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Published: Sun, 28 May 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 28 May 2017 14:57:11 -0400

 



Are You Ready for the "Intimacy Economy"?

Fri, 26 May 2017 10:00:00 -0400

We've all heard of the "sharing economy" and the "gig economy," app-driven services such as Uber and Airbnb that have radically altered transportation, travel, and an infinite number of other business sectors. But are you ready for the "intimacy economy"? That's economist and media-studies professor Glenn Platt's term for the ways in which the internet and connectivity are shrinking the distance between performer and audience, producer and consumer, and celebrity and fan. "When I talk about the intimacy economy, I'm talking about this growing category of successful business models that are built on one-to-one relationships and experiences that are personal, authentic, and unscripted," explains Platt, the founder and director of the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies (AIMS) at Miami University of Ohio. He points to an example involving Craig Finn, best-known as the frontman for the indie rock band The Hold Steady. As a way to raise money for his latest album and tour, Finn set up a crowd-funded pledge drive through which fans could sign up to download the album or have it shipped early. The really interesting thing, though, were the higher-level offerings for funders, says Platt. These included paying a couple of hundred dollars to go record shopping with him in New York. "Here you are, a music fan," he says, "and [Finn] is willing to go record-shopping with you. You're getting to do the equivalent of going to church with one of your rock-and-roll heroes....It's different than saying, If you pay extra, you're going to get an autographed picture." In a wide-ranging conversation about technology and disruption, Platt tells Reason's Nick Gillespie how the intimacy economy will revolutionize not only business but also political and cultural practices. In a world where mass personalization and individualization is the new normal, the intimacy economy provides a bold new way of thinking about the future of interactive media. Produced by Ian Keyser. Subscribe, rate, and review the Reason Podcast at iTunes. Listen at SoundCloud below: src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/324529279%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-QZ6Aa&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="0"> 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. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Hi, this is Nick Gillespie and this is the Reason podcast. Please Subscribe to us at iTunes and rate and review us while you're there. Today we're talking with Glenn Platt. He's the C. Michael Armstrong professor of interactive media studies and the founding director of the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies at Miami University. Glenn thanks for joining us. Glenn Platt: Hey Nick. Nick Gillespie: Let's talk about this concept of the intimacy economy that you've talked about. I've actually used it in a couple of articles that I've written at Reason and elsewhere. What do you mean when you talk about the intimacy economy and why is it so important? Glenn Platt: Sure, when I talk about the intimacy economy what I'm talking about is this is a growing category of successful business models that are built on one to one relationships and experiences, that are personal. authentic and unscripted. And so we're starting to see more and more of the non stylized relationships and I say "brands" here because I come from a business perspective. But, really, when I say "brands" we're talking about celebrities, we're talking about if any ... I don't know, institution of the third kind that normally interacts with people in a one to many fashion. Nick Gillespie: Right, or in a bureaucratic way. So, let's put a little flesh on this definition of an intimate discussion. What's an example of an individual, or a person, or a celebrity, or a star who in the past would have just said like,[...]



How Deregulation Gave Us FM Radio, HBO, and the iPhone

Mon, 22 May 2017 14:14:00 -0400

"We've gone to a modern [broadcast] system that has a lot of places where stuff can happen without permission," says Thomas W. Hazlett, who's the FCC's former chief economist, a professor at Clemson University, and author of the new book The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. "And we have seen that the smartphone revolution and some other great stuff in the wireless space has really burgeoned...That comes from deregulation." So-called net neutrality rules are designed to solve a non-existent problem and threaten to restrict consumer choice, Hazlett tells Reason's Nick Gillespie. "The travesty is there's already a regulatory scheme [to address anti-competitive behavior]—it's called antitrust law." Greater autonomy and consumer freedom led to the development of cable television, the smartphone revolution, and the modern internet. While we've come a long way from the old days of mother-may-I pleading with the FCC to grant licenses for new technology, Hazlett says, "there's a lot farther to go and there's a lot of stuff out there that's being suppressed." He points to the history of radio and television. Herbert Hoover and Lyndon Johnson exercised extraordinary control over spectrum allocation, which they used for their own political and financial gain. With liberalization, we now have hundreds of hours of varied television programming as compared to the big three broadcast networks of the '60s, an abundance of choices in smartphone providers and networks as compared to the Ma Bell monopoly, and more to come. Hazlett also discusses his views on current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, how the FCC delayed the arrival of cable television to protect incumbent broadcasters, and "the most infamous statement ever made by an FCC regulator" in a 1981 Q&A with Reason magazine. Interview by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Todd Krainin and Mark McDaniel. Music by RW Smith. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: HI. I'm Nick Gillespie for Reason. Today, we're talking with Thomas Winslow Hazlett, an economics professor at Clemson, a long-time Reason contributor, former chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, and author most recently of the epic new book, The Political Spectrum: The Tumultuous Liberation of Wireless Technology, from Herbert Hoover to the Smartphone. Tom, thanks for talking to us. Thomas Hazlett: Thanks for having me, Nick. Nick Gillespie: Your book is a masterful counterblast, I think, to the intellectual status quo when it comes to broadcasting, cable, Internet, especially related to things like spectrum auctions and net neutrality and whatnot. Your large argument is that government inhibits innovation rather than encourages it. Is that accurate? Thomas Hazlett: Yeah, that's the starting point, but I certainly go farther, a lot farther in this book, because there has been significant liberalization, and we learn a lot from the directions we've gone. We see the suppression through administrative allocations of spectrum, which just means that we have this Mother-may-I system where the government's in charge of who does what in wireless and has to give explicit permission. We've gone from a system like that to a modern system that has a lot of places where stuff can happen without permission. Nick Gillespie: Right. Thomas Hazlett: We have seen that what we call perhaps the smartphone revolution and some other great stuff in the wireless space has really burgeoned. We have these emerging networks and these ecosystems. That comes from deregulation. Nick Gillespie: Is it deregulation or is it government ... I guess and different examples, and we'll talk about those, but sometimes it's explicit deregulation, or the government saying, "We're going to get out of this. We're not going to do anything." Other times, is it benign neglect[...]



