Griefers in Second Life make a realistic effigy of me in real life, knock off my glasses (to evoke "Piggy" in "Lord of the Flies") and then have a giant chicken devour me. To keep out such griefers, I'd need more elaborate security tools -- but that would also keep out customers and explorers.
Recently, Glenn Greenwald answered some questions from a reader which he was willing to do because said reader showed proper awe and deference. Cryptome published the results.
Here's the operative bit for this post:
I am not a "partner" in the new entity in any legal or financial way. The journalism company that has been created is a non-profit and I own none of it, and that was the plan from the start. The tech company - created to build privacy technologies and other tools - is for-profit, and I own none of that. The same is true of Laura Poitras and Jeremy Scahill.
The new company will consist of several legal entities. One is a technology company, a business run for profit, that will develop new media tools for First Look properties and other markets. Another is a 501(c)(3), a non-profit under U.S. law. Its mission will be to publish and support independent, public interest journalism.
3. The 501(c)(3) will house the journalism operation, which hasn’t given a name yet to its initial publication. It will have editorial independence.
4. Profits earned by the technology company will be used to support the mission: independent public interest journalism.
Then later in this post he says:
First Look Media is adding to the picture another possible source of support: profits from a company specifically focused on technology for producing, distributing and consuming news, views and information. #
So note the difference in the way this tech company is discussed -- as making "privacy technologies and other tools" by Glenn Greenwald and as "technology for producing, distributing and consuming news, views and information" by Jay Rosen.
There's a difference.
Basically, what we have here is a scheme to publish the ongoing revelations of Snowden and make them all available for free -- news articles which are all about making you scared and then mad about government snooping of all your activity online and on your cell phone and other gadgets -- and then selling the solution to that problem in the form of privacy technology.
Maybe the notion is the more anodyne "communications technologies" period without the "privacy" but I doubt it -- and the selling of blogging platforms and blogging software and apps of various kinds just won't cut it as a revenue generator as SAY Media which bought out this blogging service, Typepad could tell you. Other things -- ads, customized services, conferences -- are needed.
I suppose Daily Kos or Huffpo could tell them about the shrinking online media business, the drop-off in users, the end of the era of being able to attract users to blogs of their own, for free or for pay, or being able to get them to work for free, while you republish them to sell ads you benefit from and not they. That era is waning, as more and more people just don't play, as media concentrates even when run by technocommunists who hate capitalist media concentration.
Companies like Daily Kos and Huffpo which are dramatically losing readers and will tell you so in fund-raising drives have had to re-double their efforts to get ads, sometimes more intrusive, or sell seminars, or do whatever they can do to survive. If they drove their numbers up again by scolding and scaring and politicizing, great, but they can't always get that to work tomorrow.
Essentially, they have the exact same problem all media ever had, in any medium -- subscriptions don't cover costs; advertising is needed; this isn't enough; gathering and culling and publishing news is hard work and has to earn the public trust to sell as a good, and that's long-term not enough. Other revenue streams are needed to survive.
Jay Rosen, an ardent technocommunist, explains urgently in that carefully-cleared post how there are all sorts of other models that have a corporate entity or a non-profit supporting them.
He doesn't mention AP -- that's the classic one, a non-profit organization that sells news but only to cover the costs of gathering and disseminating news.
I'm not a technocommie so I don't mind if companies sell stuff, even unrelated to news, and then use it to run loss-leaders, like newspapers. Or that the one sustains the other as a "mission."
But let's be aware of its possible effects on news itself, and on the gathering process.
Marshall McCluhan, whose lectures I attended at St. Michael's College in Toronto, put it this way: "the bad news of the news sells the good news of the ads," i.e. the contrast of the beautiful life being sold in the ads -- which in those days were commercials for cigarettes or liquor or washing detergent or shoes or jewelry -- was enhanced and sharpened by having the bad news of the Vietnam War and other bad things with sadness and negativity. You would watch or read the sad or bad thing, and be eager to get to the good or positive thing in the ad.
McLuhan was primarily making a cultural and media critique here, not hating on big media or promoting socialism per se, and neither am I. It is what it is.
