Software and Terms of Service Control Ownership

You don’t own the things that you pay for if those things are based around software. Nowadays, that is describing more and more things.

HP has caused a minor uproar with a new update for their Office Jet line of printers, which included a DRM lock which is intended to block third party ink cartridges from working. Customers were not happy. HP backtracked on this particular update, but they didn’t explain exactly how they were going to implement it or how they would avoid doing the same in a future update.

When you purchase something you should be free to do what you want with it. HP is losing market share on printers, and forcing you to buy their ink (probably the most expensive liquid you’ll ever buy) is a desperate gambit to maintain that revenue. The ability to use whatever ink you purchase should be obvious. The ability to do what you want with your ebooks should also be obvious, even if a Quartz poll (on terms of service no less!) shows that most readers don’t understand that.

You can choose not to install updates to firmware, and hope that your device still works. But what if you miss out on an important security update? One that allows someone to gain control of your device for use in a botnet, or to remotely set your printer on fire.

What about wanting to use your device after the manufacturer no longer supports it? In the past week I’ve been unable to find firmware updates for a bluetooth controller that came from Kickstarter a few years ago and was sold in major retailers. The website simply no longer exists, and a mirror for the firmware and instructions is hard to find, if it exists at all. Narrative, the life logging camera that also came out of Kickstarter shut down on Monday, though their website doesn’t even acknowledge this yet, instead saying that cameras can’t be purchased because demand is too high.

I waited over a year to get my camera after purchase, yet a few months later it is effectively an expensive puck, until they release their promised photo retrieval tool. Which they have no obligation or timeline to actually do. If they do release a tool it could arguably improve my usage over being tied into their system. If they don’t, the DMCA and other laws could legally halt others from creating free, open source tools to get back usage of your camera.

If you want to be able to use whatever ink you want in your printer, or think that this is an important first step into affirming your rights over the things that you pay for, the EFF has an open letter that you can sign to the CEO of HP, which has garnered over 11,000 signatures so far.


Pepe is the Alt-Right Poster Child. Image courtesy CommanderCorson
Pepe is the Alt-Right Poster Child. Image courtesy CommanderCorson

Anti-Defamation League Declares Pepe the Frog a Hate Symbol

Sarah Begley, Time

The life cycle of any meme is strange. They can transcend the internet and enter popular culture. They can become newsworthy items on their own. Or they can completely eclipse their original meaning. Some even gain additional life and find a way to reach more people positively, as the creator of the Equity vs. Equality meme describes in the second life of his presentation slide.

Pepe the frog did not get this positive treatment. It moved from a webcomic character into a symbol of the new breed of white supremacists who hide their terribleness behind the name “alt-right”.


Can you abuse technology? It certaintly works the other way around!

Frank Buytendijk, Gartner

Techno-anger, the new rage affliction? All of us yell at our devices every once in a while. Some parents are making their kids say please and thank you to Siri and Alexa. Someone thanking Google becomes a news story. Research by Dr. Sheryl Brahnam suggests that anti-social behavior with computer agents is both common and something that should be avoided if possible.


Neiman Marcus and Vogue blame fashion’s woes on bloggers: “You are heralding the death of style”

Marc Bain, Quartz

Vogue and Neiman Marcus are mad at bloggers. In the world of fashion capitalism maybe some of their points are valid. Or maybe they are making less money while paradoxically having to pay less for advertising of new fashion.

The gatekeepers of old industries are losing their grasp, and they don’t like it. Anyone has the ability to make a change online and anyone can find a voice given an internet connection and effort. The complaints of these gatekeepers will get louder and more frequent as their power over PR is eclipsed by the voices of their fans.

nexus2cee_google-allo-sticker-packs-julio-bull-1

Allo, allo. What’s all this chatter about then?

Look, if I can use a chat app and immediately start sending gif stickers of a twerking bull to someone, I will. If that isn’t entertaining enough, I can send beans wearing condoms, entreating you to “Rubber Up!”, or some kind of… pig monster maybe? asking you to send pics with his Simmons-like tongue sticking out.

But now let’s get down to the core app. Is it worth using? I’m generally a Google kind of guy, and I’m eagerly awaiting their connected home device so I can give up Alexa for something that knows me a bit better, what with most of my email, calendar, chats, and more coming through the internet giant. That said, there are certain times where the magical moments brought up by the company that knows you better than anyone are overshadowed by just how much it knows.

