Tag: internet privacy

Beware of Big Tech’s Censorship of Speech

Jack Parkos | @laissez_faire76

The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights affirms that all people have a right to freedom of speech. This means that the government cannot suppress or ban someone for their political ideology or their belief. However, a private organization could do such a thing; for example, a church or private school can ban profanity on their grounds. There is a free speech gray area relating to what public/private partnerships can and should do about it; this is a problem with our crony capitalist system.

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YouTube Down Across Servers Worldwide

By Ryan Lau | @agorisms

As of 10:20 PM EST Tuesday, the YouTube.com website is down. The outage started about an hour ago, at 9:20 PM. When going to the homepage, users see a blank page. The search bar is still present, but none of the recommended or suggested videos appear.

At this time, it is still possible to search videos from the bar, and results are coming up. However, upon clicking on any video, an error message occurs. This, of course, renders all of the videos entirely unplayable, even though the search results are visible.

History for YouTube outages is very limited. This past summer, during the World Cup, the YouTube TV services went down for a short period of time. Moreover, some specific channels were shut down in April.

Despite this, there has not been a major shutdown of the entire site in over a decade, when Pakistan tried to censor a video that they thought was anti-Islamic in content. The Pakistani government was tasked with shutting down the site within the country’s borders but accidentally shut down the site worldwide. This outage took several hours to restore.

With YouTube down, users cannot be sure when to expect the video service to return to its proper function.

Several users have taken to Twitter to discuss the unforeseen outage. A number say that they have never seen anything like this before.

Other users are taking to memes as a form of protest against the outage. The YouTube down memes are flooding through Twitter with the hashtag #YouTubeDown.

UPDATE: As of around 10:40 PM EST Tuesday, YouTube is fully operational. They have not yet released a cause.

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From Fantasy to Reality: Social Ranking

By Fritz Stephey | United States

There are a list of pet-peeves I have when it comes to political discussion. Particularly, they are when people justify either giving the government more power because a majority agrees it should have more power, or when people argue that due to democracy, the majority should always rule.

As a matter of fact, that is what pushed me to my libertarian leanings.  Of course, all you really need is a short trip through a history book to see cases where what the majority thought was in fact, wrong.

Now, in our on-demand, media fueled world, there have been numerous television shows that have tackled our ever expanding obsession with social media. The most notable example would probably be an episode of the Netflix series Black Mirror, titled “Nosedive,” which highlights a social ranking system. In it, individuals rank each other on a 1 to 5 star scale. Then, your overall ranking effects almost every aspect of your life (do you need a security deposit on a car rental; can you skip ahead in medical lines; can you be approved for a loan; are you even allowed to be a passenger on a train or airplane?).

It may not seem all that scary at first, because in a way we do have things like that in place now, albeit on different scales. Try getting a loan when you take out too many or have a weak credit score because of your current debt load, for example.

Maybe an ever scarier episode was from Seth MacFarlane’s The Orville in an episode called “Majority Rule,” where everyone wears an “Upvote/Downvote” button on their chest. Based on your actions and interactions, which can be broadcast to the entire world, you could get downvoted so badly that you get sent to reconditioning, where essentially your brain gets fried and you become in a neutral state of “correctness.”

Of course, none of this could really happen in real life, right?

But did you know that as far back as 2014, China made preparations for rolling out a national ranking system? It is not a voluntary system, the rules and regulation are run in secrecy, and it is projected by 2020 they will have this system running full scale, however The Independent reports millions are already enrolled, and it’s mandatory.

I am sure that somewhere out there, there is a group of people who will say the old, tired argument: If you aren’t doing anything wrong, what have you to worry about?

My answer is always the same: You have everything to worry about.

For example, this system in China is set up by the Government, and overseen sometimes by city councils or even tech companies. Already there is a massive prying into your privacy. Almost no stone would be left unturned, as every aspect of your life is audited to adjust your score. Things that you may have even made honest mistakes about could be factored in. Where does the ranking stop?

Is this the kind of world people want to live in? One where every single little action is judged not by some omnipotent God with the greatest power of discernment, but rather impressionable, flawed human beings. What is really to become of the human experience if we all sacrifice it to the unrelenting mob? What about the core beliefs of America?

Here in America, we have a certain set of core beliefs that is constantly eroding. Our founders built it in the framework of our documents. If you had a good political discourse in your education, you probably had to memorize the preamble of the constitution:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Note the line that I put in bold: secure the Blessings of Liberty. That is what our founders believed the purpose of Government was. And what is liberty? You can surely google it and it will give you a definition: “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views,” but I like to go one step deeper with Merriam-Webster: the power of choice.

How many more places in the world will look at China and think that some Nationalized ranking system is a good idea to try to control people and their behavior? How many of you believe coercive conformity is a great idea? The answer is always seemingly the same: when someone is on a particular side and their side is winning, they don’t think about the alternative. The pendulum is swinging their way. They are quick to forget that eventually the pendulum swings the other way, generally faster and farther than it did previously.

Not me. I am far too concerned with not wanting my fundamental right to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness trampled, nor do I want to trample those rights for any other individual who has otherwise done nothing wrong.

The question remains, how many more people will stand and realize how very flawed a system such as China’s is, and staunchly defend the ideals and principles of liberty, which still have much of a fight left to be restored properly.

