Change of personal priorities in lockdown

It’s the same for me on Internet and car, but different for me on others.

Coffee is of zero importance, and sweatpants close to zero.

I’m dressing more casually but still tidily, and have kept to my normal workday routine of shower, shave and getting dressed before normal starting time for work.

I’m available for work earlier and later in the day and have no time away during the day so work is of equal importance but with more time available (but I’m having to look for catching up on tasks that have been a low priority in the past.

 

Plan for NZ system that will help parents protect their children online

…a carefully designed and flexible package that parents would sign up for when they purchase their phone and internet plan – a package that they pick and choose themselves, according to the level of protection they want to provide for their child.

The Internet has had a major impact on society. Many of us use it daily, it has become an integral part of our lives. There are many good things we can use the Internet for, but there are also many dangers, especially for children.

There is increasing evidence of the extent to which young people are routinely seeing horrible material on their social media feeds. The Youth and Porn study that came out late in 2018, commissioned by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, showed that of 2000 New Zealand teenagers aged between 14 and 17, three-quarters of the boys had seen online porn, and more than half the girls – including sexual violence and non-consensual sex. One in four had seen it before the age of 12. Most had not been looking for it, but they came across it anyway. Most had not talked about this with their parent or caregiver.

Such facts can make parents feel very disempowered and helpless.

It’s common for parents to have little idea what their children do and see online. There is a plan to trial a system in New Zealand to give them control over what their children can do.

Matt Blomfield is the victim of some of the worst online attacks and harassments, much of it via the Internet, based on a sustained series of attacks on the Whale Oil blog. He was also attacked and badly injured at his home by a man with a shotgun. This was witnessed by his wife and daughters.

Matt took Cameron Slater to court over this and after years of battling he won. Slater filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and his company, Social Media Consultants went into liquidation. Matt took control of the whaleoil,co,nz website, which he is now using to promote his plan to give parents better control over what their children do online.

Now if you go to whaleoil.co.nz you will see this:

In the minutes and hours following the shooting of nearly 100 Muslim worshippers at two Christchurch mosques on March 15 this year, Matt Blomfield’s 13-year-old daughter had live footage of the carnage shared to her Instagram account by four separate people. She watched the whole thing, filmed by the gunman on a GoPro attached to his helmet. She saw terror and panic; she saw real people ripped apart by real bullets. She saw the blood. She didn’t tell her parents.

Many of the other kids at her school also saw the video, as did many thousands of others around New Zealand and the world. Instagram, Facebook, YouTube… it was shared more than 1.5 million times. It just popped up on people’s – children’s – social media feeds, unasked for.

It was only some months later that his daughter told Matt what she’d seen. It’s a parent’s nightmare, he says. He felt keenly that his ability to raise his daughters the way he wanted to – that is, appropriately protected, with some control over the rate at which they are exposed to the complexities of the world – had been usurped by the giant corporations whose platforms bring horrible material straight to his kids’ devices.

It felt very wrong. Something needs to be done, he said to himself.

In fact, Matt had already begun work on “next”.  After years of putting energy into the fighting negative court battles with Slater, Matt wanted to work on projects that contribute positively. During his years of struggle he thought long and hard about the wider issues inherent in his personal battle: the immensely complex matter of balancing democratic access to the internet and freedom of expression on it, against controls to prevent it becoming a weapon of harm; the inability of our justice and enforcement systems to effectively respond to breaches of the law when they happen on social media; the sheer, global scale of the platforms that dominate the internet, and the difficulty for individual jurisdictions in controlling content.

When you are attacked and harassed online it can be very difficult to defend yourself and to stop the attacks. I know from my own experiences – the @laudafinem twitter account was used to attack many people with apparent impunity. It has only just been suspended: “Twitter suspends accounts which violate the Twitter Rules” – but that can be difficult to achieve, Twitter dismissed my complaints in 2015. Lauda Finem’s website was shut down in 2017 but they still have content online, including numerous breaches of name suppression orders. Courts are still dealing with some this, but they are very slow, with complaints made five years ago still not over.

This is bad enough for adults. There are also many risks for children.

