Is Pirate Party MEP Coordinating with Group Committing Criminal Charity Fraud?

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Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda has been touting a dubious online petition against article 13.  Despite claims to be acting on behalf of internet “users” the petition seems to be a fundraising effort by a “charity” group operating the website SaveTheInternet.Info.

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SaveTheInternet.info gofund me page claims the group is a German charity. 

The problem is the  “charity” does not appear to be a charity at all.  According to our German sources the SaveTheInternet is not registered as a German charity as they clearly claim. That’s a misrepresentation.  I am not a lawyer but a plain reading of the laws in the US concerning soliciting funds for a charity would make this criminal fraud in the US.  Since the group is soliciting funds worldwide using the Redwood City California corporation (GoFund.me) I would argue this is a violation US law:

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I suppose I could be wrong but there have been prosecutions for similar activity in the US. How is this any different?

On top of that I imagine that the German government has similar if not more strict laws on charities, solicitation of funds and misrepresentations.

Here is the GoFundMe page:

https://www.gofundme.com/save-the-internet-info

 

 

Boaty McBoatface Uses Fight For the Future Dialer Tool to Lobby Rand Paul on HR 1695 from…Scotland — Music Technology Policy

MusicTechPolicy is reporting that the Google astroturf group “Fight For the Future” is deploying robo call tools against US. Senators. Google is again trying to hack our democracy.  Fortunately Scottish anti-astroturf superhero Boaty McBoatFace the is on the case.  

We’ve said for years that Google shills use a variety of dodges to create the impression of grass roots support among legislatures–when it really isn’t there.  We think this because all of the snakes in the grass roots seem to be online, so rarely offline that it may as well be never.

One of the big dodges is that the shilleries have autodialing tools that allow anyone to call a number and be connected to “their” Member of Parliament, Senator, Representative.  That way the location of the person making the call is masked from the person receiving the call.  All you need to know is a postal code in the member’s district, state or country and the dialer will connect you.

The assumption is that the calls originate locally in at least the same country, but they don’t.  That way a dedicated group of likeminded people anywhere in the world can, as Susan Crawford once said, “geek around the nation state.”

We saw this entire saga play out in Europe over Article 13 where millions of phone calls and emails were lobbed at the Members of the European Parliament, yet less than 1,000 people showed up to protest across all of Europe.  Article 13 sailed through its vote as Members of the European Parliament voted down the Google version of the bill–emphatically.

Well…now we are seeing Google shills Fight for the Future pulling the same stunt in the United States.  Another “break the Internet” situation being blown out of proportion using Google’s usual scare tactics.  A bad look in a post-Cambridge Analytica universe.  Here’s how it looks (lobbyists behaving badly):

Boaty demonstrates perfectly the entire scam, and guess what–it works both from Europe to the States and from the States to Europe. And frankly, probably from anywhere to anywhere.

Well…just one thing to say to Mr. McBoatface: Alba gu bràth, laddybuck.

via Boaty McBoatface Uses Fight For the Future Dialer Tool to Lobby Rand Paul on HR 1695 from…Scotland — Music Technology Policy

At This Point We Have to ask Ourselves: is Google Opposed to Article 13 or the Nation State Itself? PT 3

This is very rough.  I feel an urgency to get this all out to the public. Why? Currently there are at least three major and coordinated efforts by Silicon Valley (well mostly Google) to undermine regulations and authority of national governments.  The EU copyright Directive, The Canadian Copyright Consultation and the Register of Copyrights Bill in US.  I’m publishing, revising and adding additional material in real time in hope that’s people will look at all these efforts from the broadest possible perspective. First two posts are here and here. Part  II has been heavily revised since original publication. 

Active Measures: Cyberturfing

This series examines the dilemma liberal democracies face as Silicon Valley companies, especially the information monopolies like Google and Facebook, exert power in the political realm.  I framed the choice as such:

  • Do technology companies and their allies sit at the apex of power and determine what sort of world we live in? The boundaries and limits of our government, our commerce and our liberties defined by their algorithms and business models?  Government is simply a janitorial service that cleans up the negative externalities.
  • Or do democratic institutions sit at that apex?

In Part I I outlined a basic history of internet exceptionalism, and then noted that when this pernicious notion is combined with techno-determinism you end up with something I call “internet imperialism.” Fundamentally internet imperialism challenges the legitimacy of representative governments and tries to unwind 400 years of the liberal democratic order, by removing vast swaths of human social and commercial activity from purview of institutions legitimized by the consent of the governed.

In Part II I drilled down into the ideas contained in A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, and how the adoption of this creed by commercial internet companies was to their commercial advantage (cost shifting negative externalities), and put them on a collision course with the authority of the nation state.

Specifically internet companies currently use both active and passive measures to diminish the authority of the nation state.  I broke them down into four broad categories

  • Cynically pushing a fiction that “cyberspace” has its own geographical space that is outside national geographic boundaries;
  • Intimidating democratically elected officials by activating online mobs, sometimes real but largely artificial (cyberturfing);
  • Spreading disinformation using proxies while simultaneously denying use of such proxies (“little green men“); and
  • Pressuring non-pliant governments, by openly appealing to centrifugal forces that threaten those governments. Including, opposition parties; ultra-nationalist parties; extreme voices on right/left; and even separatist movements (The Catalonian Candidate))

The first method is more or less passive. Internet companies suggest cyberspace is its own geographic space and outside national boundaries. Thus they claim national laws don’t apply. I examined this in great detail in part II.

However the next three measures are what I would term “active measures” whereby technology companies directly (or indirectly through proxies) run information campaigns against governments in order to intimidate officials thus diminishing the scope of governance and permanently damaging the ability of that government to effectively govern virtual territory.  In the framework I am using for this essay (internet imperialism) these measures can be seen as offensive operations that allow internet companies to expand and hold virtual territory.  Sometimes these campaigns go farther (as they did in the EU) and seek to harm these governments outside the venue of cyberspace  by stirring up passions of regional separatists, ultra-nationalists and extreme voices on the right and left that seek to dismantle democratic institutions. Because these last three measures bear more than a passing resemblance to hybrid information warfare I should introduce the concept.

Active Measures: Smells like hybrid information warfare

Hybrid warfare is a military strategy that employs political warfare and blends conventional warfare, irregular warfare and cyberwarfare with other influencing methods, such as fake news, diplomacy and foreign electoral intervention. By combining kinetic operations with subversive efforts, the aggressor intends to avoid attribution or retribution. –Wikipedia Contributors.

While on first brush this may seem rather strong to compare Google interventions in the democratic processes of sovereign nations as warfare, this is largely because most people have a 19th century view of warfare as purely kinetic operations.  In the last 50 years the information component of war has grown in importance.  In the last 10 years it is arguably the most important and effective component of modern warfare.

I’m confident both United States and Russian military thinkers would agree that nations on the periphery of the Russian federation have been yanked in out of the Russian sphere of influence largely via hybrid/information warfare.  Kinetic operations were only used as a last resort.  Think of simmering conflicts in Ukraine and Georgia.  While ISIL has used stunning displays of violence to claim and hold territory, the group largely used this to further psychological campaigns and thus weaken opposing security forces. These forces “melted away” with little kinetic warfare. ISIL was able to expand its territory dramatically with a few thousand fighters.  If you step back from the violence, ISIL has largely conducted an information war.

Kinetic operations are relatively unimportant in modern warfare, so even though Google lacks kinetic elements, the rest of its operations are strikingly similar to the modern techniques used by state actors and terrorist groups.

Remember that a group or nation does not need to gain territory or achieve a clear victory to benefit from hybrid war. Simply weakening “adjacent” nations or opponents may produce tangible benefits.

In the case of Google and other Silicon Valley companies virtual territory is a desirable prize.  Any weakening of a governments will or ability to govern parts of cyberspace is commercially beneficial. Internet platforms like Facebook and Google are at the base of these ecosystems and thus able to monetize most traffic and activity within these virtual colonies. The “larger” these virtual spaces the more revenue these platforms generate.

Weapons of Information Warfare and Google’s Superiority Over EU Parliament: Google campaign against EU Copyright Directive

These are the five key elements of information warfare.  These were summarized from a broader work on information warfare by Martin Libicki(1995)

The key five elements are:

  • Information Collection
  • Information Transport
  • Information Protection
  • Information Manipulation
  • Information Disturbance, Degradation and Denial.

