by Mike Masnick
Fri, Aug 28th 2015 3:20am
by Tim Cushing
Mon, Aug 3rd 2015 11:38am
from the stupidity-ensues dept
There's nothing censorious about a private company deciding what it does and doesn't want littering its platform. Let's just get that out of the way. However, things change a bit when you're considered to be a central repository of open-source projects, like Github is. Open-source generally conjures visions of freedom and a more "hands-off" approach. On top of this, would it kill these services that suddenly decide to crack down on one person to at least be consistent in their actions? (h/t Andre)
Currently, there's an all out gif-and-snark-war going on in this trainwreck of a thread over at Github, below a small change made in the fork of a repo. A change where the word "Retard" - "delay or hold back in terms of progress or development"- was removed and exchanged for the word "Git" - "an unpleasant or contemptible person". Why? Github wants to remove the word "retard" from code.[A word of caution: further text and images quite possibly NSFW, so scroll yourself accordingly.]
That's "Dabitch' writing for Adland. The word "retard" has its legitimate uses, as noted above. It's also used in a pejorative sense far more frequently. It's insulting and terrible and generally Not Acceptable Usage, but it's still deployed in code instructions for idiots while idiot-proofing software.
The word is problematic in this context. So are Github's actions.
Github had already deleted the original repo, and suddenly all forks from this repo were affected, ie; also gone from public view and use on Github.This is a problem because it affects more than the person who childishly decided to use the word "retard" in his/her code comments -- comments, it must be noted, that would probably be read by others who would be unoffended by this usage. But Github became its own heckler's veto. And in the laziest way -- by deferring to its terms of service.
This was ultra-lazy because the takedown came first and the notification second. So, not only did Github tank the repo and its forks, but it couldn't be bothered to ask nixxquality (the person behind the offensive code comments) to make the changes first before moving on to more drastic tactics.
Here's the post-facto explanation that was given to nixxquality. (Which, it must be noted, only came into being because nixxquality demanded to know what happened to the project.)
We may, but have no obligation to, remove Content and Accounts containing Content that we determine in our sole discretion are unlawful, offensive, threatening, libelous, defamatory, pornographic, obscene or otherwise objectionable or violates any party's intellectual property or these Terms of Service.This being said after said content was already
The content in question was the use of the words "retard" and "retarded." We'd like to give you 24 hours to remove or change the content in your own repository.
The email went on to state that the content would be re-enabled after these words were removed. This seems to be the sort of thing that could have remained up while it was sorted out, with Github's email preceding the takedown, rather than vice versa.
So, nixxquality changed "retard" to "git." As in "Github." As in just another word for the sort of "retard" targeted by code notes meant to dissuade others from screwing things up.
Git is a mild pejorative with origins in British English for a silly, incompetent, stupid, annoying, senile, elderly or childish person. It is usually an insult, more severe than twit or idiot but less severe than wanker, arsehole or twat.Github's email makes it clear it can arbitrarily enforce its code Code. Good for it. But inconsistent policing looks like laziness or hypocrisy. At its very best, it only looks incompetent. So, Nixx's "retard" was nixed (I apologize for nothing!) but hundreds of thousands of other occurrences live on -- some of which are far, far more offensive than nixxquality's.
The last one is part of an insult generator that pulls from the following list of words to ensure users are properly verbally smacked around.
Offensive/obscene/objectionable? You bet. And yet it lives on unaltered.
You want worse? Here are two more that I will only link to, rather than assault your eyeballs further. Search any offensive term you can think of and you'll find thousands of hits hosted at Github.
This would be a nightmare to police. And it would be equally pointless. So, why target one use of "retard" when the rest of Github is littered with absolute filth? Even if this inconsistency is forgiven, why take down first and notify later? That just exacerbates the problems of an arbitrarily-applied "policy." As it stands now, the only way anyone will truly know if they've run afoul of Github's content guidelines is when their project disappears.
As was stated at the opening of this post, Github can police its site however it wants to. It can be strict but fair. Or it can do this sort of thing. Neither option is wholly incorrect, although one option is far more correct than the other. The public has options. If it doesn't like Github's cherry-picking of projects to dump, it can take its "business" elsewhere. Except, in cases like these, there's sometimes not a lot of "elsewhere" available.
