Monthly Archives: April, 2012


The newest internet security legislation, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), is being compared to the recently-struck-down and much criticized Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which engendered blackouts from sites such as Wikipedia and Reddit.  But is CISPA really as bad as SOPA?

I don’t know if we can say it is worse or better than SOPA, only that it’s… different.  CISPA is different from SOPA, although its degree of civil rights infringement can be argued.  SOPA was primarily about censoring sites that hosted copyright-infringing material; the government was allowed to ‘blackout’ entire sites that had any infringing material immediately, essentially guaranteeing blackouts of sites like Youtube and Reddit.  CISPA is primarily about government monitoring if your data.  I don’t know if you can  draw a correlation between the two, unless you’re talking about basic civil liberty infringement.  

According to a recent USNews article, CISPA’s main goal is this:

Foreign governments and independent hackers are stealing information from American corporations all the time, costing the companies billions of dollars. The government knows how to stop these attacks and wants to help out private companies, but the current law doesn’t allow them to share classified information with private companies. CISPA would open that pipeline, but it would be a two way street—the way the bill is written, companies can share users’ information with the government if they sense a “cyber threat.”

Many proponents of the bill claim that they can only share information with the government as it pertains to an attack on their cyber security, but the wording in the bill is very vague.  Vagueness always lends itself to interpretation which, inevitably, will favor the government, as they are the interpreters.  The bill also doesn’t require the government to share secrets with the companies, but many fear this will become a bargaining tool for the government, an ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’ type of deal.  

Regardless of the content, basic privacy is being violated here if CISPA passes.  Let’s all get together and say ‘NO’ to CISPA.


Google fined for wifi street cars

Google Street Car: $90,000

Google Street Car Driver Salary: $100,000/year

Getting a mere $25,000 fine for widespread hacking into Wifi networks: Priceless

While Google earned more than $38 billion in revenue last year, they were only charged with a $25 thousand fine for collecting personal information over unprotected wifi networks in their Google Street cars.  While I certainly can understand why Google would want the information, I’m more curious as to why the feds didn’t punish them more severely?  

The FCC stated that Google failed to comply with repeated requests for information and  access to employees.  When asked about searching through employee emails, a Google rep stated that it ‘would be a time-consuming and burdensome task.’  Yes, but sorting through terabytes of personal data found through unencrypted wifi connections isn’t so hard for Google.  I see how it is!

Maybe I’m crazy, but the penalty doesn’t seem to fit the crime; and this time, the criminal is benefiting.  

Campaign ads: Coming to a public television station near you!

Last Thursday, the 9th District Circuit Court of Appeals repealed a decades-old law on airing political ads on noncommercial TV and radio stations.  The very thought of Arthur the aardvark sharing airtime with some shady grassroots campaign is terrifying.  


(Arthur’s best Nixon impersonation)

While the court upheld parts of the law, it decided that banning political and non-profit advertisement from the airwaves violated the advertisers’ First Amendment rights.  Essentially, your three-year-old cousin can now be learning arithmetic with the Count one moment and learning about Obama’s War on America the next (thanks Rick Santorum!)

The end of the afore-linked article sums up the issue pretty well: 

Either way, PBS viewers are already used to seeing ads on their ostensibly commercial-free stations. As Judge John Noonan noted in his concurring opinion, “As a viewer of Jim LehrerNewsHour and its successor, I have seen announcements that to my mind are ads. For example, I have viewed Charles Schwab’s message, ‘Talk to Chuck’—it is not about Chuck’s golf game.”

Is blogging journalism?

As with any medium, it depends.  Or at least that’s the view Mathew Ingram expressed in his recent GigaOM article. 

Blogging needs to be seen for what it is: a medium.  Though the recent Pulitzer Prize win by the Huffington Post has helped to diversify a general understanding of what blogging entails, it still seems as if ‘blogging’ has incredible connotations, namely, that blogging is always informal chatter.  Ingram made a great analogy in his article:


“The question “are blogs journalism?” — or similar questions such as “Is Twitter journalism?” — make no sense any more, if they ever did. Are telephones journalism? Are pencils and pens journalism? No. They are just tools. A blog is also just a tool, one which can be used for journalism and for many other things as well. The same tools that allow the Huffington Post or Buzzfeed to post dozens of photos of cute kittens can also be used to tell heart-wrenching stories of social significance, as David Wood has.”

