Aaron Stein looks at the importance of social media during the protests in Turkey.
After weeks of protests, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with members of the Taksim Solidarity Group – an umbrella group for the demonstrators in Gezi Park – at his official residence in Ankara last night, in order to come to an arrangement to resolve the current crisis. The meeting lasted for several hours and the two sides appeared to have struck a tentative agreement to end the protests.
The meeting came on the heels of more tough talk from the Prime Minister, as well as an aggressive government led information campaign to relay the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) version of events to the Turkish and international audience. The AKP has relied heavily on closely coordinated talking points that attribute the protests to a plot by “foreign circles" uncomfortable with Turkey’s economic and political progress. The government relayed its version of events via Erdogan’s frequent speeches, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, interviews wither friendly journalists, and social media.
The counter-information offensive was designed to combat the protest movement’s successful use of social media and to try and cast the protesters as marginal. To be fair, some of the flags flying in Gezi and Taksim suggest the penetration of a slew of radical leftist organizations, whose causes belie the portrayal of the protesters as apolitical youth solely intent on carving out a more democratic future. However, those groups are a small minority, of what is largely a leaderless spasm of anger at the AKP’s rule.
The protests began as a small sit-in style movement to prevent the razing of Gezi Park – a small park adjacent to bustling Taksim square. Protesters and some journalists chronicled the protests daily on twitter; posting pictures of excessive tear gas using the twitter hash tag #dailygasreport. The twitter campaign gradually gained traction, anger swelled, and eventually boiled over after Reuters photographer Osman Orsal captured the ghoulishly iconic image of the elegant woman in the red dress being sprayed at close range with excessive amounts of tear gas.
After the police did manage to clear Gezi Park, the subsequent brutal put-down of the peaceful sit-in at Taksim Square, which touched off two days of intense street clashes, was once again captured and broadcast to the world via social media. As the clashes unfolded, Turkish citizens had little choice but to follow the events live via twitter or Facebook. Turkish media outlets opted not to broadcast the events, choosing instead to air their regularly scheduled programing. CNN Turk, for example, opted to air a documentary on Penguins on Saturday evening, even though intense clashes continued in cities all through out Turkey.
Media outlets in Turkey are owned by large business conglomerates, dependent on government contracts for the financial well being of their numerous different subsidiaries. While the tight relationship between the media and the party in power is not new in Turkey, the emergence of social media has allowed people to circumvent the government’s attempts to stifle news coverage.
The AKP, while having embraced twitter to spread its own version of events, has not reacted well to the use of social media. In 2012, Ankara Mayor Melih Gokcek, sued 600 people on twitter for insulting him. Moreover, after the tragic bombing of a town near the border with Syria in May 2013, a local court banned coverage of the events and the publishing of images.
Nevertheless, images were quickly uploaded to social media sites and spread via numerous retweets, independent blogs, and Facebook accounts. For example, Elliot Higgins, the blogger behind the excellent Brown Moses Blog, created two databases of photographs and videos of the tragedy, in spite of the ban in Turkey and the local media’s inability to publish its own images. The Reyhanli coverage, therefore, foreshadowed the power of social media to circumvent the AKP’s media bans.
During the protests, Erdogan labelled social media a “menace” and a device to “spread lies.” Turkish police have arrested 25 people in the coastal town of Izmir for allegedly using social media to incite violence. In tandem, the Transport Ministry is now investigating twitter, claiming that “ [it] doesn’t have a legal basis in Turkey. They take ads but they do not pay tax in Turkey. It should establish a company compliant with the Turkish Commercial Code, like Facebook and YouTube.”
Despite these efforts, the number of social media users in Turkey continues to increase. However, rather than embrace the use of this new medium as a tangible expression of freedom of speech – which is guaranteed under Article 26 of the Constitution – the government appears intent on finding the legal justification to prevent the use of twitter. The AKP’s current legal effort to stifle twitter undermines its campaign rhetoric and its carefully cultivated image as the party responsible for the deepening of Turkish democracy. Thus, while the AKP may have a point about a small sliver of the protesters not being real democrats, its handling of the crisis, as well as its current effort further curb freedom of speech, is hardly representative of a party intent on deepening personal freedoms.
The AKP has a responsibility to protect the right to freedom of expression and should not shy away from embracing the growing use of social media. The party is the first in Turkey to have to govern in an environment where an increasing number of journalists, academics, and interested citizens are using social media to relay their thoughts about current events in real time. Thus, the party has a choice: It can either embrace freedom of expression and protect the use of social media, or it can opt to invent legal justifications to curb its citizens’ rights to freedom of speech.
If the government continues to pursue the latter of these two options, the AKP will have failed to embrace and embody its numerous campaign pledges to strengthen Turkish democracy. Moreover, it will have established a worrying precedent for future party’s to follow, should they be faced with a similar protest movement in the future.
Aaron Stein is a doctoral candidate at King's College London and a researcher specializing in Turkish politics at the Istanbul-based Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies. He blogs at Turkey Wonk. Follow him on Twitter: @aaronstein1.
Milena Popova looks at how Kindle and Amazon are attempting to revive the world of fanfiction
So Amazon has decided to boldly go where… quite a few people have tried to go before actually, in its recent move to try to monetise the creative talent (or otherwise) of the fanfiction community. If you hang around fandom long enough, you realise that roughly every seven years someone pops up who thinks there’s a pot of gold at the end of the fandom rainbow, with this most recent effort very likely prompted by the success of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy which started life as a piece of Twilight fanfiction.
What differentiates Amazon from its predecessors in this field is that it has actually acquired the rights to – so far – three pieces of creative real estate. US-based fans of “The Vampire Diaries”, “Pretty Little Liars” and “Gossip Girl” will soon be able to write certain types of fanfiction for these shows and books and try to flog them to fellow fans with Kindles.
