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Netflix disables Chrome's developer console

When you watch Netflix videos in the Chrome browser, the service disables Chrome's developer console, a debugging and programming tool that gives you transparency and control over what your browser is doing. The Hacker News thread explains that this is sometimes done in order to stop an attack called "Self-XSS" that primarily arises on social media sites, where it can cause a browser to leak nominally private information to third parties. But in this case, the "Self-XSS" attack Netflix is worried about is very different: they want to prevent browser owners from consciously choosing to run scripts in the Netflix window that subvert Netflix's restrictions on video.

This is the natural outflow of the pretense that "streaming" exists as a thing that is distinct from "downloading" -- the idea that you can send a stream of bytes to someone else's computer without the computer being able to store those bytes. "Streaming" is at the heart of "rental" business models like Netflix's, and there's nothing wrong with the idea of rental per se. But the only way to attain "rental" with computers is to design computers so that their owners can't give them orders that the landlords disagree with. You have to change the computer and its software so that you can't see what it's doing and can't change what it's doing.

Your browser is a portal to your whole social life, your financial life and your work life, entrusted with the most potentially compromising secrets of your life. Anything that allows third parties to make it harder for you to figure out what the browser is doing, or to prevent it from doing something you don't want, should be a non-starter. As soon as a powerful entity like Netflix comes to depend on -- and insist on -- computers that owners can't control, that company is doing something wrong. Not because rentals are bad, but because taking away owner control from computers is bad.

This is why it's such a big deal that Netflix has convinced Microsoft, Apple, and Google to build user-controlling technology into their browsers, and why it's such a big deal that Microsoft, Apple, and Google have convinced the W3C to standardize this for all devices with HTML5 interfaces. Any time we allow the discussion to be sidetracked into "How can Netflix maximize its revenue by enforcing rental terms?" we're missing the real point, which is, "How can people be sure that their browsers aren't betraying them?"

Netflix disables use of the Chrome developer console (pastebin.com)

US Embassy and Godaddy conspire to censor dissenting Mexican political site


Godaddy has censored a prominent Mexican political site that was critical of the government and a proposed law to suppress public protests. Godaddy says that it suspended 1dmx.org after a request from a "Special Agent Homeland Security Investigations, U.S. Embassy, Mexico City." A lawyer for the site believes that the someone in the Mexican government asked the US embassy to arrange for the censorship, and is suing the Mexican government to discover the identity of the official who made the request.

Leaving aside the Mexican government corruption implied by this action, Americans should be outraged about the participation of the US Embassy in the suppression of political dissent. And, as always, Godaddy customers should be on notice that Godaddy is pretty much the worst domain registrar/hosting company in the world, with a long history of meekly knuckling under to absurd, legally dubious censorship claims from random law-enforcement and government agencies, and never, ever going to bat for its customers (I prefer Hover, one of Godaddy's major competitors).

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Video explainer: why open spectrum matters, and why you're about to lose it

Harold Feld from Public Knowledge writes, "One of the hardest problems I face advocating for more open, shared 'unlicensed' spectrum is trying to explain exactly what 'spectrum' is and why decisions about it made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) matter. My organization, Public Knowledge, now has a two minute video animation 'Wireless Spectrum: How To Use It And Why You Might Lose It' that explains for those new to these issues. The video ties in to our effort to save the newest unlicensed spectrum, 'TV white spaces,' from being auctioned away to the biggest wireless companies. If you agree after watching the video that we need to protect and promote open spectrum as well as get more licensed spectrum to AT&T and Verizon, please click through to our petition."

Wireless Spectrum: How To Use It And Why You Might Lose It (Thanks, Harold!)

Comment-spammers threaten to sabotage their victims through Google Disavow if the evidence of their vandalism isn't removed

Tim got an email from someone trying to get rid of comment spams -- ever since Google started punishing sites that left comment spam on blogs, this has been going on a lot. When Tim told the guy to buzz off, he threatened Tim with sabotage by means of Google's "Disavow" tool, growing progressively more abusive as Tim stood his ground.

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Robots and the law: what's after cyberlaw?


Ryan Calo, the organizer of the annual Stanford conference on Robots and the Law has written a new paper called Robotics and the New Cyberlaw , examining the new legal challenges posed by the presence of robots in our public spaces, homes and workplaces, as distinct from the legal challenges of computers and the Internet.

