Facebook sues notorious spyware company NSO Group for 1,400 attacks on diplomats, journalists, dissidents, and government officials

The NSO Group is one of the world's most notorious cyber-arms dealers, selling hacking tools to some of the world's most oppressive regimes that are used to identify targets for arrest, torture and even murder. Read the rest

Talking science fiction, technological self-determination, inequality and competition with physicist Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a physicist at JPL and the author of many popular, smart books about physics for a lay audience; his weekly Mindscape podcast is a treasure-trove of incredibly smart, fascinating discussions with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Read the rest

Bipartisan legislation would force Big Tech to allow interoperability with small competitors

The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching” (ACCESS) Act was introduced by Senator Mark Warner [D-VA] and co-sponsored by Senator Josh Hawley [R-MO] and Senator Richard Blumenthal [D-CT]; it mandates the creation of "third party custodial services," regulated by the FTC, that will allow uses of Facebook and other Big Tech platforms to switch to smaller, direct competitors who would then act as an intermediary between these new entrants and the platforms. Read the rest

Not only is Google's auto-delete good for privacy, it's also good news for competition

Earlier this month, Google announced a new collection of auto-delete settings for your personal information that allows you balance some of the conveniences of data-collection (for example, remembering recent locations in Maps so that they can be intelligently autocompleted when you type on a tiny, crappy mobile device keyboard) with the risks of long-term retention, like a future revelation that you visited an HIV clinic, or a political meeting, or were present at the same time and place as someone the police have decided to investigate by means of a sweeping "reverse warrant." Read the rest

Adversarial Interoperability

“Interoperability” is the act of making a new product or service work with an existing product or service: modern civilization depends on the standards and practices that allow you to put any dish into a dishwasher or any USB charger into any car’s cigarette lighter. Read the rest

This is your smartphone on feminism

Maria Farrell admits that comparing smartphones to abusive men (they try to keep you from friends and family, they make it hard to study or go to work, they constantly follow you and check up on you) might seem to trivialize domestic partner violence, but, as she points out, feminists have long been pointing out both the literal and metaphorical ways in which tech replicates misogyny. Read the rest

Podcast: DRM Broke Its Promise

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my new Locus column, DRM Broke Its Promise, which recalls the days when digital rights management was pitched to us as a way to enable exciting new markets where we'd all save big by only buying the rights we needed (like the low-cost right to read a book for an hour-long plane ride), but instead (unsurprisingly) everything got more expensive and less capable.

The established religion of markets once told us that we must abandon the idea of owning things, that this was an old fashioned idea from the world of grubby atoms. In the futuristic digital realm, no one would own things, we would only license them, and thus be relieved of the terrible burden of ownership. They were telling the truth. We don’t own things anymore. This summer, Microsoft shut down its ebook store, and in so doing, deactivated its DRM servers, rendering every book the company had sold inert, unreadable. To make up for this, Microsoft sent refunds to the custom­ers it could find, but obviously this is a poor replacement for the books themselves. When I was a bookseller in Toronto, noth­ing that happened would ever result in me breaking into your house to take back the books I’d sold you, and if I did, the fact that I left you a refund wouldn’t have made up for the theft. Not all the books Microsoft is confiscating are even for sale any lon­ger, and some of the people whose books they’re stealing made extensive annotations that will go up in smoke.

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Important legal victory in web-scraping case

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (a 1986 anti-hacking law passed after a moral panic over the movie Wargames) does not ban accessing public information from websites, even if you do so against the wishes of the website's operator. Read the rest

Podcast: A cycle of renewal, broken: How Big Tech and Big Media abuse copyright law to slay competition

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay "A Cycle of Renewal, Broken: How Big Tech and Big Media Abuse Copyright Law to Slay Competition", published today on EFF's Deeplinks; it's the latest in my ongoing series of case-studies of "adversarial interoperability," where new services unseated the dominant companies by finding ways to plug into existing products against those products' manufacturers. This week's installment recounts the history of cable TV, and explains how the legal system in place when cable was born was subsequently extinguished (with the help of the cable companies who benefitted from it!) meaning that no one can do to cable what cable once did to broadcasters. Read the rest

