by Clive Thompson

Clive Thompson's Favorite Techdirt Posts Of The Week

from the technology-making-us-smarter dept

Hi folks -- Clive Thompson here, and I'm the author of the new book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, and a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and Wired. I've been reading Techdirt avidly for years, so I was happy when Mike asked me for my favorite picks of this week.

This was a big week for NSA news -- ranging from the release of the presidential advisory panel to Judge Richard Leon’s ruling that the collection of bulk metadata violates the 4th Amendment. But I'm always a fan of the many other pieces that point out the other freaky ways that dragnet spying is altering the warp and woof of everyday life. There was the post about the superb Foreign Policy story quoting an NSA official who wants reporters cracked down on: "I have some reforms for the First Amendment." There was the post about how IBM is being sued by a shareholder who argues the PRISM program caused a dropoff in the firm's business -- because Chinese clients, spooked, cancelled some IBM contracts. There was the moment that Vladimir Putin expressed approval of the US's dragnet spying, and even envied its scope. And I was alarmed to read about Google's latest "transparency report", because government requests for takedowns of information are soaring: The first six months of 2013 had 68% more requests than the last six months of 2012. Worse, the requests are increasingly political in nature. As Google noted, "Judges have asked us to remove information that’s critical of them, police departments want us to take down videos or blogs that shine a light on their conduct, and local institutions like town councils don’t want people to be able to find information about their decision-making processes."

I was thrilled when I read, earlier this week, about how the Norwegian government is digitizing all of its national literature -- not just the old, out-of-copyright stuff, but all of it -- and putting it online, accessible to anyone in the country. Now this, I thought, is a cool way for a government to help ensure its literary heritage stays relevant! So I cracked up when I read the Techdirt post pointing out how the UK is created a paranoid, locked-down version of this: The country's digitized literature will be available only on six terminals at academic universities, with one person allowed to use a terminal at at time.

I was intrigued to read that Facebook stores copies of stuff you type into your Facebook account, but never post: Moments of "self-censorship", as the Facebook folks call it. We all do this -- we start writing something (in a Twitter window, in a Facebook or Instagram thread, in an email) and then stop, erase it, start again, or maybe just abandon things, waiting a while so we can think things over. This is a perfectly healthy behavior; indeed, as I've argued in a lot of pieces I've written myself, I think this trend towards ruminating in text is one of the most exciting parts of modern life, and it speaks to the intellectual style of modern life that we use these moments of writing-but-deleting to form our thoughts. So while I'm fascinated to read the Facebook paper analyzing these moments of "self-censorship", it's depressing to ponder the fact that Facebook wants merely to figure out how to convince us to hit "publish" -- i.e. how to take these moments of private meditation and make them public.

Finally, I cracked up to read of the emails that Techdirt has been getting from spam artists -- asking Techdirt to remove spam comments the spammers themselves posted. Why do they want the posts gone? Because Google's ranking algorithms now (accurate) count this SEO crud against the spammers. I remember when comment spam exploded back in the early 2000s, and -- before plugins to autodetect it were widely available -- I'd spend an hour a day or more manually removing these digital zebra-mussels from my blog. So I have to say, I'm kind of thrilled the spammers are finally living to rue their behavior! Live by the sword, die by the sword.

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    out_of_the_blue, 21 Dec 2013 @ 12:31pm

    Techdirt Weak (sic) In Review: as usual, most interesting resolutely ignored.

    REAL STORY of the week (as phrased by WashPo) that Snowden doesn't matter! oogles-list-of-top-2013-searches/

    BUT we don't KNOW whether is lack of interest or Google is suppressing the story! Here's some proof:

    Google now freely admits that its search algorithms are driven by its own "opinion."

    Revealed: Google's manual for its unseen humans who rate the web

    There is a widespread view that Google's rankings are untouched by human hand, crafted impartially by machine, and machine alone. But there's much more to it than that - Google's verdicts on landing page quality are Google's opinion, and the company even says as much, sometimes.

    More, search: google algorithm people rating

    Google has human inputs to its "algorithm", so all any of you can say is "Oh, trust the giant mega-corporation! Their motto is don't be evil! What kind of conspiracy kook are you, anyway?" -- If that's your standard for truth, kids, you is doomed. Doesn't matter who you're dealing with: "Trust but verify." We can't verify Google's secret "algorithm", but we know it's actually "opinion". And it's worse than foolish to trust any corporation: all soulless amoral monsters, legal fictions from the blackest-hearted lawyers. -- New tagline:
    Google's tailoring to YOU can selectively substitute, omit, and lie. You can't trust anything on the net, neither what you see nor what you don't see!
    Next: Mike defended Kim Dotcom and Megaupload with hair-splitting legalisms while ignoring the $175 million netted from advertising drawn by infringed content. Yet again.

