Twitter assumes role as defender of free speech


From The New York Times:

At a time when Internet companies control so much of what we can say and do online, can Twitter stand up for privacy, free expression and profitability all at the same time?

“They are going to have to monetize the data that they have and they can’t rock the boat maybe,” said Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington. “I don’t predict Twitter is going to lose its way, but it’s a moment to watch.”

Jonathan Zittrain, one of his former professors at Harvard Law School, called it both a challenge and opportunity for Mr. Macgillivray, widely known as @amac, his handle on Twitter, and one that could influence the Internet industry at large.

“If @amac can help find a path through it, it may serve as a model for corporate responsibility for an Internet where more and more code and content is governed by corporate gatekeepers,” Mr. Zittrain said via e-mail.

He added that the challenge for Mr. Macgillivray “is not only to pioneer a wise way through this thicket, but to implement it as Twitter’s use continues to explode: it’s complex maintenance on a jet engine while the plane is in flight.”

NATO group releases manual on cyber warfare


The NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence (CCD COE) released today a draft of the forthcoming Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare.

From the Center’s website:

The Tallinn Manual, written at the invitation of the Centre by an independent ‘International Group of Experts’, is the result of a three-year effort to examine how extant international law norms apply to this ‘new’ form of warfare. …

The Manual pays particular attention to the jus ad bellum, the international law governing the resort to force by States as an instrument of their national policy, and the jus in bello, the international law regulating the conduct of armed conflict (also labelled the law of war, the law of armed conflict, or international humanitarian law).  Related bodies of international law, such as the law of State responsibility and the law of the sea, are dealt within the context of these topics. As such, the Tallinn Manual only focuses on the existing law and its interpretation in the cyber context – it does not propose or aim to contribute to the discussions on norms of behaviour, codes of conduct or confidence building measures.

The manual includes a critical definition:

cyber attack is a cyber operation, whether offensive or defensive, that is reasonably expected to cause injury or death to persons or damage or destruction to objects.

Jordanian websites go dark in protest of legislation


From techPresident:

Over two hundred Jordanian websites went dark on Wednesday [August 29], in a SOPA-like protest of draft legislation that would allow the government to block and censor Internet content. The action was coordinated by a grassroots organization of tech savvy Jordanians and the editors of various Jordanian websites, with blackout screens on dozens of widely read digital news sites and blogs. …

Jordan is perhaps unique in the Middle East, in that its government cares very much about world opinion. For the last decade, explained Ejeilat, Jordan has been working very hard to improve its image abroad as an IT innovation and textile hub. Short in natural resources and surrounded by unstable regimes, the country is stuck between “Iraq and a hard place,” as the king once joked to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. Its image as a modern, open country that is friendly to foreign investment could take a serious hit if it were to start limiting freedom of expression online. That is why the online protest in English and Arabic carries real weight. Lina Ejeilat said that Wednesday’s protest blackout “restored my faith that people are still able to engage in grassroots protest. I still think the Internet is a fantastic tool.”

The New York Times leads fight against patent lawsuit


In 1997, Richard J. Helferich patented the technology used to send text messages with Web links to mobile phones. After 23 lawsuits against a range of companies, Helferich Patent Licensing–his company of the same name–is facing resistance from its latest target: the New York Times. Read more here.

Googlers discuss policy initiatives and SOPA with HKS community

Past and present Google employees joined Kennedy School students, fellows, and faculty today to discuss the Internet behemoth’s role in policy and the growing importance of transparency and privacy in Google products. Googlers in attendance included representatives from Google’s transparency initiative and Global Industrial Relations team. Talk quickly turned to the company’s response to the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a bill recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives. Google, in tandem with Wikipedia and other major web services, have publicly protested what they saw as a flawed initiative that would curtail liberties rather than piracy. Wikipedia shut down for all of last Wednesday in protest, while Google put a large black censor block over its logo for the day.Dorothy Chou, a senior analyst, noted that Google’s ethos and line of work give it the unique privilege of aligning with the principles of the open web and the best interests of its users. She also pointed out that any decision to go dark would weigh twice as heavily on Google, because (unlike Wikipedia) its customers include the thousands of small business owners who use its advertising services.
Also interesting were the highlights of Google’s policy initiatives, including its Transparency Report, newly developed Public Alerts system, and a program that gives college students in African countries free access to the Internet.In a special Q&A after the event, the Googlers talked shop with T4C members, noting the merits of educating politicians about the web and debating whether a “Congress of nerds” was the best thing for the country. As a former Congressional intern of the late and beloved Alaska senator Ted Stevens (of “The Internet is a series of tubes” fame), I think it could be. Former Google product manager Prim Ramaswami made the astute point that the future holds a whole new set of technologies that tomorrow’s leaders will not be prepared to deal with, but which tech-savvy young minds will gravitate to naturally. A digitally-confounded Congress remains an exceedingly important issue.

If you want to know more about SOPA, check out this quick explanatory video by the Khan Academy:

SOPA and PIPA: What SOPA and PIPA are at face value and what they could end up enabling


What’s Good for Verizon and AT&T Is Terrible for American Consumers


Originally posted on Wired Magazine

By Susan Crawford

07.26.12 6:30 AM

This summer, the very big wireless carriers in America, Verizon (106 million subscribers) and AT&T (99 million), are poised to get even bigger. As they move towards squashing cheap data substitutes for expensive voice minutes, consider charging application providers to reach subscribers, layer on fees for additional devices, and collect overage charges for data usage, they will bulk up on customers and revenue. This is good for them, but not good for the rest of us.