Government Is the Cause of—Not the Solution to—the Latest Hacking Outbreak

Mon, 15 May 2017 13:20:00 -0400

Privacy and cybersecurity experts and activists have been warning for ages that governments have their priorities all wrong. National security interests (not just in America but other countries as well) comparatively spend much more time and money attempting to breach the security systems of other countries and potential enemies than they do bolstering their own defenses. Reuters determined, with the information from intelligence officials, that the United States spends $9 on cybersurveillance and government hacking for every $1 it sends on defending its network systems. The "WannaCry" Malware attack that spooled out over the end of last week and into the weekend, implicates both sides of this problem. The ransomware, first of all, allegedly originated from vulnerabilities and infiltration tools developed by the National Security Agency (NSA) they had been hoarding and keeping secret from technology companies whose defenses they were breaching. All of this secrecy was to facilitate the NSA's ability to engage in cyberespionage and to prevent technology companies from building defenses that would have inhibited government surveillance. The NSA lost control of these infiltration tools and they were publicly exposed by the hacker group known as the "Shadow Brokers" last month. So this WannaCry attack or something like it (and probably many more) was incoming, and attentive information technology specialists were aware and hopefully prepared. Microsoft had already released a patch to address the vulnerabilities. Except not everybody downloaded it. The non-downloaders included parts of the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS), the socialized, taxpayer-funded healthcare system that covers the entire population there. The NHS had been warned that computers using old Microsoft operating systems were vulnerable, but several hundreds of thousands of computers had not been upgraded, according to the BBC. So on the one hand, we have a government agency refusing to disclose cybersecurity vulnerabilities it had discovered in order to take advantage of them, potentially leaving everybody's computers open to attacks. And then, on the other hand, we have a government agency refusing to properly prioritize cybersecurity to protect the data and privacy of its citizens (they blamed it on not having enough money, of course). This poll from Pew from last year shouldn't be a surprise, then. Consumers have less confidence in the federal government to protect their data than cellphone companies, email service providers, and credit card companies: That the government has been terrible on both ends of this problem makes this op-ed response at The New York Times by Zeynep Tufekci all the more confusing: She blames Microsoft and tech companies for apparently wanting to be paid to continue fixing and updating old, outdated operating systems. While she acknowledges that there are costs involved in such behavior, she seems to think that Microsoft should just suck it up and shell out. This is a rather remarkable hot take (and she's most certainly not alone in it): [C]ompanies like Microsoft should discard the idea that they can abandon people using older software. The money they made from these customers hasn't expired; neither has their responsibility to fix defects. Besides, Microsoft is sitting on a cash hoard estimated at more than $100 billion (the result of how little tax modern corporations pay and how profitable it is to sell a dominant operating system under monopolistic dynamics with no liability for defects). Has anybody seen a demand for free goods and services couched in an argument as fundamentally dumb as "The money hasn't expired!" before? Why does The New York Times continue to charge year after year to subscribers? The money readers paid the first time hasn't expired! Note that she also takes aim at those evil corporations and their money "hoards." Earlier in the column she described the NHS, a massive government juggernaut of a bureaucracy as "cash-strapped." The NHS [...]



