November 30, 2010

Announcing Project IDONS: Internet Distributed Open Name System

IDONS Discussion Forums

Blog Update (December 9, 2010): IDONS (Internet Distributed Open Name System) Discussion Forums Available - Your Participation is Invited



Greetings. As regular readers know, I am a vocal critic of ICANN's plan for a massive expansion of new Top Level Domains (TLDs), and of the increasing abuse of the domain name system both for the profit of the "domain-industrial complex" and for Internet censorship and control purposes -- among other related concerns.

Recently, in Take a Tiny First Step Toward Controlling Your Internet Addressing Destiny, I noted:

"An alternative Internet name to address mapping system -- fully distributed, open source, fault-tolerant, secure, flexible, and not subject to centralized constraints, meddling, and censorship -- will take significant time to develop, and a long transition period for deployment."

And I asked readers to take part in some initial experimental activities (thanks to all who responded).

What I didn't say then -- in the hope of having this project a bit farther along before any public announcements -- is that I've been talking to my colleagues and others about this issue for quite some time, and I believe it's fair to say that we've agreed that it is not only necessary to move beyond the current DNS and naming environment, but that such a project is entirely practical -- if managed in an organized and reasonable manner.

Ad hoc attempts to bypass the existing system (such as those newly proposed by Pirate Bay) are likely to create fragmentation and confusion, and therefore ironically tend to further entrench the existing system.

But, even though it may seem on its face like suggesting that the electric grid move from A.C. to D.C. throughout, a fundamental evolution in the way that we handle names and addresses on the Internet is an idea whose time has come.

The scope of the project on which I've been working, which I call IDONS - Internet Distributed Open Name System -- is in early stages, but would ultimately be significant both in terms of technology and time. It may perhaps be reasonably compared with the scale of IPv6 deployment in some ways.

For reference only, since working documents have evolved beyond this, the original set of objectives for IDONS included:

- Fully distributed

- No centralized control

- Fault tolerant

- Open source

- All communications encrypted

- Local databases optionally encrypted

- Extensible and expandable to any foreseeable size and loads

- Finite, deterministic time for “settlement” of new name/identifier registration requests across the entire IDONS space

- Gateways during extended transition phase for interoperation with non-upgraded network segments, clients, etc.

- Decoupling of locally-defined (e.g. human-meaningful) names and related addressing elements (aliases, etc.), from actual “random string” network identifier objects and constructs

- Minimal constraints on name selections and changes

- No central registries

- No registrars

- No fees nor charges necessary for any name or address operations across IDONS

There's a whole lot more involved of course -- both technical and nontechnical. Nor do I believe that such a project can succeed without serious community support and significant funding. Like I said above, ad hoc won't fly for this.

Enough for now.

Interested parties are invited to contact idons@vortex.com.

Thanks.

--Lauren--

IDONS Discussion Forums

Blog Update (December 9, 2010): IDONS (Internet Distributed Open Name System) Discussion Forums Available - Your Participation is Invited

Posted by Lauren at 03:58 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein


Internet Realities: Why There May Be Many More Wikileaks

Blog Update (December 4, 2010): Wikileaks Saga Reveals Governments' Hypocrisy, Deep Fear of Internet


Greetings. Literally the entire world seems abuzz about the latest Wikileaks mass dump of diplomatic cables and other data, and while most of the material appears to be "merely" embarrassing (not life-threatening as some officials insist), the analysis of such content is way above my pay grade and I'm certainly willing to let others make those detailed determinations in the long run. Nor will I concern myself here with the possible criminal culpability of those individuals involved.

But this entire incident -- even more so than with previous Wikileaks disclosures -- seems to point out at least one inescapable fact: Governments really do not understand the realities of the Internet.

The current controversy can't even reasonably be called a technology breakdown. It appears rather to be very much a man-made policy and human factors failure.

By placing so much sensitive material online en masse on SIPRNET (even if all was below TS [Top Secret] -- classification) with so many users having access (I've seen numbers ranging from 100's of 1000's to a couple of million!) the stage was already set for this incident. The fact that it was apparently possible for relatively low-level individuals to bulk download this data onto (for example) "Lady Gaga" CD-RW discs only adds to the general sense of policy ineptness in this regard.

Well, the government wanted to widely share intelligence data post-9/11, and it certainly ended up being widely shared, even though way beyond the originally intended scope. But given the systems and policies apparently in place, it would have been something of a miracle if such a disclosure did not eventually occur!

And in the age of the Internet, you don't usually get second chances. Governments tend to love the Net when it serves their purposes -- like the way the U.S. has begun using the centralized domain name system as a global asset forfeiture mechanism in advance of (or even in the absence of) prosecutions related to intellectual property disputes.

But the old "live by the sword, die by the sword" adage still applies. Once "interesting" information has "leaked" in any digital form, it will likely see global dissemination and will widely persist essentially forever -- despite "Whack-a-Mole" attempts at after the fact control.

Gone are the days when a few whispered entreaties (or threats) to a limited number of newspaper publishers and radio/television networks might serve to bottle up, or otherwise limit, the widespread public distribution of associated information.

