Following on from yesterday's brutal, awful news that Mozilla is going to add DRM to its Firefox browser, the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Danny O'Brien has published an important editorial explaining how Mozilla's decision sets back the whole cause of fighting for a free and open Internet.
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For months, I've been following the story that the Mozilla project was set to add closed source Digital Rights Management technology to its free/open browser Firefox, and today they've made the announcement, which I've covered in depth for The Guardian. Mozilla made the decision out of fear that the organization would haemorrhage users and become irrelevant if it couldn't support Netflix, Hulu, BBC iPlayer, Amazon Video, and other services that only work in browsers that treat their users as untrustable adversaries.
They've gone to great -- even unprecedented -- lengths to minimize the ways in which this DRM can attack Firefox users. But I think there's more that they can, and should, do. I also am skeptical of their claim that it was DRM or irrelevance, though I think they were sincere in making it. I think they hate that it's come to this and that no one there is happy about it.
I could not be more heartsick at this turn of events.
We need to turn the tide on DRM, because there is no place in post-Snowden, post-Heartbleed world for technology that tries to hide things from its owners. DRM has special protection under the law that makes it a crime to tell people if there are flaws in their DRM-locked systems -- so every DRM system is potentially a reservoir of long-lived vulnerabilities that can be exploited by identity thieves, spies, and voyeurs.
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Mozilla's sub-$50 Firefox OS smartphones are aimed at countries like India and Indonesia, where devices costing hundreds of dollars are out of reach of hundreds of millions of people. The idea is to bring a smartphone running a free/open operating system that is optimized for Internet access to people who have no net connection at all today.
The phones are slow and only have a few apps, but they're infinitely more useful than a candybar-shaped "feature phone," and with their low pricetag, many people will be able to buy them outright, rather than being beholden to phone companies who subsidize handset purchases through long-term, abusive contracts; and they'll get online using devices that don't lock them into a single company's ecosystem for email, messaging, and apps.
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The Mozilla Foundation has sent a legal threat to Gamma International, a UK company that makes a product called "FinSpy" that is used by governments, including brutal dictatorships to spy on dissidents. FinSpy allows these governments to hijack their citizens' screens, cameras, hard-drives and keyboards. Gamma disguises this spyware as copies of Firefox, Mozilla's flagship free/open browser.
Gamma International markets its software as a “remote monitoring” program that government agencies can use to take control of computers and snoop on data and communications. In theory, it could be legitimately used for surveillance efforts by crime fighting agencies, but in practice, it has popped up as a spy tool unleashed against dissident movements operating against repressive regimes.
Citizen Lab researchers have seen it used against dissidents from Bahrain and Ethiopia. And in a new report, set to be released today, they’ve found it in 11 new countries: Hungary, Turkey, Romania, Panama, Lithuania, Macedonia, South Africa, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bulgaria, and Austria. That brings the total number of countries that have been spotted with FinFisher to 36.
To date, Citizen Lab researchers have found three samples of FinSpy that masquerades as Firefox, including a “demo” version of the spyware according to Morgan Marquis-Boire, a security researcher at the Citizen Lab, who works as a Google Security Engineer. Marquis-Boire says his work at Citizen Lab is independent from his day job at Google.
Mozilla Takes Aim at Spyware That Masquerades as Firefox [Robert McMillan/Wired]
I'm proud and excited beyond words to see the running notes from the work being done in Chicago by a group of students and a facilitator from the Mozilla Foundation's Hive NYC on a number of video projects using Mozilla's Popcorn technology and my novel Little Brother. Here's an introductory set of notes on the project from leahatplay at Mozilla's Hive Learning Network NYC.
The result is the following challenge: To create a video that builds on the interactive and participatory nature of the web through peer sharing and collaboration. In practice, it’s a scavenger hunt with digital media content generation. Teams are given lists of assets to collect and lists of Popcorn features to include in their video. Then they work together to collect assets to build videos with specific themes and characteristics. We insert mini-challenges throughout the activity. To the users they seem like funny digressions. For us they are designed to have a cumulative effect. The goal of the mini-challenge is to fine-tune thinking about the web’s infrastructure and provide a practice space for producing engaging web content that can be incorporated into the final deliverable.
We begin the day by cutting the activity sheets into sections. Since the steps of creating the web-native video will be “unlocked” by different mini-challenges, having everything on-hand and easily accessible is key. Pizza arrives early so we fuel up. I’m wearing my “Adopt Mozilla” T-shirt, it has become crucial gear for these moments when I channel my inner Tim Gunn and RuPaul. Our goal for the experience is a sense of levity, fun and exploration that we hope will encourage the teens to seek out different styles and modes of production.