I'm not entirely convinced that I believe that there is such a thing as a robot, as distinct from "a computer in a special case" or "a specialized peripheral for a computer." At least inasmuch as mandating that a robot must (or must not) do certain things is a subset of the problem of mandating that computers must (or must not) run certain programs.

It seems to me that a lot of the areas where Calo identifies problems with "cyberlaw" as it applies to robots are actually just problems with cyberlaw, period. Cyberlaw isn't very good law, by and large, having been crafted by self-interested industry lobbyists and enacted on the basis of fearmongering and grandstanding, so it's not very surprising that it isn't very good at solving robot problems.

But the paper is a fascinating one, nevertheless.


Update: The organizer of Robots and the Law is Michael Froomkin; Ryan Calo is the person who sent it in to Boing Boing. The conference isn't held at Stanford every year; next year it will be in Miami. Sorry for the confusion!

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Barrett Brown legal motion: linking is protected by the First Amendment

Kevin writes, "A motion just filed by the defense in Barrett Brown's case makes the argument that merely linking to information which is already publicly available should be protected by the First Amendment. The government has charged Brown with multiple counts of fraud and identity theft for copy and pasting a link from one chat-room to another. The URL pointed to data that was obtained during the late-2011 hack of Stratfor and the unextracted file happened to contain some credit card numbers."

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Crowdfunding research into memory and technology

Jason & Farah, cognitive science postdocs at Washington University, write, "We humans have always used our surroundings to extend our memory. But is the technology of today enhancing human memory, or replacing it? Help us do the research! We plan to gather survey data and run Internet-based psychology experiments to find out: How are people currently using technology for memory purposes? How well do people understand the technology and their reliance on it? Are there ways to improve the interplay between technology and human memory?"

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Our Comrade the Electron: technology as centralizer

Maciej Cegłowski's Webstock 2014 talk is called OUR COMRADE THE ELECTRON, and it's an inspired rant about the relationship of technology to power and coercion. It asserts that the decentralizing of power attended by the growth of technology in the 1990s was a blip, and that the trend of technology will be to further centralization.

I disagree. I think that Cegłowski has conflated "technology" with "technology under neoliberalism" -- that the concentration of technology since the 1990s coincides with the creation of like the WTO and the abolition of things like the Glass–Steagall Act, and the overall concentration of wealth and power into fewer hands. Technology is related to centralized power, but it is not entirely the cause of it -- rather it is in a feedback loop with it, and the two fuel each other.

For me, the interesting question isn't "does technology centralize or doesn't it?" We've seen technology do both. For me, the interesting question is, "How can we make technology into a force for decentralization?"

There's a long-held view of the world that breaks it into "artsies and techies" -- the two cultures. From where I sit, though, the two cultures are "people who believe in finance" and "people who think finance is a corrupt and corrupting force in the world." All the interesting nerds I know make art, and all the interesting artists I know nerd out on technology. But the one thing that seems to separate us into two camps is whether we think the world of finance is a giant con game or a legit enterprise.

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Free download of danah boyd's must-read book "It's Complicated"

danah boyd has posted a free PDF of the full text of her must-read book It's Complicated, the best book about young people and the Internet I've read to date. boyd hopes you'll enjoy the book and then support her and her publisher by buying a copy, sending a signal "that this book is important, that the message in the book is valuable."

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Report from Trustycon: like RSA, but without the corruption


Seth Rosenblatt reports from Trustycon, the conference formed as a protest against, and alternative to the RSA security conference. RSA's event is the flagship event in the security industry, but the news that RSA had accepted $10M from the NSA to sabotage its own products so that spies could break into the systems of RSA customers led high profile speakers like Mikko Hypponen to cancel their appearances at the event.

Trustycon sold out, raised $20,000 for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and, most importantly, got key members of the security industry to come to grips with the question of improving network security in an age when spy agencies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year to undermine it.

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Twitter restores @N to Naoki Hiroshima

A long-overdue, happy ending to the saga of @N, the $50,000 username that was extorted out of Naoki Hiroshima by a hacker who tricked Paypal and Godaddy into compromising control over Hiroshima's domains, and threatened to trash Hiroshima's sites unless the @N handle was given over.

