New Bad Proposals on Both Sides of the Pond

This week, Xbiz reports that UK authorities want to make it more difficult for consumers to obtain adult material online by requiring intrusive age verification to access streaming adult videos. The proposal is bolstered by questionable statistics about Internet use which were derived using a television rating model, with the claim that we must restrict everyone’s Internet use in order to — you guessed it — “protect the children.”

On the other side of the pond, a US congresswoman has proposed a new law to criminalize so-called “revenge porn” at the national level. Although non-consensual sharing of intimate images is wrong, many “revenge porn” bills go much farther by requiring affirmative consent, even written consent, to post a wide range of material that includes innocuous images, under the threat of years in prison. This new standard of what I call “hyper-consent” would, in some of these bills, extend to material currently exempt from model release requirements or 18 USC 2257 recordkeeping. Because of the vague definitions and extraordinarily high penalties involved, I believe there would be a real danger of chilling protected speech if any of these broadly drafted criminal “revenge porn” laws take effect in the US.

Weekend Fun: Worst American Companies; Porn Star Lookalikes

DSL Reports notes that the Consumerist has opened up this year’s annual vote to decide the worst company in America. The contest pits companies head-to-head in “March Madness” NCAA-style brackets. As always, many technology and Internet companies, especially ISP’s, are in this year’s competition, so be sure to visit the site to vote for your favorite worst company! Feel free to comment here as well.

Ever the source for hard news — pun intended — Fox News has posted a slideshow of mainstream stars and their supposed lookalikes in the adult entertainment world. Except for Renee Zellweger and what Fox describes as the “infamous” Traci Lords (below),  I don’t see much resemblance between the celebrity pairs, but check it out for yourself and see what you think. As always, comments here are welcome.

Renee Zellweger and Traci Lords

Photo credit: Reuters. Posted as “fair use.”

Artificial Scarcity in American Broadband

According to a report at BGR.com, despite the ubiquity and importance of Internet access to modern life and culture, 67% of Americans have no more than one or two choices for wireline broadband service. More than a quarter —  28% — have access to only one provider!

I do not think that this situation can readily be rectified by “free market” reforms, since a monopoly cannot be expected to act better if it is freed from already-inadequate regulation, while the cost and local regulatory hurdles for building out alternative wired Internet service (as Google fiber is finding out) would be prohibitive. Perhaps uniquely among libertarian-minded people, I believe that the most reasonable strategy to promote broadband competition in the US would be regulating the “last mile” of Internet wiring as a utility, allowing customers to choose their own ISP over that wiring, and correctly classifying Internet service as a common carrier.

Edited to add: Scientific American ran an excellent article in 2010 calling for the FCC to re-regulate ISP’s as telecommunications carriers, thus encouraging companies to compete on price and service (i.e., regulation-enabled free-market reform).

CBS 60 Minutes Report on Online Privacy

CBS 60 Minutes recently aired an informative report about online privacy, corporate tracking, and data mining. They also followed up with an article about how to protect your privacy online. Much of their expert’s advice was similar to my advice in previous posts here: to use the privacy-conscious search engine Duck Duck Go instead of Google or Bing, and to use the free browser extension Disconnect (which is similar to Ghostery). Disconnect is available for Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Opera. Ghostery is also available for SeaMonkey.

How Comcast-TWC Merger Could Harm the Internet

In my previous post, I addressed one of the problems with US Internet giant Comcast’s previous buyout of NBC-Universal: monopolistic pricing power over consumers. I also criticized pathetic attempts by regulators to offer a mostly symbolic “fix” which could indirectly aid the case for mandatory Internet filters.

However, Preston Gralla at Computerworld points out another problem: as Comcast prepares to merge with another Internet provider, Time Warner Cable, the combined company’s even greater pricing power will affect business customers as well.  He cites law professor and consumer advocate Susan Crawford as noting that “for the vast majority of businesses in 19 of the 20 largest metropolitan areas in the country, their only choice for a high-capacity wired connection will be Comcast.”

Paul Venezia at Infoworld has written the best article I have seen to date explaining why US broadband Internet is so expensive and how the laws could be changed to make the market more competitive — namely, by treating Internet service as a utility. Unfortunately, politically connected lobbyists have virtually ensured that this won’t happen any time soon.

