Net Neutrality. – by “Matthew A – YLT2012”

Net Neutrality one of those cleverly taken positions that given its title, seems obviously right. That is, before I even new what Net Neutrality was, I assumed it was good, and approached the subject with the attitude that someone needed a damn good reason to convince me why the net should be un-neutral, and not the other way around. The implications of net neutrality (just the title itself) are that no one controls it, everyone has access, it favors no one, all sentiments that are very American in nature and distinguish us from such freedom-devoid lands as say China where the net is controlled.

It turned out, to my surprise, that Net Neutrality is not wholly the question of government control or censorship but actually a very complex principle guiding the governance of treatment of all content on the internet. Dealing with questions like whether or what can be preferred material on the internet, or who could be responsible for making preferred material possible.

Network Neutrality (NN) holds that all content is treated equally. This is evocative of the famous phrase “all men are created equal”. This sounds American. So far I’m for NN.

Unfortunately, things are complicated a bit because NN also prevents companies from making certain logcail business decisions. A service provider cannot take money from a content provider to make that content move faster than the rest, according to NN. This seems to contradict Capitalism, which is also very American. Now I am bemused.

Ultimately the argument is over  whether NN or non-NN would make us more money, not which is more American (though there is an argument to be made over the difference between the two). But rather than repeat the arguments for both sides here, I’d like to belabor one point a point made eloquently by either Zittrain or Lessig on the Berkman radio show (I dont know which voice was which).

The thought is that whether NN or good or not, it is very dangerous to move forward with our economy without a principle of NN established. Without NN enshrined as a guiding principle, businesses will develop entirely on the promise that there will not be neutrality. Once these businesses get big and rich and powerful and have lots of money and spend millions of dollars on lobbyists and then effectively control the government and consequently the “independent” FCC, it will be impossible to go back to NN. In other words, as long as NN is the guiding principle, we can experiment with non-NN but it is impossible to go the other way.


Look at everything comcast owns!

Another thought: Verizon and AT&T together have 2/3rds of the wireless market (source).


google search engine market share

Should any of these market-dominating forces profit from non-NN, as Zittrain and Lessig point out, they will also be willing to spend the value of their profits on fighting for non-NN. For companies as big as these, that’s more money than our weak-willed lawmakers can reasonably be asked to resist, is it not?

Indeed, in its joint proposal with Google, Verizon has stated that it supports non-NN in the wireless world. While this proposal seems in many senses magnanimous, it allows for exactly the state that damns us: entrenching non-NN as an interest of the largest companies in country.

I dont know if NN is right. Additionally, NN is not a black and white issue, some compromises seem less offensive then others (like when data congestion does occur, something has to be preferred). But I do know that I don’t like the idea that our net policy will encourage large corporations to fight for a privileged use of the Net. So Let’s intend to keep the net neutral and see what happens.


Net Neutrality? Not necessarily. – by “Rasmus B – YLT2012”

Net neutrality is the idea that we get the most out of a network, when it is less specialized. This is what network design aficionado’s call end to end networking, and what in laymen’s terms means that you can watch cat videos and download anime comics using the same network. A bit is a bit, and every bit costs the same. The Internet is basically founded on this principle, and therefore it isn’t surprising that it caused some stir in the pond, when people (read corporate America) started suggesting something as outrageous as a non-neutral Internet. There are several great arguments against a non-neutral Internet, but before you jump on the bandwagon, and join Anonymous in the fight against corporate America, I would like to give you some examples were non-neutral networks are actually a benefit not only to the individual, but to society as a whole.

Let’s start with the network of roads. Anyone can use a road, at any time – a piece of tarmac is a piece of tarmac. But roads suffer from a problem that is common within networks. Congestion! Cars swamp the highway during rush hour and people waste hours upon hours holding still on this ever-lovely tarmac.

One way to fix this problem is something as simple as toll roads. Simply put, the toll is higher during rush hour, than at, say, 8 p.m. This means that the people who really want to drive during the rush hour pay a little more, whereas those who aren’t really bothered, drive at another point of the day. All this of course leads to less congestion, but also a lower risk of car accidents. Both of these effects are beneficial not only to society, but also the individual.

Wouldn’t you pay to get out of this?

Now, you might say that the problem of congestion doesn’t exist, or might already be fixed with regards to the Internet, because people can just buy a faster Internet connection. However this is like driving a Ferrari during rush hour; you might have one hellufa engine, but it doesn’t really help you when you’re stuck in traffic. A bigger engine doesn’t guarantee you an open highway.

This is exactly the problem with the Internet as it is today. You are never guaranteed the speed or the access that you want (for a more technical explanation see Chris Yoo’s commentary here).

In this case, paying a higher toll, doesn’t necessarily guarantee more speedy access either. So let’s look at another network more akin to the Internet. Let’s look at the electric grid. Tim Wu says: “The electric grid does not care if you plug in a toaster, an iron, or a computer. You pay for electricity, and you can use it for what you want.” In other words, the electric grid is neutral. However this might be true in some places, it’s not true everywhere. Take for instance the Norwegian KILE-project. In Norway the problem is not only congestion, but also that there isn’t enough electricity to go around for everyone. Both elements make it difficult to guarantee a constant stream of electricity to everyone.

