Decentralized Web Pt 2: Surveillance and Privacy

In the last post, I focused on the “walled garden” problem associated with the oligarchy that dominates web traffic today — Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. That’s not the only issue associated with the Frightful Five, though. Consider your privacy online.

You’ve probably heard the bit about “if the web service is free for your use, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.” It’s as true as it ever was, and if you need more proof, consider why your internet service provider is so keen to remove legal restrictions on sharing your personal information — they argue a need because the content companies have no such restrictions.

Protecting privacy and anonymity onlineAnother privacy issue related to your online conduct is that it’s becoming harder to be anonymous on the web. Here are some ways to do it. That can be a good thing; we all want online bullies, harassers and trolls to be controlled. But consider all those people who live under repressive regimes, where bloggers who write things counter to the prevailing political or cultural winds wind up jailed, tortured, or dead. An enhanced surveillance state isn’t much good for democracy either.

Do I have to mention the threats to privacy represented by the potential for electronic identity theft? With so many folks trying to break security and breaches happening so often, at some point, someone will get access to Facebook’s database.

Nearly Getting it Right

Today, you have the option of creating and maintaining your own site on the World Wide Web. Having control over your own space online allows you to define what information you are willing to share with what subset of humanity. This should be the goal, not simply posting your thoughts, plans and activities to some other billion-dollar corporate entity, hoping that they will do the right thing with your information.

Curiously enough, it was Google Plus that seemed to understand how sharing online content by and from users should be done. They made it easy to define Circles, people who received only information from you that you intended them to see. Unlike Facebook, which wants everything you share to be Public (perhaps in part so they can be less concerned about hiding material that ought not be public).

Of course, like Facebook, Google wants you to post all the things you’re interested in so that they can collect data to better sell you to advertisers. Perhaps that’s a reason Google Plus became one of the more notable Google project failures.

Having your own website is a start, but isn’t everything. In the next post, I want to tell you about the IndieWeb, a way station to the decentralized web.

What concerns you most about the centralized web described here? Do you have a personal experience with lack of privacy or oversharing in social media? Further questions on what the decentralized web might look like? Add a comment!

What is a Decentralized Web? Part 1

In my relaunch post a few weeks ago, I raised the issue of building an open, decentralized web.

This paper launched the Decentralized Web Summit. It's signed by its author, Brewster Kahle, Tim Berners-Lee, and Vint Cerf.
This paper launched the Decentralized Web Summit. It’s signed by its author, Brewster Kahle, Tim Berners-Lee, and Vint Cerf.

As I write this, we mark the first anniversary of the Decentralized Web Summit (DWS) held at the Internet Archive in San Francisco. I wasn’t there, but was inspired by the ideas shared there. Click the link to see video of the keynote addresses given there, and much more information on what happened there. You may also find this Fast Company story from two of my favorite writers, Dan Gillmor and Kevin Marks quite useful.

It’s occurred to me that in the year since the summit, the term “decentralized web” hasn’t gained the traction among ordinary folk that “net neutrality” has.  In this and the next couple posts, I’m here to help.

We once solved a big problem with the internet

When the World Wide Web was born, most people got online through one of two commercial services: Prodigy and America Online. If you don’t remember, these companies offered dial-up access to news, games, and community — all of which were located inside the walls of each service. Both companies worked hard to keep you inside their walled garden, even after they started offering content from the open Internet.

At that time, your “online service” completely controlled what access you had to the information resources of the wider internet. They also controlled the look-and-feel of those resources, so even if they offered a gateway outside the walled garden, you might not realize it.

Eventually, demand for full internet access forced the corporate online services to acquiesce, even though they probably knew that their internally generated content could never compete with the wonders of the World Wide Web.

Today’s oligarchy

The problem today is not that far away from the early 1990s. Consider this:

Tim Berners-Lee, who won the Turing Award for inventing the World Wide Web in the first place, describes the new problem this way in this interview with The New York Times: “The problem is the dominance of one search engine, one big social network, one Twitter for microblogging. We don’t have a technology problem, we have a social problem.”

Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times has a slightly different list; omitting Twitter and adding the operating system behemoths: he calls them the Frightful Five: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. Do take his survey to see how badly you’re hooked.

