2019/01/11: "Born-in the Cloud" workloads might be designed to be platform-agnostic now, but that doesn't mean it will always be the case, as hyperscalers like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure continue to add specific and unique functionality to their hosted services.
2018/12/17: First, people all over the world pay for communication services. We regularly pony up for Netflix, HBO Go, and Amazon Prime on top of sizable monthly payments for cell phone plans. A Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter without a bloated ad infrastructure could likely charge far less than these other services, which after all have to buy or produce their content. Before WhatsApp was acquired by Facebook, it charged users $1 per year, and it was growing like a vine.
2018/11/23: Data breaches at Facebook and Google—and along with Amazon, those firms' online dominance—crest a growing wave of anxiety around the internet's evolving structure and its impact on humanity. Three keys to the decades-long global expansion of the internet and the World Wide Web are breaking down.
The first key is the “procrastination principle,” a propensity to “set it and forget it” without attempting to predict and avert every imaginable problem. The networks' framers established a set of simple and freely available protocols for communicating over the internet, then stepped back to let competitive markets and cooperative pursuits work their magic.
The second key is the networks' layered architecture. For the internet, this meant that people could concern themselves with, say, writing applications to read and send email without having to know anything about what happens “below,” such as how bits find their way from sender to recipient. By the same token, those rolling out physical infrastructure didn't need to know or predict anything about how it would be used by the applications “above.”
The third key flows from the first two: decentralization. The internet and the web were designed not to create new gatekeepers, in part because regulatory bodies had little awareness of these protocols, let alone a hand in structuring them. A website hosted in Romania would still be just a click away for a user in Canada, without authorization by some centralized party.
Today, the principles of layers and decentralization are badly fraying, which risks transforming the principle of procrastination into one of abdication.
First, the issue of centralization. Surfing the web can now mean simply jumping among Amazon Web Services' hosting servers. If such a major network of servers—or one of the top domain name resolution providers—were to stop working, whole swaths of the internet would go down with it.
Second, formerly separate layers of the internet's architecture are blurring. The runaway success of a few startups has created new, proprietized one-stop platforms. Many people are not really using the web at all, but rather flitting among a small handful of totalizing apps like Facebook and Google. And those application-layer providers have dabbled in providing physical-layer internet access. Facebook's Free Basics program has been one of several experiments that use broadband data cap exceptions to promote some sites and services over others.
What to do? Columbia University law professor Tim Wu has called upon regulators to break up giants like Facebook, but more subtle interventions should be tried first. Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee's Contract for the Web offers a set of principles for governments, companies, and individuals, focusing on internet accessibility, user privacy, and a form of “re-decentralization” to revitalize one key to the network's success. On the technical side, he has launched Solid, a “relayerizing” separation of data from application: Users can maintain their own data (whether in a server in their living room or in the hands of a trusted proxy), and application providers would have to negotiate access rather than hoard the data themselves. And as Yale University law professor Jack Balkin and I have argued, those firms that do leverage users' data should be “information fiduciaries,” obliged to use what they learn in ways that reflect a loyalty to users' interests. These interventions represent meaningful action, while procrastinating a bit longer on the stronger medicine of forced corporate breakup.
The internet was designed to be resilient and flexible, without need for drastic intervention. But its trends toward centralization, and exploitation of its users, call for action.
Once you set up Laverna, it’s easy to use and has just the right features for what I need to do. I’m hoping that the developers can expand the storage and syncing options to include open source applications like Nextcloud and ownCloud.
While Laverna doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a note-taking application like Evernote, it does a great job of letting you take and organize your notes. The fact that Laverna is open source and supports Markdown are two additional great reasons to use it.
2018/08/30: Removing content from a decentralized, content-addressed system is difficult to implement:
At the organizational level, who is the censor in a decentralized Web to whom the request to remove content is addressed, and who decides whether the request is valid? Facebook has a vast team of content moderators failing to purge deprecated content. Google has a whole organization handling DMCA takedown requests. How are their equivalents in the decentralized Web to be implemented and paid for?
At the technical level, it is close to impossible to prevent abuse of the mechanism for tracking down and deleting all copies of some named content the censors need to do their job. Or even a mechanism for just de-indexing it.
In the absence of mechanisms that enable censorship, it won't just be the incumbent platforms trying to kill our new, small companies, it will be governments.
So the decentralized Web faces four major problems. Without solutions to all four, it won't come close to my 1% definition of success. No-one has good ideas for solutions to any of them. But, at least at the recent Decentralized Web Summit, some people were drawing attention to each of them.
