Quotulatiousness

July 21, 2015

Would Reddit even be Reddit without the trolls?

Filed under: Liberty,Media,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle warns that “cleaning up” Reddit might end up killing the patient:

On Monday, when I wrote about the travails of Ellen Pao at Reddit, I noted that cleaning up the troll-infested caves of its vast ecosystem will not be an easy task for anyone. Its freewheeling, “anything goes” culture is a big part of its appeal to users, and the large number of users is a big part of Reddit‘s appeal to investors. It’s also worth noting that this approach is substantially cheaper than trying to keep a close eye on Reddit‘s ever-expanding universe of subreddits.

But Reddit really seems to want to tidy things up a bit, or at least force the trolls down to the basement where they won’t frighten the visitors. Steve Huffman, a Reddit co-founder who is returning as Pao’s successor, has announced that the company will continue to take steps to curtail undesirable content. Potentially offensive forums will require users to opt in, and anything that “harasses, bullies, or abuses” will be entirely off limits. So a forum whose title is a vile racist slur will be reclassified for opt-in status. But the “Raping Women” forum will be banned outright.

Huffman is laying out some much clearer guidelines than Pao did, which is a good first step (and exactly what I said Pao should have done). On the other hand, that’s no guarantee that this will prevent users from staging a mass exodus.

July 16, 2015

China’s LGBT communities

Filed under: China — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Yuxin Zhang looks at China’s misunderstood history of tolerance for gay culture:

The Chinese LGBT community and culture have attracted interest among Chinese youth in recent years. Evidence of this is the use of the Internet slang term gao-ji, indicating two men of the same sex having an affair, which has become well-accepted and entered daily use (including among straight people, as a way of teasing each other). The prevalence of the Internet has contributed to gay activism in contemporary China. Gay parades and campaigns have emerged, as young and sometimes middle-aged Chinese are inspired by the LGBT activism overseas that they learn about online, and by events such as the coming-out of celebrities such as Tim Cook and Anderson Cooper, the legalization of same-sex marriage in Western countries, and the discussion of a same-sex marriage bill in Taiwan, with its linguistic and cultural similarities with the Mainland. Some have taken bold actions. In 2010, two Chinese men, Wenjie Pan and Anquan Zeng, hosted the first public same-sex wedding ceremony in Sichuang, a city in China’s southwest.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Chinese gay dating application Blued has scored a $30 million round of investment co-led by DCM Ventures, as its users reached 15 million at the end of last year. This number is likely to grow, as China has both the world’s largest population and the most Internet users. A concomitant outcome, however, is worrisome. Most gay Chinese men who use online dating applications do so to have casual sex, and this has fueled a spike in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including HIV/AIDS. Thus, some middle-aged and older Chinese associate homosexuality with infection by HIV/AIDS and other STDs, and this has contributed to discrimination against the gay community.

One main reason why many people in China oppose homosexuality is because it clashes with their notions of traditional Chinese values. Some even think that homosexuality does not exist in China, and must just be something from the West.

July 13, 2015

“Links to this Site are not permitted except with the written consent of TO2015™”

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Cancon,Media,Sports — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Toronto’s Pan Am Games organizers appear to have been living in a cave without an internet connection for the last 15 years:

The organisers of the Pan American Games in Toronto, which start this week, require that people seek formal permission to link to its website at [toronto2015 DOT org].

Under the website’s terms of use, amid piles of incomprehensible legalese seemingly designed to hide from the fact that social media exists, it is decreed that no one is allowed to use one of those hyperlink thingies to connect to the website unless they first get approval. It reads:

    Links to this Site are not permitted except with the written consent of TO2015™. If you wish to link to the Site, you must submit a written request to TO2015™ to do so. Requests for written consent can be sent to branduse@toronto2015.org. TO2015™ reserves the right to withhold its consent to link, such right to be exercised in its sole and unfettered discretion.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that the $2bn sports event – effectively a mini-Olympics – also appears to have trademarked the term “TO2015.” Which makes about as much sense.

Incredibly, this is not a misreading of the terms, and it doesn’t appear to have been a mistake either. Instead, it’s about the increasingly insane approach that intellectual property lawyers are taking to sponsors – and non-sponsors – of sporting events.

Alongside such gems as forcing people to put tape over their own computers if a computer company is a sponsor, and stopping people for drinking anything that isn’t a sponsor drink (if there is a drinks sponsor), now it seems the Pan Am Games lawyers have decided they need to prevent the internet from entering the hallowed sponsor world.

