Drones are becoming more common and more useful all the time, and at the same time, these devices are also getting to be more of a nuisance/threat for air traffic and important (sometimes life-saving) activities. Firefighters in helicopters are grounded when drones could potentially interfere with their work because it's a safety hazard to the helicopter and its passengers. The FAA hasn't yet come up with a complete set of drone-specific regulations, so for now, there's a bit of legal limbo and some strange rules to follow that don't always make sense.
Like so many industries, the telecom industry employs a literal army of paid "consultants," fauxcademics, fake consumer advocates, ex-politicians and other talking heads to parrot industry policy under the pretense of objective analysis. Usually this sockpuppet army is used to build a sound wall of illusory support for shitty policy. This practice has worked for decades, in large part, because very rarely can newspapers or websites be bothered to disclose the fact that these individuals are paid to spew total and absolute nonsense by anybody interested in hiring their services via a third party (usually a law firm or lobbying group).
Case in point: the Boston Globe apparently has declared that it will no longer allow former New Hampshire Senator John Sununu to proudly shill for telecom companies within the publication's hollowed walls. Sununu is on the board of directors for Time Warner Cable, and has been paid $750,000 to be an "honorary co-chair" for broadband industry lobbying group Broadband for America. As a loyal hireling, Sununu can often be found repeating broadband industry dreck in media outlets everywhere, whether that's the claim that net neutrality rules will destroy the Internet, or that Netflix is a vile monster getting a "free ride" on ISP networks and must be punished.
Historically, when Sununu parrots writes for the Globe, the paper has simply described him as "a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, (who) writes regularly for the Globe," without bothering to disclose that somebody's often paying for Sununu's time. Despite years of this, only recently has the Globe come under fire for its flimsy-to-nonexistent transparency policies for Sununu and other freelance contributors.
"In the interest of more transparency, we’re posting bios for our regular freelance op-ed columnists online and linking those bios to their bylines. John Sununu has told me he will avoid writing about issues pertaining to cable and internet access because of his seat on the Time Warner Cable board."
Note Clegg's primary worry appears to be Sununu's seat on a cable company board, not the fact that he's been paid by a lobbying group since 2011 or so. Sununu can, of course, still write on other issues where his conflicts of interest are at least marginally obscured in some half-assed fashion. Clegg goes on to make some ambiguous promises in regards to shoring up any transparency gaps moving forward:
"It’s safe to say that few freelance columnists make their living solely from writing for newspapers these days, so most have other jobs or consultancies. We want to be more transparent with our readers about the nature of columnists’ work and affiliations. When appropriate, we’ll include relevant details in the text of the print edition of the column, as well as the link for our digital readers."
Great, except it's not entirely clear that just posting a bio is enough, since those bios often intentionally obscure direct financial relationships. Take a recent Sununu piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, which actively helps Sununu and friends confuse customers by pretending the telecom lobbying group that pays Sununu, "Broadband For America," is actually "a coalition of 300 Internet consumer advocates, content providers and engineers."
It takes about twenty minutes of research to discover "Broadband For America" is primarily a big-telecom lobbying vessel, funded almost solely by the cable industry, whose broader roster of members are included to create the illusion of diversity (often to their own surprise). These connections don't require back-breaking journalism to make; the money trail and faux objectivity is usually only obscured by the thinnest of veneers. Yet apparently, it took the Globe the better part of five years to decide it might be a good idea to highlight their purportedly objective telecom-related editorials were being written by a paid lobbyist.
And Sununu's just one of thousands of discourse-polluting mouthpieces employed by the telecom sector. Former Senator and fair use champ Rick Boucher now works for Sidley Austin's "Government Strategy Group," one of countless AT&T lobbying vessels for policy regurgitation. When Boucher gets paid by AT&T to argue that CISPA would be good for privacy or pretend the broadband industry is ultra-competitive, you'd be hard pressed to find a single news outlet willing to highlight the umbilical cord that affixes him to the AT&T mothership.
