Archive | Big Business

Fake news is nothing new

The debate on »fake news« might be new to some. But for us who are activist when it comes to a free and open internet, privacy and civil rights – this is what we have been fighting for a very long time.

Governments strive towards »total information awareness« has always been excused with e.g. the war on terror, the war on drugs, child protection, fighting organized crime and national security.

The same arguments – and some other, like hate speech – have been used to restrict free speech and freedom of information.

Then we have the corporatist battle over copyright vs. the Internet – sacrificing a global, free flow of information to save outdated business models.

When activists find out and go public, the reaction from politicians and bureaucrats is normally that we have got it all wrong. But the swarm is resourceful, and often we find some sort of a smoking gun. In a few cases, we manage to stop what is going on (like ACTA). In some cases, we manage to change details (like the EU telecoms package). But normally we loose. Then the proposals become law. And most things we warned people about is actually happening.

Told you so.

(In some very rare cases – like EU data retention – the European Court of Justice or the European Court of Human Rights objects strongly enough to stop what is happening in its’ tracks.)

Today the concept of total information awareness is a reality in countries like the U.S., the U.K., and France. In Germany, it has just been legalized.

And after decades of legal battles, it seems as if Big Entertainment is getting closer to having the Internet Service Providers to police the Internet – leading to extrajudicial filtering and censorship without the possibility to redress.

During the processes leading up to all of this – politicians and bureaucrats have labeled resistance as delusions and activists as tin foil hats. Doing so, they have managed to keep their plans under the radar, away from the public eye and the media. Until it’s too late.

I have seen lots of disinformation, faked news, and cover-ups trough the years. It has been used by politicians, governments, and special interests – forcing their restrictions on our free and open internet, undermining a democratic society and disturbing the free market.

The concept of fake news might have become a bit more obvious lately – but it is nothing new. The only reason it’s such a big thing at the moment is that it has been used by others than governments, mainstream politicians, bureaucrats and special business interests.




Torrent-based websites that cannot be censored?

This is exciting. The Web2Web project claims to be able to put web pages on the Internet that cannot be taken down, using torrents and Bitcoin. And it can be run from any modern browser.

The under the hood stuff is explained by TorrentFreak – Web2Web: Serverless Websites Powered by Torrents & Bitcoin »

»To run a Web2Web website neither the server nor the domain is required. All you need is a bootstrap page that loads your website from the torrent network and displays it in the browser« Czech developer Michal Spicka tells TorrentFreak.

If this turns out to be anything like what it’s said to be, it might be a game changer. It builds on the need for resilient, decentralised systems beyond the reach of Big Government and Big Business.

Expect some serious noise from the authorities…



The underlying problem with EU Copyright Reform

The EU apparatus is back from summer leave, and one of the big issues this coming year will be Copyright Reform.

As I have written before, indications are that the EU Commissions proposal will be lame as well as misguided. This should come as no surprise. The thing is, the system is rigged.

Having worked in the European Parliament, I have learned about the close ties between politicians and the copyright industry.

Big Entertainment and other copyright holders are not interested in real copyright reform. They loathe the Internet and fear the new digital market.

What they want is special legislation. And it doesn’t really have to benefit them directly. They are comfortable with new rules aimed at blocking new competition, like Internet start-ups with new and disrupting business models.

This is crony capitalism, corporatism and the rule of special interests.

The Internet is a unique possibility to develop a really free economy, a free market and competition on a somewhat level playing field. Big Business doesn’t like that. Nor do the politicians and bureaucrats. They are anti-progress.

You should keep that in mind as the battle for EU Copyright Reform begins.



The gatekeepers are dead. Long live the World Wide Web!

Information is power, control, and supremacy.

Until recently the tools for mass communication were expensive and in the hands of a small number of gatekeepers. Then, the price rapidly fell towards zero. With the Internet and the World Wide Web (that just turned 25 years old) anyone can communicate with the world by words, pictures, sound, and video – 24/365 – on a shoestring budget.

