Erdogan says Turkey may ban Facebook, YouTube over wiretaps

n13-iconReuters reports: Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to ban Facebook and YouTube in Turkey in an attempt to stop political foes anonymously posting audio recordings purportedly exposing corruption and other malpractices in his inner circle.

In the latest recording, released on YouTube late Thursday, Erdogan is purportedly heard berating a newspaper owner over the telephone about an article and suggesting the journalists be sacked, in comments that will further stoke concerns over media freedom and Erdogan’s authoritarian style of leadership.

Erdogan, who rejects any accusations of corruption, blames U.S.-based Turkish Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, a former ally, for the wiretaps which he says have been “fabricated”. Gulen, who denies any involvement, has many followers in Turkey, especially in the police and judiciary. [Continue reading...]

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Ukrainian activists work to counter Russian narrative on social networks

a13-iconRobert Mackey reports: Faced with what they call misleading reports on Russian state television that ethnic-nationalist violence is sweeping Ukraine, Internet-savvy Ukrainian activists drew attention on Sunday to video and images posted online that showed street protests in support of the new government in Kiev, and acts of violence instigated by men waving the Russian flag.

Video uploaded to the Euromaidan protest movement’s YouTube channel showed demonstrators in the eastern city of Dnipropetrovsk singing Ukraine’s national anthem on Sunday, one day after the Russian flag was raised there by ethnic Russians.

The activists also shared photographs on Twitter of young men volunteering to defend Ukraine against the threatened Russian invasion in the same city, and a rally in support of the interim government in Zaporizhzhya and Odessa, where pro-Russia demonstrators had also gathered the day before. [Continue reading...]

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Big data has outpaced our legal system’€™s ability to control it

f13-iconNeil Richards writes: These days, everyone seems to be talking about “big data.” Engineers, researchers, lawyers, executives and self-trackers all tout the surprising insights they can get from applying math to large data sets. The rhetoric of big data is often overblown, exaggerated and contradictory, but there’s an element of truth to the claim that data science is helping us to know more about our world, our society and ourselves.

Data scientists use big data to deliver personalized ads to Internet users, to make better spell checkers and search engines, to predict weather patterns, perform medical research, learn about customers, set prices and plan traffic flow patterns. Big data can also fight crime, whether through the use of automated license-plate readers or, at least theoretically, through the collection of vast amounts of “metadata” about our communications and associations by the National Security Agency.

Big data allows us to know more, to predict and to influence others. This is its power, but it’s also its danger. The entities that can harness the power of math applied to large sets of personal information can do things that used to be impossible. Many of these new uses are good, but some of them aren’t. For example, if our “personalized prices” can be based on our race or sex, or if our college admissions are based on things like ZIP code or car ownership, we might want to think more deeply about the kinds of big decisions our big data can be used for. We’re creating a society based on data, and we need to make sure that we create a society that we want to live in. [Continue reading...]

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Watch: Zeynep Tufekci on social media-fueled protest style from Arab Spring to Gezi protests in Turkey

a13-iconWhat can we learn from the protest wave of the last years? How does social media impact the capacity for collective action? Does social media contribute to blunting movement impacts by facilitating horizontal, non-institutional and “leaderless” movements? How do these movements compare with their predecessors like the civil-rights or anti-colonial movements? In this talk Zeynep Tufekci — assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, a faculty associate at Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and a fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University — discusses these questions by drawing from research on a variety of social movements including the “Arab Spring”, European indignados movements, Occupy and Turkey’s Gezi protests. (October 15, 2013, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University.)

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How people are becoming the property of technology companies

o13-iconFollowing Facebook’s $19 billion dollar acquisition of WhatsApp, Reuven Cohen writes: In November 2013, a survey of smartphone owners found that WhatsApp was the leading social messaging app in countries including Spain, Switzerland, Germany and Japan. Yet at 450 million users and growing, there is a strong likelihood that both Facebook and WhatsApp share the majority of the same user base. So what’s driving the massive valuation? One answer might be users attention. Unlike many other mobile apps, WhatsApp users actually use this service on an ongoing daily or even hourly basis.

“Attention,” write Thomas Mandel and Gerard Van der Leun in their 1996 book Rules of the Net, ”is the hard currency of cyberspace.” This has never been truer.

