August 22, 2015

Why "Godwin's Law" Doesn't Apply to Donald Trump

Let's get this straight once and for all: Comparisons between Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump do not invoke Godwin's Law.

Godwin's Law applies to discussions where Nazi analogies make no sense. Comparing a strict physical education teacher with Hitler, for example, is an obvious invocation of Godwin's Law.

However, Godwin's Law explicitly does not apply when actual Nazi parallels are in play.

In the case of Donald Trump, we have a grandiose buffoon spouting outright lies and hate speech, triggering racial violence, demanding the deportation of eleven million plus people including American citizens, retroactive stripping of citizenship, and attracting crowds who shout "white power" and hand out literature lauding that "Trump will do to the dirty Hispanics what Hitler did to the dirty Jews."

The parallels are obvious and on-point.

Godwin is not in scope.

Nazism and 1930s Germany very much are.



Posted by Lauren at 09:36 AM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 20, 2015

EU Demands Google Forget "The Right To Be Forgotten"

Brussels, Belgium (ZAP) - The European Union today issued a preliminary order requiring that Google and all other Search Engines and similar services remove all search results related to the EU "Right To Be Forgotten" (RTBF).

"We've been deliberating on this issue for a very long time," noted Winston Charrington, Minister of the European Union World Censorship Directorate. "We've come to the conclusion that only by mandating the complete and total global elimination of all references to RTBF can we avoid unnecessary consternation and controversies regarding those aspects of published history -- that RTBF requires be deleted from search indexes around the planet. In other words, if you don't even realize that censorship is occurring, how could you ever be upset about it? Doubleplusgood!"

Leaders and politicians from around the world were quick to praise the EU's action. Russian president Vladimir Putin issued a statement noting the EU was acting in the best historical traditions of Mother Russia. Chinese leaders offered to provide the EU with "Great Firewall" censorship technology at no charge, "in the furtherance of helping our brothers and sisters in Europe join our information control people's paradise."

GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump immediately called FOX News to say that the EU's actions are a crude start but adding that, "When I'm president you're going to have a really wonderful censorship system here in the USA. It's going to make those Russian and European systems look like stupid, ugly women. You're going to forget there ever were mass arrests and deportations here. I know how to do censorship. You're going to love the Trump censorship system!"

An EU spokesperson noted that upon finalization of this global RTBF censorship order, all search and other references to articles, stories, or other materials describing this order, including this posting, would be retroactively deleted.

Google was unavailable for comment.

- - -

I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so.
All opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Posted by Lauren at 05:22 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 14, 2015

Why the "Right To Be Forgotten" is the Worst Kind of Censorship

Let's start from a foundational premise on which we hopefully can all agree.

Our abilities to interpret and understand the world around us are predicated on the availability of information.

In the far past, that information was usually entirely based on what we could sense directly or were told by others. Later, written and the printed materials vastly expanded our information reach, both in terms of space and distance, in terms of time and history.

Today it's inarguable that the Internet is the key to our information knowledge, and in the absence of a global catastrophe, it seems slated to expand rapidly in that role.

I define censorship as attempts by governments to control the dissemination of information by third parties, usually backed up with civil and/or criminal sanctions.

Censorship (and attempts at censorship) have likely existed back to the dawn of civilization, and it's been a preferred tool of control by rulers and governments ever since.

In the early days of broad Internet expansion, there was a popular -- though I would assert rather naive -- view that the coming of the Net would sweep away national governments and bring about a utopia of open communications.

Of course that's not exactly what happened.

While domestic governments were generally slow on the uptake to understand the power of the Internet, once it really showed up on their radars many moved rapidly to muzzle that power into traditional censorship realms, with China and Russia leading the way.

It is often said -- I've said it myself -- that's it's nearly impossible to completely censor information on the Net, that the ease of mirroring and the variety of bypass mechanisms available make total blockades enormously difficult.

This is true. But there are provisos to that truth that aren't stated as frequently.

