June 30, 2006

"The People Formerly Known As The Audience" ... are STILL the audience

"The People Formerly Known As The Audience" by Jay Rosen, ends with the following:

Seth Finkelstein dissents in the comments at Dan Gillmor's blog:

Dan, we're still the audience. If you don't like my comment, you can personally attack me to a number of readers that is orders of magnitude more than I could realistically reach myself. I have no effective way to reply. That's "audience".

If I do volunteer journalism, but it is not propagated by A-list gatekeepers, and not appealing enough for the popular sites, it'll be ignored. That's "audience".

And what happens if the professional journalist just doesn't care if he or she gets it wrong, as long as it brings in the crowd? That's "audience".

Like the news media, Seth is an inflater of the balloons he pops. He refutes propositions I haven't made: that the audience is no more, that media power has been equalized.

[squeak squeak squeak squeak squeak ... comment:]

Thanks for proving my point Jay. :-(

I thought you were better than that.

You left off the last part of my comment:

"Don't shoot the messenger."

Is this the worst personal attack I've ever received in my life? No, not at all, by far. But it's illustrative of the inequality of audience, and it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at June 28, 2006 04:57 PM

The bogosphere really isn't good for me [sad face]. And I miss Shelley Powers' BurningBird blog:

If I want anything from the A Listers, it's honesty. It's following through on their glowing beliefs in this environment. It's a cessation of the games, and a reduction of the small minded petty meanness that characterizes too many of the A listers (and which makes one realize that perhaps this environment is not so utopian after all).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 30, 2006 09:08 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (12)
June 28, 2006

"Ignoring the Great Firewall of China"

[Echoed for a good cause]

Ignoring the Great Firewall of China

Richard Clayton, Steven J. Murdoch, and Robert N. M. Watson

Abstract. The so-called "Great Firewall of China" operates, in part, by inspecting TCP packets for keywords that are to be blocked. If the keyword is present, TCP reset packets (viz: with the RST flag set) are sent to both endpoints of the connection, which then close. However, because the original packets are passed through the firewall unscathed, if the endpoints completely ignore the firewall's resets, then the connection will proceed unhindered. Once one connection has been blocked, the firewall makes further easy-to-evade attempts to block further connections from the same machine. This latter behaviour can be leveraged into a denial-of-service attack on third-party machines.

But see the comments in the blog post thread:


Particularly the claim it doesn't work in practice:


By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 28, 2006 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 27, 2006

Google Catawba County indexing of password-protected student information story

I did a bit of investigation on the "story about how the Catawba County Schools in North Carolina has gained a temporary injunction":

... for "Google to remove any information pertaining to Catawba County Schools Board of Education from its server and index and alleges conversion and trespass against the corporation." The school blames Google for some how getting into a password protected area and indexing the content.

I didn't find anything more than the general information that is outlined in the SearchEngineWatch article above. There's a server, it has password-protected pages, it's not clear how Google crawled it.

Just speculating, there might be a flaw in Google's crawler, where in order to be efficient it's keeping login/password credentials in effect over multiple page retrievals, whereas the correct (but much less efficient) behavior would be to re-establish the credentials for each retrieval. So if there was a link with the login/password to a private page on the server, but one without such sensitive data, those credentials might have gotten re-used for other pages with more sensitive data. Again, that's only a theory. But it would explain what the school saw:

We did troubleshoot this situation by searching for the students' information at Yahoo, Dogpile, and AltaVista. We did not find any information on these three search engine returns and we attempted the searches over a three-day period.

So that makes it unlikely that the issue was purely a matter of a misconfigured server, one left open in an area which should have been password-restricted.

More "amusingly":

We acted so aggressively with Google because, until the media got involved, we could not get beyond an operator at Google. We could not get operators to connect us with technical support, the legal department, or to anyone higher up in the organization. We were only given an email address to which we could submit a complain - which we did but got no response. ... Only when the news media submitted its own inquiry to Google did we get a call regarding the situation. ...

It's still who you are that determines if you get heard.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 27, 2006 04:48 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 25, 2006

"Pearls Before Swine" [comic strip] on bloggers

I was going to write something regarding what I'd read of "Bl*ggrc*n" this weekend, but I decided it wasn't worth squeaking from the tail again, about the Big Heads (which in a way is all one needs to know ...). As a substitute, I would draw attention to the following Pearls Before Swine comic strips about blogging:


"I was thinking, maybe you could just shove your writings under this box ... that way just as many people would read it. But you'd save a fortune on Internet connection fees"


"Perhaps you should just try posting notes on your refrigerator. You might reach more people".