And that's just two former politicians. There are thousands of other academics, consultants, politicians, think tankers and freelance telecom editorialists happy to regurgitate any and everything for pay, whether that's cheering Comcast's latest merger or insisting the broadband industry is secretly, wonderfully competitive. While this lack of transparency is common across the board in media, you'd think that journalism-lecture-happy newspapers in particular would be the first in line to proactively highlight dubious editorial funding relationships.
Danny O'Brien, over at the EFF's Deeplinks blog, has the story of how it appears China is pressuring the developers of tools for circumventing the Great Firewall of China to shut down their repositories and no longer offer the code. Two separate, non-commercial, developers of circumvention tools have quietly gone dark recently:
The maintainer of GoAgent, one of China's more popular censorship circumvention tools emptied out the project's main source code repositories on Tuesday. Phus Lu, the developer, renamed the repository’s description to “Everything that has a beginning has an end”. Phus Lu’s Twitter account's historywas also deleted, except for a single tweet that linked to a Chinese translation of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Live Not By Lies”. That essay was originally published in 1974 on the day of the Russian dissident’s arrest for treason.
We can guess what caused Phus Lu to erase over four years’ work on an extremely popular program from the brief comments of another Chinese anti-censorship programmer, Clowwindy. Clowwindy was the chief developer of ShadowSocks, another tool that circumvented the Great Firewall of China by creating an encrypted tunnel between a simple server and a portable client. Clowwindy also deleted his or her Github repositories last week. In a comment on the now empty Github archive Clowwindy wrote in English:
Two days ago the police came to me and wanted me to stop working on this. Today they asked me to delete all the code from Github. I have no choice but to obey.
The author deleted that comment too shortly afterwards.
As you may recall, back in March, China launched a massive DDoS attack on Github, targeting another tool for getting around the Great Firewall, called Greatfire. It seems equally notable that in the last week, there was another big DDoS attempt on Github.
While it may not be surprising at all that China is looking to stop tools that allow people to get past the censorship wall that the Chinese government itself has created, it still is worrisome:
Chinese law has long forbidden the selling of telecommunication services that bypass the Great Firewall of China, as well as the creation or distribution of “harmful information”. Until recently, however, the authorities have not targeted the authors of non-commercial circumvention software, nor its users. Human Rights in China, a Chinese rights advocacy and research organization, told EFF that, based on its preliminary review, VPNs and circumvention software is not specifically prohibited under Chinese law. While the state interferes with people's ability to use such software, it has not outlawed the software itself.
In November, Phus Lu wrote a public declaration to clarify this point. In the statement, he stated that he has received no money to develop GoAgent, provided no circumvention service, nor asserted any political view.
As O'Brien notes, this is a reminder that code is speech -- and government intimidation to shut down code is a form of repressing speech. Though, as with many attempts to censor, it seems like this is more for show than actual impact:
It’s also as ultimately futile: while the Chinese authorities have chosen to target and disrupt two centralised stores of code, thousand of forked copies of the same software exist—both on other accounts on Github and in private copies around the Net. ShadowSocks and GoAgent represent hours of creative work for their authors, but the principle behind them is reproducible by many other coders. The Great Firewall may be growing more sophisticated in detecting and blocking new circumvention systems, but even as it does so, so new code blossoms.
Meanwhile the intimidation of programmers remains a violation of the human rights of the coder—and a blow to the rights of everyone who relies on their creativity to exercise their own rights.
Content Creator of the Month is a new project from the Copia Institute that we'll also be highlighting here. Each month, we'll profile a new content creator who is doing interesting and compelling things, often using the internet in innovative and powerful ways. Here is the very first installment...
