Cyberitas

Creating Responsible Netizens

The more things change, the more they stay the same. December 5, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — jessica @ 4:53 am

So you might ask, after all this talk, how do I truly feel about the Internet? I am obviously not one of those old farts who frowns upon the use of “lol” and “ttyl” nor am I the person with 50 tumblr reblogs a day. Many scholars have raised concerns about the Internet having detrimental effects of our generation. From the new-fangled oral, written practices to the diminishing importance of physical proximity, cyberspace has truly reshaped communication, language, and relationships forever.

In many ways, online innovation has enlarged the generation gap (one reason why Dean and I felt the urge to create a blog like this). For example, I know my parents use email as their all-purpose communication resource, from keeping in touch with old pals to forwarding jokes or poignant stories. On the other hand, my Gmail inbox is a collection of emails from professors and other adults, from the clubs announcement lists, from my online shopping sites, and from messages with large attachments. For “social” purposes, I am a die-hard Facebooker, using it keep in contact with high school buddies, keeping my profile up-to-date, posting (hopefully) witty statuses and cute photos, and commenting (i.e. creeping) on my friends’ posts.

Although our older counterparts may adopt many of the same technologies as we do, it is evident that teenagers utilize the Internet on a completely different level. Being the capricious, eager young souls that we are, it is only natural that we jump on the ideas of Zuckerberg, moot, and other (young, if I might add) Internet rockstars. The amount of time we spend online is unparalleled by any other recreational activity. Especially with the Internet at our fingertips with the latest innovations in smartphones, it is  safe to say that, though certain websites may rise and fall, the Internet is here to stay. However, staying informed about cyber-legislation is critical to protecting yourself and protecting other Netizens. I’d like to equate cyberspace to the automobile. Both make our lives a lot easier as well as bring people closer, but at the expense of other necessities (be it fresh air and safe roads or privacy and free speech). As stated by dana boyd, “The key is for adults, and society more broadly, to engage with these issues and help guide teens in making healthy decisions that allow them to leverage social media in positive ways as part of their everyday lives.”

The Internet does not have to be Big Brother (see cartoon for lolz). Nor does it have to be a completed kid-friendly wholesome environment. It is and will be a strange, ever changing world. Yet, amidst all the gray area in cyberspace, it is important to remember that behind every tweet, behind every anonymous blog, behind every silly avatar is a person. After all, cyberspace is a creation of humans, by humans, for humans.   

 

All is fair in love and copyright?

Filed under: dean — dean @ 1:38 am

Moving on to something that’s also related to copyright: fair use. While it’s probably not something that you’ll run into every day unless you’re an artist or something similar, it’s something that every netizen should keep in the back of their mind, as it’s likely to be encountered at some point.

What is fair use? It’s essentially a way for people to use copyrighted work without permission from the rights holders. This is in place to make sure that creativity still flourishes and that artists won’t be scared away from building on and critiquing the work of others, and that teachers would be able to have the ability to distribute material that they would otherwise not be able to.

So what is considered fair use, and what is considered copyright infringement? According to the Copyright Act of 1976, these are four factors that determine whether something qualifies as fair use:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Let’s apply this to real life. While there’s no clear cut algorithm where you can input yes/no answers to the four questions above and get a clear cut answer saying whether something was fair use or copyright infringement, there are some blatant examples. For example, when copyrighted works are imitated to make a satirical point or for commentary, it will likely be protected under fair use. However, the courts ruled that a Harry Potter guide that quoted heavily from the series would not be protected as fair use. In fact, JK Rowling said something along the lines of the writer of guide eating the cherry from her cake or some equally hilarious comment.

So when will you ever encounter this? Imagine if you’ve ever wanted to set some hilarious picture as your profile photo, or use a photo you found online in a project. Use the rules above to apply it to your situation and see if it’s fair use or copyright infringement!

 

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Filesharing December 3, 2011

Filed under: dean — dean @ 9:53 pm

So as I mentioned in my previous post, the RIAA is trying to take a stand against piracy after being faced with declining music sales. Some of what they’ve tried so far is a publicity campaign likening piracy to stealing (“You wouldn’t steal from a poor paraplegic old lady on a bus, would you? BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE DOING WHEN YOU’RE DOWNLOADING MUSIC”) and suing file sharers for large sums of money.

