Pas Parler?

Will the real Internet government please stand up?

Parler in Prison

This weekend, Google, Apple, and Amazon all took steps to remove the right wing conspiracy web site Parler from their services, steps that will cripple the social media site for some some period of time. In many ways, Parler had it coming to them. Amazon in particular alleged that Parler refused to take prompt action to remove abusive content that violated their terms of service.

In response, my right wing friends have gone nearly indiscriminately crazy, complaining that their 1st Amendment rights have been violated. Let’s review that amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment I of the U.S. Constitution.

In other words, Congress cannot stop someone from speaking. But these companies are not Congress, nor an arm of the U.S. government. We could, however, say that they are a form of government, in as much as these companies, along with a small number of other ones, such as TikTok control societal discourse. What rules would govern them if they decided that was also not to their liking? Could these services exclude content that criticizes them?

Parler is a relative newcomer. Much in the same way that Fox News has lost its conservative gleam to NewsMax, Facebook and Twitter lost their gleam when they started applying editorial control to posts. They did this because they gauged societal harm against whatever short term revenue they were collecting from the likes of Donald Trump. There was seemingly no reason they had to, at least in the United States. U.S. Law says this:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

47 USC § 230

Meddle with this rule at your peril. If we shift the burden of policing to online services, social media sites as we know them will cease to be, GMail and Yahoo! mail would be imperiled, and Amazon could no longer offer customer reviews. If there is a middle ground to be found, then scale factors must be considered. Any middle ground may well increase the risks of starting up new services. If the price of entry for a new Facebook or Twitter competitor is fancy artificial intelligence systems and patents, then we may have done ourselves no service in the long run.

The United Social Networks Nations
The United Social Networks Nations

There are other consequences to Apple and Google removing Parler from their respective phone and tablet stores: I saw one conversation in which someone was describing to her friends how to turn off automatic software updates. Software updates are the means by which developers correct vulnerabilities they have created. By disabling those updates, people leave themselves vulnerable to attack.

Today Parler is losing its voice, arguably for very deserved reasons. Tomorrow, some other site might lose its access. Will those reasons be just as good and who will decide?

Facebook: the last straw

I’ve complained about Facebook before, reduced my participation, and now, I am ending it.  Facebook has become what can only be described as an attractive nuisance.  One of my friends clearly had their account broken into.  The last time this happened it was possible for me to report the matter to Facebook, and they shut the account down in a matter of minutes.  This time, they not only would not do so, but there is no longer a way to report an account break-in.  The only way to send FaceBook a message is to close one’s account, and so I have done so.  Done.  Fini.  For my friends’ and your sake.

Wrap-up of this year’s WEIS

This year’s Workshop on the Economics of Information Security (WEIS2010) enlightened us about Identity, privacy, and the insecurity of the financial payment system, just to name a few presentaitons.

Every year I attend a conference called the Workshop on Economics of Information Security (WEIS), and every year I learn quite a bit from the experience.  This year was no exception.  The conference represents an interdisciplinary approach to Cybersecurity that includes economists, government researchers, industry, and of course computer scientists.  Run by friend and luminary Bruce Schneier, Professor Ross Anderson from Cambridge University, and this year with chairs Drs. Tyler Moore and Allan Friedman, the conference includes an eclectic mix of work on topics such as the cyber-insurance (usually including papers from field leader Professor Rainer Böhme, soon of University of Münster), privacy protection, user behavior, and understanding of the underground economy, this year’s conference had a number of interesting pieces of work.  Here are a few samples:

  • Guns, Privacy, and Crime, by Allesandro Acquisti (CMU) and Catherine Tucker (MIT), provides an insight into how addresses of gun permit applicants posted on a Tennessee website does not really impact their security one way or another, contrary to arguments made by politicians.
  • Is the Internet for Porn? An Insight Into the Online Adult Industry – Gilbert Wondracek, Thorsten Holz, Christian Platzer, Engin Kirda and Christopher Kruegel provides a detailed explanation of the technology used to support the Internet Porn industry, in which it claims provides over $3,000 a second in revenue.
  • The password thicket: technical and market failures in human authentication on the web – Joseph Bonneau and Sören Preibusch (Cambridge) talks about just how poorly many websites manage all of those passwords we reuse.
  • A panel on the credit card payment system, together with a presentation that demonstrated that even credit cards with chips and pins are not secure.  One of the key messages from the presentation was that open standards are critically important to security.
  • On the Security Economics of Electricity Metering – Ross Anderson and Shailendra Fuloria (Cambridge) discussed the various actors in the Smart Grid, their motivations, and some recommendations on the regulatory front.

The papers are mostly available at the web site, as are the presentations.  This stuff is important.  It informs industry as to what behaviors are both rewarding and provide for the social good, as well as where we see gaps or need of improvement in our public policies, especially where technology is well ahead of policy makers’ thinking.

FBI spots potential danger to a school – on Facebook

As opposed to my previous post, BBC reports an instance where the FBI has made use of public information to predict a possible threat to St Aelred’s Catholic Technology College in England.  The information was on Facebook, and was available probably because the defendant hadn’t protected his postings, perhaps due to FB’s confusing approach to privacy.  Imagine, however, that FB didn’t confuse anyone, and this information were protected.  Would the FBI have been prevented from warning St. Aelreds?  If if they couldn’t, would Facebook?  And if Facebook didn’t would the FBI insist on new powers?  Watch this space.

Is Facebook deceiving you?

Here is a really good article from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) about deceptive user interface practices.  The funny thing about all of this is that people are missing the most offensive and dangerous part of Facebook’s warning:

So in other words, they’re going to violate your privacy no matter what you do, because your friends are going to divulge your information.  Put another way, you may end up divulging your friends information.  What can you do about this?  Don’t share that much information with your friends.  But you say, “They’re my friends!”  Of course they are, and they probably already know most of the information you would share, anyway.

How to do this?  Go to the following part of the site:

Privacy Settings -> Personal Information and Posts

as well as

Privacy Settings -> Friends, Tags and Connections

Then consider each category.  Here comes another wingdinger: in order to keep something to yourself, either you must remove it entirely, or select “Customize” and then “Only Me.”  You can’t just pull down “Only Me.”

I’m seriously considering being through with Facebook over all of this.

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How do you manage your privacy on social network sites?

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