How Washington Lost the War on Muscle

Sun, 14 May 2017 06:00:00 -0400

When Ned decided to try anabolic steroids for the first time, his goal was to "be bigger and look better." He had friends who used, and they seemed no worse for wear. The college sophomore was already training smart and eating right. "I felt like the pieces were in place to accelerate the process," he says looking back. That left the question of acquisition: He knew he could use the internet to illegally buy drugs from overseas, or he could invest some social capital in befriending a muscle-bound gym regular who might be able to hook him up. Still, he hesitated, until a fellow lifter revealed that he could obtain the same drug—testosterone, the paterfamilias of anabolic steroids—legally. If Ned could convince an M.D. that he had low testosterone, he could walk away with script in hand. Then he would be able to pick up clean, accurately labeled "test" from his local pharmacy in broad daylight, instead of braving the black market. He'd avoid the risks of drugs passed hand-to-hand, which might be under-dosed, mislabeled, or dirty. And buying directly from an Indian or Chinese lab (which probably supplied the American gym vendor anyway) poses all those risks plus the additional possibility of criminal charges—including prison time—if U.S. Customs intercepts your package and conducts a "controlled delivery." "I'd estimate the majority of controlled deliveries I've seen have involved quantities that are consistent with personal use," criminal defense attorney Rick Collins writes in Legal Muscle, his 2002 doorstopper on U.S. anabolic steroid laws. "A band of government agents will lie in wait until you make the horrific mistake of accepting your mail. Then, like a plague of locusts, they'll descend upon the sanctity of your home, ransacking it from roof to basement." User surveys say that more than half of men who buy drugs for physique and performance enhancement do so on the internet black market, despite the fact that buying steroids without a prescription is a crime in every state and a federal offense. Yet those same surveys also suggest that the number of recreational steroid users who acquire their drugs legally may have tripled in the last 10 years. What, exactly, are these people chasing? Some men want to look in the mirror and be blown away by their own sheer mass. Other men want to feel as virile and physically capable at 50 as they did at 18. Strength athletes—powerlifters and strongmen, professional and amateur alike—want to amplify their natural abilities. But contrary to popular media, the vast majority of steroid-using men are are not athletes, but regular working stiffs who like how they look and feel on "gear." Ned, who asked me not to share his real name, is one of those people. He's happily married, employed in academia, and as conscientious about his health as he is about his appearance. He represents a growing demographic of people who are using internet message boards, publicly available research data, and licensed doctors to tweak their bodies, take control of their decisions, and build forbidden muscle in a post-prohibition world. EXPERIMENTATION The use of anabolic steroids to build strength and muscle goes back to the middle of the 20th century and a company called Ciba Pharmaceuticals. Ciba conducted much of the early research into testosterone-based drugs, giving its compounds to American doctors and encouraging them to perform informal studies on their patients. The company published these findings in books such as 1948's Refresher Course on Male Hormone Therapy, which contains testosterone case studies for every condition then under the sun, from congenital eunuchoidism to same-sex attraction. (The eunuchs developed facial hair; the gay men thirsted even harder after other dudes.) One of Ciba's doctors was the Maryland physician John Ziegler. According to his personal papers and records, obtained by Auburn University's John D. Fair for a 1993 report in the Journal of Sports History, Ziegler gave testoster[...]



Plan to Roll Back Internet Regulations a Boon for Business and Innovation

Tue, 02 May 2017 00:30:00 -0400

Libertarians, rejoice—a U.S. regulator took the bold step of deciding that his office simply doesn't have the jurisdiction to control major parts of the internet. Last Wednesday, the free market-friendly Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled his plan to roll back the FCC's controversial 2015 Open internet Order (OIO), which granted the telecommunication regulator expansive discretionary authority over how internet Service Providers (ISPs) can operate and compete. Pai's plan is a real win for those who believe businesses should not need government permission before innovating. But don't expect the so-called "net neutrality" hardliners to accept this proposal without a major fight. Their reactions last week were predictably apoplectic. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) set the tone on Wednesday, promising a "tsunami of resistance" against Pai's deregulatory move. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) clutched his pearls and warned that rescinding the OIO would "destroy the internet as we know it." A writer at Gizmodo scoffed that Pai's position was one "only the strongest free-market libertarians" could support (is that supposed to be an insult?). The political group Free Press, a dogged OIO supporter, bemoaned that if Pai succeeds, "the internet as we know it will be gone for good." But hysterical critics have a hard time answering exactly how the internet was able to become the engine of innovation that it is today without the expansive FCC controls only granted through the OIO in 2015. Radical Regulation The 2015 Open Interent Order broke from years of established federal policy by reclassifying ISPs as "common carriers" for FCC purposes. In legal terms, the OIO applied Title II of the 1934 Communication Act to ISPs. This meant that web-service providers such as RCN and Time Warner were to be treated less like part of a competitive and cutting-edge industry and more like an arm of the Ma Bell telephone monopoly of Norman Rockwell's America. Specifically, the change would prohibit certain kinds of content-delivery differentiation, placing the FCC in the position of picking winners and losers by being able to determine which service innovations are allowed and which are not. For providers, the imposition of Title II regulations meant uncertainty, new fees and compliance costs, and a major new power center just waiting to be captured by commercial interests. For consumers, it meant less choice, higher prices, and a worrying channel for new government censorship of speech. For libertarians, it was merely more of the same: Yet another government regulator deciding that it should have more power to tell businesses and consumers what they can and cannot do. It is hard to overstate just how radical of a departure the OIO was from the preceding years of light touch regulatory authority over internet activities. For years, U.S. internet policy was guided by a remarkably laissez faire approach encapsulated by the Clinton administration's Framework for Global Electronic Commerce. This extraordinary document instructs the federal government to "encourage industry self-regulation wherever appropriate" and "refrain from imposing new and unnecessary regulations" on commercial internet activities. And if that's not clear enough, Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act states that any "service or system that provides access to the internet" should be "unfettered from Federal or State regulation" like the OIO. Accordingly, America today is home to the world's most successful and competitive technology companies, and consumers have access to a dazzling array of telecommunication services at affordable, competitive prices. (And thanks to Pai's new plan, we can continue to be.) But can you imagine what the internet would now look like if ISPs had been forced to ask the FCC for permission every time one wanted to roll out a new service over the years? We might not have much of an internet at all. No Free in[...]