A few weeks ago, a couple of friends friends were tweeting about an incredible new YouTube video in which some people created a "real life first-person shooter" and hooked it up to Chatroulette, Skype and Omegle. Random people on the services were transported into this game, which they controlled with their voice. If you haven't watched it, find ten minutes to check it out (or just 5 if you speed up YouTube to 2x speed). It is incredibly detailed, and awesome beyond words:
My first reaction was to marvel at how much effort must have gone into setting all of this up. I had initially assumed the "game" couldn't go very far beyond the tiny room where it started — but it goes much, much further. My second thought was about how hard it must have been to coordinate all the sounds, effects and movements (even while recognizing that the final version is cut together from the takes that "worked"). Thankfully, the people behind it — Realm Pictures — also put together a behind the scenes video that reveals the inner workings (and doesn't make the original any less magical):
I started looking into the team, and realized I actually knew a bit about them, as this is hardly the first time that Realm Pictures has done cool stuff online. Years back, while based out of their home in Devon in the UK, these guys filmed their very own zombie flick called Zomblies, which they posted for free on YouTube. For a bunch of "amateurs" (at the time), the production value is amazing -- they even got someone to donate time in a helicopter, allowing them to film aerial shots. But there's another important piece of the story: while they were making the film, Realm Pictures was also using the internet to build up a community of people who were interested in the process, with their daily blog about the work acquiring a big following.
David Reynolds, the founder and creative director of Realm Pictures (and the voice in the first person shooter above), told me that "building a community has always been instrumental to both our process and our success with projects thus far." The community has followed them from project to project, such as the team's next giant undertaking The Underwater Realm, a series of five short films with large segments taking place underwater — an incredible challenge for any filmmaker, let alone relatively inexperienced independents. The team originally tried to use wires and a green screen, but realized it just wasn't realistic enough. Eventually someone donated a special casing for a camera, allowing them to actually film underwater (mostly in a local public swimming pool). Here's the first of those films (and they also have a behind the scenes video):
In order to make that movie, they also embraced another useful online tool, Kickstarter, to cover some of the production costs, eventually raising over $100,000 (they had sought $60,000). While Reynolds is supportive of crowdfunding, he does worry that it may be peaking, and that "the bubble is beginning to burst, as now it seems that everybody and his dog has a Kickstarter campaign."
One of the things that struck me personally about Realm Pictures is their ability to create visually amazing narrative film projects on relatively small budgets. For many years we've been debating the question of "the $200 million movie," in which traditional Hollywood studios keep asking how they can continue to make movies that require such huge budgets if people are unwilling to pay to watch them. And yet, as we've seen over and over again, technology and basic creativity are enabling the creation of incredible movies for a lot less. Much of Realm Pictures' work shows how that's possible. Still, Reynolds has talked in the past (notably in an interview with Kevin Smith) about being interested in doing a much bigger, Hollywood studio-funded version of Underwater Realm, which he estimates will cost somewhere in that $200 million range. So far, studios haven't been willing to pony up — but Reynolds insists there are lots of fun projects the company will be working on, even as they hope they'll one day be able to create that underwater epic.
Throughout these projects there's a strong thread: building a community and bringing it along for the ride. Reynolds tells me this is very important to how they've been able to succeed and, at the same time, give back to those who have supported them:
It is a practice we hope will always continue through our career, and at the same time give back to the community which has supported us by giving back in the form of a transparent insight into our work and things like the free tutorials we have released on our YouTube channel.
Reynolds points out that, in the end, none of this matters if the content isn't great, and that's always been the key: create great content for your community. Without that, the community won't last either. This is the combination that we've seen work for so many successful creators today. Creating great content is always at the core, and building up a loyal community around it helps spread that content and open new doors.
In terms of this latest video, which went viral super fast (I first saw it when it had about 3,000 views, but now it has over 7 million), Reynolds says it was just a fun project that they did in a weekend, with "one practice run, with a member of our team on a Skype call... to check that the system was working, and then straight into finding strangers on the internet." They ended up doing about 50 runs, with the few players who completed the whole "level" taking about 20 minutes. This is one of the first really "interactive" film experiences I've seen where the interactivity fits right in and doesn't feel forced (though of course now everyone is just watching instead of playing — but watching how others interact still feels kind of interactive). Reynolds points out that they're really just taking what makes video games so engaging, and moving it to video.