2018/09/25: During the first days of September, many Venezuelan Internet users reported having difficulties accessing Google services through the state-run Internet service provider, CANTV, the largest telecommunications company in Venezuela. The service seemed to be working again by mid September, but the conversation revealed the many ways online users are deprived of information and communication online.
Blogspot, Hangouts, Google Drive, and image services, including Gmail attachments were among the services affected.
A Venezuelan civil society group, said that Facebook and Twitter had also been affected by the outage.
1M5 is a secure open-source decentralized peer-to-peer application platform with end-to-end encryption and anonymity as a base layer for creating easy to build and use secure decentralized peer-to-peer applications requiring no server connections that can be used around the world by any person looking to protect their communications and personal data from unjust intrusion, interception, monitoring, and censorship.
2018/09/24: ICANN-approved domain registrar Tierra.net turned off access to all Zoho domains, affecting 40 million customers worldwide. Zoho, a web-based office suite company, which provides customer relationship and invoicing services to small businesses, tweeted that the site was 'blocked' earlier in the day by Tierra.Net, which administers its domain name.
Zoho customers affected by the disruption reached out to the registrar's support chat and email. Tierra.net then discussed Zoho's account details with these third parties, claiming that phishing attempts were originating from Zoho's webmail service, and these attempts necessitated blocking the company's domains. Zoho is a privately held India-based competitor to Google's G Suite platform, and maintains US offices in Austin, Texas. The dispute has resulted in calls for censure from ICANN.
2018/09/20: Google told U.S. senators that the company continues to allow developers to scan and share data from Gmail accounts, according to a letter made public Thursday.
Google said it uses automated scans and reports from security researchers to monitor third parties with access to Gmail data, but gave no details on how many add-ons have been caught violating its policies.
2012/10/02: However inevitable, Diaspora's demise arrives at a time when Moglen's darkest fears have come to bear and the need for a secure, privacy conscious way to connect with others has never been greater. In a post-Facebook world, many of the brands we've come to trust as the linchpins of a new era of democratic communication have turned their backs on such ideals in search of profits. And when the government increasingly beckons, firms like Google and Twitter are having a harder time saying no.
Google's latest transparency report revealed that the U.S. is now a leader in Web censorship, submitting 6,192 items to be removed across 187 requests, more than any other country and up 103 percent over the prior year. It's no different for Twitter whose frequent reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement didn't stop it from complying with most government requests: last year, it supplied some or all of the information requested 75 percent of the time. Earlier this year, the site acknowledged that it would begin censoring Tweets when governments asked it to do so.
We need to protect the freedoms in which Linux was born and grew up.
This is a list of Free Software network services and web applications which can be hosted locally. Selfhosting is the process of locally hosting and managing applications instead of renting from SaaS providers.
There are age differences in the share of Facebook users who have recently taken some of these actions. Most notably, 44% of younger users (those ages 18 to 29) say they have deleted the Facebook app from their phone in the past year, nearly four times the share of users ages 65 and older (12%) who have done so. Similarly, older users are much less likely to say they have adjusted their Facebook privacy settings in the past 12 months: Only a third of Facebook users 65 and older have done this, compared with 64% of younger users.
Pew found that “Republicans are no more likely than Democrats to have taken a break from Facebook or deleted the app from their phone in the past year.” The recent swell of criticism directed at Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms over supposed censorship came well after the Pew survey was conducted, so it may be a factor the next time around.
It was to be expected that Facebook would age out of its original youthful user base, but it's odd that it aged so fast into being the social network of seething, racist seniors.
