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Posts Tagged ‘internet’

SOPA/PIPA sponsors bailing

Posted by Richard on January 19, 2012

Support for HR 3261, the Stopping Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), which prove that technologically challenged legislators have no business regulating the Internet, is collapsing in the face of widespread public opposition, with 14 former cosponsors dropping their support. Americans for Limited Government issued a press release today in which its president, Bill Wilson, urged other lawmakers to drop their support (emphasis added):

“The American people have spoken, with the urging of popular websites like Wikipedia, through hundreds of thousands of emails and phone calls to members of Congress in opposition to a big government takeover of the Internet. It led to no less than 14 cosponsors of SOPA and PIPA to drop their support, eight in the Senate alone. Now it is time for other cosponsors to respond to the will of the American people as well.

“There simply is no constituency for legislation that, in the name of protecting copyright, institutionalizes a system of blocking entire websites, removing visibility from search engines, and targeting ad providers, all based merely on the accusation of intellectual property theft. Existing law already provides for the removal of copyrighted material from the Internet domestically, and dealing with foreign infringement requires diplomacy with relevant nations overseas, not a regime of censorship here at home.”

Under current law, if someone uploads copyrighted content to, say, YouTube or my blog, the copyright owner can demand that it be removed. That’s reasonable. The site owner can comply or dispute the copyright claim, in which case a court will determine who’s right. But under SOPA, a single unsubstantiated claim of copyright infringement would be sufficient for the government to shut down the entire site immediately, with no judicial review.

For more information about the bills, the imploding of support, and why such legislation simply isn’t necessary to protect copyright, see the long list of references attached to the ALG press release, and especially this NetRightDaily post. To tell your senators and representatives that you don’t want the government’s boot on the Internet, click the button below.

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The USPS fights back

Posted by Richard on October 11, 2011

The Postal Service, facing huge deficits as people and businesses increasingly communicate via the internet and email, has launched a new TV ad campaign to win back business. The ad I saw tonight was nicely done.

A woman posts a bill on her refrigerator with a magnet. "A refrigerator has never been hacked." Another woman pins a page to her corkboard. "An online virus has never attacked a corkboard." A variety of other men and women are shown looking at bills and filing them in various ways. "Give your customers the added feeling of security a printed statement or receipt provides — with mail. It's good for your business and even better for your customers."

The commercial ends by telling viewers how to get more information about the advantages of using mail instead of the internet or email. By sending them to

Somewhere, a hacker with a sense of humor must be trying to figure out how to hack that page and have it display a banner with big red letters:


This is not a refrigerator or a corkboard!

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Scamming the carbon credit scam

Posted by Richard on February 3, 2010

The idea behind carbon credits is that you can "offset" the alleged harm done by your CO2 emissions by paying someone else for not emitting an equivalent amount of CO2. Imagine Tiger Woods or John Edwards making everything all right by paying someone else to "offset" their infidelities by remaining faithful.

It's a fraudulent bit of nonsense through and through, but it's made Al Gore and his cohorts hundreds of millions of dollars from selling believers in the Church of Climate Change the modern equivalent of the medieval Roman Catholic Church's indulgences

Now, I think the authorities need to subpoena Gore's records from his ISP and check his online activities over the past week. Just to see if he had a role in this scamming of the scam:

Sneaky cyber-thieves have made millions by fraudulently obtaining European greenhouse gas emissions allowances and reselling them. The scam has hampered trading of the credits, which are seen as an important tool in curbing climate change, in several European countries.

According to a report in the Wednesday edition of the Financial Times Deutschland, hackers sent e-mails last Thursday to several companies in Europe, Japan and New Zealand which appeared to originate from the Potsdam-based German Emissions Trading Authority (DEHSt), part of the EU's Emission Trading System (EU ETS). Ironically, the e-mail said that the recipient needed to re-register on the agency's Web site to counter the threat of hacker attacks.

The cyber-thieves then exploited the user data that was entered into their spoof Web site to transfer emissions allowances to other accounts, mainly in Denmark and Britain, from which they were quickly resold. The new owners of the allowances would have assumed that they had acquired them legally.

"The attack was highly professional," a DEHSt employee told the newspaper. Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) is now investigating the incident.

Of course, Gore might not be involved, or might not have been acting alone. Other credible suspects in any scam related to climate change include Phil Jones, James Hansen, Murari Lal, and Rajendra Pachauri.