Privacy researchers have been urging users not to turn to Allo, as even though it offers Signal’s end to end encryption protocol in the app, the default is for your conversations to be stored on Google servers indefinitely, to furnish data for their AI in order to improve that magical feeling. This means that anyone who can access Google’s servers (which we know to have happened before) can access those conversations. That’s probably why Ed Snowden also suggested not using apps like Allo for communication.

Add to this the fact that users complain about the glut of chat apps and the fracturing of that market (very true in my experience), as well as the fact that it currently just does not work that well, and Allo is looking less like the perfect new thing that I was waiting for, and a flawed, untrustworthy and not very useful assistant. Given that this is Google, it could go the way of it’s many shelved or otherwise underdeveloped tools, or it could get renewed vigor with live users giving it a go. Considering recent purchases by the search behemoth, including the acquisition of api.ai, they just might be making a go of this as hard as their competitors are.


Verizon issued a pretty stunning statement concerning the Yahoo breach

Jason Abbruzzese, Mashable

Yahoo stakeholders are in a bit of a bind right now. Verizon issued a statement on Thursday, claiming that they only found out about a leak of approximately half a billion accounts and personal details of Yahoo customers two days prior. That is well after the two months ago that they agreed to purchase the beleaguered Yahoo’s web division for almost $5billion.

The breach occurred in 2014, but the data has been for sale since at least August of this year, and no word yet on who has it. The indications given so far are that, like some recently high profile hacking cases, the attack resulting in the breach may have been undertaken by a state actor, rather than individual hackers.

This is bad news for Yahoo, as the deal hasn’t finalized and presumably Verizon has a reason now to alter the terms of the deal, if not cancel it entirely. Even if Verizon continues with the acquisition, there’s no reason that the final value could be lower if the Yahoo stock drops heavily over the news

This story was suggested by @lmelegari. Do you have a story that you think would be good for the newsletter? Please suggest it!


Ted Cruz is wrong about how free speech is censored on the Internet

Tim Berners-Lee and Daniel Weitzner, The Washington Post

When the creator of the World Wide Web talks about the internet, it’s worth a listen. In an editorial in the Washington Post this week, Sir Tim Berners-Lee fights back against a huge backlash in recent weeks of Conservative lawmakers calling plans to cede national control of ICANN an affront on free speech. As Berners-Lee rightly notes, ICANN has nothing to do with free speech or speech of any sort, and does not control what people post online. ICANN is an address book of sorts, pointing you to domains based on a mutual trust between service providers the world over. If a repressive government wants to block a website or shut down internet to their entire country, there is nothing that ICANN can do to stop or help them.


California Supreme Court to hear Yelp free-speech case

Carolyn Said, SFGate

I talked about a legal dispute involving Yelp as a third party between a lawyer in California and a dissatisfied client in the newsletter about a month ago. Yelp challenged a ruling by a lower court that ordered them to scrub a defamatory review from their site, despite them not having been involved in the original dispute, and the DMCA safe harbor protections that they ostensibly get.

That safe harbor has been slowly evaporating, as lawmakers have found it more enticing to remove one of the few positive policies from a law that at times has been quite stifling. Thankfully, the California State Supreme Court has decided to hear out Yelp’s case, after an amicus brief filed by other high-profile tech companies drew attention to the suit. The reason for the added support is that this could be a test case for future rulings against companies that host content that some visitors find distasteful. The reason that they definitely should hear the case out is that Yelp wasn’t in the original dispute, and therefore did not have a chance to be heard.


1.0.0

Mike McQuaid, Homebrew

If you love having a package manager for your apps and use a mac, celebrate that Homebrew has hit a stable release of 1.0.0 this week! If only every app developer built in support for packages, allowing me to update everything at once.


Inside Google’s Internet Justice League and Its AI-Powered War on Trolls

Andy Greenberg, Wired

Another recent story was on Jigsaw, a division of Google. With an AI system that they’ve open sourced and trained on New York Times comments and Wikipedia articles, the company is claiming a 92% success rate (which Greenberg disputes) in recognizing and acting upon abusive comments online. The question is if Conversation AI can grow and adapt as quickly as those who regularly find ways to bypass content censors.

Ed Snowden’s Chance for Clemency is Closing

Edward Snowden has taken refuge in Russia for over three years, ever since leaking millions of documents worth of proof of illegal activity on part of the US Government. He has stated his wish to return to the United States if he

The Oliver Stone biopic, ‘Snowden’, hits theaters today, and his legal team is hoping that it can help turn public opinion enough to help convince President Obama to pardon the whistleblower. Immediately before leaving office is generally the time that most noteworthy presidential pardons are given. Both major party nominees have indicated that they would most likely not grant leniency to Snowden, even if Bernie Sanders publicly supports the idea.