One of these is that even if you can't completely censor particular information, governments can often make it such a hassle -- or so personally dangerous -- to pursue accessing that information as to effectively terrify all but the bravest (or in some cases perhaps the most foolhardy) of their population into submission.

So perhaps you can use a VPN to get at the webpage the government doesn't want you to see. But if you're caught at it, are you willing to risk having your entire family arrested, perhaps beaten, and then spending the next 20 years shackled in a dungeon cell?

The traditional techniques of government oppression have definitely maintained much of their power, even in the Internet age.

But at least in most of these cases you know that the forbidden information exists. You are aware of what the government is trying to block from you.

Which brings us to the second proviso from the truth about censorship.

In true Orwellian fashion, even better than blocking people from information is preventing them from ever realizing that the forbidden information exists in the first place.

And this is where the so-called "Right To Be Forgotten" (RTBF) comes into play.

The key premise of RTBF is that if you can prevent your population from realizing that particular data exists on the Web -- even if they could easily access it given such knowledge -- you've achieved censorship Valhalla.

This is why RTBF focuses its death ray on search engines. Governments realize the typical impracticality of excising all copies of information from all possible Internet sources. So they instead order the burning of the search results "index cards" in a deeply disingenuous attempt to fool their populations into not realizing the associated materials exist at all.

Supporters of RTBF concepts bizarrely attempt to claim that RTBF is not actually censorship, since usually the materials at issue still exist somewhere out on the Web.

But this is deeply cynical and, yes, evil. It's like saying that a child has been locked into a safe, and all you need to save them is to guess the combination.

RTBF proponents also prefer to frame their arguments in terms of early European Union RTBF efforts involving "ordinary" individuals.

But already we're seeing the steepness of the slippery slope of their RTBF.

The EU has already made it clear that not only do they want to censor the Net within their own borders, they want to be global censorship czars. They've said that search engine results they've banned should be removed from global indexes, not just from the localized versions that the vast majority of their population uses.

In a particularly outlandish twist, there have even been EU suggestions that search engines be required by law to specifically identify EU citizens as they travel, so that EU censorship edicts can be applied to them no matter where on the globe they may access the Net.

This isn't simply theoretical. France has already demanded that Google apply French RTBF takedowns around the planet, giving France the ability to control what users everywhere else in the world can see. Google is quite appropriately resisting this horrific edict.

And that's just in Europe.

Elsewhere, democratic and totalitarian governments alike are lining up to try impose their own RTBF censorship on the entire Earth. Putin's Russia has already passed such legislation, even broader and more dangerous than the awful EU variety.

Putin as a global censor? Chinese leaders as global censors?

It's bad enough when Western democracies fall into this trap, but the rush to a lowest common denominator of "acceptable" information that would be triggered by totalitarian leaders exerting such power would be nightmarishly breathtaking to behold.

There is no practical way to proverbially "dip your toe" into RTBF censorship, without ending up quickly and totally submerged and drowning. It's like being "a little bit" pregnant, or setting a match to a piece of flash paper.

Making it crystal clear to our legislatures and political leaders that we will not accept these censorship regimes is absolutely crucial to our civil liberties -- in fact, even to our knowledge going forward of what civil liberties actually are!

This will be an enormously difficult battle, because censorship is very much the natural ally of governments and of politicians.

But if we lose this battle, this war on our basic freedoms, it's very possible that someday -- perhaps not in the very distant future at all -- even these very words you're reading right now may be impossible to ever find again.

I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so.
All opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Posted by Lauren at 01:19 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 09, 2015

It's Time to Go Nuclear Against DMCA Abuse

OK boys and girls. That's the last straw. The straw that broke the camel's back. The jumping of the shark.

It's the end of the line for playing nice regarding entertainment company abuse of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

The DMCA is like the weather. Everyone talks about it, but nobody seems to do anything very effective about it.