By doing this, Github risks alienating their core users, though at least one user in the trainwreck thread insists that they should all "shoo". As in "You all lose. Just leave. Go form your own git hosting service that'll wither and die. Shoo."Not quite as easy to do when a single service has become a large, centralized repository (with its users' assistance, of course). When it comes time to talk or walk, the "walk" needs to be well-attended to be effective.
The thing is, the core users can literally do just that, and where would that leave Github the business? Will it be worth $2 billion after 224,477 repos are arbitrarily locked down or deleted?This assumes Github will commit commercial suicide. It won't. Its enforcement of this policy indicates it knows better than to apply the rules in anything more than a haphazard fashion. You can't dump 224,000 repositories because they contain the word "retard." The manpower spent to sort out the legitimate uses would provide no ROI. Very few people are going to stop using Github because it has "failed" to eradicate slurs and insults. But a greater number will abandon the site when they see the so-called rules are whimsically applied, and not in the way an eccentric uncle with a flair for the amusingly dramatic does.
The problem is that Github has also become indispensable for so many people. Given this power, it can deploy its rules stupidly and capriciously and still get away with it. That's what pains users of large, centralized services the most. Smaller, agile platforms with multiple competitors need to carefully consider their terms of service and the consequences of arbitrary enforcement. Those with more power and market-share are far more likely to use supposedly strict rules as nothing more than guidelines subject to moderators' moods and shifts in the ideological winds. In doing so, they allow hecklers to control the veto power… even when the heckling is coming from inside the
by Glyn Moody
Fri, May 22nd 2015 11:44am
from the getting-serious dept
Last year, Techdirt wrote about yet another of Russia's new laws aimed at taming the troublesome internet world. Its most striking feature was that bloggers with more than 3,000 visitors a day were required to register on a special list, and to abide by general mass media restrictions. We noted then that blogs located overseas were not covered by the new law. But according to this report in The Guardian, based on a story in Izvestia, it seems that the law is now being applied to foreign service providers too: Facebook, Google and Twitter are all being threatened with fines or even bans for non-compliance:
The [Russian communications agency's] deputy director, Maksim Ksenzov, had issued a warning to the three companies on 6 May, telling them they were in violation of the bloggers law because they had not provided requested data on the number of daily visitors to several users' pages, as well as information allowing the authorities to identify the owners of accounts with more than 3,000 daily visitors.
The companies are threatened with fines, but these are relatively modest: up to 300,000 roubles ($6,000) for the first offense. Subsequent infringements lead to bigger fines or a ban on the website for up to 30 days. As The Guardian points out:
If the companies did not take steps to delete from their sites "information containing calls to participate in mass rioting, extremist activities" or unsanctioned public events, the watchdog would "limit access to the information resource where that information is posted", Ksenzov warned.
The problem is that regional Internet service providers might not be able to provide much granularity when limiting access to these pages, leading to services from the companies concerned being blocked completely in those areas. As the Izvestia article explains, although the Russian authorities are very keen for the US companies to obey Russian law, and point out that they are simply following in the footsteps of the the European Commission, it's not clear how they could force compliance or collect any fines they imposed.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Apr 29th 2015 11:45am
MPAA Gets Court To Block Popcorn Time Websites In UK, Despite Judge Admitting The Sites Don't Actually Infringe
from the we-seem-to-have-a-problem-here dept
The court clearly recognizes that a site distributing Popcorn Time is quite different from torrent sites or streaming sites:
So the operators of both BitTorrent sites and streaming website sites have been held to infringe copyright by communication to the public even though the infringing copy of the copyright work itself does not come directly from those websites but because the sites contain catalogued and indexed connections to the sources of those copies. The website operators are held to have intervened in a highly material way to make the copyright works available to a new audience and to infringe.So, don't order them blocked, right? Not so fast...
The difference with the Popcorn Time system is that now it is the application itself running on the user's computer which presents to the user catalogued and indexed connections to the sources of the copies. If a PTAS site is purely the source from which the Popcorn Time application software is downloaded and the application itself, once operational on the user's computer, never connects back to the PTAS site then can the reasoning employed in the earlier cases apply? I do not believe it can. I cannot see how the operator of the PTAS website commits an act of communicating copyright works to the public. The PTAS site simply does not communicate any copyright works to anybody. There is no transmission (or retransmission) of the copyright work at all. What the PTAS site makes available is a tool. The tool is the Popcorn Time application. From the point of view of the user, the PTAS site is not the place at which they encounter a catalogue or index of content. It is the Popcorn Time application, when running on the user's computer, that provides catalogued and indexed connections to the sources of infringing copies of the claimants' copyright works. The operators of the PTAS sites are facilitating the making available of the content by providing this tool but that is a different matter. In my judgment the scope of the act of communication to the public cannot be stretched as far as to cover the operation of a site which simply makes the Popcorn Time application itself available for download.