Oh, and Reynolds also notes that they're now working on level two of the game, so stay tuned (and maybe start using Chatroulette, if you want to play!)
You can read below for my whole interview with Dave Reynolds of Realm Pictures, our very first Content Creator of the Month.
from the flight-risk-or-concerned-about-opm-hack dept
Back in March, an absolutely crazy story came out about two members of the Baltimore-based law enforcement team that were trying to track down Dread Pirate Roberts who was behind the original Silk Road. An FBI team out of NY beat the Baltimore DEA/Secret Service team to finding Ross Ulbricht, leading to a weird situation in which, hours later, the Baltimore folks filed their own indictment with somewhat different charges, including a trumped up fake murder of a former Silk Road employee, that was supposedly "carried out" by an undercover agent, later revealed to be DEA agent Carl Force, who Ulbricht contacted for help. The story was crazy and cinematic, but apparently that wasn't even half of it, because the story in March revealed that two members of the Baltimore team, including Force, had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from Silk Road. It also revealed that the "murder for hire" plot against the ex-employee only happened after the Secret Service agent, Sean Bridges, stole Bitcoin from Silk Road, leading Ulbricht to think that it was the former employee, Curtis Green.
So, yes, you had a DEA agent, Carl Force, who was already moonlighting for a Bitcoin company, and who used his position as a DEA agent to steal a bunch of money from a customer of that Bitcoin company, befriending Ross Ulbricht of Silk Road while supposedly "investigating" him. Then, you had a colleague of Force's, the Secret Service agent Bridges, go and steal a bunch of Bitcoin from Silk Road immediately following the arrest of Curtis Green, one of Ulbricht's top lieutenants. Green revealed his admin login, and Bridges just went in and took a ton of money. Ulbricht then contacted Force, to help him kill Green, because Ulbricht believed that Green had stolen the money that Bridges had actually stolen. It's so complicated it feels like it needs a graphic to explain it all, but even that might be too confusing.
Either way, earlier this summer, Force pleaded guilty, and earlier this week Bridges also pleaded guilty. In both cases, some interesting additional information came out. With Force, it was that, prior to his own arrest, he'd apparently sold the rights to his story of tracking down Ulbricht to Fox for $240,000. As the government pointed out, this was a conflict of interest (you think?).
With Bridges, it's that he had been attempting to change his name and social security number, leading the judge to wonder if he was a flight risk. According to Joe Mullin at Ars Technica:
Before the proceeding ended, prosecutor Katherine Haun mentioned that the government had just received information that gave them concerns that Bridges could be a flight risk.
"The defendant had been actively trying to change his name and social security number in the state of Maryland," she told the judge. "That's very concerning."
According to Hahn, Bridges had tried to change his last name to be the same as his wife's last name and change his first name to "a very odd name." She also noted that Bridges had handed over four firearms after he was charged, and if he changed his name he could again be able to acquire weapons.
Bridges' lawyer came up with an excuse that is so ridiculous that it literally made me laugh out loud. Bridges wasn't trying to change his first name, last name and social security in order to disappear from the law, or to avoid the reputational harm of being known as a former Secret Service agent who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from an operation he was investigating... but because he was so, so worried about the recent OPM hack of government employee files. Bridges, of course, was a government employee:
Bridges' lawyer said his client's name change attempts had been a response to concerns about identity theft following the widely reported hacking into US federal government personnel files.
"Those of who work in the federal government have to deal with that," said Seeborg. "When you're concerned with flight risk, activity of this kind sends up a lot of red flags. I’m not surprised they’re bringing this to my attention."
