2. Censorware Chronicles ( appeared once this year, in September, although censorware was mentioned in two other issues ).
I think this one's a fait accompli - there just isn't very much happening. The one lawsuit I'm currently aware of is against a library that's failing to follow the post-Supreme Court CIPA (that is, not unblocking sites at an adult patron's request), and thus really has no effect on CIPA. There's the ongoing DoJ attempt to revive COPA, and that's interesting, but others are covering that a lot better than I could.
Where to start ...
To the contrary, that lawsuit is quite significant with regard to CIPA (the Federal library censorware law). Whether an adult patron could have censorware disabled on request was a major factor in the Supreme Court opinions on the law. Showing such ability is not true in practice would be very significant as part of further legal challenges to censorware in libraries (this has to do with a complicated concept of two type of legal challenges "facial" vs "as-applied", which is about roughly theory vs. practice).
And while there's certainly been much coverage of the "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA), it's my view that the censorware implications could be explored much better than they often have been. I've been writing about that, but frankly, very few people read me, certainly compared to the overall media reports. I think it's useful for more people punditing on the topic to point out the censorware least-restrictive-means argument is NOT new, going back more than a decade (to some vicious politics of touting censorware). And it leads to deep problems of talk-up/talk-down censorware. The superficial punditry is going to snark that those problems are a contradiction, then there's going to be somewhat knee-jerk contrarian articles claiming it's not really a contradiction because there's different contexts: parents/children/government/law/etc. But there's not a lot of good writing with a deep perspective, pointing out that even taking into account different contexts, there's still a problem since that overall situation just doesn't stay so neatly partitioned or ideally formalized. The legal argument over the sufficiency of censorware for parents tends to turn into a public-relations argument about how well it works.
The Psiphon censorware circumvention project is getting a lot of publicity. And I seem to be the only one so far pointing out that if it really worked, that would undermine one of the ACLU's arguments in COPA in favor of censorware (that in practice censorware is difficult to circumvent).
Note: If "psiphon is a human rights software project developed by the Citizen Lab at the Munk Centre for International Studies that allows citizens in uncensored countries to provide unfettered access to the Net through their home computers to friends and family members who live behind firewalls of states that censor." - that works just as well for libraries that censor. In fact, even better, since nobody involved is going to be killed as an enemy of the state. It might even make for some interesting guerrilla activism against censorware in libraries.
And in general censorware news, there's the Great Firewall Of Canada, where Canada wants to have national ISP censorware to ban illegal-in-Canada sites.
There's also been mentions that the The Open Net Initiative is going to have a big report in the near future on country censorware, which feeds back into all the above.
So there's much going on.
Personal note: NONE of this is helpful to me. It does not change my political baggage or the unfavorable economics of employment. In fact, I have to remind myself that though it may break my heart, getting involved is likely to be as hugely destructive to me (in both stress and money) as happened to me before (in fact, probably all the censorware blog posts I've been writing recently are not as good for me as if I had been doing Google-related blog posts).
TORONTO, Nov. 21 -- Deep in a basement lab at the University of Toronto a team of political scientists, software engineers and computer-hacking activists, or "hactivists," have created the latest, and some say most advanced tool yet in allowing Internet users to circumvent government censorship of the Web.
... "Governments have militarized their censorship efforts to an incredible extent so we're trying to reverse some of that and restore that promise that the Internet once had for unfettered access and communication," Dr. [Ron] Deibert said.
Now let's compare Ed Felten's testimony in the "COPA" trial:
Q. ... I want to discuss with you the ease which filters can be circumvented. Do you have an opinion regarding the ease with which minors can circumvent Internet filtering technology?
A. Yes, I do.
Q. What is your opinion?
A. My opinion is that it's quite difficult for minors to circumvent filters.
There are some other methods in which the user could try to set up their own intermediary site on some other computer, and that turns out to be fraught with all kinds of technical difficulties. You really have to have a lot of facility with installing and configuring networking software in order to have any hope of getting that to work in practice.
Now, of course, both might agree that's the current state of affairs.
But either changing that state of affairs will succeed, in which case one of the pro-censorware arguments against the "Child Online Protection Act" will then be invalidated. Or it will fail, in which case, you can censor the Internet.
Pick one (and don't shoot the messenger).
Misc notes. I've said other material before, probably too many times.
Another ex-activism milestone passed (not a turning point, as no direction changed, but a milestone, passage of a notable event).
I made minor updates to my main censorware page, e.g. struck-out the part about
"Support needed! Legal and financial support is needed to continue this work! Please contact Seth Finkelstein if you can help."
It's been obsolete for a long time now anyway. Nobody ever responded in any case.