Accordingly I am not satisfied that the operators of the PTAS websites Popcorn Time IO, Flixtor, and Movie Panda are committing an act of communication copyright works.
The issue I have to decide is whether the suppliers of the Popcorn Time applications are jointly liable with the operators of the host websites. In my judgment they are. The Popcorn Time application is the key means which procures and induces the user to access the host website and therefore causes the infringing communications to occur. The suppliers of Popcorn Time plainly know and intend that to be the case. They provide the software and provide the information to keep the indexes up to date. I find that the suppliers of Popcorn Time have a common design with the operators of the host websites to secure the communication to the public of the claimants' protected works, thereby infringing copyright.I understand the logic. The judge is arguing that these tools are mainly used for infringement, and thus that alone should make them somehow responsible and thus they can be blocked. But, that is one slippery slope if you follow that logic all the way down. Under that logic, the VCR should never have been allowed. In the early days -- before Hollywood figured out how to make use of them to the studios' advantage -- most VCR usage was not for authorized content. Ditto for many other innovations as well. Yet, rather than outlawing them, we allowed them to develop, and the industry eventually figured out how to use them properly.
Although I am not satisfied in relation to communication to the public or authorisation by the operators of the Popcorn Time websites, I am satisfied that the operators of these websites (both PTAS and SUI) are jointly liable for the infringements committed by the operators of the host websites.
Thanks to this kind of ruling, that will never happen with Popcorn Time (in the UK at least), and that seems pretty dangerous. It's yet another case of Hollywood shutting down what it fears, rather than learning to embrace it and give users what they want.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Mar 11th 2015 2:49pm
from the see-you-in-court dept
“It is an important principle that Internet providers of Internet infrastructure shall not be held responsible for the content that is transported over the Internet. In the same way that the Post should not meddle in what people write in the letter or where people send letters,” Commercial Director Mats Lundquist says.Of course, this means that they'll be going to court later this year. Torrentfreak notes that the MPAA is pulling the strings behind this, of course:
“We stick to our starting point that our customers have the right to freely communicate and share information over the internet.”
Internal movie industry documents obtained by TorrentFreak reveal that IFPI and the Swedish film producers have signed a binding agreement which compels them to conduct and finance the case. However, the MPAA is exerting its influence while providing its own evidence and know-how behind the scenes.Meanwhile, we're still left wondering how any of this encourages people to actually spend more money to support content creators.
Also of interest is that IFPI took a decision to sue Bredbandsbolaget and not Teliasonera (described by the MPAA as “the largest and also very actively ‘copy-left’ Swedish ISP”). The reason for that was that IFPI’s counsel represents Teliasonera in other matters which would have raised a conflict of interest.
by Karl Bode
Thu, Jan 15th 2015 3:40pm
from the know-when-to-fold-'em dept
When pressed by the FCC, Marriott pretended this was all to protect the safety and security of their customers. The company also tried to claim that what it was doing was technically legal under the anti-jamming provisions of section 333 of the Communications Act, since the deauth attacks being used (which confuse devices into thinking they're connecting to bogus, friendly routers) weren't technically jamming cellular signals. The FCC didn't agree, and neither did industry giants like Microsoft, Google, AT&T and Verizon, who collectively filed opposition documents with the FCC arguing that Marriott was clearly violating the law.
After carefully surveying a battlefield scattered with millions of pissed off consumers, annoyed regulators, and angry, bottomless-pocketed technology giants, Marriott has apparently concluded that maybe its shallow ploy to make an extra buck isn't worth fighting over. In a statement posted to the company's website, Marriott states it's going to stop acting like a nitwit, maybe:
"Marriott International listens to its customers, and we will not block guests from using their personal Wi-Fi devices at any of our managed hotels. Marriott remains committed to protecting the security of Wi-Fi access in meeting and conference areas at our hotels. We will continue to look to the FCC to clarify appropriate security measures network operators can take to protect customer data, and will continue to work with the industry and others to find appropriate market solutions that do not involve the blocking of Wi-Fi devices."You'll notice the selectively-worded statement doesn't completely put the issue to rest, and clings fast to the argument that Marriott is just really concerned about visitor security, suggesting this may not be the last we hear of this.