I say certain kinds because Amazon places quite a few restrictions on what you can and can’t publish as part of its Kindle Worlds initiative.Crossovers (works building on two or more existing universes, like Doctor Whooves – the Doctor Who equivalent of My Little Pony Land) are a big no-no, probably because of the rights headaches they would entail. Pornography and “offensive descriptions of graphic sexual acts” - a definition of which will presumably be expanded upon in the detailed content guidelines provided by each licensor - are also banned from Kindle Worlds. Given the prevalence of both crossovers and explicit erotic content in fanfiction, these choices on Amazon’s part are both understandable and likely to get the project dismissed outright by a large proportion of the fanfiction community. Though according to an Amazon spokesperson “Fifty Shades of Grey” wouldn’t count as pornography under their definition as it depicts “consensual sex between adults”. Amazon may be in need of a dictionary. Offensive content, including but not limited to “racial slurs” and “excessive use of foul language” is not permitted either. That’s right, Amazon wouldn’t publish the works of Mark Twain or Irvine Welsh.
Other mechanics of the scheme are also interesting. While Amazon state in their content guidelines that they do not accept poorly formatted books, quality control in this area is unlikely to include the services of a professional editor. Amazon Publishing is of course already full of poorly written, badly spelled crimes against literature. A little purple prose set in an existing universe, written by a thirteen-year-old figuring out the mechanics of writing is hardly going to make a difference here. Except when it comes to fanfiction, it will: there are already countless sites all over the internet where fans can get such stories – as well some excellent work that could easily compete with published authors – for free. From a reader’s point of view, Kindle Worlds hardly provides any added value in exchange for your $3.99.
And what’s in it for writers? Well, for anything longer than 10,000 words, Kindle Worlds will be offering royalties of 35% of the customer sales price. Shorter works of 5,000 – 10,000 words get you a royalty rate of 20%. What’s notable here is the copyright deal: in theory you keep the copyright to any original, copyrightable elements of your work. In practice, the minute you submit your story to Kindle Worlds, Amazon gets an exclusive license to it, and can then grant a license to your copyrightable elements (e.g. a new character) to the original licensor (i.e. the rightsholder of the universe you’re writing in).
The only way this can look attractive is if you haven’t been in fandom long enough to know your way around it; to know, for instance, that much like EL James and Cassandra Cla[i]re you can easily file the serial numbers off your fanfic and suddenly make 70% of the customer sales price rather than 35; to know that you’d be competing with work available for free; to know that what you’re doing counts as transformative under US law and thus the fact that Amazon hold the rights to the universe you’re writing in probably isn’t a huge amount of added legal value to you either.
Which brings us to the choice of properties Amazon has decided to partner with for Kindle Worlds. As has been pointed out elsewhere, one of the motivations behind the three particular worlds Amazon has licensed is that Alloy, the company behind all three, is a book packager creating cookie-cutter content, the rights management for which is probably easier than for works created by individual writers and then sold to media companies.
Yet, taking this from a different angle, they look like strange choices. “The Vampire Diaries” is perhaps the most obvious one, jumping on the bandwagon that brought us “Twilight” with its 200,000+ fanworks across the two major fanfiction archives (Fanfiction.net/FFN and Archive of Our Own/AO3). Yet “The Vampire Diaries” barely has 30,000 fanworks associated with it. “Gossip Girl” has a grand total of 483 on AO3 and zero on FFN, and “Pretty Little Liars” has just under 5,000 across both archives. There are more fics about the hung (ahem) Westminster Parliament of 2010 than in some of these fandoms. Thriving communities these are not.
What the three “Worlds” do have going for them is that they are all aimed at teenage girls and young women – precisely the kind of people who are likely to not have been in fandom for long enough to know their way around. This is where Kindle Worlds does potentially pose a threat to the fanfiction community. By convincing kids that the “right” and “legal” way to publish and read fanworks is through a paid-for, restrictive service, Amazon has the opportunity to shape the idea of what fandom is and how it works for a whole new generation of fans.
This is where the fanfiction community needs to step up. Yes, it’s easy to dismiss Kindle Worlds as the latest in a series of poorly thought-out attempts to cash in on fanfiction, and yes, we’ve collectively seen off plenty of the predecessors. However, what Amazon may actually be doing is deliberately sidestepping the existing community in favour of changing the game for the next generation. With any luck, the next generation will know how to use Google, and will find the free, unrestricted, and often deeply strange world of the fanfiction community before they find Kindle Worlds; but it never hurts to reach out and put up some signs pointing in the right direction. The Organisation for Transformative Works is already doing a fantastic job here, with projects ranging from the AO3 archive to legal advocacy, academic study of fandom, and the preservation of fandom history and at-risk fannish works. Now would be a good time for the community to further rally behind them.
Wendy Grossman looks at the EU's plans to update the data protection directive.
It's very difficult to gauge the progress of the EU's attempt to reform the data protection directive, whose text is due to be agreed by the end of this year. Basically, it comes down to the difficulty of understanding what is going on in EU government at any given time. There seems to be more than 4,000 amendments (not exaggerating), an endless succession of committee votes, and little way to understand their order of precedence. Couple that general confusion over the EU's legislative process with the fact that a Mad Man trying his hardest could not have come with a term that sounded less engaging, and you have a subject that fights to get mainstream press attention.
At the beginning of the process, which will take until 2014 to complete, it hardly seemed to matter. A bunch of European regulators put forward plans to update the existing directive. The claim that reform was necessary seemed logical enough, since the directive was passed in 1995, when the Internet had only just been opened to commercial traffic, the Web was still a bunch of text pages listing links to other text pages, and the founder of Facebook was 11 years old. Yet what's opened up in the months since is the possibility that instead of a few tweaks and update we will get the substantial weakening of a law that offers European citizens some redress of the balance of power between themselves and the large organizations they transact with, often perforce.
