Censorship News: Good and Bad

There was some good news on the censorship front in the USA last week when the Alabama state senate rejected a proposed 40% tax on adult media due to concerns about expensive litigation.

However, an obscure United Nations committee, the Broadband Commission, issued a bizarre report on “Cyber Violence Against Girls and Women,” which has received little coverage in mainstream media but plenty of reporting at conspiracy-type websites. The report calls for strict controls on the Internet, including licensing of search engines, supposedly to reduce cyberbullying, which the commission claims affects women disproportionately. The well-regarded law blogger Popehat has analyzed the report in detail, which I plan to discuss in an upcoming post.


Presidential Candidates on Net Neutrality; More on Ad Blockers

Lagging Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush demonstrates that like his fellow GOP longshot Ted Cruz, he has no idea what Net Neutrality is, but he wants to get rid of it anyway: https://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Jeb-Bush-Promises-to-Roll-Back-Net-Neutrality-Rules-135187

At the same time, a US government policy report finally agrees that the Internet is indeed a utility as essential to modern life as telephone service, although it largely calls for more of the same vague policies that have been ineffective over the last 15 years: https://www.dslreports.com/shownews/US-Report-Calls-Broadband-a-Utility-Calls-for-Policy-Overhaul-135185

Meanwhile, a study by Internet content management service Akamai shows that the USA, where the Internet was first created, is now in 20th place worldwide for connection
speeds, even though prices remain very high compared to other industrialized nations: https://www.dslreports.com/shownews/Average-US-Connection-Speed-Now-117-Mbps-20th-Globally-135194

Regarding the recent firestorm over ad blocking, which was spurred by Apple making the technology available for iOS 9, Yahoo! tech columnist Rob Pegoraro offers a thoughtful analysis of the pros and cons of blocking advertisements, particularly on mobile devices:


On Ad Blockers and Tracking

Last week, Apple’s iOS introduced the ability to block ads on mobile, sparking considerable outrage among certain web publishers. Arguments for ad blocking have focused on usability issues, such as page loading time, CPU use, and monthly data caps being consumed by ads.

This blog does not take a position on ad blocking per se, leaving that to the conscience of individual users and their circumstances. However, it should be noted that web advertising has been used to deliver malware (“malvertising”) as well as violate user privacy through tracking. Using add-ons like Disconnect and Ghostery may allow users to block invasive tracking while still allowing ads to be viewed. Further, Adblock Plus includes, by default, a whitelist of ads that their user community has deemed “acceptable.”

Regardless of one’s position on ad blocking, there are myriad reasons to block third-party tracking, as illustrated by the articles linked below:

Apple to Target Ads Based on Consumer’s Credit Report

Facebook patents technology to help lenders discriminate against borrowers based on social connections

Facebook’s ad targeting algorithms are about to get a new firehose of valuable and controversial personal data.

One solution proposed by James Avery, CEO of Adzerk, is for companies to respect the once-promising “Do Not Track” browser preference:

Honor the EFF’s ‘Do Not Track’ policy: If a user does not want to be tracked, they shouldn’t be tracked. The Electronic Frontier Foundation built a reasonable policy that takes the privacy issue off the table. For non-DNT users, we should all agree to use a secure sockets layer for all communications and adopt reasonable security and privacy defaults. Consumers shouldn’t have to click DNT to to ensure their data is safe.

Privacy Add-On Accused of Violating Privacy

Martin Brinkmann of GHacks reports that the closed-source Ghostery privacy add-on for Firefox and Chrome-based browsers has quietly added a new “feature” that opts users into receiving promotional messages from the company that makes the app. Although users can easily turn off the notifications, some are now looking for an alternative anti-tracking extension.

I have had good results with the open-source, performance-oriented uBlock Origin on Chromium, which also happens to be the only third-party privacy add-on I tested that blocks Google Analytics on that browser. (Google also offers its own Chrome add-on to block its tracking service.) Firefox users who prefer to avoid Ghostery may also want to consider the Disconnect add-on, which I find works well with Adblock Plus*, or the EFF-sponsored Privacy Badger, which I have not tested.

*Adblock Plus whitelists “acceptable ads” by default, which some users may consider more ethical than blocking all ads.

The Power to Tax

It has been said that “the power to tax is the power to destroy.” This week, two new Internet taxes come under scrutiny.

First, a lawsuit has now been filed against the City of Chicago for its recently enacted “Netflix tax,” a 9% levy on all forms of paid online entertainment. The suit claims the tax violates the Internet Freedom Tax Act of 1998, a federal law that prohibits cities and states from imposing exactly such levies.

Secondly, following other states that want to tax speech that they find immoral, Xbiz reports that Alabama is considering a 40% “porn tax” which would include Internet content purchases as well as tangible items and live entertainment. As it would apply to online sales, this proposal might well violate the above-mentioned tax law as well as being an unconstitutional content-based restriction on speech in violation of the First Amendment:

40% Porn Tax Proposal Moves Forward in Ala.

Alabama is one step closer to mandating a 40 percent state excise tax on pornography — even online content. Read more>>

McAfee announces presidential run

Last week, legendary antivirus pioneer and all-around rebel John McAfee jumped into the crowded US presidential race by announcing his bid to run as a third-party candidate for the newly formed “Cyber Party.” His platform, not surprisingly, will focus on promoting cybersecurity. His official campaign twitter account is at https://twitter.com/mcafee2016

McAfee 2016

McAfee, who sold his eponymous antivirus company many years ago, made a stir with his hilarious 2013 video “How To Uninstall McAfee Antivirus (LD)