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Marketing and Networking & telecommunications and Security and Social networking and The media and The Web12 Jun 2013 at 11:11 by Jean-Marc Liotier

A few reflections from my notes of public reaction to last weekend’s events.

Advertising is the main source of revenue for publishers on the Web, including the lords of sharecropping empires such as Facebook and Google. Revenue from advertising varies hugely with how well the message targets the audience. Targeting requires getting to know the target – which is the business that Facebook and Google are in : getting the user to find them useful and trust them so that he willingly provides them with their raw material.

I used to enjoy giving the publishers a lot of data in return for personalization and services – even considering the risks. Yes, we knew the risks – but they are the sort of risks that we are notoriously bad at evaluating. Most of us have probably read at least a dozen different tales of Orwellian dystopias – yet our productive relationship with service providers let us convince ourselves that betrayal won’t happen. We were so complacent that it might be argued that we asked for this.

So why are we surprised ? The surprise is in the scale of the abuse. Corruption always exists at the margins of any system that is sufficiently slack to let alternative ways thrive and supply the mainstream with fresh ideas. A society with no deviance at its margins is totalitarian – so we live with that some antisocial behaviour as a cost of doing business in a society that values individual freedom.

But today we find that the extent of corruption is not restricted to the margins – we find that most of what goes on there among people we entrusted with extreme power at the core of the state entirely escapes oversight and drifts into mass surveillance which is known to asphyxiate societies. That much corruption was a risk that we were warned against, but seeing it realized is still a nasty surprise.

Again, this is not about lawful surveillance under democratic oversight, which is as acceptable as ever – this is about the dangerous nature of massive untargeted surveillance outside of democratic control. But public opinion reeling from the shock will probably be blind to the difference – it is now likely to be wary of anything that even remotely smells of surveillance.

Of course, not everyone has yet realized the tradeoffs that modern communications entail and that they have always been making, even if unwittingly – public awareness of privacy issues is not going to arise without continued evangelism anytime soon. But a host of users has awoken to realize that they were sleepwalking naked on Main Street. What will they do now ?

Considering how mainstream audiences have long happily kept gobbling up toxic information from the mass media, I am not holding my breath for a violent phase transition – but a new generation of privacy militants might just have been given birth and I wonder how much they will nudge the information industry’s trajectory. In any case, they will not make the Internet more welcoming to it.

Networking & telecommunications and Politics and Social networking and The media and Uncategorized09 Jun 2013 at 22:49 by Jean-Marc Liotier

In the wake of the Prism debacle, Google CEO Larry Page and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, among others, published reactions full of outrage, strong denials of specific allegations (“direct access”, “back doors”) and technically correct truth… But ridiculously inadequate in the face of the awesome shitstorm that Edward Snowden kicked up, as they won’t admit willful cooperation or even awareness of possible abuse of privileges lightheartedly granted to the NSA.

Meanwhile, the Director of National Intelligence issued a fact sheet stating that PRISM was conducted “under court supervision, as authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (50 U.S.C. § 1881a)”. Among other things, that fact sheet states that :

Under Section 702 of FISA, the United States Government does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers of U.S. electronic communication service providers. All such information is obtained with FISA Court approval and with the knowledge of the provider based upon a written directive from the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence.

Above emphasis is mine – “not unilaterally” and “with knowledge of the provider”. Hello, Larry ? Zuck ? Feeling lonely there ? Have you just been hung out to dry by your friend the DNI ?

Knowledge management and Politics and Security and The media and The Web28 Feb 2013 at 12:43 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Article 322-6-1 of the French Code Pénal punishes with one year in prison and a 15000€ fine “the diffusion by any mean of manufacturing processes for destructive devices made from explosive, nuclear, biological or chemical substances or any product intended for domestic, industrial or agricultural use“.

So in France, Cryptome can’t publish this very common and very public US military field manual, a textfiles.com mirror in France is illegal because it contains this, description of a chemical reaction on the MIT’s site would be repressed  and Wikipedia’s legal team better excise this section of the Nitroglycerin article from any HTTP response bound to France.

