Whose Privacy?

Three Google executives were convicted in Italian courts today for violating privacy laws: David C. Drummond (senior vice president), George De Los Reyes (former chief financial officer), and Peter Fleischer (privacy director). The Telegraph has a review of the trial that found the three executives guilty of allowing a video, of a disabled Italian boy being beaten, to be posted on YouTube — which is owned by Google. This decision is being framed by prosecutors as a triumph for privacy:

The protection of an individual is fundamental to today’s society and business freedom should never come above that of person’s dignity and that is what this trial has shown.

I agree, entirely, with the first part of that statement — but when the prosecutor argues “… and that is what this trial has shown” I have to ask myself: what trial is he talking about? Whose dignity is being protected here? Certainly not the dignity of a wired society who is likely to face greater surveillance and censorship as a result of this irresponsible ruling. And, certainly not the dignity of that poor boy who can not “delete” his memories of that horrible act of violence. Of all the serious privacy issues associated with the practices of corporations like Google (see here) and Facebook (see here), and governments like the U.S. (see here and here) and China (see here), how does this qualify as a triumph for privacy when it has the potential to further erode individual privacy on the Internet?

Peter Fleischer is quoted in the Telegraph as saying he found it ironic that “as privacy director I have been found guilty of breaching privacy.” With respect to Fleischer, that’s not ironic — it’s to be expected that the person in charge of privacy policies for the most prominent global information company would find himself (fairly or unfairly) held accountable for those policies. What’s ironic is that three Google executives were convicted for violating privacy laws in an instance where they actually didn’t violate anyone’s privacy, and that conviction has the potential to further compromise individual privacy. Now, that’s irony.

Labour MP Tom Watson said it best in the Telegraph:

This is the biggest threat to internet freedom we have seen in Europe. The only people who will support this decision are Silvio Berlusconi and the governments of China and Iran. It effectively breaks the internet in Italy.

Google the Gate Keeper

A reminder that Google doesn’t really search “the web,” just a relatively narrow slice of it. From Threat Level:

The homepage of Pirate Bay disappeared from Google’s search results Friday, after Google allegedly received a DMCA takedown notice targeting the site.

The move is unexpected because, while the Pirate Bay is rife with pirated material, the site’s spare landing page contains no content to speak of — just links, a logo and a search box. By law, DMCA notices are targeted to specific infringing content.

I increasingly hear the students I work with (and a good deal of the faculty) use Google as a synonym for the web, much as how Kleenex is has become another word for tissue. It’s similar with Googling and  surfing (e.g. one might say “I was Googling David Bowie last night” when they were actually surfing Bowie fansites with little or no use of Google). Of course, no such equivalence exists — Google is a gated community. There is a boundary drawn between the regions of the web that Google (and other major search engines) will index, and the regions they won’t. What they don’t index, we likely don’t see.

That there is proprietary decision-making behind what information is — and is not — indexed, and that we — as a society — are increasingly loosing our ability to even recognize this indexing is a cause for great concern. Expecting Google to make their gate keeping an open and transparent process is ludicrous. Google is for profit, and dreaming up a contorted “free-market” rational for how it could be in Google’s best business interest to be transparent is a dead end. Google makes billions by controlling access to information, and they aren’t going to give that up. Why should they?

But what if there were non-profit, or even for profit, search engines that focused on identifying and indexing all the information Google (et al) isn’t? At a minimum, having such options might at least make people conscious of the fact that the web is bigger than Google suggests.

iPhones of Mass Destruction and the Code War

According to Apple, jailbreaking your iPhone violates Apple’s license agreement, constitutes copyright infringement — and — is a threat to national security. Meet the new weapon of mass destruction: the hacked iPhone. Just like Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, the iPhone of Mass Destruction is more red herring than reality. In a nation obsessed with security, particularly cybersecurity, the attempt by Apple (and AT&T) to frame a hacked iPhone as a security threat raises important questions of social reproduction, particularly among youth.