In information warfare the side that is able to dominate in all these weapons categories is impossible to to defeat.  At least without resorting to kinetic operations.

Information Collection

Google by the design has an extraordinary advantage over the EU Parliament.  Its Android OS, Gmail, Website analytics and ad networks give it crucial information on virtually everyone on the planet.  The EU government?  Not so much.

Information Transport 

More than 90% of all web searches are conducted through Google’s search engine.  Also the default mobile search in the Apple iOS is Google. Android is a wholly owned Google product.  Most people click on the first few results. Google does not have to block information to suppress opponent information. They simply down rank links. Look at the screenshots below. These searches were conducted using private browser and VPN to minimize “browsing bubble” effect on search results.


Fig 1 and Figure 2 Search results for Article 13. Because Google controls transport of information, information that supports its commercial interests can be pushed up in rankings. Information that damages its commercial interests can be down-ranked. 

Information Protection

“By scrambling its own messages and unscrambling those of the other side, each side performs the quintessential act of information warfare, protecting its own view of reality while degrading that of the other side.” -Martin Libicki

Information warfare is about distorting reality.  To win in information warfare your reality must win out over opponents reality. Even actual positivist reality.

It’s not just enough to control the information flow. In information warfare a entity must protect information that the other side could use to damage your capabilities.  In the case of Google they are expert at “Google washing” or obscuring damaging information.   There is no better example of this than the Google’s own “transparency report” that confuses opponents searching for “Google Transparency Project.” (Google Transparency Project is generally critical of Google).
Which result would your typical MEP staffer click on? By outranking adversary’s competing information,  Google partially shields  itself from damaging information.  Remember Google controls the Information distribution channel.  Essentially Google through the power of its search engine has the power to encrypt damaging information while decrypting and disseminating information that harms its opponents.

 

Information Manipulation 

Information manipulation in the context of information warfare is the alteration of information with intent to distort the opponent’s picture of reality. This can be done using a number of technologies, including computer software for editing text, graphics, video, audio, and other information transport forms. Design of the manipulated data is usually done manually so those in command have control over what picture is being presented to the enemy, but the aforementioned technologies are commonly used to make the physical manipulation process faster once content has been decided. – 1999 student paper a graduate student at Carnegie-Mellon University (Megan Burns)

In this instance we see Google proxy SaveYourInternet.eu (see section on proxies). conduct a three step process, that allows them enormous command and control over information directed at MEPs.

Step 1.  Google proxy creates disinformation and images to share.

Step 2.   Google proxy Open Media (see section on proxies) creates technological tools to distribute the misinformation.

Step 3. Some real constituents use these tools.  But the tools were also used en masse by unknown allied parties.  Tell tale signs of automation were also present; Late night activity, massive retweets of low follower accounts, identical emails etc etc. See here and here. 

Any particular country’s MEPs can be targeted by SaveYourInternet.eu. As images indicate Axel Voss was being automatically targeted when image was captured. This suggests some sort of command and control directing the flow of false information (non-existent outraged mobs) at Voss. This is classic cyberturfing.  MEPs on the receiving end of these tweets, emails and calls imagined they faced real opposition from their constituents.  Turns out they really didn’t.  See dismal Pirate Party rallies opposing article 13.

Information Disturbance, Degradation and Denial.

“Spoofing is a technique used to degrade the quality of the information being sent to the enemy. The enemy’s flow of information is disturbed by the introduction of a “spoof”, or fake message, into that flow. The technique works because it allows you to provide “false information to the targeted competitor’s collection systems to induce this organization to make bad decisions based upon this faulty information,” Cramer 1996

Thousands of tweets against copyright directive have been sent to MEPs from fake twitter accounts,  The United State’s FCC recently faced a similar situation when it turned out that many of the millions of comments it received on net neutrality were fake. oenemy’s flow of information is disturbed by the introduction of a ‘spoof’, or fake message, into that flow.” Zoom out and there is an grander fake message: thousands of constituents are outraged by the copyright directive.

Finally as  evidenced by the automated tweets, SaveYourInternet.com targeted specific MEPs at different times. “provide false information to the targeted competitor’s collection systems to induce this organization to make bad decisions based upon this faulty information.” See targeted robo tweets below. 

Hundreds of automated tweets an hour directed at MEP Beatriz Becerra.  Quite surprising since it’s the wee hours of the morning and the frequency of tweets seems to be increasing!?

So you got it?  A Google funded webpage using automated tools to misinform and mislead a member of EU parliament, using what often appears to be fake twitter accounts.  What do we call this?

“Another way to disturb the information being received by one’s opponent is to introduce noise into the frequency they are using. Background noise makes it difficult for the enemy to separate the actual message from the noise.” -Burns 1999

Again see above.  The volume of automated tweets makes it impossible for MEPs to “hear” information that Google does not want them to hear.  Say voices of artists and other creators that might be in favor of the copyright reforms.

“Finally, overloading is technique used to deny information to the enemy in both military and civilian settings. By sending a volume of data to the enemy’s communication system that is too large for it to handle, one causes a crash or severe degradation of the system’s ability to deliver information. The system is so busy dealing with the overload, it is unable to deliver the essential information to those who need it.”

By flooding MEPs with thousands of Spam messages, phone calls and emails, the fake information overwhelms all other information that might be useful to MEPs as they consider this bill.

A similar thing happened to the US FCC in May 2016 as it considered rescinding so called “Title II” authority over “net neutrality.”  Late night TV comedian John Oliver stirred considerable interest in the net neutrality debate (apparently with the help of former Google outside counsel Marvin Ammori). Reports of a DDos attack on the FCC comment system quickly surfaced. This has since been publicly debated. However David Bray the then CIO of the FCC later noted in a Medium post:

When the events of 08 May happened, my quick analysis of the ratio of 35,000 API requests per minute we were receiving per minute, relative to the number of 90,000 comments being filed in the first half of the day, indicated that ratio to be extraordinarily high and lopsided (the Team also relayed that the API requests were continuing to increase, so we were seeing at least 2 million API requests per hour around the middle of the day — yet not a similar number of comments being received). Separate from actual people wanting to comment, I was concerned we were also being spammed by something automated. If this continued, it might deny system resources from actual people wanting to comment on the high-profile issue.

There is no doubt that John Oliver generated hundreds of thousands of comments.  The open question, still hotly debated, is whether this overload of the comment system was automated and if automated was this perpetrated by groups for or against Title II net neutrality authority?  Certainly there is evidence of automated identical submissions from both camps.  Regardless the overloading of the comment system made it difficult for FCC commissioners to “hear” the true voices of their constituents.  The information on the channel was “disturbed,” “degraded,” and “denied.”  The true signal is not distinguishable from the noise.  This ultimately is the point of Cyberturfing.  Impose a manufactured online mob “signal” over the actual signal from constituents. This doesn’t exclude the possibility that an overwhelming majority of the constituents agree with the cyberturfed signal. The problem is that it’s a fake signal and it disturbs the relationship between elected officials constituents. Jam the channel that carries “consent of the governed”  And obviously this sort fakery can be used in all sorts of nefarious ways to undermine the proper functioning of representative governments.

For instance discouraging elected officials from imposing regulations in domains that internet firms regard as their virtual territory (internet imperialism).

This is what appears to be happening in the EU as they debate the Copyright Directive.

Part four we will look at the use of proxies (“little green men”) to deliver disturbed and degraded information.

 

 

 

It Appears a YouTube Employee is Behind Campaign to Recruit Children to Lobby Against Article 13

I’m adding to MusicTechPolicy’s excellent article on how YouTube appears to be directly appealing to teens and pre-teens via YouTube to oppose Article 13.  Since MTP published this story we found this slideshow.  It provides YouTubers and YouTube channels with false facts and instructs them on how to spread misinformation on social media.  The slides also contain links to memes, jpgs and gifs, that appear to be created in house at YouTube. Why do we think this? Someone forgot to anonymize all the download links and the metadata indicates most digital assets were uploaded by a Marc Hertz.  We don’t know this person works for YouTube.  But according to LinkedIn someone named Marc Hertz is in charge of all the editorial content for Youtube including the YouTube Creators blog. 

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What are the odds?  We reached out to Marc Hertz for comment but received no response. 

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Read more on the Music Tech Policy.

