September 30, 2007

Nart Villeneuve on Myanmar/Burma and Internet censorship

Echo: Nart Villeneuve, of Open Net Initiative about Myanmar/Burma and Internet censorship:

Media coverage of Internet censorship is usually framed through one of two lenses: The "1984" approach overstates censorship capabilities claiming that legions of internet police monitor everything in "real time" and are just one kick away if you make the wrong click. The "technoptimist" approach understates censorship capabilities and claims that circumvention technology is proliferating and the internet is a democracy-battering-ram chipping away at the crumbling walls of oppressive regimes. ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on September 30, 2007 08:00 PM | (Infothought permalink)
September 27, 2007

"Wikia Search" interview and state of Wikipedia-model search project

There's a brief interview with Jeremie Millier about the current status of what he's doing for "Wikia search", which is the for-profit Wikipedia-model search project.

I'd submitted a few suggested questions for this interview, but they were all rejected. I had wanted to know:

1) Roughly, how many people will be *paid* on the project?

1b) Can you specify whether at developed vs. developing economy pay scales?

2) Do you plan to hire anyone with search engine development expertise?

3) Do you think there's a cultural conflict between Wikipedia's model of operating, where in theory nobody owns any articles, and code development, where typically specific people "own" various subsystems? Which path do you plan to try to follow?

Note understanding 1b) requires some context. It was based on how the company Wikia had decided to offshore programmers - to Poland! That's definitely not something that's talked about a lot.

"Wales said he settled on Poland in part because software engineers there are simultaneously highly skilled and affordable, a combination that he said is hard to find, even elsewhere in Eastern Europe."

[Keep in mind, all you US programmers who are tempted to fall for the marketing, you're not affordable - everyone thinks it's going to be the other guy who works for free.]

Anyway, even though the interview only covers technical topics, it's still worth a read if you're interested in some details of what's behind the hype the audience is being fed.

For summary, given my position above, I'll just quote John McCormac's list-comment

Interesting interview. I didn't realise that Grub was quite that bad.


On the search side, the Wikiasearch project (if we can call it that) doesn't seem to be doing anything beyond what hundreds of small search startups are doing. The management, bundling and repackaging aspects is, so far, perhaps the only innovative angles.

[Update: reply from Wales, clarification, skepticism]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on September 27, 2007 09:15 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
September 25, 2007


"Where is this book going?"

... we should ask some hard questions about how Google is not only "creatively destroying" established players in various markets, but is also altering the very ways we see our world and ourselves.

[Siva Vaidhyanathan]

For those who make a Google a god, recall the quote "[A computer is] like an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy. -- Joseph Campbell". Google has many algorithmic rules, and I've seen too many people begging for mercy.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on September 25, 2007 05:35 PM | (Infothought permalink)
September 21, 2007

Debunking - IS NOT Being Censored by AOL and Hotmail

I've seen this story making the rounds. However, IS NOT Being Censored by AOL and Hotmail:

1. If two large ISPs independently begin blocking mail from a given domain/IP address/network block/etc., then it's usually a pretty good sign that there is an issue with the mail source.

This this another "I'm-Being-Censored" wolf-cry, where people's buttons are pushed and their paranoia is stoked. This part was particularly manipulative: "Further, the Microsoft-Hotmail administrators inform us that they are blocking our communications to Truthout subscribers on their systems due to what they describe as our "reputation."

The word "reputation" there is a term of art meaning "spamminess", not anything political. Truthout was essentially told their messages looked like spam, but they then sent out an alert portraying it as if they were being told they were dangerous radicals.

And as usual, the accurate technical information is going to languish in obscure blog posting and expert mailing lists, while the demagogic attention-machine cranks on.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in spam | on September 21, 2007 01:17 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (4)
September 19, 2007

COPA ("Child Online Protection Act") Appealed

[Very early echo]

In the Child Online Protection Act ("COPA") case, regarding a US Internet censorship law based on the "harmful to minor" standard, the recent free-speech victory has now been appealed by the US government, according to an ACLU blog post

But clearly, it's far from over. We just received the government's opening brief to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, and even the government admits that it's got its work cut out for it. It will attempt to argue -- again -- that COPA's censoring guidelines are the least speech-restrictive way to keep kids safe from pornography. In other words, the government will argue that this federal law will do a better job keeping smut from your kids than parental guidance and use of Internet filtering software.

Note this may mean another round of censorware arguments where civil-liberties experts will say censorware works and government experts will say censorware doesn't work.

And even more money will go to fees ...

[Update: I misread the ACLU post - the appeal was filed earlier, this is the opening brief]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in copa | on September 19, 2007 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
September 17, 2007

Iran and the Google Blocking / Unblocking

Or, "It is worse than a crime, it is a blunder"

Iran blocked then unblocked Google, as I assume people have heard by now.

"Due to an error, the Google site was filtered on Sunday evening but the error was corrected and now Google and its different sites like Gmail can be used," said an official from the state-run communications company.

Well, what is there for me to say? I actually tend to believe them that it was an "error". If they were really going to shut-off search engines, they would have taken out Yahoo and MSN too. And I don't think they'd want to shut off Gmail short of a war or a coup d'etat. They apparently blacklisted a pattern like "*", which, just speculation, might have been a typo for some sort of typosquatting, or a misfire from some sort of link-spamming.