Here’s one way they’ve tried to fix it: Quality incentives. Basically quality incentives are based on the idea that electricity is more important to some users than to others, e.g. the ice manufacturer is much more dependent on a steady stream of electricity than the vacation hut in the middle of nowhere. Because of this, electricity companies are penalized more when electrical load is lost for more important services. In other words: losing a bit of electricity to the ice cream manufacturer costs more than losing the same bit of electricity to the hut. By creating these incentives, electricity companies prioritize the ice cream manufacturer, thus minimizing social costs (This particular approach is one that penalizes failure, but it could easily be turned around, such that it rewards success. One way to do this, would be to let the ice cream manufacturer pay more for the same electricity, in order to make sure that she receives a steady stream of electricity). Once again, this sollution leads to a less neutral network, but arguably one that is more of a boon to society.

Maybe the electricity grid isn’t as neutral as you would think

I think an approach like this could benefit the Internet. Imagine for instance the difference between Skype and email. Whereas it doesn’t really matter whether or not the email is 1 second delayed, a 1 second delay on Skype is detrimental! As mentioned, the problem is that Skype can’t guarantee us the level of information that we need to use the service, but wouldn’t it be better if Skype could actually guarantee this, if we could somehow discriminate between  between a Skype-bit and an email-bit? I think it would, and here’s how: One way to do this would be by dividing the markets. For instance, instead of just paying for the speed of your Internet, you could also pay for what kind of Internet you would get; in his debate with Tim Wu, Chris Yoo argues that “… deviating from network neutrality might make it possible for three last-mile networks to coexist: one optimized for traditional Internet applications, such as e-mail and website access; a second incorporating security features to facilitate e-commerce; and a third that facilitates time-sensitive applications such as streaming media and Internet telephony.” Yoo further argues that this would not only help guarantee the level of information needed for the given services, such an approach would also make it possible for smaller and more niche based service providers to survive in a competitive market.

Also this approach might even make the Internet more accessible. Take for instance grandma Olga; she doesn’t want to surf the Internet looking for lolcatz or trolling innocent Youtubers, but what she might want to do, is be able to read emails and read the news. By allowing us to deviate from the traditional neutral net, we can make this a cheaper possibility for Olga, because now she doesn’t have to pay for the potential use of Youtube. Granted, this might make it more expensive for the youtube troll, who has to pay for his media streaming, but quite honestly I don’t se the problem; she’s just paying for what she gets.

Why should grandma pay for your endless hours on Youtube?

To sum up: Networks don’t have to be neutral. In fact many networks have benefitted for some sort of de-neutralization, and the Internet might just as well. So before you start going all John Perry Barlow on me, you might want to consider what you – and society – is missing out on, if you want to keep the Internet completely neutral.

Net Neutrality: The Debate No One Hears About, but Will Change the World as You Know It – by “Daniel D – YLT2012”

It always surprises me how many people who use the web today take internet speed for granted.  On the train ride home from Thanksgiving I discovered that AmTrak offers WiFi on its trains and I was elated, but that quickly transformed into frustration and despair when my connection became extremely spotty.  I imagine this irrational frustration is a regular experience for many who were raised in an era with internet access in every home, and as of the last few years, around every street corner.  We have evolved into high-maintenance prima donnas, victims of our privileged environment and culture, perpetually impatient and expectant, where the spinning ball of death can make anyone want to throw his computer against the wall.

While I’m not here to advocate the use of Samsung Memory, I am here to explore one of the most important ideas in securing a consistently fast and dependable internet on a global level – the concept of network neutrality.  Net neutrality is an idea that has never really reached mainstream audiences, and most internet users have never heard of it before.  Like most things in life, net neutrality has become a concept we simply take for granted on a daily basis.  Yet it very much shapes our entire online experience.

So what is net neutrality?  It is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs), the companies which provide you with internet access such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, should be required to ensure that content from various websites across the net is delivered equally to you.  Meaning, ISPs should not be able to restrict certain pieces of content, make certain websites run faster than others, or block certain websites entirely.  All content, websites, and platforms would be treated equally.  This way, companies such as Comcast, which owns NBC, could not tamper with internet speeds and content accessibility in order to favor their own content or the content of websites with which they have business partnerships.  Many people simply take these principles as a given, but in fact this principle has been hotly disputed for years, and today we live in a world with a sort of quasi-neutral net that has grown out of a decade of developments in this ongoing debate.

Net neutrality began to become a topic of public discourse in the early 2000’s, and in 2004 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell delivered a speech in which he outlined four basic internet freedoms:

  1. Freedom to access content – If you pay for high speed internet, you should not be restricted from accessing websites or certain content on websites.
  2. Freedom to use applications – As long as the application you want to use is not disrupting the network you should be able to use it.
  3. Freedom to attach personal devices – You should be able to attach any device you want to a connection you pay for (Comcast can’t sign a deal with Apple so that it will only provide internet to Apple computers).
  4. Freedom to obtain service plan information – Service plans should be transparent, and customers should know exactly what limitations are placed on whatever service they are using.

