Friday, November 18, 2011

An end to the internet as we have known it?

Those of us for whom using the Net is a staple of our work and our lives need to be aware that, like previous "revolutionary" citizen-participation technological innovations such as radio, there are forces that want to shut us down.

The owners of intellectual property want to get paid for their products. They are threatened by the creative use we make of their artifacts on blogs, on YouTube, via Twitter and will make in environments only imagined today. Note I said "the owners" -- those complaining about our vigorous free use are less the creative artists whose products we share and build upon, more the corporations who buy the artists' work and want to control reselling it to the rest of us. (There's that 1% problem again …)

Rebecca MacKinnon, in an oped article in the New York Times, explains how the proposed "Stop Online Piracy Act" would be as dangerous to free speech in the United States as is China's Great Internet Firewall.

The House bill would also emulate China’s system of corporate “self-discipline,” making companies liable for users’ actions. The burden would be on the Web site operator to prove that the site was not being used for copyright infringement. The effect on user-generated sites like YouTube would be chilling.

YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have played an important role in political movements from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park. At present, social networking services are protected by a “safe harbor” provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which grants Web sites immunity from prosecution as long as they act in good faith to take down infringing content as soon as rights-holders point it out to them. The House bill would destroy that immunity, putting the onus on YouTube to vet videos in advance or risk legal action. It would put Twitter in a similar position to that of its Chinese cousin, Weibo, which reportedly employs around 1,000 people to monitor and censor user content and keep the company in good standing with authorities.

Compliance with the Stop Online Piracy Act would require huge overhead spending by Internet companies for staff and technologies dedicated to monitoring users and censoring any infringing material from being posted or transmitted. This in turn would create daunting financial burdens and legal risks for start-up companies, making it much harder for brilliant young entrepreneurs with limited resources to create small and innovative Internet companies that empower citizens and change the world.

Creators need to be paid for their creations, but our society needs robust free speech. The money barons are closing in and we know they do own Congress …

Meanwhile, there are other threats to our use of the internet that may be even more serious. In the guise of helping us find the results we want or would like, based on our past internet behavior, search engines and web sites are tailoring what we see when we visit them. Think about it: my Google search results for any particular term do not look like yours; the same goes for the suggested articles the New York Times offers me: you get different ones. In many ways, the personalized commercial internet will be more constraining than a government-censored one.

Eli Pariser calls this living in "The Filter Bubble." He explains clearly in less than 10 minutes here.

The internet is showing us what we want to see, not what we need to see. … you don't decide what gets in … and you don't decide what gets left out. … We're seeing a passing of the torch from human gate keepers to algorithmic ones. … We need to make sure these algorithms have encoded within them a sense of civic responsibility … we need [the authors of these filter rules] to give us some control so we can decide what gets through and what doesn't.

You can also read Pariser's The Filter Bubble for more. Hint: I found it in an old fashioned information channel -- the public library. Recommended.

This seems an appropriate place to serve notice that Facebook has announced that as of November 22 it will no longer allow import of blog posts.

"You currently automatically import content from your website or blog into your Facebook notes. Starting November 22nd, this feature will no longer be available, although you'll still be able to write individual notes."

Apparently they want me to have to visit their useless site daily. Ferget it … I had friends before Facebook and expect to have them after.


Rain Trueax said...

This is interesting to me on several levels. One as a writer, and with books I want to put out in ePub format, one of my concerns has been how does a person prevent piracy. I don't mind someone taking my ideas. Frankly where it comes to writing, not much is original, but I don't want them taking my whole eBook and republishing it as theirs.

Quite often I read blogs where people, rather than taking a boxed segment as you just did, take the whole blog someone else wrote and repost it in its entirety with no link to the original piece. Now for me that doesn't worry me as I write a blog for pleasure and as a creative outlet; so if someone takes it, it just means my ideas went farther, but there are those who make money out of their number of viewers. It's better to give a small piece of what someone else wrote with the link to it rather than making it your own total blog. Maybe I should say fairer.

And finally on this Google search engine (I don't use Bing so don't know how it works out but I am about to give it a try) problem, I totally agree with that. When I am trying to do research on something, I often have to go two pages in before I get past the paid advertising. But on the other hand, I am getting this for free; so I am torn as to what I should expect for nothing. I mean some research material was easily put online. Others takes money and time to get there.

I've always figured the internet as we have known it is temporarily what it is. I use it and enjoy it but as you said about Facebook, I can live without it. I'd miss it though and now with the idea of being able to publish books without having a corporation tear apart what I did and make it into something else, I really like it :) but I don't count on it being forever either. Maybe that attitude comes with age.

janinsanfran said...

Hi Rain -- yes, I see blogs all the time where people reproduce whole articles and I think that's wrong. I try not to grab other people's stuff unless I have something to say about it -- or I just want to promote it. And I link, always I hope.

I find your attitude that the wide open conditions of the net will be temporary to be very wise. Some people are always striving to open things up and others to shut them down or at least monetize them.

Self publishing online sure seems more plausible than the way some feminists did it in the 70s and 80s.