So are these tactics working? According to a PC Magazine article from 2010, it isn’t. France had recently instigated an antipiracy law (High Authority for Copyright Protection and Dissemination of Works, or HADOPI 2) but has instead encountered a three percent increase in piracy. This is a three-strikes law where after two warnings, the third time someone is caught pirating content would result in banning the user from purchasing internet service from French ISPs.

While it may seem counterintuitive, it’s worth to note that there was a decline in P2P sharing which was being monitored. However, what ended up happening was people switching to HTTP downloads (such as Mediafire, Rapidshare, Megaupload, etc) which isn’t covered under HADOPI. The US is also considering a similar plan, based on an article from TechDirt on July 2011. However, instead of a three strikes plan like the French one, they’re considering a five strikes plan instead. What makes advocates worried is that it’s based on accusations, and if you’re accused, you need to pay to have the accusation reviewed.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has an interesting plan that I thought would be really interesting. Basically, they’re suggesting a plan where music can be freely downloaded. In exchange for a $5/month fee or something similar, they would be granted immunity by the record companies for whatever they download. This money would be distributed to artists via something like Nielson ratings where they see which artists are the most “frequently downloaded” and pay them accordingly. Since there’s so many people who pirate music online, it is conceivable that music companies would actually make more money.

 

So you want to be a pirate

Filed under: dean — dean @ 9:34 pm

Now that we’ve talked a little bit about privacy, we’ll be covering something that many teens will be interested in: filesharing and privacy.

Let’s start with the side of the RIAA first. The RIAA is the Recording Industry Association of America. As the music industry is bleeding money from music scales due to presumably large scale piracy, they have embarked on a publicity and marketing campaign to brand music piracy as stealing. The RIAA has also sued the most prolific filesharers for exorbitant amounts, presumably to set an example and secure even more publicity. As of July 2006, the RIAA has sued over 20,000 people for file sharing.

I’ll touch a bit on anonymity even though it’s Jessica’s domain. Imagine a person sitting alone in their living room, downloading the critically acclaimed (and rightfully so, if I might add) album from Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More. How would anyone ever know if he or she is downloading the file? After all, it’s not like the RIAA or even the police have some sort of 1984-esque camera surveillance system.

Here’s how it works: if you’re using a filesharing system such as Kaaza or BitTorrent, not only are you downloading music, but you’re uploading – or “sharing” – the files at the same time. Some companies hired by the RIAA and the MPAA (for movies) monitor the trackers of specific files and take down IP addresses of those who are downloading/uploading the file via P2P. They take these IP addresses, find the ISP (internet service provider) for these addresses, and send them a subpoena to get the name and physical address of the people behind these IP addresses. With this, the cloak of anonymity is removed.

There are a couple of high profile cases that have been in the news lately, with one being he Joel Tenenbaum case. In 2009, he was ordered to pay $675,000 for willfully infringing 30 songs by downloading/uploading via KaZaA. The maximum amount that he could have been ordered to pay could have been as high as $4.5 million, but the jury awarded the RIAA a smaller award.

We’ll be discussing the topic from the opposing viewpoint next! Stay tuned!

 

A Recent Case Study of Teen Tweeting

Filed under: jessica,Uncategorized — jessica @ 6:33 am

I remember the innocent days when “tweet” brought to mind images of chirping birds. Now “tweet” paints a picture of light blue logo and 140 character remarks.

With huge popularity of social networking amongst young people, it is only natural that microbloggers also encompass a young demographic. However, with all this it is important for users to remain cognizant of any and all repercussions for online speech.

Case in point: In mid-November 2011, a teenage girl posted a less-than-flattering tweet about Kansas Governor Sam Brownback. She was in attendance at a Youth in Government program, and during the governor’s presentation, she posted (as a joke) “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” Keep in mind that Emma Sullivan (the girl in question) had only 65 Twitter followers at this time and Governor Brownback is currently controversially supporting a veto for the state’s art commission budget.

As swiftly as Sullivan’s fingers typed in her tweet, Emma’s school administrators received upset calls from the governor’s office. Shawnee Mission East administrators reprimanded Emma and demanded that she write an apology to Gov. Brownback for her offensive comment. In essence, they were saying that her post was highly disrespectful and arguably humiliating for the school and Youth in Government program she was representing.

But can she legally be forced to write an apology as punishment?

Sullivan’s family clearly thinks not; they have taken this story to the media, creating a free speech martyr out of their daughter. On November 27, 2011, Emma Sullivan announced that she would, in fact, not be apologizing at all.