WhatsApp’s value may not have much to do with the disruption of the telecom world as much as a looming battle for Internet users rapidly decreasing attention spans. A study back in 2011 uncovered the reality for most mobile apps. Most people never use an app more than once. According to the study, 26% of the time customers never give the app a second try. With an ever-increasing number of apps competing for users attention, the only real metric that matters is whether or not they actual use it. Your attention may very well be the fundamental value behind Facebook’s purchase.

In a 1997 Wired article, author Michael H. Goldhaber describes the shift towards the so called Attention Economy; “Attention has its own behavior, its own dynamics, its own consequences. An economy built on it will be different than the familiar material-based one.” writes Goldhaber.

His thesis is that as the Internet becomes an increasingly strong presence in the overall economy and our daily lives, the flow of attention will not only anticipate the flow of money, but also eventually replace it altogether. Fast-forward 17 years and his thesis has never been more true.

As we become ever more bombarded with information, the value of this information decreases. Just look at the improvements made to Facebook’s news feed over the years. In an attempt to make its news feed more useful, the company has implement-advanced algorithms that attempt to tailor the flow of information to your specific interests. The better Facebook gets at keeping your attention, the more valuable you become. Yes, you are the product. [Continue reading...]

To the extent that corporations are in the business of corralling, controlling, and effectively claiming ownership of people’s attention, the only way of finding freedom in such a world will derive from each individual’s effort to cultivate their own powers of autonomous attention.

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It’s time to rethink our nightmares about surveillance

f13-iconThis is an excerpt from Zeynep Tufekci’s article at Matter — but don’t just read this, read her whole piece: I was in Philadelphia when the protests in Istanbul exploded, at a gathering called Data-Crunched Democracy, hosted by the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. It was supposed to be exciting, and a little contentious. But I’m also a scholar of social movements and new technologies. I’d visited Tahrir, the heart of the Egyptian uprising, and Zuccotti Square, the birthplace of the Occupy movement. And now new technology was helping to power protests in Istanbul, my hometown. The epicenter, Gezi Park, is just a few blocks from the hospital where I was born.

So there I was, at a conference I had been looking forward to for months, sitting in the back row, tweeting about tear gas in Istanbul.

A number of high-level staff from the data teams of the Obama and Romney campaigns were there, which meant that a lot of people who probably did not like me very much were in the room. A few months earlier, in an op-ed in the New York Times, I’d argued that richer data for the campaigns could mean poorer democracy for the rest of us. Political campaigns now know an awful lot about American voters, and they will use that to tailor the messages we see — to tell us the things we want to hear about their policies and politicians, while obscuring messages we may dislike.

Of course, these tactics are as old as politics. But the digital era has brought new ways of implementing them. Pointing this out had earned me little love from the campaigns. The former data director on the Obama campaign, writing later in the Times, caricatured and then dismissed my concerns. He claimed that people thought he was “sifting through their garbage for discarded pages from their diaries” — a notion he described as a “bunch of malarkey.” He’s right: Political campaigns don’t rummage through trashcans. They don’t have to. The information they want is online, and they most certainly sift through it.

What we do know about their use of “big data” — the common shorthand for the massive amounts of data now available on everyone — is worrisome. In 2012, again in the Times, reporter Charles Duhigg revealed that Target can often predict when a female customer is pregnant, often in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, and sometimes even before she has told anyone. This is valuable information, because childbirth is a time of big change, including changes in consumption patterns. It’s an opportunity for brands to get a hook into you — a hook that may last decades, as over-worked parents tend to return to the same brands out of habit. Duhigg recounted how one outraged father, upset at the pregnancy- and baby-related coupons Target had mailed to his teenage daughter, visited his local store and demanded to see the manager. He got an apology, but later apologized himself: His daughter, it turned out, was pregnant. By analyzing changes in her shopping — which could be as subtle as changes in her choice in moisturizers, or the purchase of certain supplements — Target had learned that she was expecting before he did.

Personalized marketing is not new. But so much more can be done with the data now available to corporations and governments. In one recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers showed that mere knowledge of the things that a person has “liked” on Facebook can be used to build a highly accurate profile of the subject, including their “sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious and political views, personality traits, intelligence, happiness, use of addictive substances, parental separation, age, and gender.” In a separate study, another group of researchers were able to infer reasonably reliable scores on certain traits — psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism — from Facebook status updates. A third team showed that social media data, when analyzed the right way, contains evidence of the onset of depression.