This truth makes the scenario surrounding the SIPRNET/Wikileaks situation all the more bizarre. Knowing that any single individual could access so much highly sensitive data by themselves, and then have the means to globally distribute it (even without the assistance of Wikileaks), how could such an "intelligence" sharing structure have been allowed to exist? Is this real life or an unaired episode from the old Maxwell Smart Get Smart spy spoof TV series?

There's yet another lesson here, too. Governments around the world are pushing for built-in wiretapping and encryption controls for the Internet, so that authorities can monitor whatever communications they please, whenever they wish. Not only does this fundamentally weaken the security of the Internet, but it also creates the specter (as has already been learned the hard way by officials in Europe in relation to telephone taps) of embarrassing mass information disclosures from leaked data obtained through these mandated backdoor mechanisms.

Wikileaks may be only the beginning. The Internet remains the quintessential tool -- amoral in and of itself -- but reflecting the morality and ethics of both its users and abusers. Information can never again be effectively controlled from "on high" as in "the good old days." Yes, attempts at censorship will persist -- people can be harassed, arrested, jailed, and even executed. But censorship itself can never be very effective in an Internet context -- even purpose-built censorship regimes as in China have learned this lesson.

The sooner that we all realize this -- individuals, commercial firms, governments, and everyone else -- the sooner we can come to terms not only with the realities of the present, but of the likely near future as well.

Many will yearn for days of yore never to be seen again. But the Internet has changed the world -- both in positive and negative ways, and the Wikileaks story is but one aspect of the resulting complexities and possibilities.

This is a truth that must eventually be understood especially by those persons who most detest (even for what they believe to be laudable motives) the communications freedoms of the Internet. The alternative is their making the same sorts of mistakes again and again, often to the detriment of society at large.

You don't have to like this reality. But either accept it or be left behind.

As Maxwell Smart would say, "Sorry about that, Chief!"

--Lauren--

Blog Update (December 4, 2010): Wikileaks Saga Reveals Governments' Hypocrisy, Deep Fear of Internet

Posted by Lauren at 12:26 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein


November 24, 2010

How to *Bypass* the Blocking of Google TV by Hulu and Other Networks

Greetings. You're stuffed with turkey and pumpkin pie. The in-laws just noticed a shiny Google TV box -- such as the Logitech Revue -- sitting over by your big screen.

"Let's watch Hulu!" they all yell in unison. You scowl. As I've explained in The Stream of Fear: The Real Reason They're Blocking Google TV and various linked postings, Hulu, CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, and a growing list of other TV networks are selectively, obnoxiously, and inappropriately discriminating against Google TV buyers by blocking the online versions of their full shows -- both free and pay -- from Google TV units. Yet the shows will play just fine on a conventional PC sitting on the other side of the same room.

Since this blocking is apparently based on the Flash player ID embedded within Google TV itself, there is currently no reasonable direct way to "trick" services into treating Google TV in an appropriate manner -- that is, just like any PC running a browser and Flash.

But -- and this is the good news -- there is another approach to watching these "forbidden" services on GTV, and while it isn't free, and won't be appropriate for everyone, it is remarkably quick and simple to set up, and extremely functional -- assuming you have a reasonably powerful Windows-based PC available somewhere on the same LAN.

The goal is to let a local PC be the "official" client that is "viewing" the network TV service, then to have that PC pass the data along to Google TV. It's somewhat roundabout, and wouldn't be necessary if the networks weren't hell bent on treating potential viewers so badly, but a useful approach that works for the time being is the goal at this point. While it's not impossible that this method will also be attacked by the networks, the "use your own computer to transcode" technique presents some interesting challenges to blocking from both a technical and legal perspective.

There are various software packages -- free and pay -- that can provide transcoding (conversion) between different audio and video formats, then stream the results to playback devices, including in some cases smartphones.

In the Windows world, Orb, TVersity, TVMOBiLi, even venerable VLC and native Windows 7 itself have various capabilities in these regards, some providing compliance (more or less) with the DLNA media sharing protocol, which also provides for sharing of locally-based media (e.g. local video and audio files) across various devices.

But in my testing of the packages listed above in conjunction with Google TV, they all failed my tests in one respect or another.

So I was very pleased to discover that one package/service in particular -- PlayOn -- not only passed my testing regime with flying colors, but far surpassed my expectations by providing a user experience specifically tailored for Google TV. See below for a video demo.

By running PlayOn, the Google TV user can access full-length Hulu programing, plus the programming of most of the other blocked networks (either directly through PlayOn provided interfaces and scripts/plugins, or via the PlayOn transcoding of Hulu itself, which carries programming for many networks).

At least in my tests, display quality on Google TV via PlayOn was generally very good. There were variations and occasional glitches related to the source video/audio quality, Net traffic conditions, and things that go bump in the night of course -- and not all programs appear to be accessible at any given time. But both 4:3 and 16:9 video displayed fine, with program access via a quickly traversed series of menus.

Random access video seek capabilities of the current PlayOn system are limited, but I didn't find this to be a troublesome issue in normal use. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that PlayOn also was able to transcode and stream to Google TV virtually every video file in my collection, across a very wide and somewhat eclectic range of formats and encoding rates.

