Archive | January, 2016

Why the war on VPNs is one Netflix can’t win

Netflix’s solution to its problem is about to create a huge new one — for millions of people who aren’t trying to trick the service out of a Canadian show in the US. One year ago, UK-based GlobalWebIndex estimated that 54 million people use VPNs to watch Netflix every month (Netflix declined to comment to Variety on GWI’s numbers).

What Netflix is asking (er, forcing) its customers to do is, well, insane from a privacy and security perspective. That a company might insist you use 123456 as your password because it solves an internal problem for them sounds … ludicrous. Except that’s pretty much what Netflix is doing by disallowing widespread use of a security tool as critical as a VPN.

Engadget: Why the war on VPNs is one Netflix can’t win »


Tools of oppression

Today is January the 27:th, Holocaust Memorial Day. A day of remembrance. But also, a day to ask ourselves what we have learned from history.

One example is that records set up with the very best of intentions can be misused. From Wikipedia…

In the Netherlands, the Germans managed to exterminate a relatively large proportion of the Jews. The main reason they were found so easily was that before the war, the Dutch authorities had required citizens to register their religion so that church taxes could be distributed among the various religious organizations.

Unintended consequences, indeed. But this is exactly the kind of risks we must consider when handling personal data or rolling out mass surveillance. You never know why, how and by whom these tools will be used.

Can we trust that all future political leaders and bureaucrats will be decent people? Of course not. Can we be sure that we will live in a democracy 25, 50 or some 100 years from now? No, we can’t. Can we even take our national sovereignty for granted in the future? Sadly, no.

The only thing we can be certain of is that bad things will happen, sooner or later. So it is thoughtless to give the government tools that can be used to harm and oppress the people. And if we still do, we must make sure that we can disable them if there is a risk that they will be abused or fall into the wrong hands. Even when the change to the worse is gradual.

But that’s not what’s happening, is it? Evidently, today’s political leaders have learned nothing from history.



EU not to regulate Bitcoin. At present.

Over the past few months, the EU, in collaboration of international law enforcement agencies have dedicated a significant allocation of its operations in exploring the application of bitcoin in the dark web. Particularly, the organization has been investigating the use of bitcoin in purchasing illicit goods like weapons and drugs, and hacking groups like DD4BC which demanded ransoms in bitcoin. (…)

Regardless of the growing number of “criminal” activities involving digital currencies including bitcoin, EU’s European Commision and its senior financial services official Olivier Salles stated that it is too early to impose various regulations and financial policies on bitcoin, as technologies are easy to fail when regulated.

EU will Not Regulate Digital Currencies like Bitcoin »


Sweden to censor the Internet?

Is Sweden to join the likes of Turkey, China and Cuba?

It turns out that the Swedish government is looking into the possibility to censor non-licensed online gambling sites.

The pretext is the health and safety of the Swedish people. But the real reason is rather glaring: Money.

The state-owned national gambling company, Svenska Spel, sends a lot of money to the treasure. But that’s just the beginning. Let’s follow the money.

The Social Democrats, who are in government at present, are also the owners of one of the few licensed Swedish gambling companies, A-lotterierna. From this, the party pockets some five million euros a year.

Furthermore, the Swedish foreign minister — Margot Wallström — was recruited from a senior policy position at another licensed gambling company, Postkodlotteriet. This company has been sending millions of euros to the Clinton Foundation. Just between friends.

So, of course, the Swedish government doesn’t want the Swedish people to go to other, foreign gambling sites. The money should stay in the country, preferably in Party hands.

This is preposterous.

So the idea, now being aired, is to block access to all non-licensed gambling sites. (And there are quite a few in the world.)

Opening the doors for Internet censorship — what could possibly go wrong?

I can imagine the ruling political class could fancy blocking quite a few sites that annoys it, if that option becomes available.

Swedish Internet censorship is still under consideration. Now, the civil rights movement will have to sound the alarm and try to stop the idea before it reaches Parliament.

The Swedish government also has a plan B: To block payments to non-licensed gambling companies.

That also is a terrible idea, but in a different way.



Mass surveillance drives writers to self-censorship

Writers are important. Facts or fiction — they are supposed to give us new insights, push boundaries and question those in power.

So it’s quite alarming that one in six US writers has “avoided writing or speaking on a topic they thought would subject them to surveillance”. Another one in six has seriously considered doing so.

(This is from a report, post-Snowden from Pen America. Via Robin Doherty.)

Literature defines our society. And now mass surveillance is defining literature.

We will never know what books, pieces and reviews that never got written because of Big Brotherism. Or what speeches that never were given. But we do know that this will make humanity and society intellectually poorer.

And it’s not just here and now. Culture is a process where you often build on earlier works and insights. Self-censorship will multiply its effects over time.

Mass surveillance has an undeniable chilling effect on a free and open society.




Free flow of information is a facilitator of democracy

During the cold war, the Soviet Union deployed radio jammers in the bay of the Baltic Sea between Finland and Estonia. The purpose was to limit people’s access to Finnish television in the then Soviet Baltic states.

It didn’t work. When Finnish television aired the soft porn movie Emanuelle, the streets of Estonian capital Tallin were empty. And after every episode of Dallas, people in northern Estonia kept friends and relatives in other parts of the country up to date with the doings of JR & Co by mail. (There is a very interesting and amusing film about this, Disco and Atomic War.)

When the Berlin Wall fell, people in the GDR had a rather good picture of life in the west from radio and television, transmitted from the BRD and West Berlin. And they knew that the world was watching and supporting the change that was going on.

Free flow of information is a facilitator of democracy.

Today, we have the Internet. It’s global, it’s instant and even in places where the regimes try to build digital walls, there are often ways to connect to the global network.

The Internet is as important for people who live under political and religious oppression today, as radio and television were during the cold war.

With access to strong encryption and other tools, the Internet also allows people within such countries to communicate in a relatively safe way with each other. This is essential to build a democratic opposition, enable activism and build alternate structures.

It has turned out that it is very difficult to introduce and uphold democracy by military means. And the Arabian Spring shows that freedom and democracy cannot be won overnight. It is a frustratingly slow process, that frequently backfires. But to succeed it is essential that people in totalitarian and failed states can find support, inspiration and good examples from us in the (relatively) free world.

The fight for a free and open internet is not only about our freedom and privacy. It’s about a democratic and peaceful world.


“Just giving people information isn’t enough”

But just giving people information isn’t enough; unless you give them an opportunity to do something about it, it will just make them more apathetic. So the second part of the site is building tools to let people take action: write or call your representative, send a note to local papers, post a story about something interesting you’ve found, generate a scorecard for the next election.

EFF on the upcoming book on Aaron Swartz — The Boy Who Could Change the World.