Why it’s a bad idea to trust private companies with the job of protecting our rights
The big tech companies are among the power elite. They form partnerships with government and exercise political power, often but not always in their customers’ best interests. Should occasion arise that Facebook’s interests (or Google’s, or Apple’s) don’t coincide with my interests, it’s likely my interests will take a back seat when it comes to the company’s attempts to influence public policy.
Twenty years ago, Internet pioneer John Perry Barlow wrote “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace” in which he envisioned the Internet as “the great equalizer,” as Danah Boyd writes in a February 5, 2016, article on Forbes. In fact, a World Bank study released at the start of the recent Davos Worldwide Economic Forum claims the Internet has contributed to rising inequality worldwide.
Barlow’s declaration 20 years ago presented the Internet denizens as outsiders, but they’re full-on mainstream now, with tremendous political, social, and economic influence. Boyd points out that tech powerhouses are in the midst of an identity crisis. They still consider themselves underdogs, so they shirk their moral responsibilities: “They fight as though they are insurgents while they operate as though they are kings.”
When it comes to standing up for social, political, and economic equality, the tech emperors have no clothes.
Does an ad-blocking giant wield too much power?
I’ve been using the AdBlock Plus browser extension for many years. It’s one of the three free browser security add-ons I recommend (along with Web of Trust and NoScript) in the February 10, 2015, Weekly. The company behind AdBlock Plus, Eyeo, has taken heat for its Acceptable Ads program, which some web executives have labeled “extortion,” as Engadget’s Violet Blue writes in February 12, 2016, article.
(In the June 16, 2015, Shorts, I describe Google’s quandary in deciding to participate in the Acceptable Ads program, and the July 15, 2015, Shorts links to an article about the great amount of bandwidth one university saved by installing ad blockers campus-wide.)
Companies pay a fee to Eyeo in exchange for having their ads added to AdBlock Plus’s white list; these ads meet other criteria to ensure they are unobtrusive, among other factors. One of the whitelisted companies is Taboola, whose advertising practices have come under fire. Note that small and midsize companies can apply to have their ads placed on the AdBlock Plus white list for free.
Forbes and other big-name sites now ask you to disable your ad-blocking software before they will display the content you want. Eyeo is negotiating with ad networks and the sites that rely on them to allow more of their ads through the blocker, as the Register’s Shaun Nichols reports in a February 8, 2016, article.
At the moment, Eyeo, a private company, is taking the lead in “regulating” the size, placement, and other characteristics of the ads that appear along with the content of the sites we visit and the services we use. AdBlock Plus is used by 144 million people, according to Engadget’s Blue, many of whom are the tech-savvy consumers prized by the advertisers. Eyeo may not be the ideal consumer representative in the face of potentially dangerous ads being served through so many ad-serving networks, but until someone else steps up – public or private – Eyeo’ll have to do.
Security experts: Requiring back doors into encryption is a very bad idea
If the U.S. passes a law prohibiting use of data-encryption products that can’t be broken via built-in back doors, it will hurt people and businesses in this country and put the rest of the world at a great advantage over us. Considering the general availability of unbreakable encryption, such a law would not improve our defenses against terrorists or other criminals.
A study released on February 11, 2016, by Bruce Schneier and other prominent security researchers found 865 hardware and software encryption products available in 55 countries; 546 of the products are U.S.-based. Wired’s Kim Zetter reports on the study in a February 11, 2016, article. The strong-encryption genie is out of the bottle – at least for the time-being.
(The Hill’s Cory Bennett writes about the U.S. Congress’s proposed Encrypt Act that would preempt attempts by state and local governments to regulate encryption.)
Mother Jones: The corruptest of the corrupt: Sheldon Adelson funnels Chinese money-laundering proceeds directly to Republican PAC.
AdExchanger: FTC Commissioner Julie Brill tells ad industry to give consumers notice of cross-device tracking, which uses cell-phone signals to track our movements through stores and malls.
Forbes: 33 free data sources for all your big-data needs.
Instructables: The ultimate survivor paracord belt, complete with petroleum jelly, bleach, a whistle, and a battery-powered light – all in a belt that’s “comfortable to wear.” I didn’t even mention the 120 feet of paracord, wire, razor, cork, magnifying lens, magnet, and flint-stone. Bring on the zombie aliens!