The Internet: Good, Bad and Ugly

Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World

Directed by Werner Herzog (2016)

Film Review

This is a wide ranging review of benefits and drawbacks of the Internet. The documentary begins by examining how the Internet was gradually created nearly a decade before the first personal computers came to market. During the 1960s, dozens of (mainly government) computers were linked up to communicate with one another. Then in 1969, UCLA joined all the networks together to create the Internet.

The film goes on to reveal how the Internet makes higher education available to hundreds of thousands of low income people, as well as enabling scientists to use the creativity of hundreds of thousands of Internet users to unlock secrets of complex biologic molecules. There are also interesting segments on the use of Internet technology in driverless cars and AI-based robots.

On the darker side are patients suffering from EMF sensitivity disorder, who are forced to seek out the EMF-free zone in Greenbank, West Virginia.* And people seeking treatment for Internet addiction at a Rehab Center near Seattle. I was surprised to learn of video gamers who wear diapers to facilitate their their 40-60 hour marathons. According to Herzog, gamers in Korea have died at their computer when they became too engrossed to eat or drink.

Herzog also investigates the threat periodic solar flares pose to the Internet – and potentially to civilization itself, given that so much of modern infrastructure relies on the Internet.

For me, the segment on hacking is the most interesting part of the film, featuring an interview with the world’s preeiminent hacker Kevin Mitnick. This section segways into an examination of cyberwarfare. The latter, which tends to level the playing field between large and small nations, is rapidly replacing conventional warfare.


*Greenbank is a 100 square mile area surrounding an extremely sensitive radio telescope collecting radio signals from outer space.

The film can’t be embedded for copyright reasons, but can be viewed at the Maori TV website for the next two weeks: Lo and Behold the Reveries of the Connected World

Citizens as Journalists in a Corrupt World

The Whole World is Watching celebrates the vital importance of citizen journalism (and the Internet) in a time of growing corruption and repression on the part of governments who serve corporate paymasters rather than the people they’re supposed to represent.

Highlighting growing police attacks on journalists and photographers, the filmmakers outline the laws regulating filming and taking photos in public places. In essence, a person standing on public property has an absolute right to film anything within their line of vision – provided it doesn’t violate another person’s reasonable expectation of private (eg if they’re undressing). The police are behaving unlawfully by demanding to see a photographer’s identification, deleting their photos or confiscating their photos, videos or equipment.

The documentary features Will Potter, independent journalist and author of Green is the New Red, about the ongoing US effort to criminalize environmental activists. See his blog at  Green is the New Red

 

Open Source: Reclaiming the Commons

wikipedia

The Wikipedia Revolution

By Andrew Lih

(Aurun Press Ltd 2009)

Lih’s Wilkipedia Revolution stands as a testament to the unsung heroes of the Open Source (OS) movement. From the outset, there has been a split between entrepreneurs like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, who have viewed the Internet as an opportunity to become enormously rich, and true visionaries like Jimmy Wales, who see it as a medium of social change with the potential to improve the lives of billions of people.

In Lih’s view, Wikipedia would never have been possible without the freely shared knowledge and software of the Open Source movement. He makes this clear by skillfully interweaving the personal biography of Jimmy Wales with the history of the Internet, the World Wide Web and the OS movement itself.

Hacker Ethics and the Open Source Movement

Wales, who has a master’s degree in finance, had a first career selling derivatives for Chicago Options Associates. In 1996, he used his programming and hacking skills to start a dot com in with Tim Shell, who he met through an on-line philosophy mailing list. At the time, Wales was a big fan of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy, i.e. the belief in obtaining objective knowledge form measurement. This would ultimately inspire his faith in using measurement by the masses to create an on-line reference work.

Wales and Shell called their dot com Bitter Old Men in Suits (BOMIS). Their first project was a Yahoo-style directory for the city of Chicago. This was around the time (1996) that two Sun Microsystems engineers started DMOZ (directorymozilla.org), the first Internet-wide search engine. They did so with the explicit intent of employing volunteer labor and freely distributing it to the public, under the principle of “Copyleft” or General Public License that underpinned the free software movement. Later renamed the Open Source movement, this was started in 1985 by MIT hacker Richard Stallman, helped by an extensive on-line network of hackers.

