In Tuesday’s class we looked at a trailer for the film Terms and Conditions May Apply. The film looks at all those end-user license agreements that are designed so end-users don’t read them. People generally don’t know what they’re agreeing to when they click the “I Accept” button, and it wouldn’t really matter if they did know, because many companies reserve the right change the terms and conditions without warning or notice.
This is problematic because people don’t know what they signing away, part of what makes it a privacy issue. It’s also a problem because people may unwittingly violate the terms, which can lead to harsh consequences. The Department of Justice has asserted that ToS violations can be prosecuted as felonies, and although Congress has made moves to address this, they haven’t seen them through. This can not only stifle but criminalize innovation.
A lot of the privacy and terms of service issues seem to be tied to what I consider closed environments, like Facebook. Access and use of our data is the toll we pay to get in. We also have the open web, and our own spaces on it, where we have more control. We can make that social with the POSSE model, pushing information from our own spaces out to other services like Twitter or Facebook. We’re experimenting with that using a platform called Known in our ds106 section.
Just as a coincidence, Tim Berners-Lee talked about data ownership yesterday in London. It sounds like he’s calling for a web that treats our personal data, which all those sites collect, as our intellectual property.
Berners-Lee argued that the burden of tracking should be moved from the typical web user to the individuals and organisations with access to our data.
That sort of flips the current situation on its head. I don’t know if it’s doable, but it’s an interesting idea.
This week in The Internet Course we’re covering privacy & openness. The readings the class came up with in the research process mostly deal with privacy and related issues: hacking, cybercrime, identity theft, anonymity and surveillance. Zuckerberg has said the people don’t care about privacy, and people prove him right every day. Yet these articles, and many others like them, also prove him wrong. Maybe people are of mixed opinion. Maybe people are un- or under-informed. Maybe people don’t think things through. Most likely it’s all of the above.
But the openness side of the equation is just as important, if not more so. So I thought I’d take a look at it.
Open can have many meanings and implications. With regards the the web and the internet, there’s open source, open standards and protocols, open architecture … Open access is an issue much discussed in my field. Openness is baked into the DNA of the internet – connectivity and interoperability require it. And the openness of the internet enables an open sharing of thoughts, ideas and information on a whole new level. What can be accomplished through humanity’s collective creativity remains to be seen, but if history is any guide it will be profoundly transformative.
I made a little Cmap of openness as seen through three articles:
The Internet Society published a position paper last year on openness and sustainability. They visualize a virtuous circle of openness, with universal benefits for everyone derived from four principles:
Open global standards for innovation
Open communications for everyone
Open for economic progress through innovation
Open and multi-stakeholder governance for inclusion
They further discussed openness as an enabler of innovation
Sir Tim Berners-Lee did not have to ask a central authority whether or not he could write a client-server hypertext system. He wrote it; others who found the possibilities interesting downloaded clients and servers and started using it.
The article recognizes that there are IP issues that need to be negotiated with regards to an open environment. We touched on that issue this past week with the Lessig video.
There are down sides to openness, however. Allowing people to say and do things anonymously lets some people get away with putting their worst sides forward. Bullying, harassment and threats are unfortunately common online.
Astra Taylor’s article discusses the hostility that women face in the online environment and in tech culture. That makes for a vicious circle, inhibiting the diversity which could counteract the hostility. In a way, that’s opposed to openness, as it pushes people out. But it’s a result of being open to certain types of speech and behavior that are less than acceptable.
The internet lets people call out that kind of misbehavior, but there can be costs to that. Real costs, in fact. In my world, libraryland, two people called out an individual for repeated and persistent sexually aggressive behavior and were hit with a defamation lawsuit as a result. But it has served to bring the issue to the attention of many who would otherwise be unaware.
This article, titled “Cybercrime, Cyberweapons, and Cyber Wars: Is There Too Much of It in the Air?” discusses how the capabilities of criminals and terrorists has evolved with the advent of increased online traffic. Criminals can produce and/or sell fake documents, malware, credit card and bank information, bulletproof web hosting, and hacking services such as DDoS attacks and bot spamming for a relatively low cost. And they still make a huge profit because the market for those things has expanded so greatly.