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$80,000 per song

Posted by Richard on June 29, 2009

I'm a proponent of intellectual property rights (an oft-debated issue in libertarian circles), but copyright law in this country has just gone totally off the deep end. I blame Mickey Mouse. The desire to ensure that no one other than Disney can ever create anything related to Mickey Mouse apparently means that copyright protections will grow into perpetuity.

The RIAA is also responsible for our legal system going to insane extremes protecting copyrights, and they've won another astonishing verdict in one of their lawsuits against consumers: 

A court has ruled that Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a 32-year-old mother of four, must pay $1.92 million in damages to record companies for illegally downloading 24 tracks off of file-sharing services like Kazaa.  This amounts to $80,000 per song.  This is one of the last few lawsuits in the courts pertaining to illegal downloads, as the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has said they will discontinue the suits in favor of working with ISPs to stop illegal downloads. 

Yeah, they've decided all those shysters whose shoes cost more than your computer are getting too expensive. So instead they're going after whatever little shreds of privacy you have left.  

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Going beyond search

Posted by Richard on May 15, 2009

Stephen Wolfram, the creator of Mathematica, is about to launch Wolfram Research's latest (and most ambitious) creation, Wolfram|Alpha. It will probably revolutionize how you find information on the Internet — and what kind of information you can find. Actually, "find" isn't the right term. It's far more than searching and finding, it's computing, categorizing, comparing, organizing …  

It's a bit hard to explain Wolfram|Alpha briefly. Wolfram calls it a "computational knowledge engine" and provided a pretty good description in a March blog post.

But seeing it demonstrated is the best way to understand what it does and how far beyond ordinary search tools it goes. If you have 13 minutes to spare (a high-speed connection helps), check out this introduction by Wolfram himself. I was blown away, and I can't wait to start using it.

UPDATE: Wolfram|Alpha is online! But it's pretty slow, and the "exceeded maximum test load" error messages are pretty frequent (and funny: "I'm sorry, Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that"). I guess their 10,000 processor cores are getting hammered.

So it's not at the "blow you away" stage yet, but you can still have fun with it. Did you know that the mass of the sun is 42,947 times the mass of the planets?

UPDATE 2: I've already submitted my first bit of feedback (they solicit feedback on every query result page). If you query "colorado," it reports lots of interesting information about the state, including the population as of 2006 (4.753 million) and the population density as of 2000 (41.5 people per mi2). But it also reports the state's area (104,000 mi2), which I don't believe has changed since Colorado became a state in 1876, and certainly didn't change from 2000 to 2006. So it's trivially simple for Wolfram|Alpha to calculate the 2006 population density (population/area = 45.7) instead of reporting the out-of-date 2000 number it found by searching. Oops.

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More nanny-statism

Posted by Richard on March 14, 2007

A nanny is someone who watches after your children on your behalf, right? Well, according to the Christian Science Monitor, there's a growing movement to make many states more literally into nanny states. Connecticut is leading the way:

…Connecticut has become the first state in the nation to introduce legislation that would require MySpace, other social networking sites, and chat rooms to verify the ages of their users. Any postings by those under 18 would require parental permission. Failure to comply would result in a fine to the Internet company of $5,000 per incident.

The goal is for the law to become a model for national legislation. As many as 20 state attorneys general are now considering similar bills.

"The basic idea here is that the parents should be empowered, and they should be put back in control if their children are below a certain age," says Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who's leading the fight for this type of legislation in Connecticut and around the country. "That's why age verification along with parental permission is key."

How, exactly, does taking responsibility for kids' online behavior away from the parents and giving it to the state government "empower" those parents?

And how, exactly, are MySpace and the like supposed to verify ages and permissions? Connecticut AG Richard Blumenthal seems to think it's a piece of cake:

The Connecticut bill would require networking sites to verify that a user either is 18 or older or has parental permission to have a profile. Dozens of Internet companies already provide age-verification tools. So this is how it would work: When a person provides information to a networking site, such as name, date of birth, or address, the site would put that information through verification sites, which would cross-check it against public records like driver's licenses, voter-registration information, land records, and local tax records. This process is already used for such things as online sales of alcohol and cigarettes.

Umm, OK —  but it works for sales of alcohol and cigarettes because those have to be paid for with a credit card and delivered to you. You can't just give the website any old name and address.

MySpace and the like face a completely different situation. Let's say Paul Pervert, 43, wants to impersonate a 14-year-old boy on MySpace in order to befriend young girls. Looking at whatever registration process they use, he sees that he needs the permission of a parent/guardian. "OK," he says, picking up a phone book, "I'm … [flip, flip, flip] … John Smith at 123 Elm Street, and my son Sammy has my permission to join MySpace."