NSA Ends One Particular Type of Domestic Email Data Collection

Fri, 28 Apr 2017 15:45:00 -0400

Let's hear it for a little bit more communication privacy for Americans! Charlie Savage at The New York Times is reporting via sources that the National Security Agency (NSA) is ending a particular type of intrusive surveillance that scanned the contents of Americans' emails for key words. Specifically, the NSA monitors messages for references of foreign individuals under their surveillance, even when such communications originate here domestically from Americans. This is often referred to in shorthand as "about" searches, meaning they're looking for messages that are "about" people they're watching, not just from or to these people. The NSA argues that this is legal as part of its job to gather intelligence about potential foreign threats. But this happens without warrants and and the implication here is at the very least the scanning of the contents of Americans' communications without evidence of wrongdoing. Furthermore it appears as though NSA employees were not able to confine themselves to collecting just the communications that referenced the foreign target. This technical issue had been raised before in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC): Through this process, the NSA was collecting and potentially getting access to all sorts of communications it wasn't supposed to be looking at, even if one were to accept that the "about" searches were legal. From Savage: The problem stemmed from certain bundled messages that internet companies sometimes packaged together and transmitted as a unit. If even one of them had a foreign target's email address somewhere in it, all were sucked in. After the N.S.A. brought that issue to the court's attention in 2011, a judge ruled that it violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches. The agency then proposed putting the bundled messages in a special repository to which analysts, searching through intercepts to write intelligence reports, would generally not have access. The court permitted that type of collection to continue with that restriction. But last year, officials said, the N.S.A. discovered that analysts were querying the bundled messages in a way that did not comply with those rules. The agency brought the matter to the court's attention, resulting in a delay in reauthorizing the broader warrantless surveillance program until the agency proposed ceasing this collection practice. And now it looks like, at least for the time being, they're stopping these searches. This is potentially a significant change because of what's called "backdoor" searches. Once the NSA collects information from this warrantless surveillance, it can be used by other federal agencies to search for information about specific Americans in order to target domestic criminal behavior. And they're allowed to do so even though this private information was collected without warrants. So naturally reducing the amount of communications the NSA is collecting will reduce the potential for backdoor, warrantless searches. It won't eliminate the possibility of these backdoor searches, though, and this decision from the NSA might just be temporary until they figure out a way to resolve the problem of incidental collection of unrelated emails. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which sets up some of the rules and authorization for this data collection, will sunset this year unless Congress renews it. Privacy and civil rights advocates would like to see reforms to 702 to better protect Americans from unwarranted snooping. This change helps a touch, but there's still going to be a push to try to stop those backdoor searches. More about Section 702 reforms and federal surveillance issues were discussed in a recent South by Southwest panel moderated by yours truly. Listen in on that lively talk here. LATE-BREAKING: Here's the NSA's official formal announcement confirming Savage's report.[...]



FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Why He's Rejecting Net Neutrality Rules

Wed, 26 Apr 2017 14:06:00 -0400

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans today to roll back net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015. The FCC currently regulates Internet service providers (ISPs) under Title II regulations that essentially treat the internet as a public utility similar to the old phone monopoly. Proponents of net neutrality and the invocation of Title II regulations say that such oversight is necessary to ensure that the Internet remains "open" and ISPs don't block sites or degrade offerings by rivals. Long a critic of Title II regulations, which were invoked after the FCC lost two court battles to regulate the Internet, Pai describes them as "a panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell." Scrapping these rules, Pai told Reason's Nick Gillespie, won't harm consumers or the public interest because there was no reason for them in the first place. The rationales were mere "phantoms that were conjured up by people who wanted the FCC for political reasons to overregulate the internet," Pai told Gillespie. "We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015." If left in place, however, the Title II rules could harm the commercial internet, which Pai described as "one of the most incredible free market innovations in history." "Companies like Google and Facebook and Netflix became household names precisely because we didn't have the government micromanaging how the internet would operate," said Pai, who noted that the Clinton-era decision not to regulate the Internet like a phone utility or a broadcast network was one of the most important factors in the rise of our new economy. Pai also pushed back against claims that he's a right-wing radical who's "fucking things up." "[I ascribe to] the very radical, right-wing position that the Clinton administration basically got it right when it came to digital infrastructure." During the interview, Pai also shared his views on topics including privacy, Donald Trump, obscenity, universal service, and more. Edited by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by McDaniel and Meredith Bragg. Music by Revolution Void. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Nick Gillespie: Hi I'm Nick Gillespie with Reason and today we are talking with Ajit Pai. He's the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, which oversees the licensing of radio and television stations, creates ownership roles for certain types of media companies, polices broadcast radio and television for indecency, and over the past few years has tried to enforce controversial rules that will maintain a free and open internet, sometimes called net neutrality. Ajit, thanks for talking to us. Ajit Pai: Nick, great to be with you again. Nick Gillespie: You are repealing Title II rules, explain what that will do and what you hope to accomplish with that. Ajit Pai: Well, as you pointed out, Title II involves the panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell, the telephone monopoly of the 1930s. My previous colleagues imposed those rules on the internet, one of the most dynamic systems we've ever known. Earlier I proposed to my fellow commissioners at the FCC to repeal those Title II regulations. Going forward, my hope is that in a more free market, light touch environment, we can figure out what the right regulatory framework is to preserve those core protections of a free and open internet that have existed prior to 2015 when on a party-line vote, the FCC adopted these net neutrality regulations. Nick Gillespie: To get into it a little bit, there was a free and open internet in 2015, there's kind of one now too or nothing much has changed. Wh[...]