Also worthwhile:
[How to write a syndicated political column]

Bonus link: Chris Nolan - "Love For Sale"

This is an old story for those of us who have been in and around the tech business. Bloggers, like almost everyone else who has ever discovered the miraculous potential of a piece of software, have decided that they - and they alone, that few, that proud, that chosen (and why are they all men....?) - are agents of profound transformation. They are going to change the world as we know it and their potential power is awe-inspiringing, limitless and potentially very lucrative. Similar comments were made about the Segway and were happily reprinted without question or skepticism in Time magazine and other pubs. But can anyone look at a Segway these days without laughing? Don't get me wrong, the power of self-publishing is everything bloggers say it is (unlike the Segway) but the ways in which it's being used by this crowd are silly (like the Segway). And often self-defeating (like the ginned-up Segway PR effort).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 25, 2006 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 23, 2006

DMCA chilling effects and its discontents

Another pro-DMCA paper which trivializes the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)'s chilling effects on research has prompted a rebuttal comment from Ed Felten:

DMCA boosters can repeat the speech-was-not-chilled claim as often as they like, but it's still false. There are two big examples of the chill. First, WE ACTUALLY DID WITHDRAW THE PAPER FROM PUBLICATION at the Information Hiding Workshop. Second, ONE OF MY COLLEAGUES LOST HIS JOB BECAUSE OF THE PAPER. Sorry for yelling, but I'm sick of having this lie repeated.

At the time we filed our suit, the RIAA and SDMI had not withdrawn their threats -- they told the press that they had never objected to our paper (which was false) but they refused to tell us that they would not sue if we published the paper. And note that the RIAA and SDMI were not the only two parties that had threatened us. The other party, Verance, had done nothing to withdraw their threat. It was only after we filed our lawsuit that all of them promised definitively not to sue.

In fact (before recent posts about it) *I* didn't know about the person who lost his job because of the paper, and I've probably followed the case more closely than 99.9+% of anyone interested.

But sadly, the issue is intrinsic to the politics of the pro-DMCA argument. To wit: If the DMCA hurts "good" people, there's a problem. So DMCA advocates are driven to say it only hurts "bad" people - and thus any "good" people affected must be either a) not really "good" or b) not really affected. It's problematic to impugn the high status which accrues to a Princeton professor, so that leaves attacking the effects.

To fair, from the outside it's sometimes hard to distinguish truth from hype. This is one reason I believe wolf-crying "journalists" do much harm, by raising phony alarms (but then, I'm bad at politics). And many people have very misleading ideas about how much support is available for civil-liberties defense (see, e.g. the CyberPatrol case - "What I found out was that those organizations, through no fault of their own, were able to give me a lot of sympathy and not enough of anything else, particularly money, to bring my personal risk of tragic consequences down to an acceptable level, despite, incredibly, the fact that what I had done was legal.")

I really don't know how to counter this. I get too much grief myself, even from activists who should know better, when talking about the risks of the DMCA.

Update: Bill Herman has a long rebuttal to the pro-DMCA paper.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in dmca | on June 23, 2006 09:18 AM | (Infothought permalink)
June 21, 2006

More China Google Censorship, Domains

Philipp Lenssen has compiled a Sample List of Censored Domains in Google.cn (I made a few suggestions as to sources, hence I'm graciously noted). I think there's something interesting in this data, but it would require substantial time to try to analyze it.

Some of the sites listed are free web hosting services (like Geocities or Angelfire), others are international news sites or human rights sites. With these it's kind of obvious why the Chinese gov't treats them as opponents. For other sites however, like those of music bands, I didn't see any obvious connection.

Sharing the same IP? (Virtual Hosting). Domain inheritance? Copyright list traps? Somebody in the censorship bureau hates the music band? The mind of a censor can be inscrutable.

Update: For some different but related info, see Nart Villeneuve on Keywords & Google.cn

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 21, 2006 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 20, 2006

Censorware Blacklisting Amusing Message

I found this funny: I was putting a few sites into a censorware site's blacklist look-up form, and got the following supplemental info when testing for the Boing Boing blog (my emphasis below):

Check or Request Site Rating

Use this page to find out the rating of a website. Enter a valid site, and see what categories K9 calls it. You can send us comments or suggest a different category here, too.

Review Page: http://www.boingboing.net/ (Check another site)

This page is currently categorized as Proxy Avoidance, and Newsgroups

This web page has already been submitted many times, and has been verified as rated correctly.