Still, people need to know about you. So fame, reputation, and status are factors to take into consideration. But content, quality (in some sense) and virality is the new gold standard.

This has upset the people who used to be in power, like bigwig politicians. They used to have their press releases copy-pasted into the media news flow without too much hassle. Today they still are visible in the slowly dying mainstream media. But on the Internet, they have to compete for attention with everybody and everything else.

Also, media proprietors, the copyright industry and the big brick and mortar chains are upset – just to mention a few.

It could have been very different.

Tim Berners-Lee – who invented the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) together with his friends at W3C at Cern – decided not to patent this method of connecting the dots in the Matrix, but to give it to the world.

Alternatively, the Internet could have been in the hands of a few: Microsoft, Times Warner, Disney, Universal and some television conglomerates. It could have been compartmentalized with different protocols, specialized gadgets and used mainly to send information rather than allowing interaction.

Probably, there would also have been some sort of popular alternative run by enthusiasts – but it would have nothing like the impact of the WWW, where everybody interacts on the same platform.

Still, there are those who try to turn back time and change the outcome. This is the underlying context of the copyright war, the rationale behind political initiatives like ACTA, and an issue where Big Government and Big Business have coinciding interests.

At the same time, the Internet changes other markets like transportation and the hotel business. There is an emerging sharing economy. The Internet of things will change our lives in unforeseen ways.

The other side of the coin is that this technology might invade our privacy and be used for mass surveillance and political control.

This is a mix of spontaneous development (that politicians should keep away from) and some very political questions about privacy, data protection and the relation between citizens and the government.

A free and open Internet will provide endless possibilities and progress. And it will need Internet activism to stay free and open for all. That is, for instance, what this blog is all about.



A free and open Internet is crucial for a free and open society

We live in interesting times.

There is Big Brotherism, censorship of social media, information warfare, the war on terror, the war on drugs and politicians curtailing our civil liberties one small piece at a time. Soon we might have an entirely erratic president in the White House (who e.g. has threatened to close down the Internet) in control of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In Russia, it’s all war rhetoric these days. In Turkey, the failed coup d’état has lead to an even more totalitarian political climate. Nationalism, protectionism, xenophobia and authoritarianism seems to be in demand. Corporatism has a firm grip over western politics, and the democratic deficit is growing. Things are shifting.

It is easy to be pessimistic and wise to be cautious.

My hope is with free flows of information. Not top down, but between people.

Information is power. An integrated network of citizens on the Internet limits the possibility for those in power to get away with bullshit. So, politicians hate it. (And they often gang up with other enemies of free information – e.g. the law- and intelligence community, the copyright industry and practically everybody who will never miss an opportunity to throw a moralistic, self-righteous fit.)

On the Internet – people can scrutinize the power elite. Citizen journalists and activists have platforms to publish significant and delicate information – that the ruling political class would prefer to keep away from the public eye. Knowledge, facts, and information are searchable at our fingertips. Lies can quickly be exposed. Authority can be questioned in a meaningful way. Spontaneous networking knows no borders and can give people a chance to look into, understand and change politics.

A free flow of information promotes cooperation. Often in new and unexpected ways. People in different places and countries will work together, spontaneously. The academic world will blossom. Relationships will develop. Good things will happen. Progress will occur. And people will never go to war against each other again. Stability, prosperity, and liberty will be the preferred position.

That is why a free and open Internet is important.



The two faces of Big Brotherism

There is a huge difference between government mass surveillance and commercial privacy infringements.

The government can use force to make you behave the way politicians and bureaucrats want you to behave. The government can limit your freedom and it tends to curtail your civil rights. In a state with total control, democracy will succumb. Living in a Big Brother society will be unbearable. Government mass surveillance is about control and power.