Zara Pulls Not-Pepe Dress After People Complain That All Frogs Are Now Hate Symbols

Thu, 20 Apr 2017 12:02:00 -0400

I've found it—the stupidest "social justice" controversy of the week. That's a high bar, of course, but I believe this saga of retail #resistance clears it. Ready? Keyboard warriors have convinced international clothing company Zara to pull a limited-edition denim dress designed by Spanish pop artist Mario de Santiago, who goes by the name Yime. His sin? The dress featured two frogs. According to the London-based artist—whose work is full of whimsical, cartoonish animals and figures—the idea for the frog dress "came from a wall painting I drew with friends four years ago." It was part of a collection of "Oil on Denim" design collaborations between Zara and independent artists, featuring images including four-eyed Japanese women, dying birds, smiley faces, panthers, skulls...and the ill-fated amphibians. It seems that to folks on social media, the pair looked a little too much like Pepe, the innocent cartoon turned all-purpose meme turned alt-right mascot. During the 2016 election, Pepe earned the ire of no less than Hillary Clinton herself, as well as denunciation as a hate-group symbol by the quacks at the Southern Poverty Law Center. It would be weird for a moderately high-end fashion brand to carry Pepe-themed womenswear, sure, but not necessarily an endorsement of anything (perhaps the designer's intention is to skewer the alt-right, reclaim Pepe, or simply use relevant pop-cultural images in their work). There are all sorts of ways once can read the appearance of Pepe in a decidedly non-Trump or non-alt-right-related context, and to those other than professional grievancemongers this should be apparent. In any event, those who find the shirt distasteful are free to ignore it, thereby not heaping more attention on the offensive artist/company nor clogging up people's limited outrage capacity with things that make no goddamn material difference in the world. The frogs on the Yime/Zara dress aren't even intended to portray Pepe, however. They don't look much like the alt-right icon in the first place, aside from general frogginess, and the artist has explicitly stated that "there is absolutely no link to the suggested theme." Nevertheless, the social-media outrage persisted—prompting Zara to pull the skirt. While the rest of the Oil on Denim collection remains intact on the Zara website, the denim dress featuring frogs is nowhere to be found. Good job, internet liberals, you got huge clothing conglomerate to stop selling one of its few works benefiting indie creators! But at least you all got some Twitter faves, right? Uhh, is that Pepe The Frog (now a designated hate symbol by the ADL) on a Zara skirt?? https://t.co/DAyrSRzS94 pic.twitter.com/A8N3754ffk — NYLON (@NylonMag) April 18, 2017 Normalizing a hate symbol? Just nope. @ZARA #NotBuyingIt https://t.co/HIXmYsjQ0s via @TeenVogue @AveryEliz — Miss Representation (@RepresentPledge) April 18, 2017 Zara is selling a skirt featuring a powerful hate symbol—and it's not OK: https://t.co/rJ7dlk88QW pic.twitter.com/7qUeSrngBV — Glamour (@glamourmag) April 18, 2017 [...]