Somehow, among the millions of others concerned about the OPM hack, you don't hear too many stories about them trying to change their first and last names along with their social security number...
from the protectin'-innovation-through-obstinance dept
For years now regulators have tried fruitlessly to bring a little more competition to the cable set top box market. While CableCARD was supposed to be a revolution on this front, regulatory enforcement was messy and inconsistent, and to protect set top box rental revenues and overall market control, cable companies rarely advertised the technology and made installations frequently nightmarish and expensive. When lackluster CableCARD stats then emerged annually, the cable industry just shrugged and apathetically declared that gosh -- nobody really wanted choice anyway.
Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal recently collected data from ten cable companies and found that things haven't really improved when it comes to set top box competition. Their data found that 99% of cable customers still rent a cable box, and pay $231 in fees annually for hardware that's usually not even worth a single year's payments. As a result, the cable industry generates $19.5 billion per year in rental fees, and has every incentive to keep things as they are.
Last fall, Congress passed the Satellite Television Extension Act Reauthorization (STELAR), which effectively killed the CableCARD and the FCC's sloppy attempt to crack open the set top market. However, STELAR's passage included the creation of the the Downloadable Security Technology Advisory Committee (DSTAC), tasked with advising the FCC on how to move forward on a CableCARD replacement that actually works. That's no small feat given the cable industry desperately wants to maintain the status quo, and the copyright brigades want hardware to be as locked and crippled as possible.
Among the DSTAC proposals released last week (pdf) is the idea of a "virtual headend," where network security functionality is performed in the cloud, leaving the end user device flexible for an array of hardware and software solutions. It's an evolution of the "Allvid" proposal the FCC considered in 2010, intended to create a single, unified standard for a set top gateway that's open to all forms of video competition, software and hardware alike.
Not too surprisingly this idea has the support of companies like Google, Apple, Sony and Microsoft, but has faced stiff opposition from the cable industry. With reports suggesting DSTAC will be pushing such an open platform (even if more flexible than the original Allvid proposal), the cable industry's chief lobbying apparatus (the NCTA) is of course once again trotting out the safety, privacy and security bogeyman:
"Regrettably, the report veers off course by including a controversial proposal to place a burdensome technology mandate on MVPDs known as AllVid. This approach could jeopardize consumer protections including privacy, emergency alerts, parental controls, and inhibit innovation by allowing the government to dictate the way video content is delivered to consumers. Fortunately, the report reflects substantial opposition to the idea of a new, government-imposed technology mandate and extensively describes the proposal's shortcomings."
Yes, and we wouldn't want to "inhibit innovation," would we? Opening up the locked-down cable set top box not only would open the door to greater set top hardware competition, but it would ultimately threaten the cable industry's stranglehold over cable itself. As such, it's highly unlikely that any proposal worth its salt will see NCTA approval. It's also probably unsurprising that Allvid has the support of consumer advocates like Public Knowledge and the New York Times editorial board, which this week tried to soft sell the idea to the cable industry at the bottom of an editorial on the subject:
"Cable and satellite companies will surely resist change or try to water down the new F.C.C. regulations. After all, they stand to lose billions in rental fees. But it is in their long-term interest to give consumers more choices. A growing number of Americans are giving up cable-TV because it costs too much. Consumers might be more inclined to pay for cable if the industry stopped trying to nickel-and-dime them."
Except it's not really in their long-term interest to give consumers more choices. Open set top gateways and open, competing platforms would only further usher in increased Internet video options, incurring a mass realization that people pay the cable industry far too much, for far too little. As such, expect the cable industry to scratch, piss and moan until it has ensured that whatever standard emerges from the FCC committee is a scarred and bastardized shadow of the original intent. And should this shadow actually survive the lobbying gauntlet and see real-world adoption, the cable industry will surely work tirelessly to ensure the same level of dysfunction consumers enjoyed with the CableCARD.
On the bright side: none of this really matters longer term. Neither incompetent regulators nor terrified legacy giants can stop the Internet video revolution from threatening traditional cable television. And as traditional cable's power wanes, its all-too-comfortable walled-garden authority over the set top box market becomes utterly irrelevant. As such, the cable industry needs to stop focusing on swimming upstream, and start battening down the hatches ahead of what's going to be a particularly nasty storm.