They don't say "stop bugging us about it already" - but it seems that way :-).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on June 20, 2006 07:06 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 18, 2006

Surprising Extent Of China Google Censorship

I've been commenting on and refining some of the analysis of Philipp Lenssen's tests of China censored Google pages. The basic result turns out to be that since China bans some very popular domains from Google (e.g. news.bbc.co.uk, geocities.com, angelfire.com) in their entirety, many Google searches have a least one result censored on the first page. The numbers of initial pages affected is quite large, when searching for common words.

Related material echo:


15 June 2006 Reporters Without Borders / Internet Freedom desk CHINA

YAHOO! CLEAR WORST OFFENDER IN CENSORSHIP TESTS ON SEARCH ENGINES Reporters Without Borders said it found Yahoo! to be the clear worst offender in censorship tests the organisation carried out on Chinese versions of Internet search engines Yahoo!, Google, MSN as well as their local competitor Baidu.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 18, 2006 06:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
June 15, 2006

Google Groups Censorship in Germany - found two posts

Refining yesterday's work on Google Groups Censorship, I've managed to determine two of the specific posts which have been censored. Note these are censored over the world, not just within Germany. They're:

Message-ID "1147700268.906162.35470@j55g2000cwa.googlegroups.com"
Message-ID "1147883544.336917.193380@u72g2000cwu.googlegroups.com"

Obviously, I can't link to them in Google Groups. But it turns out that they're quoted later on in the "de.soc.politik.misc" newsgroup thread, at


This can be verified by constructing a WORD or AUTHOR search query which would return the post if it were not banned, but instead will return the censorship message. Don't try to search by message-id, that won't distinguish between normal missing posts and censored posts. And be sure to disable the similarity option ("we have omitted some entries very similar") - amusingly, self-referentially, the censored posts always count as omitted.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 15, 2006 02:54 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
June 14, 2006

Finding A Usenet Message Censored In Google Groups - "de.soc.politik.misc"

[Original research!!!]

Some Google Groups Posts Removed in Germany (Google Blogscoped):

Gary Price of ResourceShelf informs me [Philipp Lenssen] that there are new cases of censorship in Google Germany, but this time, in Google Groups, as Chilling Effects shows. Considering that Google has a quasi-monopoly on the Usenet archive, this is unsettling, especially as all of this happens in the background and we don't know which posts have been removed. (We do know the reason for the removal; it supposedly contained hate speech/ "Volksverhetzung," e.g. promoting Nazi opinions). In China, Google only blocks a path to the censored sites, and the Chinese gov't is responsible for blocking the sites themselves; with Google Groups, Google actually holds the newsgroup content on their servers.

Found it - at the thread level


In response to a legal complaint we received, we have removed one or more messages. If you wish, you may read the legal complaint .

Someone who can read German and gets "de.soc.politik.misc" independently should be able to narrow it to the exact post.


The censorship notice at the bottom of the Google Groups screen :


Turns out to refer to the same Chilling Effects document as one mentioned in the above post:


Update 2:

Another: (not listed in the post!)


Update 3: Changed title to be more specific, and I found a source for "de.soc.politik.misc"

Update 4: Found two specific posts, see following entry

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 14, 2006 02:40 PM | (Infothought permalink)
June 13, 2006

"Zen and the art of sexing hedgehogs"


"I am shocked, crushed and devastated that google can not help me find a photograph of a hedgehog penis. What is the world coming to ?"

[Via Michael Froomkin]

He later updates that one working search is for [hedgehog gender identification picture].

But I'm not sure this was a complete Google failure.

I was able to find a useful picture in a Google image search for [hedgehog sexing] (even with SafeSearch on!). And a Google web search for [hedgehog penis] yielded useful items in the first few results.

I suppose the underlying lesson is that this is a demonstration that image searching is much more difficult than text searching.


"I searched the web for photographs of hedgehog penises. It is actually possible that I am the first person to do so."