Denmark Proves We Don't Need the FCC

Tue, 04 Apr 2017 08:30:00 -0400

Americans often look to Scandinavian countries for examples of successful policy and governance. It's easy to see why: These countries boast some of the best quality-of-life rankings in the world. Denmark in particular is praised for its stellar telecommunications services. The country has topped the International Telecommunications Union's ranking of global information and communication technology (ICT) provision for years due to its expansive broadband and wireless penetration, fast Internet speeds, and ample provider competition. The Danish reputation got a boost among the American left in last year's presidential election, when none other than Bernie Sanders himself plugged the country as a model for the United States to emulate. But admirers of the popular democratic socialist politician may be surprised to learn exactly how Denmark was able to become an international leader in ICT delivery. It wasn't super-charged regulation, top-down "net neutrality" rules, or major government subsidies that did the trick. So how did Denmark do it? Deregulation. By virtually eliminating their equivalent of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Danes now enjoy some of the best ICT service on the planet. A new Mercatus Center working paper by Roslyn Layton and Joseph Kane describes precisely how Danish telecommunications officials undertook successful deregulatory reforms. It starts with Danish regulators who quickly understood the promise of digital technology and realized that government policies could quash innovative applications that would benefit consumers and businesses alike. From there, they developed a plan to prioritize competition and development instead of central control. This hands off-approach was so successful that eventually the country's National IT and Telecom Agency (NITA) was disbanded altogether. Committed to Competition In 1994, when most governments hadn't even started to consider the impending digital revolution, Danish authorities had already laid out a clear path for simple telecommunications policy. Their plan emphasized facilitating interactions between the public and private sectors instead of rushing to regulate. The Danish government also undertook early efforts to modernize their own services by digitizing government records, thereby becoming a key buyer of ICT services. Government services became more efficient, and the infant ICT sector got an enthusiastic and large client. Policymakers clearly stated their opposition to subsidy-driven "growth" and heavy-handed regulation. The country's state-owned telecommunications provider, Tele Danmark (TDC), was completely privatized in 1998 through the efforts of Social Democrat Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen. The next year, a consortium of Danish political parties formed a "Teleforlig," or telecommunications agreement, that outlined their goals. It stated: It is important to ensure that regulation does not create a barrier for the possibility of new converged products… Regulation must be technologically neutral, and technology choices are to be handled by the market. The goal is to move away from sector-specific regulation toward competition-oriented regulation. And Danish regulators kept this promise. For example, following the privatization of TDC, NITA levied special regulations on the provider so that it would not abuse its previous monopoly to prevent new competition in wireless. TDC was therefore subject to controls on its access to mobile networks and call origins. But NITA discovered that the wireless industry was sufficiently competitive by 2006, with four active providers in the market. Remarkably, NITA then dissolved the TDC regulations. As one official stated, "We are obliged to remove the regulation when the competitive situation demands it. There is no need to regulate something that market forces can take care o[...]



Proposed Tweak to Internet Law Could Spur Seismic Shifts in Web as We Know It

Sun, 02 Apr 2017 10:32:00 -0400

A draft bill in the House of Representatives would add sex trafficking to the list of crimes excluded from the protection of the Communication Decency Act (CDA), a Geocities-era law with an important provision on internet publishing. That provision—Section 230—would prove crucial to the development of the "World Wide Web" as we know it, allowing for a world in which social networks and participatory media could thrive. The new House proposal is portrayed as a mere tweak to Section 230, one which would make it easier to catch bad guys while having little effect on online communication. Don't believe it. Simply put, Section 230 protects web publishers and platforms—from Facebook and Reddit to The New York Times to Petfinder.com—from being legally culpable for things that third parties post or upload, at least when it comes to state crimes and civil lawsuits. (Federal criminal offenses are not afforded Section 230 protection.) If you're found to be criminally harassing someone via Twitter, the company can't be prosecuted for it. If a magazine commenter makes libelous statements, the publication can't be sued for libel. If a 16-year-old meets a 19-year-old on Facebook and they begin a sexual relationship, Facebook can't be charged for statuatory rape. And so on. "It's the reason I can't sue [Snapchat CEO] Evan Spiegel for harassment if a dude sends me unsolicited pictures of his dick on Snapchat," writes Kate Knibbs in this excellent and detailed piece about adult-advertising and Section 230. "This protection has been absolutely essential to the development of the internet in this country and really around the world," the Center for Democracy & Technology's Emma Llansó told Knibbs. Without it, web providers would "be in court all the time. And they'd run up inordinately high legal bills, even if they were ultimately successful in defending a case." The new House measure, sponsored by Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Missouri) and dubbed the "No Immunity for Sex Traffickers Online Act," would carve out an exception to Section 230 for sex-trafficking offenses involving minors. Supporters portray it as a way to "hold sex traffickers accountable," but we already have sufficient penalties—at the state and federal level—for people who force, decieve, or coerce others into prostitution, as well as for anyone directly involved in the prostitution (forced or not) of a minor. And nothing in Section 230 of the CDA, nor in this new proposal, affects the way we treat folks found to be sexually exploiting others. What the change would do is make it possible for states to indict any app, website, or platform that introduces an underage person to a possible sex buyer as a conspirator in sex trafficking. And it would allow any underage person who was paid for sex to subsequently sue any website or web service remotely involved in the transaction. To be very clear, the change would not merely apply to classified-ad sites like Backpage, or to sites and services specializing in escort advertising. Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and similar social platforms have all helped introduce underage sex-trafficking victims to perpetrators in recent U.S. cases. Victims often use use popular email providers, messaging apps, and text messaging to communicate with clients (police have been fond of late with charging sex workers with cell phones or laptops for felony possession of the instruments of a crime). Perhaps prosecutors won't go after these sites and services (I have my doubts), but regardless, victims can. With the proposed change, victims will have the right to sue any third-party web service that enabled their participation or exploitation in the sex trade. And in this case, victim means anyone under 18 whom someone paid for sex, regardless of whether any force, fraud, coercion, or middlemen and women were[...]