You would expect a First Amendment free speech/school speech/online speech battle of epic proportions to erupt, right?

Interestingly enough, Gov. Brownback’s office soon issued an apology for this whole incident, citing it as an “overreaction.” Indeed, that maneuver was a very diplomatic way to put this in the past before it actually became national headlines; however, in terms of clarifying cyberlaw, this illustrates a thoroughly wasted opportunity.

In our culture where puerile rudeness can be celebrated and anyone can change the world in 140 characters or less, it is important to not lose sight of the pillars of free speech. Excessive regulation and thin skin only stifles debate. Clearly articulated online dialogue can and will serve to foster a more multi-faceted context to communicate. (please note, I am by no means saying that Emma Sullivan was “clear” or “articulate”)

So, let’s be mindful of what we say, but not let extreme civility impede our message from spreading. #gettingoffmysoapbox

 

Big Brother is Watching……. December 2, 2011

Filed under: dean — dean @ 5:17 am

 

Okay, moving on – the last two. Here they are again for reference:

  • At school, you research online for a project using Google.com or Yahoo.com to find information.
  • Throughout the afternoon while “doing your homework”, you check Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or other social networks.

Google has been under a lot of scrutiny lately for doing sketchy things. Google collects the searches that users make, ending up with a huge database that is a goldmine. They can use these searches to improve their search algorithm, and see how much they can charge advertisers (which they arguably have a monopoly over, but that’s for another day). While they claim that they don’t attach personal data to these searches, there’s still the threat of your name being attached to your searches. I recall reading an article where Google’s database was revealed; Google was quick to point out that there wasn’t a name next to searches, but often times people would search for their own names, and it was a relatively simple process to pair the names and search terms together.

Like Google, Facebook has also accumulated a wealth of information about its users. When you click “like” for certain movies, books, interests, and activities, they are able to use that data to sell you targeted advertising. If you don’t use AdBlock, it’s likely you’ve seen ads that are creepily relevant; I remember a while back I saw an ad with something along the lines of “Loveless in Lamont?” advertising a dating site (Lamont is one of Harvard’s libraries). Recently I was doing some research for The Harvard Crimson on advertising, and Facebook allows advertisers to fine tune their targets to a ridiculous extent. I encountered options for networks, education, class years, age, etc. that traditional print advertising would never have control over.

Facebook also has the ability to track you on other sites, even if you’re logged out. For example, if you visit a website where Facebook login is activated, Facebook is able to see that you’ve visited that site. Luckily, some coders took matters into their own hands and wrote an Adblock extension that prevents this from happening. (Just add this to your filter lists if you’re on Adblock.)

Lastly, earlier this year there was hub-bub surrounding a company called KISSmetrics. It’s a tracking company that allows site operators to see the number of visitors, what they do on the site, and where they come from – all essential information to see where to put advertising funding into and figuring out how to sell their services the most efficiently. Good idea, right? Well, only for the site owners. The end user isn’t able to evade the service even through blocking cookies or using “incognito” modes in his or her browser.

What it comes down to is this: technology is rapidly moving forward and redefining our notions of privacy. Many of those in the older generations are raising their voices in opposition to Facebook’s push for online transparency and the erasure of anonymity. However, the younger generation tends to accept the way things are as a reality of life. Frankly, I think with the ambivalence of the younger generation with regards to privacy, we’ll only be moving towards a world with less of it. After all, it is these people who will be the future coders for Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Apple, and all the tech giants of the future.

It might be easy to say, “if you don’t like how these companies are treating your privacy, you don’t have to use their services.” It’s not that easy though – the tradeoff is essentially between privacy and convenience. Imagine if, to secure your privacy, you had to give up Facebook, Google, GPS navigation, cell phone usage. Difficult, right?

 

Every move you make… December 1, 2011

Filed under: dean — dean @ 4:28 pm

In this post, we’ll cover the GPS tracking discussed in the previous post. To reiterate:

  • You go to school and debate whether you should sit in the front seat or kick it in the back seat. If you are driven to school, chances are there is a GPS system in your or your parents’ car.

Let’s start with the GPS systems. GPS works by triangulating your position with three or more satellites. While it’s certainly a time saver and may have saved you or your parents many times from whipping out a map or – heaven forbid – asking someone for directions, it’s powerful technology that can be harnessed for good or bad.

