De omnibus dubitandum
17 Aug 2009
Good news for digital rights proponents in the Netherlands: Bits of Freedom, the once-defunct digital rights group, has been re-ignited.
New funding from XS4All has enabled BoF to restart the fight and once again oppose online government censorship, corporate lockdowns on online behaviour, and other symptoms of the decreasing freedom of the Internet.
I’m not sure if it’s possible to support BoF financially at this stage, but seeing as how XS4All is the primary sponsor of the organisation it might be a good idea to switch internet providers to them (if you’re not a customer of them already) and let them know your main reason for choosing them is their support of digital freedom.
14 Aug 2009
I go on a short holiday to visit my family and friends back in the motherland, and what happens? My Twitter account is suspended.
Why? No fucking clue. If I were to hazard a guess I’d say my account was flagged by some automated (and deeply flawed) spam-detection script and suspended without further human interference.
Over time I’ve come to rely on Twitter for a lot of things – keeping up to date in my field of employment, maintaining my network of professional and personal contacts, finding new viral content early, and generally keeping my finger on the pulse of the internet.
Now my account is suspended for no apparent reason. I’ve looked at Twitter’s rules and can’t find anything I’ve done that would incriminate my account. Twitter hasn’t provided a reason for this suspension either – the account has simply been closed. I didn’t receive any email. I had to find out about my account’s suspension from a friend who dropped me an email during my holiday.
Naturally I’ve contested this with Twitter’s support department, but to say they’re not very quick on the draw is a ridiculous understatement. Continental plates move faster than Twitter support. It’s been 6 days since I submitted a support ticket, and aside from an automated response I’ve received no word, despite two further requests from my side.
Even worse, Twitter’s standard text on account suspension states an account may be suspended for a minimum of 30 days pending ‘research’. This means I could be disconnected from a large part of my personal and professional information stream for over a month.
Creating a new account and starting from scratch isn’t really an option. Not only would I lose the valuable network I’ve built up over more than a year of Twitter usage, the rules also bluntly state that any account created to replace a suspended account faces permanent suspension.
It’s a good thing this has happened though. It has made me realise the amount of power a single social network can have over your day to day routines. This account suspension has made me feel disconnected from the internet as if I wasn’t online at all. I’m out of the loop. I’m not up to date on what’s happening any more. It’s somehow liberating and suffocating at the same time.
And it’s made me understand that Twitter, as a victim of its own popularity, is thoroughly incapable of handling its own success. Automated processes to detect and suspend spam accounts obviously don’t work, and Twitter seems reluctant to invest sufficient human resources to handle the emerging problems in an acceptable manner.
I suppose since Twitter is a free service I really shouldn’t complain. Yet most social media sites are free to use and that doesn’t stop us from revolting en masse when something goes wrong. Twitter however is unique in that despite its massive success has failed spectacularly in monetising its sudden ubiquity.
So I’ll give Twitter a bit of leeway. Another week, maybe. If they haven’t fixed my account by then, they can fuck off and I’ll start using FriendFeed instead.
UPDATE: After 17 days my account was re-activated. I never got an explanation for it, but I suspect it was because I was a little careless with my password and my account got taken over by a spammer during my holiday. Serves me right I suppose, but a little quick action from Twitter would’ve been appreciated.
30 Jul 2009
Ignoring the sheer technical impossibility of enforcing this ban, let’s contemplate what lies at the heart of the verdict: a private Dutch organisation has managed to persuade legal authorities to block access to a website for all Dutch users.
In other words, private organisations, with their own commercial agendas and for-profit priorities, now have control over what you as a Dutch citizen can see and do online. Today it’s blocking access to a site whose legality is questionable, tomorrow it’s websites that criticise powerful corporations or question government policies.
This is another very dangerous step towards full internet censorship where private organisations and uninformed lawmakers control the information we receive. The free spirit of the internet is being destroyed, one lawsuit at a time, and taking its place is a regulated corporate-controlled monstrosity.
Soon all the information we’re allowed to consume online is sanitised and commercialised – unless we stop this trend from continuing. If we value our freedom of information and the freedom of the internet, we must fight for it. So support your national digital rights group and help spread the word.
16 Jul 2009
“As the Google Apps suite of programs finally graduated from its ‘beta’ status this week, Google also announced its plans to release an operating system on which to run them. Google Chrome, based on the company’s new browser, will invite us all to spend a lot less time, energy, and money on our computers—and in the process, it may force the technology industry to consider how to make money after people no longer require expensive machines and software to do their work.”
Of course what the Chrome OS will really do is transfer power over our office productivity from Microsoft to Google. We’re simply exchanging one corporate juggernaut for another. Rushkoff doesn’t see this as a bad thing though.
“And luckily for us (if not the company’s shareholders), Google tends to do things because they’re neat, and worry about business models later. While it may imagine its OS will provide new opportunities to sell advertising space, chances are Google is hoping to benefit purely from the increased Internet traffic catalyzed by an always-on, always-connected, and always-collaborating network of users.”
So basically we’ll have to rely on Google’s promise to do no evil.
I’m not so sure about the Chrome OS. At least with MS Windows and Office I can still manage, encrypt and and delete my own files. With Google’s OS and Apps, it all resides in the cloud. How do I know that when I delete something on Google Apps it’s really gone? I don’t. On the contrary, it’s likely my docs will continue to exist in some form or another out there on the interwebs.
And until the Chrome OS can run F.E.A.R. 2 with a frame rate of at least 40fps, I’m definitely not switching.
