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Sarah Jeong on Online Trolling and Harassment

Ars Technica logoWhat to do on a Wednesday night in San Francisco?  BART over to the Longitude tiki bar in Oakland, of course, for a discussion with Ars editors Annalee Newitz and Cyrus Farivar and journalist Sarah Jeong (author of “The Internet of Garbage”) about online trolling and harassment!  I had just been working on a wiki page with a handful of links about muting, blocking, and tools for people to protect themselves online as reference material for next week’s presentation on Supporting diversity with a new approach to software, so the lively discussion was particularly timely 🙂

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Restore the Fourth: Grassroots civil liberties activism is back and better than ever!

Restore the Fourth rally on the Federal Building, NY


It’s the Fourth of July, and we’re fighting for our civil liberties.

me, in 2008, to the Senator Obama – Please, No Telecom Immunity and Get FISA Right mailing list

Five years later, grassroots civil liberties activism on social networks is back and better then ever.  Back in 2008, we were organizing online, trying to stop the disastrous FISA Amendment Act, and Barack Obama had just responded to our open letter.  We lost that battle, but the fight goes on … and today it went to the next level at Restore the Fourth‘s rallies across the country:

New York

How cool is that?

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Happy Birthday Get FISA Right: Looking forward to what comes next!

Cross-posted on Get FISA Right

Red white and blue birthday cakeGet FISA Right started on June 26, 2008, with posts by Mardi S on my.barackobama.com and Mike Stark on Open Left. We were the first high-profile grassroots social network activism campaign in the US and got enough attention that Obama responded to our open letter. Still, we and our allies lost that battle over the disastrous FISA Amendments Act. And since then, it’s been more of the same.

Five more years of the NSA vacuuming up our phone and internet information.

Five more years without meaningful oversight.

Five more years of evasion and outright lies in Congressional testimony.

Five more years of secret court rulings.

Five more years of legal maneuvering to try to prevent EFF, ACLU, or anybody else from challenging the laws’ constitutionality.

Five more years of Patriot Act and FISA reauthorization.

Happy f—ing birthday.

But after the firestorm of publicity in response to the recent leaks, I’m increasingly optimistic that momentum is building for a change.

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Day of Action, Monday, June 17: Tell the TSA to End Nude Body Scanners

With less than two weeks left to comment on the ‘nude body scanners’ in airports — and civil liberties on the front pages — it’s time for a final push to get the word out.  So a loose coalition of grassroots volunteers and privacy and civil liberties organizations is calling for a “Day of Action” on Monday June 17.  If you’re sick and tired of wasting billions of dollars and giving up your rights and dignity whenever toy fly, read on for how you can help — and why it matters.

Effective comments – and why they matter

Back in 2010, EPIC sued the Department of Homeland Security to prevent the “advanced imaging technology” (aka nude body scanners) from being used as primary screening in airports.   The court ruled against them on most counts, but agreed that the TSA had violated the law by failing to get public feedback before introducing the machines.  The TSA finally started the ‘rulemaking process’ in March this year, and the deadline is on June 24.

People and organizations can submit comments online via regulations.gov, or by FAX or mail (see the first comment for information on FAX and mail).  The number of comments sent in to the TSA matter. If the TSA doesn’t get a lot of comments, they’ll say it shows that most people don’t have any problem with the body scanners or TSA’s other security procedures. But if there’s a much more vocal response, it’s much harder for the TSA to ignore them – they’re required by law to reply to all the issues that are brought up in the commenting period.

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Tell the TSA what you think about nude body scanners!

Airline passengers have been walking through full-body scanners for nearly five years, but only now are fliers getting a chance to officially tell the federal government what they think about the screening machines.

In response to a lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit ruled that the Transportation Security Administration could continue to use the scanners as a primary method of screening passengers. But the court ordered the TSA to give the public a 90-day comment period, which the agency did not do when it launched the scanning program.

The TSA began the comment period online in March, and so far it has been getting an average of 26 comments a day — nearly all of which blast the TSA and the scanners for a variety of reasons.

— Hugo Martin, Public Gets Chance to Comment on TSA’s Full-body scanners, LA Times, April 21

There are now over 4500 comments on regulations.gov, and sentiment continue to be overwhelmingly against the scanners.   There are so many reasons to oppose them, it’s hard to know where to start: rights, effectiveness, cost, fairness, culture … see the Twitter Privacy chat discussion or EPIC’s preliminary analysis (PDF) for more details.  So it’s a golden opportunity for the loose but broad coalition fighting for a more sensible and less abusive approach to airport security to get the word out about the commenting  period and encourage people to submit their own comments.