The Internet is No Place for Children

The US Internet and cable TV giant Comcast is set to swallow up yet another competitor, Time Warner Cable, which would further increase Comcast’s near-monopoly position as a broadband Internet provider. As part of Comcast’s previous merger with NBC-Universal, the company agreed to provide budget-priced Internet service to a select few low-income children enrolled in the federal school-lunch subsidy program, while completely ignoring households where no children reside.

This program was not offered as charity, but rather was intended to prevent Comcast from abusing its monopolistic position in the market to raise Internet costs excessively. Nonetheless, the fact that the FCC approved this low-income program for children only suggests that the anti-adult-content purity crusaders are having regulatory success with the contention that the Internet is primarily a toy and homework tool for small children, rather than a powerful entertainment and information platform for adults.

The Internet began as a military project in the 1960’s but was later expanded to include universities over the next decade. Once the Internet became commercialized in the 1990’s, much of its technological advancement, as discussed previously at this blog, was driven by adult content. Pro-censorship lawmakers, alarmed at the amount of free speech available online, tried to suppress the new technology with measures such as the Communications Decency Act, which was meant to turn the Internet into a “safe playground for children,” but that law was unanimously overturned by the US Supreme Court.

Comcast and the FCC, in agreeing to expand this children-only low-income Internet program, apparently do not care about the need for unemployed adults to have access to job opportunities and to take online courses to improve their skills, or for disabled and elderly adults without children to have some entertainment, news, and the ability to socialize. Evidently, however, it is an important governmental priority that eight-year-olds have 5 Mb connections to play online games and complete third-grade homework assignments.

As someone familiar with the dark side of the Internet, I do not feel that the Web is an appropriate tool for unsupervised children at all. Putting aside the issue of adult content for a moment, the risks of identity theft, fraud, and malware installation are too great for almost any child to navigate safely without close parental involvement.

Of course, the US government’s consistent backdoor efforts to push more young children online are being used, again, as justification for imposing further restrictions on adults who want to use the Internet for business and commerce.

As attorney Scott Greenfield reports at his blog, Simple Justice, the child-welfare  warriors are using the presence of unsupervised children online as yet another excuse to further weaken what little is left of online privacy and anonymity.  He cites an emotion-laden report from the “Digital Economy Task Force” as claiming that:

Technologies that facilitate online anonymity, such as bulletproof hosting, anonymizing networks, and anonymous payments systems, offer a particular challenge: balancing their use for positive social impact against their potential misuse by those who perpetrate illicit activities.

Greenfield concludes, and I concur, that the report is “a fundamental attack on what little privacy remains in the name of making the digital world as safe and happy a place as the physical one.”

 

Twitter-Owned Vine Begins Censoring Content

We can add Twitter, long considered to be a free-speech advocate, to the list of Internet companies that no longer allows legal adult content on its service. I find it troubling that they apparently made this decision without giving any advance notice to its users. Article via Xbiz:


Vine Bans Sexually Explicit Content

 

 

Vine, the mobile app owned by Twitter, has banned sexually explicit content, effective immediately.

Read more >>

Naked Webcam Data Gathering Strikes a Nerve

Recent articles in The Guardian have detailed that UK agencies have been bulk-collecting images from the webcams of millions of people not suspected of any wrongdoing. Despite attempts to minimize overcollection, huge amounts of sexually explicit material were gathered and stored. The algorithms were so flawed that they often couldn’t differentiate between photos of faces and total nudity.

Although malware such as the Sircam virus have allowed hackers to illegally access webcams for many years, this is the first major reported mass-collection of webcam images by government. I feel that at least some of the blame for cavalier attitudes toward privacy belongs to both the “sexism” warriors on the left and the “values” warriors on the right, whose frequent calls for more laws, more policing, more regulations, and more restrictions (e.g., recent efforts to criminalize so-called “revenge porn” and adult personals ads) have helped to denigrate privacy as being only relevant to people with “something to hide.”

I would like to remind my readers that it would be prudent to limit indiscriminate use of webcams and the sending of explicit “selfies” over the Internet, if only to reduce the risk that criminal hackers will obtain personal information for blackmail purposes.