Strictly speaking, anyone who links to the website or even anyone who uses the games’ own hashtag of [hashtagTO2015] is violating its terms, and could be sued. Although not a court in the land would actually enforce it.

Notice that, as I live in Canada, I’ve carefully obfuscated the URL and the hashtag so you don’t accidentally click on them and violate their intellectual property right claims or anything. I suspect this will be the only actual coverage of the games I’ll be posting, just to be on the safe side. Discussion of the financial side, or the disruption to normal life in Toronto caused by the games, of course, is still fair game.

July 11, 2015

Reason.tv – How the Feds’ Subpoena of Reason and Gag Order Went Public

Filed under: Law,Liberty,Media,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 7 Jul 2015

You may have already heard about how the government tried to stifle Reason‘s free speech.

Federal prosecutors based in New York sent a grand jury subpoena and letter to Reason, commanding editors to hand over the records of six commenters who wrote hyperbolic statements about federal judge Katherine Forrest below a blog post at Reason.com. Forrest sentenced Ross Ulbricht to life in prison without parole for creating the Silk Road website.

Then came a gag order from U.S. District Court, meaning Reason could not write or speak publicly about the subpoena or gag order — even to acknowledge either existed. But between the subpoena being issued and the gag order being issued, one legal blogger managed to figure out what was going on.

“I got an email and I looked at it and I thought wow, this is a federal grand jury subpoena to Reason magazine,” says Ken White, a writer at the legal blog Popehat who is himself a former federal prosecutor. White sat down with Reason TV to talk about how he broke the story and what he thinks it means for press freedom and open expression online.

“What’s upsetting is that there is no indication whatsoever either that the prosecutor or the judge gave any consideration to the fact that this was being aimed at a reporting organization about a First Amendment issue,” says White. What’s more, White stresses that the comments named in the subpoena are commonplace for the internet and especially at Reason.com, a site, he notes, “whose clever writing is eclipsed only by the blowhard stupidity of its commenting peanut gallery.”

The scrutinized comments ranged from taunts such as “I hope there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman” to “Its (sic) judges like these that should be taken out back and shot,” but none, say White, come close to qualifying as “true” threats or anything other idle chatter. It remains unclear why the U.S. Attorney’s Office was interested in such internet fodder, how often these sorts of subpoenas get sent out to news organizations, and how often they comply. Nevertheless, White points out that federal prosecutors hold an enormous amount of power over human lives and rarely reflect on how they use — and abuse — their position.

“A fish doesn’t know that it’s in water,” says White. “A federal prosecutor doesn’t know that they are swimming in power. They could do it, so they did.”

Produced by Paul Detrick. Shot by Zach Weissmueller and Justin Monticello.

July 10, 2015

A new and exciting (if you’re a lawyer) aspect of photography

Filed under: Europe,Law,Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

As a casual photographer, I think very little about taking a photo of a building or landscape visible from the sidewalk or other public place. This casual attitude may become a relic of the past if EU regulators have their way, as Brian Micklethwait explains:

Basically, some EU-ers are talking about making it illegal to profit without permission by taking a photo, in public, of a publicly visible building or work of art, and then posting it on any “profitable” blog or website. The nasty small print being to the effect that the definition of “profitable” is very inclusive. For the time being, it would exclude my personal blog, because my blog has no income of any kind. But does Samizdata get any cash, however dribblesome, from any adverts, “sponsorships”, and so forth? If so, then me placing the above photo of the Shard at Samizdata might, any year now, become illegal, unless Samizdata has filled in a thousand forms begging the owners of the Shard, and for that matter of all the buildings that surround it, to allow this otherwise terrible violation of their property rights, or something.

“Might” because you never really know with the EU. At present this restriction applies in parts of the EU. It seems that a rather careless MEP tried to harmonise things by making the whole of the EU as relaxed about this sort of things as parts of it are now, parts that now include the UK. But, the EU being the EU, other EU-ers immediately responded by saying, no, the way to harmonise things is to make the entire EU more restrictive. Now the MEP who kicked all this off is fighting a defensive battle against the very restriction she provoked. Or, she is grandstanding about nothing, which is very possible.

Being pessimistic about all this, what if the restriction does spread? And how long, then, before the definition of “for profit” is expanded to include everything you do, because if it wasn’t profitable for you, why would you do it? At that point, even my little hobby blog would be in the cross hairs, if I ever dared to take and post further pictures of London’s big buildings.

Some better news for me is that if this scheme proceeds as far as it eventually might, my enormous archive of photographs of people taking photographs will maybe acquire a particular poignancy. It will become a record of a moment in social history, which arrived rather suddenly, and then vanished. Like smoking in public.

