Harvard Researchers Explain That SOPA Supporters Are Misusing Their Research To Support SOPA

from the not-so-fast,-daniel-castro dept

We recently discussed how ITIF’s Daniel Castro (who’s been credited with pushing a SOPA-style censorship program to government officials in the first place) bizarrely used the web censorship done by 13 of the most oppressive governments to support his case that censorship under SOPA would work. The argument was based on a Harvard/OpenNet Initiative to study how the internet is censored and used in various repressive nations. The authors of that study have now come out pretty strongly against Castro for his misuse of their report, and have explained in detail how Castro’s assumptions are wrong and his quoting their study is done entirely out of context.

we disagree with the way that Mr. Castro applies our findings to the SOPA debate. His presumption that people will work as hard or harder to access political content than they do to access entertainment content deeply misunderstands how and why most people use the internet. Far more users in open societies use the Internet for entertainment than for political purposes; it is unreasonable to assume different behaviors in closed societies. Our research offers the depressing conclusion that comparatively few users are seeking blocked political information and suggests that the governments most successful in blocking political content ensure that entertainment and social media content is widely available online precisely because users get much more upset about blocking the ability watch movies than they do about blocking specific pieces of political content.

Rather than comparing usage of circumvention tools in closed societies to predict the activities of a given userbase, Mr. Castro would do better to consider the massive userbase of tools like bit torrent clients, which would make for a far cleaner analogy to the problem at hand. Likewise, the long line of very popular peer-to-peer sharing tools that have been incrementally designed to circumvent the technical and political measures used to prevent sharing copyrighted materials are a stronger analogy than our study of users in authoritarian regimes seeking to access political content.

Furthermore, they argue that the bill that Castro is so desperately in favor of would have disastrous consequences, in that it would deny important circumvention tools to those in repressive countries:

Second, our research has consistently shown that those who really wish to evade Internet filters can do so with relatively little effort. The problem is that these activities can be very dangerous in certain regimes. Even though our research shows that relatively few people in autocratic countries use circumvention tools, this does not mean that circumvention tools are not crucial to the dissident communities in those countries. 19 million people is not large in relation to the population of the Internet, but it is still a lot of people absolutely who have freer access to the Internet through the tools. We personally know many people in autocratic countries for whom these tools provide a crucial (though not perfect) layer of security for their activist work. Those people would be at much greater risk than they already are without access to the tools, but in addition to mandating DNS filtering, SOPA would make many circumvention tools illegal. The single biggest funder of circumvention tools has been and remains the U.S. government, precisely because of the role the tools play in online activism. It would be highly counter-productive for the U.S. government to both fund and outlaw the same set of tools.

We noted that Castro’s paper read like a joke from the beginning, and the more people dig into it, the more ridiculous it seems.

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Comments on “Harvard Researchers Explain That SOPA Supporters Are Misusing Their Research To Support SOPA”

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TtfnJohn (profile) says:

It’s this sort of thing that happens when non-nerds get involved in nerdy things. Named Castro of not. Curious and interesting as that is.

Of course he got it wrong. Any nerd or hacker could have told him that. (Once again, baddies are crackers, not hackers!!!!!) Nor do we all wear horned rimmed glasses with adhesive bandages holding them together. Some of us even play guitar in rock and metal bands and have the tattoos and panties tossed on stage to prove it!!!

And it it really what he wants to be remembered for? Helping to craft a (now hoped for) failure of one of the largest attempts at censorship in United States history?

NothingReally (profile) says:

Re: Re:

*directed at TtfnJohn*
It’s this sort of thing when Non-HACKERS get involved in nerdy things… but are so “hip” that they ACT like they know what Hackers think.

And even the “hackers” aren’t nerds as the vast majority of them don’t even know how to program. These are people who read how other people “hack” and do what others have done.

People talking about how easy it’ll be to bypass the filters BEFORE they’ve even been implemented are NOT hackers. They’re typical internet trolls who want to pretend like they’re in the crowd.

It’s a lengthy abstract, but the abstract does touch many of the proper points (Such as how engineers who say “break / cause problems” do not mean the catastrophic destruction that they’re often “translated” into saying.

What they are really saying is that it wasn’t designed to accommodated this… and they’d rather the government not make them change it.


He sounds like a “Translate Engineering into Laymen” type person (real Hackers and Engineers have excessive difficulty explaining these concepts… and that such a position is typically necessary)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Look dude, you probably can’t hack anything even if people gave you the tools, it is not that easy.

I doubt you can understand a Wireshark dump, or a memory dump or any dump for that matter.

So you can’t understand why DNSSEC is important and delaying it means putting millions at risk.

But as FBI – Operation Ghost Click just showed, DNS exploits are being widely being used to really steal peoples bank accounts.