It takes a fair bit of computing horsepower to pull this off successfully, since the video transcoding is all being done on the local PC, which essentially becomes a local Web server for Google TV to access. Network programming flows from the Net to the PC, is transcoded, then feeds directly to Google TV. On my 2 Ghz dual core system, typical transcoded streaming seemed to take about 20-40% of CPU while viewing was in progress and didn't represent a strain.

Setup of PlayOn was a snap. After hassling in various ways with the other packages I tried, PlayOn was a breath of fresh air -- though while I could view the program menus directly via the Google TV (in this case Logitech Revue) Media Player, I was unable to access video in this manner.

Not a problem. Simply use the Google TV Chrome browser and head over to gtv.playon.tv, and a Google TV interface appears that provides direct local access to network video streams and your local video files -- clean and neat.

The list of devices beyond Google TV that reportedly work with PlayOn is a long one -- Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, iPhone, iPad, and various others, including specifically Android coming up soon I'm told (I have not yet tested PlayOn under Android 2.2 Froyo using the standard Flash player).

Anyway, PlayOn is working like a charm with Google TV on my Logitech Revue. And suddenly most of those blocked networks just ... well ... aren't really blocked anymore.

PlayOn has a two week free trial, then is either about $20/yr, or an alternative one-time fee of about $60. (These are apparently sale prices in effect until November 30, after that subscriptions go to around $40 for first year -- $20 for following years -- or about $80 as the alternative one-time payment).

Is PlayOn worth these various prices? That depends on your estimates of how long the blocking battle between Google TV and the networks will continue, the value of PlayOn to you both for Google TV and perhaps for streaming to other hardware as well, and your guesstimates as to the potential for network blocking of PlayOn and the longevity of PlayOn itself. If nothing else, if you're interested, at least consider giving the free trial a try. If it works for you, it's hard to see how you can go far wrong with a $20 subscription for a year (if you buy before the end of this month) even with the rapid rate of change we're all facing.

If you do decide to trial PlayOn with Google TV, here are a few operational suggestions based on my testing with the Logitech Revue Google TV unit.

On the General Settings page of PlayOn, I recommend unchecking the "Resuming Playback" Enable box. If this is left checked, the server may continue transcoding of a stream after you are no longer watching, in the hope that you might want to continue later. Since this can result in unnecessary load on the PC if this isn't your typical viewing procedure, unchecking the option will avoid this behavior.

Also, be sure you leave the Google TV Chrome browser User Agent at its Default setting. If you've changed it, the gtv.playon.tv site may not recognize your configuration properly.

Finally, when backing "up" the menu tree, I obtained very consistent results in most cases using the Google TV keyboard dedicated "back" key rather than clicking on the backarrow present as part of the PlayOn pages.

Again, this should all be utterly unnecessary of course. While PlayOn provides a host of capabilities beyond streaming to Google TV, it should be possible to watch whichever network you choose on GTV just like anyone at an ordinary PC.

But for now, PlayOn does appear to offer a practical approach that works. And in today's Internet video world, that's definitely not a trivial accomplishment.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

--Lauren--

Posted by Lauren at 10:29 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein


November 23, 2010

TSA Abuses, Dental X-Rays, Children -- and How to Lie About Radiation

Greetings. Over on my PRIVACY Forum lately, I've been noting and discussing the barrage of nightmare revelations regarding Transportation Security Administration (TSA) abuses of airline passengers, both via their recently deployed body scanning x-ray units, and the literally obscene new "pat-down" procedures. I won't repeat those items here -- you've probably heard most of them by now, including stories of how passengers attempting to videotape these abuses have been detained and threatened with arrest, been ordered to delete their recordings -- and so on.

The level of disgust and anger related to the TSA situation has been rising rapidly.

I've discussed the issues associated with body scanners several times before in this blog, e.g. Fun With Body Scanner Images -- and Cutting Through the Body Scanner Bull. When I first began reporting on this technology years ago, I actually received email from persons who didn't believe that such systems either existed or that they'd ever actually be widely deployed.

But while trying to get to sleep last night, thinking about this horrendous TSA mess along its various vectors -- everything from the Bush DHS head who pushed body scanners and then went to work for the manufacturer, to the useless TSA groping, to the arguments about radiation levels -- I suddenly thought about a rather horrifying article in today's New York Times that I read last night: "The Radiation Boom": "Radiation Worries for Children in Dentists' Chairs."

The upshot of the article is that dental x-ray levels are now becoming a concern -- not only because so many dentists still use old, slow x-ray films despite faster films being available, but due to the rapid deployment of heavily promoted (and very expensive) "cone-beam CT scanner" x-ray devices being used both by dentists (and especially orthodontists) that result in far higher radiation exposures. (This device, as far as I know, is completely distinct from "single-shot" digital dental x-rays, which I believe result in far less radiation exposure than either film type dental x-ray.)

This topic should be of concern to everyone -- you should read the article. It's of special note if you have children, since they are particularly sensitive to radiation.