We’ve entered a new era in media, or at least a new understanding of what media really is.  As Ingram stated, there is the medium, content, and publishing.  That’s it.  We measure the the quality of a story by the words it comprises, not by the publication or the medium on which it is written.  If Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate pieces were written on napkins and published by the National Inquirer, would they be less valuable to the public?  Perhaps in perception, but not in content. 

Words are what makes journalism exceptional.  Everything else is secondary.

Google Co-founder: Web freedom at risk

The underpinnings of the creation of the internet, namely openness and access, are at risk, said Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google in an interview with the Guardian.  Brin warned there were “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world… I am more worried than I have been in the past,” he said. “It’s scary.”

According to Brin, the corruption of the philosophical foundations of the internet is coming via government obstruction and intrusion, the entertainment industry’s crackdown on piracy, and the walled garden approaches of Facebook and Apple which control which types of software can be released on their platforms.  Brin is no stranger to fighting censorship: Google famously pulled out of China in 2010 over fears of excessive censorship and cyber-attacks. 

Brin claims that he would not have had his success with Google if Facebook had been dominating the web as it is today: “You have to play by their rules, which are really restrictive,” he said. “The kind of environment that we developed Google in, the reason that we were able to develop a search engine, is the web was so open. Once you get too many rules, that will stifle innovation.”  Many critics of Google fear that they hold too much information, and that Google has already released too much personal information to the government and other companies.  Brin acknowledged these criticisms, and added that “We push back a lot; we are able to turn down a lot of these requests. We do everything possible to protect the data. If we could wave a magic wand and not be subject to US law, that would be great. If we could be in some magical jurisdiction that everyone in the world trusted, that would be great … We’re doing it as well as can be done.”

Facebook and Apple, coincidentally, are Google’s two biggest competitors, so publicly tarnishing their ethics makes sense from a business standpoint.  But if Facebook and Google are the kettle, Google is most definitely the pot calling them black.  Google supports a highly-controversial cyber-security bill called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act which allows the government to monitor information given to private companies, with many vague privacy restrictions.  Google was also recently implicated in collecting personal information on wifi connections through their Google street cars without knowledge or consent of the public.  This seems to me like nothing other than a ploy by a businessman to drum up some negative PR for his competitors.  I’ll start believing what Brin has to say when his actions corrolate with his words.

Gingrich accuses Fox News of bias

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich slammed Fox News on Wednesday, citing bias in its presidential election coverage.  Gingrich accused Fox News of slanting coverage in favor of Mitt Romney, the leading Republican presidential candidate.  The network shot back at Gingrich on Thursday, calling him bitter.

Gingrich began the verbal quarrel when he told members of a Tea Party gathering in Delaware that he believed Fox News distorted the campaign coverage in favor of Romney.  He also accused Murdoch of controlling the bias in the presidential race coverage.  “I assume it’s because Murdoch at some point said, ‘I want Romney,’ and so ‘fair and balanced’ became ‘Romney,’ ” Gingrich said. “And there’s no question that Fox had a lot to do with stopping my campaign because such a high percentage of our base watches Fox.”

Gingrich also added:  “In our experience, Callista and I both believe CNN is less biased than Fox this year. We are more likely to get neutral coverage out of CNN than we are of Fox, and we’re more likely to get distortion out of Fox. That’s just a fact.”  In a prepared statement, Fox News said that Gingrich was priming for a position on CNN and that he is bitter that he is bitter that his contract with Fox News was terminated (his contract was terminated when he announced his intentions to run for the Republican nomination).

Accusing Fox News of bias is like accusing Bernie Madoff of being greedy; everyone already knows it, therefore there is no reason to announce it.  It seems as though Gingrich was fine with it, as he was a former commentator for the network, but as soon as the bias started affecting him, he decided to draw attention to the problem.  Perhaps Gingrich needs a refresher on blatantly obvious truths: Dogs will bark, the sun will rise, and Fox News will always be biased.  (You’re welcome, Newt).