In the same interview, Berners-Lee identifies the results of this oligarchical control of the Web:

“It controls what people see, creates mechanisms for how people interact. It’s been great, but spying, blocking sites, repurposing people’s content, taking you to the wrong websites — that completely undermines the spirit of helping people create.”

So here we are again.

One solution: (Re)Decentralize the Web

The long-term solution would seem to be breaking up the Frightful Five, and putting users in control. But that’s easier said than done. I have long advocated that writers should have an online home of their own, but Berners-Lee highlights the problem that is everyone’s.

In the interests of preserving your time, I’ll stop now. In the next couple of posts, I hope to further explain the issue of centralization, how it affects you, and show you some intermediate steps along the way.

One more thing: Another blog for the Open Web

I want to introduce you to AltPlatform.org, another blog devoted to Open Web technologies. The founders are folks I have a ton of respect for, and (like me) think the time is right to move forward on these ideas.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “decentralized web”? Does my premise reflect reality? What questions do you have? Leave a comment below, and I’ll try to answer in a subsequent post (if I don’t respond immediately).

 

Net Neutrality Update: Is John Oliver our only champion?

The fight’s begun! Last week, Ajit Pai’s Federal Communications Commission officially launched its “repeal and replace” plan for net neutrality. This principle identifies the level playing field for all content on the internet. You have a couple of months to preserve this principle from corporate assault.

Ajit Pai became FCC chair in January, firmly determined to gut real net neutrality, but with a smiling face. Pai has been giving interviews to a variety of media outlets. His pitch is something like this:

  • Everybody in the universe loves the free and open Internet.
  • The telecommunications companies that offer you and I our Internet connections hate the very idea of offering fast lanes to some content providers, and slow lanes for the rest of us.
  • The 2015 rules (known as the Open Internet Order) are deeply onerous, solve a nonexistent problem, and prevent these telecom giants from building better broadband connections that other industrialized countries take for granted.

Sadly, he leaves out the petty little detail that the telecoms have been busy, before and since the Open Internet Order was ratified, buying content companies.

John Oliver strikes again

Perhaps the first time you heard anything about net neutrality was from John Oliver, the very funny host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight. Three years ago, when the chair of the US Federal Communications Commission was first proposing  a corporate-friendly version of net neutrality, Oliver devoted one of his first post-Daily Show broadcasts to explaining what net neutrality was, why it was important, and how the proposed FCC rules were inadequate to the challenge. He asked his viewers to make their opinions known to the FCC online. The response crashed the agency’s servers.

About a year, and four million comments, later, the FCC passed strong net neutrality rules on a party line vote. The power of popular pressure on display was absolutely amazing.

The thing is, corporations don’t take defeat well. if they lose a fight, it’s only temporary. It may take time, but they will keep coming as often as necessary. Which brings us to the current situation.

The response: “Really, a comic?”

On Sunday, May 7, Last Week Tonight took up net neutrality again, with a similar result. The presumably beefed-up FCC servers crashed again under the weight of people’s fury. FCC staff even claimed the FCC was under attack by cyber-criminals!

In addition, conservative opponents of real net neutrality were ready for Oliver this time around.

Among other conservative, corporate pundits, Scott Cleland, a former official of the George H. W. Bush administration, wrote that “HBO’s John Oliver needs a Net Neutrality reality check” at TheHill .com on May 8:

“Is net neutrality policy the joke here? Or is the joke really that net neutrality activists think late night comedy is the most effective way for them to influence the FCC on public policy?”

His argument boils down to this: Everything’s changed since Oliver’s first rant. Wheeler could be pressured. Obama could be pressured. Pai already demonstrated that he’s not changing his mind. Trump will stand by Pai. Congress already overturned the privacy rules, and not a single REpublican member of Congress backs net neutrality. And supporters just trot out a comedian (again)?

In this world, the only effective pressure comes from the tech oligarchs.

If there is a political wildcard here, it is the handful of Internet networks that individually or together command that much potential political power. Among them are Google-Android-YouTube-Cloud; Facebook-Messenger-Instagram; Amazon-Prime-AWS; and Microsoft-Azure-Linked-in.

These four unregulated companies are worth $2 trillion, have unmatched media influence, and command dominant market shares in multiple communications-related markets.

