by Mike Masnick
Wed, Jul 20th 2016 9:31am
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Mar 18th 2016 11:39am
from the slow-down-folks dept
Given all that, I was quite intrigued when Wikileaks tweeted out a story this morning claiming that a recently released Clinton email "reveals that Hillary worked with Google's CEO to keep" the "Innocence of Muslims" video blocked on YouTube. That seemed like a big deal -- especially as I remembered, clearly, Google putting out a statement about all of this and rejecting the White House's request to censor the video. The problem, though, is that Wikileaks' tweet is vastly overstating the reality.
By Friday September 14th, there was widespread discussion about what Google/YouTube should do about this video, when (1) the White House confirmed that it had asked Google to "review whether the clip violated its policies" and (2) Google had announced that it would not block the video in the US, but would restrict access in Libya, Egypt, India and Indonesia. At the time, we argued this was a mistake by YouTube to take the video down at all.
So, by September 14th, it was now publicly known that the White House had asked Google to review the video and that Google had agreed to take it down in some countries, but leave it up in the US.
That brings us to the emails in question. The first is just an email from Denis McDonough, who was then the Deputy National Security Advisor (prior to becoming Obama's Chief of Staff), emailing a few people the phone numbers of both Google CEO Larry Page and then YouTube CEO Salar Kamangar. That email is on September 27th -- or basically two weeks after everything above had been confirmed.
The second email, sent an hour later, is from Nora Toiv, who worked for Clinton, responding and saying that "Sue just called back and the block will stay through Monday. They will not/not be unblocking it before then." It's not entirely clear who "Sue" is, but obviously someone who works at Google/YouTube. As a guess, it may have been Susan Wojcicki who is the current head of YouTube. She wasn't back then, but she was still a high ranking Google exec who had been involved with Google Video and the purchase of YouTube at the beginning, so it's possible she is the person in question.
Still, for all of the hubbub about this email, it doesn't seem to come even remotely close to revealing anything along the lines of what Wikileaks is implying. Again, this email was two weeks after it had already been confirmed that the White House had asked Google to review the video and Google had already publicly discussed its decision. At most, the email just reveals that people in the government were wondering if Google was planning to remove the geoblock in places like Libya and Egypt in order to be ready in case anything happened because of it.
I still think it was wrong for the White House to reach out and ask YouTube to review the video in the first place. And that it was wrong for Google to block the video in some places. But this email doesn't appear to be a smoking gun of Clinton "working with Google CEOs to keep Benghazi video blocked" as Wikileaks claims. It seems to be someone from the State Department reaching out to find out when the block might be lifted -- which, if anything, suggests that Google was making the decision on its own, rather than at the White House's request.
I'm all for revealing officials meddling in internet platforms and trying to get content blocked. That's bad news and we should discuss it and highlight it. But raising false alarms over things that aren't really there just makes you look like a tinfoil hat wearer. It's not worth it.
by Glyn Moody
Mon, Oct 19th 2015 11:44am
from the bad-for-everyone dept
The BBC is a rather odd organization. Unlike commercial broadcasters, or those given money directly by national governments, it is mainly funded by a public licensing fee that must be paid by anyone in the UK who watches or records TV programs in real time, using:
TVs, computers, mobile phones, games consoles, digital boxes and DVD/VHS recorders.
To justify the £145 (about $220) annual fee, the BBC takes the line that many of the programs available through its iPlayer service are only available to UK viewers. Of course, that's easy to circumvent using a VPN that allows those outside the UK to access content as if they were in the country. The BBC has finally woken up to this fact, and drawn exactly the wrong conclusion about what it should do, as TorrentFreak (TF) reports:
Over the past several days TF has received several reports from VPN users who can no longer access iPlayer from UK-based VPN servers.
Instead of gracefully accepting the reality that geoblocking makes no sense in a world where VPNs allow users to appear to be more or less wherever they wish, the BBC has decided to try to block such access, including VPNs used by UK license-payers:
"BBC iPlayer TV programmes are available to play in the UK only," is the notice they receive instead.
The BBC informs TF that the VPN ban was implemented to keep iPlayer 'pirates' at bay. The company is doing its best to keep company and school VPNs [in the UK] open but advises regular users to disconnect their VPN service in advance if they want to access iPlayer.
In our post-Snowden world, where the use of a VPN is becoming ever-more prudent, the BBC has just provided a strong disincentive for doing so in the UK. That's really shabby treatment for BBC license-payers, who ought to be allowed to access content in a secure manner. It's also bad news for everyone online, since the more widely VPNs are deployed, the less using one marks you out for special attention by government intelligence agencies. What the BBC should have done here is see the desire of people outside the UK to view its programs as a great opportunity to meet an evident need -- and to generate extra income.
by Mike Masnick
Fri, Aug 28th 2015 3:20am
from the because-we-said-so dept
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.