If we end up trading a surveillance economy for a surveillance state, we've done ourselves no favorsrnrnEvgeny Morozov offered a similar proposal concerning what he termed "the data wells inside ourselves":rnrn We can use the recent data controversies to articulate a truly decentralised, emancipatory politics, whereby the institutions of the state (from the national to the municipal level) will be deployed to recognise, create, and foster the creation of social rights to data. These institutions will organise various data sets into pools with differentiated access conditions. They will also ensure that those with good ideas that have little commercial viability but promise major social impact would receive venture funding and realise those ideas on top of those data pools.rnrnThe simplicity of the mining metaphor is its strength but also its weakness. The extraction metaphor doesn't capture enough of what companies like Facebook and Google do, and hence in adopting it we too quickly narrow the discussion of our possible responses to their power. Data does not lie passively within me, like a seam of ore, waiting to be extracted. Rather, I actively produce data through the actions I take over the course of a day. When I drive or walk from one place to another, I produce locational data. When I buy something, I produce purchase data. When I text with someone, I produce affiliation data. When I read or watch something online, I produce preference data. When I upload a photo, I produce not only behavioral data but data that is itself a product. I am, in other words, much more like a data factory than a data mine. I produce data through my labor - the labor of my mind, the labor of my body.rnrnThe platform companies, in turn, act more like factory owners and managers than like the owners of oil wells or copper mines. Beyond control of my data, the companies seek control of my actions, which to them are production processes, in order to optimize the efficiency, quality, and value of my data output (and, on the demand side of the platform, my data consumption). They want to script and regulate the work of my factory - i.e., my life - as Frederick Winslow Taylor sought to script and regulate the labor of factory workers at the turn of the last century. The control wielded by these companies, in other words, is not just that of ownership but also that of command. And they exercise this command through the design of their software, which increasingly forms the medium of everything we all do during our waking hours.rnrnThe factory metaphor makes clear what the mining metaphor obscures: We work for the Facebooks and Googles of the world, and the work we do is increasingly indistinguishable from the lives we lead. The questions we need to grapple with are political and economic, to be sure. But they are also personal, ethical, and philosophical.rnrnrn====rnrnTarnoff and Weigel point to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's recent announcement that his company will place less emphasis on increasing the total amount of time members spend on Facebook and more emphasis on ensuring that their Facebook time is "time well spent." What may sound like a selfless act of philanthropy is in reality, Tarnoff and Weigel suggest, the product of a hard-headed business calculation:rnrn Emphasising time well spent means creating a Facebook that prioritises data-rich personal interactions that Facebook can use to make a more engaging platform. Rather than spending a lot of time doing things that Facebook doesn't find valuable - such as watching viral videos - you can spend a bit less time, but spend it doing things that Facebook does find valuable. In other words, "time well spent" means Facebook can monetise more efficiently. It can prioritise the intensity of data extraction over its extensiveness. This is a wise business move, disguised as a concession to critics. Shifting to this model not only sidesteps concerns about tech addiction - it also acknowledges certain basic limits to Facebook's current growth model. There are only so many hours in the day. Facebook can't keep prioritising total time spent - it has to extract more value from less time.rnrnThe analysis is a trenchant one. The vagueness and self-absorption that often characterize discussions of wellness, particularly those emanating from the California coast, are well suited to the construction of window dressing. And, Lord knows, Zuckerberg and his ilk are experts at window dressing. But, having offered good reasons to be skeptical about Silicon Valley's brand of tech humanism, Tarnoff and Weigel overreach. They argue that any "humanist" critique of the personal effects of technology design and use is a distraction from the "fundamental" critique of the economic and structural basis for Silicon Valley's dominance:rnrn [The humanists] remain confined to the personal level, aiming to redesign how the individual user interacts with technology rather than tackling the industry's structural failures. Tech humanism fails to address the root cause of the tech backlash: the fact that a small handful of corporations own our digital lives and strip-mine them for profit. This is a fundamentally political and collective issue. But by framing the problem in terms of health and humanity, and the solution in terms of design, the tech humanists personalise and depoliticise it.rnrnThe choice that Tarnoff and Weigel present here - either personal critique or political critique, either a design focus or a structural focus - is a false choice. And it stems from the metaphor of extraction, which conceives of data as lying passively within us (beyond the influence of design) rather than being actively produced by us (under the influence of design). Arguing that attending to questions of design blinds us to questions of ownership is as silly (and as condescending) as arguing that attending to questions of ownership blinds us to questions of design. Silicon Valley wields its power through both its control of data and its control of design, and that power influences us on both a personal and a collective level. Any robust critique of Silicon Valley, whether practical, theoretical, or both, needs to address both the personal and the political.rnrnThe Silicon Valley apostates may be deserving of criticism, but what they've done that is praiseworthy is to expose, in considerable detail, the way the platform companies use software design to guide and regulate people's behavior - in particular, to encourage the compulsive use of their products in ways that override people's ability to think critically about the technology while provoking the kind of behavior that generates the maximum amount of valuable personal data. To put it into industrial terms, these companies are not just engaged in resource extraction; they are engaged in process engineering.rnrnrn===rnThe shift of data ownership from the private to the public sector may well succeed in reducing the economic power of Silicon Valley, but what it would also do is reinforce and indeed institutionalize Silicon Valley's computationalist ideology, with its foundational, Taylorist belief that, at a personal and collective level, humanity can and should be optimized through better programming. The ethos and incentives of constant surveillance would become even more deeply embedded in our lives, as we take on the roles of both the watched and the watcher. Consumer, track thyself! And, even with such a shift in ownership, we'd still confront the fraught issues of design, manipulation, and agency.rnrnFinally, there's the obvious practical question. How likely is it that the United States is going to establish a massive state-run data collective encompassing exhaustive information on every citizen, at least any time in the foreseeable future? It may not be entirely a pipe dream, but it's pretty close. In the end, we may discover that the best means of curbing Silicon Valley's power lies in an expansion of personal awareness, personal choice, and personal resistance. At the very least, we need to keep that possibility open. Let's not rush to sacrifice the personal at the altar of the collective.
