November 2012, Week 2


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Thu, 8 Nov 2012 22:15:53 -0500
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Media Bits and Bytes - Starting the Clean Up after Sandy and
the Elections Edition

November 8, 2012

Published by Portside

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When Floodwaters Rise, Web Sites May Fall

By Quentin Hardy and Jenna Wortham

October 30, 2012
New York Times


Here is a lesson for every Web site manager from Hurricane
Sandy: It is probably not a good idea to put the backup power
generators where it floods.  As computer centers in Lower
Manhattan and New Jersey shut down or went to emergency
operations after power failures and water damage Monday night,
companies scrambled to move their networks to other parts of
the country or find fuel for backup generators. In some cases,
things just stopped.

As more of life moves online, damage to critical Internet
systems affect more of the economy, and disasters like
Hurricane Sandy reveal vulnerabilities from the sometimes ad
hoc organization of computer networks.

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How Hurricane Sandy Slapped the Sarcasm Out of Twitter

By David Carr

October 31, 2012 New York Times Media Decoder Blog


Twitter is often a caldron of sarcasm, used to preen, self-
promote and crack wise about the latest celebrity scene.  And
then along came Hurricane Sandy. First, people on Twitter were
watching an endless loop of hurricane coverage on TV and
having some fun with it. But as the storm bore down, Twitter
got busy and very, very serious. The Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel
inundation, the swamping of the Lower East Side, the huge
problems at New York hospitals, the stranding of the holdouts
in Atlantic City, all became apparent on Twitter in vivid

The day after the storm, Twitter shook off much of the
earnestness and reverted back to its snippy self, although the
storm's death toll and the quest for resources made it more
serious than usual. Twitter is a global platform, but it can
be relentlessly and remarkably local should the occasion - or
crisis - arise.

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Gay-rights group calls for investigation of anti-Obama text

By Brendan Sasso

November 1, 2012
The Hill


The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a gay-rights group, has asked
the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate an
onslaught of anti-Obama text messages.  The texts covered a
variety of topics, including gay rights, abortion and
Medicare, and reached people who had never asked to receive
them, including HRC supporters. FCC regulations and the
Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 prohibit unsolicited
auto-dialed text messages. The law allows for a $16,000 fine
for each illegal message. The rules for text-message spam are
stricter than email spam because text messages are more
invasive and can result in extra charges for consumers.

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Nonprofits, shell corporations help shield identity of ad
backers, but names occasionally slip through

By Michael Beckel and Russ Choma

October 30, 2012
The Center for Public Integrity

In the 2012 election, Social welfare nonprofits, known as
501(c)(4)s by the Internal Revenue Service, have been the
preferred vehicle for donors who want to keep their identities
secret, because they do not have to reveal donors to the
public. Super PACs, on the other hand, do report their donors,
but the funds might come from shell corporations, which have
passed millions of dollars through from their own unidentified

For example, insurance giant Aetna accidentally disclosed to
insurance regulators earlier this year that in 2011, it had
contributed $3 million to the American Action Network, a
501(c)(4) group that has spent $11 million targeting mostly
Democratic candidates for Congress. The company later scrubbed
the disclosure from its filing.

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Scientists Should Work to Maintain the Internet as a Tool for
Freedom, Diplomat Says

By Victoria Markovitz

October 24, 2012
American Association for the Advancement of Science


The Internet increases the flexibility of scientific research
around the globe, but it can also be used for nefarious
purposes. In a talk at AAAS on 10 October, Michael Posner,
assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Democracy,
Human Rights and Labor, called for scientists to speak out
against digital repression. The freedom to debate and
participate in scientific research is essential to scientists,
and often taken for granted, he said. One of the biggest
challenges of the next 50 years will be to increase
collaboration between human rights activists and scientists,
Posner said. Such partnerships would lead to a more open
Internet, and also help governments navigate through
complicated legal issues. Posner said. "Scientific freedom
will not exist without Internet freedom."

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Internet anti-censorship tools are being overwhelmed by demand

By James Ball

October 21, 2012
Washington Post


U.S.-funded programs to beat back online censorship are
increasingly finding a ready audience in repressive countries,
with more than 1 million people a day using online tools to
get past extensive blocking programs and government
surveillance. But the popularity of those initiatives has
become a liability, as these online circumvention tools are
being overwhelmed by demand and without enough money to expand
capacity. The result: online bottlenecks that have made the
tools slow and often inaccessible to users in China, Iran and
elsewhere, threatening to derail the Internet freedom agenda
championed by the Obama administration.

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The Kremlin's New Internet Surveillance Plan Goes Live Today

By Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan

November 1, 2012  



On the surface, it's all about protecting Russian kids from
internet pedophiles. In reality, the Kremlin's new "Single
Register" of banned websites, which goes into effect today,
will wind up blocking all kinds of online political speech.
And, thanks to the spread of new internet-monitoring
technologies, the Register could well become a tool for spying
on millions of Russians. Internet censorship is not new to the
Russian authorities, but court decisions have not been
systematic - sites blocked in one region remained accessible
in others. The Single Register removes this problem.

Most importantly, however, the new Roskomnadzor system
introduces DPI (deep packet inspection) on a nationwide scale.
It allows ISPs not only to monitor the traffic, but to filter
it, suppressing particular services or content. "DPI allows
the state to peer into everyone's internet traffic and read,
copy or even modify e-mails and webpages. It can also
compromise critical circumvention tools, tools that help
citizens evade authoritarian internet controls in countries
like Iran and China."