In November 2016, he drafted a Universal Declaration of Rights Pertaining to the Internet. He managed to get some interest from the Privacy Foundation, with a little more interest expressed by organisations in the aftermath of the Christchurch shootings. He’d hoped it might get championed at government level, but so far that hasn’t happened.

He watched with considerable interest as Ardern headed overseas in the wake of the Christchurch shootings to try and win multi-lateral cooperation to better control the spread of harmful material. He noted the increasing public concern and debate about social media platforms but, along with that, the powerless handwringing that usually accompanies such conversations. Many people, and certainly many parents, not only worry about the material that children are watching, but are also deeply conflicted about both their ability and their right to do anything about it.

Matt has no such dilemma.

“As parents, we have a responsibility for our children not to watch mass shootings at age 13, or porn at age 10,” he says. “Let’s stop and take a look at what the problem is, the elephant in the room, which is what’s happening right here on our own shores. Our kids, here in New Zealand, are watching stuff that no parent would want them watching”.

“We’re sitting here worrying about youth suicide statistics, youth mental health, young kids who feel shit about their own bodies and their own lives, kids who are getting their sex and relationship education through free porn sites controlled by massive corporates. And we’re sitting here going, this needs to change. And we’re waiting for the government to do it. Waiting for Facebook to do. Waiting for Instagram to do it. Waiting for who?”

“Jacinda’s efforts are good, but only partially deal with the problem. Up until now, the corporates have decided what happens to us online, and now they’re deciding what steps they’re going to take to help us. We can’t leave it up to them. Let’s take the steps ourselves and get back some control.”

Matt believes it will take a community effort to save our children from the harmful effects of exposure to damaging and illegal material on the internet. Our own community, saving our own children.

“Who are we counting on to sort this out for us? And the answer is, it’s not one person’s fix. This is not just a corporate or government issue. It’s a collective issue. We need a combination of commercial businesses, academia and government to work together on this with a common goal of saving our kids.”

He’s right. We can’t rely on large corporates like Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to protect us and our children. we can’t rely on our Government, who haven’t done much so far.

Perhaps we need someone like Matt to promote much better action, but the more support he gets the more chance of achieving something worthwhile.

He talked to people he knows in the technology sector, and it became apparent to him that the technology already exists that could put the power back into the hands of parents. What doesn’t exist, however, is a system around the technology to ensure that it’s easy to use, flexible enough to provide for individual choice and control, and expertly tailored to acknowledge important steps of a child’s developing maturity. In other words, this concept needed a comprehensive vision and, crucially, a plan.

That is what Matt’s doing next.

He’s begun putting together an informal working group, comprising technology experts in big data, AI and software development, child development specialists, media academics, and ISP and handset providers – as well as smart business minds, branding and sales experts. He’s casting his net wide, hoping other people with expertise and ideas in this broad area will get in touch.

He envisages a carefully designed and flexible package that parents would sign up for when they purchase their phone and internet plan – a package that they pick and choose themselves, according to the level of protection they want to provide for their child. Information will be provided about child development, and the levels of understanding inherent in each stage of a child’s developing intellectual and emotional maturity.

“People are daunted by the scale of the internet,” Matt acknowledges.

Daunting, but we will only remain helpless if we don’t do more to help ourselves, and our children and grandchildren.

“We know that China simply banned Facebook – they can do that because they are an authoritarian society. Of course, we don’t want to do that anyway, but it points to the difficulty of creating safeguards in a society like ours where we’re concerned about censorship and the fair balance of opinions. So, let’s give the power back to the people and let the people decide.

“Big corporations want your data. They use it to learn a lot about you, to push advertising and sell you more. On the other hand, they do not enable you to have access to that data, and there is no AI looking out for people in this equation.  There is no balance of data, no fair exchange of value.  As an example, Google is starting to get its hands on individuals’ health data (Stuff: ‘Google wants to get its hand on your health data’, 17-11-19) without people’s consent; its objective is to grow its revenues.

“My plan is about taking that control away from the corporates, and taking the responsibility away from them in some sense because we don’t trust them with that responsibility. We’ll give parents the choice to decide what they can and can’t see.”

