Wisdom from Boris Johnson

Dr Matt Taylor’s shirt made me cry, too – with rage at his abusers.

The more this sort of thing happens, the less I feel like supporting Team Internet. There is now only one level of disapproval on the Internet – total screaming outrage. And all of a person’s other achievements seemingly count for nothing if he does something that meets with that disapproval.

Twitter: could it be the greatest hate generator the world has ever built? Or perhaps it just more easily reveals what was in human hearts all along.

You’ve Been Trolled

(Troll (v.): to say something with the aim of provoking an angry reaction which benefits you.)

On , an American company called Honey Maid (company slogan: “This is Wholesome”) released a new commercial. It features a number of families and children in a very positive light, including a family of two men. Here’s the video:

Soon after came the calls for a boycott.

A few days later, a Facebook friend linked to this video, which you absolutely should watch in full:

So, if you were someone who called for or joined this protest, what did you achieve here? Let’s consider. You got to look angry and intolerant – even if you didn’t use language like that depicted in the video, everyone will assume that you did. You got to look weak – it’s now clear that even companies whose core market is supposed to be the All-American family with traditional values have no problem taking an explicit stand for same-sex marriage, because they think it’ll be a net win for their sales figures. And you got to look fearful and patronised – what they did is the approximate equivalent of patting you on the head and saying “There, there, dear, don’t be scared, it’ll all be alright in the end.” You gave the company a ton of free publicity, and they got to look enlightened and forward-looking.

And the crowning achievement of the trolling, the pièce de résistance, was the fact that there was a shot of a mixed-race family somewhat later in the original, and they included that in the “bits people didn’t like” section of the follow-up video, right after showing the gay couple. So you all look racist, too – even if none of you had any issues with the promotion of that type of family.

I’m pretty sure they didn’t think of this after the commercial was published; it was set up in advance. They knew this was going to happen, and you played right into their hands. As bits of marketing go, I have to say “well played”.

So, here’s my advice. Public expressions of outrage (something you picked up from the other side’s playbook anyway) clearly don’t work any more, if they ever did. When a company like Honey Maid can troll you to get a quite predictable reaction and lots of free publicity, here’s the lesson: you need new tactics. This isn’t working.

Copyright and Software

As part of our discussions on responding to the EU Copyright Consultation, Benjamin Smedberg made an interesting proposal about how copyright should apply to software. With Chris Riley’s help, I expanded that proposal into the text below. Mozilla’s final submission, after review by various parties, argued for a reduced term of copyright for software of 5-10 years, but did not include this full proposal. So I publish it here for comment.

I think the innovation, which came from Benjamin, is the idea that the spirit of copyright law means that proprietary software should not be eligible for copyright protections unless the source code is made freely available to the public by the time the copyright term expires.

We believe copyright terms should be much shorter for software, and that there should be a public benefit tradeoff for receiving legal protection, comparable to other areas of IP.

We start with the premise that the purpose of copyright is to promote new creation by giving to their authors an exclusive right, but that this right is necessary time-limited because the public as a whole benefits from the public domain and the free sharing and reproduction of works. Given this premise, copyright policy has failed in the domain of software. All software has a much, much shorter life than the standard copyright term; by the end of the period, there is no longer any public benefit to be gained from the software entering the public domain, unlike virtually all other categories of copyrighted works. There is already more obsolete software out there than anyone can enumerate, and software as a concept is barely even 50 years old, so none is in the public domain. Any which did fall into the public domain after 50 or 70 years would be useful to no-one, as it would have been written for systems long obsolete.

We suggest two ideas to help the spirit of copyright be more effectively realized in the software domain.

Proprietary software (that is, software for which the source code is not immediately available for reuse anyway) should not be eligible for copyright protections unless the source code is made freely available to the public by the time the copyright term expires. Unlike a book, which can be read and copied by anyone at any stage before or after its copyright expires, software is often distributed as binary code which is intelligible to computers but very hard for humans to understand. Therefore, in order for software to properly fall into the public domain at the end of the copyright term, the source code (the human-readable form) needs to be made available at that time – otherwise, the spirit of copyright law is not achieved, because the public cannot truly benefit from the copyrighted material. An escrow system would be ideal to implement this.