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Google uses YouTube to recruit children into their lobbying effort against Article 13.

via YouTube Recruits Children to Lobby Against Article 13 — Music Technology Policy

EFF Points Spam Email Machine at Senate Register of Copyrights Bill

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Boaty McBoatface? See here. 

Backstory

The US Senate is considering a bill that would make the Register of Copyrights a presidential appointee.  A version of this bill passed the house unanimously a couple years ago. The backstory here is that it’s largely an historical accident that the Copyright Office is in the Library of Congress.  Nevertheless the Librarian of Congress appoints the Register of Copyrights.  This was fine for many years as libraries and copyright holders were generally in agreement on scope of an authors copyright protections.

That all changed in the internet age as library organizations became increasing hostile to copyright protections. Formerly staid organizations like the American Library Association or  Library Copyright Alliance began to file Amicus briefs opposing copyright holders in far afield cases like Viacom v. YouTube or BMG v. Cox.   I suggest that anyone interested in digging deeper examine the copyright amicus briefs filed by the following organizations:  American Library Association, Library Copyright Alliance and Association of Research Libraries.  Especially those briefs written by Jonathan Band (A Google funded scholar naturally).

As Librarians have become uniformly ideological and hostile to robust protections for authors it has become imperative that the Register of Copyrights become independent of the Library of Congress.  Especially after the current librarian Dr. Hayden forced the last Register of Copyrights to resign by restructuring her job so it mostly covered point of sales in the Library of Congress gift shop.  

I shit you not.  You read that correctly.   If there was ever a case for a constructive termination lawsuit…

But it is worse than it looks.  Specifically the Register of Copyright was forced out because she made the mistake of noting that the Google/FCC land grab “unlock the box” would invalidate  private contracts between copyright holders and broadcasters.

In the wake of this shameful episode the House of Representatives quickly passed Register of Copyrights Selection and Accountability Act, (H.R. 1695) 378-48.  As close as you get to bipartisan consensus these days!  The bill has been languishing in the Senate, but recently there is new momentum to get the bill through the Senate.

The EFF’s Google Funded Cyberturfing

And right on cue Google funded EFF has sprung into action with a round of misleading propaganda that savages the former Register of Copyrights, AND a webform lacking any meaningful safeguards to prevent robo-spamming of US Senators. Readers of this blog will know that this leads to cyberturfing, the automated sharing of messages to create the illusion of grassroots opposition.   This blog, the Times of London and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung all covered the outrageous cyberturfing of the EU parliament as the EU considered updating EU copyright laws.

The EU spamming campaign was conducted by Open Media a Canadian group that is funded by Google and directed by former Google Canada Policy Director.   We half jokingly referred to it as a Canadian hybrid cyberwarfare attack on the EU parliament. Apparently that was no joke. We understand the EU has since launched an investigation.  The Open Media campaign used webforms almost identical to those now being deployed by EFF. These webforms lack any safeguards to prevent multiple messages using automation.

After the controversy generated by the Google funded spam, it’s shocking to see the EFF deploy the same tools against US Senators.  Recently I was contacted by an ethical hacker, who wished to assist us by demonstrating how easy it is to disrupt democracy when webforms lacking safeguards are employed to message politicians.  Here is her simple demonstration. Using a widely available browser plug-in, she sent 20 messages to 2 senators in 2 minutes.  The automation was slowed and restricted to a single browser tab to not rouse suspicion (and annoy the retiring Senators Heller and Flake).  But with 50 tabs this simple program could spam all 100 senators a dozen times a minute.  Watch video:

EFF could prevent this by adding a few simple things:

Captchas
IP geolocation verification
Email verification
Phone verification

And then allow only a single submission from each, IP, email or phone number.  The fact EFF doesn’t employ these simple features suggest they don’t care the forms can be used for automated submissions.

Finally, remember who we are dealing with here. It’s always more awful than you think with these folks.  This is not the first time the EFF has exhibited such contempt for democratic institutions and processes.  Just read the EFF’s ur document, A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace by their founder John Perry Barlow.  From the very beginning the EFF has explicitly rejected the authority of duly constituted governments. They even reject the fundamental idea of The Enlightenment, consent of the governed, seeking to replace it with the ‘voice of liberty.’ Whatever the fuck that means. These are dangerous people. They must be called out on these tactics and investigated.  At the very least their tax exempt status should be revoked.

Russian hackers? It’s EFF and Google funded brethren undermining our democracy.

 

 

YouTube’s New Media Order – Guest Post Volker Rieck

Translated from German.  Mr. Rieck notes YouTube’s use of its own platform to spread misinformation about Article 13 of the Copyright Directive.  How does one pass legislation that the information monopoly does not want passed? 

YouTube’s new media order- Guest post by Volker Rieck.  

The streaming platform is exploiting its community for its own ends in the controversy over copyright in Europe and hasn’t shied away from misrepresenting the truth.

The controversy surrounding European copyright reform has entered a new phase following the release of an open letter and a video addressed to the YouTube community. On 22 October 2018, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki addressed the operators of successful YouTube channels (“creators”) in a blog post and warned them that the implementation of Article 13 would result in numerous smaller channels being shut down and in important content becoming unavailable to viewers in Europe.


Screenshot from the YouTube Video on Article 13

Hundreds of thousands of jobs in the YouTube community would be placed at risk, Wojcicki claims, by the adoption of the new legislation. Even educational content like language classes or physics tutorials would be under threat, she maintains, if streaming platforms were to be made liable for the content on their users’ channels.

The YouTube boss completely ignores the purpose of Article 13: eliminating the copyright infringements that are currently rife on major video hosting platforms by inducing the platforms to take out paid licenses covering the content they provide. Platforms unwilling to take out licenses would have to find other ways to offer content legally or accept liability for rights infringements on the part of their users. The new directive attempts to close a legal protection gap that has enabled internet platforms to profit from content for many years without paying royalties to originators set at an appropriate level.

 

Wojcicki’s calculated move triggered the avalanche of outrage she sought to produce, and legions of creators passed the CEO’s dubious messaging on to their subscribers, in largely unfiltered form, in the days that followed. In a veritable game of Chinese Whispers, YouTubers outdid each other in their apocalyptic interpretations of the likely impact of Article 13 and their distortions of the content of the proposed directive. Wild claims circulated that YouTube channel operators would already see their livelihoods threatened in 2019, that Article 13 was a censorship law, and so on. The platform helped the videos made in response to its own appeal to become highly visible and to reach wide audiences by displaying them on user home pages and by categorizing them as “trending.” Three of the top 5 videos in the YouTube trending charts at the beginning of November transported these dystopian visions. A video from the channel “Wissenswert” (German for “worth knowing”) attained a number 1 ranking on YouTube even though the channel itself has a mere 300,000 followers. It has now been called up 3.7 million times, a twelvefold increase in the channel’s normal reach.

Screenshot: YouTube trending charts at the beginning of November, 2018

Many of the videos betray a lack of elementary knowledge regarding the EU legislative process. Even if the new directive is adopted early in 2019, its transposition into national law will still take quite some time. More grievous errors are also evident, however, with the channel “Wissenswert” even inventing an entire new EU institution, the EU Congress. Drastic forecasts predict that hundreds of thousands of legal actions will be taken against platforms every day as soon as Article 13 comes into force.

Journalistic balance, research and objectivity are in short supply on many channels run by private operators. Only a handful of channels have managed to take a more equivocal look at the situation. The channel “MrWissen2Go” operated by the public service network “Funk” provided an impartial fact check that could have mitigated the rampant hysteria – but didn’t make the top 5 list of trending videos on YouTube.

Screenshot from the Youtube Video by Mr.Wissen2go

The new YouTube media order is exploiting the YouTube community by deploying YouTube channels as propaganda outlets. In the process, a core issue has been elegantly relegated into the background: YouTube avoids any mention of why Article 13 could automatically lead to numerous smaller channels being shut down. YouTube seemingly finds the choice it is expected to make between taking out licenses covering protected content and/or filtering out illegal content unconscionable – even though it already possesses powerful filtering software (“Content ID”) perfectly suited to the latter purpose. The platform has also failed to explain its claims that educational channels are particularly at risk. And while the blog post by YouTube boss Wojcicki demands a compromise on the issue of liability for content and on Article 13, it makes no attempt to even sketch out what such a compromise might look like. The Google subsidiary YouTube has profited from a gap in copyright protection for years, and the precept of not accepting accountability for or paying for content hosted on the platform now seems to be so strongly ingrained in YouTube’s DNA that any proposal to implement liability rules automatically seems unreasonable and unacceptable.