I could harp again on how this shows how fragile a free Internet is, how with censorware widely deployed, vast amounts of information can be censored quite arbitrarily. But I've been saying that for more than a decade, so I doubt saying it once more is going to help anything (or help me in any way).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on September 17, 2007 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink)
September 15, 2007

Google : Privacy :: Fox : Henhouse

ObPunditry: Google calls for web privacy laws.

Search site Google has called on governments and business to agree [to] a basic set of global privacy rules.

In other news, foxes have called on farmers to agree to a basic set of henhouse privacy rules. They propose to standardize on "APEC principles" (Association of Poultry Eating Carnivores).

Anyway, there's no point in me rewriting what others have said better:

Google and new, international privacy rules

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on September 15, 2007 08:11 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
September 13, 2007

My _Guardian_ Column on Government Of Australia National Censorware Plan

"What is really under discussion is control of people. Calling it 'censorware' has the advantage of clarity"

I'm glad they used that as excerpt, though I don't like the title given ("The internet can't be censored and it's wrong for governments to try" - I don't assert categorically that the Internet can't be censored, in fact "Can you censor the Internet?" is the question I've explored for many years).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on September 13, 2007 08:00 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (1)
September 10, 2007

Franco Frattini EU Censorship Proposal - QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Franco Frattini, European Union Justice Commissioner, has set off a minor blogstorm from the following censorship proposal:

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Internet searches for bomb-making instructions should be blocked across the European Union, the bloc's top security official said on Monday.

Internet providers should also prevent access to any site giving instructions on how to make a bomb, EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini said in an interview.

"I do intend to carry out a clear exploring exercise with the private sector ... on how it is possible to use technology to prevent people from using or searching dangerous words like bomb, kill, genocide or terrorism," Frattini told Reuters.

Putting aside the phrasing silliness (I know, it's like blogger catnip, ha-ha-he's-so-dumb), he has been making the same noises for a while:

Voice Of America News August 2006

"But I think it is very important, for example, to explore further possibilities of blocking websites that concretely incite to commit terrorist actions or for example providing of the diffusion of expertise or knowledge about bomb making," said Frattini.

However, it turns out that an organization has compiled a VERY LONG Q-and-A about such censorship proposals

Below is the first part of our letter to Franco Frattini, and the preliminary, general answer, by Jonathan Faull the Director General for Justice, Freedom and Security of the European Commission.

See subsequent blog postings for Questions and Answers numbers 1 to 17

I doubt my audience needs me to say anything more about the battles of censoring the Internet, and he certainly doesn't care what I think reading ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware , google | on September 10, 2007 11:25 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
September 07, 2007

Search engines, reputation, and denial of harm

I find one of the most frustrating aspects of certain types of punditry is that a critic can never win. One of the common patterns of unfalsifiability is to argue the following two propositions against each other:

1) Have you heard about anyone hurt by that problem? No? So no problem.

2) Oh, you did hear about someone hurt by problem? Well, that proves there's no problem, since Action Was Taken.

It's cruel, since:


We have a perfect example in a follow-up to the recent story about "When Bad News Follows You", regarding how problematic search engine results can potentially affect people's reputations. One person mentioned in the story became a cause celebre, which is fine, but that was twisted into more grist for denial:

The one non-blogger I wrote, [name redacted] of Slate, kindly took notice:
"Garfunkel's success at remaking Kraus' Google image so quickly with such little effort supports my original view that the alleged problem is de minimis."

The success was all luck. ...

But nobody is going to hear the Z-list contradiction of the media pundit, or if so, he then has the option of writing a personal attack from on-high that can't be effectively responded to (unless the targets have powerful allies, in which case the denial process plays out recursively).

Of course, this post won't be heard (much) either ... :-(

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather | on September 07, 2007 04:03 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
September 05, 2007

Vanity Fair: Going After Gore

Vanity Fair has an article "Going After Gore", by Evgenia Peretz, which is a good long analysis of the issues of how press imbalance affected Gore's campaign. I wish the author has checked my "Al Gore" / Internet page, though, since the discussion of that point, while reasonably researched, could have been helpfully improved.

The press didn't object to Gore's statement until Texas Republican congressman Dick Armey led the charge, saying, "If the vice president created the Internet, then I created the interstate highway system."

Well, I suppose it's true if by "press" the writer means "respectable" press. But the propaganda was in fact started by a hatchet-job committed by a Wired News "journalist" (nominally), and Dick Armey's office picked it up from there.

A few days later the word "invented" entered the narrative. On March 15, a USA Today headline about Gore read, inventing the internet.

Again, sort of true if "narrative" means the indexed press. But I've traced the word "invented" back to the same day as the Dick Armey press release, inserted into the narrative via ... guess who ... drumroll ... the same "journalist" who wrote the creative fiction in the first place.

Sigh. So much for "citizen journalism" ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in politics | on September 05, 2007 02:27 PM | (Infothought permalink)
September 03, 2007

Wikia Search: Launch Date Alleged Again

Wikia Search claimed to launch in December

Now Wales plans to apply Wikipedia's experience to internet search. In December, he will launch Wikia Search, a search engine to compete with giants such as Google and Yahoo. The project could prove even more controversial than Wikipedia.

As value-add, I'll note what wags on the relevant mailing list said about this - note they said it, not me!

peter burden:

[Doesn't say which December ;-)]

John McCormac:

True. Nearly a year after the shock and awe of the press barrage started, there is finally a release date. Now if only there was a product. Wikia could be the next Microsoft... ;)

But Microsoft doesn't expect you to build their products for free ...

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on September 03, 2007 09:43 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)