Google Co-Founder Says Internet Freedom Facing Greatest Threat Ever

Google co-founder Sergey Brin said the principles of openness and universal access that underpinned the Internet’s creation are facing their greatest-ever threat, in an interview published by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Brin said factors such as the entertainment industry’s crack down on piracy, the rise of “restrictive” walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple and increasing efforts by governments to control access and communication by their citizens are major threats to the freedom of the Internet.

“There are very powerful forces that have lined up against the open Internet on all sides and around the world,” Brin was quoted as saying. “I am more worried than I have been in the past. It’s scary.”

He said he was concerned by the efforts of countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and Iran to censor the Internet.

Brin also believes that Facebook and Apple, which control users access to their own proprietary platforms, risk stifling innovation and balkanising the web.

Reddit Plans Jan. 18th Blackout in Protest of SOPA/PIPA

In a blog post, community news-sharing site Reddit announced that it will be shutting down normal operations on January 18 in protest of the proposed Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA).

From the blog post:

The freedom, innovation, and economic opportunity that the Internet enables is in jeopardy. Congress is considering legislation that will dramatically change your Internet experience and put an end to reddit and many other sites you use everyday. Internet experts, organizations, companies, entrepreneurs, legal experts, journalists, and individuals have repeatedly expressed how dangerous this bill is. If we do nothing, Congress will likely pass the Protect IP Act (in the Senate) or the Stop Online Piracy Act (in the House), and then the President will probably sign it into law. There are powerful forces trying to censor the Internet, and a few months ago many people thought this legislation would surely pass. However, there’s a new hope that we can defeat this dangerous legislation.

We’ve seen some amazing activism organized by redditors at /r/sopa and across the reddit community at large. You have made a difference in this fight; and as we near the next stage, and after much thought, talking with experts, and hearing the overwhelming voices from the reddit community, we have decided that we will be blacking out reddit on January 18th from 8am–8pm EST (1300–0100 UTC).

If passed, SOPA would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and copyright holders to seek court orders against foreign and domestic websites that enable or facilitate copyright infringement. Accused websites would be removed from search engine results, barred from online advertising networks, and blocked from payment processing networks. Sites like Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube and Reddit could be crippled for hosting or linking user-uploaded content that potentially infringes on copyrights.

The bill would also make the unauthorized streaming of copyrighted content, such as a song or TV show, a crime punishable by up to five years in prison.

Reddit’s planned 12-hour blackout coincides with a congressional hearing on SOPA, at which tech and security leaders, including Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian, will air their grievances toward SOPA and PIPA.

During the downtime, Reddit will stream the hearing and display a statement on why this legislation would mean the end of user-generated content sites.

Last month, Reddit user selfprodigy started a boycott against domain-hosting company GoDaddy, for supporting SOPA. Selfprodigy asked domain holders to transfer their websites to other hosting companies. The next day, GoDaddy withdrew its support for SOPA citing a spike in domain name transfers.

On Twitter, reactions to the Reddit blackout have been overwhelmingly positive. The hacker group Anonymous came out in support of Reddit, tweeting a link to the blog post announcing the blackout.

In December, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales considered a site-wide black out to demonstrate what the site might look like should this legislation pass. The blackout never happened, but Wales did withdraw Wikipedia and Wikia domains from GoDaddy as part of the December boycott.

Some suggest that the Reddit blackout could lead to more collective efforts against SOPA. According to VentureBeat, “there have been rumblings that Google, Twitter and Facebook are also planning a collective protest effort against SOPA and PIPA.”

Google, Yahoo, Facebook and Others Consider Blackout Day Protest of SOPA

Google co-founder Sergey Brin warned that the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act “would put us on a par with the most oppressive nations in the world.” Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Twitter co-founders Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone, and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman argue that the bills give the Feds unacceptable “power to censor the Web.”

But these companies have yet to put action behind their words.

