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Technology Thoughts

China silences its bloggers

I’ve written a couple of times on freedom of speech on the Internet and how its going to be taken away.

Here

And here

The threats of regulating and licensing speech are real and we’ve heard the increasing drumbeat of it in the last year. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more de-platforming people for what they say, entire sites like Parler getting de-facto removed from the web by Amazon, Apple, and Google, and the blackballing of a sitting President of the United States (yes Trump was still President when he got blackballed) from all of social media, we have moved dangerously close to increasing the cost of speech on the Internet. I suspect we will follow China’s lead as we did with COVID-19 lockdowns and it will have a chilling effect across the Internet that will only benefit existing media, social media, and Internet giants.

Beginning next week, the Cyberspace Administration of China will require bloggers and influencers to have a government-approved credential before they can publish on a wide range of subjects. Some fear that only state media and official propaganda accounts will get permission. While permits have been needed since at least 2017 to write about topics such as political and military affairs, enforcement has not been widespread. The new rules expand that requirement to health, economics, education and judicial matters.

Associated Press

The culmination of COVID-19 and the controversy of government lockdowns and rushed vaccines caused social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to either flag posts as misinformation or outright remove content from their platforms. It wasn’t done by government but by these organizations privately. Is it legal? Sure. Is it right? Absolutely not.

But how is this going to get applied to the rest of us? The push for “net neutrality” will mean a government takeover of the Internet with regulation. The push has been on for years. I suspect the FCC at some point will step in and nothing will be safe. They will eventually require everyone to have a license to publish content that is publicly accessible from the Internet. That means websites, blogs, social media, and even podcasts.

Podcasts, the last bastion of free expression. It’s the hardest to moderate (because there are no moderators for independent podcasts) and the hardest to regulate and will come under increased scrutiny. We already have media organizations like ProPublica and The Verge posting stories about this. So-called journalists are advocating for less free speech because they believe that some speech is right and other speech is wrong. What they don’t get, and I blame our piss poor education system, is that one day it will be applied to them.

While social media companies have become more willing over the past few months to censor accounts that engage in hate speech, podcasts are still largely unmoderated. Part of that has to do with the industry’s structure: The main podcast portals merely index the shows, like Google indexes websites. Despite canceling Bannon’s YouTube channel, Google Podcasts still indexes “War Room.” (Apple accounts for more than half of the number of podcast streams, with Spotify a distant second.)

ProPublica

A disparate network of companies makes up the podcasting world, including apps, hosting services, sales teams, and networks. Moderation will need to happen across these companies to be effective, and in this current moment, that effort doesn’t work the way it does at tech monoliths like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, which can remove someone with a push of a button. Put simply, podcasting isn’t ready for full-scale, widespread moderation — if that’s even what the industry wants.

The Verge

Broadcast, print, cable, big tech, and big social media will align forces to raise the barrier to entry for independent content producers (“creators” if you like). I believe they will put pressure on the government to introduce regulations over the Internet in order to prevent Joe Schmo from publishing his thoughts and gaining an audience. Their motives won’t be to prevent “misinformation” or “fake news” it will be to protect their advertising revenue and prevent competition from being able to gain a foothold.

Right now absolutely anyone can start a website, blog, or podcast with virtually no extra money than they already spend every month. You can get your own domain name, host your site, and launch your podcast for less than $20/month using services such as Dreamhost (where this blog is hosted) and using a laptop or a phone. That’s literally all you need to start. If you want to do it for nothing you can use free services like WordPress to host your site and use a public computer at a library.

Once the heavy hand of government comes down all that goes out the window. I used to be in broadcasting. The book of regulations is huge. The cost of licensing, maintaining your license, and complying with regulations is huge. Bring that model to the Internet and independent voices will be relegated to dark corners of the Internet or be found on local street corners or town centers handing out pamphlets.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Image by harshahars from Pixabay
Categories
Technology Thoughts

Google, Apple, and Amazon violated Parler’s human rights

It’s not that long ago that we were being told the access to the Internet is a human right. Apparently that concept goes right out the window if you have the wrong thoughts. Mind you, it has been mostly those on the left that introduced the concept of Internet access as a human right. Yet when push came to shove they were the first to cast it aside as soon as that right was being exercised by those with which they disagree.