How does this all relate to the current TSA mess? It occurred to me that many of the claims regarding the purported safety of the x-ray body scanners compare the dosage to dental x-rays in one way or another. And yet it's clear that there's no real telling what the dosage from "a dental x-ray" per se really is in any generic sense. In fact, there are claims (you'll see in that article) that a manufacturer is grossly understating (by hundreds of times) the levels associated with their equipment -- and they apparently refused to discuss the matter with the Times.

So what do generic comparisons with dental x-ray levels really mean? Nothing. Nada. They're useless.

And this is all a symptom of the lax regulation of radiation related equipment in this country. You've probably heard the recent stories about massive radiation overdoses from both CT scans and radiation treatments at major U.S. hospitals, both of a sort that one would assume properly designed equipment would have made utterly impossible. Even when patients suffered burns and lost hair, it took ages for anyone to make the connection -- at least one patient suffered a horrible death as a result -- as these errors in some cases continued for months or years undetected.

This is in medical settings. Relatively clean environments, equipment operated by trained professionals of one degree or another.

The companies that manufacture such equipment have everyone by the proverbial balls -- including the government which seems to have a historically duplicitous attitude toward such systems -- just think of all the blatant "safety" lies told to the public in the name of national security related to nuclear weapons tests and manufacturing-related radiation contaminations of people and property historically.

And to make matters worse, typically it's impossible to prove whether any given radiation exposure directly related to cancers down the line. It can take years or decades for these to develop, and nobody is really keeping track of radiation dosage levels for anyone who isn't a medical or nuclear worker -- and even for them it's only tracked to some degree within their work environments.

Put this all together, and think about all of those backscatter x-ray units in airport terminals, being operated as if they were popcorn machines by -- frankly -- unskilled personnel.

TSA is begging people not to refuse to go through the x-ray units. Their argument lately appears to be more about not disrupting air travel than about catching terrorists (TSA now apparently considers the information about whether their x-ray units and groping procedures have ever actually stopped a terrorist to be a state secret!)

Here's my bottom line opinion on all this. You may not like it.

Given the current state of information, research, and "validation," if you voluntarily go through those x-ray backscatter units, you are approximating the behavior of a fool. It's your choice, of course. But if you allow your young children to go through the units, you are, I believe, worse than a fool.

Sorry to be so direct about this. I'm sure this will upset some people -- perhaps some of my long-time readers. But you know that I always try to shoot straight regarding all of the matters that I address in these missives.

Ethically, I couldn't discuss this issue any less strongly.

Take care, all.

--Lauren--

Posted by Lauren at 10:26 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein


November 19, 2010

Take a Tiny First Step Toward Controlling Your Internet Addressing Destiny

Greetings. ICANN is preparing to inflict hundreds, and then thousands, of new top-level domains (TLDs) onto the global community of Internet users, which will serve mainly to sow confusion among consumers, and award vast monetary treasures to the tiny set of entities poised to rake in the dough as the masters of the existing domain name system (see: It's Time to Stop ICANN's Top-Level Domain (TLD) Lunacy!).

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is forging ahead -- despite the pleas of experts and major Internet firms -- with COICA legislation, that would leverage the domain name registration system into a tool for global Internet censorship.

An alternative Internet name to address mapping system -- fully distributed, open source, fault-tolerant, secure, flexible, and not subject to centralized constraints, meddling, and censorship -- will take significant time to develop, and a long transition period for deployment.

But I'd like to offer a modest suggestion to perhaps help start down this important path.

Please take a look at:

http://www.vortex.com/{NETWORKINFO}.txt

Or visit the alternate filename link for configurations behaving in complex or problematic ways in the presence of braces or capitalized filenames:

http://www.vortex.com/=networkinfo=.txt

The five non-comment, non-blank lines in this file (domain name, name servers, contact address), represent the crucial data (other than more detailed contact information, which could be easily added) that anyone on the planet needs to locate my associated Internet servers. Virtually everyone with a Web site pays a domain name registrar -- year after year -- to maintain this sort of largely static information, while simultaneously enabling the associated registries as centralized points for controlling access to sites, shutting down sites, and perhaps very soon for broad site censorship regimes.

We can do much better -- and we should get started now. There are myriad issues involved, including some formidable "chicken and egg" dilemmas associated with site discoverability. Security, authentication, validation, and a wide range of policy concerns also come into play.

I believe that all of these issues and problems are capable of being worked and solved. The result could ultimately be an Internet naming/addressing ecosystem that will be far more extensible, egalitarian, economical, secure, and resistant to centralized pressures related both to site naming identifiers and the means of network address mapping.

So here's my specific suggestion. If you're so inclined, and you operate a Web site, please consider placing a publicly-readable plain text file at the root of your site, named:

{NETWORKINFO}.txt

or

=networkinfo=.txt

containing the appropriate data for your site, modeled after my example file as noted above. Be sure to list your domain name, all name servers, and at least the technical contact email address.

Consider this as a first tiny step toward freeing your site from central control -- more a demonstration of potential interest than anything else at this stage, but still a potentially useful exercise.

I strongly recommend making this address info page discoverable by search engines. In my own case, I've created a visible, home page "Net Address Info" link to the file, but sitemaps and other mechanisms can also be used to assure that search engines will find your "Network Information" file. Try to keep the file updated with any changes to your name servers or associated data.