Ultimately, the way YouTube channels have been pressed into the service of the platform demonstrates just how urgent the need for measured political regulation of the platform has now become and how easy it is for the platform to exploit the ecosystem of private and semi-professional pseudo-journalism it hosts for its own ends. At the end of her video appealto the community, the YouTube boss thanks her community for “building the next generation of media companies.” But let’s make that companies with zero accountability, please. And not have them do any research.

At This Point We Have to ask Ourselves: is Google Opposed to Article 13 or the Nation State Itself? PT 2

In Part I I outlined a basic history of internet exceptionalism, and then noted that when this pernicious notion is combined with techno-determinism you end up with something I call “internet imperialism.”  Fundamentally internet imperialism challenges the legitimacy of representative governments and tries to unwind 400 years of the liberal democratic order, by removing vast swaths of human social and commercial activity from purview of institutions legitimized by the consent of the governed.

I presented the choice we face as this:

  • Do technology companies and their allies sit at the apex of power and determine what sort of world we live in? The boundaries and limits of our government, our commerce and our liberties defined by their algorithms and business models?  Government is simply a janitorial service that cleans up the negative externalities.
  • Or do democratic institutions sit at that apex?

This is evolving as I write this, I’m honestly not exactly sure where this is going.  Over the next few blogs I want to examine the current battle between tech companies (predominantly Google), and the European Union over the proposed Copyright Directive. This policy conflict is the perfect laboratory to study methodologies used by technology companies and their proxies as they attempt to undermine the ability of representative governments to impose such laws within their own borders. Specifically they do this by:

  • cynically pushing a fiction that “cyberspace” has its own geographical space that is outside national geographic boundaries;
  • Intimidating democratically elected officials by activating online mobs, sometimes real but largely artificial (“cyberturfing”);
  • Spreading disinformation using proxies while simultaneously denying use of such proxies (“little green men“); and
  • questioning the legitimacy of (non-pliant) governments by openly courting centrifugal forces that threaten those governments, including separatists, far right nationalist parties and extreme voices on right/left;

All of these together reduce a government’s will to enforce national laws in “cyberspace,” effectively reducing the power of that national government and allows tech companies (especially Google) to gobble up virtual territory that was once the domain of a representative governments.  This is a terrible prospect.

But in order to do this I have to first explain how we got here. How this ideology was baked into the commercial internet from the very beginning.

A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace 

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This is the Ur document.  Published in 1996 by John Perry Barlow (Grateful Dead second string lyricist) and the founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He presented this declaration from that cradle of hippy populism, Davos Switzerland as part of the 24 Hours in Cyberspace project.  As Wikipedia notes it explicitly rejects the applicability of government, all government to the internet.  Many people at the time (probably myself included) thought this was a “neat idea,” but largely a rhetorical exercise. I’m fairly certain only the glassy eyed true believers thought this was a serious idea at the time.

Non-serious, because it specifically declares that there is no consent of the governed in cyberspace nor is there likely to be one. Most serious people give up their anarcho-capitalist fixations once they get out of college or go someplace ungoverned like Somalia or tribal regions of Pakistan.

John Perry Barlow Osama Shirt

John Perry Barlow in OBL shirt. Photo Joi Ito Creative Commons license

“We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks…”

and

“Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. You have neither solicited nor received ours. We did not invite you. You do not know us, nor do you know our world. Cyberspace does not lie within your borders. Do not think that you can build it, as though it were a public construction project. You cannot. It is an act of nature and it grows itself through our collective actions.”

I’m gonna dismiss the accidental(?) pre Hobbesian reference as a mistake (“act of nature”) and unpack the two marginally more serious notions put forth here.

  • Cyberspace is a place, and
  • Liberty itself replaces institutions of governance for they are incompatible in cyberspace.

 Is Cyberspace a place?  No.

Senator Ted Steven (R, Alaska) was roundly mocked when he described the internet as a “series of tubes.”  Public Knowledge a Google funded NGO that for all practical purposes is a public policy arm of Google, led the mocking of Senator Stevens.  According to wikipedia: “On June 28, 2006, Public Knowledge government affairs manager Alex Curtis wrote a brief blog entry introducing the senator’s speech and posted an MP3 recording.” This later became an early internet meme reaching its peak when John Stewart of the Daily Show sarcastically adopted the language. Google later buried “easter eggs” in various products referencing the “series of tubes” statement.  In the framework of semiotics, “series of tubes” became a second order signifier of technological illiteracy. Or in pseudo-religious terms: Heathens.

The problem is that Senator Stevens was more right than those who mocked him.  The notion that Cyberspace is a place is the sort of idea that brings to mind the George Orwell quote:

“Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.”

Cyberspace can not exist without physical infrastructure.  And where is that infrastructure?  Further as deliniated by Barlow, Cyberspace can not exist without the human mind which obviously requires humans.  Where do those humans live? The notion that someone is not subject to national laws and authority of the state when “in cyberspace” is not just a bad idea but when embraced by federal courts has led to horrible things like sex trafficking of minors with impunity.  (See SESTA/FOSTA legislative debate).

The technology industry billionaire’s obsession with sea-steading (platforms in international waters) and data havens is telling.  Many technologists see the storage of data beyond the reach of national governments as a key to the kabuki that “Cyberspace does not lie within your borders.”

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A barge built with four levels of shipping containers is seen at Pier 1 at Treasure Island in San Francisco, Photograph: Stephen Lam /Reuters

Google went so far as to build what appears to be floating data barges for some such purpose. As CNET reported in 2013

“It looks like Google has been working on an oversize secret project on San Francisco’s Treasure Island. A water-based data center? Could well be.  “

I was not inclined to believe the wilder conspiracy theories about Google’s data barges. Data centers require enormous amounts of cooling.  Seawater is generally cool.  Then Google came up with an implausible cover story for the barges: floating Apple Store like mobile exhibition space for Google Glass.  Shortly after floating (no pun intended) this explanation Google scrapped and sold off  the barges.  Every time I think I’m an idiot for putting on a tin foil hat when examining Google motives it turns out I needed two. As a result I think it is plausible that those barges really were an attempt at “geeking around the nation state” in order to remove certain operations of the internet giant from purview of national governments.

Is Iceland Cyberspace and why was Lawrence Lessig there?

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Screenshot from Julian Assange’s proposal for data haven 2009 Chaos Communications Congress. Iceland was the preferred location for the Pirate Utopia. 

Then there is Iceland.  Don’t get me wrong. I like Iceland. Icelandic people are pretty much still Vikings.  My last Icelandair pilot insisted on trying to land in Reykjavik despite the weather.  He/she did three (?) “go-arounds” before finally landing the plane in a gale.  After go-around two, most non-viking passengers would have happily gone back to BWI.

Then again, Icelanders eat whales and a slim majority of the population still believe in elves. It’s therefore a pretty trippy place and if there were one country that could be the real world location of Cyberspace this could be it. The government wants to be “The Switzerland of Privacy” as if being Swiss in the secret banking/money laundering sense is a good thing. This is of course what Julian Assange proposed in 2009 after Iceland’s currency collapsed. Now that’s a guy you want to listen to when trying to rebuild your country! The country now has some of the toughest “data privacy” laws in the world. 2016 elections put the Pirate Party in a position to form a governing coalition (they declined). But as a result Iceland is essentially now a piracy/dark web haven. Or a Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ for short) if you prefer the terminology of the hacker underground. Though sadly most hackers don’t realize TAZ is an idea developed by anarchist and pedophilia advocate (yes you read that right) Peter Lamborn Wilson. (We will come back to that later for illegal pornography apologists appear semi frequently in internet history.)

Iceland is now a place where certain technology companies services sit outside the reach of the national government.  Which is probably fine if you work at one of Iceland’s data centers. Not so much if you are a victim of cybercrime (or real crime) perpetrated by organizations using these data centers.

Lately Silicon Valley’s favorite professor (and presidential candidate) Lawrence Lessig has been mucking about in Iceland claiming to “help” the citizens create a new constitution that among other things would essentially permanently cede the internet to private companies. It’s a very weird situation. It’s not clear that anyone (especially Lessig) really has a right to force a new constitution on the Icelandic parliament (they rejected it once). It is no wonder Silicon Valley libertarian and seasteading proponent Peter Thiel gave the ostensibly “progressive” Lessig $500,000 for his US super PAC.  This is  Sealand all over again.  Right down to the data havens. Instead of pirate radio, Iceland hosts pirate websites.