Beginning in 2007, the cyber ring used a class of malware called DNSChanger to infect approximately 4 million computers in more than 100 countries. There were about 500,000 infections in the U.S., including computers belonging to individuals, businesses, and government agencies such as NASA. The thieves were able to manipulate Internet advertising to generate at least $14 million in illicit fees. In some cases, the malware had the additional effect of preventing users? anti-virus software and operating systems from updating, thereby exposing infected machines to even more malicious software.

You think NASA of all places would not get such problems, after all they have a lot of PhDs there and a lot of very smart computer people and they got pwned.

What do you think black hats would do to somebody like you?

And you want people to just come up with an alternative like those things happen overnight?

It took 10 years to just agree on a framework, it would take another 10 to implement it and now you want everybody to go back and start that all over again from scratch?

Worse, they can’t even begin and you wanna know why?
Because if millions start to use alternative DNS no security person in the world will have a unified platform to target, which means you can’t secure it, which means you dumbass will be at risk of being ripped off badly by true criminals.

You seem to not understand the one important thing here, the internet goes where the people goes, not where you want the internet to go, if people chose to go elsewhere and get their information elsewhere there is nothing you or anybody can do about it, that is why it was created in the first place to make it impossible to anyone to stop others from communicating.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Do you understand the size of datasets today?

A CT scan study can be anywhere from a few megabytes to gigabytes in size depending on the resolution and size of the scan.

What happens when an idiot from the entertainment industry forces a VPN provider to give access to an account that is being used to transfer medical data about someone?

Or it is being used to pass video conferences?
Or it is being used to stream legally purchased media to family and friends?

You ignore all of the legal uses the internet I believe that is called tunnel vision thinking.

NothingReally (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Reading both the articles but a few things to note first.

A) The guy complaining is a LAW teacher, and the paper is law based.

B) So far, the paper is saying “The government is too stupid to regulate the internet”
Saying the DNS blocks on a proxy can be overridden by having “1superproxy”, “2superproxy” and that such behaviour would be noticed by the people before the government. (Or that the government wouldn’t catch on and from hence on check for such antics).

Citing the links to alternative proxies on the proxy home page (that the government AGAIN won’t block because they’re stupid).

C) This is a really informal study.
They state that all they really did was use google’s public data (as well as data that VPN’s advertised) to derive a conclusion.

But what is worse is that they use EXTREMELY small numbers. the top 180 proxies / vpn’s. (and even admitted that they knew of, but did not include, foreign VPNs)

D) I don’t know what the guy’s problem is… but the study is too flimsy to concretely claim as much as he did.
The Study REALLY IS just using google-analytics to make GUESSES.

The government is targeting torrent trackers as well as torrent search engines.
So let’s say you use a webproxy to get the torrent… well, the tracker doesn’t work.
So you moan on forums and pro-piracy people tell you to use a VPN.
Well, ISPs will notice that you’re drawing a large amount of encrypted traffic.
Nothing is wrong with having 5gb of encrypted traffic… but it means that the VPN will be pressured to disclose what you were doing.

See, if we establish a level of co-operation (and have other companies bulling giants like google into submission). And we act quick and decisively, then while it would take 5 days to take down a server… it’ll take LONGER to find a new alternative (remember, search engines being filtered as well).

And if other countries learn that the web giants aren’t as powerful as they act. Then they’ll likely want to improve their economy and also start blocking illegal web-traffic.

So then the question that remains is, can the web not be filtered… or is it that the co-operation needed to enact such filters is lacking?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Then once they get burned by VPN providers they get smarter and start using darknets, or they just do what I do and that is I rip directly from the source, I rip it directly from the content owners website.

Then people start using distribute search engines, distribute file lockers and then what, are you going to block every single computer from the internet?

NothingReally (profile) says:

Final Thoughts


Really does well in addressing many of the falsities that have arose.

There is some prejudice mentioned about previous groups (something that really shouldn’t be in the paper), and a bit of an “idealist” with how people will finally admit that Piracy IS stealing, and a copy is stealing.

He did ignore “User Content Sites” (something I decree should be held to filter their user’s content “Because the technology exists to do so and you’re obviously profiting from it”) and the delemmia surrounding hosting sites.

In particular, I know that a hosting server has a child pornography webpage.
I know that I reported said site to the authorities, that the site was removed.
And I know that the same site was put back up under the same hosting company and a different subdomain.

Why shouldn’t hosting companies be responsible for the content their users upload? YouTube filters for child pornography on every video uploaded; so why some hosting company can’t be bothered to do so… and why they can’t be held responsible for not caring… well…

My position is, websites should monitor themselves (the technology exists… yadda yadda) and that self-policing is the best way to prevent the GOVERNMENT from having to intervene.
If all the people placing advertisements, if paypal, google, if ANYONE had said once “You know, this is wrong. We Know this is wrong. The MONEY ISN’T WORTH IT” then we would not be here today.
But because people not only ignore the fact that it’s wrong, but INSIST that it’s the way of the future, and that the government can’t do anything to stop them. What do you think is going to happen?

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