But given how enormously lathered all the progs and technocommies got over The New Republic taking Northrup Grunwald ads from "the military industrial complex" (something I noticed but didn't get to blog yet) and then seemingly a connection between TNR and its Northrup adds with a series of interviews with the NSA by Benjamin Wittes and colleagues at Lawfare Blog (in fact there was NO connection as he endeavoured to explain to the haters at the Nation for days on end) -- why, I expect them to be confronted with this:
That First Look, with its Snowden stash, in whatever form that takes (1) commodified and bought cynically -- which Greenwald denies above; or 2) taken as the "good will" of the "company" that is Greenwald in a business venture with a nonprofit shell; or 3) merely "it comes with" in a nonprofit venture -- is like a common Second Life scam or AV scam.
Pierre Omidyar is-- was--(we never can be clear) an investor in Second Life, and probably has knowledge of this common scam -- I just don't know. He invested early, got involved in a few do-good causes in-world, then appeared to cash out and leave and I don't know if he is associated anymore.
No matter -- this scam is particularly concentrated in Second Life, which is a kind of concentrated petri dish for the Internet, where many things are prototyped or simply visible in their vivid form and thus better understood as they play out elsewhere (that's why I bother with it.)
Here's the typical Second Life scam.
A Russian fellow (who, as it later is discovered, is a convicted felon and in fact barred from Internet use) does some very creative work in Second Life -- one of the things he makes is even a 3-D version of Baba Yaga's house on chicken legs that you can get in, and it walks around. Cool! He also makes various role-playing fighting sets and so on.
He discovers that a keen need to be filled in Second Life is security -- people are constantly being harassed and griefed, either by dedicated assholes like Anonymous, or various ex-lovers or rival merchants. And one of the key ways of griefing is making an alt, or new account not associated with your old account, and using it to spy, provoke, etc.
So the way that can be beat is if you can see the IP address of the person logging on to a simulator or server, and that way, if you see multiple accounts with the same address, you can reasonably assume that they are the same person and "out alts". Naturally, we get it that IP addresses are dynamic, and that people can share the same IP addresses, but in the hothouse of Second Life, if you see a female avatar logging on in Little Rock, Arkansas, and it has the same IP as a male avatar, chances are they are the same person, as not THAT many people are a) in Second Life b) logging on from the same location.
This privacy-busting form of security was called Red Zone by its maker, and then various antidotes to it with names like Green Zone began to be sold. There was naturally a HUGE demand for Red Zone by merchants, trans people and others either trying to keep their privacy intact or trying to prevent copyright thieves who stole on one alt, got banned, and then merely returned on a fresh alt to get banned. Naturally, these people can use anonymizers, but then those, too, can simply be banned period, as the number of real customers anonymizing to play SL is not that large, and anonymizers tend to be used by the miscreants.
This device sent panic through the community, especially the female avatar fashion designers with big businesses who didn't want to be outed as real-life males, or who wanted to fight copyright theft, but also just anybody who thought it wasn't the business of stores or clubs to track your IP address -- and I agree. It's not. I certainly don't track IPs inside SL -- especially because it's now made an offense against the Terms of Service (but that took a huge battle by the community to get).
This Red Zone guy himself -- ultimately dramatically banned and reported to the real-life police -- was also in the business of selling the antidote to his privacy buster .
And he wasn't the only one. Another character named Skills Hak, close to the developers in Linden Lab, also sold security products, although he was also known to fraternize with notorious griefers and even caught at hands-on griefing himself. He survives still selling much the same thing that the other guy was banned for, a mystery.
See, in Second Life, you create the problem -- harass people, heckle them, crash their sims, bombard them with self-replicating textures -- then, in true mafia like fashion, sell them the solution -- banning scripts or "orbs" or devices that you can stuff with names or IP addresses, or make white lists to only let certain people in and various other guard-dogs and trackers. There was even operating once an enormous grid-wide collective banning system where a cartel of merchants and venue operators were collude to make ban lists -- and your faithful correspondent would get on this list, not for copyright theft of course, and not for alt-griefing, but for writing about the misuse of such security systems in what should be an open society and a free market.
Often, for example, a furry with a holstered gun who looked cross-eyed at an elf or a norm at a newbie help center would get mass banned without firing a single shot, and could never shop in the "best" stores as a result.
