MediaFile

from Paul Smalera:

What real Internet censorship looks like

Lately Internet users in the U.S. have been worried about censorship, copyright legalities and data privacy. Between Twitter’s new censorship policy, the global protests over SOPA/PIPA and ACTA and the outrage over Apple’s iOS allowing apps like Path to access the address book without prior approval, these fears have certainly seemed warranted. But we should also remember that Internet users around the world face far more insidious limitations and intrusions on their Internet usage -- practices, in fact, that would horrify the average American.

Sadly, most of the rest of the world has come to accept censorship as a necessary evil. Although I recently argued that Twitter’s censorship policy at least had the benefit of transparency, it’s still an unfortunate cost of doing global business for a company born and bred with the freedoms of the United States, and founded by tech pioneers whose opportunities and creativity stem directly from our Constitution. Yet by the standards of dictatorial regimes, Internet users in countries like China, Syria and Iran should consider themselves lucky if Twitter’s relatively modest censorship program actually keeps those countries’ governments from shutting down the service. As we are seeing around the world, chances are, unfortunately, it won’t.

Consider the freedoms -- or lack thereof -- Internet users have in Iran. Since this past week, some 30 million Iranian users have been without Internet service thanks to that country’s blocking of the SSL protocol, right at the time of its parliamentary elections. SSL is what turns “http” -- the basic way we access the Web -- into “https”, which Gmail, your bank, your credit card company and thousands of other services use to secure data. SSL provides data encryption so that only each end point -- your browser and the Web server you’re logging into -- can decrypt and access the data contained therein.

By blocking SSL, Iran has crippled Tor, a program that enables Internet users to anonymize not just their content but their physical location as well. Tor is a very common workaround for users in totalitarian regimes to access Twitter, Gmail, Facebook and other services. It’s hard to come up with an apt analogy for Iran’s unprecedented blockage -- it’s not just that the letters you send are read by the Post Office and photocopied for their records, it’s that the Post Roads themselves have been closed off, so you can’t even send a letter in the first place. That’s the net effect of blocking SSL in Iran.

The hacking group Anonymous has brought down all kinds of websites in protest, mostly over copyright, in the U.S. and Europe. I don’t advocate their targeting any country’s servers for retribution, but where is the outrage or public demonstration or media attention over the denials of Iranians’ basic freedoms to communicate, via the Internet?

Twitter + Georgian blogger + South Ossetia = Hack Attack

If you were miffed at not being able to tweet your innermost thoughts and random musings to your followers yesterday, or post that smartypants comment on a friend’s Facebook status update, blame politics. Turns out the reason why Twitter was knocked down for hours, while Facebook users had trouble logging in and posting to their profiles on Thursday was a Georgian blogger who uses both services.

According to CNET, which cites Facebook’s chief security officer Max Kelly, the blogger also has accounts in LiveJournal and Google’s Blogger and YouTube platforms, and goes by the name of Cyxymu, which is the name of a town in Georgia. Kelly told CNET:

“It was a simultaneous attack across a number of properties targeting him to keep his voice from being heard.”

“Twitter Revolution” in Iran aided by old media — TV, radio

Media outlets covering the street demonstrations in Iran have devoted plenty of coverage to the so-called “Twitter Revolution” and the role social networking Web sites like Facebook have played in circulating photos and video taken by protesters using cell phones.

But several of the Farsi-language satellite TV and radio stations based in Southern California, with its population of as many as 500,000 residents of Iranian heritage, also have become a bulwark of opposition to Iran’s controversial president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his disputed re-election last Friday.

Los Angeles-based satellite station  Channel One TV, which is run by expatriate Iranians, has made contributions — some of them not so old, either, as one might think from an “old media” provider of satellite TV coverage. Shahram Homayoun, the president of Channel One TV, said that before the demonstrations – although not in preparation for exactly that occurrence – it mailed out thousands of camera pens to citizens in Iran to help them document events the government wants to keep quiet. The pens pull apart to reveal a flash drive for plugging into a computer and uploading video.

Google, Halliburton and an ‘oops’ moment

It was a rare “oops” moment at Google on Wednesday when Senior Competition Counsel Dana Wagner explained why he feels good about working at Google, even after working at the Justice Department.

A few hours earlier, Google confirmed that it had received a formal notice from Justice seeking information on Google’s deal with book publishers, which would make millions of books available on line. That’s on top of two other matters involving Google that are being looked at by U.S. antitrust authorities.

Google convened the press to show that it opens its products to competition instead of protecting them. Google has been giving similar briefings since February to reporters and congressional staffers.