A Wall Street Journal article concerning Lessig’s political ambitions and strange bedfellows noted the odd company Lessig keeps:

Mr. Lessig’s quixotic approach reflects a common viewpoint in Silicon Valley: that the political system is broken. But while some libertarians in Silicon Valley want to work outside of institutions, Mr. Lessig is aiming to reform the government from within.

WTF does “work outside of institutions” mean.  Presuming these institutions are our democratic governments?  Don’t dictators and autocrats “work outside of institutions.”.  Why would anyone say this shit out loud?  I guess if you are rich enough you can live outside these institutions. It just sounds crazy to those of us who can’t and don’t want to.

The fact that Lessig is funded by many folks who don’t believe in “the system” and want to “work outside” the system, by which they mean liberal democracies, led me to brand him the “Manchurian Candidate” in his 2016 run for the US presidency.

Privacy Absolutism

This all considered, privacy arguments are simultaneously the best and worst arguments for an independent cyberspace beyond the reach of national institutions.  Who wants the NSA reading their mail? Unencrypted internet traffic has helped the PRC tighten control of the Chinese population.  I get it. Believe me.

But on the other hand, absolutist data privacy permanently beyond the reach of government also allows all sorts of cybercrime and terror to permanently thrive and stay beyond the reach of the nation state.  There are very real negative externalities associated with this notion. We’ve had quite a bit of experience with this already. It’s called the dark web.  It is likely few (if any) Silicon Valley and Harvard elites advocating for absolutist privacy have ever confronted these negative externalities in real life. Yes in an abstract statistical manner they may have read about the negatives of dark web drug sales. They may be aware of the negative. But unlikely they have experienced it.  I’,m not  trying to be dramatic her but I have.  And after personally being faced with the deaths of two young men (still in their teens) at least partially because of substances they bought on the dark web it’s no longer abstract to me.  The tangible grief of the parents, brothers, sisters and friends is something every internet freedom and privacy absolutist should be forced to confront.  As a nation we’ve always balanced personal privacy with the need to prosecute criminal gangs involved in these enterprises. What is so different about the internet age that forces us to throw that balance away?  I mean aside from cynical techno-determinist ideology?

Absolute privacy is a hard position to defend if you believe in protections that nations states provide. If you don’t believe in nation states and the protections they provide to victims it’s really easy to stake out an absolutist position on privacy.

What is liberty?

“We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks…”

This just doesn’t mean anything.  It’s pseudo intellectual bullshit that sounds like it means something.  I’ve gotten up from my desk a dozen times cause it pains me to explain this notion. Stupid.  But I must push on.  For this particular piece of stupidity is taken seriously by thousands of folks in the technology industry, academia and public policy world.

First, I don’t want to get into a debate about political anarchism. (And yes that is what this is). I’ve already indicated I think anarchism is a completely childish notion. You will never convert me. And this blog is directed at those who (I’m pretty sure) think it’s a stupid idea, but didn’t know that when they signed up for “free internet ideology” they also signed up for some sort of corporate anarcho-capitalist hippy bullshit. (Or worse freaky Julian Assange/Peter Lamborn Wilson “Temporary Autonomous Zones.”)

If you do argue with me about anarchism I will only respond with grammatically incorrect AnCap memes.

Like this:

Anarcho cap when there

Fundamentally Barlow and his ilk are proposing not a “free” cyberspace but an ungoverned cyberspace.  These are not the same thing.  We’ve spent the last 400 years trying to define freedom and the free society.  We still haven’t perfected it but the consensus is that free societies also provide protections for individual rights.  People doing whatever they want is not freedom.

There is a quote attributed to many people generally phrased as such:

“Your right to swing your fist ends at the tip of my nose”

Someone or something has to be there to stop that fist or to discourage the violation of your right to not be randomly punched in the nose.  And you will get punched in the nose (Hobbes) and the authority that prevents the violation of your rights should have the consent of the governed (Hobbes and Locke). If there is no such authority you have an ungoverned cyberspace. Not a free cyberspace. Why do we have to re-learn what we already learned in the enlightenment? Fucking internet freedom stupidity.

Now, given a serious amount money, weaponry and a loyal armed militia I could probably go into an ungoverned area like Somalia or desert regions of Anbar province Iraq live a pretty good life and do whatever the fuck I want. Is this liberty?  Am I free?  Are the other denizens of this ungoverned space free?  I don’t think so. Certainly the folks with the rifles pointed at them are not free. This is Barlow’s Cyberspace.  it’s also the pre Hobbesian state of nature. And the way much of the internet operates.  Barlow can be forgiven (barely) for spreading this hogwash twenty years ago. Before we knew what we know now.  But current attempts to push this ridiculous notion should be seen for what it is:

A cynical attempt to pawn off the negative externalities of ungoverned computer/social networks onto the public.  Privatized gains for those operating the networks. Socialized losses for the rest of us.

Fake news, cybercrime, copyright infringement and data breaches like Cambridge Analytics etc were baked in from the very beginning. We (the public) were always gonna pay the price.  Silicon Valley was always gonna reap the profits.

Negative Externalities and the of role of government

Suppose that a factory or other such enterprise moves to town and begins producing pollution that causes respiratory problems among the town’s citizens.  The costs of treating those respiratory problems are a negative externality.  The factory does not pay those costs.  Those costs do not appear on the company balance sheet or P&L statements.  Instead those costs are borne by the public.  Thus duly constituted local, regional or national governments impose regulations or taxes on companies that produce pollution. In a sense they put the cost of those negative externalities back onto the business. This seems fair and prudent. There are often debates as to the extent of regulation, specificity of those regulations,  and the fees and taxes imposed, but generally it is accepted principle of modern democracies that  governments have a right to impose this sort of regulation.

Except in Cyberspace.  The embrace of “cyberspace independence” as an ideology by tech companies and their acolytes is not just starry-eyed utopianism.  It is also commercially convenient.  For if the government has no authority to regulate cyberspace, it also can not force those companies to carry the burden of their negative externalities. That might be fine if the negative externalities remained in cyberspace (or Iceland).  But they don’t. Musicians have their music stolen. Human traffickers traffic real people. Real fentanyl is sold on the dark web (maybe even YouTube)  and kids in your neighborhood sometimes die.  The public carries the cost. Not the internet companies. And thus technology companies fight tooth and nail to make sure they get to keep what is in effect a massive subsidy from the public.

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Tech company funded EFF hysterical warning about “internet censorship.” In reality the bill was a minor change that allowed prosecutors to go after platforms like Backpage that were clearly involved in sex trafficking.  

This was clearly illustrated in the the SESTA/FOSTA fight in the US Senate.  What started as a bipartisan bill to plug a hole in the 230 safe harbor so that sites that knowingly enabled sex traffickers could be more easily prosecuted, turned into a titanic battle between “internet freedom” dead-enders and normal folks. By normal folks I mean those who believe the people through their representative governments have a right to prevent sex trafficking. Even if it occurs “in cyberspace.”  Judging by the hysterical headlines from the EFF (or as I prefer Google’s sock puppet), you’d think we were about to become North Korea. Look at the headline above!  Talk about fake news.  The bill does no such thing! This is propaganda worthy of a foreign adversary attempting to undermine faith in your government.  Ahem.

Then again it’s not clear all of our duly elected representatives aren’t in on the scam. Google and many other Silicon Valley companies have large server farms in Eastern Oregon and have thus developed a reliable ally in Senator Ron Wyden.  Not only does his position on the energy committee guarantee that cheap hydro electricity from the Columbia river keeps flowing to the server farms, the Senator is apparently willing to get up and dance for his supper. Wyden put a hold on SESTA  before it ever went up for a vote. A hold by a single Senator requires the Senate to go through a much more complex and time consuming process to get a bill passed.  Once it appeared the bill was going to pass, Wyden put on a rather dramatic show.  Like some sort of techno-determinist millerite Wyden made an epic speech claiming that the bill would kill innovation! So stupid. It passed 98-2 and innovation proceeds.

Now Wyden could be forgiven for this stupidity… except that earlier Senate testimony featured a grieving mother whose teenage daughter was forced into sex trafficking and murdered. So think about that ugly bit of context as Wyden zealously defends his techno determinist belief.  Wyden is in effect justifying the sacrifice of few young women for the innovation volcano gods. Icky right?

In the end SESTA/FOSTA was signed into law and Internet companies have more responsibility to monitor their own platforms for sex trafficking.  This is a good thing.  It makes these companies at least partially responsible for the negative externalities they force on the rest of us. But you would never know it from the propaganda they spread.

The EU Copyright Directive, GDPR and rejection of an independent cyberspace

In 2016 the EU debated and passed the General Data Protection Privacy Regulation.  This law is intended to create uniform privacy protections across the EU. However from the perspective of US tech companies the bill was controversial because  it put restrictions on the “export” and handling of EU users private data.  Many US critics of the bill claimed that the law would require EU users’ data to be warehoused in the EU.  While this turned out to not be true, it’s telling that the complaint centered on geography.

US internet companies and their allies chafed at what they saw as an assertion national authority into “independent” cyberspace.  In actuality it was the other way around. The lack of effective regulation of internet companies and thus users private data had created virtual colonies within the EU for private US companies.  Companies like Google and Facebook were conducting extensive commercial activities within the territorial boundaries of the  EU without any effective oversight from democratically elective governments.  The GDPR was an effort by the EU governments to reclaim lost virtual territory, and to put these activities under their authority.  Silicon Valley hated this idea.

Similarly the EU proposed Copyright Directive ran into a wall of opposition from the same technology companies, affiliated NGOs, trade bodies and lobbyists.  Like a broken record out came the exact same talking points used in the GDPR/SESTA/FOSTA debates and earlier attempts to reform safe harbors on copyright infringement.

“It will break the internet”

“It’s censorship”

“It will stifle innovation”

Once again we see the quasi religious appeal to techno-determinism.  Any attempt by government to regulate internet platforms will make the innovation volcano gods angry! Infidels! Stone them!  Spam them with robotically generated emails! However if you zoom out and look at this from the 36,000 ft level you still have the fundamental conflict.  A duly constituted elected/representative government attempts to impose regulation and rules on internet companies.  The response is essentially the opening paragraph of the Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace

Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind. On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.

— John Perry Barlow, “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”

But as I will show in Pt III, this time the response from US technology companies, especially Google went beyond the usual rhetoric and attempts to lobby the government. The tech giants, especially Google, crossed the rubicon.  Google used its own platforms (especially YouTube), trade groups, lobbyists and pet NGOs to actively undermine the democratic process in the EU.  The FAZ newspaper in Germany compared the avalanche of automatically generated, emails, tweets and phone calls to a DDoS attack on the European Parliament.  This combined with blatant disinformation distributed and amplified by anonymous social media accounts made the whole shameful episode eerily similar to what military strategists would term a hybrid information warfare attack.   I wrote an entire blog on it earlier this year.  Read it here.

Was this the first offensive “active measures” campaign by Silicon Valley against a Nation State?

I’ll pick it up here with “Active Measures” in part III.  Stay tuned.

 

At This Point We Have to ask Ourselves: is Google Opposed to Article 13 or the Nation State Itself? PT 1

Part 1 of 3 part series.

“I was brought up and trained in the Internet Age by people who really believed that nation states were on the verge of crumbling…and we could geek around it. We could avoid it [The Nation State]. These people were irrelevant.” -Susan Crawford  Former President Obama’s Special Assistant for Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy, speaking at Personal Democracy Forum 2010 New York City.

It is often an awkward moment when I present the statement above to my (generally liberal) musician friends and academic colleagues and then tell them it came from an Obama administration official. Yikes! Is usual reaction. To be fair, the statement itself is not the problem. It is profoundly prescient. The problem with Crawfords statement (watch the video) is she clearly thought “geeking around” the nation state was a good thing at the time! It is only in a post Cambridge Analytics world this statement seems quite sinister. Although Vladmir might disagree.

Obama was elected on promises of change from politics as usual.  Like many other people I took him at his word and voted for him.  And in many ways he fulfilled his promises.  Obama cobbled together a very different governing coalition than previous presidents.  One key component of his coalition was the tech industry writ large. Not just the executives and employees of giants like Google and Facebook, but also the assorted camp followers: wild eyed tech evangelists; smooth talking VCs; cyberlaw professors; open source software enthusiasts; tech policy wonks; big data gurus; NGOs, TED talkers; futurists; cyberspace lawyers; free culture radicals; pirates; cyber libertarians; and assorted cranks.

As a result Obama (like his predecessors Bush and Clinton) took a very neo-liberal approach to the technology industry.  Hands-off the tech industry and in exchange the billionaires in Silicon Valley would make everyone’s lives better. Innovation will lift all boats. As someone with classical liberal tendencies I can’t say that this was a wrong decision. At least when you didn’t know then what we know now.

Now it looks stupid.  But back then? It gets a pass.

The problem:  in short order this part of the Obama coalition coalesced into a lobbying superpower in its own right. A strange mix of anti-establishment lefties, right libertarians, social progressives and lots and lots of corporate money. Google in particular used that money to shape the coalition agenda into a something that perfectly supported its business model. Yet never threatened it. For example, when Barry Lynn a researcher at the Google funded New America Foundation got out of line and praised the EU for fining Google $2.7 billion for violating antitrust laws? New America Foundation fired him for threatening their funding sources. EFF a “digital rights advocacy group” has received millions from Facebook and Google and regularly provides PR and legal cover for these companies. Almost a week passed before they commented on the Cambridge Analytics scandal.  Good dog. Very good dog.
Of course this is all very predictable and what we would expect in corporate policy circles.

However a couple years after Susan Crawford made her speech, something radically changed.  It started with a bill designed to slow online piracy SOPA. This bill emerged from years of bipartisan wrangling.  In EU a trade agreement, ACTA enjoyed similar consensus support.  Both were moving towards passage when they were met with what appeared to be fierce grass roots opposition.

In the US the campaign was largely directed by Google lobbyists (Marvin Ammori and Glen Echo Group) and lavishly financed through an opaque non-profit 501 (c) 3 called Fight For The Future. The campaign relied on simple hashtags like “Don’t Break the Internet.” Simple webforms allowed users to share, tweet, email and even phone legislators. Similarly in the EU an online campaign was created to block ACTA. Thousands eventually took to the streets in Poland.

It wouldn’t be an online campaign if there wasn’t also some wild disinformation.  And the anti-SOPA campaigners did not disappoint. The most shameful moment was Harvard Law Professor Jonathan Zittrain’s “Free Bieber” moment on the Steven Colbert show Dec 1st 2011.   Zittrain used Justin Bieber’s breakthrough on YouTube singing covers as his primary example and falsely claimed that Bieber would have gone to jail if SOPA had been law. The problem is that this claim emerged from a website run by Google lobbyist Ammori and had been totally debunked long before Zittrains appearance. Judging by Zittrain’s other comments around the same time it would appear he was aware his claim had been debunked and was specious when he made it.

 

Unfortunately this kind of disinformation worked. When President Obama came out against the bill on Jan 16th 2012 the bogus “censorship” narrative was in the groundwater. Obama gave it real credence. On the 18th Google and dozens of other websites “blacked out” and provided interactive links that allowed repeated robo calls to congress. The results were predictable. Congress was flooded with unprecedented number of phone calls and emails. Think about it. The most popular website on the planet (Google search) directed all their web traffic at the US Congress with a misleading bit of click bait “Don’t censor the web.”  It was essentially a distributed denial of service attack on the legislative branch. And it worked. Jan 20th 2012 the bill was withdrawn.

TAIL WAGS DOG

 

And that’s when it all changed. The tail discovered it could wag the dog. While the Obama administration may have thought they were being helped with “their” policy by the tech industry, the tech coalition saw it completely differently. They immediately declared themselves sovereign.  In 2012 there was no more representative voice of the corporate internet industry than The Net-Coalition. It was basically Google with some grudging support from Amazon and everyone else dragged along at gunpoint. In July 2012 Katie Barr VP of The Glen Echo Group on behalf of the Net-Coalition organized this panel (above) in which they ask the primary question “Is the Internet America’s Third Party?”  Among the proposed sub-questions was this gem: “We’ve done a lot of self-congratulating, but what do we do now?”