When the home pages of Google, Amazon, Facebook and their Internet allies go black with anti-censorship warnings that ask users to contact politicians about their votes on SOPA, you’ll know they mean business.

“There have been some serious discussions about that,” says Markham Erickson, who heads the NetCoalition trade association that counts Google, Amazon, eBay, and Yahoo as members. “It has never happened before.”

Web firms may be outspent tenfold on lobbyists, but have the advantage of direct relationships with users as opposed to the SOPA-backing Hollywood studios and record labels.

Protect IP and SOPA supposedly represents the latest effort from the Motion Picture Association of America, the RIAA, and their allies to counter what they see as rampant piracy on the Internet, especially offshore sites such as ThePirateBay.org. It would allow the Justice Department to obtain an order to be served on search engines, Internet providers, and other companies forcing them to make a suspected piratical Web site vanish, a kind of Internet death penalty.

There are early signs that the nuclear option is seriously being contemplated. Wikimedia (as in Wikipedia) called SOPA an “Internet Blacklist Bill.” Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales has proposed an article page blackout as a way to put “maximum pressure on the U.S. government” in response to SOPA. Micro-blogging site Tumblr has generated 87,834 calls to Congress over SOPA.

A message appearing on the screens of people living in the mostly rural Texas district of SOPA author Lamar Smith, Hollywood’s favorite Republican, asking them to call or write and voice their displeasure, couldn’t possibly go unnoticed. If Tumblr could generate nearly 90,000 calls on its own, think of what companies with hundreds of millions of users could do.

If these Web companies believe what their executives say (PDF) about SOPA and Protect IP, they’ll let their users know what their elected representatives are contemplating. A Senate floor debate scheduled for January 24, 2012 would be an obvious starting point.

“The reason it hasn’t happened is because of the sensitivity,” says Erickson, “even when it’s a policy issue that benefits their users.” He adds: It may happen.”

It may, it may not but it would definitely change politics if it did.

Forget big brother, your iPhone is watching you…

Security researchers have uncovered a secret file in Apple’s iPhone that keeps track of it’s users every movement. The file records the latitude and longitude of the phone’s coordinates along with a time stamp. This information is also recorded to any computer the phone is synchronized with. It appears that this file was apart of the iOS 4 update released in June of last year.

“Apple has made it possible for almost anybody, a jealous spouse, a private detective, with access to your phone or computer to get detailed information about where you’ve been,” said Pete Warden, one of the researchers.

Warden and fellow data scientist Alasdair Allan say the iPhone is the only smartphone that tracks user locations this way. “Alasdair has looked for similar tracking code in Google’s Android phones and couldn’t find any,” said Warden. “We haven’t come across any instances of other phone manufacturers doing this.” Apparently the file is also transferred to new devices when an older version is replaced “Apple might have new features in mind that require a history of your location, but that’s our specualtion. The fact that the file is transferred across to a new iPhone or iPad when you migrate is evidence that the data-gathering isn’t accidental.” But they said it does not seem to be transmitted to Apple itself.

In 2009 Google was criticized for given users of it’s mobile devices the option to to give out details of their location to trusted contacts, the iPhone system on the other hand seems to record the data whether or not the user agrees. Apple declined to comment on why the file is created or whether it can be disabled. They may have a legal defense though as the terms and conditions of  their iTunes program when synchronized with iPhones, iPods and iPads, has an 86-word paragraph about “location-based services”. It reads as follows:

“Apple and our partners and licensees may collect, use, and share precise location data, including the real-time geographic location of your Apple computer or device. This location data is collected anonymously in a form that does not personally identify you and is used by Apple and our partners and licensees to provide and improve location-based products and services. For example, we may share geographic location with application providers when you opt in to their location services.”

But what if you don’t use iTunes or any location based services? Than what reason could they possibly have to record the data?

Warden and Allan have set up a web page which answers questions about the file. The site has a downloadable application to let Apple users check for themselves what location data the phone is retaining.