A cycle of renewal, broken: How Big Tech and Big Media abuse copyright law to slay competition

As long we've had electronic mass media, audiences and creators have benefited from periods of technological upheaval that force old gatekeepers to compete with brash newcomers with new ideas about what constitutes acceptable culture and art. Those newcomers eventually became gatekeepers themselves, who then faced their own crop of revolutionaries. But today, the cycle is broken: as media, telecoms, and tech have all grown concentrated, the markets have become winner-take-all clashes among titans who seek to dominate our culture, our discourse and our communications. Read the rest

My appearance on the MMT podcast: compelling narratives as a means of advancing complex political and economic ideas

I've been following the Modern Monetary Theory debate for about 18 months, and I'm largely a convert: governments spend money into existence and tax it out of existence, and government deficit spending is only inflationary if it's bidding against the private sector for goods or services, which means that the government could guarantee every unemployed person a job (say, working on the Green New Deal), and which also means that every unemployed person and every unfilled social services role is a political choice, not an economic necessity. Read the rest

Interoperability and Privacy: Squaring the Circle

Last summer, we published a comprehensive look at the ways that Facebook could and should open up its data so that users could control their experience on the service, and to make it easier for competing services to thrive. Read the rest

Podcast: Interoperability and Privacy: Squaring the Circle

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay "Interoperability and Privacy: Squaring the Circle, published today on EFF's Deeplinks; it's another in the series of "adversarial interoperability" explainers, this one focused on how privacy and adversarial interoperability relate to each other. Read the rest

Podcast: "IBM PC Compatible": how adversarial interoperability saved PCs from monopolization

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay "IBM PC Compatible": how adversarial interoperability saved PCs from monopolization, published today on EFF's Deeplinks; it's another installment in my series about "adversarial interoperability," and the role it has historically played in keeping tech open and competitive. This time, I relate the origin story of the "PC compatible" computer, with help from Tom Jennings (inventor of FidoNet!) who played a key role in the story. Read the rest

"IBM PC Compatible": how adversarial interoperability saved PCs from monopolization

Adversarial interoperability is what happens when someone makes a new product or service that works with a dominant product or service, against the wishes of the dominant business. Read the rest

Podcast: Adblocking: How About Nah?

In my latest podcast (MP3), I read my essay Adblocking: How About Nah?, published last week on EFF's Deeplinks; it's the latest installment in my series about "adversarial interoperability," and the role it has historically played in keeping tech open and competitive, and how that role is changing now that yesterday's scrappy startups have become today's bloated incumbents, determined to prevent anyone from disrupting them they way they disrupted tech in their early days.

At the height of the pop-up wars, it seemed like there was no end in sight: the future of the Web would be one where humans adapted to pop-ups, then pop-ups found new, obnoxious ways to command humans' attention, which would wane, until pop-ups got even more obnoxious.

But that's not how it happened. Instead, browser vendors (beginning with Opera) started to ship on-by-default pop-up blockers. What's more, users—who hated pop-up ads—started to choose browsers that blocked pop-ups, marginalizing holdouts like Microsoft's Internet Explorer, until they, too, added pop-up blockers.

Chances are, those blockers are in your browser today. But here's a funny thing: if you turn them off, you won't see a million pop-up ads that have been lurking unseen for all these years.

Because once pop-up ads became invisible by default to an ever-larger swathe of Internet users, advertisers stopped demanding that publishers serve pop-up ads. The point of pop-ups was to get people's attention, but something that is never seen in the first place can't possibly do that.

MP3

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Adblocking: How about nah?

For more than a decade, consumer rights groups (including EFF) worked with technologists and companies to try to standardize Do Not Track, a flag that browsers could send to online companies signaling that their users did not want their browsing activity tracked. Despite long hours and backing from the FTC, foot-dragging from the browser vendors and outright hostility from the big online media companies mean that setting Do Not Track in your browser does virtually nothing to protect your privacy. Read the rest

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