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The Surveillance State’s Iron Grip is Tightening

By Willie Johnson | United States

Americans today face a world of rapidly accelerating technological innovations, but this progress is a double-edged sword. While it has increased the comfort and convenience of those living on the first world, it has also increased the powers of the state and allowed the private sector to intrude upon the lives of common people. There are few ways that these two extremely powerful facets of society independently work towards a common goal. However, both are getting better at gathering and utilizing the information of the people. With this, it’s not hard to see the irony in the U.S. government putting the founder of Facebook on trial.

The evidence of this expanding system of monitoring is all around us, and it’s not just the worryingly extensive network of security cameras in urban areas across the globe; from the use of targeted ads (clearly the result of your search history being fed into an algorithm) to the realization that most online communications can be viewed in vivid detail by the NSA (in the name of security, of course), complete privacy seems like a nearly impossible goal. Small steps such as using a flip phone and placing tape over webcams can certainly lower one’s profile, but any connection to the conveniences of the modern word comes with a catch―giving up your personal information to organizations that don’t always have your best interests in mind.

A key difference between most public and private monitoring systems are motive and consent, both of which are vital in determining the extent to which a person’s private information can be breached. While search engines and social media companies often use the content they gather to make a profit (usually by selling it to advertisers), in many cases, they do so with the unwitting consent of the individual through impossibly long and complicated terms of service agreements. In signing these, most people are either too ignorant to realize what they are giving up or willing to sacrifice security for convenience; there are few alternatives for those in the latter category anyways.

On the other hand, government surveillance on all levels presents a much greater threat. It’s no revelation that there’s an inherent danger in a powerful federal organization infringing upon the privacy of its citizens as ours is so famous for doing. What most people need to be reminded of, however, is the monitoring that takes place on the state, local, and municipal scale. The highly publicized data leaks by the likes of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are easy to latch onto, but it’s important to consider the implications of the smaller, seemingly harmless cameras used to monitor traffic and common areas present in all towns great and small.

With that in mind, it’s also alarming to know that in several cities such as Charleston, West Virginia, governments have cooperated with local businesses to install security cameras in areas with high pedestrian traffic. Although this seems like a small, mostly inconsequential change, it represents a fusion of the two greatest threats to privacy in the world today. A combination of the innate ability of private companies to coerce customers into signing over their rights and the extreme data-gathering capabilities of U.S. government could usher in a ‘surveillance state’ more powerful than ever.

It is man, not machine, however, that is ultimately responsible for these problems. New and better technology has certainly made it easier for the parties in question to access online data, but the human tendency of sacrificing freedom for security and morality for personal gain can be blamed for the existence of the current structures of surveillance in place around the world today. Those who blame innovation for society’s issues are railing against the inevitable, and against a facet of our nature that has proven to be more beneficial than harmful to humanity as a whole.

The bottom line is, we should be mindful of any invasion of privacy in order to safeguard what little true solitude Americans have left. Every law-abiding citizen should have the rights to their own personal information and how it is utilized, but it’s likely that things will have to get whole lot worse before they get better. It is the American people who must decide when they’ve had enough. Only time will tell when that breaking point is reached, but in the meantime, the expanding powers of the state push us ever closer each day.

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Your Bitcoin Wallet May No Longer Be Private

By James Sweet III | USA

Cryptocurrencies, the most notable being Bitcoin, are the best way to put your money into private, digital assets. Bitcoin has been skyrocketing lately, with the rate, at the time this article was written, being $10,909 for 1 Bitcoin. Investments in Bitcoin continue for many reasons. However, a common reason among holders of Bitcoin is that Bitcoin provides a hideaway from the failing, centralized United States and the Federal Reserve. The government, being the party crashers that they are, wishes to stop this, and is already beginning the process of invading your privacy yet again.

Currently, Anti-Money Laundering laws do not extend to cryptocurrencies. Senate Bill 1241 wishes to change this. The bill would include “an issuer, redeemer, or cashier of prepaid access devices, digital currency, or any digital exchanger or tumbler of digital currency” under the definition of a “financial institution”. By doing so, cryptocurrencies would be subjected to the same regulation and oversight as stated in current Anti-Money Laundering laws that actual financial institutions face. By doing so, this may worry some investors and holders of cryptocurrencies.

You know how it is illegal to not disclose your financial assets? Well, it will become illegal to not disclose your digital assets if this bill passes. Scary, right? Don’t fret, though. The short title of this bill? The “Combating Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Counterfeiting Act of 2017”. By proposing a bill that seems to protect American assets, as well as stopping the financing of terrorists, supporters of this bill seem like good people. However, it is still not known how by not disclosing your private assets, one is funding terrorists or committing counterfeit. After all, it requires almost an impossible amount of computing power to counterfeit cryptocurrencies, as you do not give the actual cryptocurrency, unlike US Dollars, where you give a physical copy. As every client has a copy of the list of transactions in the Blockchain, it is useless to attempt to counterfeit.

What exactly is the government protecting us from? The author of the bill, Senator Chuck Grassley, seems to think from terrorists. How? Who knows. It seems very likely that this is just an attempt by the government to look into, yet again, another part of our lives. The bill currently resides with the Senate Judicial Committee, with the latest action, hearings,  being on November 28th. If this bill does indeed pass the Committee, one can only hope that a brave senator can stop this bill. Only time will tell the fate of the privacy of cryptocurrencies.

To read Senate Bill 1241, click here.