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Meet Carl Crowell. Willamette Week recently ran a profile on his copyright trolling practice, based out of Oregon. Unlike copyright trolls like Malibu Media and Prenda Law, who focused on porn, Crowell has tried to cultivate a copyright trolling client list straight out of Hollywood -- which is how he ended up as the copyright trolling lawyer working for Voltage Pictures on the Dallas Buyers Club trolling efforts in Oregon. You may remember those, because he was the apparent mastermind behind the attempt to abuse trademark law to go after people in Oregon. As we noted at the time, the trademark claims were ridiculous, and clearly seemed to be an attempt to look for a more friendly state court, rather than having to go into federal court with the copyright claims.
Crowell, it appears, has other bizarre legal theories in his copyright trolling bag of tricks -- and now he's testing them out on Popcorn Time users. As you may have heard, a few weeks ago, the makers of the total flop movie, The Cobbler, with Adam Sandler (9% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- sample reviews include "grindingly dull" and "ill-conceived curio"), decided to sue a bunch of Popcorn Time users for watching the film. And, you may have heard that a very similar lawsuit was filed this week, targeting Popcorn Time users for watching another flop of a film, Survivor, starring Pierce Brosnan (8% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes -- with one review stating "there's a reason you probably never heard of it.").
Crowell is the lawyer behind both lawsuits, and while everyone is pretty much focused on the "ooh, they're suing Popcorn Time users" aspect of it, the lawsuits have some absolutely insanely ridiculous claims, beyond just copyright infringement -- including trying to argue that mere possession of Popcorn Time is a criminal act under an Oregon state law barring the possession of "burglary tools." From the lawsuit:
The mere possession of a software program like Popcorn Time is the type of conduct that
the State of Oregon has criminalized in ORS 164.235, which reads in part:
164.235 Possession of a burglary tool or theft device. (1) A person commits the crime of
possession of a burglary tool or theft device if the person possesses a burglary tool or
theft device and the person:
(a) Intends to use the tool or device to commit or facilitate … a theft by a
physical taking; or
(b) Knows that another person intends to use the tool or device to commit or
facilitate a … theft by a physical taking.
(2) For purposes of this section, “burglary tool or theft device” means … [any]
instrument or other article adapted or designed for committing or facilitating a … theft by
a physical taking.
(3) Possession of a burglary tool or theft device is a Class A misdemeanor.
It is acknowledged that the transfer of data, storing of the physical data locally on a hard
drive and facilitation and redistribution of the stolen data to others may or may not be a “physical
taking” under Oregon law.
Whether or not the mere possession and use of Popcorn Time is a Class A misdemeanor
under Oregon Law and punishable by up to one year in jail (ORS 161.615(1)) and a fine of
$6,250.00 (ORS 161.635(1)(a)) may be argued.
It's one thing to bury this deep within your legal filing (even though the actual claim for relief is only on copyright infringement). It's another to scream this bit of simply wrong legal theory in a press release. But, that's apparently what Dimiter Nikolov of the studio behind the total flop of a movie, Survivor, is announcing in the press release, reiterating the wacky legal theory Crowell shoved into the end of both of the Popcorn Time lawsuits filed so far:
"The mere possession of a software program like Popcorn Time is akin to the type of conduct that the State of Oregon has criminalized in ORS 164.235, which deems the possession and/or use of a burglary tool or theft device as a Class A misdemeanor," says Dimiter Nikolov, Vice President of Business & Legal Affairs at Nu Image, Inc. "It is our belief that the transfer of data, storing of physical data locally on a hard drive and facilitation and redistribution of stolen data to others should be considered a 'physical taking' under Oregon law and we felt compelled to take this opportunity to fight back and ensure that those who choose to engage in this type of behavior face real repercussions, just as a person would if they shoplifted a DVD or other physical consumer product from a retailer."