Luckily, most consumer GPS manufacturers claim that they don’t track data from GPS systems. Since you don’t have to register the GPS with your personal information, they won’t be able to attach a name to whatever data you send via satellites. Nevertheless, they would still be able to determine at least some aspects of personal information if they really wanted too (by finding out what locations you frequent, and what place you always return to, or “home”).

Paranoid frog.

What poses a greater concern is the abuse of GPS tracking from law enforcement. Previously, if the police was tailing a suspect for a certain amount of time, they would have to deploy a considerably large force and the suspect would have to be high risk, or “worth the effort”. They would arouse a lot of suspicion in the subject, as well. (Who wouldn’t notice if they had a squad of black cars following them wherever they went? At least, that’s how it works in the movies.) However, now it is conceivable that they can slap a GPS tracker to the bottom of your car and call it a day.

This is exactly what is under debate right now. On November 8th 2011, the Supreme Court expressed concerns about the police usage of GPS tracking on vehicles. This is due to their review of an ongoing case, United States v. Antoine Jones. Antoine Jones was suspected of drug trafficking, and after obtaining a warrant, the police tracked his Jeep via GPS for 30 days. Unfortunately, they installed the GPS tracking device one day after the warrant period, and not in the correct location. The police uncovered a lot of evidence that was used to in court against him, but Jones argued that it was unconstitutional the way the information was collected.

Right now, according to a Reuters article, it seems as if the Supreme Court is leaning against the use of GPS tracking devices in law enforcement. Justice Elena Kagan said that GPS tracking “seems too much to me”. Justice Ginsburg said that “only a person’s home would be secure from intrusion”. A ruling is expected to be announced before June.

 

Where in the World are YOU?

Filed under: dean — dean @ 2:00 am

I’ll start our discussion on privacy with a scenario inspired by a Washington Post (Ellen Nakashima). Close your eyes and envision a routine, typical day. Would any of these things happen?

  • You wake up in the morning feeling like P Diddy. You pull out your phone to check texts and possibly email if you have a smartphone.
  • You go to school and debate whether you should sit in the front seat or kick it in the back seat. If you are driven to school, chances are there is a GPS system in your or your parents’ car.
  • At school, you research online for a project using Google.com or Yahoo.com to find information.
  • Throughout the afternoon while “doing your homework”, you check Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or other social networks.

In each of these scenarios, you leave behind traces that companies often aggregate and analyze using complex algorithms for various purposes that will be covered below.

Let’s start with the first possible scenario: using a smartphone. Earlier this year, Apple went under serious public scrutiny due to their actions in “Locationgate”.

Locationgate was essentially a scandal in which it was revealed that Apple iPhones had been tracking the location of users via GPS and WiFi. All this location data was stored inside an unencrypted file in the user’s phone. Apple at first denied that any of this was happening. In fact, Steve Jobs claimed in his signature brief emails that they didn’t and then proceeded to point the finger at Google’s competing Android platform. However, they eventually had to fess up and has since released a patch, claiming that the GPS tracking was to improve efficiency by caching locations and would remove it due to the aforementioned privacy concerns.

Okay, so Apple might have tracked user locations. So what? Even if we give Apple the benefit of the doubt and assume that they aren’t doing anything nefarious with that data, it’s easy to imagine the data being compromised by a third party – malware or spyware or a virus on the phone, in other words. We’ve certainly all heard of viruses on computers, but viruses are possible on phones as well.

Reading this with an Android, Windows, or Nokia phone feeling smug? Don’t get too comfortable. Just last week, news broke from a 25-year old coder named Trevor Eckhart that carriers included a piece of malware on a lot of phones called “Carrier IQ”. It’s a rootkit; essentially, it hides itself from the user, and has a lot of power over the phone. It was supposed to be for “troubleshooting purposes”, but there is no longer any option of opting out of its services. In practice, it slows down your phone. In theory, carriers could read your text messages and see what you search on the web.

If you’d like to read more about Carrier IQ, and how to stop it, check out this highly informative Lifehacker article!

 

Section 230 for Dummies November 30, 2011

Filed under: jessica — jessica @ 8:54 pm

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 is truly an instrument piece of legislation about the Internet. Most importantly, it provides immunity for site owners from the content users may publish on their sites. The exceptions are cases involving intellectual property, federal crimes, and privacy.