If you want to drop me a line via email when you create such a file for your site, that would be appreciated.

Just a tiny experimental step. Only the merest initial flicker against the darkness, as we try to make the Internet better for everyone, not only the privileged few.

After all, it's always darkest before the dawn. Even on the Internet.

Thanks.

--Lauren--

Blog Update (November 30, 2010): Announcing Project IDONS: Internet Distributed Open Name System

Posted by Lauren at 12:42 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein


November 15, 2010

Flustered Radio Host Hangs Up on Me During "Google Interview"

Greetings. I've long since lost track of how many radio interviews I've participated in over the years. On conservative "talk radio" in particular, the topics usually involve controversial subjects where the host (and often much of the audience) don't necessarily agree with my viewpoints.

However, I've never been interviewed by a radio host in other than a polite and cordial manner -- until this evening.

Earlier today I received an e-mail from a San Diego AM talk radio host claiming his show was by far the lead early evening talk show on San Diego radio, wanting to have a conversational interview without listener calls (I happen to like listener calls, but either way is fine with me).

Topic: Google and Street View Wi-Fi privacy issues. My opinion on this subject is pretty well known -- I believe the whole controversy has been blown way out of proportion.

Anyway, whenever possible I agree to these interview requests. I think it's important to try get beyond the "preaching to the choir" effect that tends to often be the case with blogs, Twitter, and such -- but radio is one way to do it, especially with audiences who may not normally hear from folks directly involved in technology policy issues.

As is my habit when going on a show with a host that I haven't spoken with before, I listened to some of his material online and quickly realized that this would likely be what I term a somewhat "aggressive" interview, rather than a more "laid-back" one. You have to be more forceful in your responses in such interviews to avoid being "steamrolled" by the host, but that's all part of the game. No problem.

I've always been treated professionally in these live interviews -- even when the host had a polar opposite point of view -- so I was quite surprised when this evening's host became flustered very early during our conversation, melted down on-air, and simply hung up on me (though he continued to vent his upset during the remainder of the thirteen minute segment that went on to include callers).

But it's more amusing to listen to the segment yourself. This guy is a fascinating exemplar of the quintessential Google Hater with a Capital H.

Be sure not to miss the caller who diverges onto the topics of smart gas meter conspiracies and secret plans for a Google real-time spy satellite!

Such ridiculousness aside, the essence of the situation was encapsulated just after the host dumped me, when he told his audience, "I'm just not interested in a conversation with someone who defends Google."

So grab some popcorn, and listen to the segment yourself (This is an "audio-only" YouTube item.)

One interview I won't forget. Take care, all.

--Lauren--


Posted by Lauren at 09:21 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein


Facebook's New Chat/Email Feature Apparently Records Everything You Say

Greetings. Based on preliminary information I heard from the Facebook launch announcement today for their new "chat/email" system (Facebook keeps insisting that it isn't really email), users will not have the ability to declare chats or related conversations to be "off the record" -- everything will apparently be recorded. Individual users will have the ability to archive or delete their own copies of transcripts, but it appears that there is explicitly not a functionality similar to Google's "off the record" chat feature, which permits users to declare that their conversations with given individuals should not be routinely preserved. "It just didn't make sense for us," were pretty much the words that Zuckerberg used in response to a question on this topic.

We'll have to wait for more info, but this could be a major privacy problem in the making.

--Lauren--

Posted by Lauren at 11:22 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein


November 13, 2010

Bulletin: Domain Exploitation Society Celebrates "Swinging" New Top-Level Domains

Frostbite Falls, Minn. (ZAP) -- The Minnesota-based Society for Leveraged Internet Mercenary Exploitation Domains (SLIMED) expressed enthusiastic satisfaction with leading domain registrar Go Daddy's decision to feature the new ".co" [sic] Top-Level Domain (TLD) as the default on its home page today, reducing to "trash" status the old, obsolete, useless, silly, obscene, disgraceful, painful, purulent, and less expensive ".com" TLD that all consumers already understand.

"This decision by Go Daddy to emphasize .co [sic] signals the real beginning of the TLD gold rush -- with literally thousands of new TLDs promised over the next few years by Internet Control Authorities," said Boris Puteo, SLIMED media affairs and financial director, at an interview today during a celebratory gala at the ultra-exclusive "Masa" restaurant in New York City.

"TLDs are like gold," said Puteo, "even better than gold in fact, since you can't force people to buy bullion, but you've got everyone over a barrel when it comes to protective domain registrations!"

Puteo refuted claims that the coming deluge of new TLDs will carry enormous costs and confuse consumers, while opening avenues for vast numbers of new phishing scams and spam attacks, without bringing any real positive value to ordinary Internet users.

"If people can't figure out the difference between .co [sic] and .com, they're just, well, sic [sic!] in the head. Why can't these bleeding heart, pencil-necked geeks stop rocking the boat, and just get back into their cubicles and their damned programming -- oh excuuuse me, I mean softwaaare engineeeering!" said Mr. Puteo, "Just leave the moola magic to us!"