In case you're wondering, this "legal theory" is completely bullshit. First of all, copyright infringement is not theft (even if the lawsuits pretend the two are interchangeable). So the Oregon law doesn't even come close to applying. Second, even if, in some twisted way a judge considered copyright infringement to be theft, it still wouldn't matter, because 17 USC 301, which defines copyright preemption, makes it clear that federal copyright law "preempts" any state law attempts to create state level copyright laws.
Given that, and the fact that the actual claims in the lawsuit focus solely on the federal copyright claims, it makes you wonder what game Crowell and Nu Image are playing with this completely laughable legal theory. Do they really think that lying about the law will magically get people to pay for their crappy movies? Maybe, instead of inventing bogus legal theories, they should invest in making better movies.
If you thought US law enforcement's freakout about "going dark" due to encryption was insane, leave it to Turkey to take the insanity to new levels. Two journalists and a "fixer" working for Vice News in Turkey were arrested and charged with "engaging in terrorist activity"because they used the same encryption tools that ISIS uses. Really.
Three staff members from Vice News were charged with "engaging in terrorist activity" because one of the men was using an encryption system on his personal computer which is often used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a senior press official in the Turkish government has told Al Jazeera.
The Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera: "The main issue seems to be that the fixer uses a complex encryption system on his personal computer that a lot of ISIL militants also utilise for strategic communications."
In the article, some point out that this may really just be about scaring journalists away from the area, though it may also serve a double purpose of scaring more people away from using encryption. Just the idea that using encryption is seen as "suspicious" is already ridiculous, but to be charged with terrorism solely because you encrypt your messages is utter insanity.
Last week we noted that while Windows 10 has generally seen good reviews in terms of spit and polish, there's growing concern that the OS is too nosy for its own good, and that the opt-out functionality in the OS doesn't really work. Even when you've disabled a number of the nosier features (like Windows 10's new digital assistant, Cortana), the OS ceaselessly and annoyingly opens an array of encrypted channels back to the Redmond mother ship that aren't entirely under the user's control.
Now some of the information being transmitted is purportedly harmless, and some of the problems appear to be overblown (like Windows 10 being banned from some BitTorrent trackers for fear of it reporting user piracy activity), but an operating system you can't fully control is still undeniably stupid and annoying. And it's a curious choice for a company intent on moving beyond the fractured Windows adoption of yesteryear and encouraging the lion's share of Windows users to hop on to a new platform.
Making matters worse, Microsoft now seems intent on retro-fitting its older operating systems (specifically Windows 7 and Windows 8.1) with many of the annoying, chatty aspects of Windows 10. GHacks has noticed that four updates to the older operating systems, described as an "update for customer experience and diagnostic telemetry," connect to vortex-win.data.microsoft.com and settings-win.data.microsoft.com. These addresses are hard-coded to bypass the hosts file, and ferry all manner of personal information back to Microsoft.
Fortunately, it appears that users in this instance can configure Windows firewall and routers to block the traffic, and users can avoid much of the snooping by opting out of the Customer Experience Improvement Program (CEIP):
"The concern with the new Diagnostic Tracking service is much the same as with Windows 10's tracking: it's not clear what's being sent, and there are concerns that it can't be readily controlled. The traffic to Microsoft's servers is encrypted, sent over HTTPS, so it can't be easily examined. While the knowledge based articles describing the new service list the DNS names of the servers that the service connects to, there are reports that the service ignores the system HOSTS file. As such, a traditional and simple method for redirecting the traffic doesn't work.
However, we're not sure just how big an impediment this is in practice; in our testing of Windows 8, the builtin Windows Firewall, for example, is more than capable of blocking the traffic, and this appears to be working entirely as it should. Disabling the service is also effective for those who don't trust its behavior."
Still, it's annoying that Microsoft continues to insist on expanding this kind of OS behavior, without making opting out simple and comprehensive. And it certainly doesn't exactly deflate arguments by folks like Richard Stallman, who consistently argue that Windows is effectively malware. More than anything though, it's a continued advertisement for Linux and operating systems that the end user actually has some degree of control over.