The hacker community has a very strong ethic that it’s okay to hack into computers and steal software code provided you use it to improve and share the software. Refusing to share what you have stolen and improved on for personal profit (like Bill Gates) is considered totally unethical. Making your software code public, instead of keeping it secret, allows thousands of programmers to improve on it. This why free downloadable Open Source programs always have fewer operating and security glitches than Microsoft and other proprietary software.

Netscape, Linux and Wikiwiki Web

DMOZ subsequently morphed into Netscape, which dropped out of public view after Microsoft pirated and monopolized the concept, by loading their own Microsoft Explorer on every new computer. Netscape would ultimately be reborn as Mozilla Firefox, a free Open Source browser many users prefer for its greater safety and reliability. Because the code that runs it is freely and publicly available, it undergoes continuous quality improvement by the thousands of programmers who use it.

Other significant innovations that made Wikipedia possible were the creation of the World Wide Web in 1992 by Tim Berners-Lee and the creation of Wikiwiki Web by Ward Cunningham in 1994. Prior to 1992, there were a half dozen different protocols (including Gopher and WAIS) that had to be laboriously typed in to access documents posted on the Internet. Berners-Lee created a Uniform Resource Locator (URL), using a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (http) for finding on-line documents. Cunningham’s Wiki software enabled any user anywhere to edit any website without having specialized software or knowledge of programming or html (the language used to construct a web page).

The Birth of Wikipedia

In 2000, Y2K enthusiast Larry Sanger joined BOMIS, bringing a large number of followers from his on-line Y2K digest. The Y2K movement was an informal network of programmers and community activists formed to rectify the widespread use, in early computers, of two digit dates. There was legitimate concern that computers built before 1990 would be unable to distinguish whether “00″ represented the year 1900 or the year 2000 – and crash. Disaster was averted, thanks to the frantic rewriting (in 1998 and 1999) of millions of lines of code in government and corporate computers.

After Sanger joined BOMIS, one of their first projects was an on-line encyclopedia-style “blog” called Nupedia. Wales, Shell and Sanger drew in friends and on-line acquaintances to help with drafting and editing articles.

Wiki Protocol

The initial process of editing successive on-line drafts was extremely slow and cumbersome. BOMIS’s discovery of Cunningham’s Wiki protocol changed all this, enabling first hundreds, then thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands of computer users anywhere to post and edit articles Wales, Shell and Sanger registered Wikipedia Foundation as a non-profit organization in January 2001 The only rules were that Wikipedia had to be freely accessible to the public, have a Neutral Point of View (NPOV), and only describe existing research (original research is forbidden).

In the beginning detractors predicted that allowing thousands of strangers to post and edit articles would lead to total anarchy. According to Lih, order is maintained by hundreds of volunteer administrators and System Operators who are passionate about the concept of maintaining Wikipedia as a free and open encyclopedia.

Other critics periodically express concern about the CIA and various public officials rewriting Wikipedia entries to coincide with their political interests.

A Marxian Analysis of Information Technology

 

Marx

Guest post by Steven Miller and Satish Musunuru

 (Part 4 of a five-part series on the corporatization of Internet surveillance.)

Relations of Production

Since Bill Gates raised the question, what do communists have to say about turning the Internet into private property? Karl Marx showed how, in every society up to this point in time, the relations of production ultimately strangle the development of the means of production. This, he explained, must lead to a period of social revolution.

The means of production, or productive forces, refers to the tools and technology of human society, up to and including the human mind. The relations of production means the legally established social relations between people – how they interact and work together – that are ultimately determined by forms of property. For example, Americans consider Freedom of Speech perhaps their most important right – guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. However, freedom of speech vanishes once you are on corporate property. Try telling the boss what you really think of him and you will see how far this right really goes.

