Subscribe: Reason Magazine - Topics > Internet
http://www.reason.com/topics/topic/169.xml
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade B rated
Language: English
Tags:
backpage  case  content  government  hate  internet  law  net neutrality  online  people  percent  porn  service  site  women 
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Reason Magazine - Topics > Internet

Internet



All Reason.com articles with the "Internet" tag.



Published: Fri, 22 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Fri, 22 Sep 2017 07:01:10 -0400

 



Feminist Porn Isn't Free

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 13:35:00 -0400

"Our goal was to undress Pinterest, not dress up Pornhub," the press kit for Bellesa, a Montreal-based web startup, proclaims with lofty feminist ambitions. A recent writeup on Bustle hails the (NSFW) site as "good both for women and for men who want something outside what our patriarchal, heteronormative society dictates they should like." Little of Bellesa's video content, however, distinguishes it from other porn sites; it's Pornhub in a Pinterest wrapper. Nothing wrong with that per se—in fact, a porn platform with serves up a variety of videos (not just the softcore, romantic stuff that's often assumed to appeal more to women) with a less aggressively masculine interface would probably do well. But for a site to live up to its idealistic, feminist branding, it needs to account for the labor and intellectual property of those producing the content—the performers, directors, and others who actually make the adult videos—whether that means making content distribution deals with independent sex workers or ethical-porn production companies; producing content in house; or working out some sort of profit-sharing platform for user-created content. Bellesa—Catalan for beauty—does none of these things. Canadian magazine The Link describes founder Michelle Schnaidman's role as curating or facilitating porn—"she makes it available for those who seek it." It solves what Bustle writer Joanna Weiss described as the "pesky paywall" problem by featuring porn clips cribbed from all around the web, without paying or promoting the people who made them. Bellesa also asks women to upload their own "erotic stories, sexy photos and GIFs, and feminist blog posts" for free, for the fun of it. Apparently all it takes to find feminist pornography is being willing to band together with other feminists and become unpaid porn stars, erotica writers, and digital content producers for the cause! Shnaidman assures women she created this porn clearinghouse for only the best and most feminist reasons. "We need to put an end to slut-shaming and to the antiquated idea that sex is something men do to women," she told Bustle. "Or something women do for men. Because it's not. Once society finally accepts the notion that women like sex (like, really like sex), we can begin shattering the stigma surrounding female sexuality—and of course porn." The Bellesa website decries the "male-dominated paradigms that have defined sex on the internet" so far, and porn that is "derogatory and exclusionary towards women." "The market for services meeting women's sexual needs is often neglected due to the myth that women are less sexual than men," explains Bustle. But on Bellesa, there will be "relatable" bodies, performers expressing "authentic" pleasure, and as many shots of nude men as women. Refinery29 even recommends women against signing up for a non "female-friendly" porn subscription service and instead find "free porn" on Bellessa. Both the women's media and Shnaidman here showcase problems (long) prevalent among mainstream feminists: a willingness to throw certain sorts of women under the bus when it's convenient; an apparent inability to consider how creating some preferable condition for some normative class of women will affect those not in this class; and a tendency to embrace personal liberation on the backs of more marginalized groups. Several adult-film producers have already asked Bellesa to take down their content. Hi, @BellesaCo you have content created by us and the lines we distribute on your site. Please remove it. Thanks. cc: @bustle @suzannahweiss https://t.co/xgDG4KIsQz — Wicked (@WickedPictures) September 21, 2017 Hi, @BellesaCo you call yourself "ethical" and stole my content & never credited me as the writer/director. cc: @bustle @suzannahweiss https://t.co/vMdVAccJTW — Jacky St. James (@jackystjames) September 20, 2017 And sex workers on social media have been protesting the feminist-friendly narrative around the pirated-video platform. It's not free content. It's stolen content. You are no better than PornHub, Imgur, or R[...]



Sheriff Forced to Pay After Ordering Raid on Blogger Who Criticized Him

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 13:15:00 -0400

Has a bullying Louisiana sheriff learned his lesson about abusing power? The targets of an illegitimate and unconstitutional 2016 raid he ordered think he has. Yet Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter has received no formal discipline for his conduct. Larpenter has reached a settlement in the civil suit filed against him by Jennifer and Wayne Anderson, whose home was raided by Larpenter's deputies in 2016 after Jennifer blogged critically about the sheriff. "I think the sheriff's finally learned that he can't bully people and violate people's constitutional rights," Wayne, a Houma police officer, told local station WWLTV. "In our case, he stepped on the wrong people's constitutional rights because we knew our rights. Hopefully, he thinks twice the next time he gets his feelings hurt." The trouble stems from Jennifer's pseudonymous blog, ExposeDAT, which billed itself as the area's "Underground Watchdog" and was critical of Terrebonne Parish leadership, including Larpenter. Among other things, the blog questioned the business relationship between Larpenter, Parish President Gordon Dove, and Tony Alford, an insurance agent and a commissioner on the Terrebonne Parish Levee and Conservation District Board. Alford filed a defamation complaint. Under Louisiana's defamation statute, the crime is defined as "the malicious publication or expression in any manner, to anyone other than the party defamed, of anything which tends to expose any person to hatred, contempt or ridicule, or to deprive him of the benefit of public confidence or social intercourse; or to expose the memory of one deceased to hatred, contempt or ridicule; or to injure any person, corporation, or association of persons in his or their business or occupation." But the Louisiana Supreme Court has declared this statute unconstitutionally broad when applied to public figures—like Larpenter, Dove, or Alford. Nonetheless, after warrants issued to Facebook and AT&T linked ExposeDAT to the Anderson household, the sheriff obtained search warrants for the couple's home and computer and for the ExposeDAT Facebook account. Terrebonne Parish deputies raided their home, seizing two computers and five cellphones (including one computer and some phones that belonged to the Anderson children). State District Judge Randall Bethancourt, who issued the search warrants, told WWLTV he had no problem letting law-enforcement "take a look-see at these computers that might have defamatory statements on them." The Andersons quickly filed a suit in federal court, asking it to stop police from searching the family's computers and to declare the raid and seizure unconstitutional. This week, the Andersons settled with Larpenter out of court in an undisclosed agreement. Per the terms of the settlement, the Andersons can't say much about what went down. But in a statement, their attorney declared the agreement "a victory for citizens' right to be critical of their elected officials without fear of retribution" and said it's "reassuring to see that the Sheriff has decided to take responsibility for what he did to the Anderson's, and compensate them for the harm they suffered due to his actions." U.S. District Court Judge Lance Africk officially dismissed the case on Thursday, but he said he retains the right to open it again if the settlement's terms aren't met in a reasonable time period. In an earlier ruling, Africk opined that "Jennifer Anderson's speech [on ExposeDAT] falls squarely within the four corners of the First Amendment." Larventer's actions, Africk wrote, send a message that "if you speak ill of the sheriff of your parish, then the sheriff will direct his law enforcement resources toward forcibly entering your home and taking your belongings under the guise of a criminal investigation." This "would certainly chill anyone...from engaging in similar constitutionally protected speech in the future." Meanwhile, Louisiana's 5th Circuit Court of Appeal declared there was insufficient probable cause for the warrants and declared the subsequent searches[...]



