Copyright and the IMF

Two videos on one post. The first one is a clever and very funny retort to that mantra of sorts, viz. that artistic creation springs from the artist’s mind in its entirety, implicitly stating that previous works play no role whatsoever. Well, that’s simply wrong: like science, art also borrows from the art that existed before. Here’s a witty demonstration of precisely that:

From Que Treta!

Secondly, at a time where an increasing number of voices are starting to ask whether the IMF will have to intervene in Portugal, here’s a video that exposes it’s darker face, and indeed, indirectly, the darker face of modern capitalism.

source (Portuguese)

Paranoid tip of the week: ScroogleSSL

Scroogle is a sort of “web-wrapper” of Google. It essentially acts as an interface, that performs ordinary google searches while (literally) detaching the client executing the search from google’s prying eyes. To make this even better, it allows (unlike google) for searches to be done with https, and not only plain http (accessing https://google.com will just redirect you to the normal unencrypted google page). And now for the fun part: how to add SSL enabled Scroogle to Firefox search bar. First download the “Add to Search Bar” Firefox extension, then restart Firefox and go to the SSL Scroogle page, right click on the search form, and select “Add to Search Bar”. Select a name for the new search engine, and you’re done!

Privacy: Don’t be evil

Virtually every single time I’ve mentioned online privacy related concerns to anyone—even computer engineers—the reaction I get is similar: a shrug, followed by comments like: “yeah right, like that’s ever going to be a problem…”.

I don’t think this is because people stopped valuing their privacy. Rather, most people don’t seem to realize the extent of the lack of privacy they experiment when going online. This is hardly surprising: after all, in the comfort (and privacy!) of your homes, using a computer is not an experience likely to be perceived as privacy threatening—in fact, it may well happen the opposite, because you’re not interacting with actual people, but sitting comfortably behind a screen. This must be the reason, I’m led to surmise, why so many people on Facebook will happily provide their personal details—i.e. accept an invitation to befriend—pretty much anyone else, including a green plastic frog. The meagre and dwindling online privacy we have now is perceived to be higher than that which we enjoy in our “away from keyboard” lives.

But it gets better—or rather, worse—than that. How? When the bulk of your online activities, be those web browsing, email, calender schedule, and even DNS queries(!) are all done by the same corporation, viz. Google. And I know that for instance in the case of Google Public DNS, they state that “In the permanent logs, we don’t keep personally identifiable information or IP information.”. But if they wanted to do that (say, they got a subpoena from law enforcement), they could do that. That’s a fact. And history shows us, time and time again, that whenever power can be abused, it will be abused. But it gets even worse.

How? Well, everything I mentioned so far about Google, are all potential problems. Right? Well, that potential came a lot closer to reality when Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, uttered these words:

If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place

Now think for a second: it’s Google’s CEO who said that! If that does not wake us up against the danger of anything remotely resembling online privacy disappearing into oblivion, then I don’t know what will.

Oh by the way, a couple of years ago, some folks over CNET did this little experiment: they used the Google search engine to search about Schmidt himself; the results of said search having pissed the hell out of him. By his own twisted logic, he was doing a lot of things he shouldn’t be doing…

So what is the average computer user suppose to make out of this? The interview in The Register, where the quote comes from, ends like this:

CNBC asks Schmidt: “People are treating Google like their most trusted friend. Should they be?” But he answers by scoffing at those who don’t trust Google at all.
Not that you’d expect anything less. As always, Schmidt’s holier-than-thou attitude is wonderfully amusing. Except that it’s not.

The way I see it, he’s acting a whole lot like a drug dealer: he knows better than to use the stuff he sells. Continuing with the analogy for a little bit, when CNET forced his own drug onto him, he exacted revenge on them. But what are those of us that don’t head a multi billion dollar company supposed to do, when that same drug is so overwhelmingly forced upon us? That is a question still left open.

Little Brother

One of the covers of this book (the one reproduced below), has the following quote on the top of the page:

I’d recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I’ve read this year

While I don’t know if that quote’s author meant either this year (2009) or the last one (when the book was published), in my case, it applies to both.

little_brother_cover

Drawing some elements from what’s arguably its predecessor, the novel is first and foremost, actual. It depicts, although in an exaggeratedly fast pace, changes that we are already starting to see happening throughout the world. In a bigger or smaller scale, the trend is always the same: increased surveillance, dwindling privacy and in some cases, free speech as well. The reason? Security and fighting against global terrorism.