SLIMED's Puteo also noted that an illuminating and very short new YouTube video was now available for viewing -- showing the Top-Level Domain consideration procedure in action, and incontrovertibly demonstrating the complex, serious, lucid, and deliberative process involved in TLD approvals.

"Top-Level Domains really swing! And while I probably shouldn't be telling you this yet, SLIMED is hoping to make a deal with Burundi so that we can sell ".bi" TLD domains to everyone who swings both ways! God, I love the Internet!" Puteo added.

- - -

--Lauren--

Posted by Lauren at 07:04 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein


November 12, 2010

The Stream of Fear: The Real Reason They're Blocking Google TV

Blog Update (November 24, 2010): How to *Bypass* the Blocking of Google TV by Hulu and Other Networks



Greetings. In How They're Blocking Google TV and Users as Toast: The Blocking of Google TV, I discussed some of the technical details of online networks' blocking of Google TV (GTV), and some of the reasons why such blocking is unacceptable.

But I haven't really talked about why the networks (Hulu, CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX, SyFy, and others) are engaging in this discriminatory process in the first place.

Google for its part continues a diplomatic "content owners control who views their content" mantra. As I've previously discussed, this is an understandable tack. After all, if such disputes can be settled in mutually agreeable ways, the hassle factor is greatly reduced.

However, even when such agreements are possible, they may also serve to validate unfair and/or discriminatory practices that are normally unacceptable in other contexts of our lives -- and that can spell trouble for the Internet and its users in the long run.

What the broadcast networks are doing to Google TV reminds me of Lucy snatching the football away from Charlie Brown at the last second of his kick attempt.

More ominously, think of the landlord who was all set to rent over the phone, but upon meeting you and seeing your skin color, or your piercings and tattoos, or whatever -- suddenly turns out to have rented to someone else.

Now obviously I'm not elevating the blocking of Google TV to the level of traditional civil rights concerns -- but there's an important principle at work here -- the right of consumers not be held hostage by corporate fear mongering.

And fear is at the heart of Google TV blocking.

Google TV buyers are being blocked not simply because the device permits viewing on big screens -- you can already do that with many PCs. And contrary to popular speculation, I don't believe that the generally lower ad rates associated with the online versions of shows, and concerns about cable and U-verse, et al., subscribers "cutting the cord," is at the heart of the matter either.

If such were really the main concerns, they would apply equally to conventional, non-Google TV online viewers, and blocking wouldn't be directed mainly at GTV.

Market share concerns don't make sense either, especially for already compatible hardware/software and free viewing, rendering nonsensical the claim of at least one network that they're blocking since Google TV represents "too small a market to support." That's just bull.

No, it's about fear. Raw, pure fear. It's about seeing the old broadcast TV business models starting to drift away, and floundering around trying to preserve the status quo as much as possible -- in the process pounding sharp sticks into their viewers' eyes.

There are murmurs that the broadcast networks just don't trust Google. They whisper off the record their fears that Google will devise some new monetization system that will put the networks at a disadvantage. Of course, any PC or browser could be used to display ads or monetize, not just Google TV -- but Google is always an attractive target in the best traditions of "whipping boy" logic.

Well I have news. The traditional broadcasters are already at a disadvantage. A big one. A growing one. The world is changing around them rapidly. Their exclusivity as major video providers is slipping away like grains of sand from a closed fist.

What really concerns the broadcast networks is the ramifications of Google's mission statement:

"Google’s mission is to organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful."

Those fifteen words trigger awesome fear in many quarters. They are world-changing in effect, and the source both of Google's greatness and the various controversies that arise from some Google projects -- all aspects of the firm that I've been discussing for years.

The reason why organized information, and universal access to information, is so scary and disruptive of old models, is that with access and organization comes equality. Not always, and not automatically, but information is a necessary foundational aspect of equality -- and restrictions on information have been used throughout history to control and subjugate.

Google TV terrifies the mainstream industry because, really for the first time, it demonstrates the positive impact on consumers that comes with providing essentially equal access both to conventional television viewing and Internet video.

Searches on Google TV treat both of these traditionally separate media as a unified universe, making it just as easy to find and view a video from a vast array of Internet sources as it is to locate and watch a program on cable channel 300 -- at least assuming that the potential viewer isn't being blocked!

Artificial distinctions -- the results of technology, policies, and politics -- between "The Broadcasters" and "The Net" suddenly fade away. The range of convenient, seamless viewing possibilities is enormously expanded, even including the ability to find videos based on information in their captions.

Keeping in mind that most people receive their conventional TV and Internet over the same physical cables anyway, this level of organization, access, usefulness, and most of all equality, is arriving none too soon.

Therein lies the heart of the matter. The old guard of broadcasting -- as is typically the case -- wants to preserve its advantage at all costs -- even when this means essentially telling potential viewers to go jump into a lake for -- horrors! -- even daring to try use Google TV.

In our next installment on this topic, we'll explore some possible paths forward, including potential ways that Internet users may wish to consider fighting back.

--Lauren--

Blog Update (November 24, 2010): How to *Bypass* the Blocking of Google TV by Hulu and Other Networks

Posted by Lauren at 11:44 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein


November 09, 2010

"Uncrackable" G2 Android Phone Successfully and Permanently Rooted -- and Why This Matters!

