The Internet is Just a Prototype The week in hyperlinks #16

A weekly reading list to stimulate thoughts about the (digitised) world you might (or might not) want to live in.

Here is a collection of articles and idea that caught my eye during the past week. They offer data about the world we presently live in, and hints about the one we might wish to pass on to future generations.

Noteworthy news

Polish charity gets huge phone bill thanks to storkBBC News

“It travelled some 3,700 miles (6,000kms), and was traced to the Blue Nile Valley in eastern Sudan before the charity lost contact. EcoLogic told the Super Express newspaper that somebody found the tracker in Sudan, removed the sim card and put it in their own phone, where they then racked up 20 hours’ worth of phone calls. Radio Poland says that the organisation has received a phone bill of over 10,000 Polish zloty ($2,700; £2,064), which it will have to pay.” — Time to update your security risk register.

Russia cuts off Amazon Cloud service for running 888Poker adCalvinAyre

“The takedown has affected as estimated 21.4m Russians by blocking access to sites including NetFlix, Twitter, Dropbox and Airbnb, all of which utilized Amazon as a host. … The FTS said Amazon had violated Russian law by running an ad for 888Poker that included a link to download the company’s poker app. Roskomnadzor said it had contacted Amazon regarding the offending 888 ad but that Amazon had taken no action in response to Roskomnadzor’s request/order, leaving it with no alternative but to drop the ban-hammer.” — Has AWS become the “wrong side of town”? Choose your cloud neighbours carefully!

Belarus media law could get even more repressive — Reporters Without Borders

A little tardy news, but better late than never: “The bill’s new provisions also undermine online anonymity, a valuable asset in a repressive country such as Belarus. Websites and online forums that allow readers to post comments would be required to identify them and to moderate their posts in order to avoid being blocked. The bill is so vague on this point that these provisions could also apply to social networks.” — The root of freedom is the control over your identity.

Ugandan netizens unite against social media taxThe East African

“Mobile internet users now have to input a telephone code to pay the tax before they are able to access most social media sites, although implementation has proved patchy with some blocked services still available. Some have turned to virtual private networks (VPNs) to disguise their location and avoid the levy, a trick learned during elections two years ago when the government tried to shut down social media.” — Another example of the risks of renting your identity as a feudal cyberserf.

The Digest: The UK Is Creating a Database of Citizens’ DNA and Other BiometricsFuturism

“In 2012, one of the highest courts in the UK ruled it was illegal for police to keep the mugshots of innocent people in their databases. However, UK police have yet to remove hundreds of thousands such photos, claiming it would cost too much.” — So nothing to worry about in scaling this up, then! If you don’t control your identity (data), then you are not free.

Gmail messages ‘read by human third parties’ — BBC News

“Another firm – eDataSource Inc – said engineers had previously reviewed emails to improve its algorithms. The companies said they had not asked users for specific permission to read their Gmail messages, because the practice was covered by their user agreements.” — The third party algorithm should come to visit your data, not the other way around. See also Google’s Gmail controversy is everything people hate about Silicon Valley and Samsung phones are spontaneously texting users’ photos to random contacts without their permission.

Twitter closes accounts of Hamas, Hezbollah leaders — Anadolu Agency

“In a statement, the ministry said that Homeland Security Minister Gilad Erdan had provided the popular social-networking site with the names of 40 individuals linked to Hamas or Hezbollah whose accounts Israel wanted to see closed. Twitter responded by closing 35 of the accounts on the list, according to the same statement.” — I have no comment on the politics of it, but where’s the due process in having your virtual identity revoked? See also Google’s “Arbiter of Hate Speech,” SPLC Forced to Pay $3M for Falsely Labeling People as “Extremists”.

Tech Giants Win a Battle Over Copyright Rules in EuropeNew York Times

“Media businesses like Axel Springer of Germany have become frustrated because even as their content has spread online, it is platforms like YouTube, owned by Google, and Facebook that have grown into advertising powerhouses on the back of the material.” — We’ve come to expect great content without paying (as your reading of these very words demonstrate). Is there a way to get the best of both open commons and copyright enclosure?

Data points of distinction

Why Does the NYT Continue to Cite Historian S.L.A. Marshall After the Paper Discredited Him in a Front-Page Story Years Ago?History News Network

A counterpoint to a data point from last week: “Despite the many questions that have been raised about Marshall’s research and conclusions, he continues to be cited by the media—including the New York Times!—as one of the great authorities on military history. Why? The army has refused to repudiate Marshall and the media are reluctant, as Hils puts it, to challenge a historian who, like Ambrose, has a flair for words and style.”

New Malware Family Uses Custom UDP Protocol for C&C CommunicationsThe Hacker News

“While monitoring the C&C infrastructure associated with KHRAT trojan, researchers identified multiple variants of these two malware families, where PLAINTEE appears to be the latest weapon in the group’s arsenal that uses a custom UDP protocol to communicate with its remote command-and-control server.” — Does this make malware the new porn, pioneering tech innovation?