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Court Hands Huge Victory to Universities' Digitization Efforts

By Rebecca J. Rosen

October 11, 2012
The Atlantic


If a university scans a book and allows students to download
it, is that a violation of copyright law? What if students
can't download it, but can search through it? What if only
certain students can download it? Is this fair use?  In a
decisive opinion, a federal court in New York said yes, this
was quite fair indeed.  The court had 2 lines of reasoning:
1.) remaking a text for search constitutes a "transformative
use" and therefore falls under fair use, and 2.) the Americans
With Disabilities Act does not merely make this activity
legal, it may even require it.

That opinion found that search capability is "transformative."
Even though the digitization process does not add anything
"new", the books have been transformed because digital copies
have superior search capabilities, an entirely different
purpose than the original works.   But the most forceful
arguments were that access to digital books is a huge benefit
for blind students.  "Since the digital texts became
available, print-disabled students have had full access to the
materials. ... In other words, academic participation has been

#  #  #

EU & US Negotiators Looking to Hold Blind & Deaf Access Rights
Hostage to Get a New ACTA/SOPA

By Mike Masnick

October 23, 2012


The European Union, with some backing from the US government,
is holding blind people's access hostage in an effort to
introduce new global enforcement norms for copyright. Instead
of trying to help one of the world's most culturally
disadvantaged groups, the EU's copyright specialists are busy
launching violent preemptive strikes against the possibility
of a clear, exception to copyright for the non-profit
production and distribution of works formatted for visually
impaired persons. Not one EU proposal this week in Geneva was
to facilitate the right to read of disabled persons as
guaranteed by international law. Basically, they seem to see
this as a war, where any exception is seen as "giving in" on

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A Healthy Reminder from Amazon: You don't Buy Ebooks, You Rent

By Mathew Ingram

October 22, 2012


Although it's not clear exactly why, an Amazon customer in
Norway has lost access to all of the books she bought with her
Kindle, once again demonstrating that with ebooks, we have
very little actual control over something we have
theoretically purchased and own.  Both publishers and
distributors like Amazon have spent the past decade or so
removing rights that we had when we bought physical books,
such as the right to resell and/or lend them. Those rights no
longer exist, which is why it's better to think of an ebook
purchase as an agreement to rent access under specific terms
rather than an actual acquisition of something tangible.

There are a whole pile of benefits to ebooks, including the
ability to read them across multiple devices (although that is
also often restricted), and to avoid having to lug around an
actual book. But there are some fairly severe tradeoffs as
well, and every now and then Amazon reminds us what they are.

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Android Apps Used by Millions Vulnerable to Password, E-Mail

By Dan Goodin

October 21, 2012


Researchers uncovered faulty encryption in apps available in
Google's Play Market. The researchers identified 41 Android
applications that leaked sensitive data as it traveled between
handsets and webservers for banks and other online services.
The research paper didn't identify the programs, except to say
they have been downloaded from 39.5 million and 185 million
times, based on Google statistics.  The paper named the
primary point of failure as poor implementation by app
developers and lists a variety of ways protection can be
improved on the Android platform.

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Young People Frequent Libraries, Study Finds

By Christine Haughney

October 22, 2012
New York Times
Media Decoder Blog


According to a study released Monday by the Pew Research
Center, 60 percent of Americans 16 through 29  surveyed said
they still visited the library, to conduct research, borrow
print, audio and electronic books and, in some cases, read
magazines and newspapers. The study showed that 40 percent of
surveyed Americans under 30 regularly read newspapers and
books, primarily on a cellphone or a computer.  Only 23
percent of Americans under 30 used an e-reader and 16 percent
used a tablet.

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Japan's Electronics Behemoths Speak of Dire Times Ahead

By Hiroko Tabuchi 

November 1, 2012
New York Times
Global Business


Three of Japan's consumer electronics giants are showing some
signs of faltering.  Sharp forecast a $5.6 billion full-year
loss and warned that it had "material doubts" about its
ability to survive. On the same day, Panasonic's shares lost a
fifth of their value after a write-down in its solar-power,
battery and mobile handset businesses.  And Sony, perhaps the
best positioned of the companies, warned of falling sales in
almost every product it sells.

All three make good quality, even cutting-edge products - but
so do their overseas competitors, usually at lower prices.
None of the three have generated the brand pizazz of Apple, or
the marketing muscle of Samsung Electronics. And their refusal
to make a big enough departure from the ways of their glory
years is now making a comeback difficult.

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Liberal advocacy groups push for free wireless Internet

By Brendan Sasso

October 30, 2012 
The Hill


Ten advocacy groups launched a coalition on Tuesday to promote
the use of free, open Wi-Fi networks.  The coalition, called
the Open Wireless Movement, is made up of the Electronic
Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Free Press,
Internet Archive, NYCwireless, the Open Garden Foundation,
OpenITP, the Open Spectrum Alliance, the Open Technology
Institute and the Personal Telco Project.  The coalition is
providing information on how to implement open Wi-Fi networks.
They acknowledge that sharing a network with the public can
expose a user to legal liability, but argues that the risks
are overblown. The groups argue that widespread wireless
Internet access would benefit users and lead to new
technological innovations.

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