This is one of the situations where numbers are important.  If the TSA only gets a small number of comments, they’ll say it shows that most people don’t have any issues and it’s only a “tiny but vocal” minority who is complaining.  But if there are a lot of comments, it’s much harder for the TSA to ignore them (they’re required by law to reply to all the issues that are brought up in the commenting period).  A loud enough outcry is likely to get media coverage and maybe even help politicians realize that hey, there’s an issue here that can make them very popular with their constituents!

So to start with, please file your own comments.  The most effective comments use your own language, instead of cut-and-paste boilerplate.  EPIC recommends that commenters support “Regulatory Alternative #3″ (the use of walk through metal detectors and explosive trace detection devices), support the right of passengers to opt out, describe the devices as “Nude Body Scanners”, and include personal experiences.   See below for instructions on how to use the regulations.gov to submit comments — as well as how to send them in by FAX or mail if you prefer.

Once you’ve done that, here are a few easy ways you can help get the word out:

  1. Share links on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Google+, and whatever social networks you hang out on.  A few good links to share: EPIC’s summary page, the direct link to the “docket” on regulations.gov, and the Slashdot thread, articles from Mashable and the Verge, or this blog post!
  2. Email links to people and mailing lists you think will be interested.
  3. Look for tweets on the #tsacomments and #tsa hashtags (or from @TSAComments) and retweet them
  4. Look for good comments on regulations.gov, and tweet them or share them on your favorite social networks.
  5. If you blog, write a short post.   Consider including your comments (or at least excerpts from them), and make sure to include a link to the regulations.gov page.
  6. Sign up for Reddit, and vote up TSA-related stories.  [Why Reddit?  It’s been a hotbed of activism on other civil liberties issues like SOPA and CISPA, and there’s a lot of political discussion there as well, so there are likely to be a lot of allies there.]

Question: what other suggestions do people have?

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Happy f—ing Bill of Rights Day

the Bill of RightsBoth houses of Congress have passed the #NDAA codifying indefinite detention — and Obama’s happy with the language, so won’t be vetoing it.

Meanwhile even as I write this, the House is debating #SOPA.

Remember back in 2006-8 when the Bush Administration rammed through PATRIOT Act reauthorization and FISA? Obama was on the right side for a while — at least until July 2008, when he broke his promise to filibuster. Now, he’s continuing and building on Bush policies. Senator Chris Dodd was heroic on FISA; now, he’s working for the MPAA and using China’s internet policies as a blueprint for the US. And how about Patrick Leahy, bulwark of civil liberties — and co-sponsor of the Senate equivalent of SOPA?

It’s not that I think the Republicans are any better on the whole. Both parties have a few standouts on civil liberties — Wyden, Nadler, the Pauls. But on the whole, the political establishment continues to show itself remarkably unconcerned with Americans’ rights.

Here’s hoping that in 2012 we’ll start to do something about it.

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Be an ally, not a hater (part 3 of “A Crucial Time for Diaspora *”)

RIP Ilya

The past few weeks have been pretty crazy for us here at Diaspora*. It is unbelievably painful to lose such a close friend and collaborator as Ilya, and we want to thank our countless community members, friends, family, and professional contacts for all of your support as we try to take care of ourselves and plot a course for Diaspora*’s future. We are forever grateful to the amazing community of people who have stepped up to help us get things back in order.

— Maxwell and Daniel, Diaspora * is Back in Action

Diaspora * co-founder Ilya Zhitomirskiy’s idealism, passion, and vision touched so many people — even those who like me who never had the pleasure of meeting him in person. So many moving tributes have been written that there isn’t much I can add. My heart goes out to his friends, family, and colleagues.

“There’s something deeper than making money off stuff,” he said. “Being part of creating stuff for the universe is awesome.”

Ilya, quoted in the New York Times obituary

It’s gratifying to see so many people in the community reaffirm their commitment to the vision in such difficult circumstances.  Now that the core team is back in action, after a few weeks for grieving and replanning, it’s a natural time to step back and look at what’s next.

First, though, there’s something I want to get off my chest.

Ilya struggled with depression, and the stress of people like you constantly badgering him and pestering him and constantly making him feel like nothing he ever did was good enough certainly did not help his situation.

— Ilya’s roommate David Kettler, on Diaspora

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Road trip! Bringing the #privchat community to Diaspora *

#privchatIt’s hard to believe but #privchat — the Tuesday morning Twitter Privacy Chat — has been going on for almost a year. CDT, Privacy Camp, and EPIC have done a great job moderating, and the attendees are a great cross-section of the privacy and civil liberties community: non-profits, privacy-focused startups, academics, privacy professionals at large companies, and activists (hiiiii!).