And someone once again forgot that censoring information locally does not work.

But wait – there is more stupidity… The punishment is tripled (three years in prison and a 45000€ fine) if the information has been published “to an undefined audience on a public electronic communication network“. Why isn’t there a specific punishment for posting on a billboard too ? Once again, in yet another country, the use of electronic tools is an aggravating circumstance. As electronics pervade our whole lives, isn’t that entirely anachronistic ?

Well – as long as Tor, I2P & al. keep working…

By the way, that law makes an exception for professional use – so if you are acting as an agent of a duly accredited terrorist enterprise, rest assured it does not apply to you !

Brain dump and Technology and The media26 Jun 2012 at 13:42 by Jean-Marc Liotier

/set rant_mode on

A digit is a numeral from 0 to 9 – so the French translation is “un chiffre”. Surprisingly, I find myself having to add that the French translation of “a digit” is not “un doigt” – you may use your fingers for counting, but in the end it is all about numbers not body parts.

Therefore the proper translation of “digital” in French is “numérique” – the French word “digital” describes something related to fingers. A digital device may be finger operated, but its digital nature is related to binary processing… The presence of a keyboard is accessory.

Increasingly, I find my compatriots using “digital” to qualify anything run by computing devices without having to mention them by name – because computers, data processing, electronics and such drab technicalities are uncool compared to the glittering glitz of mass-marketable trinkets. I resent this lamentable technophobic trend but, if you want to indulge in such decadence, please at least use the proper French word.

From now on you’ll know that any French person caught saying “digital” instead of “numérique” spectacularly exposes his ignorance – you know who they are and you are welcome to anonymously report them in this article’s comments (with links to incriminating tweets for bonus ignominy).

I obviously don’t mind people using English. I don’t even mind loan words – they are part of how a language evolves. But I do object to mindless namespace pollution: using loan words does not exempt from semantic coherence.

Call me pedant if you want, but if you attempt to degrade our essential communication tools you’ll find me on your path and I’ll be angry !

Politics and Technology and The media23 Dec 2010 at 12:56 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Bruce Sterling just wrote a wonderful melancholic essay on cypherpunks, Wikileaks, Julian Assange and the human society that forms their milieu. It may be the best piece so far to capture the character of Julian Assange.

Glancing over the comments, I stopped on this one – here is an extract:

[..] the people that run the governments of the world don’t get it at all. As the old guard “nationalists” die off there will be less and less reaction to this kind of thing to the point where it’s happening so much most things are just lost in the noise. I’m younger than Bruce, but not by much, however I know this much that he doesn’t seem to, in a world where the population has grown up with Facebook/MySpace/etc there is not even the expectation of privacy or secrets. Get over it. People will again have to start actually being polite to one another, or they’ll be exposed for all to see.

Personally, I do not believe that information which is solely classified because it’s embarrassing to a government should be. I also believe that people that work for the government should be honor bound to report when crimes are being committed, and that supersedes ALL other directives. Until we reach that state we will not have grown into adults as a society. Right now governments behave as children without adults behave. Read Lord of the Flies.

I disagree with him about expectations of privacy from the Facebook generation, but the rest rings true to me. But what hit me as I read it is his remark that “Ppople will again have to start actually being polite to one another, or they’ll be exposed for all to see” : this immediately reminded me of this Heinlein quote:

“An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life” – Robert A. Heinlein

One may not agree with Heinlein about whether citizens bearing arms is a good idea, but the fact is that the balance of power that was previously wholly on the side of the governments has just been slightly tipped back toward the citizens.

Will that make governments more polite toward their citizens ?

Politics and The media11 Dec 2010 at 17:28 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Yesterday, sparked by a Frederick Douglass quote I stumbled upon at Reddit, I posted my spontaneous thoughts about the Wikileak Cablegate aftermath. Of course by now everyone an his dog is barking across town in delicious cacophony, so here are a few articles in that vein that I liked today.