You get the idea!
Create the problem, sell the solution. Make the problem more acute, get press coverage for it, sell more widgets. Lather, rinse, repeat. This is hugely widespread in Silicon Valley, and on the Internet, where you get bombarded by spam telling you that you have viruses; you go to a website and test for them and lo and behold, you have them, then you are told you can get rid of them for $19.95. Or worse, you can find out if you have them for $9.95. Enormous amounts of Internet business is done this way.
Pierre is no different here. He sells the bad news of the Edward Snowden revelations and scares everybody shitless. They are told in a hundred ways how the government is watching them and chilling their freedoms.
But for $9.95 or $21.95 or $195 -- there will be different price points -- the scared reader can buy an EZ privacy protector and run coded comms like the coolest of the Crypto Kids.
Naturally they will all deny such a craven and venal and instrumental business proposition. And to be sure, only Paul Carr or Mark Ames of The Exiled will ever decide that they are this cynically evil or will say nothing because it's how Silicon Valley works -- selling "solutions" to problems it identifies or even creates.
I don't think it's evil; capitalism is capitalism. There's a sucker born every minute, but caveat emptor.
But I do think it's worth pondering. I think Pierre is not cynical, but he is manipulative and not above gimmickry as the mechanisms of ebay let us know. And he has a winning combination here with scarifying documents and then consumer-friendly products to "do something" about this scary news.
I know he is raptly, keenly interested in this issue of privacy software. There was a big discussion he had in public on Twitter with some of the biggest people in the industry about the problem of trying to make security of communications easier, more user-friendly, more intuitive, more widespread. It's out there, I don't have the link now.
And lots of people would welcome this and see it as a needed public service and an ethical basis for a business.
I don't, really, for the same reason I never bought it in Second Life or the Internet at large -- the only people harming my privacy are hackers, not the government, and I think there are better ways to fight them than through encryption and white lists.
In Second Life as in real life, I think more and more expensive security systems only attracts more and more sophisticated griefers but of course there is a balance. That truism doesn't mean you jettison basic common-sense security or don't put up a fence or gate or lock a door to at least minimize intrusion. Electronic security meant to fight electronic surveillance only makes a very closed and insular society and ultimately I am making for security take on more organic and human-intelligent forms rather than robotic forms.
The Snowden gambit is a gamble as a business venture. It depends on more and more Americans thinking that encryption is the answer to their fears. There aren't enough real cases and real issues produced to make people care, especially when they know deep down they are responsible for being too gabby themselves.
But I'm wondering if we will see a Ben and Jerry's kind of phenomenon, where the product of beloved news media in the politically correct tanks will have more elan and be seen as more perfect.
That is, Jacob Appelbaum and the CCC might gloat over the hacking of Apple products, a big corporation they hate. Or Evgeny Morozov might endlessly fulminate about an imperfect software known as Haystack which was supposed to be the Holy Grail of protection and wasn't. Or Appelbaum might attack a proprietary circumvention program because he is competing for funds in an open source program. But when there are gadgets and software packages sold by Greenwald, will they hack and pick them apart and publish their flaws, or not? Oh, @Kaepora may do that, and certain other contrarians, but I wonder if we will once again see selective hacking.
My bet is that privacy gadgets will sell as an idea about as well as WikiLeaks type submission systems. As Andry Greenberg recounts in This Machines Kills Secrets, and as we continue to see, there was a big fashion for competition to WikiLeaks, and a big fashion for submitting hot docs --- but then it died. Nothing got submitted. The newspapers quietly retired their much ballyhooed sites which they probably spent young fortunes on coding.
Privacy is about encryption. But that is only partly about serving customers who want encrypted communications. It's mainly about a guild of coders with anarchist views who want the right to ultimate encryption as their own tool of revolution and preserving their power.
Here, reduced in size, I am about to become the giant chicken's lunch...The table has been copybotted from my builder's original texture and object. You can keep ejecting these objects and their day-old makers -- and you can ask the Lindens to be more thorough about removing their main stashes which are easy to find on the asset server. Addressing security threats requires both automated tools and real people with rules and political willingness to enforce them.