Of course that's not really completely true. There are entities out there trying to change it -- and most of them want to replace it with something even worse -- a draconian mandate for search engines to act as "censorship agents on demand" for the entertainment behemoths.

Granted, the DMCA is a double-edged sword. In key respects, it's aspects of the DMCA that have permitted services like YouTube to exist in the first place, by creating a regime that is significantly enabled by a range of imperfect but ever evolving dispute resolution processes.

But overall the DMCA still remains massively skewed to favor the giant entertainment conglomerates, with its "guilty until proven innocent" model that is a recipe for enormous corporate abuse at the often literal expense of the little guys.

And we now have a new example of this corporate DMCA abuse that is so pure and clear in its stupidity as to once and for all demonstrate that the DMCA imbalance needs to be corrected -- right now.

Adam Sandler's new film "Pixels" has been a horrendous flop. But it may have done some good after all, by demonstrating the lack of regard for accuracy that has become the status quo in DMCA takedown orders -- which, we must remember, are required by the DMCA to be accepted as factual until proven otherwise.

As we learn from:

a massive takedown campaign attacked Vimeo demanding the removal of essentially every video that contained the word "pixels" in its title!

You can imagine the results.

All manner of videos were (as required by law) blocked by Vimeo on the basis of those takedown orders, including totally and utterly unrelated materials that had committed the "crime" of ever using the word "pixels" in their titles -- and (ironically) even the trailer for Sandler's movie itself.

Thank goodness the producers of the various films named "She" over the years didn't try this stunt. Or how about a move titled "The" for real chuckles?

The impact of such takedown abuse is indeed the Internet equivalent of saturation bombing -- with no consideration given to the innocent parties who will be affected, and in the case of the DMCA, then have to find the time and money to fight back against this abuse -- simply to get their videos back on the Net.

Again, it's the fundamental imbalances of the DMCA that allow this, because there is essentially no cost involved in filing massively overbroad and sloppy DMCA orders. All the power is on the side of the traditional entertainment conglomerates, and they generally don't care how many ordinary folks get hurt in the process.

The righteousness of an appropriate "nuclear option" to provide some balance is obvious. And the basic structure of that "weapon" seems relatively straightforward to visualize.

We must make it expensive with a capital "E" to voluntarily file mass DMCA takedowns that are sloppy, haphazard, and likely to negatively impact significant numbers of innocent parties.

It has to cost. It has to cost big time.

Such abuse has to be made so expensive that even the entertainment industry moguls with the gold-plated toilet seats will start to feel the pain.

We can argue about the order of magnitude for these fines and how they should be assigned, but in the final analysis the totals must be so large that nobody in their right mind would willingly issue an indiscriminate large-scale DMCA takedown ever again.

I'd suggest that these determinations would best be made by some independent body, to make decisions regarding accidental error vis-a-vis purposeful culpability, and to assign the fines to be paid.

There are also other ways we could ultimately reach the same necessary DMCA balance, but inaction is no longer a viable alternative.

Legitimate rights holders should be able to appropriately protect those rights -- but not by muzzling -- and steamrolling over -- an array of innocent parties.

It's time to fight back. Enough is enough.


Posted by Lauren at 04:41 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein

August 01, 2015

Sadly, How Windows 10 Reveals Microsoft's Ethics Armageddon

Over the last few days, I've been discussing various problematic issues involving Microsoft's new Windows 10 operating system, most recently in:

Windows 10's New Feature Steals Your Internet Bandwidth:

But today I'm not getting into technical details, but rather pulling back our camera a bit for a wider view of what Microsoft seems to be doing -- and unfortunately it's a very sad commentary indeed.

I'm not being facetious. There have been and still are many great people at Microsoft. Bill Gates and the company he founded contributed mightily to the development of the personal computer industry and much that subsequently evolved.

It's clear though that MS is at a crossroads, at a point of existential importance to the entire firm.