Apple made this argument to the U.S. Copyright Office in response to a request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that the U.S. Librarian of Congress grant an exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that would clearly define jailbreaking as legal (under certain conditions). Back in 2006 the Librarian of Congress granted six 3-year exemptions to the DMCA, the fifth of which stated:

Computer programs in the form of firmware that enable wireless telephone handsets to connect to a wireless telephone communication network, when circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of lawfully connecting to a wireless telephone communication network.

This expiring exemption was widely understood to legalize the act of jailbreaking for otherwise legal, personal, and non-profit purposes. However, now that the EFF is seeking a similar exemption, Apple is going further than previous arguments (i.e. jailbreaking violates your license agreement) and is now arguing that jailbreaking results in copyright infringement and could compromise national security. This continues the meme, advanced by corporations and governments alike, that “loose code” is a threat to security in the informational age – thus, equating piracy and hacking with insecurity in order to rationalize monopolistic business practices. The very same business practices that Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, warned would lead to “vertical integration” between the medium and content. As Wired’s Threat Level points out:

This also explains why Apple rejected the official Google Voice App for the iPhone this week. We thought it was because Google Voice posed a threat to AT&T’s exclusivity deal with Apple. Now we know it threatened national security. At stake for Apple is the closed business model it has enjoyed since 2007, when the iPhone debuted. More than 30 million phones have been sold. Apple has told the Copyright Office that its locked-down platform is what made the iPhone’s success possible

Here are 3 key excerpts from Apple’s statement to the U.S. Copyright Office:

  1. Jailbreaking does violate a license agreement between Apple and the purchaser of an iPhone.  All purchasers of iPhones must accept the terms and conditions of the iPhone Software License Agreement (“IPSLA”) at the time of purchase of the iPhone (and any later updates of the software)…
  2. Jailbreaking constitutes copyright infringement.  Because jailbreaking involves unauthorized modifications to Apple’s copyrighted bootloader and OS programs, it is a violation of 17 U.S.C. § 106(1) & (2)…
  3. Because jailbreaking makes hacking of the BBP software much easier, jailbreaking affords an avenue for hackers to accomplish a number of undesirable things on the network…  For example, a local or international hacker could potentially initiate commands (such as a denial of service attack) that could crash the tower software, rendering the tower entirely inoperable to process calls or transmit data. In short, taking control of the BBP software would be much the equivalent of getting inside the firewall of a corporate computer – to potentially catastrophic result. (emphasis added)

And 2 key excerpts from EFF’s statement to the U.S. Copyright Office:

  1. Jailbreaking an iPhone in order to run lawfully obtained software does not constitute copyright infringement. Nothing in the Apple iPhone Software License Agreement changes this conclusion. As explained in our original submission, any reproductions made in the course of jailbreaking an iPhone are privileged by both Section 117 and the fair use doctrine.
  2. With respect to the application of Section 117 to jailbreaking, the Librarian will have to evaluate whether an iPhone owner is the “owner of a copy” of the Apple firmware that is delivered with and operates the device. In addition, the Librarian will have to evaluate whether the process of jailbreaking the iPhone involves an “adaptation” that falls within the scope of Section 117. (emphasis added)

In our article, Cookie Monsters: Seeing Young People’s Hacking as Creative Practice, Cindi Katz and I spoke at length about jailbreaking (and hacking more broadly) as a form of play — as a creative practice that helps young people to better understand and control their technological environments. To help make our case, we profiled AriX — the then 13-year-old iPhone hacker and developer of the ijailbreak application:

In an article entitled “Hacking: The New Child’s Play?” posted on an IT security website, AriX is associated with a list of young crackers who have engaged in malicious and clearly criminal activities. With the subtitle “Researchers worry as teens and pre-teens play an increasing role in illegal online exploits,” the piece makes no distinction between the hacking of AriX and the reported computer crimes of the other youth profiled, even though the latter’s activities included derailing trains in the Polish city Lodz and stealing considerable sums of money from people’s bank accounts (Wilson 2008). The distinction between these activities and hacking like AriX’s is clear.  But even at that, the U.S. Librarian of Congress granted six exemptions to the DMCA in 2006…

If Apple gets its way, young hackers like AriX would be considered criminals — and any attempt to rework the copy of a software program that they legally own would be considered illegal at best and a threat to national security as worst. Creating a generation of people who are forced by law to simply take technology “at interface value” (as Sherry Turkle likes to say) is a recipe for disaster. I wonder how many mechanics or engineers our society would  have produced during the industrial age if a generation of young people were told it was illegal to tinker with a car or bike that they legally owned? Would Bill Gates or Steve Jobs have even existed (at least as we know them) if they weren’t allowed to tinker with the various technologies they interacted with during their youth? Copyright laws were created to ensure creativity – not to ensure the power of certain governments or corporations.