The 1995 data protection principles have held up remarkably well, in large part because they *are* principles and not restrictions on specific technologies. Talk about robots and algorithm-driven decision making, for example, to a data protection expert and they're likely to see little difficulty in applying the principles to constrain potential damage to consumers and allocate liability. In that sense, the big change since 1995 isn't the advent of large, data-driven companies but global interconnection. In a world in which a public company the size of Netflix is built on Amazon's cloud services and, as Frances Cairncross predicted in 1997, distance is dead, the data you entrust to your local solicitor may be stored just about anywhere. How and where data may flow is one of the most contentious issues in the debates over reform, along with requirements for data breach notification.
Member states were required to transpose the directive into national law by October 1998 (the year Google was founded. By early 1999, as I see from my February 1999 piece for Scientific American (TXT)Simon Davies, then the executive director of Privacy International, went so far as to predict a trade war when US companies found themselves blocked.
“They fail to understand that what has happened in Europe is a legal, constitutional thing, and they can no more cut a deal with the Europeans than the Europeans can cut a deal with your First Amendment," he told me at the time.
Ah, yes, well, that was then. The EU and the US went on to negotiate a safe harbour agreement, and when the US wanted Passenger Name Record data the EU caved. Critical reports, such as this one from 2008 pop up in a search, and despite EU law, the US's big data data companies are demonstrating accelerating growth in the EU as elsewhere.
The EU law has been widely emulated. In 2000, Canada passed its equivalent law, PIPEDA. Meanwhile, the 2000s trend toward outsourcing means gave countries like India and the Philippines powerful motivation to copy the EU's data protection principles so they can sell call centers and other services to the EU. The US remains the outlier, stuck on its 15-year-old insistence on a free market approach - only now it has much bigger companies to finance lobbying efforts.
And there has been plenty of lobbying, both traditional and copy and paste. The latest, as the European Digital Rights Initiative documents, is questionable evidence built on assumptions that have no quantifiable basis.
It's a curious dissonance I wish someone would study in a PhD dissertation that data protection law has spread alongside increasing surveillance. Last week, Slate, under the influence of former Microsoft European privacy chief Caspar Bowden, argued that some amendments to the data protection directive have been written with US surveillance powers specifically in mind. Slate cites a report Bowden co-authored in January (PDF)studying the issues relating to cloud computing in the EU. Among the concerns raised by the report is the potential for the loss of control over the data stored in the cloud, as well as the fact that US companies offering cloud services are subject to the PATRIOT (2001) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments (2008) Acts. In other words, the US claims surveillance rights over EU citizens.
In other words: this dull-sounding labyrinthine process could cost EU citizens rights currently thought to be indelible. We'd better pay attention.
Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Stories about the border wars between cyberspace and real life are posted throughout the week at the net.wars Pinboard - or follow on Twitter.
Loz Kaye, Leader of the Pirate Party UK, looks at why the Snoopers Charter has crawled its way back into the political agenda, and why it will it may not solve the problems that politicians are hoping it will.
Looking at the news, Britain feels quite a grim place at the moment. From Woolwich to Wales high profile murders have left us wondering who we are as a nation - and how we stop such atrocities in the future. Over the years I can't count the times I have looked away from the tabloids in the local Coop with the haunting repeated images of the latest missing or murdered child wishing it would just stop.
The responsibility for trying to make it stop falls, to great degree, on our politicians. It seems many have the same wish, that there would be one easy thing to do that could make it go away. As so often, technology is given the blame, it's the Internet's fault and Google's "deadly web of poison and hatred" as the Daily Mail would have it. From casual use of computers and phones, it is tempting to think there is an easy off switch. Basically the only concrete thing the government and opposition have offered as a response to recent events is surveillance, web blocking and filters.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragic events in Woolwich the likes of Theresa May and Labour's Lord Reid were quick to call for the return of the Snoopers' Charter. The implication was that its blanket surveillance powers would somehow have prevented a thuggish street attack, with the Home Secretary claiming that it was part of giving law enforcement "the tools that they need".
However, no one has demonstrated in a concrete way how the CDB would have prevented this particular incident, with security service sources saying in fact it would not have helped. Lord Reid seems to suggest that increased blanket powers would deal in a general way with a great nebulous threat he paints. This is despite for example Danish police recently reporting that data retention has not helped them, in fact the information is described as "unusable".
This boils down to political opportunism, a chance to take a pot shot at all of us who have fought to protect civil liberties. Even MI5 sources characterised this as cheap.
The other side of the Internet blame game since Woolwich has been laying the responsibility for radicalisation at the door of "Sheikh Google", with impressionable young people creating their own cut and paste ideology. This is hardly a new approach, the 2011 Prevent strategy review to deal with countering domestic extremism declared "Internet filtering across the public estate is essential".
Even so, the very same document concedes that there is not the evidence to back this up nor is there the capacity to do it: "We do not yet have a filtering product which has been rolled out comprehensively across Government Departments, agencies and statutory organisations and we are unable to determine the extent to which effective filtering is in place..." The situation on the ground is fundamentally the same as two years ago. No new powers over the Internet were called for when Theresa May said it was "a strategy that will serve us well for many years to come". What has changed since then, other than a desire for sound bites about hate preachers?
Similar calls have come in the wake of the most distressing crimes I think most of us can conceive of, the death of young children. Once again the speed to which some commentators have used specific cases to push a particular agenda is profoundly unsettling. This has also come from quarters which should frankly know better. The Guardian editorial which wilfully mixed together legal images and records of attacks on children to make a case for "banning Internet pornography", however they think that might be achieved, was deeply irresponsible.
Let's be clear. Images of attacks on children are evidence of crimes. I, and society at large, expect these crimes to be investigated, that has always been the case and nothing has changed about that.