The market for consumer-level operating systems as items to be purchased has rapidly dried up. Microsoft's foray into hardware has -- we can charitably say -- been less than impressively successful.

So it's not a surprise that MS has explicitly and publicly been remaking itself as an Internet services company -- a logical decision given the cards MS now has available to play.

Yet much as Microsoft was a bit late to realize the Internet's importance many years ago, they're again late to the game, and the pressures they feel are obvious to any perceptive observer.

All of this can help us to understand -- but not to excuse -- the ethical collapse that Windows 10 appears to represent for a once great company.

And yes, this is very much a matter of ethics, in much the same vein as bait-and-switch artists and underhanded used-car salesmen of popular lore.

These various players -- including Microsoft in their handling of Windows 10 -- share a common defining characteristic, a shared ethical flaw.

They avoid being up-front and honest with consumers.

The irony is that these ethical lapses are so easily avoided.

If the bait-and-switch artist was honest about what they actually wanted to sell, they're in the ethical green zone.

If the used car salesman was direct about flaws in the vehicle on display, there's no ethical complaint to be lodged.

The same would apply to Microsoft.

By burying significant new data collection practices in the Windows 10 privacy policy that most people never read, by rigging update procedures to push users into switching browsers by default, by not bothering to ask users ahead of time if they were willing to share their Internet bandwidth for Microsoft's commercial use -- in these ways Microsoft failed the obvious ethics tests in a dramatic fashion.

MS seems to be failing at ethics even in some of the more minor areas -- with word that the popular old Solitaire game from Windows 7 and earlier has been replaced on Windows 10 with a version that forces you to sit through video advertisements unless you're willing to pay Microsoft $10 per year to shut them off.

To be sure, we can guess that somewhere up at MS headquarters in Redmond, a meeting took place where something like this was said:

"Hell, we're giving most of these people free versions of a new operating system, we've gotta get something in exchange, and they don't have any right to complain!"

That would be so very, very wrong.

Because while large numbers of users might well consider such trade-offs to be equitable and reasonable, the ethical requirement in the main when dealing with significant issues is simple: You ask permission first.

And asking permission in this context doesn't mean assuming permission, or burying disclosures, or operating on the assumption that simply providing a way to turn something off later is the same as asking permission to turn it on in the first place.

Let's take Microsoft's default commercial use of users' bandwidth to send updates to other MS users in Windows 10, for example.

Imagine if one day you noticed that your home water pressure seemed low. You search around and discover a truck parked outside that is filling its big water tank from your water system, via a hidden hose.

When confronted, the truck owners state that they didn't think they were taking all that much, and if it bothers you they'll stop.

Whether you paid for that water by the gallon or got it all flat rate, I'd wager that most people would react the same way, demanding to know: "Why the blazes didn't you ask permission first?"

To which the likely response would be: "We didn't tell you about it -- we didn't ask -- because we thought you might say no."

This is certainly not to imply that every minor user interface or operations decision must be opt-in only -- but at the very least, issues of significant magnitude must be clearly and openly spelled out in advance, not relegated to "if we're lucky most users won't notice what we did" status.

The latter course is the path to ethics hell, and no amount of free giveaways or slick talk alone can prevent a complete descent into that pit once a firm steps off the ethics precipice.

Can Microsoft still save itself from this fate? Of course, given the will. Much of what they'd need to do immediately could in theory be pushed out to Windows 10 users in a matter of days -- better explanations, asking permission, ethical defaults.

But my gut feeling says that MS is not prepared to make such a major ethical course correction at this time, and that's truly unfortunate.

Hope springs eternal. Perhaps Microsoft will prove my gut feelings on this to be incorrect. Perhaps MS will indeed alter direction and proceed toward the ethical light.

That would be delightful. But don't hold your breath.

I have consulted to Google, but I am not currently doing so.
All opinions expressed here are mine alone.

Posted by Lauren at 03:26 PM | Permalink
Twitter: @laurenweinstein
Google+: Lauren Weinstein