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September 19, 2013 12:16 PM   Subscribe

"These discussions are thoughtful and measured, but the premise that frames them all is shaky; Lessig doesn't offer much proof that a Soviet-style loss of privacy and freedom is on its way. … Unlike actual law, Internet software has no capacity to punish. It doesn't affect people who aren't online (and only a tiny minority of the world population is). And if you don't like the Internet's system, you can always flip off the modem." — David Pogue is the creator of the ''Missing Manual'' series, which will include guides to Mac OS 9, Outlook Express and Windows 2000.
posted by Nomyte (39 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Lessig plays digital Cassandra: he predicts that the Internet will become a monster that tracks our every move, but that nobody will heed his warning."
posted by gauche at 12:18 PM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


"Lessig also shares the popular fear that our privacy is compromised every time Web sites collect personal data without our knowledge. America Online, he hints, may trace where you go and what you buy online and tailor on-screen ads to match your habits"

I'll stop now, but this is amazing.
posted by gauche at 12:19 PM on September 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Sounds like Pogue may not have been familiar with the legend of Cassandra...
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:24 PM on September 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


I keep looking for dumb comments at the bottom of that NYT page.
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:32 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I recently read about half of Code v2; it's a fantastic book which you can read for free. Revised and updated for the new-world-order of 2005, it's honest with itself about what's come to pass in accordance with Lessig's earlier version (a lot!), and what hasn't (definitely some stuff, which might still happen!).

Totally recommend it.
posted by kaibutsu at 12:38 PM on September 19, 2013


Pretending we are not heading into a world where you can't just turn off the modem is a bit disingenuous. Since those heady days we seem to have all decided that moving everything to the cloud, including all your government services. We are fast approaching a time where having a smartphone and Internet access is going to more important than a mailing address.
posted by clvrmnky at 12:39 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Eh. I've always been wary of my tech-geek friends' bemoaning of the various things that go wrong online. There are still people starving, being tortured and oppressed, and miserable and out of work in the world. I can't really feel bad that their middle-class hobby isn't as awesome as they want it to be.
posted by cthuljew at 12:46 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can we get an upstart smart phone manufacturer to just turn off the fucking GPS tracking please?

I can't really feel bad that their middle-class hobby isn't as awesome as they want it to be

True, but here in the first world, emerging 'necessity' is becoming apparent. Can you even apply for a non-service industry job without an email address?
posted by j_curiouser at 12:54 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lessig is also too fond of the coincidence that both law and software are sometimes called ''code.'' To reinforce the cleverness of his title, he uses ''code'' whenever he means ''software,'' making many of his arguments confusing and requiring him to coin the cute but clumsy terms ''East Coast Code'' (law) and ''West Coast Code'' (software).

Unless it's the late nineties and you're trying to appeal to teenagers reading Slashdot in their basements, please don't write like this.

I think this graph applies to non-fiction just as much as fiction.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 12:57 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The XKCD graph doesn't apply, since "code of law" and "source code" ("code of conduct," etc.) are perfectly commonplace expressions. The slight play on words underscores the main point of Lessig's book.
posted by Nomyte at 1:15 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


But "East Coast Code" and "West Coast Code" aren't commonplace expressions for the "code of law" and "source code".

Besides....the East Coast can write software just as well as the West Coast can.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:21 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eh. I've always been wary of my tech-geek friends' bemoaning of the various things that go wrong online. There are still people starving, being tortured and oppressed,

Some of those people being tortured and oppressed are being tortured and oppressed because their digital communications were able to be compromised by powers intolerant of protest and dissent. Some of those out of work are out of work because their employer was a victim of digital industrial espionage. And so on.

You can't rationalize your way into thinking this stuff doesn't matter, because it actually matters.
posted by anonymisc at 1:22 PM on September 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


We used to freak right the fuck out if a website we liked was found to be using "web bugs."

Not so much anymore.
posted by notyou at 1:23 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can we get an upstart smart phone manufacturer to just turn off the fucking GPS tracking please?

Is the issue all about GPS though? I mean, is it possible to avoid leaving a record of some kind of where your phone logged into a wireless network, or the route that signals are being sent and received by your phone? Serious question, I'm not really up on this stuff.

Unless it's the late nineties and you're trying to appeal to teenagers reading Slashdot in their basements

Are you referring to Lessig, or Pogue? Because Lessig was writing this stuff in the late 90s and Pogue in January 2000. Ugh, my brain is not working today and I think I'm lost or confused or something.
posted by Hoopo at 1:24 PM on September 19, 2013


Are you referring to Lessig, or Pogue? Because Lessig was writing this stuff in the late 90s and Pogue in January 2000. Ugh, my brain is not working today and I think I'm lost or confused or something.

Oh, whoops. I didn't even notice that. And for the record I was referring to Lessig.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 1:26 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


But "East Coast Code" and "West Coast Code" aren't commonplace expressions for the "code of law" and "source code".

Besides....the East Coast can write software just as well as the West Coast can.


I'm waiting for an East Coast/West Coast coding feud that results in drive-by shootings.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:27 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Can we get an upstart smart phone manufacturer to just turn off the fucking GPS tracking please?

No. The data that the NSA gets is the data on which cell phone tower you are connected to, and what your signal strength was, not the GPS data that your phone gathers. That stuff could be spoofed by your phone. Personally, I turn my GPS off unless I'm actually using it for navigation, just to save batteries. But that doesn't mean the NSA doesn't know exactly where I am.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 1:28 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


An upstart would have to start a phone company, not just manufacture a new phone. And most new phone companies are "Mobile Virtual Network Operators", who just lease time on other companies' towers. That doesn't help, either. This new, privacy-aware phone company would have to build new infrastructure from the ground up. But once you are a phone company, the government can squeeze you to get the data out of you.

Therefore, I propose building a wireless mesh network, where individuals own the antennas on their roofs, and payment for telecommunications services is done only informally. That organization would be hard to squeeze.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 1:33 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


The very idea that the government would follow us around on the internet or that companies would track our behavior online to serve more profitable ads is just silly.

Remember to put all of your money into buggy whip manufacturers. I can't envision a future where people won't need buggy whips!
posted by double block and bleed at 1:36 PM on September 19, 2013


"And if you don't like the Internet's system, you can always flip off the modem."

You could also stop breathing if the air gets too polluted, but I wouldn't recomment it.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:38 PM on September 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I might be possible to implement a system where IMEI numbers (or however the cell towers identify a user) are automatically constantly swapped among people in some fashion so it's difficult to be sure whose phone is where. It would probably work easiest on unlimited plans with no purchases being made.

Therefore, I propose building a wireless mesh network, where individuals own the antennas on their roofs, and payment for telecommunications services is done only informally. That organization would be hard to squeeze.

The geek in me would love such a thing. I would buy the grandest node or tower kit or whatever I could, to extend as much service to my community as possible.
posted by anonymisc at 1:40 PM on September 19, 2013


And if you don't like the Internet's system, you can always flip off the modem. - Pogue

The instrument (the router, it was called) could be throttled back if the user was not downloading video, but there was no way of shutting it off completely and disabling the surveillance functions built into the devices connected to it. - Orwell? Or Keith Alexander? I always get them confused.
posted by Naberius at 1:51 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


You could also stop breathing if the air gets too polluted

In 2000 when this piece was written, the internet was nowhere near as ubiquitous or important for day-to-day tasks as it is today and this comparison would not work. Only 42% of homes had internet, and 51% of homes even had computers. Opting out was a thing you could actually do pretty easily.
posted by Hoopo at 1:54 PM on September 19, 2013


I propose building a wireless mesh network, where individuals own the antennas on their roofs, and payment for telecommunications services is done only informally. That organization would be hard to squeeze.

Mesh networks scale very poorly, particularly at the uplink/downlink points to other networks. They work well if the source and destination of most communications are on the network but not if you are mostly using it for client/server connections to remote servers, or to push calls onto the telephone network.

This unfortunate reality has doomed more than one well-meaning mesh network. There was quite a bit of interest a few years ago, sometimes credited to Cory Doctorow (but I think a lot of people were enamored of the idea). But the reality is that it works really, really well with the original design of the Internet (interconnected nodes each sending and receiving packets to other ones, essentially as equals) but very poorly when all most users want to do is suck down content from a server in a datacenter somewhere.

The Internet as it has evolved since the mid-90s lends itself very well to centralized control, unfortunately. You have servers full of content which tend to be located in big datacenters. Traffic flows through big backbones and interconnection points, and then trickles down to end users via a very small number of national ISPs. Everything is heavily optimized for these basically-unidirectional traffic flows, and ISPs are happy to discourage any non-trivial server use.

Client-server, unfortunately, to a large extent is why We Can't Have Nice Things.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:57 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


So we can't expect a "Missing Manual for PRISM" to be forthcoming from Pogue?
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:00 PM on September 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


"The wisest thing in the world is to cry out before you are hurt. It is no good to cry out after you are hurt. People talk about the impatience of the populace; but sound historians know that most tyrannies have been possible because men moved too late. It is often necessary to resist a tyranny before it exists. It is no answer to say, with a distant optimism, that the scheme is only in the air. A blow from a hatchet can only be parried while it is in the air." - G. K. Chesteron
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:02 PM on September 19, 2013 [20 favorites]


Eh. I've always been wary of my tech-geek friends' bemoaning of the various things that go wrong online. There are still people starving, being tortured and oppressed, and miserable and out of work in the world.

Some of them are probably even people who have been targeted and/or located through online surveillance.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:03 PM on September 19, 2013


In 2000 when this piece was written . . . Opting out was a thing you could actually do pretty easily.

I don't think it was posted in 2013 so we could talk about how things are in 2000.
posted by yerfatma at 2:10 PM on September 19, 2013


anonymisc: It might be possible to implement a system where IMEI numbers (or however the cell towers identify a user) are automatically constantly swapped among people in some fashion so it's difficult to be sure whose phone is where.

Huh ... yeah, maybe it would. You have to assume you have a server somewhere that isn't subject to subpoena power or hacking, which, well, good luck.

But let's say that exists. I could then create an account on the server that's updated by my phone every day with my current burner phone number. When you want to call me, your phone sends an encrypted request to the server for the current number under my name. The server sends back my current number, and your call goes through. Each night I buy a new phone and throw out the old one, and from the perspective of traffic analysis it looks like you're calling someone new each time, even though from your perspective you're just picking me out in your address book. (Of course traffic analysis might be able to use other clues to guess who you're calling.)

Then what you need is an automatic system that's the equivalent of going to the convenience store every morning and buying a new phone. I guess you're proposing that a large group of people would randomly swap numbers every night via software? It could be a requirement that they all have the same flat-fee cell plan, so their access is equivalent ...

Huh. Maybe that's actually technically feasible, or at least could be with the right cell phone. Interesting.
posted by jhc at 2:25 PM on September 19, 2013


their middle-class hobby

What a delightful way to refer to thousands of people's jobs of the past decade or more.

Reading novels was a nineteenth-century middle-class hobby. No doubt this invalidates the first amendment.
posted by rory at 3:09 PM on September 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


No. The data that the NSA gets is the data on which cell phone tower you are connected to, and what your signal strength was, not the GPS data that your phone gathers.

At this point, saying for certain what the NSA does or doesn't collect seems quaint.
posted by JHarris at 3:13 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I propose building a wireless mesh network, where individuals own the antennas on their roofs, and payment for telecommunications services is done only informally. That organization would be hard to squeeze.

American Radio Relay League
posted by bukvich at 3:14 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can we get an upstart smart phone manufacturer to just turn off the fucking GPS tracking please?

Mine is off by default (I have an Android phone but I believe iOS is the same), although I suppose Google is tracking my location via IP address, WiFi connect, and data connection. If I was really worried about it, I would just turn the phone off.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:20 PM on September 19, 2013


Therefore, I propose building a wireless mesh network
Recent thread about a mesh network- Hyperboria
posted by bhnyc at 3:22 PM on September 19, 2013


American Radio Relay League

Yeah, I've actually been thinking about pulling out my license to check out the digital stuff.

The problem with ham radio, tho, is it's all old men talking to each other about their radios. And spouting Rush talking points.
posted by PMdixon at 4:05 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Some of them talk about repeater maintenance, and how much $$$ everyone needs to pitch-in to make it happen.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:52 PM on September 19, 2013


he predicts that the Internet will become a monster that tracks our every move, but that nobody will heed his warning.

How can a state prevent citizens from breaking local laws by using Web sites elsewhere? Enable Web sites to read a digital ID tag that identifies your location.
Quite.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 7:52 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


My understanding is that HAM licensing prohibits use of encryption on those frequencies. My assumption is that HAM is irrelevant right out the gate.
posted by anonymisc at 8:11 PM on September 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem with ham radio, tho, is it's all old men talking to each other about their radios. And spouting Rush talking points.

Sounds like you're on 2 meter. Come on over to either actual HF or up into the UHF where the more experimental stuff is going on and it's a totally different world.

Or even if you stay on 2m, just eliminate FM voice as a mode and use some of the digital stuff and again, you'll find a totally different (quieter) group of people, behind the ones using it basically as a party-line with their fishing buddies.

There's some really cool stuff happening right now with software defined radios and new digital modes, both on HF and up in VHF/UHF. People say this all the time, but honestly I can't think of any time (since maybe the 1950s when you could salvage tubes from old TVs and stuff for zero-cost) when it would have been better to get into amateur radio.

But yes, encryption is verboten. The idea is to experiment and push the envelope of radio communications, not use it for a parallel network to commercial ones.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:55 PM on September 20, 2013


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