Science and Technology

The End of the Internet?

As Wikipedia and Google protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), a rival bill offers a middle road to protecting copyrights.

Nancy Scola/yfrog
Google Google featured a censored doodle in protest of proposed SOPA legislation Wednesday. After President Barack Obama released a statement over the weekend that he would not sign any bill resembling the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), Representative Darrell Issa postponed Wednesday’s hearing on the proposed law. News as of today is that SOPA is DOA. Since December, prominent tech figures and digital activists, including luminaries like Sergey Brin of Google and Jack Dorsey of Twitter, have characterized the bill as a draconian measure that would chill online innovation. A number of popular websites like GoDaddy, Reddit, and Wikipedia have threatened to black out service for a day to boycott the law, and Craigslist, in its rudimentary script, has a running message on its site protesting the measure. New legislation introduced by Issa and Senator Ron Wyden called the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN) looks to avoid a number of the problems with SOPA that...

Virtual Justice

The head administrator of Ninja Video is sentenced to 22 months in prison.

Updated 9:00 a.m. Hana Beshara, the head administrator of Ninja Video, a TV- and movie-streaming site seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in June 2010—and the subject of my article, “ A Ninja In Our Sites ,” in the January/February issue of the Prospect —was sentenced on Friday to 22 months in prison. Upon release, she will be required to complete 500 hours of community service and pay $209,827 in restitution to the film industry’s lobbying group, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). Restitution payments have been set at $150 a month, which means Beshara is expected to give a chunk of her future income to the MPAA for a little over 116 years. Federal prosecutors in Virginia are trying to send Beshara to prison sooner than later. At sentencing, the judge approved voluntary surrender, meaning Beshara would take herself to prison in a few weeks. Over the weekend Beshara criticized the prosecution and the terms of her sentencing on Facebook and chat boards. On...

Jimmy Wales Needs Your Help

Amid concerns over its shrinking editor base, Wikipedia sets out to prove it can survive and expand on small donations.

Robertolyra, Creative Commons license M uch of the Internet's attention the last two months has focused on stopping the various copyright bills being entertained in Congress, but at the same time, Wikipedia has been quietly running its annual fundraising campaign. With awkward banner ads featuring Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Wikimedia Foundation staffers, and volunteers, the campaign aims to cover Wikimedia's operating budget of $25 million. If working to halt bills like the Stop Online Piracy Act is a defensive move, Wikipedia's fundraising campaign is an offense. Just ten years old, Wikipedia has become a go-to repository of the world's knowledge, pulling in nearly half a billion unique visitors a month—enough to make it one of the top six websites in the world. Its success is improbable. "The problem with Wikipedia," a Wikipedia contributor named Gareth Owen writes , "is that it only works in practice. In theory, it's a total disaster...

A Ninja in Our Sites

An aggressive federal enforcement effort targets online piracy—and threatens the open Internet.

I n February 2008, Ninja Video went online and quickly distinguished itself in the unsightly, often malfunctioning world of Internet piracy. The site’s silver, black, and crimson palette spoke to a punk aesthetic, but the content and layout were fastidiously organized. The main page posted a nightly lineup of colorful movie and television banners, rather than the drab link text found on most pirate sites. Popular TV programs like Lost and Fringe would be up five minutes after the latest episode ended. New movies were often on the site before their nationwide premieres. The Ninja staff bundled cinema packages devoted to LGBT issues, classic films, and presidential debates. News services otherwise unavailable in the U.S., like Al Jazeera and the BBC, were streamed live, and Ninja offered one of the largest documentary collections on the Web. Everything was free. All a user had to do was click a logo and press play. PC World named Ninja Video one of the top 100 products of 2009,...

Your Brain Is Racist

ICYMI : ProPublica and the Washington Post took a look at whether people of any particular race are more likely to receive presidential pardons. You'll be shocked, I'm sure, by what they found: White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities... Blacks have had the poorest chance of receiving the president's ultimate act of mercy, according to an analysis of previously unreleased records and related data . Current and former officials at the White House and Justice Department said they were surprised and dismayed by the racial disparities, which persist even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence are considered. "I'm just astounded by those numbers," said Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department's pardons office from 1998 to 2008. He said he could think of nothing in the office's practices that would have skewed the recommendations. "I can recall several African Americans...