Three reasons to be thank Congress for Section 230:

  1. Without it, sites with only user-generated content like Youtube and Wikipedia would not exist. A world without Charlie Bit My Finger?! Blasphemy, I say!
  2. Without it, there would not be “comment” sections at the bottom of news articles. By golly, where would I get my daily dose of vitriolic speech?
  3. Without it, social networking as we know it would not exist. Seriously, a universe without Facebook?! How did we manage to survive the 90s?

However, for all its perks, Section 230 does cause its share of headaches, particularly in the realm of online speech. The excessive leeway Section 230 grants to services providers makes online speech, particularly harassment and libel, extremely difficult to regulate. In essence, the courts have consistently upheld the immunity of Internet service providers in dealing with defamation or false information on websites.

John Palfrey, a Harvard Law professor, has extensively discussed this polemic topic, stating that the current law needs to be revised carefully to protect Netizens, particularly young people. He proposes a plan that requires that log files be kept to assist law enforcement, a take-down notice procedure (much like the DMCA’s protocol for copyright infringement), and the removal of immunity for service providers when young people are threatened by harmful speech. Unfortunately, this raises even more questions regarding what “child safety” really entails and how much the law can really protect against bullying. The very idea of adjusting this act is daunting because of the high possibility that good-intentioned policymakers may reverse any positive effects of the law in hopes of greater protection. Thus, the solution to may actually not lie in legislation or virtual roadblocks, but rather in education.  Anti-bullying programs through schools may better prepare future Internet users on proper “netiquette” and foster a more compassionate online community. However, this might just be me thinking a little too idealistically.

By Peter Steiner published by The New Yorker on July 5, 1993

 

TROLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL November 28, 2011

Filed under: jessica — jessica @ 8:08 pm

Whenever I hear that word, I imagine creepy dolls with spiky colored hair. Perhaps those aren’t the people responsible for wrecking havoc online, but they instill the same sense of disgust within me.

I never really knew how bad trolls could be to me personally. Sure, I see people being nasty in online forum or leaving ugly comments under yahoo.com articles. However, I never felt personally attacked or offended by their comments. With the Web bringing everyone closer, I have learned that trolls are closer to us than we think.

Imagine for a moment, you are a third year law student, ready to score a great job at a leading law firm. You have a perfect GPA, an awesome resume, a sparkling personality, and an appearance worthy of People’s Most Beautiful list. Shouldn’t be too difficult for you to find a job, right? Yet, imagine going from interview to interview (nailing all of them, I might add) yet never actually getting a job. Smelling something fishy going on, you step into the $1000 Italian shoes of your prospective employer. Upon Googling your own name, you discover that the top 10 hits are all incredibly nasty blog posts and forums. Click, click, click. Random strangers (see: trolls) are all hating on you, calling you atrocious names, questioning your character, and even digging up old photos and articles about you.

Let me introduce you to AutoAdmit, “the most prestigious law school admissions discussion board in the world.” This is the stinkhole where anonymous trolls come to bash their peers, identifying them by name and other personal information. Though you may not be concerned what a couple angry, hateful people hidden behind a computer screen are typing, their words (and their lies) all show up whenever someone conducts a Google search on your name. The above scenario is very similar to what happened to two female law students — perfectly normal individuals plucked out of obscurity to be skewered by trolls.

After reading about these current events, I decided to conduct a quick Google search on my own name (my name is actually quite common, so most of the items I found did not pertain to me). I found some old archived news articles from my school district about myself – innocent stuff. I looked a bit harder, and lo and behold, I found myself on AutoAdmit. Granted, it wasn’t the first hit to pop up on Google, but seeing what the trolls wrote really stung. Therefore, I do advise all of you to run a quick Google search of yourself, check the images, check who else shares an alias with you, and make sure you are targeted by sites like AutoAdmit. I sincerely hope that one day people will know to read Google Search results with a grain of salt and that trolls will find a healthier pastime, but until then tread carefully.

If you do want to give yourself a reputation make-over online, here are some quick tips on how to outsmart the trolls. Make sure to join reputable social-networking sites, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Profile. By joining these communities, you can add positive information about yourself to the mix, moving the rubbish to later pages. If worst comes to worst, there are sites that provide more in-depth assistance, like Reputation.com. Most importantly, know that trolls exist, monitor what you post online, and be proactive about maintaining an untarnished online reputation.

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite movies of 2010, The Social Network: “The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink.”