December 31, 2007

Australian national censorware news report notes

First, a link to an Australian national censorware news article, without which this post would languish in even more obscurity than it will already.

Now, there's a basic issue of confusion: Is this for "illegal" material (under Australian law), in which case an opt-out makes no sense, or "adult"-only material, in which case there'd be a serious problem managing all the opt-out which would be needed.

I believe this is about "illegal" material, though the most recent reports and blustering make it sound like it's about "adult"-only material.

Paul Montgomery has the best local coverage. Which of course is relegated to obscure discussion status compared to the BigHeads.

One correction for this column: Why Australia isn't the new China

most recently in a column about the Australian approach by Seth Finkelstein pointing out that censorware never works.

I shouldn't be ungrateful for a press mention. Except I didn't say that :-(. The headline-writer did. The title "The internet can't be censored and it's wrong for governments to try" was not my words. I have a much more worried view of the effects of national censorware.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on December 31, 2007 09:52 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (11)
December 26, 2007

Wikimedia COO scandal

For whatever it's worth, a few thoughts out about the article Felon became COO of Wikipedia foundation

By BRIAN BERGSTEIN, AP Technology Writer Fri Dec 21, 1:39 PM ET

The foundation runs that and accepts for donations the online encyclopedia Wikipedia neglected to do a basic background check before hiring a chief operating officer who had been convicted of theft, drunken driving and fleeing a car accident.

Before she left in July, Carolyn Bothwell Doran, 45, had moved up from a part-time bookkeeper for the Wikimedia Foundation and spent six months as chief operating officer, responsible for personnel and financial management.

Sad as the saga of Carolyn Doran is, I think the real story is what it shows about poor management behind the scenes. It's all about marketing and refusal to face responsibility. If you'll note, there's a pattern. Whenever there's a scandal, Jimmy Wales says, paraphrased: Nothing to see here. Move along. Get back to work in the data-mines, publicizing Wikia, - oops, I mean, writing an encyclopedia.

Value-adding echo: From a recent list message by the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Wikimedia Foundation about transparency (and she said this not me):

And radical transparency is not really suitable for us, in most part because we are in the eye-storm of the media interest and that any scandal (or non-scandal actually) is likely to raise the interest of a journalist, and likely to spread at light-speed all over the planet.

Why should we care ? Collectively, we are likely to mostly care because of our economical system. We essentially rely on the goodwill of donators, and donators are heavily sensitive to public displays of disagreements, fights, errors, misestimates, major screw-ups.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on December 26, 2007 07:45 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (3)
December 23, 2007

Wikia Search launch in "private pre-alpha"

[Breaking echo!]

The Great And Powerful Man Behind The Curtain Announceth:

[Search-l] private pre-alpha invites available
Jimmy Wales jwales at
Mon Dec 24 03:04:01 UTC 2007

Ping me if you want one.... we're launched. :-)

I'm going to be letting people in slowly over the next few days and we are aiming for a January 7th public launch. We want to run over the system with help from people to complain about what is broken...

Best way to ask is by email, but please don't be offended if I don't answer right away. I am expecting a bit of a flood here.


This is the "Wikipedia-model" search project. Watch the press eat it up, even if now it's only just slightly condensed from vaporware.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikia-search | on December 23, 2007 10:05 PM | (Infothought permalink)
December 20, 2007

"Psiphon" anti-censorware program articles

Echo: The Psiphon network frustrates censors by using trusted friends (via Ronald Deibert)

MIT Technology Review has published a nice feature article about the Citizen Lab's software, psiphon. I thought some of you who know about the project might find it interesting.

I've mentioned Psiphon a few times myself, mostly because of the way it has, let us say, wide-ranging anti-censorship applications.

Note also Black marks appearing for commercial internet filters?

"We citizens don't have access to the block lists [of prohibited Web sites] that are put together by these companies because that is considered proprietary. Even researchers like myself can't explore the filtering technology that is being sold and used by governments around the world."

Sigh ... :-(

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in censorware | on December 20, 2007 06:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (2)
December 17, 2007

"Google Hijacked" debunking follow-up - guest post from ISP owner

[User Generated Content! Let's call this a guest-post, taken from the comments in the DEBUNKING "Google Hijacked" - The Sky, err, The Internet, Is NOT Falling! thread. Note the views and opinions expressed below are those of the writer, not me, though I am broadly in agreement on many points]

Brett Glass here; you may remember me as a long time columnist for magazines such as InfoWorld, BYTE, and PC World. I'm now (among other things) running an ISP, and think that people should think about what Rogers [ISP in Canada] is doing from an ISP's perspective. I've posted some of the text below to the comment sections of a few other blogs, but want to post it here too because it's relevant.