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Dec 31st 2014 2:33pm
from the you-had-one-job... dept
In this case, it appears that Air Canada has (for reasons unknown) wasted good money on a company called "Datavalet" which offers "Guest Access Management" for companies who offer WiFi access to customers. Datavalet proudly highlights Air Canada and famed Canadian donut chain Tim Hortons among its customers.
And yet, despite its sole business apparently being building systems to let people access the internet, Datavalet's tech geniuses can't figure out that Google's RSS feed service is not, in fact, an "Anonymizer" but merely a system for hosting RSS feeds.
These sorts of stupid false positives are not at all uncommon in the filtering business -- and Datavalet is not alone in stupidly filtering out and blocking access to things it should totally allow. This story just demonstrates, once again, the ultimate stupidity and futility of trying to block internet access. No matter how well-meaning you might be, you're going to do it wrong and you're going to block plenty of legitimate content, including (in this case) tons of well known news publishers who rely on Google's feedproxy service to serve up links to RSS readers, Twitter, Facebook and more.
by Glyn Moody
Wed, Dec 31st 2014 4:15am
Indian Government Orders 32 Web Sites Blocked, Including GitHub, Archive.Org, Pastebin, DailyMotion And Vimeo
from the blunt-instrument dept
According to a developing story in the Times of India, some users in India are unable to access major international Web sites, including GitHub, Pastebin and DailyMotion:
It now appears that the blocks are being carried out on the instructions of [India's] DoT (Department of Telecom). The telecom body reportedly issued a notification regarding the same on December 17. A screenshot of the circular has been posted on Twitter by Pranesh Prakash. The notification mentions that 32 URLs including Pastebin, video sharing sites Vimeo and DailyMotion, Internet archive site archive.org and Github.com( a web-based software code repository), have been blocked under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000. DoT has also asked ISPs to submit compliance reports. However, we have not been able to verify the authenticity of the circular.
Here's the list posted by Pranesh Prakash:
It's not clear why these sites have been blocked in this way, but Prakash, who is Policy Director at the Centre for Internet and Society in Bangalore, India, believes it may be because of a court order in a copyright case. He also points out that this is not the first time this has happened. However, the key nature of many of the sites affected, and the fact that entire sites, rather than just some of their pages, were blocked, is bound to lead to calls for this blunt instrument to be refined before it is used again.
Update: The Economic Times of India provides more information about what is happening here (via Arijit Banik):
The websites were blocked for hosting content that is pro terrorist group ISIS and not cooperating with government investigations, officials said.
Even so, taking down entire Web sites -- especially major ones like GitHub and archive.org -- is clearly a completely disproportionate response, and shows the dangers of using this very crude approach.
Arvind Gupta, the head of IT Cell, BJP Tweeted: "The websites that have been blocked were based on an advisory by Anti Terrorism Squad, and were carrying Anti India content from ISIS. The sites that have removed objectionable content and/or cooperated with the on going investigations, are being unblocked."
by Glyn Moody
Tue, Jan 28th 2014 10:02am
Dutch Court Says Pirate Bay Block Is Disproportionate, Ineffective And Harming Entrepreneurial Freedom
from the down-but-not-out dept
Two years ago, Techdirt reported on a couple of leading Dutch ISPs being ordered to block The Pirate Bay. To their huge credit, they did not take this lying down: they have been fighting it in the courts since, and have just won a major victory against the Dutch "anti-piracy" group BREIN. TorrentFreak has the details:
In its ruling the Court states that the Pirate Bay blockade is disproportionate and ineffective, citing TNO research and the Baywatch report of the University of Amsterdam. As a result, the blockade was found to hinder the Internet providers' entrepreneurial freedoms.
That's a great result for a number of reasons. First, because it overturns the block on The Pirate Bay for the two Dutch ISPs concerned (and probably for other ISPs too.) Secondly, because it forces BREIN to pay the significant costs for its long-running attempt to tell ISPs how they should run their businesses. And thirdly, and perhaps mostly importantly, because it creates a precedent that underlines not only the pointlessness of trying to enforce an ineffectual blockade, but also the fact that entrepreneurial freedom outweighs copyright in this situation. Although that ruling only applies in the Netherlands, other courts in Europe may well take it into consideration when they are called upon to make similar rulings.