Remember that Cleland’s audience at TheHill.com are the lobbyists, bureaucrats and others who need to know how the winds are blowing in DC. The mindset there is that the only actors that matter are the corporate influence-buyers. And most of the time, that is the reality. Cleland wants to tell the rest of us that this net neutrality thing is just a fight among billionaires, that it doesn’t matter who wins, and you and I shouldn’t waste time arguing about it.

But we still live in a democracy, for now at least. While I’m really glad that John Oliver is on our side, he is not our savior; we are the leaders we’ve been looking for. We need to apply a variety of tactics, but make both the FCC and the Congress bend to our will.

Is the fight for net neutrality hopeless? What can ordinary people do to preserve democracy on the internet? Your thoughts — and proposals — are appreciated here. In the meantime, let’s use John Oliver’s link to tell the FCC what we think:

http://www.gofccyourself.com

See also

Welcome Back! Let’s fight for an Open Web

Why Net Neutrality Matters to Writers

Welcome Back! Let’s fight for an Open Web

A few weeks ago, I was preparing a talk on WordPress at a local university. I knew that posting here at Notes from the Metaverse was on the erratic side in recent months. Yet it was something of a shock to discover that more than a year had gone by!

When confronted with a fact like that, you have to ask yourself if it’s time to recognize that Notes had run its course, and let it slip quietly away. Maybe no one would notice after all these months. After careful consideration, I realized I still had something to say. Blogosphere: You ain’t rid of me yet!

New Focus: Defending the Open Web and the technologies that enable it

What is the Open Web?

Notes from the Metaverse has nearly always been about helping people use technology, and occasionally how to think critically about technology. Moving forward, that really doesn’t change much.

I saw a headline last week that startled me: “Can democracy survive the Internet?” Haven’t read the article yet, but one of the philosophical premises of this blog is that the Internet might be the most powerful force for democracy that’s ever been. My concern is that the technologies empowering people through the Internet are under attack, and their promise might fade — or even disappear — if we don’t pull together to preserve what we have.

Thus, post topics here may benefit from a little more focus. For the immediate future, most Notes will fall under these broad categories:

Software tools that empower

Starting with the things that won’t change: You’ll learn stuff about Linux, WordPress and other Free Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS). You’ll also get news about the communities that surround the code. FLOSS represents the most empowering technologies for folks like you and me, because the goal is to put you in charge of the tools.

Defend net neutrality and universal access to the Internet

I’ve written a lot about net neutrality, because the basic principle of the Internet favors a level playing field, where everyone has equal access to every website. I use WordPress in part because it enables anyone, regardless of how much money or fame or sense they may have, to communicate with readers. If only the sites that can pay for a fast lane can find an audience, we all lose.

More on this to come, but in the meantime, do take a look at my earlier writings on the topic.

For an open, decentralized web

The fight for net neutrality is often portrayed as being between the big telecommunications companies and the big content companies like Google, Netflix, and Facebook. There’s some truth to that, but that’s not the fight I’m concerned with. The AT&Ts, Verizons, and Comcasts of the world that provide the “pipe” through which the vast amount of content arrives in our homes, offices, and mobile devices have much in common with the giant content companies who either view the average Internet user as either a pair of eyeballs to sell to, or the product whose content and privacy are for sale to advertisers.

Many of the founders of the World Wide Web, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee, organized the Decentralized Web Summit in June 2016 to revive the idea that the web’s users should wrest control of the Web from the content oligarchs. Users should be able to control what information they want to receive, what they want to controbute, and not have to give up their privacy to participate in the conversation. I think this is a great idea, and will be reporting on its progress.

Details

Of course, this is a blog, so I reserve the right to diverge from these topics whenever I feel like it.

I’m hoping to return to a weekly posting schedule, but we’ll see how that goes.

If you’ve been reading these Notes for years (or even a decade), welcome back! Let me know what you think about these changes.

If you’ve come across this post through some other means, please take a look around. If you like what you see, please subscribe in the . Also check my main site at MichaelMcCallister.com.

Questions, comments, rebellion against the new themes? It’s all welcome, in the big box below.

Questions and answers: Ubuntu bq tablet – TechRepublic

After Jack Wallen’s recent review of the bq Aquaris M10 tablet, he was hit with a number of questions about the tablet. Jack addresses some of those questions to help you decide if the Ubuntu tablet is a worthy investment.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.techrepublic.com

Tech Republic’s Jack Wallen answers questions about the Ubuntu tablet, which he’s wild about.