Eye Doctors Don't Like Seeing Alternatives

Wed, 06 Sep 2017 00:15:00 -0400

I just got new glasses—without going to an optometrist. It's another innovation made possible by the internet. Going to an optometrist can be a pain. You have to leave work, get to an optometrist's office, sit in a waiting room and then pay an average of $95 (in my town). But I got a prescription for just $50—without leaving my computer. This is possible thanks to a company called Opternative ("optometry alternative"). The company claims its online test is just as good as an in-person eye exam. I was skeptical. It's over the internet! How can a computer replicate what optometrists do in their offices with impressive-looking machines? "This is the beauty of technology," answered Dick Carpenter, director of strategic research for the libertarian law firm the Institute for Justice. Carpenter researched Opternative's test and concludes that it is just as good as an in-person exam. "Sometimes better, some research has indicated." Here's how it works: First, you answer some medical questions. Then, while holding your cellphone, you follow prompts on the phone while looking at your computer screen, selecting which lines look sharper, or which numbers you see. One day later, they send you a prescription. Mine exactly matched the prescription I got from my ophthalmologist, a medical doctor who charges much more. Fast, cheap, and easy. So naturally, optometrists want this alternative banned. "This is really foolhardy and really dangerous," said former American Optometric Association president Andrea Thau on "Good Morning America." She wouldn't do an interview with me. Nor would anyone else from her Association—despite our sending them emails for a month. I assume they knew I'd mock them for trying to ban the competition. Which they are trying to do. They wrote the FDA that the at-home test "should be taken off the market." What they're really saying is that patients should not have the right to make any choices in their own vision care. The optometrists are bottleneckers. Bottleneckers: Gaming the Government for Power and Private Profit is the title of Dick Carpenter's new book. He studies how established professionals use government to limit competition. Cosmetologists get laws passed that force hair-braiders to spend $5,000 on useless courses and tests. Restaurants limit food trucks. Established florists ban newcomers. Optometrists want to ban Opternative's test. Bottleneckers like them have clout in legislatures because their lobbyists give politicians money. They persuaded 13 states to draft bills that would ban at-home tests. In South Carolina, then-Governor Nikki Haley vetoed the ban, correctly calling it anti-competitive. But the legislators were beholden to the optometrists' lobby; they overrode her veto. The optometrists say that a home test is too risky because no doctor is there to look for diseases. I confronted Opternative's spokesman about that. He said the test's questionnaire filters out sick people by asking questions like: "Any health conditions? ... pregnancy, nursing, diabetes ... Any medication that affects your vision? ... Sertraline, Amitriptyline...?" Obviously, a questionnaire is not as good as a doctor. But it does screen out some people. Opternative rejected me the first time I tried. I then lied about my age to test their service. I don't recommend lying on medical forms. But a cheap internet prescription is not much of a threat to public health. Barbers claim an unlicensed barber might give you a bad haircut or cut you. Florists say an unlicensed flower arranger might spoil your wedding. The optometrists at least have a better argument: The at-home eye test might miss a disease. But I say we consumers should get to choose what risks we take. I choose to go to an ophthalmologist because I can afford it, and at my age, I want a glaucoma test. But many young people don't want to spend that money. And many people just don't have time. That's probably why lots of Americans never go to any eye doctor, ever. Opternative at least gives them an altern[...]



Backpage Executives Escape Pimping Charges Kamala Harris Brought (Twice) Against Them

Thu, 31 Aug 2017 15:17:00 -0400

The California Superior Court of Sacramento County has granted a motion to dismiss state pimping charges against Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer and former controlling shareholders Michael Lacey and James Larkin. But the men are still being prosecuted on money laundering charges, for profiting from online classified-ads authorities allege to facilitate prostitution. The charges were brought in December by former California Attorney General (AG) Kamala Harris, now a U.S. senator, after the first case Harris brought against Backpage was rejected. Rather than appeal, Harris amended the charges slightly and filed them in another court. Judge Lawrence G. Brown notes in an August 23 decision that Backpage leaders are now "being charged with, essentially, either investing money into [an] underlying criminal scheme, or conducting transaction with profits from the scheme." To make their case, state prosecutors (now under the leadership of AG Xavier Becerra) will have to show specific Backpage profits came solely from underlying criminal activity—in this case, the alleged facilitation of prostitution and sex trafficking. "Regardless of whether [California prosecutors] will succeed in meeting their burden of proof, the theory and the charges under which they are proceeding appear to be valid under California law and adequately pled such that any defect does not bar prosecution," Brown wrote, acknowledging the state's criminal complaint was "not a model of clarity." The court will let the money-laundering case against Ferrer, Lacey, and Larkin proceed except as it pertains to pimping. The judge granted a motion to dismiss the 11 pimping charges against Ferrer and conspiracy to commit pimping charge against all three men. State Prosecutors Make Backpage's Case for Them State prosecutors had argued that Backpage executives derived an income from prostitution—i.e., pimping—by accepting money for online "Escort" advertisements that resulted in prostitution occurring. Backpage ownership argued it accepted payment for legitimate services—i.e., running a publishing platform—and is not liable for any criminal activity that may have resulted from Escort ads (a null section as of January 2017). With regard to the pimping charges, "the relevant question...is whether, and to what extent, Defendants' activity entitles them to protection of their First Amendment rights through the immunity provision" of the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA), Brown notes. "Providing a forum for online publishing is a recognized legal purpose that is generally provided immunity under the CDA," he points out. "This immunity has been extended by the courts to apply to functions traditionally associated with publishing decisions, such as accepting payment for services and editing." State prosecutors suggested it was not the forum but the content of the advertisement that was objectionable. "Yet, to hold [Backpage] responsible for the content of the advertisement would require holding a publisher liable as if he was the speaker of the content," Brown notes. "Contrary to the [state's] claim, doing so directly triggers, not defeats, the immunity provision of the CDA." The state also argued (using the same arguments that failed the last time) that Backpage's actions went beyond publishing into content creation, which would mean CDA immunity could be revoked. But "in light of the People's acknowledgment that Backpage's edits would not change the user's intent, there can be no material contribution to the offensive content," writes Brown. "Indeed, such actions generally fall within the scope of protected editorial functions," the decision continues. Even if the edits or posting rules allow advertisers to use coded language, this is insufficient to render the website operator a content provider. The crucial distinction is between engaging in actions (traditional to publishers) that are necessary to the display of unwelcome and actionable content, and responsibility for what makes the[...]



U.K. Expands Hate Crime Law Enforcement with Vague Online Crackdown

Thu, 24 Aug 2017 12:50:00 -0400

The United Kingdom's director of public prosecutions, Alison Saunders, is making it abundantly clear she wants to prosecute more people for hate crimes and to make sure they receive enhanced sentences. In a column in The Guardian and on the site for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), she announces an effort to "treat online hate crimes as seriously as those committed face to face." But then she says, actually, they probably won't: The definition of hate crime, recognised by the CPS and police, is "any criminal offence which is perceived by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by a hostility or prejudice" towards the personal characteristics mentioned above. Of course, different types of offences have differing consequences and, as online abuse by its nature cannot cause direct physical harm to a victim, it can never be considered or sentenced in the same way. But we know online hate crime has devastating effects. What Saunders describes here is awfully vague, it appears deliberately so. Her rallying cry is the absurdly circular "Hate is hate." If there's a chilling effect on speech here, it's clearly intentional: She seems to want citizens to perceive "hate" as broadly as possible. For the sake of us Yanks and other non-Brits, I should note that the U.K.'s definition of hate crimes includes more than targeted physical assaults or property damage. It also includes bullying and harassment, a fact that offers a little more context on what she means by "online hate crimes." But reading all the new guidance the CPS is putting out will render a person even more confused about what Saunders is saying. One might naturally assume that "hostility" on the basis of a person's race or sex or sexual orientation would be fairly clear-cut, at least as a legal matter. One would be wrong. Here's a case from a page of guidance on race-based hate crime prosecutions: The demonstration of hostility need not be based on any malevolence towards the group in question. Disposition at the time is irrelevant: see DPP v Green [2004] EWHC 1225 (Admin.) and R v Woods, in which it was irrelevant that the offender, who used racially abusive language to a doorman after being refused admission, might well have abused anyone standing in the victim's place by reference to any obvious physical characteristic. To eliminate the jargon on this one: The defendant in this case was hostile toward a doorman, and he threw a racist term at him. Evidence suggests he might have been hostile toward whomever was in that doorman's position, and that the hostility had nothing to do with his race. But because he used a racist term, his behavior qualifies as a hate crime. The case law can be confusing, if not contradictory. In one case, the fact that a defendant used racial slurs during an attack did not mean that his companions should also face hate crime enhancements. But in another case, a defendant was a member of a group whose members had a history of racial hostility, and that was enough. Writing in Spiked, Naomi Firsht takes note wonders where such baffling wrinkles in the law will lead: 'People all over the world are questioning how those in positions of power can counter the kinds of extreme views that are increasingly being aired, and how societies might do more to prevent such opinions from gestating in the first place', [Saunders] argues. But who will decide what constitutes an extreme view? Feminists Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel have been accused of transphobia because they question whether men can become women. If they expressed this opinion online today, would they be arrested? As a general subject of discussion, I suspect the answer would be no. But what if they decide to write repeatedly about a specific, identifiable transgender person? Would that count as harassment or bullying? Saunders' efforts resemble the behavior of ruthless drug warriors. Her crackdown comes amid an increase in reported hate crimes for the first quarter [...]



DOJ Retreats From Speech-Chilling Demand for Information About Trump's Opponents

Wed, 23 Aug 2017 16:05:00 -0400

Yesterday the Justice Department retreated from its sweeping demand for information about an anti-Trump website, a dragnet that civil libertarians had criticized as an assault on freedom of speech and freedom of association that was apt to intimidate the president's opponents. Proposing a a less ambitious fishing expedition, two federal prosecutors insisted that "the government values and respects the first amendment right of all Americans to participate in peaceful political protests and to read protected political expression online." The history of this case suggests otherwise. On July 12, as part of an investigation into Inauguration Day rioting, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C., obtained a search warrant requiring the internet hosting service DreamHost to disclose "all records or other information pertaining to" disruptj20.org, which had helped organize protests in the capital on the day Donald Trump took office. DreamHost objected to the overbreadth of that demand, which it said would include some 1.3 million IP addresses of people who had visited the site, along with email from disruptj20.org discussion groups. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Borchert showed no interest in negotiating narrower terms, instead arguing in a July 28 brief that DreamHost should be forced to comply with the warrant immediately. DreamHost responded on August 11 with a 60-page brief arguing that the warrant endangers the First Amendment rights of third parties and violates the Fourth Amendment "because it fails to describe the items to be seized with sufficient particularity and because the all-encompassing disclosures it requires are unreasonable." A few days later the company publicly explained that it was taking a stand because the information sought by the government went far beyond the legitimate scope of a criminal investigation. "That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution's First Amendment," it said. "That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone's mind. This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority." Yesterday Borchert and another assistant U.S. attorney, Jennifer Kerkhoff, said "the government has no interest in records relating to the 1.3 million IP addresses that are mentioned in DreamHost's numerous press releases and opposition brief." They proposed revising the warrant to make it clear that DreamHost "should not disclose the contents of unpublished draft publications" or "HTTP request and error logs," which include visitors' IP addresses. Borchert and Kerkhoff said "the warrant was not intended to be used, and will not be used, to 'identify the political dissidents of the current administration,'" as DreamHost alleged. In fact, they said, federal prosecutors did not realize DreamHost would have records that could be used for that purpose. Even if you buy that excuse, which does not reflect well on the technological sophistication of federal prosecutors looking for evidence of criminal activity on the internet, DreamHost's lawyer noted the overbreadth problem in a July 21 email to Borchert, who a week later argued that it should be no barrier to compelling DreamHost's compliance with the warrant. It was only after the negative publicity generated by DreamHost's resistance that Borchert suddenly decided the company's concerns had merit. In an interview with the London Guardian, Public Citizen attorney Paul Alan Levy dismissed the official explanation for the absurdly broad scope of the original warrant—i.e., that the feds did not realize what kinds of information it covered. Levy said it "defies belief" to suggest that "any competent prosecutor could think that any web host would somehow not retain such sensitive and personal information." DreamHost called the Justice Department's backtracking "a huge[...]



Protect Internet Companies' Freedom to Refuse to Host Racists, or Anyone Else They Don't Like

Fri, 18 Aug 2017 13:30:00 -0400

When I edited a small-town newspaper, I eventually ended up rejecting letters to the editor from an elderly gentleman who had many interesting things to say about the issues of the day. He was, in some ways, a boon to the op-ed page—online commenting has completely demolished the number letters sent to many news outlets. But he was also a bigot, and this became obvious and more overt once Barack Obama was elected president. The final straw was a letter explaining how he could tell walking into a house that black people lived there based on the way the house smelled. I would run no more letters from him. I informed my publisher and he agreed. We deprived him from a platform of communication and we didn't regret it one bit. The impact in this case was small—the growth of the Internet means that there are plenty of other ways to get your message out when the local media tell you no. But that didn't used to be the case. Go back 30 years, and the average American's ability to communicate ideas to the larger public was much more limited. Yet newspaper editors regularly censored or refused to run letters to the editor they felt were in bad taste. There was never any question that newspapers had the authority to make those calls. The First Amendment is very clear here. Now that mass communication has moved online, a whole new crop of companies have the power to decide whether to host controversial content. They don't see themselves as "media outlets." They're just hosts and service providers. Traditionally they have not cared what people are saying. But in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, some of these companies are making the same decisions that old-fashioned media outlets have made in the past. They have decided that they do not want to provide their services to neo-Nazi outlets like The Daily Stormer. Earlier in the week GoDaddy and Google booted the white supremacist site as customers. The CEO of CloudFlare, a service that helps protect sites from cyberattacks, subsequently decided abruptly to dump Daily Stormer as a customer. Now the CEO, Matthew Prince, has some regrets. He's concerned about betraying his neutrality as a service provider, about the potential consequences of taking sides in a highly charged political debate, and about his own power, saying at one point: "Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn't be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power." Fortunately, Prince doesn't actually have that power. CloudFlare is a major player, but it does have competition, and it's competition that should resolve this fear. Going back to the newspaper example: When enough people in a community felt like their local newspaper didn't serve them well enough, it created the environment for rival newspapers to pop up and thrive. The entire alternative newsweekly industry exists because traditional dailies were not meeting a younger, more liberal readership's needs. If Prince were to get so drunk on his power that he starts cutting ties with customers willy-nilly, that wouldn't just be bad for the customers. It would be bad for CloudFlare, because it would lose business to its competitors. There's a subtext to Prince's statements, one that suggests that what he really wants is not to be seen as responsible for controversial corporate decisions. The idea that a handful of companies have complete control over whether or not you can communicate your beliefs online creates a significant tension around the issue of censorship. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is worried that careless censorship by companies will bolster the efforts by governments to turn these decisions into demands. It is true that we should be very, very concerned about government censorship. Germany, for example, would be happy to force every online service to reject Daily Stormer as a customer. And if these neo-Nazis had been writing in[...]



Activist Sentenced to Two and a Half Years in Prison for Sharing BBC Article

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 13:30:00 -0400

Thailand government critic Jatupat Bonnpattaraksa, a.k.a. Pai, has been sentenced to two and a half years in prison for lese-majeste, or insulting the king. Pai, a former law student who has been outspoken about the military junta running the country, was arrested just two days after Maha Vajiralongkorn took the throne as the new king last December. Pai's crime: sharing a BBC Thai profile of Vajiralongkorn. The article was fairly objective—you can read the English-language version of it here—and thousands of people shared it on social media. Pai was the only one targeted by authorities. Pai pled guilty and had a five-year sentence reduced to two and a half. "Pai confessed," his attorney told Reuters. "He knew that if he tried to fight the charges it would not be of any use." As Reuters notes, the number of arrests for the crime of lese-majeste has increased sharply since the military overthrew the democratically elected government back in 2014. The arrests have often targeted government critics. "Jatupat's case is only the latest in the Thai government's increasingly repressive and arbitrary attempts to chill expression online and censor content critical of the state, including banning interaction with certain exiled dissidents and making it a crime to simply view lese majeste content," the Electronic Freedom Foundation's Gennie Gebhart writes. "These extremes are not just about stopping the flow of information; they are also about spreading fear among users that the authorities may be watching what they read, share, and say online." Human Rights Watch condemned the verdict, and in a statement its Asia director, Brad Adam, suggested Pai was "prosecuted for his strong opposition to military rule more than for any harm incurred by the monarchy." Amnesty International also condemned the verdict. "This verdict shows the extremes to which the authorities are prepared to go in using repressive laws to silence peaceful debate, including on Facebook," Amnesty International's Josef Benedict said in a statement. This sort of repression should be a reminder of the importance of the First Amendment. As hate-crime laws are coopted to cover classes of people like police officers, it's easy to imagine how hate-speech rules could be similarly deployed. Pai's persecution also highlights the importance of protecting anonymity online. The rise of trolling has led to calls to eliminate anonymity on the internet; Facebook has made it difficult to use the site without revealing your identity, even as it also becomes a tool and traffic hub for activism. Facebook is free to run its own network the way it wants, but opponents of anonymity need to understand that anonymity doesn't just protect trolls; it protects people from troll governments. Please share your totally appropriate and not-at-all insulting comments about the Thai king in the comment thread below.[...]



The Federal Government Has Been Subsidizing Phone and Internet Access for Dead People

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 15:25:00 -0400

Lifeline—a federal program that is supposed to subsidize telephone and broadband internet service for low-income Americans—has been handing out subsidies to millions of ineligible recipients, including thousands of dead people. Now a bipartisan group of senators wants answers. On Monday, the leadership of the Senate's Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee sent a letter asking the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to hand over any specific findings of fraud they've found in the Lifeline program for "further investigation and possible enforcement action." This request was prompted by a June GAO investigation of Lifeline, which is funded by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The report found that 1.2 million participants' eligibility could not be verified, that 5,510 were receiving multiple subsidies, and that another 6,378 were dead. In all, taxpayers could be paying $138 million annually in potentially fraudulent payments. Even by the feds' standards, the lack of accountability here is shocking. It highlights the inherent dangers that accompanies any government foray into the internet business. Under Lifeline, individuals earning below 135 percent of the federal poverty line, or who are receiving benefits from Medicaid, SNAP, or a similar program, are eligible for a $9.25 monthly subsidy on their internet or phone bill. That subsidy comes in the form of lower bills from participating phone and/or internet providers, who the government reimburses based on the number of Lifeline participants they have signed up. The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC)—a private nonprofit—administers the program, handing out $1.5 billion in subsidies to 12.3 million people in 2016. In its 2017 report, the GAO found several "weaknesses" in the program design. Notably, the government relies on service providers to conduct eligibility checks for Lifeline, and "companies may have financial incentives to enroll as many customers as possible." Indeed, providers have absolutely no incentive to check eligibility adequately. Enrolling more Lifeline participants means a provider receives more subsidies. Servicing more Lifeline participants also allows a provider to raise prices, as the federal government, not their customers, will eat the increased costs. Sure enough: When GAO staff submitted fraudulent Lifeline applications to 19 Lifeline service providers, 12 accepted them into the program. On a macro level, GAO examined the eligibility of some 3.5 million Lifeline beneficiaries in six states. The eligibility of over a third could not be verified. And as mentioned above, more than 11,000 were ineligible either because they were receiving multiple subsidies or because they were dead. GAO notes that "these numbers likely understate the number of people reported dead who were reenrolled in Lifeline," due to inadequate record keeping. The FCC has failed time and again to implement procedural safeguards or even evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The commission promised to review USAC's performance a year after contracting with them to administer the program; then it didn't. In 2005 the FCC awarded a contract to the National Academy of Public Administration to study the administration of the program, then inexplicably cancelled that contract. Not only is Lifeline poorly administered, the GAO concluded, but it is probably unnecessary, since it "may be an inefficient and costly mechanism to increase telephone subscribership." Most low-income households receive phone service without any need of a Lifeline subsidy, and many current participants would likely maintain phone service in the absence of the assistance. The same can be said of Lifeline's relatively new mission of increasing broadband access. Pew Research Center found that internet usage went from 52 percent to 84 percent from 200[...]



How Backpage and Similar Sites Are Crucial in Fight Against Sex Trafficking

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 11:20:00 -0400

As the Senate considers amending long-established internet law in order to punish Backpage.com for running sex ads, many folks have pointed out that this change could be ruinous for social media and online publishing as a whole. But fewer seem willing to defend Backpage per se, which has been lied about by politicians for so long that many smart and otherwise savvy people seem to think the site is run by sexual-slavery-loving sociopaths. Anyone under that misguided impression—and anyone seeking to push back against it—should check out some new research published in the Wake Forest Law Review. In the paper, "The Virtue of Unvirtuous Spaces," Notre Dame Law School lecturer Alex F. Levy explores similarities between the Progressive Era's pageantry around "white slavery" and the modern-day activists against the alleged "epidemic" of U.S. sex trafficking. In both cases, people have conflated consensual prostitution among adults with forced prostitution—or "modern slavery," as current reformers call it, and "white slavery," as yesteryear Progressives called it— and the sexual exploitation of minors. Activists in both eras have also mistaken prostitution's increasing visibility to middle-class audiences for an increase in prostitution itself. Conversely, they take the eradication of prostitution from certain highly visible spaces as an absolute victory against exploitation, despite all evidence suggesting the activity will simply migrate elsewhere. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the focal point of this symbolic fighting was the dance hall. Now it's online venues such as the classified ad sites Craigslist and Backpage. Levy finds that both campaigns are "pageantry: a kind of theater designed to satisfy people's need to identify and fight bad guys without regard to nuance or long-term outcome." And while "removing exploitation from view" may settle some middle-class queasiness, it is "at odds with recovering victims." If we really want to make long-term headway against sexual exploitation, we must embrace platforms like Backpage, argues Levy: A closer and more rigorous inspection reveals that the war on Internet platforms like Craigslist and, more recently, Backpage.com ("Backpage") is (at best) based on a misunderstanding of their relationship to human trafficking. Even though some traffickers make use of these platforms, there is neither an empirical foundation for the assumption that the platforms cause trafficking, nor any evidence that shuttering them would reduce trafficking. To the contrary, allowing Internet platforms on which sexual services are brokered to thrive may be key to apprehending traffickers and recovering victims. Both law enforcement and nonprofits such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) routinely use sites like Backpage to search for teenagers reported missing. The cross-country nature of the site allows authorities to track potential victims who may move around a lot, and provides tangible evidence for prosecutors to use against their exploiters. Police also use Backpage extensively when conducting sting operations ostensibly targeting the recovery of minors. Backpage itself has, at least historically, reported suspicious ads (such as those featuring pictures of people who look underage) to NCMEC or local law enforcement. All of this is used by politicians and professional activists as evidence that Backpage causes sex trafficking, or is especially complicit in it. But that only holds water if, in the absence of the site, there would be no alternative options for exploitation. This simply isn't true. There are plenty of other websites, apps, and physical spaces that traffickers can access just as easily in order to incite exploitation—spaces that are frequently far less accessible or useful to law enforcement th[...]



GoDaddy Dumps Neo-Nazi Website. Hooray for Freedom of Association! (UPDATE: Google Also Declines to Host)

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 13:15:00 -0400

In the wake of the violent confrontations in Charlottesville, Virginia, that culminated in the slaying of Heather Heyer, the massive web host company GoDaddy is telling neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer to go pound sand. In a tweet over the weekend, subsequently confirmed as accurate, GoDaddy told the site to go find a new host for their white nationalist content. A Daily Stormer post about Heyer's death insulted her and said people are "glad she is dead"; the host company ruled that this violated its terms. A spokesman told The Washington Post that the article, coming right on the heels of the protests, could "incite additional violence." GoDaddy has been under pressure to stop hosting sites that spout "hate speech," but it had resisted the idea, citing the First Amendment as a reason to keep hosting racist content. But since GoDaddy is a private company, it doesn't have to use the First Amendment as a guidepost. The First Amendment restricts government censorship, not media or Internet hosting site censorship. Invoking the First Amendment here is a way for the company to establish that it's going to attempt to take all comers and to serve as many people as it can, as long as they're willing to pay. But if GoDaddy does not want to play host to these hateful messages, it's absolutely the company's right to say no. That's what freedom of association is all about. GoDaddy should not have to play host to content it finds offensive or abhorrent. That's one good reason to keep web hosting in the hands of private companies and not turn the internet into a government-managed utility. If, for example, GoDaddy had to operate as though it were a government agency, it might be required to prove that Daily Stormer's piece insulting Heyer meets a legal threshold for incitement. As a private company, GoDaddy can decide for itself what counts as instigation. And if freedom of association is a right for GoDaddy, then it's a right for everybody. GoDaddy shouldn't have to host Nazis. T-shirt companies shouldn't be required by the government to print gay pride messages if they don't approve. Office Depot shouldn't be required to make photocopies of anti-abortion fliers. It's not a perfect solution. In fact, it's a very messy solution, one where people often use social pressure and public outrage as a way to try to influence company behavior. GoDaddy's decision came after people tweeted at them to ask whether they would do anything about the Daily Stormer's postings. At other times people have tried to get other people fired for expressing opinions they don't like, as we saw with Google. It's nevertheless preferable to solutions that involve the government, because once the government is involved, resolving the conflict becomes a matter of using force, not influence and social pressure. Police in the United Kingdom and Germany have responded to hate speech by raiding people's homes and arresting them. That's not a better solution. Not only does this create the extremely obvious problem that a person's speech limits will be determined by whoever is in control of the government (spoiler: It's not you), but it also increases the likelihood that somebody will be injured or killed by police during these interactions. So regardless of whether any particular person agrees that GoDaddy made the right choice to dump these guys, we should support their right to do so. And we should perhaps keep that in mind when other businesses don't want to play a role in producing or carrying messages with which they do not agree. UPDATE: Daily Stormer attempted to move its hosting to Google, but now Google is also rejecting them on the grounds of the site violating their terms of service.[...]



Missouri Attorney General Hawley Files Desperate and Deceptive Motion to Dismiss Backpage Lawsuit

Thu, 03 Aug 2017 14:40:00 -0400

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley claimed he has "new evidence" showing that the classifieds site "Backpage has directly and actively promoted illegal sex trafficking." But the only thing new is Hawley's level of desperation and deceit. Hawley, who was elected attorney general last November and has U.S. Senate ambitions, is the latest in a long line of state law-enforcement authorities to seek attention by scapegoating an online ad platform and subjecting it to unconstitutional demands. Craigslist was the test case, but Backpage has become the enduring target of state prosecutors because it hasn't been hesitant to fight back—and in almost all cases, win. Despite the hysterical antics from elected officials, there has never been any evidence that Backpage leaders knowingly promoted forced or underage prostitution, nor that they've behaved in ways that would exclude them from the immunity provided to open publishing platforms under federal law. Among the "new" evidence that Hawley submitted to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri is a January report from the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Despite the senators having access to all of the internal Backpage data and hosting a theatrical in-person inquiry, they found nothing sufficient to spur a criminal investigation or any charges. Hawley also submitted the transcript of an audio recording seized from Philippines company Avion, in which an Avion employee contacts a London sex worker. Hawley also played the call reporters at a press conference. What does not get so much as a mention in Hawley's motion is that this call and all of the adult-ad generation done for Backpage involved only non-U.S. employees of Avion advertising on non-U.S. platforms. None of it has any bearing on his current case. A state attorney general cannot attempt to prosecute foreign contractors for ads created and posted in foreign countries. And it is legal for Backpage contractors to generate adult ads abroad, where the rules governing web-publishing platforms and legal liability for content vary (and prostitution in certain forms may be legal). Hawley's actions here should be seen for what they are: a sneaky attempt to build credibility in his illegal crusade. Not long after he took office in January 2017, Hawley attempted to compel Backpage to surrender a trove of internal files and information. His order was not part of any criminal investigation but rather a civil investigative demand—a kind of subpoena attorneys general use to investigate potential consumer fraud. In a letter to Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer, Hawley wrote "the Attorney General of the State of Missouri believes it to be in the public interest that an investigation be made to ascertain whether [agents of Backpage.com] have engaged in or are engaging in any merchandising practices declared to be unlawful" under the state's merchandising practices law. Backpage lawyers responded with a motion to block Hawley from enforcing the order and "from further pursuing or threatening other action against Backpage. It was "based on Backpage's statutory immunity from state law claims based on its activities as an online publisher and distributor of third-party content, and on Backpage's constitutional rights under the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments." Hawley fired back this week with a motion to dismiss Backpage's suit and a public relations offensive. "I have filed a motion against Backpage.com containing explosive new revelations," the attorney general tweeted from his official account on Tuesday. "My message to Backpage is this: The truth is coming for you," stated Hawley in a press release. "We have evidence including audio recordings, photos and various documents. You cannot hide from the truth. A[...]



Want to Look at Online Porn? The U.K. Gov't Wants to Strip You of Your Privacy

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 16:45:00 -0400

(image) Prime Minister Theresa May's administration wants to demolish British citizens' privacy if they look at pornography online.

That's not what the government saying, but that's exactly what's going to happen. The United Kingdom is tightening its controls on internet porn in an efforit to keep children away. They're doing this by mandating that porn companies collect proof that anybody attempting to visit a site is a legal adult before letting him see so much as a nipple. This could potentially force people to surrender private information—a credit card number, for example—just to get access, let alone download anything.

The authorities plan to get this system in place by next spring. The enforcement looks pretty severe, according to Ars Technica:

Sites that refuse to cooperate face the wrath of earmarked regulator the British Board of Film Classifications (BBFC). It will have the power to dish out fines of up to £250,000 [about $325,000] for non-compliance, cut loose misbehaving porn operators from their payment providers, advertisers, and other ancillary services that they use in the UK, or they could be blocked by ISPs—a method that the government's DCMS parliamentary under-secretary Lord Ashton previously insisted" would be used sparingly."

Ars Technica notes that many of these porn sites are not based in the United Kingdom, and that it's going to be hard to implement a policy that people can't work around. But more importantly: For the sites that are forced into compliance, what could potentially happen to that data if it's breached? This isn't just porn purchases being tracked now. It's porn site visits attached to an identifiable person's name:

"Age verification could lead to porn companies building databases of the UK's porn habits, which could be vulnerable to Ashley Madison style hacks," argued Open Rights Group director Jim Killock.

"The government has repeatedly refused to ensure that there is a legal duty for age verification providers to protect the privacy of Web users," he said, adding: "There is also nothing to ensure a free and fair market for age verification."

Let us not forget that May's government has implemented the Investigatory Powers Act, which requires internet providers store users' online histories for access by various government agencies in crime-fighting efforts.

Let us also not forget that even when granting that adults have the right to look at pornography, the U.K. government demands the authority to decide what sort of sexual practices you are allowed to enjoy. The government nanny is not fond of kinksters who get their jollies off naughty fetishes where people do mean things to each other.

Last year Ars Technica documented just how difficult it will actually be for the U.K. to keep people—even those under the age of 18—from accessing internet porn. Read more about it here.