Greetings. Almost exactly a month ago, in New Android Phone (Falsely) Accused of Containing a "Malicious Root Kit" -- I noted the situation with the new T-Mobile G2 Android phone (aka HTC Vision), where a new protection scheme had been employed by the manufacturer to (try) prevent "rooting" (also known as "jailbreaking"). I also expressed my hope that "permanent rooting" efforts in progress would be successful.

As I discussed, I view having complete control over my cell phones as being important for privacy and security reasons -- and in terms of overall user freedoms as well. A "locked-down" device cannot be relied upon to run the systems and applications of users' choosing. And while there are certainly those persons who disagree with me on this point, I consider these freedoms to be extremely important in an age of ever increasing and widely distributed technologies.

So I'm very pleased to report that as of this morning, the G2 has been successfully and permanently rooted, opening the door to specialized applications and the running of the excellent CyanogenMod enhanced systems. Incredible work guys!

As it turns out, it was quickly established that the G2 was not using a firmware rewrite system, but rather was employing the protected mode of JEDEC Embedded MMC memory (eMMC). Temporary rooting of the device was possible from early on since the underlying Linux kernel was caching changes related to user root attempts, but the eMMC protection mechanism was preventing those changes from ever being successfully written to flash system memory -- so all such changes were lost at the next boot of the phone.

For the last month I've been lurking on various Web sites and a key IRC channel, watching a core group of dedicated hackers (and I'm using "hackers" in the original, positive sense of the word), as they gradually teased their way into the phone's systems -- truly a joy to watch. One individual in particular, with a "handle" that would be recognized by any fan of the original "Star Trek" series, deserves special commendation indeed.

The level of technical expertise exhibited by this group is extraordinary. And no matter how much you think you know about these systems, it's definitely a learning experience to view these reverse-engineering efforts in progress. (By the way, did you know that many modern cell phones' radio modems can be controlled via a superset of the ancient -- more than 30 years old! -- Hayes modem "AT" command set? Yep. True innovation can live a long life indeed!)

It seems likely that this same basic rooting technique will be useful -- at least for now -- when dealing with some other new HTC Android phones hitting the streets.

I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to root their cell phones. There are operational risks in doing so -- such as the possibility of "bricking" your phone (making it nonoperational) if you screw up. Nor does everyone need the ability to run the sorts of applications and systems that require rooting.

That being said, I do consider having the choice of running such software to be an important one, and the concept of devices that lock out user choice is frankly offensive to me.

The conflicting world views represented by various flavors of closed systems -- vs. open systems -- will certainly trigger continuing struggles, not just in the mobile device world, but in technology generally as we move toward ever more complex and "cloud-aware" systems.

But to distill this all down to a simple sound bite, as far as consumers of technology are concerned:

"Open Wins."

--Lauren--

Posted by Lauren at 11:42 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein


November 06, 2010

Update: How They're Blocking Google TV (with Screenshots)

Blog Update (November 24, 2010): How to *Bypass* the Blocking of Google TV by Hulu and Other Networks



Greetings. In Users as Toast: The Blocking of Google TV, I strongly criticized the blocking of the new Google TV (GTV) products by a range of network TV Internet services. In particular, I suggested that such selective blocking of specific hardware devices for other than legitimate technical reasons was not only inappropriate, but also should likely be considered illegal.

The inanity of this situation is further enhanced by the fact that users can display fullscreen images from these online networks directly from PCs equipped with HDMI ports (or via inexpensive DVI to HDMI adapters). So obviously the real issue "in play" isn't the simple blocking of large screen video displays per se.

A number of persons have asked me for more detailed information about how Google TV blocking is actually occurring. Let's look at a couple of preliminary examples today (many thanks to Google for providing me with a Google TV unit for these explorations and experiments). Links below point to associated screenshots and photos.

For all of these cases, a conventional Windows 7 PC and a Google TV box (Logitech Revue) -- both running a Chrome browser -- were connected to the same Ethernet switch, and accessed the Internet via the same NAT'd address during the test periods.

In practice, blocking of GTV is occurring at two different levels.

Hulu's GTV blocking clearly shows this in action. Upon first accessing the site, the GTV user immediately receives a Google TV We've noticed you using Google TV warning box, not presented to other users. It is possible to click through this box and browse the site, though that's basically sucker bait as we'll see.

This initial check by Hulu is apparently based on the Browser ID string (user agent). Google TV currently identifies by default as:

"Mozilla/5.0 (X11; U; Linux i686; en-US) AppleWebKit/533.4 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/5.0.375.127 Large Screen Safari/533.4 GoogleTV/b39953"

However, it is possible to change this ID through the GTV settings dialogue, either to a generic Chrome browser ID, or to a custom ID of the user's choice.

Switching to a generic string causes Hulu to no longer present the opening Google TV blocking notice box at all -- but don't get your hopes up.

By the way, it's worth noting at this point that some other sites also make use of the Browser ID to present GTV-specific user experiences, but not necessarily for blocking purposes. Crackle, for example, routes GTV users to a richer display format, but apparently makes all of the same content available.

