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.
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.”
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is easy to dismiss Rick Santorum’s promised war on pornography as more moralizing from a candidate who apparently questions the separation of church and state. But it exposes an important fault line in thinking about the Internet when seen in conjunction with Nick Kristof’s call in this Sunday’s New York Times for Backpage to stop carrying adult classifieds. At issue here is what constitutes an effective approach to the regulation of content and commerce on the Internet and is closely related to thinking about what comes after SOPA and PIPA.
Let’s start with a baseline assumption here: we don’t ever want to have a China-style firewall around the US that attempts to inspect all content flowing across the network. If you share the belief that this would represent an unacceptable level of government control and restriction on free speech, then you need to embrace a different approach to both pornography and forced prostitution than currently pursued. Why? Because if we attempt to crack down in a simplistic fashion in the US then online activity will simply flow to overseas and/or encrypted sites which will still be accessible here.
Consider what happened following the Attorney Generals’ attack on Craigslist which resulted in the removal of adult services ads. Backpage picked up a bunch of the business but so did a smattering of other web sites. In fact, the very AIM Group that Kristof cites in his piece, published the following on February 24th “Sites set combined record for online prostitution-ad revenue.” Not surprisingly, shutting down Craigslist simply moved these ads elsewhere (as an aside: tracking revenue is too narrow a measure as there are many free publication alternatives on the web). Shutting down Backpage’s adult ads will result in even more new sites springing up. And even if we somehow magically succeeded in getting every US site to stop something that isn’t illegal in and of itself we would ultimately see these ads flow to international sites.
So we can continue to try to fight human trafficking by playing a game of Internet whack-a-mole — which has just as much chance of succeeding as the content industry’s attempt to suppress piracy — or we can try to figure out what the net native approach is. To attack the problem of pimps forcing women into prostitution we need to come up with the most effective ways for the women themselves to be able to reach authorities and for third parties to be able to detect suspicious activity. One idea for the former is providing anonymous access to help via text messages and widely publicizing this (it would be interesting to work with someone like Alissa from Nick’s column to create this). The obvious idea for the latter is to work with sites like Backpage and not against them. For instance, it is quite possible that a much better screening system can be created that identifies ads that may involve trafficking based on how the text is written and how the ads are posted. We won’t know that until we try it out (and big data has gotten very good at picking up even very subtle patterns).
There won’t be a silver bullet though. As a book review of from the same issue of the New York Times points out, there were 40,000 prostitutes in New York in 1890 (and likely a lot of human trafficking). But the chances of succeeding are much higher when leveraging the Internet and cooperative US based sites than if these ads run primarily on foreign sites or in dark and increasingly encrypted corners.
The same goes for pornography. I agree that it has potentially harmful effects and admire Cindy Gallop for her tireless efforts behind Make Love Not Porn. As a father of three I would rather they not be exposed to hardcore pornography while growing up. But to think you can get pornography off the Internet with anything short of dictatorial control is a dangerous misunderstanding.
Keeping the Internet open will ultimately be much more important for the next generation. It will let them build the networks needed to fight human trafficking and to educate themselves and others.
Yesterday (Wednesday, January 18), has a good chance as being remembered as the day that the Internet first truly showed its political clout in the US. So far we have largely pointed at events abroad when discussing the Internet’s potential to shift power. Web sites and services large and small (including Continuations) either forcefully alerted their users to the problems with SOPA/PIPA or blacked themselves out entirely. At the 12th hour even Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg took a (by now very safe) stand on the issue.
The results from a political perspective were impressive. SOPA had already been stalled a bit but PIPA support was still strong. Following yesterday though 18 Senators including 7 co-sponsors withdrew their support for PIPA. Someone with a better knowledge of the history of American politics will probably know the correct statistics but this is a massive erosion in the support for a bill. Together with the White House’s stance against the bills in their current versions I believe that there is now a good chance to stop both SOPA and PIPA.
What’s next? First, as Ron Wyden makes clear in his terrific letter to the Internet there is still one more vote coming up on PIPA on January 24th so it is too early to declare victory. Second, it is worth reading the MPAA’s reaction to yesterday’s expressions to see just how cynical their view of what happened is. Third, unless we want a new wave of slightly different versions of these bills following the next election we need to proactively outline an alternative that is not based on government intervention in the Internet. Fourth, and maybe most importantly, we need to start the long work on using the Internet to shift political power back to the voters and away from special interests more generally and not just with respect to bills that directly affect the Internet.