So let’s build on that success with a road trip, and bring the same kind of social networky goodness to Diaspora *!

If you’re thinking that you don’t have time for yet another social network, I feel your pain; the plan I’m suggesting only requires an hour of your time. Before we get there, though, I want to talk a bit about why I think it’s worth doing.

Why Diaspora *?

Diaspora* logo variant by GiorgioDiaspora shot to prominence last May, as four NYU undergrads raised money on Kickstarter for a distributed open-source privacy-friendly social network project just as a Facebook privacy storm kicked off. Good timing!

Eighteen months and $200,000 later, Sarah Mei and Yosem Companys have joined the core team, and there are dozens of public installations with tens of thousands of Diasporans. Liz Gannes’ Diaspora Prepares to Launch Open Source network on All Things D and Not vaporware, not a Nigerian prince on the team’s blog give an idea of the current status: an engineering team focused on getting to beta, a growing community, another round of fundraising in progress. Hanging out on Diaspora a lot for the last month, I’ve had interesting discussions with interesting people from across the world.

And one thing everybody that I’ve run into so far has in common:

They care about their privacy.

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Time for a break

time for a breakI love social networks.

They’re how I follow the news, get different perspectives, stay in touch with friends — and make new ones. When people complain that online connections are just a poor substitute for “real life”, I just shake my head and tell them they’re doing it wrong. And as I’ve argued passionately in Cognitive evolution and revolution, The future of civil liberties, A grassroots social network activist’s perspective, and Freedom not fear, combining social network and real world activism is a great opportunity to regain our rights online and off.

But there are downsides as well. Facebook constantly changing its interface and finding new ways to violate my privacy, the arrogance and elitism of the guys running Google+ and their evil naming policy (along the incessant circling over the last few days), Diaspora*’s inability to edit posts or block obnoxious people … and the time I spend checking FB, G+, D*, Twitter, Quora, Dreamwidth, tribe.net, free-association and elsewhere.

So it’s time for a break from social networks.

See you in a week or two!

jon

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In chaos there is opportunity (part 11 of Diversity and Google+)

Google+ in rainbow colors

I’m flashing! Back in 2006, the Ad Astra project proposed a strategy for Microsoft to outflank Google by leveraging its employee base and social technologies. One of the key insights: social computing technologies allow a company to tap into the combined energy of employees and their networks. This can be a huge asset — and one that potentially grows non-linearly as a company grows. Alas, Microsoft took another approach, investing in algorithmic search to compete with Google head-on, and ceding the social market to Facebook, LinkedIn, and others..

Five years later, it’s Google in the role of a large company trying to use its size as an advantage against a more nimble competitor. If Google’s 20,000+ employees can work together effectively and are sufficiently motivated, they’ll be a huge asset in the “battle for social.” Tying bonuses across the company to success gets everybody to focus on the company’s priority. From a strategy perspective, a great move by Google.

Which doesn’t mean it will work.

— me, in a comment Prisms, Kool-Aid and Opportunity April 2011

One way to look at Google+ through the lens of what Robert Scoble calls the game of all games: the battle between Facebook, Google, and “own identity on the internet.”  In that context, it was a brilliant move against all the other big US-based corporations run and owned primarily by white guys who are fighting over who can profit from mining our personal information and selling our eyeballs to advertisers.

And in a lot of ways, it’s worked out quite well:
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The Trend is in the Wrong Direction: Reflections on the Field Trial (part 10 of Diversity and Google+)

Also published on We Get Google Plus, Diaspora *, and G+

Google+ in rainbow colorsFor the past 12 weeks we’ve been in field trial, and during that time we’ve listened and learned a great deal. We’re nowhere near done, but with the improvements we’ve made so far we’re ready to move from field trial to beta, and introduce our 100th feature: open signups.

— Vic Gundotra, Google+: 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99… 100.9/20/2011

Many aspects of Google+’s field trial went extremely well. Hangouts are clearly G+’s “killer app”.* It’s been remarkably reliable for such an early stage project: no “fail whales” and (at least for me) a lot fewer bugs than Facebook. G+ has a lot of momentum with social media experts, photographers, and 20-45-year old guys; and most of the reviews have been positive.

From a business strategy perspective, Google+ has been a huge win, highlighting how many people want an alternative to Facebook. Facebook’s fighting back, copying and improving on many of G+’s features and completely reworking their profile page. But with so many users sick of the constant changes, declining software quality, and postponing the IPO, they’re in a difficult — especially with Google’s far greater resources. Advantage Google.

But there are a few flies in the ointment …

It’s beginning to look a lot like MySpace

Every time I post a photo of me or a female friend, the photo gets all sorts of

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