That’s a relation of production. So are the minimum wage and the fact that women earn around 75% of what men do for the same job. All forms of discrimination and oppression pay off at the corporate bottom line.

Before the bourgeois revolution swept Europe in 1848, deposing almost all monarchies in its wake, a factory owner could hardly send his commodities down the river to market. Every minor princeling and self-proclaimed royal demanded the right to tax trade crossing their territory. This relation of production strangled the ability to sell products in order to realize capital and make private profit. Suddenly armies everywhere abolished this relation of production. In the same way, private property in digital technology deforms and shrivels the possibilities of the Internet.

In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production….  At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.”  (12)

Marx’s point is that the relations of production, fixed and frozen as private property by law, ultimately become antagonistic to the development of a technology that is highly fluid and increasingly more productive. This is an objective process, outside of our control, one that informs any subjective acts of insurrection. The relations of production under capitalism take myriad forms, but they ultimately come down to essential principles:

If you own the technology, you can appropriate all the production that people produce socially, today in an increasingly global system, by working with/for the technology. As private property, this production is yours to sell on the market for private profit. The necessities of life are distributed based on individual ability to pay for them. If you own little or nothing, you must sell your labor power to the owners of the technology in order to get money to survive.

None of these things have to be. We can imagine a different way to live. It was this basic human impulse that created the Internet.

A child can see the vast potential in digital technology. However, the “architecture of the system”, imposed by the outmoded relations of production of capitalism is definitely “in antagonism to” what a really developed Internet could be. These relations constantly “fetter” the development of computers and the Internet. If it doesn’t produce private property, it is discarded. Hence private Intranets determine how the code is configured. God doesn’t put all those ads on your screen, nor does he demand a tollbooth between you and the information you seek. Marx was prescient on this one.

Information objectively demands to be free. It is a social act, an activity; as communication, it demands consensus to establish meaning. This is a social relationship that is strangled by capitalist relations of production. Information is easy to collectivize and relatively hard to privatize.

Information is not the same thing as a tangible, material product, such as the latest Jordans or even an orange. I can transmit information to you without lessening my ability to control or use it. In Marxist terms, information has use value – you can use it how you will. With shoes, if I give them to you, I lose control. This objective nature of information constantly struggles against the capitalist demand that it become private property that they can sell for a profit. That is a fetter on technology.

Everyone knows that microelectronics constantly reduces exchange value – what you can sell it for. This flows from Moore’s Law – that the capacity of a computer chip doubles every 18 months, even as its value decreases. Exchange value tends toward zero to the extent that labor-less production is employed. This is because ever-decreasing amounts of human labor are involved. Long before Marx, Adam Smith, supposedly the high priest of capitalism, identified human labor power as the basis of all value. Labor-less production, the fastest growing type of production in the world today, is coming to pass with a vengeance. Production without labor necessarily demands distribution without money.

Attacks on net neutrality, filling your screen with commercial ads, various forms of corporate censorship, the domination of private search engines, the “Cloud” – all reflect the relations of production of capitalism. All serve to deform digital technology and subordinate it to the commercial interests of private corporations and the market.

Back in the Roman Empire, the hot new technology was the mule, the sterile offspring of a donkey and a horse. It was bigger and stronger than the donkey, and had far more stamina than the horse. The relations of production of slavery strangled this high tech development. Slaves could not personally sell the product of the mule, so when they took it out into the field, they beat it to death, “Hey Boss, you know how stubborn they are!”

But the thinking person, in antagonism to the relations of production of slavery, also understood that they could steal the mule, move three valleys away, and use this powerful new technology to feed their family and grow rich. Thus “begins the era of social revolution”. Since information and its technology objectively cannot be contained within the proscribed and narrow limits of private property, social revolution is already objectively going on. Today it is struggling into pass to our common subjective comprehension. The impulse to free information from corporate control gave birth to the Internet, open-source programming, Napster, jail-breaking your phone and the constant efforts to free digital technology for the 99%.

Background and Notes

12)  Karl Marx. Preface to The Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy. 1859

To be continued.

Reposted from Daily Censored

photo credit: Felix42 contra la censura via photopin cc

 ***

Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at nanodog2@hotmail.com

***

Satish Musunuru draws upon his training as an engineer and his experience as a professional in Silicon Valley to understand the relationship between technology and corporate capitalism and how it has brought us to the ecological and societal crisis we find ourselves in. You can email him at guruji323@hotmail.com

The Corporatization of the Internet

bill gates

Guest post by Steven Miller and Satish Musunuru

(Part 3 of a five-part series about the corporatization of Internet surveillance.)

Bill Gates Dismisses Open Source Pioneers as Communists

From the beginning, Bill Gates argued that no public discussion of who controls the Internet should even be permitted. He famously called open-source pioneers  “new modern-day sort of communists”. (6)  Bill Clinton opined that corporations were the best way to develop the Internet. Al Gore and Gates re-defined the web as the “Information Super Highway”.

Of course, we know that super highways often have tollbooths, where you pay for the privilege of driving your car. Clinton began the massive wave of privatization, of both society in general and of the Internet in particular, that flourished under George W Bush and is expanding even more with Barack Obama. Clinton’s de-regulation of Wall Street set the stage for the looting of American by Wall Street banks, the 1% and their corporate attack dogs. Rajiv C. Shah & Jay P. Kesan amply describe this in “The Privatization of the Internet’s Backbone Network” (7)

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 deregulated the entire electromagnetic spectrum of the atomic vibrations we use for communication. This energy spectrum is as fundamental as the sun, but it was given away to corporations for chickenfeed. This was a huge step encouraging the privatization of Nature and natural processes.

Then the insurance model, essentially the cable-TV model, was imposed on the Internet: you pay a corporation for access to something that could easily be accessible for everyone for nothing. After all it’s simply a process of how you configure the software.

This massive centralization was clearly the exact opposite to the original intent of the Internet. The few massive super-corporations that already controlled the airwaves became ever more powerful. The great Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano stated, “Never have so many been held incommunicado by so few”. (8)

The essential structure of the Internet is simply written down as code. It can be designed to benefit the public, or it can be configured to benefit private profit. Larry Lessig explains:

The architecture of the original Internet minimized the opportunity for control, and that environment of minimum control encouraged innovation…. At its birth, the Internet gave individuals great freedoms of speech and privacy.

But the story about liberty on the original Net had a sequel: what the architecture could give, it could take away. The inability to control was not fixed in nature. It was a function of the architecture. And as that architecture changed, the ability to control would change as well…. Technologies were being deployed to better monitor and control behavior, with the consequence, for better or worse, of limiting the liberty of the space. As the architecture changed, the freedom of the space would change, and change it did.” (9)

Privatization is therefore not something that just happens. It is engineered. This goes deeper. These days, people like to imagine the Internet as a vast network, spanning the globe, where gigabytes of information send pictures and blogs around the world in microseconds. However, the Internet is dwarfed by a larger, and far more sinister system of networks, the Intranet. The Intranet is the collection of corporate and military networks that are protected from the public by firewalls. These have expanded again into extranets – including collaborators from other private concerns into shielded activities. Needless to say, individuals have no access to their computers, but corporations and the NSA have access to yours.

Dan Schiller described the formative role of the Internet’s evil twin – the Intranet – back in 1999:

Corporate applications of Internet technology – intracorporate and business-to-business – comprise the true fulcrum of Internet system development. Corporate networks are the guiding hand of technical experimentation within cyberspace and comprise the leading site of its creative ferment. (emphases added)”   (10)

Fast forward to 2013 – the corporate control of digital technology today has a evolved far from the original vision of a vast global network where everything is open for everyone. We could have public servers at no cost – we have public airports and roads – but we don’t. Increasingly everything is in the Cloud, and corporations own and control the Cloud. Software components, like those Berners-Lee accessed for free, are now sold as apps. Corporations determine who can use them, for a price. Even if certain corporate products are free, it is largely because corporations stand to gain even more from the data they have about users using those products. Facebook is a good example here because while the social networking service is arguably free, the data that they collect and analyze on a daily basis is far more valuable.