New Zealand is the perfect place to trial such a system, he believes.

If enough of us think that something can and should be done, we can help make it happen.

If you are interested in discussing this with Matt, send an email to:  MATT@BLOMFIELD.CO.NZ

Watch this space.

How to regulate the Internet (vaguely)

How to fix speech on the Internet? It will take a lot more than this.

Jordan Carter (chief executive, InternetNZ) and Konstantinos Komaitis (senior director, global policy development and strategy, at the Internet Society) give some general ideas on how the Internet might be regulated to try to prevent it from being exploited by terrorists and extremists – How to regulate the internet without shackling its creativity

At its most basic, the internet is a decentralised technology, a “network of networks” that spans the globe, moving vast amounts of data and services. Its infrastructure layer is where protocols and standards determine the flow of data and enable independent networks to inter-operate voluntarily. A healthy infrastructure layer keeps opportunities open for everyone, because it is where unhindered innovation happens; where we build the technologies and the businesses of tomorrow.

The Christchurch terrorist did not put up a server to broadcast the video. Instead, he used the tools offered by the platforms most of us enjoy innocently. In other words, he did not directly use the internet’s infrastructure layer, but applications that run on top of it.

And this is exactly where the disconnect is. Most new rules and government intervention are spurred by illegal content that happen on the top layer of the internet’s infrastructure – the applications layer, where content exists and proliferates. Yet these rules would have sweeping implications for the infrastructure layers as well.

Interfering with the infrastructure layer, even unintentionally, to fix problems at the content layer creates unintended consequences that hurts everyone’s ability to communicate legitimately and use the internet safely and securely. The internet is a general-purpose network, meaning it’s not tailored to specific uses and applications. It is designed to keep networking and content separate. Current regulatory thinking on how to address terrorist, extremist and, in general, illegal content is incompatible with this basic premise.

That’s why we urge all governments working to protect their citizens from future terrorist and extremist content to focus on the layer of the internet where the harm occurs. Seeking expertise is how governments should regulate in the internet, but including only certain companies in the process could be counterproductive. All this does is cement the market power of a few big actors while excluding other, critical stakeholders.

As world and tech industry leaders gather in France for the Christchurch Call, we ask them to focus on interventions that are FIT for purpose:

Fitting – proportionate, not excessive, mindful of and minimising negative and unintended consequences, and preserving the internet’s open, global, end-to-end architecture;

Informed – based on evidence and sound data about the scale and impact of the issues and how and where it is best to tackle them, using ongoing dialogue to deepen understanding and build consensus;

Targeted – aimed at the appropriate layer of the internet and minimising the impact on the infrastructure layer, whose openness and interoperability are the source of the internet’s unbounded creativity and a rich source of future human flourishing.

That’s ok as general advice, but it provides little in the way of specific ideas on how to regulate speech and media without stifling it’s strengths.

The biggest challenge remains – how to very quickly identify and restrict hate speech and use of the Internet by extremists, without impacting on the freedom to exchange information, ideas and artistry.

Even from my own very narrow experience I know that people intent on spreading messages that many people would object to can be very determined and go to some lengths to try to work around any restrictions imposed on them.

Kiwiblog recently put in place much more monitoring and clarified what was deemed unacceptable speech, but those stated restrictions were quickly flouted, so offending comments must be being passed by people now doing the moderating.

It will require either some very smart algorithms that are able to adapt to attempts to work around them,  or a lot of monitoring and occasional intervention that would require many people all with similar levels of good judgment.

Neither approach will be perfect. I have concerns that rushing to restrict bad speech will increase impediments for acceptable speech.

 

A handful of US tech companies have radicalised the world

There is no doubt that the Internet has dramatically changed how media and politics operate. Over the last few years a few US companies have dominated radically changed how democracy is done, including allowing nefarious interference in election campaigns.

And at the same time there have been a number of political swings to more controversial and extreme leaders and parties.

Broderick (via twitter):

In the last 4 years, I’ve been to 22 countries, 6 continents, and been on the ground for close to a dozen referendums and elections. Three things are now very clear to:

1) A handful of American companies, Facebook and Google more than any other, have altered the fundamental nature of almost every major democracy on Earth. In most of these elections, far-right populism has made huge strides.