However, there is no way to get from that to the calls like John Carr 's for Google to change its default settings, or the more diffuse thundering that 'something should be done' by the tabloids. Agreeing that you are 18 plus is hardly a high barrier, and it is not even likely that this will happen in the way Carr describes. Nor is there evidence that further restrictions would be productive. Much is made both in relation to extremism and pornography to the increasing ubiquity of the Internet and availability of material. But there is no demonstrable surge in sexual assaults attributable to this factor.
Moreover, where blocking has been tried it has been found to be ineffective, in the Netherlands for example the Internet Safety task force found filters did not "contribute to the jointly formulated goal and therefore cannot be employed effectively". While there is not evidence to back up blocks benefitting the social good, what we do know is the collateral damage such attempts make. ORG has clearly demonstrated the effects of over blocking on mobile networks.
David Cameron has been promising "good, clean WiFi" in public spaces to give parents peace of mind. But he is not in a position to offer any such thing. We should not be in the business of outsourcing moral choice, nor encouraging parents to think it is possible, let alone desirable. Nor should we just focus on just one part of culture and society, however fashionable it is to hold forth about the web and social media at the moment. I haven't seen calls on the Publishers' Association to somehow make bookshops default 18 plus following the 50 shades of profit their members have made from erotica. Even if we wish it otherwise, the uncomfortable truth is this. Humanity does not have factory settings. There is no button to push to make evil stop.
There are always a huge number of complex factors that feed in to complex social problems. The Prevent strategy highlights a range of settings which are important in addressing radicalisation - the criminal justice system, schools, universities, health delivery, faith institutions and organisations, prisons and probation. One can say the same about attacks on children, and of course many institutions have a role to play in combatting them, perhaps not least the Catholic Church.
To make the Internet the key factor is wrong headed. Two major elements identified in Prevent as to why people are attracted to extremism are being in a lower socio-economic group, and that extremist views are "significantly associated ... with experience of racial or religious harassment".
It is vital that as a digital rights movement we do not just protect our interests, without taking a wider interest in the society in which we take part. That will rightly lay us open to the charge of being shortsighted and anti-social. But of course poverty, abuse and racism are difficult to deal with. It is far more attractive for politicians to blame the Internet when they are under pressure from the tabloids. It's simpler to hold out promises of magic technological solutions even if they have no basis in reality. In austerity Britain it's cheaper to make social policy Google or BT's problem, and their expense. But this is lazy thinking, and worst of all will do nothing to address the full range of causes of some of our most worrying problems. We may yet come to pay dearly for current politicians' lack of imagination.
Professor Douwe Korff gives his thoughts on the ICO's letter to the Ministry of Justice on the 'Data Protection Regulation'
The "Data Protection Regulation" is currently being discussed by European policy makers. We think it could offer better privacy protection and give people more control over their data, which is much needed. The Ministry of Justice and the Information Commissioner's Officer have both expressed concerns about the proposals, however, suggesting the new law could be too burdensome. The Information Commissioner recently wrote to the Secretary of State Chris Grayling at the Ministry of Justice setting out his overarching concerns.
Here, Professor Douwe Korff gives a quick, off-the-cuff immediate commentary on the letter.
(You can read the ICO's letter here )
After paying some lip service to the importance of data protection, this is a typically negative attitude by the ICO to any worthwhile data protection regime. Here are my specific comments on his main points of criticism:
"...too much emphasis on punishment in stead of awareness raising and education"
Read: the ICO wants to continue with its useless "lets sort this out between friends" approach to big business (just like the HMRC deals with big corporations). It is not totally toothless, but basically refuses to bite (other than in one or two show cases against local authorities losing millions of records repeatedly).
"only data breaches that pose 'significant risk' should have to be reported to the ICO, otherwise it would cause too much work"
Comment: This would leave it to businesses themselves to assess if there is such a serious risk that they should report their own failures. It would result in most security breaches still going unreported and undetected. How much work is it for the ICO to quickly sift through reports of minor breaches, to fish out the more serious ones?
The ICO is against "prior authorisation" for some international data transfers.
Comment: this is a crucial safeguard that should remain in the regulation. again goes to show the ico doesnt really care about our data protection rights and interests.
The Information Commissioner doesnt want to be forced to impose administrative sanctions for mere "process failures" which did not lead to real privacy risks.
Comment: He basically doesnt like enforcing the law, but he ought to! what is he there for?!
He doesnt like having to take part in the "consistency mechanism"; it is "insufficiently risk-based" and "contains unrealistic time-limits".
Comment: The consistency mechanism is essential to ensure that the regulation is applied the same throughout the EU, and interpreted strictly (rather than arbitrarily and loosely, as is the case with the ICO's approach to the UK DPAct and the current DP Directive)! it again goes to show that he really wants to keep the UK as a country where data protection is not seriously enforced, even by the national DPA.
Oh, and of course he isn't asking for serious money to uphold our fundamental rights:
"... given the state of public finances across the EU and the more obviously higher priority causes competing for public funding, it is surely questionable that there will be more money available for DPAs than there is now."
Comment: At the moment, the ICO costs only £16 million a year, which is about 25p per citizen ...
To learn more about the Data Protection Regulation and how to contact your MEP, see the campaign website Naked Citizens.
Does the #FBrape campaign challenge our freedom of speech? Are feminists censoring the internet? Soraya Chemaly, one of the founders of the campaign, gives her insight into the issue.
Last week, I along with Jaclyn Friedman of Women, Action and the Media and Laura Bates, of Everyday Sexism, led a movement challenging Facebook's policies about content moderation. Facebook responded by saying it had failed to deal adequately with misogynistic content depicting violence against women and outlined the steps it would take to change a cultural tolerance for violence against women. The social activism, which involved raising awareness and asking advertisers to boycott the company until it acted in accordance to its own terms and guidelines, is notable because it is a rare public acknowledgement that misogyny and sexism are real, that they are harmful. Corporations, like Facebook, have a responsibility to treat hate based on gender in the same manner that they do other forms of hate speech.