Amazon gets Orwellian with Orwell

On 07.17.09 Amazon got a bit Orwellian by remotely deleting copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from people’s Kindles — copies that were legitimately purchased from Amazon (the original purchase was credited to people’s accounts). The Kindle is a small, portable and proprietary e-book reader — in many ways, Kindle is an iPod for print media. By controlling both the hardware and software that constitute the Kindle, Amazon can tightly regulate to whom, where, and how long e-books are made available. Amazon/Kindle thus becomes the marketing/distribution medium connecting publishing companies (who are interested in “monetizing” their IP in cyberspace) and informational consumers (who are increasingly encouraged to pay for — formerly — free content).

Last August, I blogged about Apple’s decision to embedded a remote kill switch in the iPhone’s operating system that allowed them to deactivate applications of their choosing — including applications which were knowingly installed by an iPhone’s owner. At the time, I argued that Apple’s “security” decision to censor what applications I could and could not install on my iPhone, as well as it’s flagrant surveillance of what I did with my iPhone, made me feel a lot less safe and a lot less secure. The current Kindle snafu isn’t all that different. Not only is Amazon asserting their right to retroactively terminate past purchases (raising important questions of censorship as well as what exactly we get to “own” in exchange for our hard-earned cash) but they are also displaying their ability to monitor all information flowing through the Kindle.

If you bought a Kindle from Amazon, and if you bought an e-book from Amazon to read on your Kindle, then what right does Amazon or some publisher have to continue regulating those technologies? Sony can’t regulate what shows I watch on my TV, and my local bookstore can’t pull a “my bad!” and retrieve a book they’ve sold me. With all the moral grandstanding over IP / copyrights (from the  AAP, RIAA, MPAA, and so on…) at what point will we start respecting people’s rights to the intellectual property they legitimately produced or purchased? What about our property rights?

Cookie Monsters published in CYE

Cindi Katz and I just published an article in a special issue of Children, Youth and Environments that focuses on Children and Technological Environments. CYE is an open access journal so you can read our article for free through their website (FYI – they ask you to create an account before providing access to the articles).

Here’s the article’s abstract:

Cookie Monsters: Seeing Young People’s Hacking as Creative Practice

This paper examines the benefits and obstacles to young people’s open-ended and unrestricted access to technological environments.  While children and youth are frequently seen as threatened or threatening in this realm, their playful engagements suggest that they are self-possessed social actors, able to negotiate most of its challenges effectively. Whether it is proprietary software, the business practices of some technology providers, or the separation of play, work, and learning in most classrooms, the spatial-temporality of young people’s access to and use of technology is often configured to restrict their freedom of choice and behavior.  We focus on these issues through the lens of technological interactions known as “hacking,” wherein people playfully engage computer technologies for the intrinsic pleasure of seeing what they can do.  We argue for an approach to technology that welcomes rather than constrains young people’s explorations, suggesting that it will not only help them to better understand and manage their technological environments, but also foster their critical capacities and creativity.

Keywords: children, youth, Internet, cyberspace, security, hacking

And here is some background on the Children and Technological Environments special issue:

Children, Youth and Environments has just published a special issue on “Children and Technological Environments.” It features a substantive introduction by the guest editors, Nathan G. Freier and Peter H. Kahn, Jr., and 14 high-quality, peer-reviewed articles on such topics as interactive humanoid robots, digital libraries, virtual natural environments, video and online games, hacking, assistive technologies for children with learning disabilities, and learning by doing with shareable interfaces. The authors include leading researchers from the U.S., Britain and Japan.

good riddance COPA

F I N A L L Y. Via Daily Tech:

After losing an appeals court challenge last July, proponents of 1998’s Child Online Protection Act received a final blow to their cause – this time from the United States Supreme Court, who quietly declined to review the law without comment.