Twitter has restored @N to Hiroshima. It's not clear what took so long, nor what it was that turned the tide for Twitter and resulted in the hand-back.

Happy ending: @N has been restored to its rightful owner [Josh Ong/Next Web]

Weinberger's "Too Big to Know" in paperback

David Weinberger's 2012 book Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room was one of the smartest, most thought-provoking reads I had the pleasure of being buffeted by in 2012. I'm delighted to learn that it's out in paperback this month. Here's my original review from 2012:

David Weinberger is one of the Internet's clearest and cleverest thinkers, an understated and deceptively calm philosopher who builds his arguments like a bricklayer builds a wall, one fact at a time. In books like Everything is Miscellaneous and Small Pieces, Loosely Joined, he erects solid edifices with no gaps between the bricks, inviting conclusions that are often difficult to reconcile with your pre-existing prejudices, but which are even harder to deny.

Too Big to Know, Weinberger's latest book-length argument, is another of these surprising brick walls. Weinberger presents us with a long, fascinating account of how knowledge itself changes in the age of the Internet -- what it means to know something when there are millions and billions of "things" at your fingertips, when everyone who might disagree with you can find and rebut your assertions, and when the ability to be heard isn't tightly bound to your credentials or public reputation for expertise.

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It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens (must, MUST read)


Sociologist danah boyd's long-awaited first book, It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, hits shelves today. boyd is one of the preeminent scholars of the way young people -- especially marginalized young people of diverse economic and racial backgrounds, as well as diverse gender and sexual orientation -- use the Internet, and her work has been cited here regularly for her sharp observations and her overwhelming empathy for her subjects.

It's Complicated is a passionate, scholarly, and vividly described account of the reality of young peoples' use of networked technologies in America today. Painstakingly researched through interviews and close study for more than a decade, boyd's book is the most important analysis of networked culture I've yet to read.

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Forgotten placeholder text


There's nothing wrong with using placeholder text. It's hard to imagine design without it. But it creates the unique danger that you forget your text and leave it behind. Here's a rather good roundup of forgotten placeholders in contexts ranging from newspaper headlines to error messages to bottles of wine. Alas, the images appear to be uncredited ganks from around the Web (the headline above, from Cape Town, may have come from this 2011 article, though that credits a tweet as its source).

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Whatsapp abused the DMCA to censor related projects from Github

Prior to Whatsapp's $19B acquisition by Facebook, the company sent a large number of spurious takedowns against projects on Github. In a DMCA notice served by Whatsapp's General Counsel to Github, a number of projects are targeted for removal on the basis that they are "content that infringes on WhatsApp Inc.'s copyrights and trademarks."

This is grossly improper. DMCA takedown notices never apply to alleged trademark violations (it's called the "Digital Millennium Copyright Act" and not the "Digital Millennium Trademark Act"). Using DMCA notices to pursue trademark infringements isn't protecting your interests -- it's using barratry-like tactics to scare and bully third parties into participating in illegitimate censorship.

The letter goes on to demand takedown of these Github projects on the basis that they constitute "unauthorized use of WhatsApp APIs, software, and/or services" -- again, this is not a copyright issue, and it is improper to ask Github to police the code its hosts on this basis. It is certainly not the sort of activity that the DMCA's takedown procedure exists to police.

So what about copyright infringement? In the related Hacker News thread, a number of the projects' authors weigh in on the censorship, making persuasive cases that they software did not infringe on any of Whatsapp's copyrights -- rather, these were tools that made use of the Whatsapp API, were proof-of-concept security tools for Whatsapp, or, in one case, merely contained the string "whatsapp" in its sourcecode.

There may well have been some legitimately infringing material on Github, but it's clear that Whatsapp's General Counsel did not actually limit her or his request to this material. Instead, the company deliberately overreached the bounds of the DMCA, with total indifference to the rights of other copyright holders -- the creators of the software they improperly had removed.

Unfortunately, there are no real penalties for this sort of abuse. Which is a shame, because Whatsapp has $19B in the bank that a smart lawyer who wanted to represent the aggrieved parties could certainly take a chunk out of.

(via Hacker News)