Since 2004, there have been several bills and court cases which have set a number of precedents in the field of net neutrality.  In 2005, Madison River, a telephone company, blocked Vonage VoIP services, which marked one of the first instances of ISP discrimination against certain kinds of content.  the FCC put a stop to it, but did not establish clear regulations to set a strong precedent to prevent this from happening again.  In 2006, Congress tried but failed to pass its first net neutrality bill, with ISPs and hardware makers against any sort of legislation and Internet content providers and engineers in favor.  2007 marked a similar failure.  In 2008 another bill was introduced, and the FCC found that Comcast was interfering with its users’ peer-to-peer networking applications by blocking certain files.  The FCC ordered it to end its discriminatory plan, and Comcast complied and then sued the FCC in 2009, marking one of the most significant cases in net neutrality to date.  The court ruled that the FCC had overstepped its authority and failed to justify its mandate to regulate the behavior of ISPs on their networks, calling into question the FCC’s ability to take action to protect consumers on the internet.  Subsequent to this case, the FCC has proposed a “third way,” Google and Verizon have proposed their own suggested policy framework, and Congress has attempted to pass another bill.  As more court cases and legislation reshapes and redefines freedom of the net, the ideal of net neutrality remains a guiding force for many, from content providers and entrepreneurs, whose products benefit from a level playing field, to students and hacktivists, many of whom are inspired by the portrayal of the net as the final bastion of freedom in the world, a pure haven untouched by the corruption of the corporate world.

But some reject this notion of net neutrality as some lofty goal, and argue that an unregulated net is either harmless or even beneficial to companies and consumers alike.  Net neutrality has often been criticized by its opponents as “a solution in search of a problem” (an argument Verizon advanced in its challenge to the FCC’s Open Internet Order), and they argue that the discrimination of websites and content is an unfounded fear by many advocates of a neutral net, and that even if it were true it would be beneficial rather than harmful.  Robert Pepper, senior managing director at Cisco Systems and an opponent of net neutrality, argues, “Without additional regulation, service providers are likely to continue doing what they are doing.  They will continue to offer a variety of broadband service plans at a variety of price points to suit every type of consumer.”[1]  In Pepper’s view, government regulation is simply leading to market inefficiency.  They also argue that prioritization of bandwidth is necessary for future internet innovation, and that certain sites which offer certain forms of content simply need more bandwidth than others.

These claims do not impress Eric Null, a strong advocate for net neutrality, who notes “There has been a history of other discriminatory actions, including Comcast blocking BitTorrent and Madison River Communications blocking VoIP.  There is no shortage of examples of discrimination by providers…Thus, the idea that network neutrality is a solution in search of a problem lacks merit.”[2]  He further goes on to note a paradox in Verizon’s claims to rights of editing the internet, as such a claim inherently contradicts their previous assertion that the idea that ISPs would edit or block content is unrealistic and unfounded: “First, [Verizon] claims that it is like a newspaper and has the right to edit the Internet.  Then, it claims that FCC is hallucinating the problem in the first place.  But, the very fact that Verizon is claiming that it should be allowed to edit the Internet (as a first amendment “speaker”) means that this problem the FCC spares no words in analyzing actually does exist.  In other words, the FCC predicted correctly.”

Today the debate continues as the net struggles to define exactly what net neutrality should entail and what degree of government regulation should be imposed on ISPs.  At stake are the fundamental questions of freedoms of the internet, freedoms of the consumer, and freedoms to innovate, and regardless of which side of the aisle you might find yourself falling on this issue, it is perhaps one of the most important yet virtually unknown debates in the world today.  But if you do care about maintaining a fast and fair internet, I strongly encourage you to stand behind net neutrality and spread the word .





– by “Clay G – YLT2012”

Look at just about any college-aged kid’s Facebook pictures and you’ll immediately understand the Onion article, “Every 2040 Presidential Candidate Unelectable Due to Facebook.”  Be it a drunk picture or an ugly picture, a stupid Facebook status or a misspelled Twitter update, everyone has something embarrassing linked to their online identity.

Some try to make their Facebook profile inaccessible to outsiders, and some kids make sure their parents cannot see their pictures (as to spare them of the thought that their teenager drinks at school). But when you have hundreds of Facebook friends, most of whom you do not regularly think about, you often forget exactly who will see what you post. There is always that aunt that you forgot to block from seeing your pictures after she friended you four years ago who now creeps on you and emails incriminating pictures of you to your blocked parents.

There is a strange duality in social media that is near impossible to upkeep: on one hand, you want potential friends to look at your profile and think you are spontaneous and fun. But you want potential employers to see it and think you are responsible and hardworking. In the case of Facebook, the latter is often sacrificed for the sake of the former. So when applying to college or a job, you just change your Facebook name (linked to your awesome profile) to something totally unsearchable, but crafty and funny enough to still garner respect from your peers.

Social media caters towards our need to attention-whore. In the moment, it all seems like a great idea to post it so the world can see. But somehow, when I look back on all of my Facebook statuses from 2008, I wonder how I could have constantly been such an idiot. Seriously, why would you publicly post that you had a crush on Liz So in freshman year if you wanted that to go anywhere?

We’ve been so obsessed with how new our technology is that we sometimes forget how creepy it is (think Find My Friends app). There’s a constant evolutionary battle between technologies that let us creep and ones that secure our privacy. For one reason or another, creepy technologies seem to have the upper hand.

Enter the new advancement on the privacy side, the proclaimed messiah of sexing, Snapchat. The app allows you to send picture messages to friends for a specified amount of time – somewhere between 1 and 10 seconds. According to the website, “snaps disappear after the timer runs out.” If the person you send the “snap” to takes a screenshot, you are supposed to be immediately notified.

Can Anthony Weiner finally sext without the entire world having to see him flex?

 Some of the details are still shaky: what is meant by “disappear” is never specified. You may be notified of a screenshot, but it still exists on the other person’s phone and can later be sent around. You could take a photo of the screen with a separate camera. Still, it is still a better, more secure, alternative to sending a picture message.

A “snap” need not be a nude picture; my roommate recently sent me a picture of his bowel movement. Snapchat is used to #embracetheugly. Users will often take ugly selfies to show how they’re feeling — maybe a tortured Edvard Munch “The Scream” face to express their boredom. The privacy settings of Snapchat are effective enough that people are willing to let their friends briefly view embarrassingly unattractive pictures for laughs.

Get the idea?

As Snapchat has gained in popularity, a trend is emerging. Instead of embracing the extra security, people appear to be more interested in how to take away other’s privacy than how they could be retaining their own. Snapchat seems to be inviting people to attempt to circumvent another’s privacy.

How does Snapchat know if you’ve taken a screenshot?  How can you get around the company notifying the person? Already, there exist sites explaining in detail the steps necessary to circumvent this privacy measure.

Crafty, but not cool

Snapchat cannot monitor whether you take a screenshot. Instead, it checks if you press the buttons for a screenshot – home and power – while in using program. After jailbreaking a phone, you can change the screenshot buttons such that you will no longer be pressing home and power simultaneously. Thus Snapchat never registers you as having taken a screenshot. Or, if you’re not as tech savvy, you can download an app that takes a screenshot when you shake the phone vigorously.

Snapchat does not guarantee your security. In the “Terms of User” section of the website, Snapchat states that the company is not responsible for damages caused by “the conduct of other users of the application, even if Snapchat has been advised of the possibility of such damages. You assume total responsibility for your use of the application.” Snapchat insists that they “don’t see any of the photos sent through the service,” but Verizon probably would have said the same prior to a few weeks ago. Snaps are sent at the risk of the user.


Note, Gawker has a nude section


What does Snapchat represent? Snapchat seems to be a step in a new direction: an attempt to protect our online identities from constant future privacy breechings. “The idea, really, is that the images expiring means that you can be really silly, really funny, really ugly,” Evan Spiegel, the founder of Snapchat says. “And that’s a really powerful and exciting thing — especially my generation, who grew up with everything they’ve ever done retweeted, liked or forwarded all over the Internet.” Spiegel is right here. Facebook applications are known for selling user data.  Public tweets were recently deemed to have no “reasonable expectation of privacy.” This remains a theme throughout: we have very little privacy in most social media outlets. That concept has always been disconcerting, but for some reason, it is not enough to stop people from using them.

In Snapchat’s creation exists a recognition that people want privacy that they otherwise cannot have on the internet. However, when you type “snapchat” into Google, one of the first autofill options is “snapchat screenshot hack.” Maybe we’ve gotten so used to the lack of privacy that we no longer respect other people’s right to it.


“Sign in using your account with…” – by “Celine C – YLT2012”

The internet is becoming less anonymous. What was once a free-for-all space where you could create a social media profile pretending to be Kanye West, bash your ex’s new boyfriend on JuicyCampus or post that your professor only gives good grades to students willing to sleep with her, is now unmasking some of its harshest trolls and making it harder to be who you aren’t or say whatever you want.

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

Some of this is due to shifts in our legal code. The increasing prevalence of Google and Facebook background searches in the process of job applications or even college admissions has caused people to more closely guard their online reputation. British law firm Bain & Cohen, for example, has seen a rise in online defamation cases as victims in high profile incidents such as the “Skanks of NYC” case or the AutoAdmit suit involving Yale Law School students successfully subpoenaed forums to hand over the IP addresses of their cyberbullies.

However, some of this online unmasking could also be due to a cultural shift, possibly in reaction to the vulgarities and obscenities posted on unfiltered forums. The rise of Facebook, a site that began by requiring a valid .edu email address to sign up and still promotes a single identity transparency, over MySpace as the most popular social networking site, signaled our generation’s growing acceptance of using our real name on the internet.