Many people are saying this is a case of feminists censoring the Internet. I'd like to address this head on to explain why this is not the case. As a feminist and a writer, I understand free speech and hold it dear, but there are two issues being conflated in the concern that #FBrape, the name of the campaign in social media, will reduce speech. One is: how does Facebook regulate speech in its service? The second is: SHOULD Facebook be regulating speech?
Our initiative dealt with number one, how is Facebook regulating speech? Facebook is clearly regulating speech - they have a moderation policy and a detailed reporting and review process. The issue is that they were not interpreting these processes in a way that treated girls and women fairly and equally. That was the issue addressed in our program.
Page with names like "Raping Your Girlfriend," and text and images of popular rape memes depicting about-to-be-raped, incapacitated girls were easily found. Pictures and videos of girls and women frightened, humiliated, bruised, beaten, raped, gang raped, bathed in blood, and, in a recently publicized case, beheaded were "liked" by tens of thousands. In a milder example that went viral through our campaign, Facebook declined to remove an image of a woman, mouth covered in tape, in which the caption read, "Don't tap her and rap her. Tape her and rape her." Facebook's response to readers who reported it read, "We reviewed the photo you submitted, but found it did not violate our community standards."
Content like this defied reason and Facebook's own terms, which prohibit posts that "attack others based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or medical condition."
Facebook "censors" content every day already. The company had in place the formal language of a reasonable content policy geared toward ensuring users' safety, but it was not implementing it effectively. This failure disproportionately affected girls and women. That is why we demanded that the company reassess it's definition and interpretation of "hate speech" and train moderators to recognize why violence against women is a real problem and, when graphically represented in the ways found, hateful and threatening,
This content isn't "offensive". The photographs and videos we found depict gross human rights violations for the cruel use, entertainment and profit of others. The offense is that these depictions are considered funny or controversial.
Facebook is not "the internet." We chose it because it had content and community guidelines. The company, with more than a billion users, is an influential force. It is both a mirror and a microcosm of a global culture. As such, it is no more or less sexist or misogynistic than any other company or aspect of media. However, by creating a review process it became an arbiter of norms and provided a way to challenge those that encourage and perpetuate gross and easily demonstrable prejudices against girls and women. We are hopeful that this is a first step in making safer spaces both online and off.
The question of WHETHER Facebook should have a content moderation and review process is an entirely separate one.
Soraya Chemaly is a cultural critic and feminist activist. Her work and writing focuses on the role of gender in culture, in media, politics, religion and more, with am emphasis on the role that sexualized violence plays in sex-based prejudices and gender inequality.
Will open data support values of democracy, openness, transparency, and social justice? Wendy Grossman explores the question.
At the recent OpenTech, perennial grain-of-sand-in-the-Internet-oyster Bill Thompson, in a session on open data, asked an interesting question. In a nod to NTK's old slogan, "They stole our revolution – now we're stealing it back", he asked: how can we ensure that open data supports values of democracy, openness, transparency, and social justice? The Internet pioneers did their best to embed these things into their designs, and the open architecture, software, and licensing they pioneered can be taken without paying by any oppressive government or large company that cares to. Is this what we want for open data, too?
Thompson writes (and, if I remember correctly, actually said, more or less):
…destruction seems like a real danger, not least because the principles on which the Internet is founded leave us open to exploitation and appropriation by those who see openness as an opportunity to take without paying – the venture capitalists, startups and big tech companies who have built their empires in the commons and argue that their right to build fences and walls is just another aspect of ‘openness’.
Constraining the ability to take what's been freely developed and exploited has certainly been attempted, most famously by Richard Stallman's efforts to use copyright law to create software licenses that would bar companies from taking free software and locking it up into proprietary software. It's part of what Creative Commons is about, too: giving people the ability to easily specify how their work may be used. Barring commercial exploitation without payment is a popular option: most people want a cut when they see others making a profit from their work.
The problem, unfortunately, is that it isn't really possible to create an open system that can *only* be used by the "good guys" in "good" ways. The "free speech, not free beer" analogy Stallman used to explain "free software" applies. You can make licensing terms that bar Microsoft from taking GNU/Linux, adding a new user interface, and claiming copyright in the whole thing. But you can't make licensing terms that bar people using Linux from using it to build wiretapping boxes for governments to install in ISPs to collect everyone's email. If you did, either the terms wouldn't hold up in a court of law or it would no longer be free software but instead proprietary software controlled by a well-meaning elite.
One of the fascinating things about the early days of the Internet is the way everyone viewed it as an unbroken field of snow they could mold into the image they wanted. What makes the Internet special is that any of those models really can apply: it's as reasonable to be the entertainment industry and see it as a platform that just needs some locks and laws to improve its effectiveness as a distribution channel, as to be Bill Thompson and view it as a platform for social justice that's in danger of being subverted.
One could view the legal history of The Pirate Bay as a worked example, at least as it's shown in the documentary TPB-AFK: The Pirate Bay – Away From Keyboard, released in February and freely downloadable under a Creative Commons license from a torrent site near you (like The Pirate Bay). The documentary has had the best possible publicity this week when the movie studios issued DMCA takedown notices to a batch of sites.
I'm not sure what leg their DMCA claims could stand on, so the most likely explanation is the one TorrentFreak came up with: that the notices are collateral damage. The only remotely likely thing in the documentary to have set them off – other than simple false positives – is the four movie studio logos that appear in it.