As far as I’m aware a human right is a right you’re born with. It’s a right you have because you exist. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence,

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

archive.gov

I don’t agree that Internet access is a human right. You’re not born connected to the Internet… yet. Wait until they jack us all in to indoctrinate us from birth. That’s a conspiracy theory for another day! But, let’s list some organizations that have pushed this narrative.

OpenGlobalRights.org

My research shows that internet access should be a human right provided by the government as without it, other human rights—including the right to work and the right to basic education—cannot be adequately realized.

openglobalrights.org

United Nations

Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

un.org

The right to Internet access, also known as the right to broadband or freedom to connect, is the view that all people must be able to access the Internet in order to exercise and enjoy their rights to freedom of expression and opinion and other fundamental human rights, that states have a responsibility to ensure that Internet access is broadly available, and that states may not unreasonably restrict an individual’s access to the Internet.

wikipedia.org

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Advocates should also galvanize the private sector to pressure the governments they work with to respect the right to the Internet by threatening to pull their investments. Just as activists named and shamed Nike and the Gap into ending child labor in their Vietnamese sweatshops, so they should similarly call out countries that harass, spy on, or disrupt or deny Internet access to its citizens.

carnegieendowment.org

Journal of Applied Philosophy

I argue instead that Internet access is itself a moral human right that requires that everyone has unmonitored and uncensored access to this global medium, which should be publicly provided free of charge for those unable to afford it. Rather than being a mere luxury, Internet access should be considered a universal entitlement because it is necessary for people to be able to lead minimally decent lives. Accepting this claim transforms our conception of the Internet from a technology to that of a basic right.

Journal of Applied Philosophy

Brookings Institution

In a world where internet shutdowns are increasing year to year, it is important that the right steps are taken to improve the relationship between governments and citizens and to uphold all human rights. The UN could advance the cause of universal internet access by using the SDGs as a stepping stone; those whose livelihoods depend on internet access or who fear that their access will be terminated will have the most to gain. The 193 signatory countries have already committed to improving internet quality, sustainability, and accessibility—a first step to internet access truly being treated as a human right.

brookings.edu

Amnesty International

The rights enshrined in the UDHR are to be enjoyed by all people, in all places, and at all times. Technological progress will always change how people enjoy their fundamental rights, and require governments and people to reaffirm the inseparability rights, and the methods of enjoyment of those rights.

amnestyusa.org

So… what is it? Is access to the Internet a human right or not? Apparently it is but only if you think correct thoughts. What the UN and other international groups need to do is issue certifications to people and groups so we know who is entitled to human rights. The rest of us will then know who is and who is not human.

Categories
Technology Thoughts

The Internet is 50 years old today

Who knew? It’s already been half a century since the first message was sent across the Arpanet. That moment lead to me being able to post the following diatribe that no one will read. Oh the wonders of modern technology!

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web (which is different from the Internet itself), over the last year has spearheaded a movement to try to somehow reconfigure the Web to make it more open and free. He didn’t like how the Web was used to create things like Twitter and Facebook (these are walled gardens) and I don’t think he likes how all traffic around the world is basically controlled by Google through search (leveraging a superior search product to sell advertising).

The solution? A “Contract for the Web“. Just by the naming of this you can tell it will never work. The Contract has a set of principles. They are:

Governments will

  • Ensure everyone can connect to the internet
    • So that anyone, no matter who they are or where they live, can participate actively online.
  • Keep all of the internet available, all of the time
    • So that no one is denied their right to full internet access.
  • Respect people’s fundamental right to privacy
    • So everyone can use the internet freely, safely and without fear.

Companies will

  • Make the internet affordable and accessible to everyone
    • So that no one is excluded from using and shaping the web.
  • Respect consumers’ privacy and personal data
    • So people are in control of their lives online.
  • Develop technologies that support the best in humanity and challenge the worst
    • So the web really is a public good that puts people first

Citizens will

  • Be creators and collaborators on the web
    • So the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.
  • Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity
    • So that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
  • Fight for the web
    • So the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.

Why will this Contract fail? Because only the United States has a Constitution that protects natural rights and natural rights are directly tied to the Internet and the Web. The European Union, Russia, China, and other nations have already taken steps to ensure the current Web or its progeny will never be open and unencumbered.

Is Internet access a natural right? No. By the fact of your birth are you entitled to access to a computer network? It’s ridiculous to argue that it is. Being human does not require a computer at all. How will countries that don’t respect natural rights “ensure” that everyone can connect? Does that mean a government subsidized system? I will get taxed so someone else can get online? That’s just stupid.