How to think about Wikileaks” is a compendium of analysis and reactions that has been widely pointed at. If you don’t know where to start, this is a very good place with choice quotes from interesting voices from all round. Among them, Cintra Wilson’s “The C Word: Julian Assange Isn’t Doing Anything Worse Than What Our Government Is Doing” rang particularly well within me.

Apart from that, I liked this piece from Broadstuff, found through the incredible Glyn Moody : Wikileaks only exists because the mainstream media failed. Here in France I’m pleasantly surprised to have seen Le Monde be one of the five media anchors in the world to collaborate on the Cablegate release – this surely has something to do with its new rebellious ownership. Not to be outdone, the left-leaning Liberation is now hosting a Wikileaks mirror – of course I’m not holding my breath for Le Figaro to do anything. But even Le Monde has only caught the Wikileaks wave, not created it. Journalists used to be the conduit for leaking information – where are they now ?

By the way, Aavaaz petition in support of Wikileaks is past 530k signatures – 300k in past 24 hours. Let’s get it past a million, just in case whoever cluelessly keeps attempting a clumsy crackdown has not got the message yet…

Politics and The media10 Dec 2010 at 13:39 by Jean-Marc Liotier

A disturbing number of people around me have expressed misgivings about Wikileak’s disorderly conduct, claiming that progress must be achieved in a more civilized way within the frame of the established government system. Alas, that is not always possible – sometimes a measure of peaceful excess is required to nudge the system out of a local optimum toward the great wide open of better possibilities. To illustrate that, here are a few choice quotes from someone who broke his chains and helped in freeing others from theirs:

“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will” – Frederick Douglass in an address on West India Emancipation (1857-08-04)

If you don’t ask for something, the odds of receiving it are tiny – especially when subjected to more powerful forces. The people have been clamoring for honesty from those who govern them, and not getting it. Now they begin to understand that a struggle is required – and they chose information as their weapon.

The people seeks truth as authority, not authority as truth. But Wikileaks is not about the abstract and impossible absolute transparency – the strawman argument derided by those who oppose it. It is about more transparency in response to a problem : we don’t trust our governments anymore.

Or course, Wikileaks is clearly excessive – but it is only the backlash for the equally excessive treachery that secretive governments have foisted upon their own people.

More balanced views will prevail, but only when trust will have been re-established. Until then, there will be struggle :

“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe” – Frederick Douglass in speech on the twenty-fourth anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C. (April 1886)

It remains that whereas governments have been used to the privilege of surveillance over subjects – they are now waking up to a new world of sousveillance, where citizens forcefully take back rightful lordship over their government.

Wikileaks has contributed to the exposure of how broken the covenant between the people and the governments currently is. That covenant will be renewed : the truth that is pouring out of the shadows is the source of hope that will feed it.

“When a great truth once gets abroad in the world, no power on earth can imprison it, or prescribe its limits, or suppress it. It is bound to go on till it becomes the thought of the world” – Frederick Douglass in in speech to the International Council of Women (31 March 1888)

The discussion is now open – more information cures all !

Thanks to Frederick Douglass for the inspiration – the Wikileaks affair underlines the timelessness of his writings.

Marketing and Social networking and The media and The Web15 Dec 2009 at 0:24 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Today I mentioned that 15 years late, I had finally put a name on a past adolescent problem : patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS). As far as I understood, it is a growth related muscle unbalance that solves itself when the body reaches maturity.

As usual with most of my microblogging, I dispatch the 140 chars to several sites using Ping.fm and then follow the conversation wherever it eventually happens. In that case, a conversation developed on Facebook. Friends asked questions and gave their two cents – business as usual.

And then an interloper cut in : “Jean-Marc we can help correct your patellfemoral pain syndrome. It is the mal-tracking of your patella. Check us out at mycommercialkneesite.com”. It is not entirely spam at first sight because it is actually on-topic and even slightly informative. But it is not really taking part in the conversation either because it is a blatant plug for an infomercial site. So spam it is, but cleverly targeted at a niche audience.

I does looks like all the blatant plugs that we have been seeing for decades in forums and mailing list – usually for a short time after which the culprit mends is devious ways or ends up banned. But there is an innovative twist brought by the rise of the “real-time web” : the power of keyword filtering applied to the whole microblogging world is the enabler of large-scale conversational marketing. Obnoxious marketers attempting to pass as bona fide contributors to the conversation are no longer a merely local nuisance – they are now reaching us at a global scale and in near real-time.

Marketers barging in whenever someone utters a word that qualifies their niche are gatecrashers and will be treated as such. But I find fascinating that we now have  personalized advertising capable of targeting a niche audience in real-time as the qualifying keywords appear. Not that I like it, but you have to recognize it as a new step in the memetic arms race between advertisers and audience.

Imagine that coupled with voice recognition and some IVR scripting. Do you remember those telephone services where you get free airtime if you listen for advertising breaks ? Imagine the same concept where during the conversation someone – a human, or even a conversational automaton – comes in and says “Hey, you were telling your boyfriend about your headache ? Why don’t you try Schrufanol ? Mention SHMURZ and get the third one free !”.

Even better, add some more intelligent pattern recognition to go beyond keywords. The hopeless student who just told his pal on Schmoogle FreeVoice telling about his fear of failure at exams will immediately receive through Schmoogle AdVoice a special offer for cram school from a salesdrone who knows his name and just checked out his Facebook profile. You think this is the future ? This is probably already happening.

15 years late, I finally put a name on my past adolescent problem : patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) – growth related muscle unbalance.

Networking & telecommunications and Politics and The media08 Oct 2009 at 11:18 by Jean-Marc Liotier

The French satirical investigative journalism weekly “Le Canard Enchaîné“  reveals that our holier-than-thou presidency is in fact a pirate’s lair. In a stunning display of hypocrisy, the presidential audiovisual services produced 400 unauthorized copies of the 52 minutes documentary “A visage découvert : Nicolas Sarkozy“.

The editor, Galaxie Press had only shipped 50 copies, but the propaganda plan required more so the Elysee went to work, going as far as modifying the cover and replacing the Galaxie Presse name and logos with “Service audiovisuel de la présidence de la République”.

Isn’t is deliciously ironic that the same executive power is the main force behind the latest disgusting bungled piece of French legislation regulating and controlling the usage of the Internet in order to enforce the compliance to the copyright law ?

It is even more appalling that we are dealing with repeat offenders : last spring, while the Hadopi law was discussed, U.S. music duo MGMT received €30,000 as a settlement for a copyright infringement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party who used one of its songs at a political rally without permission. Those who led the charge against Internet users are not the most respectful of copyright.

Hadopi is also known as the “three strikes” law because it after a certain number of warnings a copyright infringer’s Internet access would be cut off. Hadopi has just been adopted. Nicolas – one more of those antics and your Internet access is toast !

Military and Photography and The media08 Jan 2009 at 20:19 by Jean-Marc Liotier

The latest issue of the excellent The Big Picture at the Boston Globe, is about the Israeli assault on Hamas in the Gaza strip. While I was looking at the pictures, it dawned on me that the Israeli have a severe media problem. We only see the mighty war machine, the pyrotechnics and the unlucky hapless civilians caught in the middle. This is Hamas propaganda material served on a platter. Why are the Israeli letting the images sway public opinion against them ?

It is not the first time that Israel has to deal with adverse public opinion. Let’s take this example from 1982 by Jonathan F. Keiler in “Who Won the Battle of Fallujah ?” (January 2005 issue of Proceedings) :

“Dating from the siege of Beirut in 1982, Israel has practiced a complex and limited form of urban warfare. In Beirut, this involved a cordon around the city, accompanied by limited attacks with artillery, ground, and air forces to put pressure on the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Syrian forces inside. The IDF did not launch a general assault on the city; it awaited a political solution that resulted in evacuation of enemy forces under the auspices of outside powers. Despite the IDF’s restraint, it was depicted as little short of barbaric by much of the international media. The PLO’s evacuation was treated as a victory parade, rather than the retreat it was, and the PLO lived to fight another day. The battle was a tactical victory for Israel, but a strategic defeat.