Network neutrality means not using one's control of the pipe to disadvantage competitive content or service providers. For example, if you're a cable company that offers VoIP, network neutrality means not blocking customers' use of other VoIP providers.

Network neutrality does NOT mean that a provider can't "frame" pages (as do many providers -- especially those like Juno which provide inexpensive or free service) or send them informative messages via their browser.

Let's step back and take a dispassionate look at what Rogers is really doing here. They need to get a message to a customer. Like any experienced ISP, they know that there's a good chance that e-mail won't be read in a timely way, if at all. (We, as an ISP, find that our customers constantly change their addresses -- often after revealing them online and exposing them to spammers -- without any notice, and often let the mailboxes that we give them fill up, unread, until they exceed their quotas and no more can be received.) The Windows Message Service once worked to send users messages, but only ran on Windows and is now routinely blocked because it's become an avenue for pop-up spam. Snail mail? Expensive and slow... and the whole point of the Internet is to do things faster and more efficiently than that. Give users an special program to display messages from the ISP? Users have too many things running in the background, cluttering their computers, already -- so no one could blame them if they didn't install it. (Also, many users won't install an application for fear of viruses, and alternative operating systems likely would not run the software.) Display a different page than the user requested? Perhaps, but that certainly comes much closer to "hijacking" than what Rogers is doing. Display a message in the user's browser window (where we know he or she is looking) along with the Web page, and let the user "dismiss" it as soon as it's noticed? Excellent idea. A wonderful, simple, unobtrusive, and (IMHO) elegant solution to the problem.

Now comes Lauren Weinstein -- known for drawing attention to himself by sensationalizing tempests in a teapot -- who has never run an ISP but seems to like to dictate what they do. Lauren claims that the sky will fall if ISPs use this nearly ideal way of communicating with their customers.

Contrary to the claims of Mr. Weinstein's "network neutrality squad" (who have expanded the definition of "network neutrality" to mean "ISPs not doing anything which we, as unappointed regulators, do not approve"), this means of communication does not violate copyrights. Why? First of all, the message from the ISP appears entirely above, and separate from, the content of the page in the browser window. It's not much different that displaying it in a different pane (which, by the way, the browser might also be able to do -- but this is better because it's less obtrusive and unlikely to fail for the lack of Javascript or distort the page below). The display can't be considered a derivative work, because no human is adding his own creative expression to someone else's creation. A machine -- which can't create copyrighted works or derivative ones -- is simply putting a message above the page in the same browser window.

It isn't defacement, because the original page appears exactly as it was intended -- just farther down in the window. And it isn't "hijacking," because the user is still getting the page he or she requested.

What's more, there's no way that it can be said to be "non-neutral." The proxy which inserts the message into the window doesn't know or care what content lies below. The screen capture in Weinstein's blog showed Google, but it just as easily could have been Yahoo!, or MySpace, or Slashdot. For the same reason, it can't be said to be an invasion of privacy, because the software isn't looking at the content of the page above which it is inserting the message.

In short, to complain that this practice is somehow injurious to the author of the original page is akin to an author complaining that his book has been injured by being displayed in a shop window along with another book by someone he didn't like. (Sorry, sir, but the merchant is allowed to do that.)

Nor is what Rogers is doing a violation of an ISP's "common carrier" obligations (even if they were considered to be common carriers, which under US law, at any rate, they are not). Common carriers have been injecting notices into communications streams since time immemorial ("Please deposit 50 cents for the next 3 minutes"). And television stations have been superimposing images on program content at least since the early 1960s, when (I'm dating myself here) Sandy Becker's "Max the burglar" dashed across the screen during kids' cartoon shows and the first caller to report his presence won a prize. (The game was called "Catch Max.") And in the US, Federal law -- in particular, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- protects ISPs from liability for content they retransmit whether or not they are considered to be common carriers. They do not lose this protection if there happens to be other content from a different source in the same window on the user's PC.

