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.