Tag Archives: Internet

When The Rainbow Bled Black

The way Brendan Eich has been hounded in the last couple of weeks has left me feeling uneasy. To clarify my thoughts, I would like to lay them out here.

First, Eich holds a personal view – of not supporting marriage between same-sex individuals – that is not in line with my own. This is fine, to the extent that he does not bring it in his interaction with others – colleagues, strangers on the street, etc. To all accounts, Eich has managed to keep his opinions and biases to himself and conducted his public interactions professionally.

Many people ask whether I will work under a boss who has been known to support subverting any of my rights. Yes, I will. Supporting subversion of rights and actually subverting them are two different things. The moment he does the latter, (in the words of H. Caitlin), the gloves come off.

Second, today, it is possible for Mozilla employees and community members to raise voices about how their personal rights are being prejudiced. Who do you think was among the founders and mentors of the “community” that these protestors are part of? Eich would never have guessed that the “open”, “tolerant” and “inclusive” tenets of the community he fostered would one day be used to oust him from the place. The Mozillians who voiced their concerns and uneasiness did not put forward one example when Eich’s personal bias had resulted in him discriminating in any way against anyone from the community . Nope, it was all a chorus of “OMG, our personal views don’t match. He might turn Big Bad Wolf on us”; never mind that Eich was pledging like a prisoner before the parole board to uphold Mozilla’s standards of equality and tolerance. The standards he helped create. The word “ungrateful” is not strong enough.

NoteI have seen extraordinarily similar arguments on different sites like Reddit. But I have seen them first on the Rarebit blog and Twitter feeds. This is not an attack on Caitlins or Rarebit so much as using them as a reference for the mob that lynched Eich. It seems fitting given how they made Eich a figurehead of LGBT hate.

Third, about his prop8 support affecting “families on the ground”. Rarebit founders, the Caitlins, say this was akin to a direct attack on their family and they cannot do business with an individual such as him.

Eich was acting completely within the framework that US and Californian laws had specified. He did nothing illegal. To bring his action to the same level as thugs bursting into your home with assault rifles is wrong. It’s in bad taste. Will they go after other people who have engaged in similar “direct attacks” on their family? Adobe, Boeing and Intel employees donated to prop8 support. Will they stop using Adobe products? Check that the plane they are boarding is not a Boeing aircraft? Don’t use any Intel-powered devices? Prop8 was passed, which meant a majority of Californians voted for it. Did the Caitlins stop all socio-economic interaction with those (more than 50%) Californians?

If Eich putting (what to him was) chump change towards a cause he personally believed in is a direct attack on their family, then logically and emotively, isn’t what the Caitlins have done a direct personal attack on Eich? It seems to me that Caitlins aren’t just looking out for family, they also want to turn the world blind.

This is like me complaining about a co-worker to my company HR because his kid beat up my kid on the school ground. Each issue has its own place. Eich successfully kept his bias in his personal domain. There is zero proof that he ever let it influence his work at Mozilla. The Caitlins linked it to their business and brought it into the public domain.

Furthermore, this was battle fought within bounds. Just as Eich donated in support of prop8, others donated to stop prop8. Even if the law was initially passed, it was overturned by the courts later. The battle was won. As far as Eich was concerned, he fought it fair and square. Yes, five years (in fact, even a minute, a moment) is too long to reverse an unjust act, but the Caitlins won. Eich lost. His personal belief was consigned to his personal domain. What more did they want? What did they achieve from the act of posting “five reason for Eich to step down”? The Caitlins should admit it – they ask for equal rights and tolerance but are not ready to give quarter to an opponent who has lost. They wanted more. They wanted revenge. They wanted total submission. And they found a vulnerable, juicy target.

Many people said that this was not an attack on free speech or thought – rather, you can have free speech but you should also be prepared to face the consequences and criticism generated by that free speech. Oh, then you should have checked H. Caitlin’s Twitter feed. Complaining and wallowing in sadness about the negativity the Internet was directing at them. Gee, in the name of your family, you drove away a man from his baby. One that he had nurtured for 15 years. One that you were using to drive your own business. You drove him off Twitter. Away from public. Days after he reached the pinnacle of his professional life, you forced a man “to take time away from work”. How about you face up to the consequences of free speech now?

Finally, the less said about OKCupid, the better. This business, which monetizes one of the most vulnerable sections of society, decided to protest Eich’s $1000 donation made in 2008.

Let’s see, one of their co-founders – Sam Yagan – donated $500 twice to the Obama campaign from 2007 to 2008. Yagan also donated $500 to Utah Republican Congressman, Chris Cannon, in 2004. Cannon voted in favour of a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Another co-founder, Christian Rudder, donated $1,000 to Obama’s 2012 campaign. Obama supported same-sex marriage only in 2012, not before that.

That is $2500 donated towards politicians who were not in support of same-sex marriage. So, what exactly are OKCupid protesting?

In summation, while Eich’s views were certainly not progressive, they were well contained to his personal domain and did not have any proven effect on his working within Mozilla. Instead people chose to see shadows where there were none and drove a deserving man from his place in the sun.

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The slippery slope of censorship

(This post was first published on Feb 17, 2013. There is an update added on Feb 18, 2013.)

I have no stake in the MBA business beyond ensuring that the MBA I work for knows that MBAs don’t make the world go around. The recent upsurge of protests against IIPM blocking 73 URLs has me concerned and I must join the protest.

First, this is censorship. This feels wrong. A private entity files a defamation case and gets a judgment to block resources on the Internet. This tramples upon the author’s right to freedom of expression. This destroys others’ right to obtain knowledge. How can the courts decide that I should not read or write a critical article about IIPM?

Second, the tactics used in these cases are not ethical.  IIPM is headquartered in New Delhi and has branches in Mumbai, Gurgaon, Noida, Bangalore, Chennai, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Pune, Lucknow, Indore, Bhubaneshwar, Bhopal, Jaipur, Dehradun, and Cochin (as of Feb 17, 2013). Where was this case filed? In Gwalior, by a channel partner. An earlier case was filed in Silchar of all places, by a recruitment agent. None of the cases are filed by IIPM directly. A personal blogger or a small on-line media organisation simply does not have the resources to put their lives on hold and run to these courts to protect their articles; indeed, their constitutional rights. This results in an uncontested case and an automatic win for IIPM. They don’t have to bother with defending against the criticism leveled in the article.

By the way, an educational institution having tens of branches, channel partners, recruitment agents and running full page ads – reminds me of coaching classes for IIT-JEE, CAT and 12th HSC.

Lastly, the list of URLs contain resources put on-line by the University Grants Commission. I am amazed at the audacity of IIPM agents. Howsoever indirectly, UGC is sponsored by all of us who pay our taxes. It is a government organisation working under the Ministry of Human Resources. We are entitled to get access to all notices, regulations and guidelines that the UGC put on its website. What law gives IIPM the right to even request a block on any document put forward by the UGC? A private for-profit organisation has effectively hampered the working of a government organization and put the educational careers of millions of students at stake.

It is time the government and judiciary take a closer look at the IT Act and its application; and if they have more time, may be try fixing the education system too.

Update @ February 18 – Reading this article on The Hindu’s website, it appears that the content owners were not contacted at all. Imagine that. Anybody can file a defamation case in some corner of this huge country and get away with blocking content on the Internet. Quote by Atul Chitnis in the article:

IIPM was not just using a distant court to gag specific websites but was also trying to scare other commentators into silence.

One last thing – they approached Google to remove the URLs from their search results, but Google did not act – because it obviously (and correctly) interpreted the request as an attempt at perverted censorship.

Net neutrality survives a vicious attack in France

Wikipedia defines network neutrality as the principle that

Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication

Let me explain the situation to you in a simple way. Say, I put up a post that bores you with my daily office commute. It has a 30 minute, 30 MB video shot from a HD camera fixed to my helmet; and a hundred 1 MB stills from the video. Soon, this post draws 100 unique views (I can dream!). One of the views is from you – my reader.

I host this website on Leanservers. I pay them for hosting. Part of that money goes towards server hardware cost. A non-trivial part goes towards bandwidth cost. This is the money that goes to a chain of companies – to Leanservers first, who then pay their data center, who then pay their telecom service provider, and so on until some amount reaches the companies who maintain the inter-continental submarine fiber-optic links – the physical backbone of the modern Internet. For my commute post, the details are 130 MB storage and 13 GB bandwidth. At the end of my billing cycle, I will get a nice bill for both.

You subscribe to an ISP, obviously. May be a 150GB monthly plan with 2Mbps/512Kbps speed limits. When you load my commute blog post, your monthly quota will go down by 130MB and the page will load in… just over 8 minutes. What if you have an unlimited plan? The cost structure of an unlimited plan is determined by estimating how much the user will download in the billing cycle. Nonetheless, you have paid the ISP and through the ISP, the entire telecom food chain up to the submarine cable companies.

Thus, it is clear all involved parties receive payment for their services.

Some people like Xavier Niel, owner of France’s Free ISP, however, believe this is not fair. He states that my video will choke Free’s bandwidth and hence I should pay Free extra so that my visitors from that particular ISP can view my beautiful commute post in its entirety. This violates the net neutrality principle in many ways.

  • How is Free quantifying that my video will choke the bandwidth? Video is data – electronic bytes. A 30 minutes video is equal to N number (admittedly some huge number) of chat messages. Tomorrow, if chat programs choke Free’s bandwidth, will Mr. Niel ask Yahoo!, MSN (Microsoft), GTalk (Google), etc. to start paying Free money to facilitate online chat?
  • If it is “heavy” content like videos and VOIP that chokes the bandwidth, why did Free recently block advertisements, specially Google AdServe? One would think that Google’s ads are some of the least obtrusive and most bandwidth efficient ads around. This was a veiled attempt to gain leverage against Google’s Youtube. This block was done in a software update at the router level – the routers that they give to their users; and blocking was enabled by default.
  • Mr. Niel has a stake in a newspaper – Le Monde. (I am not in France; can someone check whether it is completely ad-free and without high-quality images?) There is an ongoing battle in Europe and the US where newspapers are trying to make Google pay for links to their websites appearing in search results and in the Google News application. Think about it – Google helps them get more traffic (and earn money if they are not complete idiots) and they want it to pay for the “privilege” of doing so!

