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Brislen on Tech

Paul Brislen, Editor. 09 August 2019, 8:45 am

The role of corporates in the free speech debate

The price of free speech seems to be increasing rapidly and is paid for predominantly in blood.

I'm a big fan of free speech. I can write this and send it out and nobody can arrest me and throw me in jail for it. I can say what I want without fear of government harassment.

Well, I can up to a point.

Governments aside, there are a raft of things I can't say without risking some sort of civil action.

I can't defame someone. I can't tell lies about what Paul Matthews is like as a CEO (he's good, by the way). I can't pass myself off as someone I'm not. I can't send you unsolicited emails and not allow you to opt out. I probably can't call for the public to rise up and overthrow the King, although if I did I'd probably just get a visit from a confused bobby on the beat who would patiently explain to me that we don't have a King and would I like to have a nice cup of tea and a chat.

There are also limits on what I can write about from a public decency point of view.

And I can't incite violence against individuals or a group of people. That part, however, seems to be contentious because apparently calling for the extermination of people based on race, religion, gender, sexuality and a range of other factors is all flavour of the month and has resulted in actual deaths.

This isn't a column about free speech, however, it's about the role that corporates and companies play in debate.

The website known as 8Chan has been home to a number of extremists and their views and has come under fire for it. Cloudflare, the web hosting service that has housed the site for many years, has ejected it from its services officially because it has breached its community standards. Of course, Cloudflare is about to list on the stock market and so doesn't want to be known as the home of far right hate speech, even though it's also culpable as the home of pirated content, child pornography, much of the world's malware and goodness knows what else. Of course, one quick PR win later all is forgiven and they'll be seeking billionaire status for all their hard work shortly I am sure.

8Chan's demise, temporary or otherwise, isn't going to stop many of these extremists from holding extremist views and from finding another place to congregate. Indeed, 8Chan itself is still accessible today but far less visible.

This "deplatforming" doesn't mean anyone's right to free speech is being trampled on. No government agency has removed 8Chan from the public's gaze - it's a commercial decision based on commercial imperatives. The right to speak doesn't come bundled with a right to force others to listen, or to host your content, yet for many that's what they think it all comes down to. You have to listen to me.

What deplatforming does is slow down the radicalising of yet more extremists. Sure, they start with Facebook and YouTube and they slide down the gullet to other discussion groups and forums, but making the extremism less visible and less easy to find gives us more time and opportunity to derail that journey and to make sure kids who are on the fence, somewhat impressionable but not yet set in their ways, can be convinced it's all a bunch of baloney and they would be better off doing something, anything else.

And maybe we can save a few lives along the way.

NZ Herald - Big Read: Jacinda Ardern and Facebook's emails after Christchurch massacre (PAID)

The Guardian - 8chan: owner of extremist site lashes out as scrutiny intensifies

The Verge - Congress asks 8chan's owner to testify following recent mass shootings

The Guardian - 8chan: far-right site linked to shootings resurfaces - and is kicked offline again

NZ Herald - Matt Nippert: White supremacist terror operates as a wolfpack (PAID)

Wolfson College - Press Fellow investigates the wolfpack of white supremacy

 

A hack a day... 

Another day, another megacorp gets hacked. Blah blah, heard it all before.

Capital One, a US bank, managed to misplace 106 million credit card applications, including names and addresses, bank details, the lot.

The bank claimed it was a firewall misconfiguration but US senators are asking Jeff Bezos for a bit of a chat about it since the information appears to have been accessed by a former Amazon Web Services engineer (allegedly 33-year-old software engineer Paige Thompson) who got hold of the data through AWS S3 servers.

Apparently this isn't the first time a hacker has managed to crack on into AWS hosted content and given we're all moving to the cloud for all things everywhere it's got to give a person pause for thought.

This one will no doubt go around a few more times before the truth is released (probably on a Friday at about 4pm depending on how bad it is) but it's not the only hack to come through the newswire this week.

Our very own Institute of Directors had its website hacked and there's some possibility that user details were also compromised, albeit a very remote possibility.

However, IoDNZ did the right thing and alerted users to the issue, despite any potential embarrassment to the brand or similar concerns (as someone who regularly is his own cautionary tale I have respect for those who are willing to comment publicly about issues like this). Not every organisation is so forward thinking so it's good to see the Privacy Bill progress edge ever closer to introduction, with its mandatory reporting requirements. That the fines are still set at "somewhat less than the lawyers will spend on lunch in their first week of engagement" remains a bone of contention, however. 

NZ Herald - Capital One hack's link to Kiwi accounting software firm Xero (PAID)

The Register - Jeff Bezos feels a tap on the shoulder. Ahem, Mr Amazon, care to explain how Capital One's AWS S3 buckets got hacked?

NZ Herald - NZ Institute of Directors' website defaced by hacker, passwords at risk (PAID)

 

Arpanet

Happy Birthday, Internet

It was 50 years ago… well, if not today then close by, that the initial version of the internet was born.

October 27, 1969 saw the first message sent over Arpanet, the US Department of Defense (sic) networking service that became the internet.

The first message ("Hello, my dear, How are you today? I appreciate your reply to honor my request") was sent between two nodes, one in UCLA and one at Stanford University but soon there were five and shortly thereafter 1,000 and today there are more than five billion users online every day.

The world will never be the same again and no doubt future generations will discuss the digitisation and networking of content alongside the printing press as one of the great stepping stones in information systems. Assuming we get that far, of course.

Yes, there are downsides to the internet. It would have been good if better levels of security had been baked in early on, particularly around email. It would have been good if identity management and control had been considered more of a priority.

But overall it's working well and the upside has far outweighed the down.

Today we see a number of countries trying to break away to form their own internets, presumably so they can better control those feisty online discussion boards and "media outlets" and that's a shame, but it's also unlikely to succeed for very long. Sure, the Chinese government has managed to put up the great firewall of China and block a lot of pesky information from getting through to its citizens, but only an operation on that scale will succeed and for many countries that might like to try something similar, the costs far outweigh the benefits.

This week I have worked remotely, watched videos, researched which electric scooter to buy (sigh), made purchases, organised two passports with two separate passport authorities, liked puppy videos, organised meals, helped with homework, played games and read a novel all via the power of the internet. I have no idea what we'll do with it next but I can't wait to find out.

So happy birthday, old friend. Here's to the next 50 years.

Computerworld - Evolution of the internet: Celebrating 50 years since Arpanet


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