Stories of anonymous sex offenders targeting teenage girls on MySpace or trolls pretending to be famous celebrities on Twitter further increased our desire for authenticity on the web. In reaction to the swarm of fake celebrity Twitter accounts, the site introduced verified accounts for select high profile individuals and companies, and a few years later Facebook followed with verified profiles. Amazon includes a “Real Name” badge next to your avatar if you’re willing to post reviews using your real identity (verified by your credit card account). More and more forums and comment feeds require a user to sign in before posting, and some even allow logging in through an account on another social networking site that uses your real name, such as Facebook or Google.

Really,, you're going to let me sign in using MySpace? That's so 2007.

Of course, there’s still value in allowing pseudonymous and anonymous posts in forums. Not everyone wants to be google-able for the questions they posted in a firearms forum or for their detailed comments on the latest episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. In the case of reviews, some anonymity allows for more honest opinions of the product in question.  Online anonymity can also allow a safe space for discussion of taboo topics and create a community for marginalized groups such as psychologically troubled teens, rape victims or individuals coming to terms with their sexuality.

The dilemma of anonymity vs. accountability

With anonymity can come a lack of accountability, but as we move more and more towards integrating our real and online personas, we should remember the virtues of conditional anonymity. Whistleblowers, confidential surveys (imagine how different OCI teacher evaluations would look if they weren’t confidential) and those of the minority opinion all deserve a forum to speak, and the internet has proven useful as such. Yes, we do need a way to prevent slander and other forms of online defamation, but considering the most recent lawsuits it seems like we’re moving in a direction towards traceable anonymity, where your identity will only be revealed if you intentionally harm someone else. Whether having your comment downvoted, your video flagged or even being cyberSLAPPed, just as in the real world, anger enough people and you’ll be shunned.


Anonymity on Today’s Internet – by “Bradley C – YLT2012”

O Rly?

Contrary to what this celebrated (and much too overused) 1993 New Yorker cartoon might suggest, recent events have shown us that we are not as anonymous on the internet as we would like to think. On November 9th, CIA Director David Petraeus offered his resignation after the FBI uncovered details of his extramarital affair through an extensive electronic surveillance and tracking effort. In October, notorious Reddit moderator and “internet troll” Michael Brutsch (a.k.a. violentacrez) had his personal information outed by Gawker reporter Adrien Chen, causing him to be fired from his real life job as an application developer.

So what about anonymity for the rest of us on the internet? After all, we’re not CIA Directors or infamous internet sensationalists, worthy of special attention by the government or the vengeful press. Well…..

The current front page of Grokster. Kinda ominous, isn't it?

We live in a world where much of our internet activities leave a distinct digital record through which our personal identities can be compromised. Our IP Addresses are available through even the most cursory Google search of “IP Address”. Our internet service providers retain mounds of data available to law enforcement, and it’s suspected that a few might even be selling them to commercial third parties. “Web cookies” installed on any computer record private browsing histories, in many cases “personalizing” web pages based on a user’s preferences. And this is not to mention the many, many forms you’ve probably voluntarily filled out on the internet with your personal information before clicking on the “I’ve read the terms of service” box. (Are you sure you’ve actually read all this? And this? And this? And this? Just like you were supposed to?)

The fact of the matter is that if you’re a dog on today’s internet, given enough time and resources, the chances are good that they would at least suspect that you had some canine preferences.

The guy who was insulting your mother on Call of Duty

Today, we hear of countless attempts by both private industry and government to break the veil of anonymity on the internet.

In 2010, Blizzard Entertainment (purveyors of current games such as World of Warcraft and Starcraft II) introduced Real ID, which required forum users identify themselves with their real names. In the early days of Google+, Google demanded that every user use their “real name only” on the social networking site, a Google VP describing it as akin to “like when a restaurant doesn’t allow people who aren’t wearing shirts to enter.”

In government, there are constant legislative efforts to reduce internet anonymity online in the name of everything from stopping child pornography, to reducing digital piracy, to stopping hacker attacks from the likes of Anonymous and LulzSec.

However, in the end of it all, despite all the trolls, internet anonymity remains something to be defended. The fight for internet anonymity in many ways represents the classic struggle between social control and personal freedom. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech, of the press, of association, of assembly and petition. Anonymity has been affirmed by the Supreme Court as having significant social and political value in public discourse. Recent events during the Arab Spring have vindicated the power of anonymous communication on the internet.

So… if you’re a dog on the internet and want to keep people from learning that you’re a sentient, computer using canine (probably a good idea), there are a bunch of things you can do to further protect your anonymity online.