Like the oil barons at the turn of the 20th century, the data barons are determined to extract as much as possible of a resource that's central to the economy of their time. The more information they can get to feed the algorithms that power their ad-targeting machines and product-recommendation engines, the better. In the absence of serious competition or (until Europe's recently introduced General Data Protection Regulation) serious legal constraints on the handling of personal data, they are going to keep undermining privacy in their push to know as much about their users as they possibly canrnrnTheir dominance is allowing them to play a dangerous and outsize role in our politics and culture. The web giants have helped undermine confidence in democracy by underestimating the threat posed by Russian trolls, Macedonian fake-news farms, and other purveyors of propaganda. Zuckerberg at first dismissed claims that disinformation on Facebook had influenced the 2016 election as "pretty crazy." But Facebook itself now says that between June 2015 and August 2017, as many as 126 million people may have seen content on the network that was created by a Russian troll farm.rnrnrnWhy haven't antitrust regulators blocked deals to promote competition? It's mainly because of a change in US antitrust philosophy in the 1980s, inspired by neoclassical economists and legal scholars at the University of Chicago. Before the shift, antitrust enforcers were wary of any deals that reinforced a company's dominant position. After it, they became more tolerant of such combinations, as long as prices for consumers didn't rise. This was just fine with internet companies, since most of their services were free anyway. Critics say trustbusters exercised too little scrutiny. "Just because the web companies offer products for free doesn't mean they should get a free pass," says Jonathan Kanter, an antitrust lawyer at Paul Weiss.rnrnthanks to their vast wealth, fining them for any transgressions won't diminish their power.rnrnOne radical solution would be to break them up, just as the US government splintered the dominant Standard Oil monopoly in the early 1900s. Some progressive advocacy groups in the US have been running online campaigns with slogans like "Facebook has too much power over our lives and democracy. It's time for us to take that power back," and calling on the FTC to force the social network to sell Instagram, WhatsApp, and Messenger to create competition.rnrnSo how to curb the power of the data barons? Rather than waiting for legal battles that may or may not foster more competition, we urgently need to find ways to bolster rivals. That means reducing the vast chasm between the amounts of information held by the web giants and the rest. Regulation can help here: Europe's new data privacy regime requires companies to hold people's data in machine-readable form and let them move it easily to other businesses if they want to. This "data portability" rule will allow startups to get hold of more data quickly.rnrnrnSome argue that we need to think much more boldly-and not just with the big internet companies in mind. Viktor Mayer-Sch195182nberger, a professor at the University of Oxford, has proposed what he calls a "progressive data-sharing mandate" that would apply to all businesses. This would require a company that has passed a certain level of market share (say, 10 percent) to share some data with other firms in its industry that ask for it. The data would be chosen at random and stripped of all personal identifiers. Intuitively, the idea makes sense: the closer a company gets to dominating its market, the more data it would have to share, making it easier for rivals to compete by building a better product.
2018/01/29: Today’s Internet and digital platforms are becoming increasingly centralised, slowing innovation and challenging their potential to revolutionise society and the economy in a pluralistic manner. The DECODE project will develop practical alternatives, through the creation, evaluation and demonstration of a distributed and open architecture for managing online access and aggregation of private information to allow a citizen-friendly and privacy-aware governance of access entitlements. Strong ethical and digital rights principles are at the base of DECODE’s mission, moving towards the implementation of open standards for a technical architecture resting on the use of Attribute Based Cryptography, distributed ledgers, a secure operating system and a privacy focused smart rules language.
Worried by US spying revelations, India has begun drawing up a new email policy to help secure government communications.
Our tech columnist tried to skip digital news for a while. His old-school experiment led to three main conclusions.