(Via Boing Boing)
2 Jul 2009
There’s a big huffle going on right now in the blogosphere, centered around Chris Anderson’s Free book. Malcolm Gladwell of The Tipping Point fame has skilfully dissected Anderson’s argument in a rather scathing review of Anderson’s book. Gladwell does a fine job of undermining Anderson’s case, but one could argue that Gladwell has cherry-picked from the book in order to deliver the most devastating blow possible.
But then none other than Seth Godin throws himself into the arena with a blogpost entitled ”Malcolm is wrong”. This pro-Free rant doesn’t actually counter any of Gladwell’s arguments, but it has sure succeeded in throwing massive amounts of combustible liquids on what until now was little more than a smouldering exchange of views.
This vendetta-of-ideas between kindred minds has even sparked a Squidoo page listing many meaningful, and less meaningful, diatribes on the topic that are appearing on the web.
Personally I understand and agree with arguments from both sides of the debate, though I’m slightly more inclined towards Anderson’s point of view – if only because Gladwell seems to be defending the side of professional journalism and paid newspaper subscriptions. This is an outdated business model that, like the music industry, has been made obsolete by technological advances yet seems unwilling to accept its inevitable fate.
Printed newspapers will likely become extinct, replaced by e-reader subscriptions and/or free content supported by advertising and/or premium paid content. Amazon won’t be able to demand ridiculous prices for newspaper content forever as the market for ebook readers grows and the devices become more feature-rich and less expensive.
In the end, whether it turns out to be Free or just Less Expensive, businesses will die, new businesses will emerge, and hopefully customers will benefit.
29 Jun 2009
Apparently Facebook wants to challenge Google for the title of World Champion of Teh Interwebs. A new Wired magazine piece explains how Facebook thinks it can beat Google by using people, instead of algorithms, to fuel search:
Facebook encourages its 200 million members to use Microsoft’s search engine, which it installed on its homepage late last year as part of the deal struck between the two companies. At press time, it was also planning to launch Facebook Search, allowing users to scour one another’s feeds. Want to see what some anonymous schmuck thought about the Battlestar Galactica finale? Check out Google. Want to see what your friends had to say? Try Facebook Search. And it will not only be for searching within Facebook. Because Facebook friends post links to outside sites, you will be able to use it as a gateway to the Web—making it a direct threat to Google.
… In December, Facebook launched Connect, a network of more than 10,000 independent sites that lets users access their Facebook relationships without logging in to Facebook .com.
… In April, Facebook announced its Open Stream API, allowing developers to create mashups using Facebook’s constantly updated stream of user activity.
… Connect and Open Stream don’t just allow users to access their Facebook networks from anywhere online. They also help realize Facebook’s longtime vision of giving users a unique, Web-wide online profile.
But where Google tries to maintain an image of transparency and trustworthiness (“Don’t be evil“), Facebook is an obvious corporate enterprise with profit on its mind, even at the expense of its users:
In November 2007, Facebook launched Beacon, a ham-fisted attempt to inject advertising into News Feeds. Users felt violated; after a month of protest, Zuckerberg publicly apologized and effectively shut Beacon down. Then, in February 2009, Facebook quietly changed its terms of service, appearing to give itself perpetual ownership of anything posted on the site, even after members closed their accounts. Users complained so vociferously—millions joined Facebook groups and signed online petitions protesting the change—that the company was forced to backtrack. The event left many people fearful of the amount of personal information they were ceding to a private, profit-hungry enterprise.
I’m not sure Facebook packs the punch to knock out Google’s 800-pound Gorilla.
24 Jun 2009
I’m not usually one to promote causes. I’m not someone who latches on to the latest pro-environment/anti-war/pro-animal/anti-globalism craze in an effort to validate my own bloated sense of self-importance and self-righteousness.
Sometimes I do mention a cause I deem worthy enough on this blog, and this is one such occasion. You see, I believe in the power of the Internet. I believe in the Internet’s ability to bring an abundance of information to every human in the world. With information comes transparency, and with transparency comes freedom.
This is not an easy process, or even an obvious one. This is a process that requires a great amount of hard work and dedication, but I believe in it. Vehemently so.
It is therefore that I oppose any attempt at Internet censorship, and I applaud anyone and everyone who fights for net neutrality and unlimited web access for all. Internet censorship is an issue that threatens the free spread of information for all of us. It starts in ways no one will oppose, but from there it very rapidly devolves into an instrument of information control.
In Australia, legislation is in the works to implement a great Australian Internet firewall blocking all content the government finds ‘objectionable’, including websites on euthanasia.
In the United Kingdom, a blocklist that originated as a way for ISPs to filter child porn is quickly devolving into a censorship mechanism for all ‘questionable’ content. The list briefly contained Wikipedia, effectively blocking access to that website for 95% of the UK’s internet users.
In the Netherlands a foundation acting on behalf of the entertainment industry is threatening to sue ISPs in an effort to block access to filesharing sites. If successful, this opens the door to wider Internet censorship based on nothing more than accusations of copyright infringement.
In Iran the government is doing its very best to filter internet access and limit access to government-approved websites in an effort to hinder protests against its fraudulent elections.
Something as empowering and liberating as the Internet must not be handed over to the interests of hungry corporations and tyrannical governments. Innovation, not censorship, must lead the way.
If you believe this as well, please consider supporting one or more of the following organizations. They fight for a free Internet, now and in the future: