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Published: Tue, 24 Apr 2018 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Tue, 24 Apr 2018 06:42:22 -0400

 



Live Debate: Nick Gillespie Argues Net Neutrality at Intelligence Squared!

Tue, 17 Apr 2018 19:25:00 -0400

(image) At 7:30 P.M. ET/6:30 P.M. CT, I'll be debating former FCC head Tom Wheeler and Mozilla's Mitchell Baker about Net Neutrality in an Intelligence Squared program live from Chicago. My partner on the anti-Net Neutrality side is Michael Katz, a former FCC economist.

Watch live at the bottom of this post. Or go to Reason's Facebook. It's an Oxford-style debate, so the audience, including online viewers, get to vote before and after the arguments. The winning side is the one that moved more people to its position.

Here's Intelligence Squared's writeup:

What if a single policy could impact American democracy, culture, and competitiveness? What if that policy might either empower citizens and consumers, or burden them? And what if the decision on that policy sparked a frenzy of legislative proposals, judicial challenges, and citizen outrage, all across the country?

The Federal Communications Commission's decision to end net neutrality regulations has fueled a national debate about the future of the internet. Adopted in 2015, net neutrality promised to preserve the democratic spirit of the web by ensuring that all data would be treated equally, regardless of where it originated. Under these regulations, internet service providers (ISPs) such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, the corporate giants who deliver the internet into our homes, could supply web infrastructure, but could not preference how data passed through it. Denying them that power, supporters argue, remains critical to ensuring that users and content-creators can discover ideas and information without censorship, or charges, from these prospective gatekeepers. After all, no person should have to pay for every video streamed on YouTube; no startup should be hobbled against established companies who buy faster access to consumers; and no minority voice should have its ideas throttled by wealthier interests.

On the other hand, net neutrality opponents argue that the genius of the Internet has been its individually driven, organic development, free from the heavy hand of so-called net neutrality. These burdensome regulations constitute dangerous governmental overreach, stifle innovation, and spike costs for both consumers and providers. The result, they maintain, will be a less interesting, less democratic, less innovative web. Moreover, Americans will enjoy uninterrupted access to their favorite sites – without net neutrality – because ISPs make more money from an open, rather than closed, internet. Consequently, the backlash against the FCC's decision is overblown, and ending net neutrality is the right policy for the future of America's internet.

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Mark Zuckerberg vs. Silicon Valley's Richard Hendricks: Why Facebook 'Welcomes' Regulation

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 15:37:00 -0400

Mark Zuckerberg is the multi-billionaire founder and CEO of Facebook. This week he testified before Congress, assuring lawmakers that his company will play nice with government regulators.

Richard Hendricks is a character on HBO's sitcom Silicon Valley, the bumbling CEO of the unfortunately named Pied Piper. His memorable moments include evacuating his bowels, vomiting, and then lunging into a glass wall in front of his workers.

One is poised when being grilled by Congress and the other can't deliver a pep talk to his staff without hurling under his desk.

But Hendricks is a better hope for the future of the internet than Zuckerberg. Here's why.

In his testimony, Zuckerberg welcomed regulation—and agreed to help craft it. He's in the same position as late-19th-century railroad tycoons. Contrary to conventional wisdom, these robber barons embraced regulation as a way to raise the barriers to entry for competitors who were eating into their profits and market share.

Still sporting a hoodie, Richard Hendricks is at an earlier stage of his career. He's trying to build a new internet in an effort to outmaneuver Hooli, a fictional amalgamation of Google and Facebook. Richard represents the next wave of innovation—the competitor who, if government stays out of it, will eventually erode Facebook's market share by offering a better product.

Even Richard's approach to disrupting Facebook is more than just TV fantasy. There's a real movement in the tech world to build a new decentralized web that would give users actual control over their own data and create open platforms that aren't controlled by any single all-powerful CEO. One reason to bet on real-life projects such as Blockstack and Ethereum to decentralize the internet is that talented engineers are beating down their doors, because working at Google and Facebook is lucrative but soul killing.

As Facebook and Congress start to write new rules for cyberspace, all of us who believe in free expression and permissionless innovation have a stake in making sure that the future of the internet remains as open as possible.

Written by Jim Epstein and Nick Gillespie, who also narrates. Produced by Todd Krainin.

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Before People Fretted About Fake Videos, People Fretted About Fake Photographs

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 13:28:00 -0400

Franklin Foer has heard about deepfake videos, and he's worried. His latest chin-stroker in The Atlantic, headlined "The Era of Fake Video Begins," warns that in a world of "almost seamlessly stitched" visual fakery, our eyes will "routinely deceive us." Video manipulations "will create new and understandable suspicions about everything we watch," and figures in the news "will exploit those doubts." Our "strongest remaining tether to the idea of common reality" will fray, and "the collapse of reality" will follow. The whole thing gave me deja vu, because I'm old enough to remember when this magazine came out in 1985: Come for the faked photo of saucers over San Francisco; stay for the story headlined "Digital Retouching: The End of Photography as Evidence of Anything." Comparing Foer's feature to that old Whole Earth Review is a little unfair, because the Whole Earth article is actually rather good. It's not an essay but a roundtable discussion, with Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, and Jay Kinney weighing in on what would happen now that the old laborious photo-doctoring processes were giving way to far faster and easier digital manipulations; between them, the trio has the historical and technological perspective that Foer's story lacks. But like practiced showmen, they open with an attention-grabbing scary scenario: "Your honor, we cannot accept this photograph in evidence. While it purports to show my client in a motel bedroom with a woman not his wife, there is no way to prove the photograph is real. As we know, the craft of digital retouching has advanced to the point where a 'photograph' can represent anything whatever. It could show my client in bed with your honor. "To be sure, digital retouching is still a somewhat expensive process. A black-and-white photo like this, and the negative it's made from, might cost a few thousand dollars to concoct as fiction, but considering my client's social position and the financial stakes of this case, the cost of the technique is irrelevant here. If your honor prefers, the defense will state that this photograph is a fake, but that is not necessary. The photograph COULD be a fake; no one can prove it isn't; therefore it cannot be admitted as evidence. "Photography has no place in this or any other courtoon. For that matter, neither does film, videotape, or audiotape, in case the plaintiff plans to introduce in evidence other media susceptible to digital retouching." —Some lawyer, any day now. Two things about that monologue jump out. The first is that it sounds a lot like Foer's fears about video manipulations today. The second is that photographs are in fact still used as evidence in courtrooms, with generally agreed-upon standards for when to treat them as authentic. The reasons why they still get used as evidence in 2018 were explained in advance by Kevin Kelly in that same Whole Earth forum: We've been spoiled by a hundred years of reliable photography as a place to put faith, but that century was an anomaly. Before then, and after now, we have to trust in other ways. What the magazines who routinely use these creative retouching machines say is "Trust us." That's correct. You can't trust the medium; you can only trust the source, the people. It's the same with text, after all. You can print a lie in 100,000 subscriptions and it looks the same in ink as the truth. The only way to tell is by the source being trustworthy. The only way my words are evidence is if I don't lie, even though it's so, so easy to do. We know what it looks like when a crisis of trust hits the courts, because we've seen it happen in several cities. Thousands of people have been released from jail because particular cops or crime-lab employees turned out not to be trustworthy. Those convictions were not overturned because Americans lost their faith in photographs, or in any other technology. They were overturned because institutions themselves, or members of those institutions, lost public faith. When people trust institutions, they generally tr[...]



Why You Shouldn't Want Congress To Regulate Facebook & Other Social Media

Mon, 09 Apr 2018 15:30:00 -0400

As Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg prepares to testify before both houses of Congress this week, a little more of the internet prepares to die. We are in a social panic over social media, and the final outcome will almost certainly be some sort of government regulation or self-regulation-by-shotgun (think Comics Code Authority) that will ultimately serve only regulators and the dominant companies that help to write the new rules. But come on, we've got to hurry up! Science says social media makes us depressed, alienated, lonely, bad-smelling! Social media is a vector for youth violence! FFS, even Facebook, which boasts over 2 billion users worldwide, says it makes us crazy and might even be "destroying how society works!" Worst of all, social media—and all the Russian hacking and fake news it abetted—might have helped Donald Trump become president. Regulate now! "Net neutrality," the federal government's attempt to play traffic cop and CFO of the internet by regulating the business practices of mobile and fixed ISPs, is so 2015. Remember when Twitter was fomenting revolutions in autocratic hellholes and allowing the world to express its solidarity against terrorism by shading our avatars this or that color? Now, the very government that only grudgingly admitted that yes, it was in fact collecting all of our metadata and more, is riding to the rescue to save our "privacy" and all that's still good and decent in cyberspace. It has summoned Mark Zuckerberg to explain his business, his dark arts, and his intentions. Like past barons of once-new industries whose growth curves have slowed or started falling, he's keen to play ball with the government. "I actually am not sure we shouldn't be regulated," he said recently. "I think the question is more 'What is the right regulation?' rather than 'Yes or no, should we be regulated?'" Folks in meatspace and online media, especially those who have seen their circulations and audiences tank over the past few years due to Facebook's ever-changing plans, priorities, and algorithms, are cheering such developments. We are in a slow-motion chokehold when it comes to online speech and behavior, and the Facebook drama must be seen in that larger context. Some of the new censoriousness proceeds from congressional action but much of it is cultural. For many in the media, the rise of Trump and the alt-right means that free-speech absolutism must yield to concerns over hate speech, conspiracy-mongering, Russian trolls, and fake news. Individual sites and services such as Backpage, which catered to personal ads that routinely blurred the line between friend-for-pay and prostitution, have been shuttered by the feds, while Craigslist has understandably closed down that whole wing of its operation, which often provided support and community to marginalized groups other than child molesters. Twitter is accused of "shadowbanning" people, mostly conservatives, or purposefully reducing the reach of some people's messages on that network, when it's not simply banning others for speech-code violations. YouTube is "demonetizing" videos with political or sexual themes, thus depriving creators of their God-given rights to make money at YouTube by selling ads against views. (The mass shooter at YouTube's headquarters, a militant vegan, claimed as much.) YouTube's corporate big brother, Google, sells placement in its search engine results and (again, supposedly) tamps down findings that its administrators consider awful or rotten or repellent. Nobody looks at the second page of search results, don't you know, so if you're not first, you're last, or completely immaterial to the public, and that's not fair or something. And then there's Facebook, which has a long history of not giving a fuck about anything other than the passing whims of its creator and the wallets of its investors. In an online-outrage culture that lurches from one screaming match about the last stand of civilization to the next, it's genuinely difficult to rememb[...]



Donald Trump’s Petty Authoritarianism Is Driving His Vendetta Against Amazon

Thu, 05 Apr 2018 15:02:00 -0400

Over the last week, the president of the United States has tweeted no less then five attacks on Amazon and its owner, Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post. He has called the Post a "lobbyist" for Amazon, and arguing that the online retailer is exploiting the U.S. postal service and doing harm to American businesses. "You have retailers all over the United States that are going out of business," Trump said Tuesday. "If you look at the cost that we're subsidizing, we're giving a subsidy to Amazon." The answer to the question of whether Amazon receives a subsidy is no, not really, and even if Amazon's packages are priced in a way that is advantageous to the company, it is not exactly a subsidy for Amazon to ship packages through the mail at the price the mail service chooses to charge. But the question of whether Amazon is subsidized or not is largely irrelevant. Trump is almost certainly attacking Amazon because of its connection to Bezos, a self-made billionaire whose business acumen is widely admired, and The Washington Post, which frequently publishes accurate but unflattering reports about the dysfunctional inner workings of the White House. A little more than a year into Trump's presidency, it is clear that he has no particular ideological outlook: He's not a hardline conservative, or a secret New York liberal, or even much of a true-believing populist, despite the presence of a rolling cast of advisers who might more accurately fit these labels. Instead, Trump governs through muddled instinct, unconstrained by legal precedent or policy advice, always seeking attention, conflict, and personal dominance. Trump isn't an ideologue, but a petty authoritarian whose main pursuit is brutish self-aggrandizement. And while his authoritarian impulses have not born out the worst fears of his critics, they are far from harmless. In the case of the vendetta against The Washington Post, we can be confident about Trump's motivation because his administration is not proposing any particular policy change to address the alleged postal subsidy, and because his repeated criticisms of Bezos, Amazon, and the Post long predate his current complaints about mail subsidies. Trump has been attacking the trio as a single unit since at least 2015. On the campaign trail, he directly tied his criticisms of Bezos and Amazon to his irritation with reporting by the Post. "Every hour we're getting calls from reporters from The Washington Post asking ridiculous questions," Trump said in May 2016, before complaining that the Post was a "toy" that Bezos used to maintain power in the nation's capital. (Disclosure: My wife works for The Washington Post.) Trump may not be proposing any direct action against the company at this point, but his attacks aren't a sideshow. Amazon lost more than $50 billion in market value earlier this week following one of Trump's tweets, helping to send stock indexes spiraling. Trump is unlikely to win his battle with Amazon, but either way, the rest of us are already losing. Presidents rarely have as much control over the economy as they take credit for, but in this case, Trump appears to have directly impacted the fortune of both a specific American business that is responsible for tens of thousands of jobs as well as the general performance of the stock market—all in service of pursuing a pointless personal vendetta. Trump's simmering trade war with China, meanwhile, is another presidential project that only makes sense as a display of jungle dominance. "Trade wars are good, and easy to win," he declared last month. This is a view shared by essentially no reputable expert on the subject: That free trade is broadly beneficial and trade wars harm the economy is one of the most widely held belief amongst economists. But that doesn't matter, because Trump isn't really pursuing anything that resembles a policy agenda in the traditional sense. Instead, as with Bezos, Amazon, and the Post, he views China as a riv[...]



Rage Over Social-Media 'Censorship' Spurred YouTube Shooting Spree, Trump Proposes 1,300 Chinese Tariffs, Burning Rubber Not Free Speech: Reason Roundup

Wed, 04 Apr 2018 09:30:00 -0400

Woman who opened fire at YouTube was mad over video demonetization. A 39-year-old woman opened fire at YouTube's San Bruno, California, headquarters Tuesday, shooting three people (nonfatally) before killing herself. The shooter, Nasim Aghdam, was apparently enraged by YouTube's decision to demonetize her video channels. In the steady stream of widely publicized shootings in this country, this one stands out for several reasons. It's exceptionally rare for public shootings like this to be carried out by women. According to a Mother Jones analysis of incidents that meet the criteria to be called "mass shootings"—73 in total since 1982—only three of the perpetrators were women. And a New York Police Department analysis found that between 1966 and 2012, just eight of 230 "active shooter" cases involved female shooters. This is the first mass shooting publicly motivated by social-media company policies. We're used to shooters being animated by things like bigotry, misogyny, anti-government sentiment, religion, fringe politics or beliefs, or perhaps no discernible reason at all. In this case, Aghdam said she "hated" YouTube because of its platform policies with regard to her videos. From Aghdam's purported website: There is no free speech in real world & you will be suppressed for telling the truth that is not supported by the system. Videos of targeted users are filtered & merely relegated, so that people can hardly see their videos! There is no equal growth opportunity on YOUTUBE or any other video sharing site, your channel will grow if they want to!!!!! Aghdam was particularly insenced that her videos had been demonetized—that is, not eligible for ad-sharing profits from the platform. Videos may be demonetized if a creator has fewer than 1,000 subscribers or if YouTube deems their videos inappropriate. Aghdam's dad told NBC that YouTube "stopped everything and now she has no income." This has been a major complaint among YouTube creators for a while, as it seems the company is increasingly clamping down on what kind of content it will favor or allow. As with "shadowbanning" on Twitter and Facebook's mysterious algorythms, YouTube's promotion (or lack thereof) and demonetization policies have been heralded as inscrutable, inconsistent, and biased. YouTube has since removed all of Aghdam's content, so it's impossible to say how many subscribers she had or whether her videos were actually inappropriate. From the titles of now-removed vidoes, they seemed to span a wide array of topics, from animal rights activism and veganism to comedy, commentary, and exercise videos. Aghdam complained that one of her exercise videos had been rated age-restricted by YouTube, while "many singers like Nicki Minaj, Miley [Cyrus] and many others ... are so inappropriate for children to watch [but] don't get age-restricted." In San Bruno yesterday, eyewitness Jesse Pineda told the San Francisco Chronicle he heard shots while across the street from the YouTube offices and ran over to find a woman shot in the leg. After helping her to safety, he saw another woman on the ground in the doorway. She was dead, I'm sure of it. Those 10 shots were rapid fire—it was no mercy. There were four more shots after that. I wish I had had a gun but I didn't. I had to be smart and get out of there. The three victims who were shot are now hospitalized, with one in critical condition. There are no words to describe the tragedy that occurred today. @SusanWojcicki & I are focused on supporting our employees & the @YouTube community through this difficult time together. Thank you to the police & first responders for their efforts, and to all for msgs of support. — Sundar Pichai (@sundarpichai) April 3, 2018 The motivation here is, of course, secondary to the victims and the crime. But it may be a sign of things to come. As government pressure and policies lead to the continued cracking down on social-media content, us[...]



New Backpage Ruling Lays Bare Some of the Lies Undergirding FOSTA

Mon, 02 Apr 2018 16:31:00 -0400

Does a new federal court ruling in Massachusetts show the bankruptcy of recent congressional sex trafficking legislation? Yes and no. The ruling, from U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin, allows a civil suit against the classified-ads website Backpage to proceed for one of the case's three plaintiffs, referred to in court documents as Jane Doe 3. For the other two plaintiffs, the judge granted Backpage's motion to dismiss the case. The plaintiffs allege they were victims of sex trafficking, that their traffickers posted (or required them to post) ads on Backpage in order to advertise their services, and that Backpage is thus responsible for their exploitation and abuse. They further allege that in at least one instance, Backpage edited an ad to make it appear that Doe 3 was an adult when it should have been obvious that she was a minor. Coming just a few weeks after Congress passed a measure related to prostitution advertising (known as FOSTA), the ruling has sparked debate over whether the new law is actually needed in order to hold sites accountable for knowingly facilitating sex trafficking. FOSTA declares that the Communications Decency Act's Section 230, which protects digital platforms from certain legal liabilities for the things that third parties post, doesn't apply in matters relating to sex trafficking or prostitution. Notably, Section 230 does not apply if the content in question was created by the platform "in whole or part." In his May 29 decision, Sorokin stressed that if Backpage employees had edited Doe's ads in a substantial manner, the site would not be protected from liability for contributing to Doe's prostitution as a teenager. Opponents of FOSTA say Sorokin's ruling shows that one of the major stated rationales for FOSTA—to allow civil suits against Backpage—can be done without a new federal mandate. This is true, but only insofar as Backpage actually made substantial edits to the offending ads. In other words, if Backpage is the monstrous "online brothel" that politicians claim it is, and it knowingly changed content to obscure the sex trafficking of minors, than victims can sue and Section 230 doesn't apply. But so far, nothing in the Massachusetts case, in previous federal cases against Backpage, or in a year-long Senate investigation into Backpage's practices has shown that this is the case. If Backpage is not the monster—and content creator—that its critics say it is, that means holding it "accountable" for user-generated content does require the government to roll back Section 230. It also means it's a myth that FOSTA is only going to harm "bad" sites. As lawyer Eric Goldman wrote on Friday, "Backpage has been the poster child for Section 230's purported failings" under the argument that "(1) Backpage facilitates sex trafficking, (2) Section 230 protects Backpage, so (3) Section 230 is evil." A court ruling that Section 230 doesn't preclude prosecution of Backpage would destroy the whole premise for the law. That premise has always been bunk to those paying close attention. (Crucially, "Section 230 does not provide Backpage—or anyone else—absolute immunity, and it never has," notes Goldman.) But the general pitch for FOSTA has been offered on hold-Backpage-accountable grounds. Particulars were "ignored" in "legislative developments, leading Congress to eviscerate a crucially important and brilliantly visionary law (Section 230) for what may be minimal or no real gains to benefit victims of sex trafficking," writes Goldman. Behind the scenes, forces including the Senate Judiciary Committee and all sorts of scholars, lawyers, and tech folk had urged legislators to hold off on advancing the bill until a ruling in the Massachusetts Jane Doe case. Instead, the sponsors of a Senate version of the bill (known as SESTA) "refused to involve the Senate Judiciary Committee in a bill that raised hard questions of criminal law far outsi[...]



Mozilla's New Firefox Extension Will Try to Stop Facebook from Tracking You

Thu, 29 Mar 2018 11:35:00 -0400

(image)

Mozilla Firefox has a new extension to prevent Facebook from tracking your online habits.

Capitalizing on the fears surrounding Facebook privacy, Mozilla has designed the "Facebook Container," a Firefox add-on that blocks Facebook from tracking users when they click on ads or links that take them off the site.

Facebook currently uses a program called Pixel to collect information on how users engage with the site. When users click on links, they visit external sites but are still logged in to Facebook's platform. These outside sites will contain "share" or "like" buttons, and when users engage with these functions, this activity is connected to their Facebook identity. That's how Facebook is able to fine-tune its advertisements to its users. While this is a well-known practice, many aren't aware that their behaviors outside the core function of Facebook are tracked.

But when people using Facebook Container click a link on Facebook, it loads in a seperate blue tab that isolates users' activities from the core site. In these blue tabs, users will not be logged into Facebook, which prevents further data collection. Users do have the option to continue to use the "share" and "like" buttons, but Mozilla notes that these activities may still be tracked. The extension doesn't prevent data collection, but it offers users more control over their privacy.

"Facebook can continue to deliver their service to you and send you advertising," Mozilla explained in its announcement about the extension. "The difference is that it will be much harder for Facebook to use your activity collected off Facebook to send you ads and other targeted messages." The company acknowledges that the "type of data in the recent Cambridge Analytica incident would not have been prevented by Facebook Container. But troves of data are being collected on your behavior on the internet, and so giving users a choice to limit what they share in a way that is under their control is important."

While other people pound their fists and clamor for more regulations, Mozilla reminds us that sometimes the quickest way to address a technological problem in the private sector is with a technological solution in the private sector.




A Dark and Stormy Week for Free Speech: Podcast

Mon, 26 Mar 2018 14:40:00 -0400

There's no question that the legal dispute between President Donald Trump and adult actress/filmmaker Stormy Daniels has been good for television ratings. 60 Minutes last night scored its highest audience share in a decade. But is it good for America? On today's Reason Podcast, Katherine Mangu-Ward, Nick Gillespie, Peter Suderman and yours truly pivot quickly from the shiny object of pre-presidential sex to the neglected—and far more disgusting—free-speech assault passed by the Senate last week with only two dissenting votes. In addition to covering the "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" (FOSTA) and concomitant social media panic, we discuss the terrible omnibus spending bill, the ungood nomination of John Bolton as national security adviser, and the various questionable cultural products they are currently consuming. Subscribe, rate, and review our podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/420268412%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-opuNw&color=%23f37021&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" frameborder="0"> Audio production by Ian Keyser. Relevant links from the show: "Don't Let President Trump Distract You with Stormy Daniels," by Nick Gillespie "FOSTA Passes Senate, Making Prostitution Ads a Federal Crime Against Objections from DOJ and Trafficking Victims," by Elizabeth Nolan Brown "Hours After FOSTA Passes, Reddit Bans 'Escorts' and 'SugarDaddy' Communities," by Elizabeth Nolan Brown "YouTube Plans to Shut Down Gun Instructional Videos," by Brian Doherty "Mark Zuckerberg Is Calling for Regulation of Social Media To Lock in Facebook's Position," by Nick Gillespie "Omnibus Bill Chips Away at Citizens' Abilities to Protect Data from Government Snoops Across the World," by Scott Shackford "Your Friday Cliffhanger: Will Trump Sign or Veto the Omnibus?" by Scott Shackford "Rand Paul Reads the Omnibus Spending Bill (Because Someone Has To)," by Brian Doherty "9 Ridiculous Things About the Omnibus Budget Bill," by Eric Boehm "5 Things About John Bolton That Are Worse Than His Mustache," by Jacob Sullum "My Conversations with John Bolton," by Matt Welch Don't miss a single Reason Podcast! (Archive here.) Subscribe at iTunes. Follow us at SoundCloud. Subscribe at YouTube. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.[...]



YouTube Plans to Shut Down Gun Instructional Videos

Fri, 23 Mar 2018 16:15:00 -0400

YouTube announced this week that it will soon begin taking down videos that violate its new policies on gun-related content. It will bar not just explicit sales of certain weapons but also videos that present "instructions on manufacturing a firearm, ammunition, high capacity magazine, homemade silencers/suppressors, or certain firearms accessories such as those listed above. This also includes instructions on how to convert a firearm to automatic or simulated automatic firing capabilities." Vice Motherboard reports that enforcement of the new policies will likely start next month. One gun-related channel, Spike's Tactical, claimed in the wake of that news that YouTube had already suspended it, though I see the channel still there today. Cody Wilson, inventor of the first 3D-printed plastic handgun, says he's awaiting actual action on YouTube's part before considering his next move. "When they start taking shit down is when I want to get loud," he said in a phone interview today. His channel is still up and running. He's had videos related to his gunmaking taken down before. But in the past, he says, YouTube has generally couched its complaints about gun-related content in terms of copyright (say, for music in the background) or the danger that certain age groups will see the material. Wilson fears that in the current climate YouTube will be as broad as possible in what it takes down, "like if you show a magazine and a gun this is tantamount to demonstrating to someone how to assemble" a weapon. He has announced on Twitter that he will not help YouTube by taking anything down himself. Others in the gun community are worried about what alternative places could host their videos if and when they are actually driven from YouTube. "People are emailing me, asking me if I'll be the guy" to figure out a new video solution, Wilson says. "But I have no idea. It's too expensive to do. I don't know if there can be a YouTube alternative in the way we understand YouTube now." Wilson does mention one "marketable, hilarious answer" to the "what now?" question: Pornhub. Indeed, the InRangeTV channel has already told NPR that it is taking that tack. (Check it out yourself. A search on the term "guns" brought up at least one of their videos in the top picks, among lots of more conventional pornography involving guns in some manner.) Wilson in our interview this morning also cited Citigroup's announcement yesterday that it will require new retail sector clients or partners to adhere to these best practices: (1) they don't sell firearms to someone who hasn't passed a background check, (2) they restrict the sale of firearms for individuals under 21 years of age, and (3) they don't sell bump stocks or high-capacity magazines. This policy will apply across the firm, including to small business, commercial and institutional clients, as well as credit card partners, whether co-brand or private label. It doesn't impact the ability of consumers to use their Citi cards at merchants of their choice. To Wilson, both moves are disturbing signs that the culture at large, not necessarily the state per se, is closing in on him and his interests. "This is really happening now. YouTube, Google, banks....The libertarian response is just that these are all private companies, so....? And that's true. But if you are no longer a person" to such leading institutions in marketing, commerce, and communication, "then what [options are] there?"[...]



Hours After FOSTA Passes, Reddit Bans 'Escorts' and 'SugarDaddy' Communities

Thu, 22 Mar 2018 10:35:00 -0400

Sometime around 2 a.m. last night, Reddit banned several long-running sex worker forums from the platform. The move comes just hours after the Senate passed a bill making digital facilitation of prostitution a federal crime. Under the new law, social media sites and other hubs of user-generated content can be held criminally liable. For months, sex workers have warned that the passage of "SESTA" or "FOSTA"—two similarly bad bills that were competing for dominance; FOSTA passed yesterday—would mark the end of all online forums for communication with clients, lawyers, or each other. To sex workers like Liara Roux, Louise Partridge, and Jiz Lee, Reddit's takedown of these subreddits confirmed their fears about the new legislation. Even if individuals aren't targeted by law enforcement for placing ads, and even if individual cases brought by state prosecutors are struck down as unconstitutional, a lot of platforms will preemptively ban anything remotely related to sex work rather than risk it. So far, four subreddits related to sex have banned: Escorts, Male Escorts, Hookers, and SugarDaddy. None were what could accurately be described as advertising forums, though (to varying degrees) they may have helped connect some people who wound up in "mutually beneficial relationships." The escort forums were largely used by sex workers to communicate with one another, according to Partridge. Meanwhile, the "hooker" subreddit "was mostly men being disgusting," according to Roux, "but also was a place that sometimes had people answering educational questions in good faith." This sub had a slur in the name and was mostly men being disgusting but also was a place that sometimes had people answering educational questions in good faith. Instead of increased moderation and a name change, it was removed entirely today. Dead canary. pic.twitter.com/efAFMW9R4z — Liara Roux (@LiaraRoux) March 22, 2018 If you visit the Reddit "Hooker" community now, you'll see a notice that "this subreddit was banned due to a violation of our content policy." The "Escorts" and "Male Escots" pages provides a little more detail: "This subreddit was banned due to a violation of our content policy, specifically, a violation of Reddit's policy against transactions involving prohibited goods or services." Reddit yesterday announced changes to its content policy, now forbidding "transactions for certain goods and services," including "firearms, ammunition, or explosives" and "paid services involving physical sexual contact." While some of the prohibited exchanges are illegal, many are not. Yet they run close enough up against exchanges that could be illegal that it's hard for a third-party like Reddit to differentiate. And the same goes for forums where sex workers post educational content, news, safety and legal advice. Without broad Section 230 protections, Reddit could be in serious financial and legal trouble if they make the wrong call. Some have suggested that the new content policy, not FOSTA, is to blame for the shutdown of the sex-related subreddits. But FOSTA may also help explain Reddit's new content policy overall. (Reddit did not respond to my request for comment Thursday morning.) FOSTA seriously chips away at Section 230, the federal provision that protects web publishers from being treated as the speaker of user-generated content. Proponents of FOSTA have insisted this is just a renovation of Section 230, not a demolition. But as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)—who coauthored the Section 230 language in the '90s—noted yesterday, once you carve out a loophole for one bad thing (in this case, the change is allegedly meant to stop sex trafficking), it's easy for legislators and courts to carve out loopholes and justifications for everything. After all, murder is pretty bad. And every[...]



FOSTA Passes Senate, Making Prostitution Ads a Federal Crime Against Objections from DOJ and Trafficking Victims

Wed, 21 Mar 2018 15:55:00 -0400

The U.S. Senate just passed one of the worst bills in recent memory, the so-called "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" (FOSTA) that cleared the House of Representatives in late February. This is the measure that would make online prostitution ads a federal crime and decimate Section 230, the federal provision shielding web publishers and platforms from certain legal liabilities for the things that users post. It's largely portrayed as a response to Backpage, but its reach goes far far beyond that. "In the absence of Section 230, the internet as we know it would shrivel," warned Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) from the Senate floor Wednesday. "Civic organizations protecting their right to free speech could be [ruined] by their more powerful political opponents" and "there would be an enormous chilling effect on speech in America." That's why big companies like Facebook like efforts like this to weaken it, Wyden added—"because it would pull up the ladder in the tech world" so new companies couldn't afford to get in. Wyden stressed that he's been highly proactive on measures that could actually helps victims of sexual exploitation. But FOSTA "is not going to prevent sex trafficking [and] it's not going to stop young people from becoming victims," he noted. In fact, "the legislation before the Senate is going to make it harder, not easier, to root out and prosecute sex traffickers." This isn't just Wyden's opinion. The Department of Justice has not only called FOSTA unconstitutional; it says the legislation will "create additional elements that prosecutors must prove at trial," thereby making it harder to get guilty parties convicted. "You're heading in the wrong direction if you [pass a bill] that would raise the burden of proof in cases against sex traffickers," Wyden chastised his colleagues. He was one of two senators today—along with Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)—to vote against the measure. Another downside: Under FOSTA, any attempts by a website or app to filter out bad content could lead to more legal liability. The only way for companies to stay safe will be to completely give up on content moderation and trying to stop illegal ads from getting through. An amendment to FOSTA, offered by Sen. Wyden, would have closed this loophole, but it was shot down by a large majority. And we haven't even touched on the damage FOSTA will do for sex workers, who could lose their ability to find and screen clients electronically, forcing them back onto the streets or into other situations where they'll be more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. They could also lose the ability to warn each other about dangerous customers on sex-work message boards. As Alana Massey noted recently at Allure, "these bills target websites that are widely and inaccurately believed to be hubs of trafficking activity when it is precisely those websites that enable people in the sex trades to do their work safely and independently, at the same time as they make it easier for authorities to find and investigate possible trafficking cases." In a lengthy Senate floor speech on Monday, bill sponsor Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) told a series of whoppers about U.S. sex trafficking, starting with an assertion that "there is a federal law that now permits trafficking online." There isn't. And when it comes to federal law enforcement, Section 230 doesn't even apply. Without any changes to existing law, those who commit federal crimes such as sex trafficking of children, sex trafficking via force/fraud/coercion, knowingly advertising a victim of trafficking, paying for sex with someone under age 18, forced labor, debt bondage, and all sorts of related activities are fully prosecutable, and Section 230 has nothing to say about it. In defense of his [...]



Fear of a Free, Prosperous Internet

Sun, 18 Mar 2018 06:00:00 -0400

The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball, by Noam Cohen, The New Press, 256 pages, $25.95 Say you've sprained your ankle. You consult Google, where you find copious information about using compression bandages to stabilize your sprain. But you'd like some back and forth with someone who has experience. You post about your injury on Facebook, triggering a real-time conversation with volunteer first responders offering pro tips. You then pop over to Amazon, because the nearest drug store is more than 16 miles away and you don't want to drive with a sprained right ankle. You've got too much debt riding on your credit card to add to it blithely, but no problem—you use PayPal to get a bandage delivered to you that same day. And if your sprain leads to hard-to-handle bills, you can put out a call for help using GoFundMe. A totally banal incident, and unimaginable at every step just two decades ago. Our abilities to learn, discuss, buy, receive, and give have changed magnificently for the better because of the behemoth internet companies on which every step of that dull anecdote hinges. Noam Cohen, author of The Know-It-Alls: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball, spent years covering the tech industry for The New York Times. His book is, in large part, a compact history of such companies, their founders, and the ideas that animated them. Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and Peter Thiel of PayPal all get their own chapters. The analogy Cohen thinks best explains those companies—the analogy that starts his book and shapes his perspective—is the hoary old Damon Knight short story "To Serve Man," as adapted on The Twilight Zone. You know, the one where technologically superior aliens fool us into thinking they're helping us when they actually intend to eat us. ("It's a cookbook!") Cohen is a deft storyteller, and The Know-It-Alls reveals a lot of fascinating information about the business and technological contingencies that led his characters to their prominence. But as the book's title implies, Cohen thinks Silicon Valley visionaries have a hubristic sense that they know what's good for everyone else and are out to impose that vision on us. Yet their successes, as Cohen's own narrative shows, came from offering services that were eagerly and freely embraced by millions and that have constantly adjusted to keep audiences satisfied. Although Cohen's policy prescriptions are thin and underargued—and fortunately don't often mar his storytelling—they show far more signs of the know-it-all. Cohen laments what has largely been a free cultural choice to embrace these online services, and he prefers an (ill-explained) European model that gives the government more control over how people are allowed to use the internet. And then there's his subtitle: The Rise of Silicon Valley as a Political Powerhouse and Social Wrecking Ball. Where is the evidence for that power, that wreckage? Not in this book. Cohen claims his characters are pushing us toward "a society in which personal freedoms are near absolute and government regulations wither away." But while he finds some evidence of libertarian leanings among some of his subjects/villains, there is little evidence here that they have done anything in electoral politics to shift America in that direction. Indeed, with the exception of Peter Thiel's leap onto the Trump train, he shows none of them publicly working against even the Democratic Party's agenda. Silicon Valley may be in some respects a "political powerhouse," but it's not one dragging us toward "absolute freedom"—more's the pity. (He does call Amazon's [...]



$20 Fee for Porn Access Proposed in Rhode Island

Mon, 05 Mar 2018 14:08:00 -0500

Rhode Island has joined a host of other states in considering an irrational measure to regulate online porn by charging consumers a $20 access fee. But the Rhode Island bill actually beats others like it in terrible and unconstitutional requirements, such as requiring the blockage of not just nude imagery or porn sites but any content that "affront(s) current standards of decency"... whatever that means. The bill, sponsored by state Sens. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) and Hannah Gallo (D-Cranston), is packed with ill-defined terms and extreme mandates. To start, it would require all internet-enabled devices sold in the state to come with "a digital blocking capability that renders inaccessible sexual content and/or patently offensive material." But as many previous schemes to block sexual content have shown, it's nearly impossible for automated censors to distinguish pornographic sexual content from sexual wellness websites, reproductive health organizations, ancient art, educational information, and all sorts of other non-obscene or pornographic stuff. And the Rhode Island bill wouldn't just block overtly sexual content but anything deemed "patently offensive," too–even though there's no clear definition of this term. The state currently defines "patently offensive" as material "so offensive on its face as to affront current standards of decency." Makers of computers, smartphones, and other internet-enabled products would be left to determine for themselves what exactly "current standards of decency" means and how to put that in algorithmic terms. The proposal doesn't stop there in terms of confusing and unconstitutional dictates, though. It would also require devices to automatically block "any hub that facilitates prostitution"—again, not a legal or well-defined category of content. And device makers would also have to "ensure that all child pornography and revenge pornography is inaccessible" on their products—something that sounds great but is completely technically infeasible. If it were that easy to stop the spread of child porn, companies would be doing it already. What makes all of this especially ridiculous is that under Ciccone and Gallo's proposal, anyone over 18-years-old could have the filter removed by making a request in writing and paying a $20 fee. The money would go to the state's general treasury "to help fund the operations of the council on human trafficking." (But... if people are paying the state $20 to access prostitution sites, doesn't that make the state a trafficker?) The fact that lawmakers think blocked "patently offensive" material should be able to be accessed for a low price just shows how toothless their proclamations that the legislation is necessary to protect public health or morals. But what lawmakers would get out of the measure is a nice new source of steady income and a registry of people who want the filter removed. Plus, the fees imposed on individual consumers would be pocket change compared to the money the state could make shaking down tech companies. Under Ciccone and Gallo's proposal, failure to implement the technically impossible filtering requirements could mean being sued by the state or any Rhode Island resident, being held liable for civil damages, and being charged up to $500 "for each piece of content that was reported but not subsequently blocked."[...]



House Passes 'Anti Sex-Trafficking' Bill Opposed by Both DOJ and Trafficking Survivors

Wed, 28 Feb 2018 13:30:00 -0500

With bipartisan enthusiasm, the U.S. House of Representatives has just passed a bill that would endanger sex workers, make life even worse for human trafficking survivors, put both free speech and social media in serious jeopardy, and drastically expand federal prosecutorial power. The bill, H.R. 1865, is euphemistically named the "Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" (FOSTA), despite the fact that there's nothing stopping state authorities from punishing sex traffickers and their allies at present and despite the fact that trafficking victims can already sue abusers in civil court. FOSTA's actual targets are adults consensually engaging in prostitution as well as web platforms that allow user-generated content. One of many similarly misleading bills that have gained traction in recent years, FOSTA amends Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act to hold online publishers, apps, and services legally liable for the actions of people who post there or connect through them. What this means in practice is that social media sites such as Snapchat and Facebook, classified ad sites such as Craigslist and Backpage, chat apps, search engines, and many other communication tools could be both criminally charged and sued in civil court—by individuals or by states—anytime anyone uses them to meet someone with whom they would eventually engage in commercial sex. As Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) explained on the House floor yesterday, H.R. 1865 creates the new offense of intentional promotion or facilitation of prostitution while using or operating a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce, such as the internet. A general violation of this offense will be punishable by a sentence of upwards of 10 years. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri), has had bipartisan support in the House from the get-go, despite objections from a wide range of stakeholders, from victims' advocacy organizations to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has already declared the bill "unconstitutional." On Tuesday, it passed the House with 388 votes in its favor. Ivanka Trump and a host of liberal Hollywood celebs, government-funded nonprofits, and former #Pizzagate conspiracy theorists cheered. Please call your congressperson today to vote YES on HR1865 #FOSTA #SESTA: https://t.co/ZjujurMiXT #ListenToSurvivors #IamJaneDoe @RepJerryNadler @RepZoeLofgren @GOPLeader — Amy Schumer (@amyschumer) February 27, 2018 But the response from sex workers, sex-trafficking survivors, free speech advocates, human rights activists, tech companies, due process proponents, and many others was much less positive. The bill "marks an unprecedented push towards Internet censorship, and does nothing to fight sex traffickers," the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) declared yesterday. "Facing huge new liabilities, the law will undoubtedly lead to platforms policing more user speech," going out of business, or failing to launch in the first place. "The tragedy is that FOSTA isn't needed to prosecute or sue sex traffickers," the EFF continued. "As we've said before, Section 230 simply isn't broken. Right now, there is nothing preventing federal prosecution of an Internet company that knowingly aids in sex trafficking. That includes anyone hosting advertisements for sex trafficking, which is explicitly a federal crime" already thanks to the 2015 "SAVE Act." Voting against FOSTA were just 14 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Among them were staunch criminal justice reform advocate Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia), pro-Trump Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz (Florida), longtime women's rights and anti-violence advocate Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), a[...]