pages of porn. Another filter company estimates that 12 percent of all Web sites are porn sites.

Now, remember, this is CNN. It's Old Media. How does one counteract it?

Ah, but I have a BLOG! Feel my mighty blogging press-reach. Thrill to the vast audience which hangs on my every word, as I masterfully point out that the Web itself has grown by a huge amount over the years, so the proportion of "commercial porn Web pages" may not have changed at all. Experience the disintermediated media-power of emergent user pundocracy.

Or are those crickets I hear?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , journo | on November 18, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
November 17, 2003

Open Censorware vs. Child Pornography Sites

As part of the discussion touching on "better censorware", I've updated with the info below, my page regarding Open Censorware issues
http://sethf.com/anticensorware/legal/open.php

Many people believe there is a kind of legal paradox for censorware companies to compile blacklists of child pornography sites. The argument runs that to compile a list, they must have viewed the child pornography sites, so they have confessed to a crime (and if they didn't view the sites, then they admit they are making a claim with no evidence)

I'm not a lawyer, but my legal research is below. It turns out that there is no legal paradox. Note the following section of the US code:
http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/18/2252A.html

d) Affirmative Defense. -

It shall be an affirmative defense to a charge of violating subsection (a)(5) that the defendant -

(1) possessed less than three images of child pornography; and

(2) promptly and in good faith, and without retaining or allowing any person, other than a law enforcement agency, to access any image or copy thereof -

(A) took reasonable steps to destroy each such image; or

(B) reported the matter to a law enforcement agency and afforded that agency access to each such image

In effect, this allows for law enforcement to approve any censorware blacklist creators. If they like the blacklister, they'll say they are convinced that the affirmative defense above applies, and no violation of the law is in process. If they want to go after any Open Censorware effort, they can say they have suspicions about the participants, who are then welcome to plead the affirmative defense in court. Good luck facing charges as a possessor of child pornography.

I'm convinced this is the killer of any effective Open Censorware project (unless that project has powerful sponsors).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , legal | on November 17, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 16, 2003

David Burt (N2H2/SmartFilter) Is A Sore Loser

[Note 11/23/2006 - Welcome, readers from The Register. Note the following is a much better and more detailed essay:

"DMCA Exemptions Diary, a.k.a. more Why I Quit Censorware Research" http://sethf.com/infothought/blog/archives/000456.html

]

David Burt, censorware PR flack, err, I mean "a spokesman for Secure Computing, which purchased N2H2, a [censorware] company" (and publicly dubbed by one lawyer the censorware "Iraqi Information Minister"), is also a very sore loser.

Recall, David Burt was the point-person for censorware companies in opposing the censorware DMCA exemption, against me as the prime advocate for the exemption, and I won (note other people were involved in both sides - e.g. James Tyre testified for the censorware exemption, Steve Metalitz against it, but the bulk of the work was me vs. David Burt). And he was paid to do it, as his job, while I paid out of my own pocket (hundreds of dollars in travel expenses) to do it!

Now some, err, anonymous person, has been posting taunting comments to various obscure DMCA exemption stories. Such as, from GrepLaw, the gem

I'll take Fries with that Big Mac, Seth (Score:0)
by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 29, @10:36PM (#1346)

Yes Seth, but what are you going to do for a job? You've been unemployed now for about a year, and isn't your unemployement running out? Will you be taking a job at McDonalds? I notice on Monster.com that there are over 50 job openings for web programmers. Why can't you even get one of these jobs in the now-booming tech sector? Is it because any prospective employer who googles sees what a psycho you are?

Or LISnews, the nugget

The clock's ticking, Seth... (Score:-1, Troll)
by Anonymous Patron on Friday November 14, @11:01PM (#1405)

...on that unemployment check. Bet those COBRA health insurance payments are eating into what you have left. How much time before you have to take a fast food job, eh, Seth?

Now, these are anonymous, right? But the style reminded me of, let's say, someone I knew. Well, it turns out, a little cross-correlating and tracking ... it might not hold up in court (just using that as a figure of speech), but, "HI DAVID!".