There are many lessons to take away from the movie, most notably how much more nuanced the TPB founders' views are than they came across at the time. My favorite moment is probably when Fredrik Tiamo discusses the opposing counsels' inability to understand how TPB actually worked: "We tried to get organized, but we failed every single time." Instead, no boss, no contracts, no company. "We're just a couple of guys in a chat room." My other favorite is probably the moment when Monique Wadsted, Hollywood's lawyer on the case, explains that the notion that young people are disaffected with copyright law is a myth.
"We prefer AFK to IRL," says one of the founders, "because we think the Internet is real."
Given its impact on their business, I'm sure the entertainment industry thinks the Internet is real, too. They're just one of many groups who would like to close down the Internet so it can't be exploited by the "bad guys": security people, governments, child protection campaigners, and so on. Open data will be no different. So, sadly, my answer to Bill Thompson is no, there probably isn't a way to do what he has in mind. Closed in the name of social justice is still closed. Open systems can be exploited by both good and bad guys (for your value of "good" and "bad"); the group exploiting a closed system is always *someone's* bad guy.
Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of earlier columns in this series. Stories about the border wars between cyberspace and real life are posted irregularly during the week at the net.wars Pinboard - or follow on Twitter.
Nick Pearson explains the functions of a VPN, and how to best choose one that will ensure your privacy is protected.
As the global debate over online government surveillance rages on, it's reasonable to assume the use of privacy tools to foil state-spying efforts will only increase. The protection of online privacy is already a booming industry online, with a number of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), claiming to protect your data from government intrusion. VPNs can do a lot of things, such as allowing you to get around regional YouTube restrictions, or helping you escape the online parameters of whatever censorious regime you may be living under. But can they really stop governments from accessing your data, and what will happen if a government asks an VPN for information on a customer?
What is a VPN?
A VPN, to quote Wikipedia, “enables a host computer to send and receive data across shared or public networks as if they were an integral part of the private network with all the functionality, security and management policies of the private network.” A VPN in the context of a privacy platform, is a network that ensures all the data you’re sending and receiving is encrypted and never logged, thus preventing spying. But while the acronym “VPN” has become a byword for online privacy, not all VPNs are actually privacy services – and even the ones that are may not be serious about protecting privacy.
The key issue concerns the storing of data. The European Data Directive mandates that all ISPs must store user data, which includes logs of who you've emailed and logs of what websites you've visited, for at least one year after the user leaves the ISP's service. In the US, there is no data retention law – although that may change – but ISPs are free to store data for as long as they like, and many happily do so in order to better assist law enforcement. Whether or not a VPN can protect your privacy revolves around the integrity of its own data retention policy.
A study from TorrentFreak shows, many VPNs retain user data in exactly the same way as an Internet service provider (ISP), which renders them pretty much useless as a privacy service. VPNs have to abide by the laws in their jurisdiction. If law enforcement demands a VPN hand over its data on a customer, then they must comply. But if there's no data to hand over, then a user's privacy is always protected. Sure, law enforcement could demand a VPN start logging data on a particular user (which is probably what happened in the case of HideMyAss and Lulzsec), but any VPN serious about privacy would shut down the service before complying with such an order.
Some VPNs retain data because it essentially makes their lives easier and is used to troubleshoot problems with the network. Others retain data because they believe it's necessary to comply with the law – even though that may not be the case. If they are honest, such VPNs would not market themselves as a privacy service. But not all are honest; some downright lie, and others simply hide behind the conflation of the words 'VPN' and 'privacy'.
How to choose a VPN
So if you want to use a VPN for privacy purposes, what should you do? Firstly, examine the VPN's terms and conditions closely. Make sure it's very clear about how long it stores data. If in doubt ask them. Most genuine privacy services will only retain data for a few hours maximum. Secondly, find out what the VPN will do if the laws in its jurisdiction concerning data retention changes. Any privacy service worth its salt, should be prepared to move jurisdiction if changing laws compromise user privacy (admittedly there's some grey areas here, but a commitment to moving jurisdiction is a good sign the VPN takes privacy seriously). Finally, ask the VPN how far it's willing to go to protect the privacy of its users in the face of demands from law enforcement. You may not get a straightforward answer to this question, but if a VPN has built its business on privacy commitments then it's more likely to put-up as much resistance as possible to protect its business' reputation.
Nick Pearson is the founder of IVPN. IVPN is a VPN privacy service and Electronic Frontier Foundation member aimed at journalists, people living in areas of online censorship, and privacy-conscious individuals.
James Brandes looks at the torrent sites, filesharing aggregators and streaming services in the firing line, and asks if the fat lady sung for Grooveshark?
James Brandes is a Copyright Agent who operates the Digital Copyright Consultancy. The Digital Copyright Consultancy provides anti-piracy protection for a wide variety of clients' in the music and adult entertainment industries. It has worked on 4,000 + assignments for 82 clients' and has removed over 5,000,000 infringing links and search results. Projects have ranged from providing piracy protection services for Digital EP releases to well known dance compilations/rock albums and adult DVD releases/website content.
The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) is on the warpath and is targeting torrent sites, file sharing aggregators and streaming services. In their continuing battle against websites that allegedly contain or provide search capability of unlicensed music content, the BPI will likely ask Internet Service Providers to voluntarily block these sites in the first instance. Should that fail however, costly litigation via the High Court seems a conceivable consequence. Earlier this year; 3 torrent sites (KickAssTorrents, H3TT and Fenopy) were all blocked in the UK at the ISP level following on from the high profile blockade of notorious torrent site The Pirate Bay. Serious questions must now be asked about the new list.
The Pirate Bay still refuses to remove torrent search results, KickAssTorrents has been similarly recalcitrant in the past year and H3TT charges content owners / their agents to send Notices for removal of infringing material. But there are sites that take a different approach to responding to Copyright Infringement Notices. I'll explain how and why they're different.