Net Neutrality Supporters Should Actually Hate the Regulations They're Endorsing

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 08:00:00 -0400

If you went on the internet at all last week, you could not help but miss some of the web's most popular websites publicizing their campaigns that defend the Obama-era telecommunications regulation known as the Open Internet Order (OIO). Last Wednesday, tech heavyweights like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and even Pornhub held a "Day of Action" to support the controversial FCC rules. The websites bombarded users with blog posts encouraging folks to contact their representatives and popup messages bemoaning the future of a slow and tiered internet. But ironically, these websites' stated goals are in direct contradiction of the regulations that they ostensibly support. Simply stated, the OIO does not in fact secure the principles of "net neutrality" like so many of these websites implied to their users. In fact, the OIO may have the adverse effect of actively discouraging the principles of net neutrality through a loophole that would exempt motivated Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from OIO regulations. This cannot be emphasized enough: The OIO allows and encourages ISP filtering, a huge no-no in the world of net neutrality. This is a point that my Mercatus Center colleague Brent Skorup has made since shortly after the OIO rules were first introduced in February of 2015. It's a bit of a nuanced argument, and one that would not be immediately obvious to anyone who does not closely read all FCC reports and related court cases as a profession. But as the general public is whipped into a veritable frenzy to defend the OIO rules or risk Internet catastrophe, it's a critical fact to hammer home in the debate. To understand just how muddled the discussion surrounding "net neutrality" and the OIO has become, we need to know a bit about: 1) how the concept of net neutrality developed and what it means; and 2) the political pressures and compromises that were made in the run-up to the introduction of the OIO. First, the definition of "net neutrality" is incredibly hazy. You could almost say that more people agree that net neutrality is a good thing than can agree on any particular definition. The concept was first laid out by law professor Tim Wu in his seminal 2002 article, "A Proposal for Network Neutrality." Wu lays out hypothetical scenarios where ISPs block or throttle access to content for reasons ranging from cost to anti-competitive activities. His article attempts to distinguish content differentiation that he finds reasonable and should be allowed from those that he finds unjustifiable and should be prohibited. The article generated a fair bit of controversy even under this more limited framework—critics responded by pointing out some benefits of non-neutral Internet arrangements—but it was at least a relatively narrow and understood topic. From there, the concept of "net neutrality" morphed into something that was both utopian and unworkable. If you type the phrase into Google, the top definition provided is the "principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites." Yet this definition stands in sharp contradiction to the vision outlined by Wu, who noted that "a total ban on network discrimination, of course, would be counterproductive." This kind of extreme understanding of net neutrality has been dismissed by early Internet pioneer and MIT computer scientist David Clark as a "happy little bunny rabbit dream" that would be both impossible and undesirable to implement. Unfortunately, the unhinged understanding of "net neutrality" has since won the day. And it has fueled average people's nightmares about what the future of the Inter[...]



Men as Likely To Be Harassed Online as Women

Tue, 18 Jul 2017 05:00:00 -0400

A new study released by the Pew Research Center supports what some of us have argued all along about online harassment: that it affects men as much as women and that the problem should not be framed as a gender issue—or defined so broadly as to chill legitimate criticism. If anything, the study says, men tend to get more online abuse than women, including serious abuse such as physical threats (though women are, predictably, more likely to be sexually harassed). However, when people are asked about free speech vs. safety on the internet, women are more likely to come down on the side of the latter. Thus, it is very likely future efforts at speech regulation will continue to be cast as "feminist" initiatives. Online harassment has become something of a cause célèbre in the last three years. It has been explored (and deplored) in numerous media reports; it has attracted the attention of politicians and even of the United Nations. A basic premise of these discussions has been that women, especially outspoken women, are specifically and maliciously targeted for hate, abuse, and threats; many feminists have claimed internet misogyny is the civil rights issue of our time. The Pew survey of over 4,000 American internet users over 18 conducted in January challenges those contentions. Forty four percent of the men and 37 percent of the women said that at some point, they had experienced at least one of the behaviors the study classified as harassment. Most of this abuse involved offensive name-calling and being embarrassed on purpose. However, 12 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they'd been the target of a physical threat; 6 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they had been stalked; 8 percent of men and 7 percent of women they had experienced "sustained harassment"; and 4 percent of men and 8 percent of women said they had been sexually harassed. Men and women under 30, who are the most likely to spend a lot of time online, are, unsurprisingly, the most likely to experience all kinds of online abuse, including its more severe forms. It's true that women who been targets of online abuse were more than twice as likely as men to describe their last such experience as extremely or very upsetting (35 percent vs. 16 percent). But, interestingly, there was no gender gap in actual negative effects of online harassment, be it mental stress, problems with friends and family, romantic problems, reputational damage, or trouble at work. Twelve percent of both male and female victims—or about 5 percent of all respondents—said that online harassment had made them fear for their or their loved ones' safety. One percent, with no gender difference, had been victims of doxing—the unwanted disclosure of their personal data online, ranging from real names for those who post under pseudonyms to place of work or home address. Few will be surprised to learn that women under 30 were substantially more likely than their male peers—53 percent vs. 37 percent—to report receiving unsolicited sexually explicit images. But in a more counterintuitive finding, men in that age group were more likely than women—14 percent vs. 10 percent—to say that explicit images of them had been shared online without their consent. (For those 30 and older, the figure was 5 percent for both sexes.) This differs sharply from feminist scholars' claims that 90 percent of so-called "revenge porn" targets women, a figure based on a self-selected and mostly female sample. But it supports a 2013 study by McAfee Security in which men were more likely to report both being threatened with having intimate photos of them posted online and actually having such photos posted. More wom[...]