Iran to shut down internet

Almost all Iranian citizens will soon be without Internet access, as the Iranian government has announced its intentions to build a national intranet within the coming months.  With the implementation of the national intranet, Iran plans to block sites such as Google, Yahoo, Hotmail, and Gmail, effectively creating a ‘clean’ internet.  Iran plans to unveil their plans in May. 

Replacing the aforementioned sites will be Iran’s version of popular sites, such as Iran Search Engine and Iran Mail ID (which will require personal identification associated with each email account).  The second stage of the rollout, which will be implemented in August, completely denies Iranians access to the Internet.  ISPs in Iran must comply with strict filters set by the national government or they will face harsh penalties.

Scarier still, Iran is also taking measures to prevent citizens from reaching the unfiltered internet through proxy servers.  Reza Taghipour, the Iranian minister for Information and Communications Technology, said last March that the Internet “promotes crime, disunity, unhealthy moral content, and atheism,” and that government’s goal is to eliminate the online “scourges.”

This national intranet sets a dangerous precedent for other authoritarian states.  If Egypt had a similar system implemented before their revolution, I wonder if it would have had the same effect globally, as social media played a crucial role in the uprising.  Iran even mentioned exporting their formula for internet filtering if it proves successful domestically.  These are, surely, frightening times for citizens around the world.

Print Media and the Valley of Death

It is of no shock to anyone that traditional forms of media are floundering in the increasingly-digital media landscape.  As print advertisement values continue to sink and circulation numbers fall, companies that rely heavily on print media continue to suffer.  But why aren’t these companies abandoning their print ventures for the inevitable transition to media?

A recent article by Mathew Ingram describes the Catch-22-like situation for traditional media companies.  Ingram says that companies are caught between managing their existing business–which, though slipping, still provides much of the companies revenue–and creating new, digital business ventures.  

In Clay Christensen’s book “Innovator’s Dilemma”, he describes ‘the Valley of Death’ a little more in detail:

“They have been trapped in a terrible mindset that they are in the business of selling newspapers. The leap from paper to digital may be vast, but to newspaper publishers, it seemed like vaulting to a different business entirely, one they were loathe to get into [and so]…They get caught in the Valley of Death… Instead of innovating for the next business cycle, these companies die crossing the Valley, wringing every last drop of cash out of the last cycle.”

A recent LinkedIn research poll found that while online publishing is one of the fastest growing industries, newspapers are the slowest.  Abandoning a reliable revenue-stream for a less-profitable venture leaves companies broke and vulnerable, but also distracts them from their digital projects.  It is for this reason, Ingram says, that digital-native media, such as HuffPost, will always win out over traditional forms of media.

Woodward and Bernstein… and the Internet

“The truth of what goes on is not on the Internet,” said Bob Woodward recently, in response to questions about internet reporting.  The Web “can supplement. It can help advance,” Woodward continued.  “But the truth resides with people. Human sources.”

Carl Bernstein, Woodward’s Watergate collaborator and friend, had similar feelings.  “We had a readership that was much more open to real fact than today,” Bernstein said. The Watergate story done today, he said, probably wouldn’t “withstand this cultural reception. It might get ground up in the process.”

Negative reviews of internet reporting weren’t the only anti-tech attitudes held by the pair.  “All the blogs and Twitter and Facebook are all part of a conversation and a discussion, and by and large I think it’s good and it’s healthy,” Woodward said.  “People will sort out the information they’re going to use and need. But I’m not sure that being connected every minute is a good thing.”

Woodward and Bernstein simply don’t ‘get it’.  Their comments sound resentful towards something they simply don’t understand.  Woodward’s comment on truth lying within human sources is painfully obvious.  It seems to me that Woodward sees ‘the Internet’ as some giant, autonomous, untruthful machine.  Of course human beings are the sources of truth, and we use the Internet as a tool to help spread those truths.  How can Woodward say Watergate may not have happened in today’s climate when we have some official, classified document showing up on Wikileaks every other week?  Their words are those of bitter, confused, old men; nothing more.