All the world is moving to limit speech and therefore will not keep all of the Internet available all of the time. In the EU, there is the “right to be forgotten”. It doesn’t matter if it’s on the public record or not but an individual can petition to have things removed online (or at least blocked from view in the EU) to protect people from humiliation. In the United States, the Congress continually grills social media companies for things their users post. The US already passed a law years ago that protects so-called “platforms” such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube from lawsuits from content posted by users. However, the more these social media companies get into censoring posts and takedowns of content the more they are looking like traditional publishers and less like platforms. If they continue to move down that road I can’t see a difference between them and television networks or newspapers. Either leave the speech alone or become responsible for what gets posted. You can’t have it both ways. Congress is largely full of people that aren’t interested in upholding their oath of office and more interested in control of the public. It’s not like they care about social media companies being publishers or platforms. As long as the content is content they agree with they are happy otherwise the posts are fake and illegal.

On the right to privacy, if you are receiving a product for no cash compensation how do you expect the company providing the product to make money? Broadcast TV, at least in the US, is free. How do they make money? Through advertising. They using rating systems to figure out the people who are watching and try to push ads to those demographics. It’s the same for Google, Facebook, and Twitter. They do nothing more than what magazines (when print was big) used to do. I remember when subscribing to PC Magazine, back in the 1980’s, that they would have a little survey of your interests to gauge who their readers are. After completing the survey you would start receiving all kinds of offers in the mail for things surrounding that survey. Was that wrong of them to do? They obviously sold my name, address, and personal preferences and they did this while I paid for a subscription. That’s how print media stayed afloat. How is that different from Google seeing keywords in my e-mail and pushing ads or Facebook seeing posts about food and pushing me ads for restaurants?

The Contract calls for companies to make the Internet affordable and accessible to everyone. It is impossible to define affordable. What is affordable to me may not be affordable to you. And what will define accessible? Say I pay $50 for a connection that gives me 100 mbps down and 12 mbps up. Is that affordable? Does that speed level give me access to everything? I don’t think you can stream 4k at those speeds but I can surely watch streaming video and download any kind of audio and text. Who will decide these things? Some blue ribbon committee?

What is the best in humanity and what is the worst? Are non-profits good and for-profits bad? I think modern non-profits are actually profit generating entities and exist largely to employ people and shape public policy towards some political agenda. Sure there are the non-profit organizations that actually exist to perform altruistic functions and do good for their communities but what about the big boys like the Red Cross, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, and the American Cancer Society? I don’t trust that, at the top of the organizations, they are interested in solutions for the purposes for which they were formed. I believe they exist to make money for the executives and the top management layers and nothing else. The people at the middle and bottom, and especially unpaid volunteers, are actually trying to help people but in my mind are mere slaves that prop up corrupt organizations. With for-profit organizations at least you know explicitly what they are about. Profit. Pure and simple. They are there to sell you something in order to make money. In my mind, that helps people more than any non-profit. What has produced more to benefit the world? Microsoft or the American Diabetes Association? How many wealthy people did Microsoft help create? How has that wealth created more wealth through other companies? How has that wealth created more philanthropy? The American Diabetes Association on the other hand doesn’t even acknowledge that a low carbohydrate diet reduces the risk of Type 2 Diabetes. This while people are literally getting off of their insulin by adopting a low or very low carbohydrate diet, essentially curing themselves through diet.

Calling for citizens (of which country?) to be creators and collaborators, build strong communities that respect civil discourse, and fight for the Web. What nonsense is this? Content creation part is easy. I’m doing it now (regardless of whether or not this content is consumed). But what about building strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity? This cannot be defined. What if racists want to create their own social network that denounces all other races that are not their own in the belief that the other races are not human? To them those people are not human and don’t deserve dignity. In the United States, this type of community and speech used to be protected under the First Amendment and I would argue that it should be. The First Amendment is under assault by people that don’t want their feelings hurt or for ideas that they may find abhorrent to be spread. While I find the idea of Communism and Socialism abhorrent where others don’t I would not seek to silence those people. Whereas those that find Capitalism abhorrent seek to demonize those that believe in that system and shout them down. How will any Contract for the Web protect that when the U.S. Constitution is having a difficult time with it?

To me, what needs to be protected and spread across the world, is the U.S. Constitution. There is no other document that protects the natural rights of human beings the way it does. If governments across the world adopt this there will be no need for any Contract for the Web.