Sanity prevailed and Free was forced to roll back this block, by the French Digital Economy minister, no less!

Many ISPs in Europe and the United States are attempting to charge content providers for the “privilege” of being accessible by their customers. Video streaming sites are the first batch of possible victims of this onslaught. VOIP applications will come next. Chat apps will follow – just imagine if ISPs start charging for reducing latency of chat messages. They can make or break entire social networks.

  • The heavy data argument is a false flag planted by the ISPs. The intention is to distract the ISP’s customers and regulatory bodies from the dismal state of last mile infrastructure that these companies maintain. And of course, they weasel out of maintaining and expanding even core backbone infrastructure. After investment banking and patent trolling, ISPs earn the most obscene amounts of profit.
  • Free gained its market share by offering services at disruptive prices to its customers. If the customer doesn’t pay, who pays for telecom infrastructure costs? This model is never sustainable in the long-term. Now Free is attempting to extort money from content providers to continue providing subsidized services to their customers. The content providers either pay the ISPs or have their ad revenue dry up.

Be vigilant. Should such a threat arise in your service area, write to your ISP and complain to your regulatory body in the clearest and firmest of terms.

Techworld.com has a piece with a beautiful explanation

Put very simply, some ISPs resent being turned into dumb pipes over which companies such Google rake in profits from consumers. Controversially, their answer is to seek to control – or in this case a block – on such services until such time as they can get a cut.

Put simply, that’s all they are. Dumb pipes. If their customers are drawing more content than the pipes can handle, the problem lies between the customer and the ISP. Obviously the customer will demand fatter pipes at same or marginally higher cost. It is up to the ISP to make this upgrade fit within their operating margins. Whatever they decide, charging content providers or blocking ads is not the solution.

 

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India beats the US, does better than SOPA and PIPA

So Slashdot carried an article about Zuckerberg getting married. Someone put in a link to a picture of the happy couple. Naturally, I clicked it, being curious and all. And I got this:

Access to this site has been blocked as per Court Orders

Of course, I have Copyright Labs, Chennai, to thank for this. Just because someone wanted to protect the income from their latest blockbuster, they have taken away my rights to information access. I am sure there is a clause somewhere in the Indian Constitution determining whether this is legal.

I am not supporting Pirate Bay, torrent web sites or other portals whose sole purpose is piracy. But it is the copyright owner’s responsibility to exercise due diligence and issue take-down notices only for genuine infringement cases identified by specific URLs or access conditions. This is possible. People have taken down infringing content without inconveniencing other users. Taking down entire portals, most of which have legitimate uses, is simply not done.

Criminals use roads and vehicles to get away from their crime scenes. You don’t see roads and vehicles being banned, do you?

Copyright Labs can’t escape the blame by saying they hadn’t asked for a blanket ban. It was their representation which was heard in the court and it was their responsibility to make sure that this did not happen. They took the lazy way out. They are to blame.

ISPs who share common parentage with distributors and studios – Reliance, I am looking at you – should get a clue. Do the shovel work yourself. Don’t impose blanket bans on the Internet because you are too busy earning money. You have to name specific instances of genuine infringement and only block those, not go nuclear on the Internet. Otherwise you simply too incompetent.

 

eBay – sell it off to history!

Time was when a character in Spiderman said “I could get 20 bucks for it on eBay!” and we laughed. I would say its history now. This article posted on Slashdot indicates eBay has a way over-swollen head.

Not that I have any experience with eBay. And this is where my personal peeve lies. I have not conducted ONE (SINGLE, 1) transaction on eBay – nothing, yet my account has been frozen under their Safe Harbour policy.

Occasionally we will take action if we feel there may be a possibility of unlawful action. However, this is no reflection on yourself, but is taken for the safety of all eBay members. We realise this is most probably due to oversight or privacy concerns, but we need to take these steps to further ensure that eBay remains a safe place to trade.

And again,

… we know from experience that certain items and actions are more associated with fraudulent activity on eBay than others. We reserve the right to suspend a member’s account and ask for further information if we have cause for concern.

It’s our policy never to share exactly what gave us reason to suspend an account as this could tell a fraudulent member how to avoid suspension in the future.

Rest assured that we’re not accusing you of fraudulent behaviour. As it’s our top priority to ensure that eBay remains a safe and reputable place to buy and sell, we’d like to confirm some of the information you’ve given us. Please appreciate that this level of security is designed to protect you as you buy and sell on eBay.

That’s right. Based on the information I have given in my account profile, the fact that I have ZERO activity and their experience in these matters, I may be a danger to eBay and its customers.

Oh well, then. See ya, chump. It was nice trying to do business in your market.

Update, 27/10/2009 – A report on Slashdot regarding conflict over Skype’s code, dated 18/09/2009. On 21/10/2009, the BBC reported that eBay profits continued to fall.