One Small Step for Newt

AP Photo/Bill Ingalls
GRINNELL, IOWA—The emerging narrative for Newt Gingrich is that that he is an unstable politician prone to indulging in crazy theories more fitting a fantasy author than a presidential contender. He's been doing his best Chicken Little impression for years, running around warning about the threat of an EMP attack knocking out the nation's electrical grid (hint: it's not much of a threat). And, he is such a Steven Spielberg fan that he became convinced that the U.S. should invest in building a real-life “Jurassic Park.” During the debate last weekend, Newt's stance on space policy got Mitt Romney chuckling. "Places where we disagree?" Romney said in response to some prodding from debate moderator George Stephanopoulos. "Let's see, we can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon, I'm not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that." The Republicans in the crowd laughed it up with Romney, who had used a similar line of attack the day before...

B Is for Betrayal

At a time when women's reproductive rights are under attack on many fronts, the last thing we need is for the Obama administration to join in.

Less than a day after President Barack Obama’s soaring speech on restoring the American middle class, progressives who felt that the administration was finally heading in the right direction stumbled back to reality Wednesday with a baffling decision from Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius overruled the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) on its recommendation to make the contraceptive Plan B—a morning-after pill that reduces the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex—available over the counter alongside contraceptives like condoms. Even girls younger than 16 would have had access to Plan B under the FDA's recommendation. In a statement explaining her decision, Sebelius argued that the FDA had not studied the potential impact on girls as young as 11 who could misunderstand the effects of the pill. As a result, she determined it was premature to make the pill available over the counter. "After careful consideration of the FDA summary review," Sebelius...

Made in America — Again

Leaders discuss returning manufacturing to the U.S. in a Prospect roundtable.

AP Photo/Madalyn Ruggiero
Andy Grove was, successively, the director of engineering, president, CEO, and Chairman of Intel Corporation. In an article last year, Grove proposed levying tariffs on goods produced offshore and dedicating the funds to help companies scale up production in the United States. Andy Grove was, successively, the director of engineering, president, CEO, and Chairman of Intel Corporation. There are three distinct causes for the jobs we’ve lost. First, the declining demand for products. So everybody focused on the stimulus—they assumed that the demand cycle and the employment cycle are related like they used to be. But they’re not. I don’t understand pure Keynesianism at a time of global flows like we have now. If we turn on a spigot to increase demand for consumer products, we need to have some factor that measures the portion that goes to a domestically made product. That portion in the last ten years must have changed in a very major way. You want a measure? How about asking for the...

Just TELL Me You're Gonna Invade My Privacy

Federal regulators have reached a settlement with Facebook over privacy violations—but it's just a slap on the wrist for an industry that regularly sells user data.

Washington, D.C., and Facebook Inc. took part yesterday in another round of what we might call "working on their relationship." But that we're fixated on specific privacy violations rather than the day-in-day-out use of our personal data lets us know that there's a limit to the conversation in which they're engaged. What happened is this: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reached a settlement with Facebook that requires the company to stop engaging in privacy-violating practices and to participate in regular third-party privacy audits for the next 20 years. The agreement, prompted by a complaint by privacy-advocacy groups, is meant to address several places were Facebook was found to have gone astray in recent years—not truly deleting deleted user accounts, sharing friend lists that had been marked private, and changing privacy settings without really telling anyone. The agreement still needs to be approved by FTC commissioners at the end of December, after a period of public comment...

The Showman

This "lost" interview shows Steve Jobs as an incredibly charismatic figure.

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma
A few nights ago, I took to the E Street Cinema in Washington, D.C., to watch the “lost” interview Steve Jobs gave to Robert X. Cringley for a 1996 PBS television series, “Triumph of the Nerds.” The series included ten minutes of the interview, the rest of which was never seen, and feared lost, until Cringley discovered the mastertape following Jobs’s death last month. The interview shows Steve Jobs at 40, ten years into his career as head of NeXT computer, 9 years into his position as co-founder of Pixar, and a few months before he would sell NeXT to Apple, the first stop in a process that would end with Jobs as CEO of Apple Computer. If you’re familiar with Apple’s history, nothing in this interview should surprise you. Jobs goes over the well-worn stories of Apple’s founding by himself and Steve Wozniak, its initial successes with the Apple II and the Macintosh, his ejection from the company in 1985, and Apple’s failure to keep up with Microsoft in the late 1980s and early 1990s...