Commercial players tend to use the data they collect to try to sell you stuff – which basically is about influencing a voluntary relation. Or to evaluate partners (customers, suppliers etc.) that they conduct business with. Never the less, this can be very annoying, intrusive, damaging and even dangerous for the private individual.

We must keep in mind that these are two different issues. They are about totally different relations to the individual. They should be approached in different ways.

Sometimes I get the impression that certain parties in the public debate deliberately is trying to muddle the water. Politicians regularly try to lead the discussion away from government mass surveillance to issues concerning commercial actors. And when asked what they do to protect people’s right to privacy their answers often are about Facebook, Google, advertising and commercial data mining – when it ought to be about mass surveillance, data retention and the relations between citizens and the state.

They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with that.



Data Protection: Is the EU just incompetent or… evil?

According to usually well informed sources the Council of the European Union (the member states representatives) is ready to greenlight the so called EU US Privacy Shield.

The Privacy Shield is supposed to replace the previous Safe Harbour agreement on protection of personal data being transferred from the EU to the US. The latter was used in a sloppy way by US companies and it did not offer sufficient protection against US mass surveillance. The European Parliament has frequently called for the Safe Harbour agreement to be revoked – and finally the European Court of Justice (ECJ) invalidated it on grounds that it did not respect European citizens right to privacy.

Since then, the EU and US have been working hard to secure a new agreement – the Privacy Shield.

The problem is that the Privacy Shield, ruffly speaking, has the same problems as the Safe Harbour agreement. So much so that the ECJ have found that it ought to look into the matter once again. (The Max Schrems case, part 2.)

So, why is the EU so eager to give the Privacy Shield its approval? First off all both the EU and the US is under pressure from Big Data to get this stumbling block out of the way. Second, some US government agencies are getting quite frustrated. Third, the EU screwed up in the negotiations, but hopes that no one will notice (!) if they hurry to adopt the agreement.

In other words, protection of European citizens data and privacy has not been an EU priority. The Council (and the Commission) seems to be more interested in good relations with the NSA and Big Data.

Is the EU just incompetent or… evil?


• Previous blog post on the EU US Privacy Shield, with many useful links »
• The latest leaked EU documents (PDF) »
• Reuters: EU, United States agree on changes to strengthen data transfer pact »
• German IT Law: Data flows to the US: Why the EU Model Clauses may soon be no longer state of the art »
• The Irish Times: Data protection groups seek to join key High Court case »
• NSA Mass Surveillance: US Government wants to intervene in European Facebook-Case (PDF) »

Thanks to Amelia Andersdotter and for digging up relevant links and documents.


Corporatism vs. free speech

Politics should stick to lawmaking. Companies should stick to making business.

When the two mix, the result is usually damaging. Politicians lose their focus on principles, their mandate from the voters and the public good. Companies who lobby for subsidies and (often competition reducing) special laws will find themselves worse of in the long run, as they detach from the realities of the market.

Nevertheless, politicians and businessmen are often involved in mutual back-scratching.

Lately, the political EU-apparatus and big data companies have ganged up to curb free speech. The EU, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Microsoft have decided on a mutual approach to keep back hate speech and religious radicalisation on the net.

In other words, the EU encourages private companies to censor statements on the Internet that the politicians do not approve of.

If you are to limit free speech at all — the rules must be clearly set out in law. If there should be any censorship at all — it must be decided in a court of law, in accordance with the laws. And if anyone is being censored — there must be a possibility to appeal the decision.

All these three principles are being thrown out in the EU-Big Data agreement.

And there is nothing you can do about it. Having signed e.g. various social networks terms and conditions, you have essentially given up your rights.

From a political point of view, the EU is acting in a deceptive way. When there are no legal means to censor voices they would like to silence – they turn to private companies to do what they themselves cannot accomplish. (It’s just like when US authorities had PayPal, credit card companies, and the banks to throttle the stream of donations to Wikileaks.)

The EU is short-circuiting the rule of law and democracy itself – in order to curb the people’s civil rights.

This is totally unacceptable.