Now as it turns out, browser client info is not the primary blocking mechanism being employed by Hulu, NBC, and other sites engaging in GTV blocking.

On all affected sites I've tested so far, the serious blocking occurs during the process of Flash video playback startup, where an "unsupported device error" will appear. Here's Hulu showing playback blocking on GTV. Here's GTV blocking from NBC and just for comparison, Windows playback success for NBC.

The trigger appears likely to be the Flash version ID embedded within the Google TV player -- contrast this with the Flash version ID information on the companion Windows PC.

Both Flash players are at functional level 10.1, further suggesting that the blocking of GTV is not motivated by a lack of technical playback capabilities. We can demonstrate that Flash playback is involved by calling up the standard Flash settings dialogue on the PC.

Unlike the browser client information, the GTV Flash player ID data cannot be reasonably altered by users to bypass Google TV blockades.

Imagine the protests that would ensue if Internet services arbitrarily blocked video only to Internet Explorer or Firefox browsers! Or if Hulu and the other networks decided they'd refuse to stream video to HP and Dell computers because those manufacturers hadn't made deals with the services to the latter's liking.

I'm not a lawyer, but this appears to be an utterly scandalous situation crying out for legal investigations. If this sort of invidious behavior on the part of Internet video services is allowed to stand in the case of Google TV, it will be difficult to argue against a veritable stampede of similar unacceptable practices by these and other services, aimed at an ever broadening scope of hardware and software systems, ISPs, and of course Internet users themselves.

This really isn't about Google TV or even Google itself for that matter. It's about the right of Internet users to access Internet services of their choosing -- in legal manners using technically compatible equipment of their choice -- without inappropriate and discriminatory interference of the sort we're seeing deployed against GTV.

Today it's Google TV that's being blocked. Tomorrow, you may be viewing these same sorts of blocking messages on an array of other devices -- including even your home PCs.

And that's a future that none of us should ever have to see.

--Lauren--

Blog Update (November 24, 2010): How to *Bypass* the Blocking of Google TV by Hulu and Other Networks

Posted by Lauren at 04:28 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein


November 03, 2010

It's Time to Stop ICANN's Top-Level Domain (TLD) Lunacy!

Greetings. I'm going to keep this relatively short and sweet, since I've written of my concerns about ICANN's handling of Top-Level Domains (TLDs) many times in the past.

The existing Domain Name System (DNS) has been leveraged in multiple ways into something akin to a protection racket, with vast sums of money being funneled to existing and wannabe registries, registrars -- and to ICANN itself -- with little or no resulting tangible benefits to the Internet community at large. That is, unless you consider ever increasing levels of costs and confusion to be some sort of benefits. Dot-com is still the single TLD that most Internet users recognize as fundamental among the increasingly disruptive clutter -- and you haven't seen anything yet compared with the pandemonium about to be unleashed.

"Protective registrations" by trademark owners and other concerned parties in new TLDs have become an enormous profit center for various players in the DNS ecosystem, with boasting about the income that will be derived through such arm-twisting techniques now being commonplace.

The amount of money involved is staggering. In a few days, ICANN may release their new "guidebook" for upcoming TLD applicants. The application fee alone for a single new TLD is reported to be almost $200K, payable to ICANN. The cost of running a new TLD if you're accepted? A whole bunch, likely including (but not limited to) big moola to ICANN every year.

ICANN plans to limit the number of new TLDs to only (only???) about 1000 per year -- maybe half that in the first year. Let's see, $185,000 times 1000 ... Nice chunk of change.

Of course, ICANN claims that these fees are justified by the costs involved in processing these applications. Assuming this is true, I can't think of a better proof that the entire process is rotten and dysfunctional to the core.

The DNS and the domain name infrastructure made sense in an era before the universal availability of search engines and online directories. But for such massive costs and complexities -- such as those inevitably stemming from the ICANN TLD expansion -- to be incurred simply to map names to Internet sites is now both technically and economically obsolete and abominable.

It's time to end the TLD madness. It will take both time and some heavy lifting. But there are alternative methodologies -- more efficient, extensible, and far more economical, much better suited to the Internet of the 21st century, and we need to start working on them now.

Vested interests -- basically the entire "domain-industrial complex" -- who stand to profit mightily by exploiting the continuation and expansion of the unnecessary, counterproductive, and obsolete domain name system, can be expected to fight any efforts at significant changes, using every weapon in their arsenals. Various other parties will also fight such changes -- since as we've increasingly seen the DNS provides an ideal mechanism for centralized censorship and heavy-handed intellectual property enforcement regimes -- through the disabling on demand of Web site name-based addressability.

Be that all as it may, this is a battle -- nay, perhaps a war -- necessary for the best interests of both the Internet and its global community of users.

Please let me know if you'd be interested in participating.

Thanks. Take care.

--Lauren--

Blog Update (November 19, 2010): Take a Tiny First Step Toward Controlling Your Internet Addressing Destiny

Blog Update (November 30, 2010): Announcing Project IDONS: Internet Distributed Open Name System

Posted by Lauren at 04:19 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein