Category Archives: New Media

Is the Internet facilitating inequality?

 JAN 28 2014, 4:34 PM ET
Reuters

In the 1990s, the venture capitalist John Doerr famously predicted that the Internet would lead to the “the largest legal creation of wealth in the history of the planet.” Indeed, the Internet has created a tremendous amount of personal wealth. Just look at the rash of Internet billionaires and millionaires, the investors both small and large that have made fortunes investing in Internet stocks, and the list of multibillion-dollar Internet companies—Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Amazon. Add to the list the recent Twitter stock offering, which created a reported 1,600 millionaires.

Then there’s the superstar effect. The Internet multiplies the earning power of the very best high-frequency traders, currency speculators, and entertainers, who reap billions while the merely good are left to slog it out.

But will the Internet also create the greatest economic inequality the global economy has ever known? And will poorly designed government policies aimed at ameliorating the problem of inequality end up empowering the Internet-driven redistribution process?

As the Internet goes about its work making the economy more efficient, it is reducing the need for travel agents, post office employees, and dozens of other jobs in corporate America. The increased interconnectivity created by the Internet forces many middle and lower class workers to compete for jobs with low-paid workers in developing countries. Even skilled technical workers are finding that their jobs can be outsourced to trained engineers and technicians in India and Eastern Europe.

That’s the old news. Continue reading

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Are we really connected in a Connected Age?

Zuckerman1.jpg
Ethan Zuckerman

The Internet has changed many things, but not the insular habits of mind that keep the world from becoming truly connected.

When the Cold War ended, the work of America’s intelligence analysts suddenly became vastly more difficult. In the past, they had known who the nation’s main adversaries were and what bits of information they needed to acquire about them: the number of SS-9 missiles Moscow could deploy, for example, or the number of warheads each missile could carry. The U.S. intelligence community had been in search of secrets—facts that exist but are hidden by one government from another. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, as Bruce Berkowitz and Allan Goodman observe in Best Truth: Intelligence in the Information Age (2002), it found a new role thrust upon it: the untangling of mysteries.

Computer security expert Susan Landau identifies the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran as one of the first indicators that the intelligence community needed to shift its focus from secrets to mysteries. On its surface, Iran was a strong, stable ally of the United States, an “island of stability” in the region, according to President Jimmy Carter. The rapid ouster of the shah and a referendum that turned a monarchy into a theocracy led by a formerly exiled religious scholar left governments around the world shocked and baffled.
The Islamic Revolution was a surprise because it had taken root in mosques and homes, not palaces or barracks. The calls to resist the shah weren’t broadcast on state media but transmitted via handmade leaflets and audiocassettes of speeches by Ayatollah Khomeini. In their book analyzing the events of 1979, Small Media, Big Revolution (1994), Annabelle Sreberny and Ali Mohammad, who both participated in the Iranian revolution, emphasize the role of two types of technology: tools that let people obtain access to information from outside Iran, and tools that let people spread and share that information on a local scale. Connections to the outside world (direct-dial long-distance phone lines, cassettes of sermons sent through the mail, broadcasts on the BBC World Service) and tools that amplified those connections (home cassette recorders, photocopying machines) helped build a movement more potent than governments and armies had anticipated.
As we enter an age of increased global connection, we are also entering an age of increasing participation. The billions of people worldwide who access the Internet via computers and mobile phones have access to information far beyond their borders, and the opportunity to contribute their own insights and opinions. It should be no surprise that we are experiencing a concomitant rise in mystery that parallels the increases in connection. Continue reading

The spying game

Peter Singer, Project Syndicate

project-syndicate.org  | by Simon Chesterman on July 5, 2013

MELBOURNE – Thanks to Edward Snowden, I now know that the US National Security Agency is spying on me. It uses Google, Facebook, Verizon, and other Internet and communications companies to collect vast amounts of digital information, no doubt including data about my emails, cellphone calls, and credit card usage.

I am not a United States citizen, so it’s all perfectly legal. And, even if I were a US citizen, it is possible that a lot of information about me would have been swept up anyway, though it may not have been the direct target of the surveillance operation.

Should I be outraged at this intrusion on my privacy? Has the world of George Orwell’s 1984 finally arrived, three decades late? Is Big Brother watching me?

I don’t feel outraged. Based on what I know so far, I don’t really care. No one is likely to be reading my emails or listening in on my Skype calls. The volume of digital information that the NSA gathers would make that an impossible task. Continue reading

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Is there a case for mass surveillance?