Almost all of the data and intelligence reside on the cloud, which is a fancy way of saying massive data centers spread around the world, owned by massive corporations like Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft. etc. These data centers account for up to 10% of the worldwide usage of electricity.

The computers and cell phones we now use constantly reach out to the cloud for even the smallest of activities. When we speak into a cellphone and see our words appearing on the screen, what’s happening is that our voice is sent over to the cloud, where it gets converted into English language words, and then sent back to the phone. It takes only milliseconds to do this and is not easily visible to the user. The cloud stores every word we ever say to the phone at least for a period of time. Such a simple act of converting spoken words to written words can actually be done on the phone itself, if it had the program, but it has become cheaper and more advantageous for corporations to do it on the cloud.

A more recent evolution is the development of “computers” with greatly devolved capacity, really just shells of computers, with little storage and an always-on connection to the cloud. Unlike normal computers, these computers cannot function without the Internet. They are simply a window into the cloud. If you lose one of these “computers” you lose only the hardware and none of the data because everything is stored in the cloud, which is owned by these private corporations. This is cited as a convenience to consumers but, as we see with the NSA, it can be potentially dangerous to live life in the cloud. Facebook claims they own everything ever posted on their platform – photos, videos, writings, songs, you name it.

Microelectronics drives all this and is changing the nature of property. In the 16th Century most private property was in land; all of it was tangible. Today lots property is intangible, including things like software, algorithms, and ideas. But private property is still the divine right of thugs. Thanks to the Supreme Court, we understand these thugs are “corporate people”. So what kind of people are these?

The great book, The Corporation, points out that corporations exhibit characteristics of a very specific kind of person – namely psychopaths! (11)  Like psychopaths, corporations are grandiose, manipulative, both charming and deceptive, unable to feel remorse and always refuse to accept responsibility. So we happily trust all of our technology and most of our military to the tender mercies of… psychopaths. You know, nice people like Ted Bundy!

We can draw some conclusions here:

  • As long as society allows the private ownership of information technology by corporations for profit, the unlimited positive potential of technology will be deformed to guarantee that profit, short-term, regardless of the long-term destruction of society and the planet.
  • Corporations control the Surveillance State, not vice-versa.
  • Corporations control every technology as private property. The sad lessons that Global Warming is trying to tell us, the utter corporate incompetence in the abuse of antibiotics, (just two examples!) shows that corporate control is inherently incompetent and short sighted.
  • Therefore only the expansion of real public ownership and control of technology, at every level, in every branch of the economy, can release the wondrous potential of technology without abuse. The world of the very near future is going to be either all corporate, with no public, or all public, with no corporations. Which future it will be is up to us.

Background and Notes

7)  “The Privatization of the Internet’s Backbone Network” by  Rajiv C. Shah & Jay P. Kesan (http://www.governingwithcode.org/journal_articles/pdf/Backbone.pdf‎)

8) Zinn, Howard. A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present. 2003

8)  Lessig, op cit p 140

9)  Lessig, op cit, p 140

10)  Dan Schiller. Digital Capitalism. 1999, p 17

11)  Bakan. The Corporation – The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power. 2004. p 56  (You can also view the fine movie of the same name – on
DVD.)

 To be continued.

photo credit: Domain Barnyard via photopin cc

Reposted from Daily Censored

Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at nanodog2@hotmail.com

***

Satish Musunuru draws upon his training as an engineer and his experience as a professional in Silicon Valley to understand the relationship between technology and corporate capitalism and how it has brought us to the ecological and societal crisis we find ourselves in. You can email him at guruji323@hotmail.com

The Early Internet Vision: Public and Free

linux

Linux: Free Open Source Alternative to Microsoft Windows

Guest Post by Steven Miller and Satish Musunuru

(Part 2 of a five-part series on the corporatization of Internet surveillance.)

