All posts in “Tech News”

Mark Hamill destroys the guy who killed Net Neutrality with an epic ‘Star Wars’ tweet

Net Neutrality is dead thanks to the Federal Communication Commission’s idiot chairman Ajit Pai, and Mark Hamill is pissed.

The Last Jedi star took some time out of the movie’s huge opening weekend to rip Pai a new one on Twitter, and man was it an epic diss of galactic proportions.

You may recall that Pai released a comically stupid video called “7 Things You Can Still Do on the Internet After Net Neutrality” the day before the FCC voted to kill Net Neutrality. 

In the asinine video, the Pai dresses up Santa, fidget spins, and wields a lightsaber while telling viewers that they’ll still be able to stream their favorite movies and be part of their favorite fan communities. Which is partially true, but also fundamentally dishonest: Dismantling Net Neutrality will hurt consumers the most. (Because who wouldn’t want to pay more to your Internet Service Provider for less, because they’ll control which content gets in the fast lane?)

Like so many Americans, Hamill has a message for Pai and his cronies, and it couldn’t have been delivered in a more perfect 254-character tweet, complete with vomit emoji and Yoda-isms:

Hamill mocks Pai’s dumb video and slams him as unworthy of handling a lightsaber because he’s a selfish person who doesn’t protect the interests of the people.

He then questions whether or not Pai had permission from John Williams to use a snippet of an iconic Star Wars in his video before ending the sweet burn with a Yoda-style hashtag: #AJediYouAreNot. If there was ever anyone who could decide who is and isn’t worthy of being a Jedi, it’s Luke Skywalker himself.

Hamill worded things nicely, but we have our own message for you: Go rot in hell Pai, you greedy SOB. 84ef 7814%2fthumb%2f00001

Read an excerpt from Eliot Peper’s new science fiction thriller, Bandwidth

A couple of years ago, I read Cumulus, a self-published book by Eliot Peper. The novel follows three characters in a near-future San Francisco, which is divided into a super-wealthy tech elite and the downtrodden customers who use their services. It’s an engaging satire of Silicon Valley, and it put Peper on my radar.

In May, Peper will publish his second book, called Bandwidth. It’s about a near-future Mexico City lawyer named Dag Calhoun, who begins to question the world he’s making by representing high-powered tech and energy executives. When he’s almost killed in a drive-by shooting, he discovers that a group of activists have been hijacking digital feeds to manipulate public opinion and global markets, and revealing their existence could destroy the system he’s helped create.

Here’s an excerpt from the book, which hits stores on May 1st, 2018.

Dag Calhoun sipped his third macchiato and considered that fickle bitch, power. The creamy sweetness of the steamed milk cut the earthy acidity of the espresso. A solo bassist plucked jazzy scales in the café behind him. A balmy spring breeze ruffled Dag’s thick brown hair, the gust an unexpected blessing in this country ravaged by the twin specters of drought and violence.

From his seat at one of the sidewalk tables, Dag gazed at the professional dog walkers escorting the pampered pets of Mexico City’s elite. The park across the street was one of the verdant oases that made the wealthy La Condesa neighborhood feel completely isolated from the rest of the hustling megalopolis. Dapper professionals strode back from lunch meetings as preschoolers in color-coded smocks clustered around teachers in the dappled green shade.

History was badly plotted and written by committee. It lacked the narrative structure, moral fiber, and cathartic transformation that even the crassest feed serials took for granted. Visiting Distrito Federal never failed to remind him of the delicate, capricious cascade of events that had shaped the geopolitical fortunes of the Americas. That was why he was here after all, to rest a finger on the scale, to give history a nudge in the right direction. Or in his client’s direction anyway.

Sighing, Dag took another sip. Sometimes there was nothing for it but to revel in the ephemeral bliss of a perfect cup. This balanced roast teased his palate with notes of blackberry, tamarind, and maple sugar. His feed displayed the supply chain all the way through from the estate of origin in Aceh to the local microroaster. He made a mental note to tip the barista again on the way out.

His gaze slipped back to the elderly couple seated a few tables down. The woman had lustrous skin and elegant features that hinted at Mayan heritage. Her lanky partner’s high forehead, short-cropped beard, and dated-but-classy attire made Dag think he might hail from Ethiopia. But what really caught Dag’s attention was their dynamic. There was too much ambient noise for him to eavesdrop, but they exuded an intimate authenticity. His earnest enthusiasm. Her lopsided smile. The attentiveness with which he stirred two spoonfuls of sugar into her coffee.