The court based its decision on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which both includes "freedom to conduct a business" and "right to property." In this case the entrepreneurial freedom outweighs property rights, because the blockades are disproportionate and ineffective.
Based on the above, the appeal court overturned the blocking order and ordered the Hollywood-funded anti-piracy group to pay 326,000 euros ($445,000) in legal fees.
However, there is the possibility that BREIN will appeal, as Computerworld UK reports:
The case can be appealed to the Supreme Court, said a spokesman for the Court of Appeals. But while the Supreme Court is able to overrule the verdicts of lower courts, it only examines whether a lower court observed proper application of the law in reaching its decision. At this stage of the legal process, the facts of the case as established by the lower court are no longer the subject of the court's scrutiny.
So it would seem that BREIN may be down in this case, but it is not yet out.
It is too early to say if the case would be appealed, said Brein attorney Joris van Manen, adding that it is certainly worth considering.
by Mike Masnick
Tue, Jan 21st 2014 8:14pm
Yale Student Creates Unblockable Replacement For Useful Course Catalog Site Yale Blocked; Yale Reconsiders Initial Block
from the boom-goes-the-dynamite dept
The same kind of thing played out last week, with a story you might have heard of, concerning Yale blocking access to a site built by a pair of students (two years ago), creating a better course catalog. Unlike Yale's official course catalog, this one made it easy to see class evaluations and teacher ratings. Yale came up with a variety of excuses for this block, first saying that the site's name, YBB+ (for Yale Blue Book Plus) violated the university's trademark on Yale Bluebook. After the students changed the name to CourseTable, the university blocked it again, claiming it was "malicious."
Then, after all of that, Yale also claimed that CourseTable violated the copyright in the course descriptions. I would think that the developers would have an incredibly strong fair use claim here (use in education, not interfering with the market "value" of the original, etc.).
Either way, another Yale student, Sean Haufler, saw how ridiculous all of this was, and decided, what the heck, he could write a system that clearly gets around all of Yale's supposed complaints: he created a Chrome Extension, so that the same information from CourseTable/YBB+ shows up whenever anyone using it surfs through Yale's official site. He notes that this seems to get around all of Yale's claimed issues:
As Haufler points out, he's hoping to demonstrate to Yale's administration that not only was this whole censorship effort stupid and futile, but that if it's granting students access to data, it shouldn't then try to block how they use that data. It seems especially troubling that an institution of higher learning would do this kind of thing.
I built a Chrome Extension called Banned Bluebook. It modifies the Chrome browser to add CourseTable’s functionality to Yale’s official course selection website, showing the course’s average rating and workload next to each search result. It also allows students to sort these courses by rating and workload. This is the original site, and this is the site with Banned Bluebook enabled (this demo uses randomly generated rating values).
Banned Bluebook never stores data on any servers. It never talks to any non-Yale servers. Moreover, since my software is smarter at caching data locally than the official Yale course website, I expect that students using this extension will consume less bandwidth over time than students without it. Don’t believe me? You can read the source code. No data ever leaves Yale’s control. Trademarks, copyright infringement, and data security are non-issues. It’s 100% kosher.
Just as I was finishing up this post, I learned that Yale dean Mary Miller has admitted to perhaps reacting too hastily, and recognizing that technology has changed quite a bit. While she still seems to claim that using the data violates an acceptable use policy, she seems at least willing to consider this:
Although the University acted in keeping with its policies and principles, I see now that it erred in trying to compel students to have as a reference the superior set of data that the complete course evaluations provide. That effort served only to raise concerns about the proper use of network controls. In the end, students can and will decide for themselves how much effort to invest in selecting their courses.
Technology has moved faster than the faculty could foresee when it voted to make teaching evaluations available to students over a decade ago, and questions of who owns data are evolving before our very eyes. Just this weekend, we learned of a tool that replicates YBB+'s efforts without violating Yale’s appropriate use policy, and that leapfrogs over the hardest questions before us. What we now see is that we need to review our policies and practices. To that end, the Teaching, Learning, and Advising Committee, which originally brought teaching evaluations online, will take up the question of how to respond to these developments, and the appropriate members of the IT staff, along with the University Registrar, will review our responses to violations of University policy. We will also state more clearly the requirement/expectation for student software developers to consult with the University before creating applications that depend on Yale data, and we will create an easy means for them to do so.