Remember, these researchers did not ask the people they profiled a single question. It was all done by modeling. All they had to do was parse the crumbs of data that we drop during our online activities. And the studies that get published are likely the tip of the iceberg: The data is almost always proprietary, and the companies that hold it do not generally tell us what they do with it.

When the time for my panel arrived, I highlighted a recent study in Nature on voting behavior. By altering a message designed to encourage people to vote so that it came with affirmation from a person’s social network, rather than being impersonal, the researchers had shown that they could persuade more people to participate in an election. Combine such nudges with psychological profiles, drawn from our online data, and a political campaign could achieve a level of manipulation that exceeds that possible via blunt television adverts.

How might they do it in practice? Consider that some people are prone to voting conservative when confronted with fearful scenarios. If your psychological profile puts you in that group, a campaign could send you a message that ignites your fears in just the right way. And for your neighbor who gets mad at scaremongering? To her, they’ll present a commitment to a minor policy that the campaign knows she’s interested in — and make it sound like it’s a major commitment. It’s all individualized. It’s all opaque. You don’t see what she sees, and she doesn’t see what you see.

Given the small margins by which elections get decided — a fact well understood by the political operatives who filled the room — I argued that it was possible that minor adjustments to Facebook or Google’s algorithms could tilt an election. [Continue reading...]

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Google Plus works for Google

a13-iconThe New York Times reports: Google Plus, the company’s social network, is like a ghost town. Want to see your old roommate’s baby or post your vacation status? Chances are, you’ll use Facebook instead.

But Google isn’t worried. Google Plus may not be much of a competitor to Facebook as a social network, but it is central to Google’s future — a lens that allows the company to peer more broadly into people’s digital life, and to gather an ever-richer trove of the personal information that advertisers covet. Some analysts even say that Google understands more about people’s social activity than Facebook does.

The reason is that once you sign up for Plus, it becomes your account for all Google products, from Gmail to YouTube to maps, so Google sees who you are and what you do across its services, even if you never once return to the social network itself.

Before Google released Plus, the company might not have known that you were the same person when you searched, watched videos and used maps. With a single Plus account, the company can build a database of your affinities.

Google says Plus has 540 million monthly active users, but almost half do not visit the social network. [Continue reading...]

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Study: ‘Trolls’ online appear to be sadists in real life

n13-iconThe Register reports: A group of Canadian researchers has given the imprimatur of social-science recognition to a fact that many of us who spend time in internet comment forums have suspected: there’s a strong correlation between online trolling and sadism.

“Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!” write Erin Buckels, Paul Trapnell, and Delroy Paulhus of the Universities of Manitoba, Winnipeg, and British Columbia, respectively, in a paper to be published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

The researchers define trolling as “the practice of behaving in a deceptive, destructive, or disruptive manner in a social setting on the Internet with no apparent instrumental purpose,” referring to trolls as “agents of chaos on the Internet, exploiting ‘hot-button issues’ to make users appear overly emotional or foolish in some manner. If an unfortunate person falls into their trap, trolling intensifies for further, merciless amusement.”

The Canadian psychologists’ paper is entitled “Trolls just want to have fun”, which is not merely a bit of boffinary humor at the expense of Cyndi Lauper, but rather a reference to one of the researchers’ findings. “We found clear evidence,” they write, “that sadists tend to troll because they enjoy it.” [Continue reading...]

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Do not go gentle into that good night

o13-iconDavid Shipler writes: The phone at Ed Walsh’s Jerusalem home rang during a small dinner party one evening in the early 1980s. He was the Washington Post’s bureau chief, but the call was for me. In those pre-cell phone days, I made it a practice to let the New York Times Foreign Desk know where I’d be and how to reach me.

Ed said I could take it in his office, which was near enough to the dining room that the guests could hear my end of the conversation. An editor in New York wanted me to expand on a short piece I’d done on a small and insignificant event. They were considering it for the front page.

No, I said, please don’t. It will send readers the wrong message. It will inflate the importance of a minor incident. I no longer remember exactly what it was: perhaps a cabinet minister threatening to resign from the governing coalition, which always got New York excited although it was the Israelis’ routine method of conducting politics. Or, it might have been the time when a couple of Palestinian would-be terrorists crossed the well-patrolled border from Jordan into the West Bank, prompting a manhunt by the Israeli army, which caught them before they launched an attack. In any case, it needed to be reported but certainly didn’t rise to the level of major news, and I managed to talk the editor down from the height of what would have been embarrassing hype.