Tools and Resources 

Tor (conceals your location through bouncing internet data through servers worldwide) 

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) 

(for the hyper-paranoid)

– Read this guy’s blog and follow everything he does. (hint: one of the steps involve getting a new Linux operating system)


The End of Trolling? – by “Derek G – YLT2012”

Along with tweeting, liking, posting and producing, trolling has been a very prevalent feature of the Internet in recent years. As it constantly grows more widespread, it brings with it its controversies and legal ramifications. Trolling can be variously defined, but looking at it broadly, it basically consists of posting in an online community something emotionally provocative, offensive, or off-topic to elicit some sort of reaction from other users. While it is usually used to frustrate or poke fun at an overly aggressive or sensitive user, it too often crosses the line into libel, cyber-bullying, or other forms of destructive and illegal speech. Trolling is very much a result of the anonymity of the Internet that leads people to believe they can be truly anonymous on the Internet, and therefore have power to say whatever they want without being accountable for their words. However, this way of thinking is wrong, not only morally, but also legally, and some trolls are starting to face the consequences of their actions in courts.

the internet's big question

Before completely dismissing trolling as a malicious, illegal action that should be condemned and outlawed, we should first appreciate its merits. When done correctly, trolling can be used to make a criticism, or serve an educational purpose—such as an educator trolling his students to teach them what trolling is. These kinds of trolling are protected forms of speech, and can be both entertaining and innocuous.

After recent court decisions, it appears that true anonymity on the Internet is coming to an end, and people will be responsible for what they say, unable to hide behind the anonymous cloak of the Internet. The legal system will use its resources to find the identities of lawbreakers, and the law will be applied to speech online the same way it is offline. Still, this does not mean trolling must come to an end. Following a few easy guidelines, trolls can bring trolling back to its old glory without getting sued! A few tips:

  • Don’t engage in unprotected forms of speech. A fairly simple rule: just use caution when engaging in defamation, copyright infringement, obscene, actionable, or otherwise unprotected speech. Piece of cake!
  • Don’t target an individual. If you’re really set on singling someone out, it’s best to go after a public figure, as criticisms against them are more likely to fall in a legal gray area.

For a full guide, watch this quick, comprehensive video!

trolling the trolls

While many Internet users will be displeased with the disappearance of anonymity on the Internet, it is worth sacrificing a few laughs to enforce the law and prevent tragedies resulting from trolls going too far. Cyber-bullying is an undeniable issue plaguing the nation during this digital age, and preventing bullies who break the law from hiding behind anonymity will help discourage these acts that many of them would not engage in if people knew they were the ones doing them. Although some may argue this kind of transparency goes against the spirit of the Internet, the Internet was not meant to be a breeding ground for hate and illegal activity. Protecting victims of cyber-bullying, especially vulnerable teens and children whose lives are potentially at risk, should be the main priority. Trolling can still exist, but the distinction between trolling and defamation and cyber-bullying must be explored with great care. Eventually, lack of anonymity will become an accepted facet of the Internet, and this transparency will not hinder the distribution of information that the Internet provides, but rather make it a safer and more harmonious place.

Government Data: Balancing Transparency and Privacy – by “Katherine L – YLT2012”

God knows this meme's been used to death on this blog, but I betchya weren't expecting this background image!

The government owns a lot of data. A lot. And a huge portion of it is public information that you’re allowed to request (i.e., through a Freedom of Information Act request/local equivalent, or by filing out some paperwork at City Hall). The information is always technically available to you, but more often than not the process is pretty cumbersome–your request might not be responded to quickly, it might be denied for various reasons (some of them pretty dubious), they might give it to you in hard copy, you might be charged for the printing costs, the information they give might not be quite what you requested…the list goes on. To illustrate that point, here’s an awesome blog post by Ian White of Urban Mapping describing his very humorous, VERY maddening dealings with various municipal transit authorities, just trying to get basic data from them like train schedules and locations of stations. It’s worth a skim, if only to see the incredible amount of incompetence and/or obstinacy one often must deal with just trying to get data out of government.

Sometimes, it feels a little like this.

The idea that citizens should be able to access data is rooted in two basic facts. One, the US government isn’t allowed to hold copyrights. The reasoning behind this makes sense–if the taxpayers funded the creation of the data, they should be able to see the results. Turns out this provision of the US Code doesn’t apply to state or local governments. But that shouldn’t make much of a difference in terms of most datasets, because as we saw in Feist v. Rural, the Supreme Court ruled that a mere collection of facts expressed in a database is not afforded copyright protection (I say “most” because it’s not always quite so simple…but in general, much of the data cities collect is not protected by copyright).