The use of malware and hacking techniques is not limited to the criminal underbelly of the internet. In fact, law enforcement and counter-terrorist forces have had to don the black hat in order to prevent so-called “cyber-terrorist” attacks. These attacks are easy to launch with very little skill in computer programming– in fact, according to the article, they can be waged with little more than the malware available on a petty cyber-criminal’s website. Even so, counter-cyber-terrorists seem to be one step behind their adversaries, and the effects of their efforts have been mostly negative for the general populace. Violations of privacy and freedom of information by intelligence agencies in its attempts to combat terrorism have become more and more popular in the news, especially following the Snowden leaks.
The video Allison presented was pretty informative. I seriously had no idea that there were these ”databrokers” keeping track of my activity online. In the video it was stated that they do not have to show you your information. In a way it’s a two-way street for me. One part of me really doesn’t care then another part does agree that it is an issue of privacy. I also found it shocking that search engines like Google keeps track. For some reason I thought I could clear my search history, cookies, and all of that and everything was just gone. Then again, is anything you ever do on the internet really ”gone?” Doubt it. The facebook scenario she talked about was a little scary. I feel like everything you do on the internet is going to have some kind of downside to it such as someone searching something and databrokers keeping track of it. That’s just the price we are willing to pay in this society, although we may not want our information and search history being documented. The Duck Duck Go was new to me and I had never heard about it. I may start using it! Well, maybe not. It’s pretty weird though the first thing I usually type in when I get online is www.google.com, which is crazy! Especially when I have nothing to do on the internet and bored. Lauren’s point was also interesting Privacy on facebook is always changing. She pointed out that the way they wrote it was too advanced for the average person to comprehend. Why is that though? I’m sure they do it on purpose. The same with Instagram, there was a huge controversy about that not too long ago. Thinking about this is actually kind of scary, but do I really see myself giving up my facebook and Instagram and google because of my ”digital identity footprint being left?” Maybe one day, but not today or tomorrow.
One of the things I like about the topics in The Internet Course is that they can be interpreted pretty broadly. This week we’re looking at privacy and openness. They can be seen as in opposition to each other, or they can both be seen as positive things. Maybe they can be seen as negatives as well. Anonymity, keeping one’s identity private, gives a kind of freedom of speech, but that freedom sometimes gets abused, like with flaming and cyberbullying. And as one of Lauren articles points out, there is value in accessible personal information. John’s articles looked at the open nature of the web, and privacy in terms of net neutrality. Openness can be a strength, in terms of open source software, or a weakness, in terms of cybersecurity. With all these different meanings, there are a lot of way the class discussion could go. I’m looking forward to this week.
Open source software came up in the discussion of intellectual property and fair use in The Internet Course. I wasn’t really expecting it to come up at that point, but I was planning on bringing it into the discussion of privacy and openness next week. It also ties back the the how it works segment.
Through Apache, open source software serves up most of the Web, and through Firefox, a large number of people view it. Linux is big in the corporate server market, and Android dominates in the smartphone market.
Openness means anyone can use the software, but more importantly it means anyone can fix and upgrade the software. As Eric Raymond put it in The Cathedral and the Bazaar, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” But OSS doesn’t just power the internet, it happens because of the internet. We talked about creation and consumption a couple weeks ago. The collaboration enabled by worldwide instant communication is what lets open source happen, and flourish.
I read Raymond’s book a long time ago, so my memory is probably fuzzy. One story that stuck with me was that of a couple of programmers hired by a large corporation, possibly AT&T, to build a system that would let any of their employees print to any printer in any office in the company. Once they had the project done, they told the company that they needed to release it as open source. The company balked, naturally. Since they had paid tens of thousands of dollars to have this thing built, they couldn’t see a benefit to just giving it away. But the programmers told them that if they don’t open it up, every time they get a new printer and every time a printer driver gets upgraded, they would have to pay someone to write new code. If they give it away, other people will write the code for free, because it’s worth it to them or their employers.
People build open source tools to accomplish necessary tasks, but if selling software isn’t their real business, it can be advantageous to share the code. Someone else might make it better. And everyone benefits.
This is a summary of the webpage here about the open web written by Steven Pemberton a longtime contributor to the web. This is a short summary of the benefits of an open web. I think this is a great article because it really emphasizes how the web is changing the world and how it being open is such an important part of that growth and development. This is an on going debate right with all the talk of net neutrality and identity on the web making certain parts of the web available.