June 30, 2015

Extending the ADA to the web

Filed under: Law,Liberty,Politics,Technology,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Amy Alkon discusses why the notion of expanding the Americans with Disabilities Act to cover the internet would be a terrible idea:

So few people understand how laws passed can be used — and easily misused. Stretched into something they were never supposed to be (or not what they were said to be about, anyway).

For example, Title IX was supposed to be about allowing girls equal participation in school sports. The Obama admin has turned it into a system of campus kangaroos courts removing due process from men accused of sexual assault.

Next in line for strrretching is the Americans with Disabilities Act.

[…]

Bader gives some examples from Walter Olson, from his testimony to Congress, of awful changes that would ensue, like that amateur publishing would become “more of a legal hazard.” They’d go after websites like mine, that make a few shekels from Amazon links and a few more from Google ads. I need this money to supplement the money that’s fallen out of newspaper writing; also, I love the people who comment here and the discussion that goes on. It’s what keeps my eyes pried open at 11 p.m. when I need to post a blog item half an hour after I should have gone to bed for my 5 a.m. book- and column-writing wakeup time.

Also, added in the morning, after waking up worrying about this all night — making something “accessible” for a tiny minority could ruin it for everyone.

And what sort of understanding do we really owe people? I don’t do well with complex physics and I have limited attention for things I don’t understand that don’t grab my interest enough to figure them out. Should physics websites dumb themselves down for Amy Alkon’s brain? How many scientific websites will be brought down by disabled people going around to them like the quadriplegic lawyer in the wheelchair filing profit-making suits and closing classic hamburger stands and other businesses in California over ADA claims?

June 19, 2015

The EFF’s Privacy Badger

Filed under: Liberty,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Earlier this month, Noah Swartz exhorted the Mozilla folks to put some energy and effort behind the Firefox Tracking Protection technology. While we wait for that to come to fruition, he also recommends the Electronic Frontiers Foundation’s Privacy Badger for Firefox users:

In her blog post, [Monica] Chew flags the need for Mozilla’s management to ensure that this essential protection reaches users, and to recognize that “current advertising practices that enable ‘free’ content are in direct conflict with security, privacy, stability, and performance concerns.” Since advertising industry groups flatly refused to respect the Do Not Track header as a privacy opt-out from data collection, the only line of defense we have against non-consensual online tracking is our browsers.

Safari and Internet Explorer have taken important steps to protect their users against web tracking: Safari blocks third party cookies out of the box, and IE offers a prominent tracker-blocking option. But mainstream users of open source browsers are out of luck. Until that changes, our Privacy Badger add-on for Firefox and Chrome remains perhaps the only one-click solution for users who want to protect their privacy as they browse the web. Since Privacy Badger requires no configuration, we encourage any user who is concerned about online tracking to add it to their browser.

EFF Privacy Badger

June 14, 2015

More on that Reason grand jury subpoena

Filed under: Law,Liberty,Media,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At the Foundation for Economic Education, Ryan Radia discusses the free-speech-quashing subpoena issued by a federal prosecutor in New York state:

In late May, Judge Katherine Forrest, who sits on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, sentenced Ulbricht to life in prison. This sentence was met with mixed reactions, with many commentators criticizing Judge Forrest for handing down what they perceived as an exceedingly harsh sentence.

A few Reason users, some of whom may have followed Reason’s extensive coverage of the fascinating trial, apparently found Ulbricht’s sentence especially infuriating.

One commenter argued that “judges like these … should be taken out back and shot.” Another user, purporting to correct the preceding comment, wrote that “it’s judges like these that will be taken out back and shot.” A follow-up comment suggested the use of a “wood chipper,” so as not to “waste ammunition.” And a user expressed hope that “there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman.”

Within hours, the office of Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, sent Reason a subpoena for these commenters’ identifying information “in connection with an official criminal investigation of a suspected felony being conducted by a federal grand jury.”

This doesn’t mean a grand jury actually asked about the commenters; instead, in federal criminal investigations, it’s typically up to the US Attorney to decide when to issue a subpoena “on behalf” of a grand jury.

[…]

Even if this subpoena is valid under current law — more on that angle in a bit — the government made a serious mistake in seeking to force Reason to hand over information that could uncover the six commenters’ identities.

Unless the Department of Justice is investigating a credible threat to Judge Forrest with some plausible connection to the Reason comments at issue, this subpoena will serve only to chill hyperbolic — but nonetheless protected — political speech by anonymous Internet commenters.