    First, Mike "supports copyright": he's a copyright maximalist and only runs those pieces to get page views from you gullible pirates. None of you can provide links to prove Mike's "real" position on copyright other than that it's "broken"; any attempt to do so will only undermine that he "supports copyright"; you're on horns of a dilemma there. But Mike defending obvious grifter Dotcom on narrow legalisms rather than broad principles proves the point: he's half-hearted, just enough to fool you. No one in their right mind expends much effort to defend cases that knowingly pushed to the limits: doing so doesn't enhance credibility, just puts you on the fringe too.

    2nd, as I established in the piece with cops searching meth lab before obtaining a warrant, there can be more than one crime committed at a time and they're not mutually exclusive: Kim Dotcom is NOT innocent because NZ spooks illegally snooped. The spooks can and should be separately punished. Evidence doesn't need to be tossed in either of those cases because actually proceeded from information sufficient for a warrant: it's just that the fool police didn't get one. -- As are many pirates around and such criminals are naturally drawn to police and spook work, perhaps one in NZ deliberately tried to get the case tossed! With millions of dollars available besides free pornz you can't rule that out.

    3rd, Megaupload is NOT a one-time incident in murky circumstances! Was a giant BUSINESS operating BRAZENLY for years! From right here in the former US of A with nothing more than cable modem and primitive operating system (Windows XP), I SAW enough evidence to convict Kim Dotcom of contributory infringement! The PETABYTES stored and many multiples of it TRANSFERRED over the net are overwhelming PROOF beyond ANY reasonable doubt. That's not pre-judice, it's JUDGED from facts KNOWN to you all. Mike appears trying to help Dotcom wiggle out of PERFECTLY CLEAR FACTS. If Dotcom admits to knowing that ANY infringed content was on Megaupload, his fat goose is cooked. So he's going to maintain utter ignorance, and it's not in the least credible, not when he got MILLIONS. You kids are just amazingly dishonest in trying to ignore everyday facts that you all KNOW in favor of invented legalisms. -- And you're probably unindicted co-conspirators!
    Late Friday came flurry of small items that I suppose were due to Mike noticed his page rank slipping after a week of few, dull, and timid.

    Big item: Mike's sudden use of the word "corporatist"! -- Skill challenge: use Google to see if you can find Mike using it prior to yesterday. Most uses here will be mine. -- Now, couple times this week I pointed out that Mike basically mimeographs Washington Post or other "papers of record", doesn't go with stories until officially introduced. Bloomberg the case in point used the word and thereby okayed use by followers, so is consistent with my notion that Mike is just like "mainstream" press which takes cues from Establishment organs as to acceptable topics and slant. -- You can maintain was just Mike re-writing: that's bad enough, actually.

    But was Mike at last responding to my nagging for EXPLICIT position on TPP? ... Well, we'll see whether Mike continues to run puff pieces on Google going to court for its phony "First Amendment right" to state an unverifiable figure of gov't requests, or whether he now regards that as corporatist PR crap. Only Mike, Mitt Romney, and the very worst of lawyers (which is nearly all) believe that corporations are persons and have rights; only loonies believe that Google is fighting for our rights. -- SO WE'LL JUST SEE: takes more than ONCE to establish anti-corporatist stance.
    Here's another that Mike likely will avoid because gets into the dark side of corporations and the net where personal information is RUTHLESSLY exploited: 'Data brokers' selling personal info of rape victims to marketers - report
    And for laughs this about violence from fantasy football / Twitter fans: off-social-media/

    One can make reasonable associations between activities and actions. Just as you know hanging out in sports bars and drinking heavily means tendency to violence, or know the signs of a "crazy cat lady", so fantasy football plus Twitter indicates certain tendencies. Now who here is fan of both?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Rikuo (profile), 21 Dec 2013 @ 1:33pm

      Re: Techdirt Weak (sic) In Review: as usual, most interesting resolutely ignored.

      For someone who hates it when people "steal" your name and write like you, you sure have no qualms about ripping off the favourites post list style. Then again, you are the human personification of hypocrisy.
      Here's a question for you Blue. In the OJ Simpson trial, he got off scot free due to the police fucking up with the evidence. Everyone and their pet cat knows Simpson did it, but since the police fucked up, they had to let him go.
      Why are you saying that Dotcom should be locked up, since as you know, there have been many cases of law-breaking on the part of the US? Why are you willing to trample the law of the land to lock up someone who, at the end of the day, may or may not be a [i] copyright infringer [/i]? If the US wasn't willing to trample the laws to lock up a murderer, why go so far for Dotcom?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2013 @ 2:35pm

        Re: Re: Techdirt Weak (sic) In Review: as usual, most interesting resolutely ignored.