There are sure to be some folks -- perhaps people who are frustrated with their ISPs for other reasons -- who will take this as an opportunity to lash out at ISPs. But most customers, I think, will recognize this as a good and sensible way for a company to contact its customers. Our small ISP is looking into it. In fact, because the issue is being raised, we're adding authorization to do it to our Terms of Service, so that users will be put on notice that they might receive a message through their browsers one day. I suppose it's possible that a customer might dislike this mode of communication and go elsewhere, but I suspect that most of them will appreciate it. In the meantime, let's just say "no" to regulation of the Internet.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , google | on December 17, 2007 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (19)
December 13, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture? (trying to refute "Google"/Rogers ISP story)

What's Wrong With This Picture?

techmeme google-hijack cluster image

If you said "The one post with real research in it (as opposed to echoing) is relegated to an obscure discussion link, and to add to the irony, a higher-ranked blog is getting more attention just for mentioning that post", you can speak the language of Z-listers.

Let's run the numbers, from referers:

Total additional readers of post = approximately 335 unique IP addresses

comment I left at - 78
comment I left at - 76
comment I left at - 32
mention at - 31
from other posts on - 17
obscure discussion spot on - 20

In terms of having any effect - not "expressing myself", but real influence - that's pitiful.

I have got to stop doing this stuff, and to begin cleaning-up the loose-ends and "decommissioning" this blog.

Bonus link:

PBS on blogging

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in statistics | on December 13, 2007 11:08 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (19)
December 11, 2007

DEBUNKING "Google Hijacked" - The Sky, err, The Internet, Is NOT Falling!

[I wrote this for a mailing list, before the story started spreading all over the usual places. I didn't even get through there [sad face image]]

Regarding Lauren Weinstein's post on "Google Hijacked -- Major ISP to Intercept and Modify Web Pages"

This is apparently not quite the danger it may appear at first glance.

The product at issue, PerfTech, seems to have been around AND USED for a while, for example:
Code Amber Utilizes PerfTech to Reach ISP Customers
February 2, 2005

"Code Amber ( and Wide Open West (WOW!) Internet and Cable last week delivered an Indiana Amber Alert to customers in the neighboring state of Ohio, enabled by a product deployed in WOW!'s network that allows the Internet provider to deliver bulletins directly to the screens of its browsing subscribers."

A look at shows this is hardly a stealth application - they tout advertising-insertion as a *feature*, for subsidized ISP services.

Also, is one file with an example using *Google* ... dated March 26, *2004*.

Now, it strikes me as a very obnoxious product. But I'm so tired of the "The Sky, err, The Internet, Is Falling!" paranoia every time an ISP or teleco does something, anything, that can be twisted into service for the buzzwords of Net-you-know-what.
Again, can't we be better than that?

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , google | on December 11, 2007 01:48 AM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (22)
December 09, 2007

Wikipedia (recent) legal intern wonders why they don't "send [lawyer] after" me

[Title updated and see clarification below]

According to a post on the "Wikilaw" blog:

Sometimes I wonder why the foundation doesn't send Mike Godwin after nonsense like this. The Guardian's Seth Finkelstein published a piece called "Inside, Wikipedia is more like a sweatshop than Santa's workshop". At the best this is highly unethical; at the worst it's defamatory. Yes yes, First Amendment, actual malice, blah blah. There's also a little thing like journalistic ethics, which is why to this day I refuse to accept the Guardian as a reliable source (this article gives a little more credence to my claim, I'll note).

LOL! (laugh-out-loud, in net.jargon). Longtime readers will see many layers of "humor" here.

The article was even editorial vetted in accordance with British libel/defamation law, as it was published by a British newspaper. British standards in that area are more much strict than US law.

If that were a random blogger rant, I wouldn't even bother about it. But according to the blog bio of User:Swatjester (Dan Rosenthal):

I'm a 24 year old law student at American University Washington, College of Law. I'm an English Wikipedia admin (sysop), and a member of the Wikimedia Communications Committee. I'm also a legal intern for the Wikimedia Foundation.

I'm not going to raise an official fuss. But just as a bit of advice - as a legal intern AND "Communications Committee" member, I don't think it's advisable to raise the possibility of your organization sending its lawyer after a columnist who writes a critical article. Which, if one step backs for minute, I hope would be clear is solidly grounded in the facts. It gives a very bad impression amidst a public-relations disaster involving accusations of secret mailing lists and cabals. And it definitely adds to the evidence of Wikipedia as a cult.

[Update: The blog bio has now been modified to read "I was a legal intern for the Wikimedia Foundation", and he noted in a comment "Correction: Seth, I have not been the legal intern for the foundation since September."]