I'm not really complaining. These comments themselves don't bother me. And after all, I do take guilty pleasure in David Burt acquiring the nickname of "Iraqi Information Minister". In one sense, I'm doing this blog piece out of fun. It shows typical censorware company statistics :-). There are "over 50 job openings for web programmers" listed in the entire Boston area, covering nearly two months - the tech sector is not booming!

But more seriously, it does point up a key problem - no money in this volunteer free-speech work (still). I'm surviving now, with a little consulting, but the bubble-days aren't coming back any time soon. And that's much on my mind, as I've said, regarding censorware work being completely unsustainable. It's not my job, and no organization is funding me.

Remember, even given the big DMCA victory, I am no richer than I was previously. I still have to buy food and pay rent and get medical insurance, exactly as much!

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism , censorware | on November 16, 2003 11:32 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
November 15, 2003

Google Deskbar

Google Deskbar is the latest little tool from Google. It's a self-contained searching program, which is very lightweight and fits snugly in a desktop screen (PR: "Google Deskbar enables you to search with Google from any application without lifting your fingers from the keyboard. Installs easily in your Windows taskbar.")

I was poking around at its innards in order to see if there was anything interesting inside. Internally, it seems to be a "microbrowser". That is, I think it hooks into Windows/Internet Explorer services in order to do a search, exactly as if you had typed it into the Internet Explorer browser. And then uses the Windows Operating System display routines to present the results.

On the one hand, that makes it heavily operating-system dependent in terms of code. On the other hand, it's extremely cheap in terms of development, a neat little hack.

The most socially interesting thing about it, is that given it's tying into Windows/Internet Explorer services, it appears to share the Google cookie with Internet Explorer, and use the Google cookie itself in all searching. That's not obvious, though it makes sense in retrospect.

It's actually a little strange, in terms coming full circle with applications, to realize it's a microbrowser. That is, the original web browsers were simple programs devoted to rendering simple code. Then the inevitable "creeping-featurism" took over ("2. More generally, the tendency for anything complicated to become even more complicated because people keep saying "Gee, it would be even better if it had this feature too"."). So the browser became a behemoth, of often not-quite-working plugins, handling sound and video and cascades of style bleats. It's now so bloated that writing a small and fast program to do one common operation and display the results quickly, is some sort of innovation. Somewhere there's a lesson in that.

Update: I should have mentioned Dave's Quick Search Taskbar Toolbar Deskbar, thanks to LISnews

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google , infothought | on November 15, 2003 11:56 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 14, 2003

Chamberlain v. Skylink - Garage Door Opener as (not) DMCA Violation, confirmed

"Chamberlain v. Skylink - Garage Door Opener as (not) DMCA Violation" case has now been decided, in favor of the freedom to open garage doors.

The earlier decision was preliminary, but this district court decision is the end of this round, no more arguments at the district court level (but there could still be appeals).

It is a great day if you're a garage door, or interested in them. Most interestingly, the basis for the decision seems to again put much stress on "expectations":

Chamberlain concedes that it never warned customers against using unauthorized transmitters but explains that it did not do so because it had no idea that other transmitters could be made to operate its rolling code [garage door openers]. ... Chamberlain's failure to anticipate such technology, however, does not refute the fact that homeowners have a reasonable expectation of using the technology now that it is available.

And

[garage door openers] transmitters are similar to television remote controls in that consumers of both products may need to replace them at some point due to damage or loss, and may program them to work with other devices manufactured by different companies. In both cases, consumers have a reasonable expectation that they can replace the original product with a competing, universal product without violating federal law.

Well, there's many people who think they have all sorts of "reasonable expectations" of what they can do with the DVD's they have purchased, but sadly, that hasn't ever seemed to sway a court (yet?).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca , legal | on November 14, 2003 01:43 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 13, 2003

Censorware articles round-up

There's quite a few censorware articles which have crossed my screen today:

Opposition research:
Web Filtering Packages Protect and Serve
http://www.technews world.com/perl/story/32100.html

What do pornography, shopping, watching sports, gambling and trading stocks online have in common? They're all activities available through Web sites that most businesses don't want employees indulging in. To enforce those rules, corporations are increasingly turning to Web-filtering packages that block access to forbidden sites.