The Beirut experience and ongoing domestic and international pressures color Israeli doctrine. Throughout the current struggle, the IDF generally has not occupied Palestinian cities, a notable exception being seizure of the Jenin refugee camp. The Jenin operation is the exception that proves the rule: the IDF was castigated for its assault on Jenin and falsely accused of perpetrating a massacre”.

Palestinian civilian deaths cost Israel a lot of international support – it is in Israel’s best interests to avoid them. With the hypothesis that Israel is a more or less rational player, we can posit that they are taking precautions against them – and that is what has been historically shown. But whatever the precautions, striking targets embedded within urban zones and with no no prior evacuation of civilians causes significant collateral damage, especially if the presence of civilian near targets is not entirely incidental. So the Palestinian civilian death toll should not come as a surprise to anyone. Israel had enough experience to know that it was going to have a major media crisis on its hands. So why has Israel let adverse news leak so easily ? They are obviously trying to control the media by banning journalists from Gaza, but this action actually has an adverse effect : the result is that Palestinian voices are dominating the media.

Other players have shown that keeping a lid over ongoing politically sensitive military and twisting them in a favorable way is practically possible, even in the age of ubiquitous satellite communications. In “Grozny 2000: Urban Combat Lessons Learned” by Timothy L. Thomas of the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, we read that the information war was successfully made a priority by the Russians :

“In 1995 the Russian government lost the propaganda war by default. This time it made every effort to control the media and ensure that its view of the war dominated public opinion. Russia won this information war from day one of the fighting and is still winning. The government and military control access to combatants and censor reporting that could undermine support for the war. Reports of Russian military successes have fueled support for military activities among the populace. However, some military spokesmen have altered the facts and limited independent reporting so much that it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.

With few exceptions, Russian journalists have not complained about the media management, and instead have picked up much of the military’s jargon, such as references to “working” in the city instead of bombing or assaulting. Media control was formalized in December 1999 through the mechanism of Resolution Number 1538. The President of the Russian Federation created the Russian Information Center whose job it was to filter information before providing it to the mass media and to control the dissemination of foreign information. Such tight media control was absent in the first fight for Grozny, and it cost the Russians dearly. One analyst noted that after the first Chechen war, the Russian military came to the conclusion that they had to first play out the information war against the Chechen resistance, as in their opinion the Chechens had succeeded in morally disarming public opinion in Russia”.

In Gaza, this battle is being won by Hamas and Israel does not seem to be performing information warfare any better than Russia in 1995. Considering how sophisticated the Israeli intelligence apparatus is reputed to be, one can only wonder at such poor performance. Hamas on the other hand can happily stand back and watch Israel do all the work for them.

Recently, the United States did a much better media control job at Fallujah. Media coverage was quite tame and few images leaked outside of the United States military approval. It may be because the United States took care of cordonning off Fallujah and emptying it of its population as much as possible before assaulting. At the time, Rory McCarthy estimated that “many of Falluja’s 200,000 to 300,000 residents fled the city before the assault, between 30,000 and 50,000 are believed to have remained during the fighting“. Israeli precipitation precluded such evacuation in Gaza, and it is dubious that they could have afforded that luxury either given the lack of destination for potential evacuees. But they could have emulated some practices such as embedding journalists. The newly published “Tactique Générale” manual (FT-02) of the French Armée de Terre mentions that in every Marine company in Fallujah there were four or five embedded journalists. With empathy toward the troops they are following, the embedded journalists can provide a semblance of counterweight to the insurgent’s natural propaganda support.

Hamas ruthlessly censors how Gaza is painted in the media – journalists don’t seem to mind too much and the public does not seem to even notice. Maybe Israel could have done a better job of suppressing information channels, but it cannot operate the same way as Hamas : letting reporters roam with relative freedom is one of the costs of operating as a democracy. The problem is that the free flow of information is antinomic to media warfare. States such as Israel are left with a difficult dilemma : protecting a free society with authoritarian methods is the path toward corruption, and the United States have sufficiently illustrated that fact. But after all, maybe the target audience of Israel’s actions is in Gaza, not in the rest of the world.