See on Scoop.itUbuntu Touch Phones and Tablets

7 things you should know about openSUSE Leap

Leap is to SUSE what CentOS is to Red Hat and Ubuntu is to Canonical…

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.itworld.com

Swapnil Bhartiya offers another interpretation of what Leap means for both ordinary users and enterprises. Need a rock-solid enterprise server? Leap can do that. Like playing around with different desktop environments without having to install separate flavors like Ubuntu? Use Leap’s pattern system (though this has been an openSUSE feature for many years).

I’m not sure I completely understand his explanation of the update paths (the inevitable push/pull of stability vs. latest-and-greatest), but I’ll be looking closely at that while I play around.

See on Scoop.itopenSUSE Desktop

OpenSUSE Leap fuses enterprise-grade stability with cutting-edge software

Over the last year, the OpenSUSE community transformed its development process and now promises us “the first hybrid Linux distribution”—OpenSUSE Leap.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.pcworld.com

Nice review of Leap 42.1 from Chris Hoffman at PC World. Focuses on the new development process (SLE to openSUSE instead of the other way around).

I’ll be installing Leap this weekend. Looking forward to telling you what I think.

See on Scoop.itopenSUSE Desktop

Missing NaBloPoMo

For the last few Novembers, I’ve been posting at a feverish pace (for me, anyway) as part of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). The goal is to post every day this month as a way to jump-start your writing and building an audience.

So this year, I’ve got too much going on, I’m afraid. Got some projects that may soon come to fruition, and I’ll be able to talk about them when we get there.

Tomorrow, I’ll be downloading a fresh copy of openSUSE Linux, now called openSUSE Leap 42.1, which I’m really excited about. I’m tidying up my current copy in breathless anticipation. This follows the (coincidental) installation of Firefox v42 today. As I tweeted earlier today (with the unforgivable error of getting Douglas Adams’ name wrong):

It’s a common lament: I wish I had more time to blog. What really bums me out is that I get a real good rhythm going during NaBloPoMo, and then I lose that momentum over the holidays. So I’m going to try something different this year, though I don’t really know what that will be yet.

Just because I’m not doing it, it’s not too late for you to start! November is a great time to start (or kick-start) your blogging habit. Click here to register. There are prizes!

If you participate, drop a link in the comments below.

Go look at some of my previous NaBloPoMo posts.

Quick Thunderbird Tip: Repairing Mail Summary Files

English: Mozilla Thunderbird (SuSe Linux 9.3/K...
Mozilla Thunderbird (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Couple of weeks ago, my Thunderbird mail client stopped connecting to Yahoo Mail. It would log in to the service, start downloading Message 1 of X — and hang. When it snapped back to normal, it reported there was no mail to download. Hmm…

After a few false starts, I found an old MozillaZine forum post that pointed to the Mail Summary File as the culprit. The MSF generates the list of emails on your Inbox, with date, time and read/unread status. The forum post said Go to your profile and find any files with an *.msf extension. Delete them, it said. So I did.

This turned out half-right. See, I like to think I’m pretty well-organized, with a bunch of topic-based folders and filters that move mail into those folders. Thunderbird (rightly) produces MSF files for each of these folders. When you delete them all, Thunderbird has trouble downloading into possibly nonexistent folders and it complains intensely.

For this reason, more recent versions of Thunderbird has a Repair function in the Properties of each folder. This tool reconstructs the Mail Summary File without having to drop the original. How do you do that?

  1. Right-click your Inbox and choose Properties from the menu.
  2. Click Repair Folder. The folder display switches to the cover page while the Repair tool is active. Depending on the size of the folder (and/or what the problem might be), this can take some time. Don’t try clicking on the folder until the repair is done.
  3. When the repair is complete, you’ll return to the message list, with the proper number of Unread messages counted on the left side. You can then click OK to close out the Folder Properties table.

If you still have trouble with downloading mail, or processing filters, try running this Repair tool on other folders.

Hope this is helpful.

openSUSE Leap Second milestone expected soon – Release schedule posted

Sourced through Scoop.it from: news.opensuse.org

Milestone 2: September 4

Package/Artwork due: September 20

Beta 1: September 24

Release Candidate 1: October 15

Gold Master (ISO ready to go): October 30

Formal Release: November 4 (at SUSECon Amsterdam)

See on Scoop.itopenSUSE Desktop