Blogging doesn't work (I'm being repetitive, but it bears repeating).
I probably should say more about the subject, but navigating between what I'd like to write, and what I can safely write, is too problematic.
"Although the notice of proposed rulemaking made clear that proponents of renewal of an existing exemption must make their case de novo, proponents in the current rulemaking proceeding made no attempt to make any factual showing whatsoever, choosing instead to rest on the record from three years ago and argue that the existing exemption has done no harm, that nothing has changed to suggest the exemption is no longer needed, and that if anything, the use of filtering software is on the rise. In a rulemaking proceeding that places the burden of coming forward with facts to justify an exemption for the ensuing three-year period on proponents, one cannot assume that the elements of the case that was made three years ago remain true now. Nor is there any evidence in the record that there has been any use of the exemption in the past three years, or that there would be likely to be any use of an exemption during the next three years. While this is not necessarily fatal, nevertheless a record that reveals no use of an existing exemption tends to indicate that the exemption is unnecessary. Together, the absence of any quantification of the current scope of the problem along with the absence of any demonstration that the existing exemption has offered any assistance to noninfringing users leaves a record that provides no basis to justify a recommendation for renewal of the exemption."
Walt Crawford recently released issue 6:14 (December 2006) of his Cites & Insights, which made me worry about not being good at reciprocity since I hadn't noted issue 6:13 (November 2006) even though it mentioned me several times.
Things to read - a long discussion of "What About Wikipedia?". And to answer the question there, about why Wikipedia doesn't allow opting-out:
I must admit that, apart from politicians, Nobel Prize winners, and perhaps people with some high level of celebrity, I don't get this position at all. You can choose not to be listed in Who's Who in America. Why is it inappropriate for someone who's mildly notable but not a world-class celebrity or politician to ask to be left out of Wikipedia?
As I've said, I believe the answer is "that to allow anyone to decline to be a subject an article would be an admission that the supposed collective editing process is deeply flawed".
Long summary of Copyright Currents - Fair Use and Infringement, The RIAA and Copyright, DMCA Discussions, and more.
Blogging, and the corporatization thereof (links added):
Anybody can become an A-lister. There is no A-list. Any blog can reach a vast audience. You know the myths. Within the broad field of blogs, I no longer have any doubt that they are myths. The A-listers play by different rules and mostly draw sycophants as commenters; these days, though, many of the A-list blogs are really just new forms of old or corporate media in any case.
... Your chances of making those big bucks? Turns out that, once you take away the Hot Sites, there's not a lot left over (although the article never says that outright). And the blognates (blog magnates) are building lots of new blogs to soak up any excess revenue.
... But you have to be hot stuff to get impressions-based ad revenue, and I think The Great Unread and other articles discussed previously pretty much spell out the odds of becoming hot stuff if you're an honest-to-gosh blogger.
In the closing arguments of the "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) Internet Censorship trial, the censorware "talk-up" vs. "talk-down" divide was prominent.
ACLU press release, censorware "talk-up":
... But as the ACLU showed during the trial, Internet filters would be far more effective at blocking sexually explicit Web sites.
... "It is also clear that other alternatives, including education and filtering, are far more effective for those parents who want to limit access by their children to certain websites using their own values."
[later] ... In addition, according to the government's own expert, America Online's filter blocks more than 98 percent of all sexually explicit sites.
Now let's compare the government statements (AP article), the censorware "talk-down"
PHILADELPHIA - Justice Department attorneys, defending a law aimed at keeping online pornography from minors, argued that software filters often block valid sites -- on gay rights or sexual health, for example -- that teens might seek out.
"Filters are hindering minors from learning about the world around them. That's a huge problem," government lawyer Joel McElvain said Monday. "There may be reasons the teenagers have problems speaking to their parents about these (issues)."
Here's where the side-switching happens, that people sometimes mistakenly refer to as a "contradiction". It's formally consistent for the ACLU to argue that parents can use censorware on minors, and the government shouldn't apply censorware to adults in public libraries. But the issue tends to drift from those bare control-rights based statements. Here, the ACLU is "talking-up" censorware in their own press release ("more than 98 percent"!). While the government is "talking-down" censorware in their public comments ("hindering minors"). These are not legal statements, but short bits for popular consumption. Both would agree that censorware catches some porn sites and makes mistakes. But the switch comes that here the ACLU is emphasizing the accurate part and the government is emphasizing the inaccurate part, while in a library censorware case, the emphasis would be reversed. And more deeply, that the accurate aspect is claimed to be what matters, while the inaccurate aspect is dismissed as an acceptable cost (and elsewhere, vice-versa)
On a personal note, I'm hoping this all helps me get across to people what I went through in trying to get support in opposing censorware. And why those issues are still a factor. But I'm probably being over-optimistic.
Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, three library users and a nonprofit organization today brought suit to ensure that patrons of a library system in Eastern Washington have access to useful and lawful information on the Internet. The lawsuit challenges the library system's policy of using a restrictive Internet filter to bar access to information on its computers and of refusing to honor requests by adult patrons to temporarily disable the filter for sessions of uncensored reading and research. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane. ...
The North Central Regional Library District (NCRL) operates 28 community libraries in Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Grant, and Okanogan Counties. The NCRL has used a blocking software product called SmartFilter, Bess edition, manufactured by the California-based company Secure Computing Corporation, to filter Internet content on all public computers at its branch libraries. Bess blocks a very broad array of lawful information, and the NCRL has refused to unblock sites for patrons. ...
Libraries that receive funds for Internet access under two specific federal programs are required to have the ability to block minors from seeing "visual depictions" of sexual activity. But the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the law to mean that libraries should disable those filters upon the request of an adult. The ACLU believes that the NCRL filtering policy goes far beyond what is allowed under federal law.
It's not irony, given that this is about adults being about to turn off censorware in a public library. But still, given the tendency of COPA to have the ACLU "talk-up" censorware, and that this lawsuit (by a different ACLU division) will "talk-down" censorware, there could be some press confusion. So it's still a bit of a surprise that this lawsuit was announced while the trial for the "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) is still taking place.
As a coda to the censorware research results, this is an interesting statement on confidentiality by the judge in the "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) Internet Censorship trial (November 8):
The Court: ... The court is well aware from experience, and nobody in the room would think otherwise, people claim confidentiality on everything from soup to nuts when they are deposed.
When the chips fall down, or come down to the bottom, they waive it or they don't care about it, because it was 10 years ago. But they assert the confidentiality out of protective mechanism and then it may not be important to them. It may not be important. They may keep asserting it until they are on the witness stand.
And I say, do you really have to assert that? I can't figure out what the business purpose is. And then they say, well, all right. So who knows. Protective orders are like a sponge. They soak up everything until the chips are down. And when they are down we will see what happens.
83% of sites contain commercial content and 6% contain scientific or educational content. Only 1.5% of sites contain pornographic content
About 1 percent of the websites in the Google and MSN indexes are sexually explicit.
Yes, another go-around in 2006 is a nice confirmation and additional data-point. But essentially nothing has changed. Which means that whatever one's position beforehand about censorware and COPA, there's nothing changed from this study.
The only thing which has changed is to temporarily quiet the objection that those other studies were old and hence no longer valid. Oh, and maybe debunking media hype about how The Internet Is For Porn.
[Update - Consider this item in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
Net not so dirty?
Conventional wisdom has it that the Internet is loaded with porn. But, according to the San Jose Mercury News, only 1 percent of all Web pages contain sexually explicit material (based on random samples taken from the Yahoo, MSN, Google and AOL search requests). This may well be meaningless, though, because the analysis cannot reveal whether this is a declining or increasing amount or whether the weight of the estimated 55 million blogs is drowning out the porn. Seth Finkelstein, a civil-liberties activist quoted in the piece, has another theory. "What we are learning about the Internet is that it reflects life and that the Internet is not -- contrary to what some people might think -- more sexual than people are in general."
Note, exactly what I've said - the value in this study is getting the word out to "conventional wisdom". The writer is apparently unaware that the results are consistent with other studies going back several years, because that's not the "conventional wisdom". ]
Z-list blues note: The MSNBC / FT.com article has this statement:
The findings, first reported in the San Jose Mercury News, were disclosed in Federal court in Philadelphia last week during the latest hearing into the ACLU's injunction.
Cough. Ahem, ahem, ahem ... Not that I'm especially annoyed - as I said, the findings were released in an authorized email to many reporters and other interested case-watchers. But I do think I had the first material on the web about it. Again, it doesn't matter, as I didn't really do anything except be awake at the time (which is a dubious achievement) and have a blog. So I'm noting this more for amusement than anything else. But it's yet another little point about the silliness of blog triumphalism.
Seth Finkelstein, a programmer and civil-liberties activist, said Google's stance was "horribly self-serving."
"There were no privacy implications in the sense that the data was restricted to a very small set of researcher who were under various sets of protective orders," Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein said Stark's findings about the prevalence of pornography on the Internet are similar to other academic studies.
"What we are learning about the Internet is that it reflects life and that the Internet is not -- contrary to what some people might think -- more sexual than people are in general."