Fine but…Who’s “we?”

I mean who elected the people who declared themselves “The Internet?” Look at the panel. All but one is a lobbyist. What is this new kind of political entity? Is it really new? We’ve always had lobbyists.  If “The Internet” is the thing that got real pissed off about SOPA, it is essentially a lobbyist directed online mob.  Is that better than the representative democracy we have now? If we put the online mob in charge of everything won’t it just rename everything Boaty McBoatface? I’m being silly now.

Yet, doesn’t this seem like the scenario Crawford was talking about in the opening quote? The nation state is portrayed as crumbling. A “geeking around” the nation state is proposed with “the internet” (whoever that is) as its “third party” replacement. Sure a weak tea version. A sort of bubbly corporate billboard on the road to Little Dystopia.  But when you combine it with the techno-determinism espoused by many of the technology leaders you get something quite nasty. You find yourself on the road to Big Dystopia.

TECHNO-DETERMINISM

Without repeating 40 pages of my doctoral dissertation, techno-determinism as preached by silicon valley is the notion that technology is an irresistible force that shapes society.  We are powerless to even modify the coming innovations and thus we must shape our society, governments, institutions, laws and even our morals to match the technology. As my colleague East Bay Ray noted, techno-determinism is “a form of nihilism” that “demands we modify social norms, longstanding ethical principles and even human rights guarantees to match new technology rather than the other way around.”

As an example. The wave of industrialization in he 19th century led to the employment of children in the mills.  Small stature and the ability to get into spaces that full grown men couldn’t made children valuable workers.  Essentially a technological determinist would argue we adapt our society and shed our moral outrage at the employment of children. We didn’t.  We banned the child labor and innovation progressed along nicely.

Humanity 1
Techno-Determinists 0

But this is no longer the 19th century and techno-determinism has evolved. There is now a pseudo religious quality to techno determinism in Silicon Valley.  It comes in two forms. The first is the so-called Singularity.  This is a notion that was popularized by the science fiction writer Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil is also the chief of engineering for Google.  From Wikipedia:

Kurzweil describes his law of accelerating returns which predicts an exponential increase in technologies like computers, genetics, nanotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence. Once the Singularity has been reached, Kurzweil says that machine intelligence will be infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined. Afterwards he predicts intelligence will radiate outward from the planet until it saturates the universe. The Singularity is also the point at which machines intelligence and humans would merge.

Kurzwil is not just some outlier Google engineer with some wacky ideas on the side.  Google and other Silicon Valley companies fund his Singularity University.

The second form of this pseudo-religious techno-determinism has less of a Millerite quality but is still pernicious. Essentially it posits it is a venal sin to stand in the way of technological innovation because those innovations may produce improvements for humanity down the road. Standing in the way of innovation causes humanity to suffer. “Forgive me Father for I have sinned. I have attempted to enforce my constitutional copyright protections.” This second form permeated the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations and still permeates technology bureaucracies at the federal level under Trump. Again this is a notion that on the surface seems harmless. It sort of jibes with longstanding neo-liberal and classical liberal ideals.

So what is the problem?

Internet Imperialism

“Google is the first imperialist power of the 21st century”- Anonymous comment on Trichordist.

When one combines this pseudo religious techno-determinism, with naked political ambition you get something that I call Internet Imperialism.  I’ll explore this more in part II.  But Internet Imperialism is the notion that the Internet is outside of the realm of national or even international law.  This might have seemed harmless or poorly thought out hippy bullshit when this was first proposed by EFF founder John Perry Barlow in the Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace. At the time the Internet seemed like undiscovered territory. The internet was a few hobbyists using dial up modems chatting via BBS.  What was to be lost if Barlow and his corporate-funded EFF cronies declared it independent?

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A Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace.  Internet Imperialism can look like harmless hippy bullshit.

Now virtually all human interaction and much of the economy transits the the internet.  Internet Imperialism reaches back and pulls large portions of our lives into a system that lacks the consent of the governed. That is a real loss.  Do we really want that?

My contention is that internet companies in coordination are aggressively attempting to limit the scope of our democratically elected governments.  We are allowing the vast internet-industrial complex to whittle down the authority of our national and even trans-nation institutions by removing much human activity from the scope of governance. We are losing sovereignty, virtual territory to unelected unaccountable private corporations. How are we any different than China in the 19th and early 20th century? Are our national institutions being slowly dismantled without our consent?  Tellingly much of the campaigning resembles hybrid information warfare.

The battle lines are clearly defined now:

  • Do technology companies and their allies sit at the apex of power and determine what sort of world we live in? The boundaries and limits of our government, our commerce and our liberties defined by their algorithms and business models? Government is simply a janitorial service that cleans up the negative externalities.
  • Or do democratic representative institutions sit at that apex?

It’s as if we are undoing the enlightenment. Do we need to dig up John Locke and reanimate him through memes and gifs so folks understand the fundamental importance of the consent of the governed?

Further, whether they consciously intend it or not the internet-industrial complex is undermining western democracies in exactly the same manner that hostile foreign authoritarian governments have attempted to undermine the west for decades. Shouldn’t that freak us all out?

In part two I will explore this further using the corporate campaign against EU Article 13 as the case study.  As I will show the anti-article 13 campaign seems specifically designed to block a law by limiting EU authority.  Even more disturbing, there is also circumstantial evidence that they pandering to centrifugal forces on the far right/ far left that seek to break the EU apart.

*Correction.  A earlier version of this blog implied ACTA was a statute rather than a trade agreement.

 

 

Does YouTube Underpay Artists 13 Billion a Year? Understanding YouTube’s Article 13 Freakout

 

Desperate times for YouTube. CEO Susan Wojcicki is currently organizing a Childrens Crusadeagainst EU MEPs by urging YouTubers (mostly US teens) to “take action” to protect her $772 billion dollar company’s swollen profits. You see the EU just proposed guidelines (article 13) requiring platforms like YouTube to stop hiding behind its users and pay musicians fairly.  She thinks that is an outrage and is spreading wild disinformation.

Seems batshit crazy to enlist children in a multinational corporate lobbying effort, until you figure out just how much YouTube is cheating musicians.

A rough calculation suggests YouTube is shorting musicians at least $13 billion a year.   It’s probably way more.  We can’t know the exact amount but it’s pretty easy to figure out the lower range.   Spotify with 160 million users in 2017 paid out at least 2.225 billion in royalties to rights holders (It’s probably a little higher). That’s around $13.90 user. YouTube provides the same service (except with video) and CEO Susan Wojcicki says YouTube has 1 Billion MUSIC users a month. 

So even at Spotify’s low rates that means YouTube should pay $13.9 billion a year.  But YouTube paid less than $500 million to music rights holders last year. The entire US recorded music industry in 2017 was $8.7 billion.  That’s a lot of missing money.

This is Google: Second largest corporation on earth, manipulating children to protect one of the biggest corporate rip-offs in history. Disgusting.

 

 

 

Copyright Directive Opponents Getting Band Back Together, Announce European Tour- Guest Post by Volker Rieck

This is a guest post by Volker Rieck. The article has been translated from German and originally appeared in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Link here.  We took liberties by changing the title of article for the English version.  Other minor phrasing has also been americanized. – David Lowery

After the manipulation is before the manipulation

On 12 September 2018, the EU Parliament voted on the proposed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. The entire summer of 2018 was characterized by a gigantic lobbying assault as the directive’s opponents resorted to “asymmetrical” lobbying means and bombarded EU parliamentarians with avalanches of emails and floods of tweets in a manner resembling the handiwork of a grassroots movement. (ed. note:“resembling” is the key word here). In the end EU parliamentarians did not buy the notion the opposition was purely organic grassroots movement and passed the directive. In fact, the spamming of the parliament may have backfired.

Nevertheless, immediately after losing the September vote, the opponents of the directive marshaled their forces to sketch out how they could influence the trilogue process of negotiations on the legislation between the Council of the European Union (the member states), the EU Commission and the EU Parliament.

“It is coming from Google”?


On 21 September 2018, the fifth “Das ist Netzpolitik!” [“This is net politics!”] conference took place in Berlin. One of the speakers was Julia Reda, the sole representative of the Pirate Party in the EU parliament. At the conference – addressing her supporters and requesting that they write to EU parliamentarians – she said:

“They need to get a sense that this is relevant for their constituencies. Then they won’t believe it is coming from Google.”

