Creating Responsible Netizens

All is fair in love and copyright? December 5, 2011

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!


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 or 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 or 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!


Google’s advice on security November 26, 2011

Filed under: dean — dean @ 5:23 pm

Yesterday I was on Google and I noticed that they had added a link to the bottom of the homepage. It directed to where Google shared some tips on safety and privacy, both in terms of the general realm of the internet and on how Google handles privacy/data collection.

From the perspective a young, internet-savvy generation, most of the tips that Google suggests seem to be common sense (run Windows Update/Apple Software Update, don’t click on weird links that you get in your email, signing out of accounts when you use public computers). However, I did like the article on choosing a secure password. I’ll be the first to admit that I use essentially the same password for all of my activity online – instead of remembering different passwords to different accounts, I can just remember one “master” password and use that extra brainpower to cram for my psychology and math midterms.

Unfortunately, it’s that great of an idea – it means that if one account is compromised, maybe from a site with not that strong of security, all of your accounts could potentially be at risk. I learned this the hard way back in middle school; I let a stranger online use one of my smaller accounts for a MMOFPS and he ended up stealing items from my primary account since I used the same password for all my accounts.

I also liked the tip on using a password from a song, film, or play. For example, “To be or not to be, that is the question” can be simplified into password form as “2bon2btitq” is a seemingly random, near un-guessable password at a first glance, but easy to remember.

That being said, choosing a secure password is, while important, a small worry compared to some breaches of privacy perpetrated by large online companies (even Google, whose motto is “don’t be evil”). I’ll discuss this in further detail the next time I post!


From Veritas to Cyberitas, Take 2 November 25, 2011

Filed under: dean — dean @ 3:18 am

Like Jessica, I had my first foray into the tech world at a young age (“back in the day…”), and with each passing year and generation, that starting age is plummeting.  (I’d like to point out that the age at which I wrote a post on Xanga was younger than Jessica’s, since I’m obviously way cooler than her.)

While navigating the labyrinth that we call the web, I was plagued with a variety of pressing questions. Was there anyone tracking my browser history, and if so, who was it? What did they want with my information? Was downloading that image and then reposting it on my Xanga legal? Should I have talked crap about that classmate on MySpace and Facebook? Are we truly anonymous online? What is the meaning of life? These were the questions that kept me awake at night as I was in the sixth grade.

As you may or may not have been able to tell, the last paragraph is a complete lie. Unfortunately, I, like the vast majority of young internet users, did not care for and did not care to understand some of the issues that ‘netizens’ face on a daily basis. However, I became more and more conscious about these issues during the last few years of high school as I started reading Engadget and TechCrunch.

I’m also a freshman at Harvard College, and am currently enrolled in the same freshman seminar – Cyberspace in Court – as Jessica. Together, we’re here to share some information we wish we had known when we started out navigating through the jungle of the internet.