I returned to the table to see quizzical looks from a couple who were not journalists. Five minutes later, the phone rang again. This time it was for Ed, and we could hear him in the same conversation, working to dissuade his editor in Washington from overplaying the story. When he came back, one of the non-journalists laughed in amazement: I thought you guys were always pushing to get ONTO page one, and here you were trying to stay OFF!

Ed and I had violated the stereotypes of the hard-bitten newsroom in The Front Page, and we joked about that evening for years afterwards. I guess we tried to explain to the bemused guests that it was not the first time that Washington and New York had exaggerated the gravity of developments in Israel, that we thought our responsibility as correspondents included perspective and sober judgment. Ed must have given his crooked smile and a twinkle of irreverence for those in power, as he did wherever he encountered them–whether among politicians or editors.

Ed died on Valentine’s Day. I find myself wondering if his breed of reporter is dying too. The pressures in this age of cable and Internet and gotcha journalism work against the lower key. They promote self-promotion. They induce hype. And they distort reality as a result. [Continue reading...]

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Hackers used previously unknown Internet Explorer flaw in new attacks

n13-iconReuters reports: A previously unknown flaw in a recent version of Microsoft Corp’s Internet Explorer web browser is being used to attack Internet users, including some visitors to a major site for U.S. military veterans, researchers said Thursday.

Security firm FireEye Inc discovered the attacks against IE 10 this week, saying that hundreds or thousands of machines have been infected. It said the culprits broke into the website of U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars and inserted a link that redirected visitors to a malicious web page that contained the infectious code in Adobe Systems Inc’s Flash software.

FireEye researcher Darien Kindlund said that the attackers were probably seeking information from the machines of former and current military personnel and that the campaign shared some infrastructure and techniques previously attributed to groups in mainland China. [Continue reading...]

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Internet governance too U.S.-centric, says European commission

n13-iconThe Guardian reports: The mass surveillance carried out by the US National Security Agency means that governance of the internet has to be made more international and less dominated by America, the European Union’s executive has declared.

Setting out proposals on how the world wide web should function and be regulated, the European commission called for a shift away from the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), which is subject to US law, is contracted by the US administration and is empowered to supervise how digital traffic operates.

“Recent revelations of large-scale surveillance have called into question the stewardship of the US when it comes to internet governance,” said the commission.

“Given the US-centric model of internet governance currently in place, it is necessary to broker a smooth transition to a more global model while at the same time protecting the underlying values of open multi-stakeholder governance …

“Large-scale surveillance and intelligence activities have led to a loss of confidence in the internet and its present governance arrangements.” [Continue reading...]

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If tech companies didn’t spy on us, the NSA couldn’t spy on them

Snowden docs reveal British spies snooped on YouTube and Facebook

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Has the digital medium become the message?

David Carr writes about Ezra Klein’s departure from the Washington Post. Klein, the Post’s highest profile blogger, is “going to Vox Media, the online home of SB Nation, a sports site, and The Verge, a fast-growing technology site.”

In making the switch, Mr. Klein is part of a movement of big-name journalists who are migrating from newspaper companies to digital start-ups. Walter Mossberg and Kara Swisher left Dow Jones to form Re/code with NBC. David Pogue left The New York Times for Yahoo and Nate Silver for ESPN. At the same time, independent news sites like Business Insider, BuzzFeed and Vox have all received abundant new funding, while traffic on viral sites like Upworthy and ViralNova has exploded.

All the frothy news has led to speculation that a bubble is forming in the content business, but something more real is underway. I was part of the first bubble as a journalist at Inside.com in 2001 — an idea a decade ahead of its time — and this feels very different.

The web was more like a set of tin cans and a thin wire back then, so news media upstarts had trouble being heard. With high broadband penetration, the web has become a fully realized consumer medium where pages load in a flash and video plays without stuttering. With those pipes now built, we are in a time very similar to the early 1980s, when big cities were finally wired for cable. What followed was an explosion of new channels, many of which have become big businesses today.

The same holds true for digital. Organizations like BuzzFeed, Gawker, The Huffington Post, Vice and Vox, which have huge traffic but are still relatively small in terms of profit, will eventually mature into the legacy media of tomorrow.

More and more, it’s becoming apparent that digital publishing is its own thing, not an additional platform for established news companies. They can buy their way into it, but their historical advantages are often offset by legacy costs and bureaucracy.