2) The misinformation, abuse, and radicalization created by these companies seems to affect poorer people and countries more heavily.

These companies replace local community networks, local media, local political networks and create easily exploitable, unmoderated news ones.

3) It is going to get worse and more connected. It is getting more mobile. It is having more physical real-world effects. Apps like WhatsApp and Instagram are even harder to track than Facebook.

It’s been a decade since I first felt like something was changing about the way we interact with the internet. In 2010, as a young news intern for a now-defunct website called the Awl, one of the first pieces I ever pitched was an explainer about why 4chan trolls were trying to take the also now-defunct website Gawker off the internet via a distributed denial of service (DDOS) attack. It was a world I knew. I was a 19-year-old who spent most of my time doing what we now recognize as “shitposting.” It was the beginning of an era where our old ideas about information, privacy, politics, and culture were beginning to warp.

I’ve followed that dark evolution of internet culture ever since. I’ve had the privilege — or deeply strange curse — to chase the growth of global political warfare around the world. In the last four years, I’ve been to 22 countries, six continents, and been on the ground for close to a dozen referendums and elections. I was in London for UK’s nervous breakdown over Brexit, in Barcelona for Catalonia’s failed attempts at a secession from Spain, in Sweden as neo-Nazis tried to march on the country’s largest book fair. And now, I’m in Brazil. But this era of being surprised at what the internet can and will do to us is ending. The damage is done. I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll probably spend the rest of my career covering the consequences.

There are certainly signs of major consequences internationally.

In New Zealand we have had political change, but after a nine year National government it wasn’t a big deal, especially as Labour (and NZ First) are not dramatically different to National in most significant policies. It was more of a tweak than upheaval here, probably.

But we can’t help but be affected by what happens in the rest of the increasingly radicalised world.

To be sure, populism, nationalism, and information warfare existed long before the internet. The arc of history doesn’t always bend toward what I think of as progress. Societies regress. The difference now is that all of this is being hosted almost entirely by a handful of corporations.

Why is an American company like Facebook placing ads in newspapers in countries like IndiaItalyMexico, and Brazil, explaining to local internet users how to look out for abuse and misinformation? Because our lives, societies, and governments have been tied to invisible feedback loops, online and off. And there’s no clear way to untangle ourselves.

The worst part of all of this is that, in retrospect, there’s no real big secret about how we got here.

The social media Fordlândias happening all over the world right now probably won’t last. The damage they cause probably will. The democracies they destabilize, the people they radicalize, and the violence they inspire will most likely have a long tail. Hopefully, though, it won’t take us a hundred years to try to actually rebuild functioning societies after the corporations have moved on.

Perhaps. It is very difficult to know where social media, democracy and the world will go to from here.

Ecuador cuts Assange’s election interference

The Ecuador government has said they have cut Julian Assange’s internet in their embassy so they won’t be helping him interfere in the US election.

ecuadorcuts-assngeinternet

WikiLeaks had earlier said a “state party” had “intentionally severed” Assange’s internet access.

I think it is wise of Ecuador not to have anything to do with ongoing foreign interference in a country’s election.

 

The left wins the Internet but the right wins the polls

A comment posted at Dim Post.

The Left wins the internet. But the Right wins the polls.

First on “the Right wins the polls”. That’s bollocks.

ACT struggles under 1% in the polls so that is hardly a winning position for them.

National has consistently polled the best for years, but they are hardly “the right”, and they are further left than Labour on some things. Voters are not clearly delineated between left and right, with most closer to somewhere in the middle.

And in the polls currently show the centre right’s hold on power is precarious, which is probably more to do with “the left” – Labour – losing rather than the right winning.

The Left wins the internet

How the hell can anyone claim that? Perhaps some of ‘the Left’ think that they are winning the Internet but they are fighting amongst themselves as much as anything, with the occasional swipe outside their bubble.

Actually it’s common to see people from the left baffled as to why they keep losing, considering how superior they seem to think they and their ideologies are.

How exposed is NZ Internet?