[All about the booming corporate censorware market. That isn't an ideological issue for me. But it does remind me where the money is ... Sigh, years ago, some people used to "advise" me to try to make "better" censorware. But noooo, I had to volunteer tremendous effort to try to keep the Internet free]

In contrast, censorware expert librarian Karen Schneider has a great blog post "Filtering: The Low-Down Truth" James Tyre mentioned it to me)

Since CIPA was upheld, I've been asked to write and present about filtering, to help libraries make choices. Finally, after a lot of thought, I've turned down all these requests, and it's because I have to be true to myself, and continue speaking the truth as I know it. My best advice hasn't changed in seven years. Filters are bad news.

And, via LISnews, a Boston Globe editorial, Limits at the library

Although the Supreme Court says the law is constitutional, it is petty, distracting to library staff, and demeaning to force adults to ask for full Web access. ...
The law is part of a troubling trend that pushes people to surrender rights to ward off danger.

If only, if only, I could get some organizational support :-(. There is no point in my shouting to the wind and risking lawsuits, with no backing.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 13, 2003 10:56 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (12) | Followups
November 12, 2003

firstamendmentcenter.org (Sobel): "Internet Filters and Public Libraries"

"First Report" released:

"Internet Filters and Public Libraries" by David L. Sobel is a new First Report now available from the First Amendment Center.

Sobel , general counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, examines the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court's June 2003 ruling in U.S. v. American Library Association, which declared the Children's Internet Protection Act constitutional. CIPA mandates that libraries accepting federal funds install [censorware] to block access to [visual] material that is "obscene," "child pornography" or "harmful to minors."

It's an excellent report, recommended.

One little part did leap out at me:

A series of studies conducted by the Censorware Project documented the over-inclusive nature of commercially available filtering systems. One such study found that the SmartFilter product, which was installed by the Utah public school system, denied access to more than 500,000 Web sites.

Wince

One of these days, I should write up the complete behind-the-scenes circus about that study. Including the full story of why I'm not a co-author, despite the fact it wouldn't have existed without me (and no idle boast there).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 12, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 11, 2003

Followup message from Melvyn Hiscock (censorware'd name)

[A while ago, I posted a netnews message from Melvyn Hiscock, a person who has had e-mail troubles due to censorware. He recently sent me a follow-up. Posted with permission (and note he clarified he's making a joke in the reference to suing below)]

Date: Sun, 9 Nov 2003 21:59:44 +0000
To: Seth Finkelstein
From: Melvyn Hiscock

Hi there,

I thought I would drop you a line to say I found my posting to uk.music.guitar on your site.

I have no problem with that but thought you might like to know a little more.

A few people tried posting to me at melvynh@gxn.co.uk, the straight ISP address and via melvyn@melvynhiscock.com. Most got through OK but a few only came to the @gxn address (the one without my cock to put it another way!)

I am pretty sure I am losing mails this way but have not got the time to investigate although I will be changing ISP soon as mine us not too good for certain things.

My nephew tried to get timhiscock@hotmail.co.uk and that was blocked and my partner has trouble from her company.

I have wondered if a good US attorney would be able to get me one of those multi-million dollar settlements for slander, after all my name is my name. It was good enough for my dad, good enough for his and so on back hundreds of years, and it is not obscene.

it sort of reminds me of the old Monty Python joke (Monty Python's Big Red Book) "Arthur Penis would like to announce that he is to change his name through deed poll to Art Penis."

Best wishes,

Melvyn Hiscock

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 11, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 10, 2003

SunnComm, MediaMax CD3, and the shift key - revisited

Ernest Miller has a note on Sony's CD DRM Makes a Comeback, where he describes new Sony CD copy restrictions. He then asks, rhetorically:

How long before someone like Alex Halderman writes a critique of Sony's DRM as devastating as Halderman's analysis of SunnComm's (Analysis of the MediaMax CD3 Copy-Prevention System).

That reminds me ...

Around October 31, I submitted another question to Peter Jacobs, the president of SunnComm (remember, this is the company which threatened to use the DMCA to sue over that research), using their "Ask The Prez" form.

[Begin ask-the-prez question]

At the webpage http://www.afterdawn.com/news/archive/4569.cfm a poster who is apparently an employee of SunnComm states in part:

"... we decided not to go after [Alex Halderman], and not because of the shift key, but because ultimately, the media's 'spin' would eventually become bigger (and badder) than the actual initial problem."