No way, for completely non-prurient reasons. For example, a Yahoo image search turned up photographs, related to a sad tale of the life and death of a pet hedgehog involving a related cancer tumor. And knowing male/female for pets is often very important if you have two or more of the same species.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 13, 2006 11:52 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
June 11, 2006

Hyperlinked Society

The Hyperlinked Society conference just took place. I greatly appreciated being an invited participant for a panel - "Navigating Nodes of Influence". So I suppose I've now officially joined the conference-oriate. In fact, given that I had the enjoyment of being a fellow-panelist with David Weinberger, I'm now one degree of separation away from anyone who has ever been prominent at a technical conference. And I suppose I could be said to be making, err, links, to Lee Rainie, Director, Pew Internet and American Life Project, and Peter Morville. Eszter Hargittai moderated our panel, which discussed various aspects of how users use links to find information and view links as imparting reputation. For example, I discussed my saying that "Google ranks popularity, not authority", and being the top result for a Google search for a term is often wrongly viewed as imbuing the result with some sort of endorsement (which leads to everything from Google-bombing to protests over rankings to censorship of search engines).

I find the whole conference experience to be unfamiliar, and rather difficult for me. Not in technical terms - after a while, I understood the basic goal, essentially the sociology of how people work with hyperlinks and the web. But the social practices are complicated, and I'm not skilled at them. An analogy would be that it's like trying to be part of a multiple conversation which is using a foreign language where you've taken lessons, but aren't fluent (What was that idiom? Do I reply back in the familiar mode or the formal mode? Am I saying what I mean? etc.). So no matter how many times you've attempted the glottal stop or rise-and-fall tonal inflection, there's a big difference in trying to do it in real time with no guides.

Gabe Rivera joked:

Seth Finkelstein is a consummate schmoozer, deftly milking his enpanelled status to expand his personal network for certain future professional advancement. Ok, that's not entirely true, but not entirely false!

Hee hee. It's a networking problem, and some of the issues aren't all that obscure (and in fact, this actually connects to the conference topic - links on the web, links between people, high Google PageRank, A-listers, there are semi-amusing structural parallels). I did chat with various people, e.g. (name drop!) Nick Carr, Mary Hodder, and Jay Rosen said hello (now if I don't mention someone I should, I'll offend them ...). I kept trying to figure out a good way to talk to Jeff Jarvis about Internet censorship coverage, but the conference ended before I could find a way to phrase it which seemed satisfactory.

But it was good for my ego to hear nice things, to have people compliment me.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 11, 2006 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
June 08, 2006

Reminder: "Life Trumps Blogging"


Life trumps blogging. At least it does for most sane, balanced people.

-- Walt Crawford

Busy. Back in a few days.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on June 08, 2006 11:29 AM | (Infothought permalink)
June 05, 2006

"Google Bombing for Alaa", revisited, and on-line activism analysis

Jon Garfunkel has an extensive article on "Constructive Activism", which discusses the activism techniques used in the case of imprisoned Egyptian blogger Alaa.

Two weeks ago, Alaa Ahmed Seif Al Islam-- an activist, blogger, Cairene, Drupal developer, Egyptian, and fairly good husband to his wife Manal (in alphabetical order)-- was beaten and arrested, along with ten other demonstrators, as part of ongoing protests in Egypt in suppport of an independent judiciary. What followed was a smattering of global protests, online and offline to free Alaa and other hundreds of jailed protestors. These helped in part to generate media stories, and even the U.S. State Department has called the actions of the Egyptian government were a "mistake."

Still, it remains difficult to judge the effectiveness of some of the new online activism tactics, particularly as they are ongoing and have have yet to achieve the ultimate goals, but in some quarters they've already been celebrated without qualification.

I'm late to the party, so I'm just going to use my puny platform to recommend it. Why? Because there's plenty of analysis about Google-bombing problems, Google Ads as activism tools, the consideration of site design, code for "badges", and more.

[Disclaimer: I'm mentioned favorably in the piece]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on June 05, 2006 01:00 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
June 01, 2006

Erection Problems (with a spam filter)

A news story about how the word "Erection" caused email to be lost is proving popular:

Commercial lawyer Ray Kennedy sent three emails to Rochdale Council's planning department objecting to proposals to extend his next-door neighbour's home on Sunny Brow Road in Middleton.

It later emerged the first two failed to reach the department because software on the town hall's computer system - designed to filter out obscene material - intercepted them because they contained the word "erection".

Somehow a third email, which contained the same word, managed to reach a planning officer - but the plans had already been given the go-ahead.

I think what going on here is basically true, but just slightly more complicated. It may not only be the word "Erection" all by itself. But that word, plus a few other minor words (What a cock-up?), is enough to trigger the spam threshold.

See the report I wrote a while back on a similar spam system:

UK Parliament Mail - The Ministry Of Silly Messages
Abstract: This report examines messages being rejected by a mail system in use [then] by the UK parliament.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in spam | on June 01, 2006 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)