The President will need quite a bit of convincing. He has made it clear that he does not condone Snowden’s actions in anyway whatsoever, and already has demonstrated his dislike of whistleblowers, prosecuting them under the Espionage Act more than all past presidents combined. This is the same law that is under review again for being potentially unconstitutional, and which has been used to silence other whistleblowers, as they are not allowed to make a case based on public good of their leaks.

The NSA leaks, part of a broader picture of surveillance culture, mass leaks, and the increasing interconnectedness of our world, have definitely had an impact felt worldwide. Here in the United States, we’ve had a conversation about the role of surveillance in our society, new bills intended to curb abuses of surveillance power, and court rulings that have declared several NSA activities, including the bulk collection of phone records and metadata. Corporations have become emboldened as well, building encryption directly into their products to avoid some surveillance, and standing up to the government to draw a line and say that they will not bend to unreasonable demands.

From early reviews, the film takes some liberties with its source material. The most good that it can do is to raise awareness of the man, who has already been featured in an Academy Award winning documentary, ‘Citizenfour’, which does a good job of explaining who he is and what he did for us. His interview with John Oliver last year, while showing a depressing number of people who even knew who Snowden was (see awareness issue above), was also a good primer on personal security, and a humorous look at a man who has been taken so serious for the past three years.

The Feds Will Soon Be Able to Legally Hack Almost Anyone

Senator Ron Wyden, Matt Blaze and Susan Landau, Wired

Sometimes the government is more transparent in how they surveil. Currently, Expansions to Rule 41 of the Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure are under consideration in Congress. The fallout of this could very well allow the government to legally do what it’s already doing, and hack computers of criminals, their victims, and unrelated third parties in the millions with a single warrant. Beyond the privacy implications, security is something that isn’t really taken into account here. Well, it is if you are oblivious enough to think that the government can crack your devices but no one else would be able to take advantage of those cracks.

A better bill to support would be the Stop Mass Hacking Act, which Senator Wyden introduced with Senator Rand Paul in May.


The state of the Octoverse 2016

Github

Github is the most widely used public code repository in the world, so it is also the def facto place to see trends in code. JavaScript and Java both had huge gains in popularity in the past year, though newer languages like Go, Swift, and TypeScript are also seeing growth. Microsoft has overtaken Facebook and Google for the most open source contributions on the platform.

See all this and more, like the issue message that got the most reactions (it might sound awfully familiar to NASA buffs), with an infographic of stats on the code repository network that came out in conjunction with the Github Universe conference this week.


YouTube Is Building Community—And It’s Not Just About Video

Harry McCracken, FastCompany

This is a long read, but if you’re more inclined to video, the YouTube channel The Know stated it succinctly: Facebook is becoming YouTube, while YouTube is becoming Facebook.


How WIRED Completely Encrypted Itself

Zack Tollman, Wired

Zack Tollman is a smart guy. He can teach most anyone the basics of security and encryption, even me. When Wired moved to encrypting their entire network of sites, covering 23 years worth of publishing, there was a lot to do. Their hope is that a post about the problems that they faced and how they overcame them will be useful to other publishers. I’m also glad to have something to point to so I can say “yeah, this isn’t always as easy as it looks, and sometimes it looks hard.”


Twitter’s new, longer tweets are coming September 19th

Chris Welch, The Verge

This and other articles about the change in tweet character counts have been a bit clickbaity, but it’s still a change that I eagerly await. Following announcements earlier this year that things like usernames, links, and media attachments would no longer count toward character limits in tweets, it appears that we’re almost there. I personally can’t wait to quote people and tag people and spam links everywhere with impunity. Follow me on Twitter if you dare😝

Google’s Clever Plan to Stop Aspiring ISIS Recruits

Andy Greenberg, Wired

Google is finding another way to use it’s powerful and omnipresent search system for good. Chat services have been outright banning people who post in support of ISIS, even if they are the most popular YouTuber. Now Jigsaw, a team formerly known as Google Ideas, is directing search terms identified as common to potential ISIS recruits to videos and content curated from the web that is believed to be effective in turning people away from the cult.

If you want to know some other ways that one of our presidential nominees would handle ISIS on the web, try to parse some of these statements.


Dennis Cooper’s blog re-launched after Google censorship criticisms

Mazin Sidahmed, The Guardian

Dennis Cooper, who is an author and artist, has been running his blog for about 14 years, with updates almost every day of the week. Several months ago, Google took down his long-running Blogspot hosted site, after a report from a user on a ten-year-old post, despite that post’s content being hidden behind an adult content notice. An agreement with Google was finally reached where they would provide him data from his site, as well as his Gmail account, which was also disabled, removing a decade of correspondence and a novel that he was working on.