Now, it is possible to interpret this in very different ways. None of the information we have suggests that Google bombarded parliamentarians with twitter storms and with tens of thousands of emails. The initiative #saveyourinternet was responsible for most of the lobbying. (Further information on the curious background of this hashtag campaign is given in this article.)  What is relevant here is that Julia Reda backed this initiative in a tweet sent out shortly before the conference began.

Screenshot: Tweet sent by Julia Reda on 21 September, 2018

So on the one hand, we see Julia Reda requesting that her supporters write to EU parliamentarians personally (to dispel the impression that “it is coming from Google”) and on the other hand, we see her speaking out in favor of the initiative #saveyourinternet that had, over the summer, left parliamentarians whose inboxes and twitter accounts had been flooded with messages with the impression “that this is from Google.”

So just how are Google and the #saveyourinternet campaign connected? Does Julia Reda have more information or information that differs from what is in the public sphere?

The EU Transparency Register: As opaque as milk

The EU Transparency Register contains an entry on Google which lists 24 associations Google belongs to as a member. These include CCIA, one of the main sources of funding for the Copyright for Creativity (C4C) ad-hoc coalition behind the #saveyourinternet campaign. (We have reported on them previously here).

But the transparency offered by the register is quite restricted. Organizations Google Inc. belongs to are listed, but additional subsidiaries like Google Germany GmbH are not.
As Google Germany has no entry in the EU register, the register does not contain information on organizations and associations that are supported at national level by Google subsidiaries and may thus be far more dependent on Google than if only a single Google membership existed.

Organizations falling into this category that are C4C supporters include:
CDT – Center for Democracy & Technology
IGEL – Initiative gegen ein Leistungsschutzrecht
OFE – Open Forum Europe

The organizers of #saveyourinternet – the lobbying company N-square, which organized the campaign on behalf of C4C, and N-square’s parent company KDC – are not represented transparently in the EU register, just as they were not represented transparently on their campaign website. N-square has an entry in the transparency register that specifies financing of less than EUR 9,999 with Google in 2016 and mentions that N-square is part of the KDC group. The KDC Group, which also has Google and CDT as customers is not mentioned further in the register. Ultimately, it seems highly likely that Google is far more important for KDC/N-square than the rather low financing amount the register reflects.

Screenshot: KDC Website with customers like Google and CDT

As only partial listings are available for certain relevant entities, the EU transparency register can only hint at the connections between Google and the #saveyourinternet campaign. Perhaps looking beyond the borders of the EU will shed more light on affairs.

Oh, how beautiful is Canada

As mentioned in this articlefrom 27 July 2018 and this articlefrom 3 August 2018, the Canadian enterprise OpenMedia was one of the major initiators and drivers of the #saveyourinternet campaign.

OpenMedia is now also preparing to go on the warpath once more; the “battle” over Article 13 of the directive is clearly not yet over. In the OpenMedia newsletter released shortly after the September vote, the company announced its intention to increase pressure on individual EU member states.

Illustration: Extract from the OpenMedia newsletter from 14 September, 2018

The anti-campaign is also referenced on OpenMedia’s website.

Illustration: Screenshot of the OpenMedia website on 13 October, 2018. The link shown is, however, broken.

Now, to be crystal clear about this, OpenMedia is a Canadian company. So here we have a Canadian company announcing that it will exert pressure on EU member states to get the EU to change its laws in a way that suits a Canadian company. The situation is absurd, and whether the EU and its parliamentarians will appreciate such external meddling in their policymaking seems questionable.

When “open” means anything but

Let us take a closer look at OpenMedia.

OpenMedia was founded in 2014. The former Google policy manager Jacob Glick sits on its board.

Illustration: Screenshot from the OpenMedia Website (OpenMedia’s Board).

Transparency is a core value of the enterprise.

Illustration: Screenshot from the OpenMedia Website (Transparency).
“We are constantly seeking ways to be more open…”

Nevertheless, anyone currently seeking transparent information on Open Media’s funding is in for a difficult time.
None of the financial statements for the years 2014–2016 can now be called up on the OpenMedia website.

Illustration: Error message on the OpenMedia Webseite on attempting to call up a financial statement

So much for OpenMedia’s “open approach” and emphasis on transparency.

Sponsorship magic

On its website, OpenMedia gives at least a glimpse into where some of its revenue comes from. The enterprise has sponsors. The platinum sponsorship category encompasses those sponsors contributing more than 20 000 Canadian dollars. How much more is not clear, and whether these payments are one-off or repeated is not spelled out. The annual reports could clarify this – if only they were available.

During the summer of 2018, something rather odd happened to this list of sponsors.

In July 2018, 8 enterprises or individuals were still listed as platinum sponsors. These included the Mozilla Foundation and The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, a body comparable with European data protection authorities.

Illustration: The list of platinum sponsors from July 2018

By October 2018, the number of platinum sponsors had (magically?) shrunk.

Illustration: The list of platinum sponsors in October 2018

Now only five entities are listed as platinum sponsors. In the absence of greater transparency, we can only speculate as to why: did sponsorship agreements elapse or was there another reason? The Canadian Privacy Commissioner and the Mozilla Foundation have now been removed from the list. Was being listed as sponsors unpleasant for them? It is, after all, somewhat bizarre to think of Canadian taxpayers’ money being used to influence EU policy and the work of EU parliamentarians, not least by flooding the latter with spam emails.

 

OpenMedia and New/Mode – Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Tools from the Canadian enterprise New/Mode were – provably– used on various pages in the #saveyourinternet campaign during the summer of 2018. The use of such tools ensured that the offices of EU parliamentarians were kept busy deleting identical e-mails with the same content and dealing with Twitter accounts stuffed with messages for weeks on end.

Up to the summer of 2018, the OpenMedia website still stated that New/Mode Inc. was a subsidiary of Open Media. That information has now been removed from the website and now, in October 2018, the relationship between the two companies is now suddenly described entirely differently, with OpenMedia now appearing to be a subsidiary of New/Mode!?

Illustration:  Screenshot from New/Mode website – “About Us” section.

This change seems to have been made in a rather slipshod manner, however, with New/Mode still being described as an offshoot of Open Media elsewhere.

Illustration: Screenshot from New/Mode website. The organization is described as an “offshoot” of OpenMedia.

The OpenMedia annual report clarifies the situation somewhat. Fortunate are those who managed to download it before it disappeared from the OpenMedia website! It is clear from the 2016 financial statement that OpenMedia lent 50 000 Canadian dollars to New/Mode in 2015. This loan was to be repaid on 3 September, 2016. The repayment date was subsequently rescheduled to 30 June, 2018. But ultimately Open Media received shares in New/Mode in place of the repayment in 2015.

Illustration: Extract from the audited annual report of OpenMedia 2016, which is now no longer available on the OpenMedia website

Why is the ownership of the company not communicated clearly and plainly? What are the presumed advantages of such contradictory and opaque communication?

Conclusion

Julia Reda’s fears that suspicions that Google is behind the campaign could arise certainly do not seem entirely unfounded. Google’s membership in one of the main funding sources for the campaign’s operator, the only partially transparent relationship between Google, this lobbying agency and its parent, and finally the personal and financial ties between Google and one of the Canadian lobby groups all combine to create this impression. The picture is further rounded out by the opaque nature of the partnerships linking local Google companies to initiatives that then pool their resources in Europe in ad-hoc coalitions like C4C.

While the new EU Copyright Directive has surmounted a first hurdle with the adoption of a text in the European parliament, the legislative procedure is still wide open. Numerous groups are now attempting to influence the trilogue negotiations by lobbying individual countries on the European Council. We will soon see whether national parliamentarians will now also be subjected to email avalanches and twitter storms by opponents of the directive.Their EU colleagues can certainly tell them much about how such lobbying campaigns unfold.

Perhaps the most shocking aspect of this entire episode has, however, been the brazenness with which interest groups outside the EU and non-EU enterpriseswith opaque ownership and funding structures have mounted an assault on the legislative bodies of the EU. This is asymmetrical lobbying of a very particular kind. One can only hope that the EU analyzes the events of this summer precisely and ensures that such attempts to exert influence and manipulate voting are not repeated in the run-up to the final vote on the new directive in the European parliament. The EU is already keenly aware of this problem, and measures to avoid the manipulation of voting have already been determined.