An outstanding post on the EFF's Deeplinks blog by my colleague Ernesto Falcon explains the negligent chain of events that led us into the Stingray disaster, where whole cities are being blanketed in continuous location surveillance, without warrants, public consultation, or due process, thanks to the prevalence of "IMSI catchers" ("Stingrays," "Dirtboxes," "cell-site simulators," etc) that spy indiscriminately on anyone carrying a cellular phone -- something the FCC had a duty to prevent. Read the rest
Last month, I filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission on behalf of Electronic Frontier Foundation, 22 of EFF's supporters, and a diverse coalition of rightsholders, public interest groups, and retailers, documenting the ways that ordinary Americans come to harm when they buy products without realizing that these goods have been encumbered with DRM, and asking the FTC to investigate fair labeling for products that come with sneaky technological shackles. Read the rest
In the 15 years between 1997 and 2012: 72,000 small US manufacturers shut down; as did 108,000 local retailers and 13,000 community banks (fully half of America's complement of small banks!). The number of US startups has dropped by 50% since 1970. These statistics are not the result of the changing times: they're due to massive, monopolistic corporations stacking the deck against small competitors through unfair and corrupt practices, to the detriment of American growth, equality and democracy. Read the rest
When Purdue Pharma's patent on the MS Contin was close to expiry, the Sackler family who owned the company spent millions trying to find a product that could replace the profits they'd lose from generic competition on MS Contin: the result was Oxycontin, a drug that went on to kill Americans at epidemic scale. Read the rest
My new Locus Magazine column, Wicked Problems: Resilience Through Sensing, proposes a solution the urgent problem we have today of people doing bad stuff with computers. Where once "bad stuff with computers" meant "hacking your server," now it could potentially mean "blocking air-traffic control transmissions" or "programming your self-driving car to kill you." Read the rest
The private phone companies that charge prisoners' families up to up to $12.95 for 15 minutes' conversation are not the worst prison profiteers, but they're pretty high up in the rogues' gallery of greedy, immoral predators who view the poorest and most vulnerable Americans as penned-up wallets. Read the rest
It's not making software that can solve our problems: it's figuring out how to pose those problems so that the software doesn't bite us in the ass. Read the rest
Harvard/Chicago economist Luigi Zingales published a sharply argued, searing paper about the finance industry's reputation for corruption and social uselessness, concluding that it's largely deserved and that academic economists have a role to play in reforming it. Read the rest
My latest Guardian column, Can anything curb the dominance of the internet's big guns? points out that everything governments do to tame the online giants has no effect on them -- but makes it nearly impossible for new companies to compete with them. Read the rest
The hotel chain petitioned the FCC for changes that could let venues shut down personal networks. Microsoft, Google, and the cell industry are opposed.
The FCC's website has fallen over, and many blame John Oliver's incandescent exhortation to Internet trolls to flood the Commission with comments about its assault on Net Neutrality (or support of "Cable Company Fuckery"). The comedy potential is rich ("Hey, FCC, you shoulda paid Comcast for the fast lane, huh?") but to be fair, I think it's equally possible that the site's been brought to its knees by a denial-of-service attack.
FCC Website Hobbled By Comment Trolls Incited By Comedian John Oliver Read the rest
John Oliver was incandescent on the subject of Net Neutrality, Time Warner and Comcast on Saturday, and he has a new, less-boring term for Net Neutrality: "Cable Company Fuckery." This is not only brilliant, it's hilarious. John Oliver is a perfect blend of Jon Stewart and Charlie Brooker. A reminder: you can reach out and touch the FCC on the subject of Cable Company Fuckery, and EFF can explain how to do it. Read the rest
Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, has published an open letter to the FCC in support of Net Neutrality; Woz explains his view of traditional American fairness and the role of good government, and decries regulatory capture, and warns the FCC that it will lose its "white hat" if it helps corporate America break the Internet. Read the rest
The cable lobby group NCTA claims the industry has been investing record amounts in network upgrades, which will dry up if they are forced to endure Net Neutrality. Techdirt points out that Big Cable's numbers are cumulative, and re-runs them year on year. Turns out investment has been flat since about 2000. Read the rest
Evan from Fight for the Future writes, "Since Wednesday May 7th, net neutrality activists have been camped out on the FCC's doorstep in Washington, DC with tents, sleeping bags, signs, and a giant banner that says 'Don't break the Internet.' Read the rest
With the Federal Communications Commission set to gut Net Neutrality and allow ISPs to slow down traffic from services that don't pay them bribes, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a timely, important guide to participating in FCC proceedings. The upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is just one way to participate -- there's also a mass-protest planned at the FCC building in DC on May 15 (this Thursday!) at 9AM. Read the rest
Here's a reading (MP3) of a my recent Guardian column, Why it is not possible to regulate robots, which discusses where and how robots can be regulated, and whether there is any sensible ground for "robot law" as distinct from "computer law."
Read the rest
One thing that is glaringly absent from both the Heinleinian and Asimovian brain is the idea of software as an immaterial, infinitely reproducible nugget at the core of the system. Here, in the second decade of the 21st century, it seems to me that the most important fact about a robot – whether it is self-aware or merely autonomous – is the operating system, configuration, and code running on it.
If you accept that robots are just machines – no different in principle from sewing machines, cars, or shotguns – and that the thing that makes them "robot" is the software that runs on a general-purpose computer that controls them, then all the legislative and regulatory and normative problems of robots start to become a subset of the problems of networks and computers.
If you're a regular reader, you'll know that I believe two things about computers: first, that they are the most significant functional element of most modern artifacts, from cars to houses to hearing aids; and second, that we have dramatically failed to come to grips with this fact. We keep talking about whether 3D printers should be "allowed" to print guns, or whether computers should be "allowed" to make infringing copies, or whether your iPhone should be "allowed" to run software that Apple hasn't approved and put in its App Store.