Would you be willing to confirm this statement? Now, I'm not asking about the shift key, I understand about the shift key, you need not tell me about the shift key. Rather, I'm asking if it is accurate that SunnComm decided not to "go after" the researcher because of the bad publicity it would generate for SunnComm (note I'm not asking if SunnComm considered that bad publicity to be warranted).

Please consider the reply for public consumption.

[End ask-the-prez question]

Unlike my last question to SunnComm, this time around there was no reply ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on November 10, 2003 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
November 09, 2003

Weighing coverage again

It's a sobering - and unhappy - thought to realize that all my DMCA exemptions victory press coverage probably didn't add up to the audience size from the (unrelated?) Slashdot quote of me.

The numbers are just frightening. I keep thinking that the smart thing to do, is just to take my "winnings", and leave the table, as I seem to have done better than expected right now. More some other time, as I work through the mathematics.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on November 09, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 08, 2003

Slashdot Respect

I got an excellent, front page, mention in Friday's Slashdot article on Belkin Routers Route Users to Censorware Ad:

Incidentally, the Crystal Ball Award goes to Seth Finkelstein, who in 2001 quoted John Gilmore's famous aphorism about the internet, and asked "What if censorship is in the router?"

That's a link to my EFF Pioneer Award speech / essay. Very nice. Support.

Now, I don't know whether this is significant as a harbinger of things to come, or merely a special favor which won't be repeated. I wish I knew the deeper meaning of it.

Adding to stir the pot, there's a rumor going around in Slashdot troll-land (the underground of score-of-minus-one comments), that Michael Sims has been fired as a Slashdot "editor". (I found this out because, again, I got a bunch of hits to my website from people searching about Michael Sims - when that happens, I always know that something's up at Slashdot, it's a very reliable indicator). I tend to think it's not true, because if it ever did happen, the shouts of "And there was much rejoicing" will be heard much further than the dank troll habitats (believe me, I am not the only person who has cause here). But if anyone who might read this can authoritatively confirm or deny the rumor, I'd really like to know. It has relevance beyond my own curiosity.


Update 11/10: A source says there is no truth to the rumor :-(.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism | on November 08, 2003 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1) | Followups
November 07, 2003

Broadcast Flag - more strategies for fighting it with Open Source

More from the depths of the FCC ruling on the Broadcast Flag, from a partial dissent to the ruling. Note what arguments have a foundation of support, and where there's an opportunity to play to those issues (emphasis mine):

STATEMENT OF COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS APPROVING IN PART, DISSENTING IN PART

We must remain vigilant during the interim procedures established today and work expeditiously to develop a longer term process that includes clear technical criteria with a transparent road to approval. That is one of the principal purposes of the Further Notice that we approve today. As we move forward, we must also be careful not to chill development of software solutions generally, particularly for beneficial purposes such as software defined radio ...

But I must dissent in part because I believe that we fail to protect consumer interests in important parts of the decision. I dissent in part, first, because the Commission does not preclude the use of the flag for news or for content that is already in the public domain. This means that even broadcasts of government meetings could be locked behind the flag. Broadcasters are given the right to use the public's airwaves in return for serving their communities. The widest possible dissemination of news and information serves the best interests of the community. We should therefore be promoting the widest possible dissemination of news and information consistent, of course, with the copyright laws.

Software and public domain. That seems to be the key.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , security | on November 07, 2003 03:29 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 06, 2003

Broadcast Flag - fighting it with Open Source

Down deep in the FCC ruling on the Broadcast Flag is the key to effective tech fighting of it (my emphasis):

VI. FURTHER NOTICE OF PROPOSED RULEMAKING

Although we believe that our adoption of a flag-based redistribution control system for digital broadcast television will further the digital transition and ensure the continued flow of high value content to broadcast outlets, further comment is needed on several issues. ...

In response to our Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, EFF questioned the impact of a flag based regime on innovations in software demodulators and other DTV open source software applications.138 The Commission has actively promoted the development of software defined radio and other software demodulators as important innovations in the digital age.139 We seek further comment on the interplay between a flag redistribution control system and the development of open source software applications, including software demodulators, for digital broadcast television.