In digital media, technology is not a wingman, it is The Man. Kenneth Lerer, manager of Lerer Ventures and one of the backers of BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post, says that whenever he is pitched an editorial idea, he always asks who the technology partner is. How something is made and published is often as important as what is made.

Carr declares: “Great digital journalists consume and produce content at the same time, constantly publishing what they are reading and hearing.”

That’s true if “great” means popular and fast.

But speed is the fetish of the digital religion and there’s no merit in being able to get everything fast if the price is that it becomes stripped of value.

The commercial success of digital journalism may well depend on the creation junk media that’s just as palatable as junk food — cheap, fast, and with little nutritional value. But maybe what we really need is something less tailored to mass appeal — a counterpart to the slow food movement, where content is carefully prepared, chewed slowly, digested well, and less inclined to cause heartburn.

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The net neutrality battle has been lost. Now we can win the war

Marvin Ammori writes: The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals just issued its long-awaited decision striking down the FCC’s network neutrality rule. This is the second time in four years that this court struck down the FCC’s attempt to adopt a network neutrality rule. It is now legal for AT&T or Verizon to block Slate, your blog, or any other site.

Even though the Internet touches every part of our lives, one person is to blame for potentially destroying its potential for innovation and freedom of expression: former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.

The court loss was even more emphatic and disastrous than anyone expected. But this defeat comes with a silver lining: It may force the new FCC chairman to act.

“Network neutrality” is sometimes called “Internet freedom” or “Internet openness” and is a legal principle that would forbid cable and phone companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast from blocking some websites or providing special priority to others. It would forbid Comcast from blocking Facebook or Bing. It would forbid Verizon from, say, charging the Huffington Post for special service to load more quickly than Slate.

Without network neutrality, cable and phone companies could stifle innovation. Imagine if, years ago, MySpace or AltaVista had cut deals with cable companies to block Facebook and Google. Without network neutrality, telecom and cable companies could also stifle free expression. They’d have the legal right to block articles like this one. [Continue reading...]

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Mozilla calls on world to protect Firefox browser from the NSA

Wired reports: Brendan Eich is the chief technology officer of the Mozilla Foundation, the non-profit behind the Firefox web browser. Among many other things, he oversees the Firefox security team — the software engineers who work to steel the browser against online attacks from hackers, phishers, and other miscreants — and that team is about to get bigger. Much, much bigger.

In a recent blog post, Eich calls for security researchers across the globe to regularly audit the Firefox source code and create automated systems that can ensure the same code is used to update 18 million machines that run the browser. That’s not an option for other browsers, but it is for Firefox. The code behind the browser is completely open source, meaning anyone can look at it, at any time.

The move is one more way that the giants of the web are responding to revelations that the National Security Agency is snooping on web traffic via popular services and software. After NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the U.S. government is tapping into data collected by private companies like Google and Facebook and then private email outfit Lavabit revealed a gag order that forbade the company from the telling customers the government was requesting information about them, Eich is worried that the feds could force Mozilla into adding a backdoor into its browser. [Continue reading...]

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Remembering Aaron Swartz

At the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Parker Higgins writes: One year ago, we lost Aaron Swartz, a dear friend and a leader in the fight for a free and open Internet. The shock was, and remains, a profound one. It’s a testament to the power of his commitments and ideals that both in life and in death he has inspired millions around the world, including all of us at EFF, to redouble our own efforts to advance the causes that he believed in, and to untangle the twisted and brutal computer crime laws that were used to persecute him.

Aaron was a passionate activist, but he also stood out as a technologist whose ambitions were always aligned towards a better, more just future. His pioneering work demonstrated a passion for harnessing technology to advance the public interest. As the Internet community confronted massive new challenges to free speech and privacy in 2013, there were many moments when we wondered quietly about what Aaron would have said and done.

Sadly, we are left to wonder. We know from his work on the software that would become SecureDrop that Aaron believed in making the world a safer place for whistleblowers to expose injustice and wrongdoing. We are all worse off without the passion and curiosity he surely would have brought to Edward Snowden’s continuing disclosures about NSA spying. We are reminded of Aaron as we push forward in our court cases against the NSA, help organizing against the spying with the stopwatching.us coalition, evaluate the Congressional proposals and, of course, as we continue to build and support technologies that let people take their privacy into their own hands. Aaron understood deeply that, more than ever in a world where information is power, both legal and technical protections for privacy are essential to keep people from being rendered powerless. [Continue reading...]

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