June 2, 2015

QotD: The internet’s public shaming machine

Filed under: Media,Quotations,Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In the small groups we evolved to live in, shame is tempered by love and forgiveness. People are shamed for some transgression, then they are restored to the group. Ultimately, the shamed person is not an enemy; he or she is someone you need and want to get along with. This is how you make up with your spouse after one or both of you has done or said something terrible.

In a large group, shame is punishment, but it still has a restorative aspect. One of the most surprising passages of Ronson’s book reveals that the drunken driver who had to stand by the side of the road with a sign detailing his crimes got more compassion and support than bitter catcalls from the people who drove by him.

On the Internet, when all the social context is stripped away and you don’t even have to look at the face of the person you’re being mean to, shame loses its social, restorative function. Shame-storming isn’t punishment. It’s a weapon. And weapons aren’t supposed to be used against people in your community; they’re for strangers, people in some other group that you don’t like very much.

Megan McArdle, “How the Internet Became a Shame-Storm”, Bloomberg View, 2015-04-17.

May 13, 2015

Google search history … and you

Filed under: Business,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At Reason, Ed Krayewski points out that you now have a way of discovering (and modifying) what Google’s search engine will reveal about you:

In January Google quietly rolled out the capability to view your entire search history with the online service, download a copy of it, and even to delete it from Google’s servers. The new feature wasn’t widely reported online until earlier this month when an unofficial Google blog publicized it.

You can check out your search history here, including web and image searches, and links and images you clicked on as a result. There’s also an option to download under settings (the gear button on the top left of the page), as well as one to “remove items,” including the ability to remove your recent search history or your entire search history.

April 12, 2015

The Great Firewall of China has a new capability

Filed under: China,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At The Register, Shaun Nichols talks about the new, weaponized Great Firewall of China:

China has upgraded the website-blocking systems on its borders, dubbed The Great Firewall, so it can blast foreign businesses and orgs off the internet.

Researchers hailing from the University of Toronto, the International Computer Science Institute, the University of California Berkeley, and Princeton University, have confirmed what we’ve all suspected: China is hijacking web traffic entering the Middle Kingdom to overpower sites critical of the authoritarian state.

Typically, connections to web servers in the People’s Republic must pass through the nation’s border routers, which may inject malicious JavaScript into the fetched web pages. This code forces victims’ browsers to silently and continuously fire requests at selected targets.

These sites may end up being overwhelmed and crash as a result — a classic denial of service — meaning no one in the world can access them.

It is a clear case of China engineering a way to knock arbitrary websites off the internet for everyone, it seems.

Such an attack was launched last month at California-based GitHub.com, which was hosting two projects that circumvented the Great Firewall’s censorship mechanisms, and GreatFire.org, a website dedicated to fighting China’s web blocking. GitHub mitigated the assault to mostly stay online.

This weaponized firewall has been dubbed the Great Cannon by the researchers, and typically hijacks requests to Baidu’s advertising network in China. Anyone visiting a website that serves ads from Baidu, for example, could end up unwittingly silencing a foreign site disliked by the Chinese authorities.

March 9, 2015

Net neutering … now it’s time to repent at leisure

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Business,Government,Technology,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Matt Walsh has a message for all those net neutrality warriors doing their fist-bumps of triumph:

Dear Net Neutrality Proponents,

You dear, sweet buffoons.

I know you’re quite impressed that the Federal Communications Commission just passed a sweeping set of regulations granting themselves control over the Internet. President Barack Obama considers this a glorious victory. Liberals and Democrats across the land are delighted. Even some corners of cyber space — the ones populated by masochists and nincompoops — are cheering loudly, excited to finally be under the jurisdiction of an enormous federal bureaucracy. Hallelujah!

Now, Gullible Americans, I realize that you think you’ve just been once again liberated from the shackles of the free market and whisked away to a fanciful land where Father Government makes sure everything is nice and fair and everyone is sharing their toys like good boys and girls. I know you are under this impression. I mean, I can’t blame you. It’s right there in the title. They call it “Net Neutrality,” for goodness sake! It’s neutral! Neutral means fair! Fair Internet! Who can quibble with a fair Internet! Only big bad corporations and their right wing minions, you think. Fox News and the Koch Brothers and Lex Luthor and other scary names.

The FCC tells us that Net Neutrality will give us a free and open Internet by granting them the power to regulate it under laws that were written 60 years before the Internet existed as a common household service. Consumers need to be protected from the possibility that Internet providers will block traffic to certain sites, or set up paid prioritization systems for consumers or web services who pay more. That’s what this is all about, you think. The FCC is looking out for the little guy again.