A National Exposure Report – Inferring Internet Security Posture by Country Through Port Scanning – says that most exposed nations on the internet today include countries with the largest GDPs, such as the United States, China, France, and Russia.

So that means New Zealand may be relatively unexposed – or is a relatively small and unimportant target. You have to register to read the whole report and I haven’t done that.

The report description and key findings:

This Rapid7 report offers an extensive and technical exploration of data derived from Project Sonar, our security research project that gains insights into global exposure to common vulnerabilities through internet-wide surveys across different services and protocols.  

Given the increased reliance we all have on the internet – for everything from ecommerce, to monitoring the power grid, to adjusting our thermostats – we wanted to leverage the reach of Project Sonar to understand overall internet threat exposure at both a general level and at a country/region level.

  • Millions of systems on the internet offer services that should not be exposed to the public network. Our survey uncovered 15 million nodes appearing to offer telnet, 11.2 million appearing to offer direct access to relational databases, and 4.5 million apparent printer services.
  • 4.7 million systems expose one of the most commonly attacked ports used by Microsoft systems, 445/TCP.
  • SSH (secure shell) adoption over telnet (cleartext shell) is gaining ground over telnet, with over 50% of regions offering more ssh servers than telnet servers.
  • Non-web-based access to email (via cleartext POP or IMAP protocols) is still the norm versus the exception in virtually every country.
  • There is a correlation between the GDP of a nation, overall internet “presence” in terms of services offered, and the exposure of insecure, cleartext services.
  • The most exposed nations on the internet today include countries with the largest GDPs, such as the United States, China, France, and Russia.

It is not surprising that the largest countries are the most exposed.

I’ll just keep an up to date OS and up to date security software (I use Norton) and be careful which emails I open (I’ve had a lot of job offers lately, including from myself) and hope that my ISP and the GCSB do the rest.

Internet – let’s be careful out there

Tech blogger Juha Saarinen writes in the Herald: A safer internet? Not going to happen

Yesterday was the Safer Internet Day 2016, an annual worldwide awareness campaign that promotes online security. It’s a laudable effort, with NetSafe coordinating the New Zealand effort: https://www.netsafe.org.nz/safer-internet-day

There are plenty of good tips and advice to look at on the NetSafe SID 2016 site, so please visit and have a read.

One of the questions NetSafe sought to answer was if 2015 was better or worse year for internet security than 2014; the organisation noted that there’s not enough accurate information to answer that accurately – which is fair enough; having covered IT security extensively for the past few years, my answer would unfortunately be “it depends”.

Some things are better: your personal computer should be relatively safe this year.

Provided you keep the software on it up to date that is, avoid installing too many things and especially stay clear of launching files emailed to you or from websites you don’t know.

But there’s a number of things to be wary about, as Saarinen details.

The biggest danger on the Internet is not the Internet, it’s people with bad intent, who have a far greater reach than in the real world.

Online blues – let’s be careful out there.

 

Wrong

Berners-Lee on staggering hate on the web

Tim Berners-Lee played a major role in establishing the Internet as we now know it. He has expressed dismay at how hateful some people are in their use of the world wide web. I feel a bit the same way.

The Guardian reports in Tim Berners-Lee: hateful people on the web are ‘staggering’:

Speaking to BBC News, Berners-Lee said that it was “staggering” that people “who clearly must have been brought up like anybody else will suddenly become very polarised in their opinions, will suddenly become very hateful rather than very loving.”

I don’t expect people to be “loving” on political blogs but the degree of apparent hate and open nastiness does stagger me.

The Internet seems to bring out the worst of some people, and this is sadly prevalent in politics in social media.

Nastiness is all to common at blogger level and commenter level. At times it is flaunted.

Two of New Zealand’s most prominent blogs promote their nastiness, with Cameron Slater (Whale Oil) and Lyn Prentice (The Standard) often boasting about and promoting their nastiness.

That’s a very sad look for the New Zealand political blogosphere and it sets a very poor example which is followed by others.

Our political leaders should set good examples. We would be far better served by or political social media if they led by good example and cut the hatefulness.

There will always be political polarisation (most pronounced amongst a small minority of activists) but it serves us very poorly.