His new site is built with WordPress, and is a good reminder that it’s always best to own your own data.


Chrome is stepping up its war on the unencrypted web

Russell Brandom, The Verge

Chrome is doing more to push sites to move to using basic encryption standards by changing to SSL and HTTPS. This is getting much easier, as well as free, with services like Let’s Encrypt, and the number of sites offering this level of protection has dramatically risen over the past year.

Starting in January for all forms of Chrome (earlier for incognito mode), a notification in the address bar will be displayed on websites with login forms that are not protected with SSL. The goal is to raise awareness for users, and to an extent shame websites into becoming more secure for their visitors.


The Harambe Trolley Problem
The Harambe Trolley Problem

How Harambe Became the Perfect Meme

Venkatesh Rao, The Atlantic

I am very much over Harambe as an anything, and as a meme is the top of that list. In a similar way that “Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams” became a lazy shorthand to faux-insiderism, every mention of Harambe has moved away from being about the gorilla and controversy surrounding his death. The image and name is now devoid of meaning, with the ability to stand in for almost any message.

Rao’s take is an interesting one: in a world where only things out of the ordinary can gain any traction at all, Harambe is an example of how meaning can be applied to


Stupid Patent of the Month: Elsevier Patents Online Peer Review

Elliot Harmon and Daniel Nazer, EFF

The future of publicly funded science research should be what is being promised by the EU: free and open access to research and papers if any public money is used. The future of science research should not be patents on online peer review systems, with the intent of tightening a stranglehold of ownership of academic research. This is why websites like sci-hub.cc exist.

Facebook fires human editors, algorithm immediately posts fake news

Annalee Newitz, ArsTechnica

Facebook took heed of the critics who said that their human editors brought bias to the trending newsfeed. Last week they replaced all of their human editors with an algorithm that sorts based on the most discussed stories on the platform.

Big surprise, a lot of the stories posted are not real stories. It seems that people are more apt to share outrageous headlines that aren’t based in reality. That’ll show us to let computers take our jobs!


Here’s What You Need to Know About the #YouTubeIsOverParty Uproar

Mathew Ingram, Fortune

YouTube was under fire yesterday for the notifications sent out to many highly subscribed channels that their videos would be de-monetized. The videos in question apparently violate the “advertiser friendly” terms, though not all of them are very obvious.

The official Youtube team Twitter account responded that no change of rules around content has changed, there’s just a notification system process now to send those messages to users. That hasn’t sat very well with many famous Youtubers that are loudly wondering how many of their videos in the past have been de-monetized without them knowing it.


Open Internet Advocates Claim Victory in Europe Net Neutrality Fight

Sam Gustin, Motherboard

In a victory that at this point I’d not have guessed at all, the European Union has followed suit with the US and upheld net neutrality. A new ruling upholds that internet users “have the right to access and distribute information and content, use and provide applications and services, and use terminal equipment of their choice, irrespective of the end-user’s or provider’s location or the location, origin or destination of the information, content, application or service, via their internet access service.” A PDF of the full BEREC guidelines can be found here.


The Dropbox hack is real

Troy Hunt

Troy Hunt followed up on a Motherboard story confirming a rumor that Dropbox had been hacked back in 2012 and the service has now discovered this and has forced password resets for affected users. He does more than the standard shock news story however and did some analysis on how he determined that the dump was real, as well as some instructions on how to verify for yourself.

If you’re worried about any accounts of yours, check Have I Been Pwned? to see if your email address is associated with any known leaks over the past few years.


Facebook Just Proved It Isn’t Hooli From Silicon Valley

Cade Metz, Wired

Google has Brotli (which I covered in one of the first newsletters), and now Facebook has ZStandard. The major players in compression know that the only way for them to find new revolutions in compression (and AI, and hardware design, and even the foundation of their site’s software) is to make it open to third party innovation.


Who Killed YTMND?

Bryan Menegus, Gizmodo

We know who killed Gizmodo parent, Gawker, but Gizmodo wants to know who killed YTMND. The answer to that question appears to be the site itself. You’re The Man Now Dog was a staple of internet culture in the early 2000’s, but the site was never made for such a wide user base. Advertisers were hard to come by with the kind of content posted to the site, and the social connections made it easier for abuse to pile on. An interview with the creator of the site described how hard it was to run a community of over 300,000 users with only one employee, as well as his reluctance to expand the site in the first place.