Good old FCC, always fighting for truth, justice, and bureaucratic control.

But, see, this is where I need you to stop and think, Gullible Americans. It’s too late now, but I need you to finally try to learn something here. The government is not the knight in shining armor you think it is — even when it’s run by Democrats.

March 7, 2015

Browser cosplay day

Filed under: Humour,Media,Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Joey deVilla posted an image which requires no further explanation:

browser-cosplay

March 4, 2015

The FCC is merely a symptom

Filed under: Government,Technology,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At Taxicab Depressions, Taxi Hack offers a few thoughts on current events:

If you have read my post The Pig Trap, you know of my absolute bewilderment at the current state of our country. Our government is utterly lawless, just making shit up as they go along, creating regulations and executive edicts to bypass the Congress and the Constitution, committing crimes in the furtherance of those goals, and nobody ever gets in trouble, unless he screwing someone he shouldn’t be, and nobody ever loses their job or goes before a judge, and most importantly, nobody seems to give a fuck. Everything is just fucking dandy, as long as we can binge-watch Girls and Entourage on HBO GO and Katy Perry’s next single doesn’t suck and that hot chick from Club Plush texts me next week…

I wake up every day around two or three in the afternoon, make a cup of coffee and turn on the news, just waiting for the day when it finally happens, the day that something finally snaps, and I am listening to Sheppard Smith breathlessly trying to describe shaky video of a mob of 500,000 or 800,000 pissed off taxpayers that has invaded Washington and are lining every street in D.C., armed to the teeth, and erecting scaffolding on the National Mall.

Actually, that’s not how I think it is going to go, but I promise you… what can not go on, will NOT go on.

A couple days ago, a five member panel of unelected bureaucrats called the FCC voted 3 to 2 to seize control of the internet for the Federal government, without so much as a “by your leave” to the Congress. It’s not like your Congressman or Senator did this, these were three UNELECTED political appointees, all DEMOCRATS, which I think is worthy of mention, and they just decided that they have the power to regulate what you say and what you view on the internet, without asking you what YOU think about that. They came up with a big fat Rule Book For The Internet that they would not show to the public before the vote, and now that they have deemed they have the authority to do this and voted to institute their new Rule Book For The Internet, they STILL won’t show the public their new Rule Book For The Internet.

How is that not a Joe Biden-sized Big Fucking Deal for you? THREE PEOPLE you never heard of and certainly never voted for just took over control of the internet for the government, and they are not showing the public what the new rules will be. Does that mean websites will have to get a government “license”, like radio stations? And will they have a list of bad things they can’t say, or they will be fined and maybe even LOSE their license? Nobody knows, because they will not show the public the rules they are creating.

March 2, 2015

Who “saw” that coming?

Filed under: Media,Technology,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

J.D. Tuccille talks about what it takes to turn off the 21st century at least temporarily:

CBS 5 screen capture

CBS 5 screen capture

Some asshole turned off the 21st century in northern Arizona yesterday. The hardest part was probably the hike. The modern world flows to northern Arizona in a cable that runs hundreds of miles through the desert. That cable was cut in an isolated river bed near New River, north of Phoenix. Once the vandals were there, doing damage wasn’t that big a challenge. The cable is about as thick through as a man’s leg, so the right tool in a backpack was all it took. And there went the 21st century, and maybe a few illusions some of us (**cough**) may have about the extent of our independence.

What went with that cable was most cell phone service (every company but Verizon was down), the Internet (multiple ISPs run through the same pipe), the 911 system, and pretty much any digital communications connection you can imagine. Northern Arizona businesses largely became cash only—including the roadside stops vending gas to cross-country travelers. Trucks lined up waiting for the stations to get back online so they could process company credit cards to fill their tanks. It’s not like the drivers could just take out cash — ATMs were down, too.

My wife’s pediatric office was able to examine kids and patch them up. But checking on test results, getting reads on x-rays, scheduling appointments with specialists, and electronically sending prescriptions to pharmacies were all out. Old-fashioned landlines worked, but medical facilities are part of the modern world. Thoroughly digitized and electronic, hospitals, labs, and clinics were reduced to sending couriers back and forth.

There’s a lot to like about the interconnected, digitized modern world. I wouldn’t be telecommuting from a rural area if I didn’t have an electronic link to the world beyond. People like me now have the historical luxury of living where we want while doing work that, not so long ago, required an actual presence in a major population center.

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