Slate, William Saletan

What’s wrong with the National Security Agency’s phone surveillance program? The answer, according to civil libertarians, is its scope. Edward Snowden, the ex-NSA contractor who exposed the program, calls itomniscient, automatic, mass surveillance.” Glenn Greenwald, the Guardianreporter who broke the story, accuses the U.S. government of  “collecting the phone records of all Americans, regardless of any suspicion of wrongdoing … monitoring them, keeping dossiers on them.” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., says the feds are “trolling through billions of phone records.”

It sounds as though NSA goblins have been studying everyone’s phone calls. But that isn’t how the program works. It’s a two-stage process. The first stage—collection—is massive and indiscriminate. The second stage—examination of particular records—is restricted. We can argue over whether this two-tiered policy is too intrusive. But either way, our debate about it has focused on the wrong stage. The problem isn’t the data collection. It’s how the data are used. Continue reading

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The Ethics of Internet Piracy

Peter Singer, Project Syndicate 

PRINCETON – Last year, I told a colleague that I would include Internet ethics in a course that I was teaching. She suggested that I read a recently published anthology on computer ethics – and attached the entire volume to the email.

Should I have refused to read a pirated book? Was I receiving stolen goods, as advocates of stricter laws against Internet piracy claim?

If I steal someone’s book the old-fashioned way, I have the book, and the original owner no longer does. I am better off, but she is worse off. When people use pirated books, the publisher and the author often are worse off – they lose earnings from selling the book.

But, if my colleague had not sent me the book, I would have borrowed the copy in my university’s library. I saved myself the time needed to do that, and it seems that no one was worse off. (Curiously, given the book’s subject matter, it is not for sale in digital form). In fact, others benefited from my choice as well: the book remained on the library shelf, available to other users.

On the other hand, if the book had not been on the shelf and those other users had asked library staff to recall or reserve it, the library might have noted the demand for the book and ordered a second copy. But there is only a small probability that my use of the book would have persuaded the library to buy another copy. And, in any case, we are now a long way from the standard cases of stealing. Continue reading

The Internet faces the greatest threat to freedom

The principles of openness and universal access that underpinned the creation of the internet three decades ago are under greater threat than ever, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Ian Katz, The Guardian, 18 April 2012

In an interview with the Guardian, Brin warned there were “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world”. “I am more worried than I have been in the past,” he said. “It’s scary.”

The threat to the freedom of the internet comes, he claims, from a combination of governments increasingly trying to control access and communication by their citizens, the entertainment industry’s attempts to crack down on piracy, and the rise of “restrictive” walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms.

The 38-year-old billionaire, whose family fled antisemitism in the Soviet Union, was widely regarded as having been the driving force behindGoogle’s partial pullout from China in 2010 over concerns aboutcensorship and cyber-attacks. He said five years ago he did not believeChina or any country could effectively restrict the internet for long, but now says he has been proven wrong. “I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle,” he said.

He said he was most concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor and restrict use of the internet, but warned that the rise of Facebook and Apple, which have their own proprietary platforms and control access to their users, risked stifling innovation and balkanising the web. Continue reading

Google’s Art Project – a museum of the museums of art

THIS IS ABSOLUTELY AWESOME (and other superlatives).

Click HERE to virtually walk through some portions of the greatest museums.

Cyber Conflict

Joseph S. Nye, a former assistant US secretary of defense, is a professor at Harvard University and author, most recently, of The Future of Power.

Project Syndicate, April 16 2012

CAMBRIDGE – Two years ago, a piece of faulty computer code infected Iran’s nuclear program and destroyed many of the centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Some observers declared this apparent sabotage to be the harbinger of a new form of warfare, and United States Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta has warned Americans of the danger of a ‘cyber Pearl Harbour’ attack on the US. But what do we really know about cyber conflict?

The cyber domain of computers and related electronic activities is a complex man-made environment, and human adversaries are purposeful and intelligent. Mountains and oceans are hard to move, but portions of cyberspace can be turned on and off by throwing a switch. It is far cheaper and quicker to move electrons across the globe than to move large ships long distances.

The costs of developing those vessels – multiple carrier taskforces and  submarine fleets – create enormous barriers to entry, enabling US naval dominance. But the barriers to entry in the cyber domain are so low that non-state actors and small states can play a significant role at low cost.

In my book The Future of Power, I argue that the diffusion of power away from governments is one of this century’s great political shifts. Cyberspace is a perfect example. Large countries like the US, Russia, Britain, France, and China have greater capacity than other states and non-state actors to control the sea, air, or space, but it makes little sense to speak of dominance in cyberspace. If anything, dependence on complex cyber systems for support of military and economic activities creates new vulnerabilities in large states that can be exploited by non-state actors.