The list compiled by the BPI and its members is a mixture of BitTorrent sites, file sharing aggregators, streaming services and pirate link sites that upload content to one-click file hosting services. Some are more contentious than others. In this article, I'll largely talk about services that I've dealt with extensively through my anti-piracy activities.
Starting with Torrent sites, it should always be borne in mind that BitTorrent is a technology which in itself is legal. However, the legality of many of its uses has been, and currently is being aggressively litigated worldwide. It's probably fair to say that the vast majority of Torrent administrators know that their service is used by many to distribute unlicensed content. Furthermore, they've made a lot of money off the back of advertising revenue. As a consequence, it's somewhat understandable that content owners/their agents and copyright protection bodies want to take action against them.
However, whilst I remove a great deal of content from one-click file hosting services, torrents and even search engines such as Google, I feel distinctly uneasy about the blocking of websites in their entirety. At what stage should it be considered? Is wholesale website blocking a step too far? And is it actually effective? Some technology commentators have their doubts.
If we take a look at BitSnoop first, it indexes over 20 million torrents in its database. I think it'd be a reasonable assumption that the site owners know that a fair amount of content found by its torrent search engine is unlicensed. But the site, in its defence,responds extremely quickly to DMCA/Copyright Notices via an automated DMCA Bot. Offending URLs are in fact removed within minutes.They also publish a list detailing the number of DMCA Notices they've received in the past year. It's interesting reading.
But the plot thickens. If you check the BPI's Google's Transparency Report, you'll see that the BPI have sent DMCA Notices to Google for over 300,000 infringing Bitsnoop URLs. Further investigation via Chillingeffects reveals that few of these Bitsnoop URLs have actually been removed at the source (they're still live) which is a somewhat curious strategy.
Is there an ulterior motive to make Bitsnoop look bad? Debatable, but I'm certainly of the opinion that the BPI should remove the allegedly infringing content from Bitsnoop first before considering more draconian measures such as website blocking. Thus, blocking Bitsnoop seems premature at this stage.
Having said that, things can and do often change - KickAssTorrents used to be extremely cooperative with regards to removing torrents/search results, yet for some inexplicable reason have largely stopped cooperating with content owners and their agents.
Just over 2 years ago, torrent search engine IsoHunt was forced to implement a keyword filter to block infringing content on behalf of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and nor can it rely on safe harbour provisions provided by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 either. It's the 4th largest torrent site in the world and has been subject to a number of law suits.
IsoHunt usually act within 24 hours to disable URLs. The BPI has sent takedown requests to Google for 310,000 URLs yet if this notice posted at Chillingeffects is anything to go by, then one can presume that most of these URLs are still live. As with Bitsnoop, blocking IsoHunt seems to be a little hasty at this stage and blocking would only be appropriate if this site significantly changed its removal policy.
Some other smaller Torrent sites are also on the list. For instance, TorrentReactor is another torrent site which in my experience, has always compiled with copyright takedown requests promptly and expeditiously. In fact, TorrentReactor personally contacted my business the 'Digital Copyright Consultancy' approximately 1 year ago to ask whether I was satisfied with their abuse team's performance. The answer to that question was yes. The BPI has sent thousands of Notices to Google yet it would appear doesn't send Notices to Torrentreactor as the files are still live.
ExtraTorrent is the 5th largest torrent website in the world. They remove content quickly and efficiently. The BPI has sent close to 200,000 takedown requests to Google. Again, the files haven't been removed at source.
Monova has also been targeted by the BPI. I can report that this site removes infringing URLs on request and has been consistently cooperative for a number of years. Predictably, a quick perusal of Chillingeffects will reveal that the BPI has not removed some of the infringing Monova URLs at their source - they're still live.
Regardless of what you may think about Torrent services like the above (they almost certainly have knowledge of general infringing activity), I don't think web blocking is suitable at present particularly when they already remove infringing URLs after receiving notice of them.
Other services have also incurred the wrath of the BPI. FilesTube is a filesharing aggregator and indexes content from over 100 one-click filehosting services and pirate link sites. It currently indexes in excess of 500,000,000 files and has over 1,000,000 likes on Facebook. The filesharing search engine has the reputation as 'the go to' place if you want to find content uploaded to one-click filehosting sites.
However, whilst its main purpose is to largely index content from one-click file hosting services, they do react extremely quickly and remove infringing search results within an hour of receiving a Copyright/DMCA Notice. In fact, the Digital Copyright Consultancy has removed well over 150,000 search results from FilesTube so far. Other similar sites include Filecrop, Filetram and Rapidlibrary and all remove search results when requested. So blocking these websites in their entirety is perhaps questionable.
New Album Releases is a pirate linking site which makes money via its affiliate arrangements with various pay per click one-click file hosting services (please see a previous article by myself on Open Rights if you need an explanation of this business model) and via advertising. They have operated for a number of years. While they claim via a clumsy disclaimer that they're not responsible for uploading content to one-click filehosting sites and that they're merely a search engine, they've uploaded thousands of albums without the permission of the original content owners. Moreover, they don't remove content on request and constantly re-upload albums even when it's very apparent that the content owner wants it removed.
The one-click file hosting services they upload to are well aware that Newalbumreleases are repeat infringers yet do very little to police their servers or discourage their activities.
Why? It would be commercial suicide to discourage Newalbumreleases' pirate activity, as they're a profitable affiliate which helps to change free downloaders into paying premium members. Consequently, this gives Newalbumreleases carte blanche to re-upload content with impunity. In conclusion, I'd argue that a website block for Newalbumreleases would be more justified.
BeeMP3, Dilandau, MP3juices, MP3lemon, MP3raid and MP3skull all feature in the BPI list but what kind of sites are they? These are MP3 download/search engines that aggregate content from a wide variety of services like 4Shared, Soundcloud and one of Russia's largest social networks, Vkontakte - now called vk.com.