Back to the Future

Back in the early 1990s, the Internet was barely beginning. Everyone was dazzled about the possibilities of a universal communicator, where any could connect to any other individual or any other thing for free. The US Post Office was prepared to offer universal connectivity to everyone. Infinite global networking was on the agenda. The natural cooperative human instinct was in ascendency.

The basic elements of what would become the Internet had all been developed for free, outside of corporations, and had been given away to the public with no concerns for making private profit. The different technologies built upon each other through the efforts of a highly distributed network of engineers all over the world. Each piece built upon the foundation laid by another.

TCP/IP was created as a basic protocol to communicate between computers (3) and was available to everyone, although funded by ARPANET, which was a project of DARPA, which was and still is part of the Defense Department. These days DARPA is working on different technologies, like drones.

TCP/IP established the foundation on top of which came email, which uses protocols such as SMTP, POP and IMAP. The key thing is all these use TCP/IP for the actual transmission. HTTP which is the basis for the WWW also uses TCP/IP. So do Instant messaging and everything else we’ve come to enjoy using.

TCP/IP led to email and HTTP. Tim Berners-Lee, working at CERN, the European nuclear lab, tied the free software TCP/IP (for establishing domain protocols) to the free software for standardize common text for every computer – HTTP. augmented by the equally-free APACHE server, and created open public access for anyone through WWW protocols. A server stores information and sends it to multiple clients when they request it. This is what’s happening when we open our browser and go to weather.com. Then Berners-Lee released the web to the world as HTML markup language in 1989. This standardized web page building and linking. (4)

Suddenly computers anywhere could talk to each other. Soon the University of Illinois gave away MOSAIC – a free graphic interface. The open-source movement added Firefox – a free web browser. The basic open-source platform language LINUX spread around the world and is even grudgingly used by Microsoft.

Corporations for years had constrained the development of digital technology so they could make a private profit off selling privileged access to information. Berners-Lee designed the Internet so that it would be free:

I had designed the Web so there should be no centralized place where someone would have to ‘register’ a new server, or get approval of its contents.”  (5)

The idea was to establish open peer2peer networks, where the computing power, and therefore the choices, resides at either end. The most popular search engines massive servers, on the other hand, keep that power in the center, and use algorithms to determine which sites are featured first.

Since a server is centralized, it opens the door to the notion of customers. At this point, the contours begin to change as corporations start figuring out this Internet thing and start releasing their own products as competitors to freely available open source products. Corporations moved in for the kill.

The next stage in this trend is in the development of the browser. MOSAIC was the open and free alternative. But Microsoft came along with its own closed Internet Explorer and started giving it away for free with Windows. Mozilla then developed a free and superior open-source browser. Corporations struggled to develop a browser superior to this, but it now carries the bulk of Internet traffic.

Why do corporations give hardware and software away for free? Because they see a lot more profit potential in getting other corporations and citizens locked into their ecosystems. The race is to become the platform. Apple has successfully done this with their complete line of hardware/software products, which are notoriously closed to external developers. Now corporations began to exert control.

Background and Notes

3)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_protocol_suite

4)  Larry Lessig. The Future of Ideas. 2001 , p 52 – 57

5)  Lessig, op cit, p 44

To be continued.

Reposted from Daily Censored

photo credit: aid85 via photopin cc

Steven Miller has taught science for 25 years in Oakland’s Flatland high schools. He has been actively engaged in public school reform since the early 1990s. When the state seized control of Oakland public schools in 2003, they immediately implemented policies of corporatization and privatization that are advocated by the Broad Institute. Since that time Steve has written extensively against the privatization of public education, water and other public resources. You can email him at nanodog2@hotmail.com

***

Satish Musunuru draws upon his training as an engineer and his experience as a professional in Silicon Valley to understand the relationship between technology and corporate capitalism and how it has brought us to the ecological and societal crisis we find ourselves in. You can email him at guruji323@hotmail.com