Our Common Humanity: We Still Have a Lot to Build on the Internet

There have been a number of tweets in my timeline roughly saying: “Ferguson, Gaza, Syria, Ukraine — what is going on with the world?” I don’t know that these can all be reduced to a single underlying reason although the current rate of global change likely has something to do with it. There is, however, one thing they all have in common: an abject failure to recognize each other’s humanity.

This failure is all the more frustrating at a time when we should all know that we are inhabiting a rock hurling through space protected by a ridiculously thin atmosphere. An atmosphere that we have been collectively mistreating together with our water and land. There is now more than ever an urgent need to correct course, if not for the sake of other species, than at least for our own.

Yet this failure shouldn’t be surprising as we are engaged in all sorts of practices both individually and collectively that emphasize and re-enforce otherness over shared humanity. Organized religion deserves a lot of the blame here especially when not tempered by science (possibly modulo Buddhism about which I am learning more), but so does everyday politics and the global economy with its vast and growing differences in wealth and income.

That’s why it is all the more important that we think critically about the role of the internet. It connects us with each other as never before. Fundamentally it has the power to let us become closer, recognize how we are all human and fight the threats we face as a species. Yet to date so many internet systems seem to further our differences (although they do have other positive sides). In the blogosphere we read predominantly what we already believe. On Facebook we mostly connect with the people we already know. On Twitter we often yell at each other because we don’t see the human behind the tweet.

So if/when you are thinking about what to build, please consider anything that has a shot at bringing us closer together and letting us see each other as human beings first and foremost. I will readily admit that I don’t know exactly what that would be, although I suspect that anything that helps people learn as well as anything that shows people in much more depth are steps in the right direction.

Posted: 21st August 2014Comments
Tags:  humanity internet

Fight for the Internet Now!

The Internet is a most amazing thing that we are unfortunately taking for granted. At its core it is about connecting all of humanity with each other. With it we, the people, have the power to dramatically reduce the cost and expand the reach of education. To conduct research outside of the confines of academia or corporations. To collaborate on art projects and so much more. Yet precisely because it is so disruptive for existing power structures including large corporations and governments, the Internet is under relentless attack. Russia just passed a bill requiring bloggers to register. The UK has instituted default on filtering of “offensive” content. And here in the US we are about to create fast lanes, slow lanes and no lanes for Internet traffic.

We should all be fighting these attacks on the Internet. Here is what you can do right now in the US

  1. Sign the White House petition.

  2. Sign the Fight For the Future petition.

  3. Give money to Alexis Ohanian’s campaign to put up a billboard in the FCC’s backyard.

There will be a lot more calls to action coming soon, including some code you can add to your site to show what the Internet might look like with fast lanes, slow lanes and no lanes. In the meantime, please watch and share the following video:

If you want to read more, you can start with what I have written on net neutrality over the years as well as watch a talk I gave about “Threats and Opportunities for a Stronger Web" at Velocity 2012.

Posted: 7th May 2014Comments
Tags:  internet fcc slow lanes net neutrality

Keeping the Internet Open in 2014: All Hands on Deck

For the New Year, I tweeted that we should “ll work together in 2014 to keep the Internet open for the benefit of humankind everywhere.” That couldn’t be any more pressing as there is a full scale assault under way and we don’t seem to be doing much about it.

First, thanks to Edward Snowden we have a much better view into the extent of domestic and international surveillance activities. The non-democratic ultra-secret and blackhat based approach taken by the NSA has done much to undermine the trust required for an open Internet. A full on embrace of crypto and anonymity as a response has the potential to self limit openness. We need to make an overhaul of the NSA’s budget, civilian supervision, transparency of reporting a top political and protest priority for 2014. As part of this I support a pardon for Snowden.

Second, we have the rise of ISP level filtering. The UK is taking an unfortunate lead here. Not surprisingly this is being done under the guise of protecting children from pornography. This is of course energizing calls for ISP or country-level filtering in other places, such as Australia. Herdict is a project by the Berkman center to try to measure the impact of these kinds of filters on the reachability of different web sites. We should be supporting projects like this and actively protesting ISP level filtering ideally boycotting ISPs that filter if there are ones available in your region that don’t.