This is the wedge which can be used to throw a monkey-wrench into the works (forgive that sentence). Or at least try.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , security | on November 06, 2003 03:29 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2) | Followups
November 05, 2003

Broadcast Flag - desecration

"Do not remove this flag under penalty of law"

The Broadcast Flag is now law, per the FCC ruling. It's the DMCA-type deep copyright issues all over again.

Can't have fair use in practice - as a functional matter, not a legal defense - because no prison can have a gap in the walls. Can't make distinctions between various types of content - e.g. entertainment versus a political speech - since those are intellectual differences, not technological ones. On and on.

As I skimmed through the ruling, I noted that contrary to beloved techie myth, everyone involved is not stupid:

We recognize the concerns of commenters regarding potential vulnerabilities in a flag-based protection system. We are equally mindful of the fact that it is difficult if not impossible to construct a content protection scheme that is impervious to attack or circumvention. We believe, however, that the benefits achieved by creation of a flag-based system creating a "speed bump" mechanism to prevent indiscriminate redistribution of broadcast content and ensure the continued availability of high value content to broadcast outlets outweighs the potential vulnerabilities cited by commenters.

[Later]

We also recognize that with any content protection system, the potential exists that some individuals may attempt to circumvent the protection technology. We do not believe, however, that individual acts of circumvention necessarily undermine the value or integrity of an entire content protection system. The DVD example is instructive in this regard. Although the CSS copy protection system for DVDs has been "hacked" and circumvention software is available on the Internet, DVDs remain a viable distribution platform for content owners.46 The CSS content protection system serves as an adequate "speed bump" for most consumers, allowing the continued flow of content to the DVD platform. We believe the same rationale applies here.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight | on November 05, 2003 01:03 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (6) | Followups
November 04, 2003

More DMCA censorware exemption press recognition round-up

I've been tracking further press of my censorware DMCA victory

I was mentioned in the EFF press release on the DMCA exemptions, which was also later echoed in the EFFector newsletter:

"EFF Pioneer Award recipient Seth Finkelstein was instrumental in lobbying for censorware exemptions to the DMCA for each U.S. Copyright Office rulemaking period."

Dave Farber accepted a posting about my DMCA victory for an Interesting-People list message

The usual suspects wrote blog entries, just for example, bIPlog and The Importance Of

I particularly enjoyed the item on the blog Penguinal Ebullience

Huge, massive, gigantic props to Seth Finkelstein, who flew out to testify at the spring hearing with his own scratch, and whose testimony utterly conflagrated the arguments of censorware maker N2H2's David Burt. I believe it would be hard to overstate Seth's influence in winning the censorware exemption.

And Lenz Blog - Seth Finkelstein's Success

Seth Finkelstein has won one of the DMCA exemptions recently granted by the Copyright Office by contributing important comments under difficult circumstances. Good news.

The obvious question, however: Why does he have to pay for his own plane ticket? Considering the impact he has made, I sure hope that won't be necessary the next time around.

James Tyre did a censorware.net piece "Censorware Exemption to DMCA Anti-circumvention Provisions In Effect For Another Three Years"

This is all pleasant. This is nice. Especially the EFFector newsletter and Interesting-People appearances, those are level 4 circulation (order-of-magnitude 10,000 readership).

At the risk of sounding like an ingrate, it still all feels a little light for the effort it took, and win. It's better to have publicity at level 4, than none at all. But my benchmark here was level 5, e.g. The New York Times, as again was given in the 2000 rulemaking to someone else (once more, I'm the "anonymous informant[s]" of that article). After all, there were many articles, including a full front-page Slashdot story on Static Control's inaccurate claim to have won - based solely on their press release (I need a press agent).