Odds are John Smith has a driver's license, pays taxes, etc., so Paul passes the verification process. If not, Paul can try again. If they make it really tough, maybe Paul has to do some research of the most basic identity-theft variety (how hard is it to find someone's birthdate or driver's license number?). 

No, this kind of legislation won't make kids safer. But it'll make a lot of gullible parents feel better, help the sponsoring AGs and legislators flaunt their good intentions and troll for votes, and add to the revenue of the verification service providers. Someone should check into whether AG Richard Blumenthal owns stock in any of the latter.

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Visual search plus humor

Posted by Richard on March 8, 2007

If, like me, you think Google Image Search, Flickr, and Photobucket are pretty useful, but not as useful as they could be — well, you might want to keep an eye on Riya. It's still a pretty young outfit (company, service, technology, …), but there's a lot of potential there, and no shortage of ambitious goals:

Riya is a new kind of visual search engine. We look inside the image, not only at the text around it.

Use Riya to:

  • Find similar faces and objects on many images across the web.
  • Refine the results, using color, shape and texture.

We believe the time has come to truly make photos searchable, to let people say I want "more like this" and get what they want, and to eventually allow every public photo in the world to be found. We are only starting on this journey. Image search on the web hasn't changed significantly in many years. We are a geeky (and proud of it) group of engineers and researchers who are slowly innovating in this area. We look forward to your feedback via email or via our blog.

Like Flickr, Photobucket, et al, Riya lets you upload and store photos online (free, and with no number or bandwidth limit, but they're all resized to 800×600). You can keep pictures private, share them with friends, or make them public. But Riya can do some stuff the competition can't. Like recognize new pictures of Uncle Ernie (once you've identified him, of course) and tag them appropriately. And recognize text in pictures and generate tags from that.

The image database doesn't rival Google's, but Riya has some nice features, like the clickable tag cloud showing the most popular image tags. The size of the words indicates their relative popularity.

One thing that really struck me about their site — I believe it's the first time I've ever seen someone kidding around in the legally binding Terms of Use:

3. Grant of License.

The Company claims all rights to every photograph you have ever taken, even if you have not yet uploaded it to the Web Site. We even claim rights to future photographs you may take or even think about taking. Mwaaaaahahahahahaha…

Just kidding – this is not the evil empire. We don’t approve of the large scale theft of intellectual property by corporations on the web today who claim ownership to everything you do on their site. Our ACTUAL policy is that you keep all copyright rights you have to all of your photographs that you, through use of the Web Site, upload to the Web Site.

Check these guys out. An attitude like that deserves your support.

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Essjay scandal

Posted by Richard on March 6, 2007

I like Wikipedia, use it, and consider it a valuable online resource. But I’ve always remained aware of its limitations and appropriately (IMHO) cautious about relying solely on it as a source of information. I’m not as skeptical as some people — such as this contributor to the Techwr-l list:

Did you really say Wikipedia? 😉 It’s like a classroom without a teacher… fun, but no authority.
— Johan Hiemstra

I think that was a bit harsh. Funny, but harsh. But Hiemstra’s skepticism is certainly vindicated by stories like this one:

In a blink, the wisdom of the crowd became the fury of the crowd. In the last few days, contributors to Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia, have turned against one of their own who was found to have created an elaborate false identity.

Under the name Essjay, the contributor edited thousands of Wikipedia articles and was once one of the few people with the authority to deal with vandalism and to arbitrate disputes between authors.

To the Wikipedia world, Essjay was a tenured professor of religion at a private university with expertise in canon law, according to his user profile. But in fact, Essjay is a 24-year-old named Ryan Jordan, who attended a number of colleges in Kentucky and lives outside Louisville.

Mr. Jordan contended that he resorted to a fictional persona to protect himself from bad actors who might be angered by his administrative role at Wikipedia. (He did not respond to an e-mail message, nor to messages conveyed by the Wikipedia office.)

The Essjay episode underlines some of the perils of collaborative efforts like Wikipedia that rely on many contributors acting in good faith, often anonymously and through self-designated user names. But it also shows how the transparency of the Wikipedia process — all editing of entries is marked and saved — allows readers to react to suspected fraud.

Nothing better illustrates the flip side — the transparency and its benefits — than this Wikipedia entry about the scandal. Note, however, that the entry is itself embroiled in controversy. Interesting idea, this Wikipedia.

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