Third, the W3C seems to be moving closer to including DRM as a web standard. This seems partially in response to the burgeoning proprietary DRM solutions being pushed by different browser providers which in turn appears driven by the desire to support players such as Netflix. The MPAA has just joined the W3C which is likely to help accelerate this (check out the Twitter replies to the announcement).

Fourth, as more and more Internet traffic is moving to wireless devices with the continued fast growth of smartphones, AT&T is gutting net neutrality with a "sponsored" bandwidth scheme. In essence large providers can subsidize bandwidth which will then not count towards a monthly cap in plans. This is the kind of move that strongly tilts the playing field in the favor of large incumbents, many of which are the same companies that cooperated with the government on secret surveillance and are supporting proprietary DRM.

I am sure there is more, but these are the four that are on my mind. It will require a concerted effort by everyone who cares about these issues to help push back this year.

Posted: 9th January 2014Comments
Tags:  internet open protest filtering surveillance drm


The scale of the protests against government in Turkey is significant with over 200 demonstrations in 67 cities. Social media has played an important role in making the rest of the world aware of the scale of the protests and more importantly of the aggressive government response which has involved mass arrests and excessive use of tear gas and water cannons.

It is not surprising that the Turkish Prime Minister, who initially replied saying that the opinions of the protestors will simply be ignored, is now calling social media a menace to society, directing his ire aTwitter in particular. A politician railing against social media wouldn’t be so bad if the Turkish government didn’t apparently try to actively disrupt access to the cell phone networks (this is an *unconfirmed* report — still points to an important potential choke point).

What is most significant is that all of this is happening in a democracy. This  is important because it speaks to the current debate about how technology is not inherently liberating but can also be used for oppression (I have not yet read “The New Digital Age" but will now do so given Assange’s critique). That debate is just as relevant for the US and other democracies. We are going to need more than “don’t be evil” we will have to know how to “be good.”

Posted: 3rd June 2013Comments
Tags:  turkey politics internet

IPv6 Is Really Coming

The IPv6 standard was first published in 1998 which is now 15 years ago. For a while it looked like adoption would drag on forever resulting in some anguished discussions. But by about 2011 IPv6 started to develop real momentum on private networks with Google achieving 95% IPv6 on their internal network at the end of 2011. Another major milestone was World IPv6 Launch Day, which took place last June.

A study that was just presented a couple of weeks ago at the NANOG conference shows (PDF) that IPv6 public traffic is growing meaningfully for the first time. The numbers are still small, but here is one encouraging chart:

This is the fraction of enduser traffic to Google.com that is IPv6 ready. The chart shows that it’s still tiny but now approaching 1% and growing rapidly.

What is especially encouraging in the study is how much of DNS already supports the AAAA record which provides the IPv6 address. The study finds that 89% of active DNS resolvers already look for it. Yet so far only 0.16% of .com and 0.84% of .net addresses have an AAAA entry. That goes up to 3% among the Alexa top 10K sites (would be interesting to know for the Alex top 100 — someone should run that).

So I think two things could further help IPv6 adoption. First is for anyone whose servers and service support it is to start adding AAAA records. Second, is to make end users aware of whether they have an IPv6 address from their ISP or not and why that matters. This post is already getting a bit long, so I am going to write about why that matters in a separate post (hint: it’s not just the IPv4 address crunch).

Posted: 27th February 2013Comments
Tags:  internet ipv6 future

Aaron Swartz

The Internet changes everything. Aaron Swartz knew and embraced that at an age when most of us think that the biggest problem we are facing is this week’s home work assignment. For the first time in human history we can connect to each other independent of where or who we are. We have at our disposal the ability to collaborate on ideas globally and advance knowledge and society. Aaron lived a life committed to furthering and protecting that newfound capability.