The quotes are accurate, though of course it was a small part of a much longer conversation.
I'm climbing the pundit-ladder! :-)
[h/t: Catherine Crump]
[Small scoop, though several reporters will probably have items shortly - updated with full report ]
The expert witness censorware report which set off the media frenzy Google Subpoena has now been released, almost completely. There are only some small redactions having to do with specific numbers related to various sizes of search engine indexes, which the companies regard as proprietary information.
I was on a list of recipients who inquired and received the full text
in a mailing when it was approved for release by the Department Of
As the report will probably show up on the big search blogs,
I'll save my disk space and let them post it. It's not all that, err,
This study reports on the Google and MSN indexes, on AOL, MSN and Yahoo! queries, and on the most popular Wordtracker queries. About 1 percent of the websites in the Google and MSN indexes are sexually explicit. About 6 percent of queries retrieve a sexually explicit website. Nearly 40 percent of the most popular queries retrieve a sexually explicit website. Close to 90 percent of the sexually explicit websites retrieved by queries are domestic. Filters that block more of the sexually explicit websites also block more of the clean websites. The most restrictive filter blocks about 94 percent of the sexually explicit search results, but also blocks about 13 percent of the clean results. Of the sexually explicit websites that get through the filters, 30 percent to 90 percent are domestic.
The number of sexually explicit websites is huge. Search results often include sexually explicit material. A lot of sexually explicit material is not blocked by filters. Of that, a substantial percentage is domestic.
[But we all knew that last paragraph already ...]
[Update: Looks like nobody else bothered:-), and it turns out I can host it, so here it is:]
The "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) Internet Censorship trial discussed censorware statistics on 11/8, where we finally got to hear the results from the report which sparked the net firestorm of the Google Subpoena.
Executive Summary: blah, underblocking, blah blah, overblocking, blah blah blah, number number ...
It was without a doubt the most statistical sophisticated expression of the idea that a censorware blacklist catches some stuff but not everything, and usually more than intended. All else is elaboration. And frankly, I've yet to find anyone for whom the precise numbers make much of a difference. Maybe the judge cares here.
Most amusing moment:
A. No. As I answered previously, I think that one needs to consider the overblocking as well as the underblocking. If all you were concerned about was underblocking, you could just disconnect the computer from the Internet.
Q. What would the effect be of disconnecting the computer from the Internet?
A. There would be no underblocking at all, however, the overblocking would be rather severe.
Making it simple for users to walk away from a Google service with which they are unhappy keeps the company honest and on its toes, and Google competitors should embrace this data portability principle, Eric Schmidt said at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco.
"If you look at the historical large company behavior, they ultimately do things to protect their business practices or monopoly or what have you, against the choice of the users," he said. "The more we can, for example, let users move their data around, never trap the data of an end user, let them move it if they don't like us, the better."
While at face value, this is a praiseworthy statement, I am more cynical. Institutionally, Google is known for
1) A prodigious appetite for data 2) A maniacal secrecy 3) Good PR
Putting this all together, I don't think he wants to make it easy for users to move personal data away from Google. I think he wants to make it easy for users to move personal data away from Microsoft and Yahoo to Google. I suspect this is in fact an attack aimed at Microsoft, where he's going to wave the banner of "portability" against possible Microsoft operating system lock-in tactics.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
But it's about Microsoft and what Google perceives as competitive advantage, not about "the choice of the users".
There's an interesting mercenary detail over at the Nerve.com "Child Online Protection Act" (COPA) trial blog, discussing an expert witness report:
The difference, as we will learn from some very erudite excerpts of the DOJ's Expert Report of Stephen Roy Albert Neale, an up-and-coming analytical philosopher so legit he has his own Wikipedia entry, is that while the guys on the ACLU side (who are totally gay for Neale) do this stuff for free, Neale gets paid $300 an hour by America.
I suspect there's some confusion in that paragraph between being a trial witness, which is almost always unpaid, and an expert witness, which is sometimes paid (possibly very highly) and sometimes for just For The Cause. It doesn't automatically follow that the civil-liberties expert witnesses are unpaid. While it's technically public information, people don't like to talk about it (I have what I view as a running joke with someone that when they're looking for expert witnesses, I'd be happy to let bygones be bygones for one of the "six figure" plums, and nothing says "I'm sorry" like a big fat consulting fee. I probably find this much funnier, in a gallows-humor way, than they do). It is true than even when the civil-liberties people are paid, they generally get much less than corporate types.
There's also this nugget in the 11/07 transcript:
Q. And the cost of the study that you have done for the Department Of Justice to date is over a million dollars, is that correct?
