07 November 2017

We Can't Tell When the Internet is Lying

We’ve long been told that we can’t trust everything on the Internet. At one point, that was a primary lesson taught to people new to the Internet. It turns out that we’re not very good at figuring out what online is true. In an effort to show more ads (and to keep people around longer) sites have made it harder to tell when something is true versus an ad. Many people have trouble telling when an image has been manipulated. With the rise of fake news, more people are confused or doubting real news, or simply care less about the truth as long as what the Internet claims matches their beliefs. Even the people we expect to be the most Internet-savvy are not good at figuring out what to trust in some cases.

In a study of 700 men and women, only about 60% of participants were able to tell when a picture had been manipulated, which is only slightly better than guessing at random. Of the ones who were able to identify manipulated images, less than half could tell what in the imag...

30 October 2017

Who Owns Your Thoughts?

Targeted advertising and targeted news feeds are commonplace online. Services try to tailor what they show to keep you interested so you’ll spend more time on their site, and hopefully, click more ads. Using the information from how you react to what they show you, they build a profile of your interests to better tailor what they show you. Unfortunately, those services don’t have an interest in making sure you see a neutral view of the world or even that you see every post from the people or brands you follow. They’re interested in providing results that are relevant to you, whether or not they’re always correct, so they can gather more information and continue selling advertisements.

Interest targeting takes a lot of different forms online. The most obvious is online advertising, which comes as no surprise to people accustomed to the Internet showing them ads for things they searched for recently. Much of the online economy and free-to-use services rely on this to fund w...

16 October 2017

Beyond Network Neutrality

Net neutrality is immensely important to keeping the Internet open for every voice and for ensuring that no ISP can curate what information its customers have access to. However, it’s not the only neutrality fight important to keeping the Internet alive. While net neutrality requires ISPs to provide access to the entire Internet and deliver every site equally, there are few neutrality requirements for online services themselves. As the world moves online and hosting services and social media become critical platforms for independent voices, there is no guarantee that those platforms will be neutral. With allegations around foreign interference via online platforms in the 2016 election and actions various cloud providers have occasionally taken to silence sites, the discussion of how online services can curate what their users see is building.

Hosting and social media platforms h...

04 September 2017

What does "metadata" actually mean?

One of the buzzwords around online surveillance and leaked NSA data collection programs has been the word “metadata.” The government doesn’t collect content of communication, just the “metadata” we’ve been assured, which seems to imply that collecting only metadata—though at times, far more than just metadata has been collected—is acceptable and respects our privacy. Unfortunately, “metadata” is a broad term and allows for a large amount of data collection. Not only that, but collecting metadata is not subject to regulations as stringent as those requiring warrants for wiretapping.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “metadata” as “data about other data.” Everything stored digitally has some sort of metadata associated with it, such as where it lives on a computer, who created it, who owns it, or where it came from. Th...

26 July 2017

Opposing net neutrality threatens the viability of open source communities

The net neutrality discussion is, at its core, about free speech on the internet. Free speech online is a driving force for the online community; an average of 1.32 billion people each day share their voices on Facebook alone (as of June 2017). It’s possible to be heard as well, with more than half of Americans using the internet as their primary source of information. Unfortunately, internet service providers (ISPs) want their own say in how free speech actually is online, with some claiming their own rights to free speech when it comes to what people can access.

ISPs are serious about their free speech claims when it comes to net neutrality. Several ISPs and telecom associations have filed briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals arguing that net neutrality prevents them from favoring their own servic...

15 July 2017

Keep Up with Net Neutrality - Preorder My New Book!

July 12, 2017 was the Day of Action for Net Neutrality. Across the Internet, sites showed banners, slowed themselves down, and tried to make it clear what a non neutral Internet might look like. It’s not pretty. A tiered, throttled, and restricted Internet would likely hurt your favorite web services, making them harder to access and more expensive.

Net neutrality is one of the most important digital rights battles we’ve had so far. The battle is raging and doesn’t appear to be ready to end soon with the FCC suggesting it will ignore pro net neutrality comments and telecom lobbying kicking into high gear. Net neutrality matters to everyone because it prevents ISPs from picking and choosing what parts of the Internet - and what information - you have access to when you get online. If we lose net neutrality, ISPs will gain a lot of power over our ability to be informed.

Net neutrality is so important, that I’m releasing a book about it on August 7, 2017. It details ...

24 May 2017

Go Comment on the FCC Net Neutrality Proposal

This week, the FCC published its promised proposal to dismantle net neutrality rules. The proposal claims to “restore Internet freedom” by undoing Title II classification. In addition, the proposal asks whether net neutrality rules are necessary to protect the Internet at all. This comes after a court decision that refused to re-hear a challenge to Title II. Rather than focus on the benefits of Title II and net neutrality, as well as the fact that Title II has been found legal, it focuses on dissenting opinions which have in some cases been debunked (or that are generally accepted to be false) in order to explain unproven holes in net neutrality.

The FCC head has called net neutrality a mistake, arguing among other things that there is plenty of competition in the broadband Internet market, that net neutrality would harm consumers, and that net neutrality would stifle innovation. Evidence to the contrary for all of those is prevalent. Very few people have more than two ho...

11 May 2017

The Fight for the Internet

In 2002, the FCC classified Internet providers under Title I, an “Information Service” classification. This is generally regarded as a win for net neutrality advocates but didn’t go as far as many wanted. Title I classification has been referred to as a “hands off” or “lite” classification in that it recognized that the Internet was an important means of communication but provided minimal regulations around that status. Specifically, Title I allowed the FCC some indirect authority to regulate interstate and international communications, but did not allow regulation of services themselves. Net neutrality advocates considered this to be too little. While the FCC promised that Title I would allow them to enforce net neutrality as needed, Title I by its definition did not allow them to follow up on those promises.

ISPs (in particular, Verizon) fought Title I classification...

28 April 2017

Online Surveillance Briefing

Along with the free flow of information the Internet provides, the Internet has also been a powerful means of government and corporate surveillance. Learning a lot about someone is not a difficult task online even based only off of public information, which some websites even compile and sell access to. People such as Richard Stallman have been vocal about governments keeping closer tabs on their citizens via the Internet and through other means. For a long time, the theories of people like Stallman seemed plausible but unlikely and were pushed aside as nothing more than conspiracy theories. It wasn’t until the Snowden leaks that those ideas were proven to have some validity. It turns out that even the worst of Stallman’s suggestions about surveillance are true and that many government agencies use...

20 April 2017

What Net Neutrality Is Not

Net neutrality includes a number of additional or enforced restrictions on Internet service providers to prevent them from prioritizing some content over others. Regulations such as these are essential for making sure the Internet is an open flow of information; that is, that ISPs are not gatekeepers to information. Internet providers often argue that net neutrality rules would stop them from expanding and improving their networks by removing their ability to force upstream service (like say, Netflix) to pay them for their traffic to be fast and reliable. Wireless providers have even suggested that they should be exempt from net neutrality guidelines because bandwidth is more limited over wireless networks. These arguments are not necessarily invalid. Service providers still need control ove...

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