MediaFile

SOPA, the Internet, and the benefits of a mutual enemy

That giant sucking sound you hear is the life being drained from SOPA and PIPA.

In an astonishingly effective campaign, a number of prominent websites decided on Jan. 18 to act as though they were being censored. SOPA — the House Stop Online Piracy Act , and PIPA, the Senate’s Protect IP Act  — would, in fact, have little or no impact on U.S. sites but the message was clear: The Net is one seamless organism. An attack on my friend, or even my enemy, is an attack on me.

The big players that made a big show of support for the anti-SOPA/PIPA cause included Wikipedia, which completely shut down its U.S. site, and reddit.com and wired.com (I work for the latter, and both are owned by Condé Nast).

Some big players did not get involved in the protest, including Twitter (which even belittled Wikipedia’s demonstration as “silly”) and Facebook.

Google, a vocal opponent, redacted its name on Google.com but did permit searches. (Again, in the interest of full disclosure, Google sponsored the redacted wired.com homepage illustrated above.)

But the fact that arguably many of the biggest names in the internet business didn’t participate much or at all in the “blackout” makes it all the more fascinating that nearly 20 senators – and now all four remaining Republican presidential aspirants — now suddenly say they are against it. Friday morning Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he was delaying a scheduled vote on PIPA.

Stop SOPA banners might morph in future protests

Getting people to add “STOP SOPA” banners to their Twitter and Facebook profile photos was more than just a message about pending legislation.

The banners, which swept the Internet in recent days, allowed people to quickly signal opposition to the antipiracy bills known as PIPA and SOPA, which many critics say are too broad. They are the brainchild of Greg Hochmuth, an engineer at photo site Instagram, and former Google product manager Hunter Walk, who created the site blackoutsopa.org.

“Profile pictures are becoming more and more omnipresent in our interface-heavy lives,” Hochmuth told Reuters in an email. “We thought: why not let people take more ownership of these pixels?” He envisions people using similar banners in the future, to get out all kinds of messages.

Tech wrap: Wikipedia, Google protest anti-piracy bill

The English homepage of Wikipedia went dark and Google’s search page ran the logo “Tell Congress: Please don’t censor the web!” in protest of legislation designed to stop copyright piracy but the free online encyclopedia says “could fatally damage the free and open Internet.” Big tech names including Facebook and Twitter declined to participate in protests of the House of Representatives’ Stop Online Piracy Act and the Senate’s PROTECT Intellectual Property Act, despite their opposition to the legislation, unwilling to sacrifice a day’s worth of revenue and risk the ire of users.

European regulators will decide around the end of March whether to file a formal complaint against Google for misuse of its market position, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia told Reuters. Until this point officials had been playing down expectations of an early conclusion to the informal investigation stage, although there still could be a long way to go. Antitrust investigations typically take several years.

EBay’s fourth-quarter profit jumped as the e-commerce company saw solid growth in its online marketplaces and an increase in transactions processed through its PayPal electronic payments business. The operator of the world’s largest online marketplace reported fourth-quarter net income of $2 billion, or $1.51 a share, compared with $559 million, or 42 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 35 percent to $3.38 billion.

Tech wrap: Apple reveals child labor at some suppliers

Apple revealed its suppliers in response to harsh criticism that it was turning a blind eye to dismal working conditions at partner factories. Apple’s audit found six active and 13 historical cases of underage labor at some component suppliers. It also found a number of other violations, among them breaches in pay, benefits and environmental practices in plants in China, which figured prominently throughout the 500-page report Apple issued. Other violations found in the audit included dumping wastewater onto a neighboring farm, using machines without safeguards, testing workers for pregnancy and falsifying pay records.

“I would like to totally eliminate every case of underage employment,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told Reuters in an interview. “We have done that in all of our final assembly. As we go deeper into the supply chain, we found that age verification system isn’t sophisticated enough. This is something we feel very strongly about and we want to eliminate totally.”

Enraged Chinese shoppers pelted Apple’s flagship Beijing store with eggs and shoving matches broke out with police when customers were told the store would not begin sales of the iPhone 4S as scheduled. Apple said later after the fracas at its store in Beijing’s trendy Sanlitun district that it would halt all retail sales of the latest iPhone in China for the time being, but said the phones would be available online. Sales at Apple’s other store in Beijing and three in Shanghai went more smoothly, with stocks quickly selling out.

SOPA: So much to hate, so little time to stop it

(Updated 12/16/11 4 pm ET)

It may seem that Congress is getting exactly nothing done these days, with the game of chicken over the payroll tax and the possibility for what seems like the 537th time this year that the U.S. government may run out of money.

So you may be excused for not noticing that a full serious assault on the Internet is being considered by the House, and that it might actually see the light of day through the flotsam and jetsom of bigger business.

SOPA — the Stop Online Piracy Act — is the latest ill-considered attempt by some in Congress to solve a legitimate problem by creating an even bigger, totally unnecessary problem.