This should be cause to widespread public discussions on topics such as privacy (both off and online), surveillance (idem), security, and the role of the internet in modern societies. But that has yet to happen (the “widespread” part at least) — probably because despite these changes being rolled out fast, they’re not fast enough:

If the low hum of a refrigerator were to increase in pitch over the course of several weeks, the appliance could be singing soprano by the end of the month and no one would be the wiser.

By fast-forwarding reality, the Little Brother will hopefully produce the same effect as reducing the time span during which the refrigerator has to go from a low hum to full blown soprano: the change will get noticed. Noticed in a way that prompts to action. And that action starts with realising that forfeiting your freedom to get security is useless (if not downright counter-productive). It starts with daring to be free, even when it’s the opposite passive subservience that becomes social norm (as it increasingly is). Here technology, while far from being enough on its own, does play a key role. And this is the other big plus of the book: despite being small (<400 pages), it's full of practical examples on to use technology to attain that goal. Now if on the one hand, tech-savvy readers will point out that some things have been (very) oversimplified, on the other hand the author does a great a job of explaining non-trivial technical ideas to a lay audience, mainly through the use of very good analogies.

The book is available for free here. Find some time and go read it. The fast-paced style will glue to the screen. When the soreness in your eyes gets you, order the dead tree version, and then read the rest. It’ll be a worthwhile read, because besides an engaging story, the whole book is a call to daring to be free. For while freedom is a right today, it is not (and never has been) a right without a price. And a part of that price is not being indifferent to it — i.e. daring to use it.

You’ve been Scroogled, have a nice day!

Cory Doctorow has written a piece on what would happen if Google… well, stopped not being evil. The short essay describes a hypothetical association between Google and Department of Homeland Security, a recent security US security agency. Although I’ve not finished reading it, the think the most amazed me was, how plausible the described scenario is. I’m not saying it is (or it is not) true. I’m saying that unlike some other dystopian scenarios, this one, despite being an extreme one, looks surprisingly plausible.

WHAT IF GOOGLE WERE EVIL? Cory Doctorow imagines the worst

“Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him.” —Cardinal Richelieu

“We don’t know enough about you.” —Google CEO Eric Schmidt

I might further edit this post after I finish reading the essay…

EDIT: I am now writing a couple of days after the initial post. I’ve finished reading it, and while I did not actually enjoyed the end (seemed a little far fetched, reminded me of the ending of Brave New World…) the essay itself is a joy to read. I wonder what Google guys must have thought of this… I mean, I’ve never worked at Google (though I did apply once…), but from I’ve read, it appears that most of the guys of work there, enjoys their work very much. For instance, quoting Peter Norvig, here’s what he says about his own job (he is currently Director of Reseach at Google):

Note to recruiters: Please don’t offer me a job. I already have the best job in the world at the best company in the world. Note to engineers and researchers: see why you should apply to help.

And this “working enthusiasm”, lacking a better description, appears to be pervasive at Google. So how can an IT company with such devoted workers come so close to ending privacy worldwide? This is not an easy question, but I think that this may be similar to judging the nature of scientific developments: it depends not only on the developments per se, but also on the use that they are given.The scientific development in discussion here is a great search engine, one whose greatness is only surpassed by the enormous abuse possibilities (as so many science and technological wonders before it). I think they new this for a while back, and that may have been one of the reasons for their world famous motto: “Don’t be evil”. But they already caved to Chinese censorship laws, and with the US becoming a more police state as each day goes by, one can only become wary of possibilities… Reminds me of a quote by Reagan that I previously posted:

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free

A final note to say that subcontracting intelligence gathering to the private sector, something referred to in the essay, is not fiction; it is a proposed measure by the US government (will post link to it when I find it).

A good one from slashdot

This is one of the articles in Slashdot today:

The BBC has a nice high-level overview of some technologies for surveillance developed in the US and the UK. ‘The US and UK governments are developing increasingly sophisticated gadgets to keep individuals under their surveillance. When it comes to technology, the US is determined to stay ahead of the game …

And this is one of the comments:

 

 

This reminds me of my youth in Poland.

(Score:5, Interesting)

by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 16, @09:19PM (#20630867)

I grew up in Poland in the 1960s and 1970s. This is the sort of shit we dealt with each day.

The Communists claimed to have devices that could read minds to determine one’s intentions. Now, we didn’t know if this was true or not. But seeing as many of us wanted to live another day, or at the very least not get tortured, we assumed they did.

It seems that the citizenry of the UK and the US are now in a very similar position….

Funny how the tables can turn in such little time… makes one wary of what freedoms can you really take for granted these days…