In recognition of these facts and citizens’ right to data, some governments have adopted open data policies, encouraging the publication of government data. This often takes the from of an online portal–at the federal level (, on the state level (, among others), and at the local level (, among others). The benefits of an open data portal are great, both

from a public perspective:

  • Increased government transparency
  • Lowered barriers to access for government data
  • Data now available in more useful forms (i.e., not a ream of paper printed single-sided)
  • Data now available in one centralized location (i.e., not spread across various department websites)

and from a government perspective:

  • Reduces corruption by making ethics reports, employee salaries, campaign finance data, etc. public
  • Citizens can sometimes uncover inaccuracies or omissions; thus public availability can acutally improve government’s data
  • Developers can use data to develop useful applications at no cost to the city (examples from San Francisco)
  • Can pre-empt information requests by posting data publicly, reduce bureaucratic costs of complying with initial and duplicate requests
SF's open data portal. If you looked at the other examples and are wondering why they all sort of look the same, it's because one company (Socrata) pretty much has a monopoly on open government data at this point.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, right? So why doesn’t everyone have one of these? The overhead costs aren’t huge, and if you have a competent IT department the technical administration isn’t a terrible burden. Turns out the main objections are cultural. I worked on San Francisco’s open data policy this summer and found that the biggest concerns for departments reluctant to post data is just that they don’t recognize the larger benefits of open data, and therefore feel little motivation to commit resources to the cause. Another major concern was that many departments just didn’t know what they should and should not post. Every department has a ton of data, but it’s very much a subjective call to determine whether data is of public value and worth posting.

But beyond the public value question is an even larger one–the question of privacy, and this is of particular concern for local governments. The data released by the federal government tends to consist mainly of huge aggregations. Thus, the privacy concern from the release of that data is quite low for the average citizen. But local governments collect a lot of data that could be of concern to an individual citizen if it’s released–say, for example, crime data for incidents in front of your home that could lower its value just as you’re trying to put it up for sale. The laws currently in place in several local jurisdictions don’t provide much guidance on the matter. For example, San Francisco’s policy, which is sort of vague on the privacy issue:

Data prioritized for publication should be of likely interest to the public and should not disclose information that is proprietary, confidential, or protected by law or contract;

New York’s policy has several more provisions, but still leaves a lot of questions for those determining what to include on an online portal. Thus far, the interests of privacy and transparency have been balance-tested on an ad-hoc basis, and sometimes the data is modified to reflect privacy concerns before it is published. Crime data, the example above, has in many cases been aggregated to the block level so that individual homeowners are not targeted. Names are redacted, information related to ongoing criminal investigations is not released, and more. Local governments have mostly erred on the conservative side when cataloguing data for publication. Every once in a while, they mess up (and then learn their lesson). But for the most part the privacy concerns seem to be protected by these sites. However, lacking bright-line standards, governments will continue to have to make subjective calls of transparency versus privacy (having helped to write San Francisco’s policy this summer, I can say from experience that coming up with bright-line standards for this sort of thing is extremely difficult–maybe impossible).

More available data makes for more useful apps (just ask any third-party app on Facebook that’s stealing your information), but at a certain point government needs to weigh the interests of developers against those of their residents. We worry so much about private companies that have data about us online, but often don’t even think about all of the data that government collects. Concerns about online privacy extend here too, and only time will tell if less blurry standards for determining datasets for publication will be developed.

This generic government official knows ALL of your home resale value secrets.


Further reading:


Image credits: then,,,

Privacy as our last piece of bargaining power – by “Maria P – YLT2012”

‘If you use a tech product for free then the product is you…’ ~ Mark Suster

There’s a front end and a back end on the use of the web and current social media. While it’s masked as CRM, or individually targeted marketing so you can get better deals easier and faster, we are currently trading our privacy for free chips, or a $5 deal on brownies.

Foursquare or Twitter are helping us to willingly trade our privacy for a deal. Even if it could be considered a win-win situation, what the majority of users of the web tends to forget is that there are almost no barriers to entry for the cyberspace, as there is no limits to the data that it can actually hold. That’s why Please Rob Me sparked the controversy about geolocation. You are trading your information, which is not private anymore, to get a $5 discount at the cinema, and then you are willingly telling the world that you are not at home so they can come in and rob you.

From the author of Program or Be Programmed “Ask a kid what Facebook is for and they’ll answer ‘it’s there to help me make friends’. Facebook’s boardroom isn’t talking about how to make Johnny more friends. It’s talking about how to monetize Johnnny’s social graph. Ask yourself who is paying for Facebook. Usually the people who are paying are the customers. Advertisers are the ones who are paying. If you don’t know who the customer of the product you are using is, you don’t know what the product is for. We are not the customers of Facebook, we are the product. Facebook is selling us to advertisers.”












From mining to shaping

And you don’t even need to go “fancy” with social media. Nothing is as private as you think anymore. Just knowing how to send emails from the right place at the right time, and you can trigger probes and end up the career of your ex-lover, who happened to be the chief of the CIA, David Petraeus. I would bet General Petraeus wished he was Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible and had the power of send messages that will self-destruct themselves. It still may seem a little futuristic, but privacy is a business both for its excess or its defect. In fact “92% of the nation’s top divorce attorneys say that they have seen an increase in the number of cases using evidence taken from iPhones, Droids, and other smartphones during the past three years.“. And there is a business behind it, freeware or shareware:–heres-how

Even if you are still the kid that wants to make friends, it’s your responsibility to make sure you keep up to date on new privacy policies and how much are you protecting, and how much are you sharing on the web and how. Since advertisers are the users and you are the product, privacy is ultimately becoming currency and source of revenue.