In the process he sometimes pushed boundaries as when he retrieved about 20% of the PACER database of public information. His download of a large number of papers from JSTOR set off a super aggressive prosecution that went far beyond anything possibly appropriate for what he had done. Larry Lessig who was involved in Aaron’s defense best describes the prosecutorial overreaching and bullying. Alex Stamos, who was to be an expert witness in Aaron’s impending trial, provides a more detailed technical perspective that also makes clear that the government’s reaction was completely out of proportion.

One thing that the Internet has unfortunately not yet changed is how depression can brutally disconnect us from the love that is all around us. And there can be no doubt that there was a lot of love in Aaron’s life. Just read the incredibly moving piece by Quinn Norton or the many quotes on the Remember Aaron Swartz site. Having experienced this impenetrable disconnect first hand in the case of a close relative my heart goes out to Aaron’s friends and family.

We will best honor Aaron’s memory by renewing our own dedication to protecting the ability to connect freely. Thanks to Brewster Kahle's tribute to Aaron, I found this wonderful video which is highly worth watching.

At about 20 minutes in, Aaron provides this important call to vigilance: “Make no mistake. The enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared.” I look forward to many collaborations to come that will heed Aaron’s call and help protect and further this freedom.

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Posted: 14th January 2013Comments
Tags:  Aaron Swartz freedom internet

Act Today to Defend the Internet and Our Rights

There are two major battles brewing at the moment, one domestic and one international that both deserve close attention and require citizen action. TLDR version: go to (1) WhatIsTheITU and (2) VanishingRights, take action there and help spread the word.

On the international side the attempt by the ITU to take over regulation of the Internet is in full swing.  I had briefly mentioned this before and at the time many folks dismissed it as something that wouldn’t gain any traction.  But with major support from countries such as Russia and China it is a clear and present danger to the open flow of information on the Internet.  As per usual, Fight for the Future does the best job explaining the problem with their site WhatIsTheITU — go there now *and* share with your friends in other countries.  The ITU world conference will be taking place in Dubai from December 3 - 14 and it is essential that politicians in as many countries as possible feel pressure from citizens to keep the internet open. That includes maintaining the fundamental peering model for how traffic is exchanged on the backbone of the Internet, which the ITU wants to replace with a sending network pays model.

In the US we are having a much needed discussion about updating the privacy protections for electronic communications which in their current form date back to 1986.  Here too you can learn all about it on a terrific website called VanishingRights and take direct action by contacting your representatives.  The Petraeus scandal provides an object lesson in how unprotected email communication is at the moment. Senator Leahy's originally proposed changes for updating the legislation were sensible and welcome. Since then though there has been massive push back from enforcement agencies resulting in alternative proposals that have been introduced (one by Senator Leahy which he quickly withdrew) and one by Senator Grassley that is due to arrive this Thursday which would cement the currently easy government access. So contact your representatives today to make sure the fourth amendment does not vanish in the age of electronic communications.

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Posted: 28th November 2012Comments
Tags:  internet rights politics itu fourth amendment

The Internet, Tape Delay, Proxies and Civil Disobedience

Much has been written about how idiotic it is for the NBC to tape delay Olympic broadcasts when everybody already knows via Twitter what the outcome of an event has been.  At the current Olympics we are witnessing like never before that the Internet is global and realtime whereas TV historically has been neither.  Now you can in fact get live streaming of the Olympics but only if you are based in the UK.

Enter proxies.  A proxy is an intermediate server that lets you appear as if you are located in the UK.  Effectively, your browser connects to a machine that is in the UK and that machine then connects to the live streams. Browse through a UK proxy and you can watch the Olympics live over the Internet. This is a great example of how the Internet can “route” around an artificial limitation that someone is trying to impose on it.

I strongly support individuals’ use of proxies to circumvent arbitrary geographic restrictions.  Why?  Shouldn’t it be the BBC’s right to restrict where its live streaming is viewed?  And shouldn’t it be the IOC's right to sell its broadcast and streaming rights in geographically restricted packages?  I firmly believe that the answer to both questions is in fact No.