A. I'm led to believe that is correct. I did not bill it myself so -- ...
Note, before anyone starts making what they think are clever suggestions for me, that, if nothing else, you need to have the right political contacts to get one of those jobs, and I don't qualify.
They said it, not me:
Powerset gets $12.5M at whopper valuation, to go after search holy grail
The company is controversial because it claims it can do "natural language" search, the holy grail of search that most experts have dismissed as impossible. ...
Significantly, the company also raised its venture capital at a sky-high valuation - even higher than VentureBeat originally reported a few weeks ago when we first broke the Powerset story.
Value-add: See one of those expert's dismissal, Danny Sullivan's article "Hello Natural Language Search, My Old Over-Hyped Search Friend"
And as a confirmatory Sign Of The Bubble more money in play from the Harvard venture capital fund.
But I still don't see anything for non-A-listers or the unconnected :-(.
At the risk of boring Censorware/Search readers, it looks like I'm on a roll about Bubble 2.0. Let me highlight this sentence from an article "Gannett to Crowdsource News":
Of all the pilot projects the company has conducted over the last few months, the most promising would seem to be the crowdsourcing of in-depth investigations into government malfeasance. Crowdsourcing involves taking functions traditionally performed by employees and using the internet to outsource them to an undefined, generally large group of people. The compensation is usually far less than what an employee might make for performing the same service. Well-known examples include Wikipedia and iStockphoto.
Now: Who thinks unpaid (or very poorly paid) easily-replaceable labor is just the greatest thing ever? Who finds that exciting and innovative? There's not a lot of discussion of that issue (and what good does it do me to rant about it :-( ...).
Anyway, take this as another note regarding why all the academic cheerleading for unpaid freelancing, bodes ill for me.
The following encapsulates the current bubble-state and times perfectly, in startup investment (my emphasis):
After a year of mostly veiled references and speculation fueled by the involvement of [Media A-lister] as an adviser and [Craigslist owner] as an investor, [news-aggregating startup] is about to see the light of day -- funded by roughly twice as many investors as it has employees.
"The core focus moving forward is to be part of the process of RSS [really simple syndication] going mainstream in the coming years," said [venture capital partner]. "One of the areas that has been untapped is the job of the citizen to be not just a journalist but also an editor. We want to ensure that those who want to tell a narrative have the best sources to do that."
"Job"? Be wary, citizen-lunchmeats. The Bubble 2.0 social structure resembles less any sort of democracy, and more the third-world countries where there is a minuscule elite at the top, and then the rest of the population on the bottom.
First, a recitation of my bubble-prayer:
There's an old oil-business prayer, from years ago:
"O Lord, just give me one more oil boom - I promise not to piss it all away this time."
O Lord, just give me one more tech bubble, one more collective financial insanity where I might be able to get founder's stock and be bought-out for absurd amounts of money in a ridiculously short time. I promise not to waste it all away this time doing censorware decryption and fighting for net-freedom.
Objectively, I don't think the money is falling from the skies yet (and may never get to that point).
There was a recent interesting article examining: "Search Applications : Search Startups Are Dead, Long Live Search Startups"
While there will undoubtedly be opportunities for start-ups to extend and improve core search (which is where the vast majority of effort has been extended to date), some of the most interesting opportunities will come not from trying to improve the accuracy and context of a single query, but from looking at aggregate information about search indexes, results, and queries across time. In other words, the marriage of this search infrastructure, with persistent queries and advanced analytics will likely create an entirely new class of applications that generate insights and create value not by finding the specific piece of information someone is looking for, but by analyzing the ebb and flow of information across the web. It is here, in this new world of search applications that more than a few start-ups are likely to find a happy home.
However, there's a problem with focusing only on the lottery-winners, and it's neglecting to note how many tickets don't win. What's problematic about Bubble 2.0 is how the ratio seems to be even more lopsided. Of course, by definition, most start-ups fail, that's nothing new. But I draw a different conclusion from all the articles that seem to breathlessly proclaim how that ratio is now becoming even more extreme, and lottery tickets are cheaper than ever. They usually frame this in a positive manner, praising niches and "User-generated content" for which I'll quote a sardonic definition:
Stands for "user-generated content," a new form of online scam in which you make all the content, and we keep all the money.
Somewhere, I think there's a moral indictment to be had of the academic fashion for cheerleading this stuff as the greatest expression of "democracy". It's obvious why they do it, and far worse has been done, but it's still an abdication of the standards of critical thought.
Anyway, the sucker/winner ratio still looks outrageously high in my corner of the tech world, some big payoffs notwithstanding (remember, always, someone wins the lottery, "it could be you" - but it probably won't be).