I know, the common thinking says one is not supposed to measure and analyze such things, it's not classy. But I long ago gave up any pretensions to joining high society, especially where it means denying the realities of mathematics.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in activism , censorware , dmca | on November 04, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2) | Followups
November 03, 2003

On Diebold: The DMCA Is An Anti-Freedom-Of-Information-Act

Inspired by all that's been going on with the Diebold Election Systems / Swarthmore story today, such as NYT: File Sharing Pits Copyright Against Free Speech, and Online Policy Group v. Diebold case archive:

People are told to think of the DMCA as an "anti-piracy" law. It's supposed to stop copyright infringement. But in terms of implications, the DMCA is an anti-freedom-of-information-act. It's turned into an all-purpose gag-order tool. The reason is stated to be infringement - but it's very easy for that reason to turn into an excuse. This is the exact same phenomena as when material is improperly classified as "secret". The ostensible reason is protecting national security, but too often in reality it's hiding government incompetence or corruption. Except that now, "copyright infringement" works much better in certain contexts than "national security".

Consider this - the process of voting is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of a functioning democracy. And yet, we're expected to accept that we are not permitted to check and monitor the mechanics by which the votes are being counted. It's "secret balloting", in a very negative sense! Rather than control the votes, it's control of the vote-counting machines.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copyblight , politics , security | on November 03, 2003 04:47 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups

The Smell Of Astroturf In The Morning

Numbers tell patterns and speak volumes, if you can understand their language. It was clear that Presidential candidate John Edwards guest-posting on Lessig blog today was going to draw an audience. Credit-starved beggar that I am, I was hoping that the crowd of people would also read Lessig's post a few items earlier, "thanks, Seth", about DMCA exemptions. And so I'd benefit via a reflection from that publicity.

Nope. As far as I can tell, the crowd went straight to either cheer or boo John Edwards. Almost nobody was reading anything else. No interest. Not that it's unexpected. But it's worthwhile to know, empirically, that was the case.

E-cheering and E-booing does not fill me with a great hope for the future of the web in changing political campaigns.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in politics , statistics | on November 03, 2003 04:19 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2) | Followups
November 02, 2003

Symantec Says No To Pro-Gun Sites

Slashdot ran an article Symantec Says No To Pro-Gun Sites, describing how Symantec's censorware is blacklisting pro-gun sites. Without getting into specifics, this issue is in fact very well-known, though it's resurfaced from time to time. It's been going on for at least three years, and has been covered in various places. I have a lot of information on the topic, and considered writing about it a few months ago, when it went around a few mailing-lists again. But I thought it'd be "old news".

Take a look at GunCite 's page on the topic, which started around three years ago:

Censoring the Gun Control Debate
http://www.guncite.com/gun_control_i-gear.html

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on November 02, 2003 11:08 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Followups
November 01, 2003

Censorware companies unhappy about DMCA exemption ruling?

I can't prove it, and shouldn't say too much in specific, but certain indications have been that in the halls of the now-combined censorware company N2H2/Secure Computing, they were not pleased with my censorware DMCA victory

My speculation is that paragraphs such as the following, are anathema to them:

Opponents argued that circumvention is not necessary because other alternative sources for the information sought to be obtained are available, but the proponents of the exemption successfully discredited this assertion. While it is true that limited "querying" of the databases is available on some of the filtering software companies' sites, the circumscribed nature of this querying foreclosed comprehensive or meaningful results. Opponents produced evidence that many reviews of filtering software platforms reached conclusions based on these querying capabilities or by utilizing various sampling techniques, yet this evidence only proved that some parties were willing to settle for the results produced by such superficial tests. In light of the millions (or more) of potential URLs, it is indisputable that actually viewing the entire list of blocked Internet locations will produce data much more comprehensive than querying about one hundred URLs.

And

The ability to engage in legitimate research, criticism and comment about filtering software is even more compelling as a result of the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the Children's Internet Protection Act (CIPA). 52 Since CIPA requires libraries to install "filtering software" in order to block access to objectionable material as a condition of receiving federal funds, it becomes all the more important for the public to understand potential problems in particular filtering programs that may be installed in public facilities. Since the Court found that an important safety valve within CIPA was the ability of a library patron to request the disabling of such software, it appears all the more important that the public be able to obtain objective information about the performance or potential limitations of such software in order to make the determination whether to request such disabling.

I wonder if I'll be more successful with my attempts to get press notice in certain circles if I phrase it along the lines of: "Don't promote me because you like me. I know you don't. Rather, promote me because it annoys the Iraqi Information Minister, err, David Burt."

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , dmca | on November 01, 2003 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2) | Followups