Brickbat: Fishing Expedition

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) A judge in Minnesota has signed a warrant demanding that Google turn over information on everyone who searched for the name of an Edina resident or any variation of that person's name between Dec. 1 and Jan. 7. Police say they believe someone might have used Google to find a photo of that Edina resident and forge a passport used to steal money from the resident's credit union account.




‘Right to Be Forgotten’ Legislation Attempts Foothold in New York

Wed, 15 Mar 2017 13:09:00 -0400

The state of New York wants to tell you what's appropriate to post online and what should be removed. The concept behind the European Union's "right to be forgotten" has crossed the Atlantic, and two state lawmakers in New York want to attempt to institute it here. The "right to be forgotten" in the European Union originated from a court ruling demanding Google and search engines remove links to a story that embarrassed a Spanish man because it detailed a previous home repossession. The story was not factually inaccurate. He insisted it was no longer relevant and that it embarrassed him, and the court agreed he had the right to have the information censored from search engines. Since 2014, search engines like Google have received hundreds of thousands of requests to have links to news reports removed and not because there's anything factually incorrect about them, but because the people within them are embarrassed by having the information public. Now, in New York, Assemblyman David Weprin and State Sen. Tony Avella (both Democrats) are attempting to implement such a law in the United States. The bill (readable here) appears remarkably far-reaching. It would allow people to demand that identifying information and articles about them to be removed from search engines or publishers if the content is "inaccurate," "irrelevant," inadequate," or "excessive." And yes, there are potentially fines involved ($250 dollars a day plus attorney's fees) for those who don't comply. Here's how the legislation defines the rather vague justifications for removal: [C]ontent, which after a significant lapse in time from its first publication, is no longer material to current public debate or discourse, especially when considered in the light of the financial, reputational and/or demonstrable other harm that the information, article or other content is causing to the requester's professional, financial, reputational or other interest, with the exception of content related to convicted felonies, legal matters relating to violence, or a matter that is of significant current public interest, and as to which the requester's role in regard to the matter is central and substantial. This would put the courts in the position of having the authority to declare what is or isn't relevant for the public to know. Reason asked First Amendment attorney Ken White of Brown, White & Osborn (and also of Popehat fame) for his analysis of the bill. He did not hold back in an emailed statement: This bill is a constitutional and policy disaster that shows no sign that the drafters made any attempt whatsoever to conform to the requirements of the constitution. It purports to punish both speakers and search engines for publishing—or indexing—truthful information protected by the First Amendment. There's no First Amendment exception for speech deemed "irrelevant" or "inadequate" or "excessive," and the rules for punishing "inaccurate" speech are already well-established and not followed by this bill. The bill is hopelessly vague, requiring speakers to guess at what some fact-finder will decide is "irrelevant" or "no longer material to current public debate," or how a fact-finder will balance (in defiance of the First Amendment) the harm of the speech and its relevance. The exceptions are haphazard and poorly defined, and the role of the New York Secretary of State in administering the law is unclear. This would be a bonanza for anyone who wanted to harass reporters, bloggers, search engines, and web sites to take down negative information, and would incentivize such harassment and inflict massive legal costs on anyone who wanted to stand up to a vexatious litigant. Also of relevance: The law extends the statute of limitations for defamation complains for online co[...]



U.S. Government Websites 'Fail to Meet Basic Standards,' New Report Says

Thu, 09 Mar 2017 12:45:00 -0500

(image) The U.S. government's most-used websites almost universally "fail to meet basic standards for security, speed, mobile friendliness, or accessibility," according to a new report issued by the nonprofit public policy organization Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) — a group which the University of Pennsylvania ranks as the top science and technology think tank in the United States (and second in the world).

ITIF's report is built on thorough analysis of 297 of the federal governement's most popular websites (out of the more than 6,000 sites currently operated by the feds).

The report's lead author Alan McQuinn said in a statement, "Despite years of progress in digital government, a striking number of federal websites do not even meet many of the U.S. government's own requirements, let alone private-sector best practices." McQuinn added, "Considering that many constituents rely on federal websites to interact with government, it is incumbent upon the new administration, supported by Congress, to make websites more convenient, accessible, and secure."

The report makes a number of recommendations of action for the Trump administration, including that government agencies be required to maintain websites which — at the very least — meet the government's own "standards and best practices;" for the Office of Budget Management (OMB) to "launch a website consolidation initiative" to get rid of "duplicative or unnecessary websites;" and for the White House to "launch a series of website modernization 'sprints' to fix known problems with the most popular government websites."

Read ITIF's entire report here, and check out Ira Stoll's great Reason column, "Why Government Websites Cost More and Perform Worse Than Private Sector Websites."