Four decades ago, the US Department of Defense created the Internet; today, by most accounts, the US remains the leading country in terms of its military and societal use. But greater dependence on networked computers and communication leaves the US more vulnerable to attack than many other countries, and cyberspace has become a major source of insecurity, because, at this stage of technological development, offence prevails over defence there.

The term ‘cyber attack’ covers a wide variety of actions, ranging from simple probes to defacing Web sites, denial of service, espionage, and destruction. Similarly, the term ‘cyber war’ is used loosely to cover a wide range of behaviors, reflecting dictionary definitions of war that range from armed conflict to any hostile contest (for example, ‘war between the sexes’ or ‘war on drugs’).

At the other extreme, some experts use a narrow definition of cyber war: a ‘bloodless war’ among states that consists solely of electronic conflict in cyberspace. But this avoids the important interconnections between the physical and virtual layers of cyberspace. As the Stuxnet virus that infected Iran’s nuclear program showed, software attacks can have very real physical effects.

A more useful definition of cyber war is hostile action in cyberspace whose effects amplify or are equivalent to major physical violence. In the physical world, governments have a near-monopoly on large-scale use of force, the defender has an intimate knowledge of the terrain, and attacks end because of attrition or exhaustion. Both resources and mobility are costly.

In the cyber world, by contrast, actors are diverse (and sometimes anonymous), physical distance is immaterial, and some forms of offence are cheap. Because the Internet was designed for ease of use rather than security, attackers currently have the advantage over defenders. Technological evolution, including efforts to ‘reengineer’ some systems for greater security, might eventually change that, but, for now, it remains the case. The larger party has limited ability to disarm or destroy the enemy, occupy territory, or use counterforce strategies effectively. Continue reading

Cybercrime wave

IN less than 15 years, cybercrime has moved from obscurity to the spotlight of consumer, corporate and national security concerns. Popular accounts suggest that cybercrime is large, rapidly growing, profitable and highly evolved; annual loss estimates range from billions to nearly $1 trillion. While other industries stagger under the weight of recession, in cybercrime, business is apparently booming.

Yet in terms of economics, there’s something very wrong with this picture. Generally the demand for easy money outstrips supply. Is cybercrime an exception? If getting rich were as simple as downloading and running software, wouldn’t more people do it, and thus drive down returns?

We have examined cybercrime from an economics standpoint and found a story at odds with the conventional wisdom. A few criminals do well, but cybercrime is a relentless, low-profit struggle for the majority. Spamming, stealing passwords or pillaging bank accounts might appear a perfect business. Cybercriminals can be thousands of miles from the scene of the crime, they can download everything they need online, and there’s little training or capital outlay required. Almost anyone can do it.

Well, not really. Structurally, the economics of cybercrimes like spam and password-stealing are the same as those of fishing. Economics long ago established that common-access resources make for bad business opportunities. No matter how large the original opportunity, new entrants continue to arrive, driving the average return ever downward. Just as unregulated fish stocks are driven to exhaustion, there is never enough “easy money” to go around.

How do we reconcile this view with stories that cybercrime rivals the global drug trade in size? One recent estimate placed annual direct consumer losses at $114 billion worldwide. It turns out, however, that such widely circulated cybercrime estimates are generated using absurdly bad statistical methods, making them wholly unreliable. Continue reading

Social media is limited as an engine of revolution

Claims of the Internet’s transformative power in regime overthrow are overrated

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by David Blair, Daily Telegraph, 12 Apr 2012
Read more here

A few miles from the advancing tanks of President Bashar Al Assad’s army, a young Syrian pledged to leave the safety of a Turkish border town and make a perilous return to his homeland. This 20-something dissident, his eyes blazing with courage, was preparing to join the struggle against an obdurate and pitiless dictator. And how was he planning to speed up the regime’s downfall?

The activist – I’ll call him Ahmed – told me that he would tweet, text, blog and Skype to ensure that the outside world knew the terrible reality of Mr Assad’s rule.

There was no doubting his bravery, nor his dedication. But if Ahmed does become another citizen journalist, a “networked individual” plugged into the full array of social media, will it really be the best way to loosen Mr Assad’s grip on power?

Earlier, I had talked to fighters from the Free Syrian Army, the country’s nascent rebel movement. They were stuck in Turkey, on the wrong side of a border laced by minefields, patrolled by troops and menaced by snipers. The guerrillas were ready and willing to strike into Syria, but realistic enough to know that any raid would probably become a bloody failure. Even if it succeeded, these lightly armed fighters could only inflict a pinprick on Mr Assad’s forces. Continue reading