Dag selected a toothpick from the small dispenser on his table. Then he spread out a napkin and dipped the end of the toothpick into the dregs of his macchiato. With utmost care, he lowered a single drop of milky espresso to the napkin. As soon as it touched, the fibers sucked up the droplet like a sponge. With a series of quick strokes, he used the tip of the toothpick to push, pull, and tease the liquid as it was absorbed. Then he dipped into his cup for another drop.

Trust emanated from the couple like scent off a rose. The generous, warm, unselfconscious trust that bound together people who gave more than they took. Dag tamped down a budding ache of jealousy. In his business, the vulnerability that trust required was anathema. It was a target painted on your back, a point of leverage others wouldn’t hesitate to exploit. He knew, because he exploited people for a living. Ambition did not tolerate exposure.

Chewing on the toothpick, Dag admired his handiwork. The lines were blurred, edges ragged where the liquid darkened the coarse weave of paper fibers. It was as distorted as a long-forgotten black-and-white photograph, warped by age and water damage. Nevertheless, something about the couple shone through the rough medium. Though it lacked mimetic detail, the sketch captured something essential about their rapport. The corner of Dag’s mouth quirked around the toothpick as he imagined the piece framed on the wall of some cosmopolitan gallery, effete hipsters hoping to impress each other by lavishing praise or ridicule on it as prevailing social conditions demanded.

Connection, coffee stain on napkin.

A shout from down the block caught Dag’s attention. A golden retriever was charging up the sidewalk, big pink tongue lolling out of its mouth, leash slapping freely against the pavement with every bound. Sliding out of his seat, Dag stamped down on the end of the leash as it whipped past, whistling to the dog so that it turned toward him in time to save itself from a violent jerk to the collar. As Dag knelt to retrieve the leash, the irrepressible retriever licked his face with instant affection.

A young boy sprinted up, put his hands on his knees, and gasped for air.

“¡Muchas gracias, señor!” he managed after a minute.

Dag handed over the leash and wiped the slobber from his face. “No se preocupe,” he said. “¿Escapar es vivir, no? Es un perro muy lindo.”

After scratching the beast’s head once more, Dag returned to his seat. It was past time. He crumpled up the napkin, tossed the toothpick, and scanned his fellow patrons. In addition to the loving elderly couple, there were a group of scruffy students working on some academic project, a pair of sleek housewives complaining about their respective au pairs, and his two bodyguards with their slick hair, tight-fitting suits, and hard eyes. They had swept this place before his arrival. And, as a matter of professional pride, Dag had arrived forty-five minutes prior to the designated meeting time. Hence the jittery thrill of overcaffeination. But the café now felt like home turf, and that slight psychological edge sometimes made all the difference in a negotiation.

There. A black SUV rounded the corner and pulled to a smooth stop in front of the café. A new duo of bodyguards emerged, heads swinging left and right, eyes hidden behind reflective sunglasses, weapons barely concealed beneath their chic blazers. Dag gave them a jaunty wave, which they ignored with professional stoicism as they cased the joint. Satisfied, one took up a position on the street corner while the other opened the back passenger door to let their employer out into the afternoon sunshine.

Federico Alvarez emerged, blinking away the glare as his eyes adjusted to the world outside the tinted cocoon of his vehicle. Once a professional soccer player, he’d let his body go to seed as his political star rose. Now not even his Italian tailor could hide his paunch. But he still moved with an athlete’s confidence, and his open face concealed his cunning.

Dag rose and smoothed his tie.

“Federico,” he said, grinning. “I was starting to think you had been sucked into the black hole of your beautiful city’s infamous traffic.”

They shook hands and embraced.

“Oh, Dag,” said Federico with a sad shake of his head. “One day I hope you’re able to set aside your obsession with punctuality. I swear that every time I visit those United States of yours, I fear that the entire population is living on the brink of cardiac arrest thanks to their uncompromising calendars. Cálmate, amigo. Estás en México. Relájate.”

They ordered a round of coffees, Dag starting to regret the volume of his previous espresso intake, and settled into the comfortable meandering banter that preceded any weighty discussion in this particular capital. Federico’s daughter had inherited his love for the beautiful game, and he described her recent victories in lavish detail. There were rumors she was in the running for a midfielder slot on the national team. His son was completing a degree in philosophy at Oxford and upon graduation would surely enjoy a fast track into the bureaucratic elite. They commiserated over the widespread destruction the latest hurricane had left along the Yucatán peninsula and traded self-deprecating anecdotes about romantic conquests long past.

Two café au laits and a croissant later, Dag made his move.

“You know why I’m here,” he said with an apologetic shrug. “The goddess of Silicon Valley is getting anxious. She wants to see progress.”

Federico’s forehead wrinkled. “Patience, my friend. Haste does not equal efficacy.”

“As you said before, we Americans have an unhealthy preoccupation with promptness.” Dag leaned forward. “And we cannot afford to lose momentum on this initiative. It’ll transform the country, empower your constituents. Think how much better prepared residents in the Yucatán could have been, and how much faster the disaster response time could have been, if the program was in place.”

Federico was a favorite on the field and in the feed. His storied career as a striker gave his personal brand as a politician an optimistic-populist sheen. Dag liked him. Federico was gregarious and well-intentioned. But what made him key to Apex Group’s strategy was the larger narrative that Federico’s legacy fit within: the story of a new tomorrow for Mexico, working toward a brighter future rather than returning to a mythical past. That paired well with Commonwealth’s campaign to expand its full-stack service offering here. Federico was moderate enough to be taken seriously and bold enough to set things in motion.

Dag’s employer, Apex, was the premier Washington lobbying firm serving major blue-chip clients like Commonwealth. Dag had spent more than a year cultivating Federico, advising him on political strategy, shaping the finer technical points in his proposed legislation—all on Commonwealth’s dime. The return on that investment would be extending its fiber-optic tendrils into one of the few countries that maintained independent and outdated telecommunications infrastructure.

“You know I want it as much as you do.” Federico’s tone was quiet, sincere. Bass notes dribbled out of the café as thick as molasses. Dag’s heart tap-danced a caffeinated syncopation. “But you know what’s at stake here,” Federico continued. “Getting this through despite . . . them—it takes time. And money.”

Dag arched an eyebrow. “We’ve provided plenty. Even you have to admit that.”

“Sí, sí,” said Federico, drumming his fingers on the table. “Of course. I don’t mean to come across as ungrateful. But a coalition is a delicate thing, and we have to go about it slowly and carefully, lest we invite retribution. I wish it were otherwise, but—”

“I’m here to deliver an ultimatum,” interrupted Dag, impaling Federico with the glacial intensity of his pale-blue stare. “We need to find traction. This is happening, one way or the other.” He held a sympathetic smile and understanding murmurs in reserve. Land the blow, then salve the wound.

A pained expression flashed across Federico’s face before he could replace it with the politician’s mask of professional neutrality. “Okay,” he said, “I’ll do—”

But Dag was no longer paying attention.

Behind Federico, the bodyguard posted on the corner dropped into a crouch as three ancient motorbikes accelerated out of the traffic surrounding the park and onto the café’s side street, tires squealing on blacktop. Belatedly, Dag saw that each motorbike had two riders and all wore ski masks. Even as the bodyguard’s hand darted toward his holster, a staccato burst of submachine-gun fire turned him into a bloody marionette.

“Get down!” yelled Dag as the world exploded into chaos.

Bandwidth will be released on May 1st, 2018.

Firefox users lose trust in Mozilla after a ‘Mr. Robot’ promo went horribly wrong

Image: NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Protip for Mozilla and the USA Network: In the future when you’re plotting a tie-in for a show about vigilante hackers, maybe don’t actually compromise people’s privacy.

Some Firefox users were none too thrilled to discover that the web browser had installed an add-on called “Looking Glass” without permission. Bearing a description that read simply, in all-caps, “MY REALITY IS JUST DIFFERENT THAN YOURS,” people were understandably suspicious.

(The all-caps utterance, it should be noted, is a quote from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.)

That last tweet is from a Mozilla employee, in case it’s not clear.

Looking Glass turned out to be a promotional tie-in for Mr. Robot, serving as the foundation for a new alternate reality game. But the initial lack of clarity as to its purpose, coupled with the fact that it installed unprompted, caused understandable alarm.

Once it became clear that users were unhappy, Mozilla moved quickly to set things right. The initial 1.0.3 version of the Firefox extension featured the cryptic Carroll quote and nothing else, as TechCrunch noted, but a subsequent 1.0.4 update included texting explaining its purpose as an ARG.

Mozilla also created a support page to more thoroughly explain Looking Glass, and make it clear that users would have to opt in if they wanted to participate in the ARG. On top of that, the support page includes a vague mea culpa that lays out Mozilla’s mission and commitment to giving people “more control over their lives online.”

The Mr. Robot series centers around the theme of online privacy and security. One of the 10 guiding principles of Mozilla’s mission is that individuals’ security and privacy on the internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional. The more people know about what information they are sharing online, the more they can protect their privacy.

Mozilla exists to build the Internet as a public resource accessible to all because we believe open and free is better than closed and controlled. We build products like Firefox to give people more control over their lives online.

Looking Glass didn’t self-install in every version of Firefox, and as the conversation around it grew, users began to figure out what happened. The extension is a product of Mozilla’s Shield Studies program, which is a “user testing platform for proposed, new and existing features and ideas.”

While some Shield Studies testing items prompt users for approval before installing, others are added automatically and require a manual opt-out. And, as some discovered, it’s possible to participate in Shield Studies without specifically opting in (h/t Engadget).

Ultimately, Looking Glass doesn’t actually do anything unless the user in question chooses to participate in the Mr. Robot ARG. But this is a trust issue more than anything else. And with Mozilla’s Firefox Quantum update freshly launched — and vying to bring back users stolen away by Google Chrome — this secretly added extension is not a good look.

Https%3a%2f%2fblueprint api uploaders%2fdistribution thumb%2fimage%2f83773%2fe7fd392b 03d9 4164 a2de 08e6204fbdea

YouTube briefly took down FCC chairman Ajit Pai

The internet’s most hated man, Ajit Pai, was taken down from YouTube for seven hours after a copyright complaint from the record label Mad Decent. Earlier this week, The Daily Caller posted a video of the FCC chairman dismissing concerns over net neutrality by while dancing around in a Santa suit to “Harlem Shake” and swinging a lightsaber. The flippant tone he took to the hot button issue of net neutrality was unpopular, and as of writing, the video currently stands at 7k likes to 169k dislikes.

Baauer, the DJ who created the track that accompanies the Harlem Shake meme, was “appalled” to be associated in any way with the repeal of net neutrality, and even tweeted that he was going to take action to “stop this loser” (presumably referring to the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission).

In a statement to the Verge on Thursday, Baauer said that he is in support of net neutrality and that his team was “currently exploring every single avenue available to get it taken down.”

According to an op-ed published by The Daily Caller, he succeeded for about seven hours.

Screenshot by the Daily Caller

“Google is quietly and arbitrarily using its massive power to censor the internet,” said the publisher of The Daily Caller, about the brief takedown of their Ajit Pai PSA.

“It took seven crucial hours and the full force of our news site to push Google and YouTube to reverse this political censorship,” he wrote, claiming that they were only able to prevail because of the “sizable contacts and resources” of their organization.

The Daily Caller also claimed that the takedown was wrongful, because the “FCC chairman dancing with a lightsaber to ‘The Harlem Shake,’ is an obvious parody,” and “this is as open-and-shut a case of fair use as has ever existed.”

“It’s a long standing trope of fair use cases, if you’re the one whose content is being taken down, it’s always a clear cut case,” says Tim Hwang, the director of Ethics and Governance at the AI Initiative, a joint project between MIT and Harvard. Hwang is also a lawyer and the organizer of ROFLcon, a convention on internet memes that ran from 2008 to 2012.

In general, the fact that “Harlem Shake” is a meme doesn’t give it any special status in terms of copyright law. Rather than informing any legal analysis, memes just make copyright law more muddy.

“It really highlights the inherent tension with copyright and memes,” says Meredith Rose, an attorney at Public Knowledge who specializes in policy around intellectual property law. “The underlying theory of a meme is that it’s outside a creator’s control by virtue of its own popularity and that it is by definition self-propagating. And that’s really at odds with the concept of copyright.”

Although The Daily Caller calls the video “an obvious parody,” it’s not so clear-cut. Parody is a legal concept established by Supreme Court precedent in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose, a case in which 2 Live Crew was sued for its parody of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.” But what gets to be a parody is narrower than what a lot of people may think. In Dr. Seuss Enterprises v. Penguin Books, a “a rhyming summary of highlights from the O.J. Simpson double murder trial” in the Dr. Seuss style was not a parody but instead a “satire,” which was not subject to protection under the fair use doctrine. While 2 Live Crew wrote a song similar to “Pretty Woman” to make fun of “Pretty Woman,” the satirical The Cat NOT in the Hat! was using Dr. Seuss’s copyrighted material to make fun of something unrelated, and that didn’t count as parody.

When The Daily Caller was filming Ajit Pai dancing, were they using “Harlem Shake” to make fun of “Harlem Shake”? It’s not entirely clear. Almost everyone else who’s ever joined in on the Harlem Shake meme wouldn’t be able to avail themselves of a parody defense, but on the other hand, maybe you could argue that the internet’s most hated man is poking fun at the very internet itself.

“I don’t want to say that it’s a completely frivolous argument,” says Rose. “But I think it’s a harder argument to make if you’re saying that a video of the FCC chairman doing the Harlem Shake while talking about these other issues is actually making fun of the Harlem Shake. That’s a level of meta that I don’t think Ajit Pai was going for.

When asked if Ajit Pai was being censored, Rose laughed very long and hard.

Public Knowledge vocally opposed the rollback of net neutrality rules spearheaded by Ajit Pai. But at least one other advocacy group that opposed net neutrality sides with Pai on this one.

“I was doing my level best to avoid seeing that video, but now that I have: the video is indeed a classic instance of fair use and not a proper subject of a DMCA takedown whatever the motivation,” says Corynne McSherry, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which also vehemently opposed Pai’s policy proposals.

“That said, to send a takedown notice for purely political reasons, assuming that is what Baauer did, is even more improper — and sadly all too common. EFF may share Baauer’s concerns about net neutrality, but abusing the DMCA is not the right way to fight for it.”

Whatever the answer is, everyone agrees that the problems that The Daily Caller ran into are well-known and experienced frequently by many others. “It’s framed in such a conspiratorial way, but in many ways it’s a textbook case around how do we deal with memes online,” says Hwang.

“The internet is a very vibrant place, and I think a lot of the memeing and a lot of the nontraditional creativity that goes on is a good thing,” says Rose. “We don’t want to force that into the shadows in any way, but at the same time, the law is what it is, and until we rewrite it and restructure it to take account of things like memes and collaborative creativity and derivative creativity, we’re going to have these situations, which are either a bug or a feature depending on who you ask.”

It’s almost like this policy has had unintended consequences and maybe the best thing would be for the law to step in and buffer consumers from the whims of unfeeling corporations? Anyways, congratulations on getting your video reinstated, Ajit.

The CDC has been prohibited from using 7 words in documentation for next year’s budget

The Washington Post reports that the Trump Administration has prohibited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using seven words in official documents used for next year’s budget.

The agency was informed of the prohibition at a meeting on Thursday by those who oversee its budget. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” The Post says that policy analysts were provided with some alternatives to use: instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested wording was “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.” In some cases, the agency was not provided with alternative wording.

The prohibition of the seven words from official documentation comes as the government begins work on the next year’s budget, in which individual agencies will submit proposals to the Office of Management and Budget, which in turn goes into the proposed national budget. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told the Post that the CDC “will continue to use the best scientific evidence available to improve the health of all Americans.” A representative from the CDC’s Office of Financial Services explained that in some cases, budget drafts with the words were being returned to the agency for correction.

The constraints could limit the agency from effectively communicating its priorities to lawmakers for the coming year: prohibiting the word “fetus,” for example, would complicate the agency’s efforts when it comes to researching something such as the Zika virus, which can cause neurological problems in an unborn child. This appears to be part of a trend this year, as various government agencies have scrubbed certain words form their websites, such as “Climate Change” and “Global Warming,” while under the Trump Administration.

We’ve reached out to the CDC for comment, and will update this post if we hear back.