Continued growth for the nation’s largest wireless carriers hinges on offering access to data. That is the commodity they are selling. The problem, however, is that there are very few sources for this commodity, even though it is an essential ingredient of 21st century life.

Imagine having just two companies selling salt, or blue jeans, or light fixtures. That couldn’t happen, because it’s relatively easy for a new competitor to manufacture those products and make a modest profit. But it can happen in the wireless world, because these two carriers have built enormous moats protecting their businesses: They have vastly greater access to capital, airwaves, and towers as well as vastly greater numbers of subscribers than the two stragglers on the national scene, Sprint (50 million) and T-Mobile (35 million).

Verizon and AT&T undoubtedly recognize the political and public relations value of tolerating marginal competition, and so Sprint and T-Mobile will continue to exist; no oligopolist wants to spark consumer resentment. But the Big Two are dramatically solidifying their advantages as gatekeepers this summer.

Consider the Apple FaceTime/AT&T story. AT&T has a number of problems: Voice calls and texting services account for the vast majority of its wireless revenues and all of its profits. The carrier charges extraordinary amounts per megabyte for this stuff, but users are spending less of their time on these legacy services. Instead, users are eating up mountains of data. But users aren’t interested in paying a lot for data, and expect charges per megabyte that are far lower (1/2000s) than charges for texting. Users still want to connect and communicate to other human beings more than anything, and so they’re finding data substitutes (like Skype and FaceTime) for voice and text.

The resulting explosion in data use is too much for AT&T’s physical network to stand, but AT&T doesn’t want to invest more in this network than it absolutely has to. It needs to keep its stock price up by paying rich dividends and buying back stock; building many more towers and connecting all of them to fiber would bring down the value of its shares.

The solution to both of these problems? AT&T, following Verizon, has decided to acknowledge users’ yearning for data and eliminate the opportunity for arbitrage by moving them into tiered shared data plans and making voice and texting free. (Quiz: Which of the two called it Mobile Share and who called it Share Everything? Right, it’s hard to remember.) These plans have the gorgeous side benefit of using family/group pressure to drive Sprint/T-Mobile rebels into the AT&T/Verizon camp. Result: Many more subscribers will join the Big Two.

If you put shared data plans together with overage charges, you’ve got the power to make users worry about each additional application they use – will it push them over their data limit? This enforces scarcity, keeping usage down and prices up. Presto: Capital expenditures in network hardware can stay low, and “pricing discipline” can keep profits high.

Charging a separate fee for use of FaceTime over its cellular networks, as AT&T will now have the power to do with the new iPhone and iOS 6, is a natural outgrowth of all this. Now that it’s clear that users are paying for buckets of bits, everything they do can be either inside those buckets or in addition to them – and so subject to an additional charge. No competitive pressure will drive AT&T to decide whether or not FaceTime should be allowed to be inside the bucket; this is a business decision that is within the carrier’s control. Before iOS 6, FaceTime was Wi-Fi only; Apple was (in effect) avoiding the power of the carriers. Now Apple, likely in exchange for some other concessions from the carriers in connections with its devices, is joining in.

Apple has a history of deferring to carriers when it is interested in broader distribution for its devices. When Apple replied to the 2009 FCC inquiry as to its relationship with AT&T, Apple stated:

“There is a provision in Apple’s agreement with AT&T that obligates Apple not to include functionality in any Apple phone that enables a customer to use AT&T’s cellular network service to originate or terminate a VoIP session without obtaining AT&T’s permission. Apple honors this obligation, in addition to respecting AT&T’s customer Terms of Service, which, for example, prohibit an AT&T customer from using AT&T’s cellular service to redirect a TV signal to an iPhone.”

It’s unlikely that Apple itself will be paying in any way for FaceTime to reach AT&T subscribers; Apple is too valuable to AT&T. But Apple will share in the fees paid by AT&T’s 100 million-plus users for the privilege of using FaceTime. Meanwhile, also-ran Sprint is stuck with buying about 30.5 million iPhones from Apple over the next four years and paying $500 to subsidize each phone. So Sprint will continue, and continue to struggle, both states that are useful for AT&T and Verizon.

In the end, it’s as if legacy voice and texting services have been reincarnated as data services. You can bet that AT&T will be making it very difficult for other connectivity services (modern-day versions of voice and text) to reach subscribers without paying tribute to AT&T. Indeed, AT&T’s inadvertently-announced “1-800″ toll-free applications idea is exactly this: Applications that pay AT&T will not be subject to users’ data caps and will “feel” free. But applications that try to run over the top will trigger usage caps and may be digitally roughed up in other ways.

We should be talking about fiber networks that enable rich clouds of nomadic connectivity and commodity devices that can access those networks and any content or application they want. Wireless policy is fiber policy, and abundant network capacity should be our common goal. Instead, we’re navigating through a thicket of press releases this summer that all signal the carriers’ power to charge whatever they like for uses of their platform by everyone involved. The bottom line could not be clearer: AT&T and Verizon plan to get even bigger in 2012, and users will pay in the long run.