The argument for geographic carving up has been similar to the argument for release windows on movies: it allows the seller to maximize profits.  Let’s start with the fact that being allowed to maximize profits is *not* a constitutional right here in the US (nor anywhere else that I am aware of).  We already in many other instances impose restrictions on profit maximization for a greater social good (e.g., we regulate monopolies, product safety, etc).  So to make artificial geographic restrictions illegal would be entirely consistent if we believe it serves a greater good.

A globally connected Internet is exactly such a greater good.  A globally connected Internet is essential for access to learning and knowledge everywhere, for the spread of democracy and the downfall of tyranny, and is to date humanity’s best shot at cooperating to overcome war, poverty and disease.

I happen to also believe that in fact over time doing away with the geographic restrictions will allow the IOC to generate more profits because they will be able to control streaming themselves and won’t have to sell the rights off to third parties such as traditional broadcasters which will take a big cut or markup.  Much like Louis CK can publish directly and make more money, so will the Olympics.

This is a perfect example of where being a Citizen of the Internet is at odds with being a citizen of a specific country in which artificial geographic constraints on the Internet constitute valid terms of service.  

Let me try to put this into the starkest terms possible.  In the US it is rightly illegal to refuse service on the basis of race or gender.  It is time that we add geography to this for Internet based services.  Until we do, I encourage the use of proxies as an act of civil disobedience to circumvent artificial geographic restrictions.

To be clear: if the BBC or the IOC were charging a reasonable fee for those Olympic live streams I would not support circumventing that to get free access, just like I wouldn’t support ripping off Louis CK by getting a free bootleg copy of his special.

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Posted: 1st August 2012Comments
Tags:  internet olympics geography NBC Olympics law

Declaration of Internet Freedom

Some fine folks have been hard at work to draft a Declaration of Internet Freedom.  I couldn’t agree more with the preamble:

We believe that a free and open Internet can bring about a better world. To keep the Internet free and open, we call on communities, industries and countries to recognize these principles. We believe that they will help to bring about more creativity, more innovation and more open societies.

So please go and read the Declaration.  If you agree with it, you can sign it by following one of the action links after the Declaration.  If you happen to disagree, take a crack at drafting your own either by forking this one or starting from scratch as seen in this separate Declaration.  This is exactly what we should be doing at this stage.  Again from the preamble:

Let’s discuss these principles — agree or disagree with them, debate them, translate them, make them your own and broaden the discussion with your community — as only the Internet can make possible.

This is a super important topic for all of us.  Last week I went to Velocity Conference to talk about why we need such a Declaration now more than ever (I had previously called for an Internet Bill of Rights).  If you have 20 minutes, you can watch the talk below.

Posted: 2nd July 2012Comments
Tags:  internet freedom declaration rights

Must Read: Guardian Series on “Battle for the internet”

I have long been a fan of the UK’s Guardian.  They have embraced the internet like no other newspaper publisher.  One of my favorite examples of the many great things they have done was the crowdsourced investigation of the expenses of Members of Parliament. Now they are kicking off a seven day series titled “Battle for the internet" that will cover many of the same topics that make a regular appearance here on Continuations.

The series kicked off with a summary of an interview with Sergey Brin. When Larry Page took over as Google’s CEO, I had expressed my hope that the founder would embrace an open Internet ecosystem.  The reality has been far from it.  Still it was good to see Sergey publicly acknowledge the threats to the internet from apps and other walled gardens (in particular Facebook) but also from politics.  Now if only he could help steer Google into understanding that the way to fight those threats is *not* by Google trying to fight them all by themselves (e.g., by building Google+) but rather by figuring out how to empower independent services.

Should be an interesting week of reading.  And speaking of reading, there was a terrific piece in this Sunday’s New York Times about why cybercrimes’s economic impact tends to be vastly overstated.

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Posted: 16th April 2012Comments
Tags:  Guardian internet politics

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