One Small Step for Climate Scientists

Researcher gains legal standing to sue for privacy against global-warming skeptics.

In a small victory for global-warming advocates, the case against climate scientist Michael Mann has hit some rough ground. Mann, a climate scientist who has been fighting a battle against the American Traditions Institute (ATI) since January, received his first piece of good news in the case on November 1 when a Virginia judge ruled that Mann did, in fact, have standing to join the case over the release of his e-mails from his time at the University of Virginia (UVA). The judge also decided to reopen the consent decree between UVA and ATI concerning exempted e-mails. Facing a Freedom of Information Act request, UVA maintained that there was material in Mann’s e-mails that should be safe from release under an academic-material exemption. Mann and UVA were concerned that the initial consent order allowed the contested material to be reviewed by ATI’S lawyers, Chris Horner and David Schnare—an arrangement that struck many as inappropriate. As I wrote about in October , Mann’s struggle...

The Robots Are Coming!

Google, we learn from Monday’s New York Times , has a secret lab in an undisclosed location in the Bay Area where it is developing robots. We don’t know what the Google-oids are working on there, but we do know that the company has developed and built a driverless car that has already traversed 100,000 miles on California roads without getting either a ticket or a scratch. Surely, though, there are innumerable now-human activities that could be performed efficiently, and eventually more cheaply, by robots. On Tuesday, the Robot Report (“Tracking the business of robotics”) ran a story that Foxconn, the Taiwan-based manufacturer that employs roughly one million Chinese workers who assemble all of Apple’s products (and many of Dell’s and other high-tech companies) has broken ground on a factory in Taiwan to manufacture robots. Foxconn hopes to replace 500,000 of its Chinese workers, the Report says, with 1 million robots. If Foxconn succeeds at this venture, it will be yet another...

Climate Control

As their ranks diminish, global warming skeptics target scientists

AP Photo/John Giles
Last week Richard Muller and his team released the findings of their exhaustive study on global warming with definitive simplicity, saying flatly “global warming is real.” The statement is an especially damning one to climate change deniers, as Muller, himself once a global warming skeptic, conducted the study partly with funds from the Koch brothers. As even skeptics like Muller begin to accept the overwhelming science behind global warming, opponents are taking up a new tactic that goes after the scientists themselves. One of these scientists is Michael Mann, a climatologist who, since January, has been targeted by climate-deniers.Following the example of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, which have a tradition of attacking the credibility of scientists who oppose their products, skeptics are beginning question the credentials and research of individual scientists. Since 2007, when a Supreme Court ruling found that, under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the right to regulate...

Steve Jobs and the Chinese Wall

Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs hit the bookstores on Monday (or, worse, the websites that have replaced bookstores as the place where people go to buy books), and the more piquant details have already started popping up in the press. Among those details—actually, it’s a good deal more than details—is Jobs’s Manichean view of humankind (at least, those elements of humankind with whom he came into contact). As Michael Rosenwald summarizes it in Monday’s Washington Post : In his personal life, [Jobs] was capable of seeing people in only two ways – as enlightened or as bozos. There was no in-between, and he would ruthlessly cast aside whoever he deemed a bozo…. Those who were deemed enlightened were granted the right to work with Jobs in his binary world where products were either ‘the best’ or ‘totally [expletive],’ Isaacson writes. Isaacson’s description may make it easier to understand Apple’s production process, in which its products were designed to a fare-thee-well in...

Businesspeople Don't Always Make Good Politicians

The Huffington Post has early access to the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs, which – among many other things – reveals the Apple CEO’s distaste for President Obama and his policies: When he [Jobs] finally relented and they met at the Westin San Francisco Airport, Jobs was characteristically blunt. He seemed to have transformed from a liberal into a conservative. ‘You’re headed for a one-term presidency,’ he told Obama at the start of their meeting, insisting that the administration needed to be more business-friendly. […] Though Jobs was not that impressed by Obama, later telling Isaacson that his focus on the reasons that things can’t get done ‘infuriates’ him , they kept in touch and talked by phone a few more times. [Emphasis mine] You should count this as a data point in my contention that business makes a poor training ground for lawmaking. Governing is messy, difficult work, and requires people with a willingness to make deals and sacrifice the perfect to the good. The...

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