Females Are Outperforming Males On Every Educational Level, And That Has Staggering Implications For The Future Of Our SocietyStillness in the Storm

“Women have received about 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in this country for 18 years in a row. Our future doctors, lawyers, politicians and societal leaders come from our pool of college graduates, and the numbers tell us that women are going to be dominating those fields for the foreseeable future.” — Maybe we need different life paths and metrics of success for different types of people?

Facebook Patent Imagines Triggering Your Phone’s Mic When a Hidden Signal Plays on TVInfrakshun

We’ll look back in amazement that they got away with pushing this kind of stuff. See also Facebook’s year of privacy mishaps continues — this time with a new software bug that ‘unblocked’ people and Facebook Algorithm Flags, Removes Declaration of Independence Text as Hate Speech. What would be truly newsworthy would be a week without a Facebook privacy screw-up or censorship transgression.

Important ideas

Let’s make private data into a public good — Mariana Mazzucato, Technology Review

“This way we have of ascribing value to what the internet giants produce is completely confusing, and it’s generating a paradoxical result: their advertising activities are counted as a net contribution to national income, while the more valuable services they provide to users are not.” — Maybe “maximum surveillance, minimum transparency” is backwards? I won’t cry if Google goes away.

Dionysius Lardner, the denigrated sage of early railways [PDF] — Andrew Odlyzko

Andrew is a mathematician-historian who has written many wonderful papers about the Internet and other matters. If you are modern “traffic taker” involved in planning supply for cloud or communications demand, heed this: “Speaking very roughly, on railways started in the 1830s, there were about twice as many passengers as projected by the traffic takers, but they traveled half the expected distance.” — Locality matters, and don’t confuse a global address space of Internet Protocol with distance-invariant world.

Who controls the tech inside us? Budding biohackers are shaping ‘cyborg law’Digital Trends

“Historically, the company’s right to its proprietary information has trumped a consumer’s right to know the ins and outs of their device, according to Chris Hables Gray, a cyborg researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Gray worries that new technologies that are more integrated with the human mind and body are still regulated as if they’re old technologies, with their clear distinction between what’s human and what’s machine.” — Injectables and ingestibles are the new wearables, so we’re in for quite a ride.

Going Colorblind: An Experiment in Empathy and AccessibilityPrototypr

“To better understand Peter’s situation, I agreed to experience for myself what it’s like to be “colorblind” for three days by using the Chrome extension See, which lets you view the web as users with various visual impairments would. Using the deuteranomaly setting on my desktop, laptop, and phone, I was able to view the web as Peter does.” — An empathetic design pattern that could be used far more?

Interesting views

Swarm: Inside Ethereum’s Push to Create a Decentralized InternetBitrates

“End users of Swarm would access a platform very much like our current internet, but, ideally, with major improvements. Thanks to its decentralized infrastructure, Swarm offers DDoS-resistant, fault-tolerant, and censorship-proof p2p file storage, and a server solution with no downtime.” — Shame that the underlying inter-process communications architecture and protocols are still steampunk prototype.

China’s penetration of Silicon Valley creates risks for startupsReuters

“For now, at least, President Donald Trump has backed away from his declared intention to clamp down on a wide range of Chinese technology investments through a special emergency order, saying he would leave the job to CFIUS. But if Congress fails to pass the bill quickly, Trump said he would use his executive powers.” — At least we didn’t ever steal any of China’s technology to build Western wealth. Did we? See also California to Become Communist China, so it’s all a fair exchange.

The Long View: Surveillance, the Internet, and Government ResearchLA Review of Books

“To be sure, these constitute provocative theses, ones that attempt to confront not only the standard Silicon Valley story, but also established lore among the small group of scholars who study the history of computing. He falls short, however, of backing up his claims with sufficient evidence.” — I don’t think we’ve heard the last word on covert military involvement in Silicon Valley’s development.

Provocative perspectives

Confessions of an “ex” Peak Oil Believer — F William Engdahl

It’s from 2007, but instructive nonetheless on how collective beliefs rise and fall: “The only problem was, [US oil production] peaked not because of resource depletion in the US fields. It “peaked” because Shell, Mobil, Texaco and the other partners of Saudi Aramco were flooding the US market with dirt cheap Middle East imports, tariff free, at prices so low California and many Texas domestic producers could not compete and were forced to shut their wells in.”

TOXIC FOOD is killing humanity: One-fifth of global deaths now linked to processed junk food and toxic ingredientsNewstarget

“A new study conducted at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington ( and published in The Lancet medical journal finds that a shocking 20 percent of global deaths are caused by toxic foods, junk foods, processed foods and harmful food ingredients. In essence, the study reveals that the toxic food industry is now about as dangerous as Big Tobacco.” — The booby prize of tech is solving the wrong problems really well, and the right ones not at all. See also Microwave ovens ‘fluke’ your heart while they ‘nuke’ your food.

Chief Seattle’s Prophecy for America: The End of Living and the Beginning of SurvivalEra of Light

“The greatest irony is that we think we are free. We think because of our technology that we live in the greatest era in human history, when in reality we may very well be living in the darkest of ages. It takes a strong mind to see this, an “awakened” and “freed” mind to see how our departure from Nature has really meant exactly what Seattle said it would: The end of living and the beginning of survival.”

Media of merit

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