SCOTUS Seems Likely to Overturn Law Banning Sex Offenders From Social Media

Tue, 28 Feb 2017 08:00:00 -0500

Judging from yesterday's oral arguments in Packingham v. North Carolina, the Supreme Court seems inclined to overturn that state's law banning sex offenders from Facebook, Twitter, and other "commercial social networking Web sites." Robert Montgomery, a lawyer from the North Carolina Attorney General's Office, had a hard time persuading the justices that the law—which covers a wide range of sites accessible to minors and applies to all registered sex offenders, whether or not their crimes involved children or the internet—passes muster under the First Amendment. The case was brought by Lester Packingham, who in 2002, at the age of 21, pleaded guilty to taking indecent liberties with a minor. A first-time offender, he received a sentence of 10 to 12 months, after which he served two years of probation and was required to register as a sex offender for 10 years. Six years after Packingham's conviction, the North Carolina legislature passed a law that made it a Class I felony, punishable by up to a year in jail, for a registered sex offender to "access" any commercial website open to minors that facilitates social introductions, allows users to create web pages or profiles that include personal information, and enables users to communicate with each other. Packingham was caught violating the law in 2010, when he beat a traffic ticket and celebrated the event with an exultant Facebook post: Man God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismiss the ticket before court even started. No fine, No court costs, no nothing spent….Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks JESUS! Trying to explain how punishing such innocent (and religious!) speech can be consistent with the First Amendment, Montgomery likened North Carolina's law to state bans on politicking within 100 feet of a polling place, which the Court upheld in the 1992 case Burson v. Freeman. "I think that does not help you at all," Justice Anthony Kennedy said, provoking laughter from the audience. "If you cite Burson, I think you lose." Justice Elena Kagan briefly seemed to be helping Montgomery, only to drive Kennedy's point home. "I agree with you," she told Montgomery. "That's your closest case....It's the only case that I know of where we've permitted a prophylactic rule where we've said not all conduct will have these dangerous effects, but we don't exactly know how to separate out the dangerous speech from the not-dangerous speech....That is like one out of a zillion First Amendment cases that we've decided in our history. And as Justice Kennedy says, there are many reasons to think it's distinguishable from this one." Justice Stephen Breyer was equally discouraging. "The State has a reason?" he said. "Yeah, it does. Does it limit free speech? Dramatically. Are there other, less restrictive ways of doing it? We're not sure, but we think probably, as you've mentioned some. OK. End of case, right?" Kagan emphasized the extent of the law's interference with political speech, noting that it prevents sex offenders from following the president, members of Congress, and other elected officials on Twitter or Facebook. "This has become a crucially important channel of political communication," she said. "And a person couldn't go onto those sites and find out what these members of our government are thinking or saying or doing....These sites have become embedded in our culture as ways to communicate and ways to exercise our constitutional rights." The law clearly covers social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and it arguably applies even to ubiquitous services such as Google and Amazon, which are not primarily social networking sites but seem to meet the statutory definition. Although Montgomery claimed news sour[...]



Does Digital Literacy Require More Gatekeepers?

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 17:20:00 -0500

(image) "A deep political divide is starting to open up in digital literacy discussions," argues Bryan Alexander, an academic turned consultant who writes frequently about education and technology. This division doesn't separate left from right or Red from Blue. "It's a split between those who think people should assume the power to make decisions about information and media, and those who prefer to build up authorities to help us cope with the digital world. On the one side, lower-case-d democrats; on the others, neo-gatekeepers."

For an example, think of the "fake news" debate. If you think the best response to the plague of viral Facebook hoaxes is to give power to a committee charged with sorting true stories from false, you're with the gatekeepers. A democrat wouldn't be opposed to organized factchecking, but he would see such efforts as part of a larger system of mutual peer review where everyone is fallible and no one is the final authority.

The first lower-case-d democrat that Alexander cites is me, so there's not much mystery about where I fall on this spectrum. By the end of the post, Alexander has confessed his bias toward the democratic tribe too. But his chief interest, he writes, is

how this political divide plays out for educators, from K-12 teachers to colleges faculty and staff, to museum and library professionals. How will we and our institutions stake out positions on this continuum, from democrats to neo-gatekeepers?

I can see incentives and professional reasons for hewing to either pole. Institutions and professions often function as gatekeepers, after all. At the same time each of these fields also has an ethos of empowering their students/users/patrons. Some of these institutions are closely tied up to authorities, such as active churches or states, while others see themselves as independent spaces. Each has taken up a related range of positions on previous digital issues, such as web sites, open education resources, and social media.

And then there's the elephant in the room, or rather the donkey: "Many of these professionals tack Democratic in terms of party politics." That's Democratic with a big D, and not necessarily a small one. The Dems are out of power right now, and so in some cases they may feel more suspicious than usual about gatekeepers. But "#resistance can also mean the recreation of authority sapped by the November electoral disaster."

Anyway, the post does a nice job of laying out a spectrum of positions, and I'm not just saying that because it quotes me liberally. To read the whole thing, go here.