Would you rather share a lot and become “cheap” or just share the necessary, protect your privacy and your “net” value?


“The Times” It Is a-Changin’ – by “Pamela M – YLT2012”

As we turn to the web for more and more of our news, the reliability (or lack thereof) of online sources becomes an increasing concern. In some ways, the advent of new media is a good thing in that it can diversify our news sources and increase coverage by engaging citizens as journalists but in other ways, it serves to weaken facts or strengthen falsehoods.

My biggest issue with the debate on online journalism. It seems to be predicated on three axioms about print journalism before the Internet that aren’t true: (1) newspapers were unbiased, (2) newspapers were accurate; and (3) journalists were honest, educated individuals. The Internet can both repair and exacerbate the problems of traditional media on these points.


Newspapers have long printed what they thought the most interesting articles would be on the front page under big headlines to grab readers’ attention. This practice is not exclusive to the dime-Tabloids, even the big and mighty The New York Times has a euro-centric front page, and attention-grabbing human interest stories below the fold. An article about a nanny-stabbing two children on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was the lead story a few weeks ago, not the countless deaths of children in Afghanistan. The Internet (combined with a few violations of privacy) allows the process of determining which stories will be most interesting to you to be democratized based on what your friends are posting about thus giving any story the potential to grab your attention.

By choosing what and how to report, papers allow for hidden bias to enter their stories. Journalists are human and we can’t pretend that their individual values don’t at times affect their reporting. In addition, placing an editorial on an issue one page after coverage of the issue undoubtedly influences a reader’s view on said issue. The Internet allows for many sources to have a voice, ideally averaging out each voice’s individual bias. Alternatively, by potentially limiting your news sources to your friends, the Internet has the potential to amplify bias based on preexisting social identifiers.


It wasn’t only simple misquotes and incorrect facts that were common before the Internet. I still have the election on my mind, so we’ll stick with the classic example of “Dewey Defeats Truman.” The Chicago Tribune’s deadline for its issue the Wednesday after Election Day fell before results from the 1948 Presidential Campaign were in, so, using polls conducted before Election Day they went to press with the story of Dewey’s triumph. Truman ended up winning, and the now infamous picture was taken the next day. By making corrections immediate and sources more numerous and diverse the Internet has the potential to improve accuracy in reporting. On the other hand the web also allows for lies to take hold and spread like wild fire.


To find a case of a fake journalist one need only look as far as Jayson Blair of the New York Times.

All of this is not to suggest that we’re better off allowing anyone to report a story in 140 characters or less, but rather that the advent of new media presents the opportunity to erect a new, better journalism in place of the old one. Journalism 2.0 will take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Internet while preserving the ethics of traditional journalism. The most important change brought by new media is that the journalist and the audience can be the same, reporting is increasingly becoming a collaborative process.

Indeed, as Karl Rove demonstrated on Election Day, sometimes, even news reported by one’s own professional legacy media network can be open to debate (if only by you), and that open debate does not always increase reliability.

Despite exceptions like Rove, traditional media has evolved to allow for an accepted hierarchy of veracity between sources. Newspapers and network news have long aspired to be accurate and unbiased, seeking a broad audience. With print media, readers can gauge the dependability of a publication based on its look, feel, and price, even if one knows nothing about it. On television, networks fight to provide the most trustworthy face to deliver the news. Our goal should be to prevent in Journalism 2.0 what happened on cable news as the channels proliferated – Networks sought out a niche audience by serving to their biases (of course, some channels take this a step further than others, cough Fox News cough, amen MSNBC amen). We need to come up with a way to maintain news-neutrality – and ideally improve accuracy – in spite of proliferating sources.

The promise of new media is that the quantity of sources will be so great that it will drown out each individual-biased voice and allow a neutral and accurate report to rise up in popularity. In this scenario however we become more susceptible to the biases of our contacts as certainly specific social groups will be more susceptible to particular leanings. The question then becomes whether we need some sort of moderator (say, a traditional journalist — or a journalistic version of Google’s page rank) to sort through the noise and identify the most important. The news is not as black and white as an Amazon review; we can’t simply average the facts to get rid of partiality. When 140 characters is enough to amplify a falsehood and even “traditional journalists” can’t control themselves on Twitter, how do we ensure that the right facts are averaged?

Society needs news and investigations more than it needs profitable newspapers. Just like newspapers evolved an accepted hierarchy of truthfulness (or, truthiness) so too do I have faith that both the Internet and users of the internet will evolve to build a new and improved hierarchy. The good thing about the internet as it currently stands is no one has “great power” and thus no one is trusted with “great responsibility.” I don’t know how to save newspaper’s profit margins, but I have faith that with the openness of the internet — information will come out — initially most likely from either biased sources with axes to grind, or from wholesale release of information via ‘wikileaks’ — and that some combination of blogs, Wikis, sharing and ratings will result in identifying the stories and curators that are the most accurate and most important.