COPA – not to be confused with COPPA – was passed overwhelming by congress under the Clinton administration; it sought to bar for-profit websites from allowing children access to materials deemed harmful for inappropriate to them, as judged by “contemporary community standards.”

As Daily Tech notes, COPA (Child Online Protection Act) is NOT to be confused with COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). Unlike COPPA, COPA would have done absolutely nothing to protect children online and certainly would have shattered whatever privacy children have left online. COPA was a shameful attempt to institute broad surveillance and censorship online under the banner of “child safety.” As U.S. District Judge Lowell A. Reed, Jr. noted on March 22, 2007, during the last rejection of COPA by the courts:

perhaps we do the minors of this country harm if First Amendment protections, which they will with age inherit fully, are chipped away in the name of their protection.

Of course – while this crappy piece of legislation died a long slow death in the courts, defending it provided Bush’s Justice Department with a great opportunity to seize private user information from information companies like Google and Yahoo.

wiretapping – at&t’s new marketing strategy

I’ve been meaning to write about this for a while now, but what with article deadlines, ecycolpedia entries, the NUDA Summer School, and Euro-SSIG, I’m just now getting around to it. Back in June, at&t briefly flirted with simplify. organize. liberate?the idea of using the scandal surrounding their illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens’ domestic and international communications as an actual marketing strategy. At the time I took screen shots and video of the campaign that was mockingly dubbed by at&t as “The Online Liberation Movement (sm).” Shortly after going live at&t pulled the entire campaign in light of public outrage.

“The Online Liberation Movement (sm),” with its “simplify. organize. liberate.” motto,  is a collection of fictitious individuals who seek cyber-liberation through at&t’s online billing system (of course). Most interesting is “Ms. Suspicious,” a member of the “movement” who is presented as a paranoid, privacy-obsessed and “suspicious” customer. Below is a video recording I made of the ad, note Ms. Suspicious’s “keep out!” post-it on her laptop and the poster behind her of Uncle Sam’s hand covering a man’s mouth above the words “SILENCE means security.”

So, why is Ms. Suspicious so damn… suspicious? It couldn’t have anything to do with at&t’s illegal partnership with the NSA to spy on Americans, their development of a mass surveillance programing language,  their recent censorship of Pearl Jam, or their anti-free speech “can’t-criticize-us” contracts that all their customers must abide by. Nope, Ms. Suspicious is just some freaky civil libertarian who needs to calm down and find liberation through at&t’s new online banking system…

more surveillance, less security…

via Wired: Senate Approves Telco Amnesty, Legalizes Bush’s Secret Spy Program.

giuliani time: policing the internet

From the 10.09.07 Republican Primary Debate in Michigan:

MATTHEWS: OK. Lets go to the police. How would you police the Internet culturally, Mr. Mayor?
GIULIANI: Pardon me?
MATTHEWS: How would you police the Internet culturally? You know, the whole question about the stuff that’s going on, predators, that sort of thing…
GIULIANI: Sure. I think it’s a very, very — I think it’s a…
MATTHEWS: How do we do it?
GIULIANI: I think it’s a new serious area of crime that’s emerging. I think that — first of all, let’s separate the economics from the safety and security like we have to do with the free trade agreements.
GIULIANI: But we should not tax the Internet. There are people who are proposing taxing the Internet. That would be a really, really big mistake.
We should police the Internet in that we make sure that child predators aren’t taking advantage of on the Internet, which they seem to be doing. There are a lot of good state and local law enforcement efforts in that regard.
I think a task force between the federal government and state and local governments in order to police it, to share information, to make sure it isn’t being misused, to make sure it’s protected.
I think working with — one of the businesses that I have some familiarity with is a business that I had some involvement with back and we sold it. But they attack from the outside into that systems in order to determine whether they can be penetrated. They also can set up protections against child predators, against pornography. Those are the kinds of things that we have to do.
It’s a new area and a growing area of law enforcement.
GIULIANI: And I think that there are — some of the task forces that have been developed have done some really good work in policing it.

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