A couple of these search sites have no DMCA/Copyright policy and the others, make it difficult to remove content (long winded takedown forms etc). There's perhaps some justification for web blocking in this case.
Grooveshark is an online music streaming service based in the United States. It's not a stranger to controversy - a law suit by Universal in fact claimed that Grooveshark employees systematically uploaded unauthorised music to the service.As of May 2013, Grooveshark has been sued for copyright-violations by all the major music companies including Warner Music Group, EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Group, & Sony Music Entertainment. In fact, one of the suits alleged liabilities at $17 billion which seems totally outlandish.
While I can't comment on their DMCA/Copyright Procedures as I've had no experience removing content from their site, their inclusion on this list seems surprising especially considering its size, deep pockets and general visibility of its management on social networks. For example, all the key players have business LinkedIn accounts. This further development is surely very troubling for Grooveshark but I doubt they'll go down without a fight.
On the subject of blocking websites, a number of commentators have questioned its efficacy from the beginning and they perhaps have a point. For instance, research by Torrentfreak has indicated that at least 8% of all Pirate Bay traffic is now provided by proxy services.The Pirate Bay blockade has thus highlighted the problems with regards to web blocking - new domains registered, an abundance of proxy servers and numerous other circumvention techniques have been successfully used.
But even if we discount the efficiency of website blockades at the ISP level, surely an organisation such as the BPI should focus on removing content at its source and then exhausting all subsequent possible avenues before resorting to drastic measures such as website blocking? It is my contention that blocking websites entirely should be a last resort when all other options have failed.
Does BT need television to compete with other service providers? Should the owners who own the means of distribution be allowed to also own the content it streams? Wendy G explores the issue of network neutrality.
This week BT announced it would give free access for its residential broadband subscribers to its two sports channels (BT Sport 1 and BT Sport 2) plus US-based ESPN. Is this the moment the UK starts fighting, like the US, over network neutrality?
For years the received wisdom has been that the UK is too different. In both countries the legacy monopoly telecommunications supplier ran into deregulation in the mid-1980s. In the US, that began with the court-ordered break-up of AT&T, leading to the set of seven "Baby Bells", which have since merged back into three, much like the shards of the liquid metal man in Terminator 2. In the UK, it's been government policy to open up BT's network to competitors, and its behavior is closely scrutinized. That's harder to do in the US where so much happens at the state, rather than federal, level.
While both countries have large companies wishing to lock consumers into bundles that include broadband, telephone, mobile, and television, the average British Internet user who cares to look has probably dozens of choices of supplier, not all of whom buy their upstream bandwidth from BT Wholesale. The average American is lucky if they have two.
The bigger differences lie in the way television is funded and provided, partly because of the UK's entrenched public service broadcasting and partly because of geography. Given the US's size, in many areas either you have cable or a satellite dish or you don't have television at all because the nearest broadcast station is too far away. In the UK, terrestrial broadcast blankets the nation and the major broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Sky) have teamed up to offer free satellite (Freesat) and broadcast (Freeview) systems whose array of channels is entirely competitive with cable or paid satellite if you can do without the premium channels (mostly movies and sports). I cut the cord on cable a year ago in favor of Freesat plus an online subscription to the tennis tours.
Given this situation, it's not surprising if BT thinks it needs television content in order to compete effectively with Virgin and other ISPs.
In 2010, the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones asked the network neutrality question about BT when BT Retail's commercial director referred in an interview about prioritizing network traffic so that television streams would reach consumers uninterrupted. There are, Ofcom told Cellan-Jones at the time, no rules against the widespread practice of traffic shaping, and let's face it: if you're watching a video stream or making a voice call it's a lot more important to get your packets immediately and continuously than if you're loading a Web page or reading your email.
In 2011, BT's announcement of Content Connect raised similar questions; that wholesale service was, again, intended to speed delivery of streaming video by using local servers - which sounds like the kind of content caching that goes on all over the place.
For me, what raised more questions was BT's announcement in June 2012 that it had paid £738 million for the rights to 38 Premier League football games and then in February 2013 that it had acquired ESPN's UK and Irish channels. These channels are the basis of BT Sport, which will broadcast a load of football, in direct competition with Sky (and, they tell me, some women's tennis). We are now talking about the country's most significant telecommunications infrastructure provider competing directly with other companies whose content it carries.
Accordingly, this is the announcement that to me is the serious one. The really vital thing in ensuring network neutrality is not banning practices that speed service but in avoiding giving dominant suppliers leverage over their competitors or incentives to break it. Otherwise, you get discriminatory service - exactly what the EU is investigating Google for. This is the classic first principle of antitrust law: the owners of the means of distribution should not be allowed to also own the content that streams through it.
Two of the best-known cases under the US's 1890 Sherman Act illustrate the point perfectly: the break-ups of the movie studios and of Standard Oil. In the former, the movie studios were required to divest themselves of theater chains; in the latter, the company was broken up into dozens of smaller ones. As in the AT&T break-up, some of those smaller ones - Exxon and Mobil - have merged back together, but by the time they did the landscape had substantially altered.
In some of these cases you could argue that regulatory action was rendered unnecessary because new technologies were about to present them with new forms of competition. The AT&T break-up was in 1984 and separated local and long distance reveues; by 1990 the Internet would have begun threatening the latter anyway - although law professor Susan Crawford argues that the subsequent mergers have undone the break-up's competition benefits. Similarly, Paramount Pictures' break-up in 1949 was rapidly followed by the challenge of television.
Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of earlier columns in this series. Stories about the border wars between cyberspace and real life are posted occasionally during the week at the net.wars Pinboard - or follow on Twitter.
Image: untitled by Jonas CC BY 2.0
Aaron Stein looks at the importance of social media during the protests in Turkey.
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