        Didn't you know? They changed the ranking on that... it now goes from smallest to biggest crime: assault--->attempted murder--->murder--->copyright infringement.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous, 21 Dec 2013 @ 3:34pm

        Re: Re: Techdirt Weak (sic) In Review: as usual, most interesting resolutely ignored.

        "...they had to let him go". Um, no. He was let go because the jury found him not guilty. They did not have to find him not guilty.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        CK20XX (profile), 21 Dec 2013 @ 3:43pm

        Re: Re: Techdirt Weak (sic) In Review: as usual, most interesting resolutely ignored.

        Ow, no. OJ Simpson is a TERRIBLE example to use. It's not like Kim Dotcom attempted to murder anyone. You're inadvertently suggesting that he's a guilty person who should get off scott free due to procedural errors, which would make his case a tragedy even if he wins.

        You can point out how preservation of due process should be kept as the most sacred standard though. It's especially important to have rock solid standards like that because some laws, like copyright-related ones, experience flux more often than others and may ultimately be rendered as obsolete as the typewriter in this modern era.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2013 @ 11:30pm


      Go make your own damn website.

      out_of_the_blue just hates it when due process is enforced.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2013 @ 12:39pm

    Once again the troll ootb somehow thinks his picks of what is interesting ranks. Go make your own site where you can post that crap till doomsday. No one else here will complain and no one else here will miss you. Like you do articles, I didn't bother to read your crap. You've already established your lack of creditability and mental dwarfism.

    I agree with Clive on the spammers now falling on their swords trying to eliminate the trash they spewed. They were paid to do the job of spamming and now it is coming home to roost for them. Ah, what sweet justice there is in the world at times. I hope no one actually removes their spam, sending their scammy SEO efforts into crashing their money makers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      btrussell (profile), 24 Dec 2013 @ 5:29am


      "Once again the troll ootb somehow thinks his picks of what is interesting ranks."

      His feed is put on "First Word" so it must mean a lot to some to feed him that way.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Larsn E Whipsnade, 24 Dec 2013 @ 12:40pm

        Re: Re:

        @btr:"His feed . . ."

        And who are _YOU_ talking to when you invoke "his"? For the lazy posters with large egos here, the "View in Thread" toggle doesn't help when most of you are too lazy to enter your name, or the name of the original poster. Most here are either one guy named "anonymous", or hordes of lazy posters with large egos. Oh, I said that already.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2013 @ 4:01pm

    Youtube: Breaking 15 Laws in 33 Seconds

    How many laws can people break in 60 seconds?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Dec 2013 @ 2:21am

    Things are beginning to turn sour for US corporations over the Snowden fallout involving the NSA.

    One UK citizen has won a legal round against Facebook over disclosure of personal data. -Prism-leaks

    In the same article it is mentioned that another group seeks legal action against Google involving the Safari cookie debacle.

    A small encrypted email service struggling to get started has tripled it's subscriber base since the NSA spying became known as Europe abandons Google and most US corporations. They are avoiding Google, Yahoo!, and Amazon and it's cloud service.

    Not to mention Brazil cancelling a $4 billion purchase of F/A Super Hornet fighters made by Boeing in favor of Saab from Sweden. One has to wonder if that will go through with the latest revealing that Sweden is working hand in hand with the NSA as well.

    These are the early fall outs. More is surely to come over it as more people around the globe abandon anything US made, like Cisco loosing China.

    Many countries are now demanding that their citizen's data remain within country with whoever serves them digitally setting up their server farms within that country at the expense of the US and avoiding backbone routers traveling through the US.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    JJ Joseph, 22 Dec 2013 @ 11:15pm

    You should check your enthusiasm for digitizing research literature. This was in today's news:

    "A biologist at the University of British Columbia says 80 per cent of data by today's scientists is lost within 20 years, a victim of digital storage.

    "Sometimes the problem is outdated storage devices, says Tim Vines. Sometimes the problem is as simple as an abandoned email account.

    "His team went back to look for the data from 516 studies published between 1991 and 2011. They found everything recorded within the past two years, but after that data disappeared fast. After 20 years, 80 per cent was missing."

    Digital info is easy to access, but with an astonishing half-life of just 10 years!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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