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on December 09, 2007 10:54 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (7)
December 05, 2007

My _Guardian_ column on Wikipedia Scandal As Dysfunctional Cult
Inside, Wikipedia is more like a sweatshop than Santa's workshop

"Wikipedia is frequently touted as a model of selfless human collaboration but it may be more instructive as a hotbed of social pathologies"

I didn't pick the title, but I like this one a lot :-).

I feel like it's anticlimactic now, that my take will get lost as an also-ran. It's really quite a different perspective, and worth reading even if you're tired of all the discussion about cabal and secret mailing list.

I didn't even mention the mailing list, and tried to avoid personalizing it to the administrator "Durova". To my mind, this is not an individual "bad apple" story, but an example of a systemic failing that underlies that drives Wikipedia.

In the past few days I've noticed a backlash, roughly that Wikipedia is run by people, so what did you expect? The problem is that Wikipedia is extensively marketed as some sort of harbinger of novel social organization that produces collective good. The reality is it's just a very old sort of social organization, one that gets people to work for free in part by pandering to their group impulses. And that's the point which I'm trying to get across. Maybe that's too complicated to get to Slashdot or Digg (or ironic).

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in press , wikipedia | on December 05, 2007 07:44 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (18)
December 04, 2007


A brief measurement:

Yesterday's post ended up as a "discussion link" on How many readers did that bring in? Approximately 45. There were a few smaller echoes. But the sum total of external sites sending traffic to the post seems to be not much more than 100 readers. While all readers are gratefully accepted, that's a long way from A-listdom.

On the other hand, that blog post now has the #4 Google spot for the search [Wikipedia Cabal], which is amusing.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in statistics | on December 04, 2007 11:58 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (7)
December 03, 2007

There Is A Wikipedia Cabal (or at least a Secret Mailing List)

_The Register_: Secret mailing list rocks Wikipedia

I've been following this whole scandal myself, and my own column about it will be available on the Guardian website on Wednesday night. I have a different, more "sociological", take on the matter than the article above.

I should note, given the hyper-vigilance these days, that my article was written and filed before the above one was published. There's a few similarities in jargon that appear (e.g. "admonish") because we were both summarizing the same primary sources. But we used different Jimmy Wales quotes.

I feel bad for the administrator who set this all off. I agonized in my own writing to be fair on action yet respecting the person, and even not to do anything which would create Google-baggage for her. At least I won't be piling-on personal criticism.

Here's an item I can use for blog-fodder:
I was thinking of asking Jimmy Wales a question, but from Seth-the-geek rather than Seth-the-journalist. I would have liked to write him
"Jimmy, we both know what you're going to say in reply to this mailling-list topic. You're going to claim that a mailing-list hosted at your commercial venture-capital company [Wikia] is no different from a mailing-list hosted at Google Groups or Yahoo Groups. That's been the party line throughout. However, we both know that's not correct, since your company [Wikia] has tax-law "self dealing" issues which you need to be sensitive about (not that I'm accusing you of anything here - however, it is a simple fact that the subject exists). Given now we both know about the conflict-of-interest problem, what in the world goes on in your mind when you say that?"

But I decided that was living dangerously and would just make him mad at me.

I don't know how White House reporters stand it. It's got to be extremely corrosive to have a job where people are lying to you and treating you with barely-concealed (sometimes even unconcealed) contempt every single day.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in wikipedia | on December 03, 2007 11:12 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (5)
December 02, 2007

"If you are inclined to trust Google as your source for news, Google yourself"

Echo: Not dead yet: the newspaper in the days of digital anarchy by Bill Keller, executive editor, New York Times. Key passage (my emphasis):

Google News and Wikipedia don't have bureaux in Baghdad, or anywhere else. With a few exceptions, they do not, in the cold terminology of the 21st-century media business, create content Wikipedia's policy actually forbids original material; it is a great mash-up of secondary sources. Wikipedia and Google aggregate information from, well, from us. From the Times, from the Guardian, and from a lot of less dependable sources. They can pool reporting from hundreds of news outlets but what if there aren't hundreds of news outlets? Or what if many of them are simply unreliable? And how would you know? Here's an experiment you can perform at home: If you are inclined to trust Google as your source for news, Google yourself.

He's been getting raked over the coals for not making nice with the web evangelists who want to sell data-mining the audience to his company. The point he's trying to make is that aggregation isn't magic, and garbage-in, garbage-out. But sadly, in the bogosphere, nobody (with a large following) wants to hear.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in google | on December 02, 2007 11:59 PM | (Infothought permalink) | Comments (6)