This is also similar to the tradeoff between patent law and trade secret protection; you receive a legal protection for your activity in exchange for making it available to be used effectively by the broader public at the end of that period. Failing to take that tradeoff risks the possibility that someone will reverse engineer your methods, at which point they are unprotected.

Separately, the term of software copyright protection should be made much shorter (through international processes as relevant), and fixed for software products. We suggest that 14 years is the most appropriate length. This would mean that, for example, Windows XP would enter the public domain in August 2015, which is a year after Microsoft ceases to support it (and so presumably no longer considers it commercially viable). Members of the public who wish to continue to run Windows XP therefore have an interest in the source code being available so technically-capable companies can support them.

Be Afraid of “Never Again”

[W]hen a President says “Never again” he is asking for the kind of outcome for which proving a negative, lots of negatives, is categorically essential. Proving a negative requires omniscience. Omniscience requires god-like powers.

Dan Geer

(The whole speech is worth reading.)

Yes, All Categories

It is not sufficient simply to point to texts that instruct Christians to “pay taxes,” and to conclude on that basis that all taxes are morally legitimate. For Christians are instructed to obey ungodly authorities, too; this instruction does not render those authorities godly, nor their behaviour legitimate.

To construct an adequate Christian political philosophy, each category of governmental action – from welfare provision to healthcare, from the judiciary to the military, from education to public roads and utilities – requires clear biblical justification. The mere absence of a specific biblical prohibition of a certain governmental action is not sufficient, because even if the action considered in itself is morally legitimate (e.g. the education of children), this does not justify the coercive taxation of citizens in order to fund that action without their explicit consent.

Steve Jeffery

Watching European Parliament (EPTV) Video Streams on Linux

(This is a blog post I wished someone had already written so I could have found it quickly yesterday.)

The European Parliament TV site’s streaming system, used on pages such as this one, triggers the Totem plugin on my Ubuntu, which promptly crashes. :-| I’m fairly sure it uses some Windows codecs.

There is a mobile site for their main TV channels (video and audio streaming) which works a bit better – you can extract the rtsp stream from the links, and pass it to VLC. But if the session you want isn’t on TV, you’re out of luck. (Worse is if part of it is, and then it switches to something irrelevant in the middle!)

Fortunately, André Loconte has written a script which finds the right URL in such pages and passes it to mplayer with the right options. Thanks to him. Note that you may have to try various values for the “language” constant defined near the top until you find the one which is right for you. (It seems they do not allocate languages to channels consistently.)

Invading Ireland

There are only a limited number of ways governments can deal with a large debt (such as that run up in the UK): taking via war, raising taxes, currency devaluation, or default. The first of those possibilities inspired me when, a while back, I was asked to try and come up with a good way of explaining just how large the UK’s national debt is, in a way that a normal person can understand.

Private islands around Ireland seem to be going at the moment for between US$3M and US$300,000 for 25 acres (0.1 sq km). If the UK invaded the country of Eire, threw in Northern Ireland and sold the result as a private island, it would raise:

84,421 square km x £5m per square km = £421 billion.

Selling an entire country would raise only about 1/3 of the total needed to pay back the UK national debt.

Sleepwalking Into Censorship

The UK Government, in the name of protecting children, wishes to apply default censorship of some types of legal content to all Internet connections in the UK. Please sign the Open Rights Group’s petition against this change, and consider joining as a supporter.

My piece on Christians and Web Blocking explains how I can be both against porn and also against these proposals.

The recent passing of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, and David Cameron’s comments that various forms of entirely legal content (like “self-harming sites“) are going to be blocked makes this particular point in that document even more timely:

If it’s pornography today, it’s “terrorist content” tomorrow and “hate speech” the day after that – which can easily be stretched to include e.g. an expression of the orthodox Christian view that marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman.

Guilt and Shame

Do you live in a guilt-based or a shame-based society?

Guilt is assigned by law, quantifiably based on right and wrong, and it usually goes away after punishment. Shame, by contrast, is assigned by the community, it is much harder to quantify and only disappears when a person’s honour is restored. It can potentially destroy a person’s standing in the community permanently.

In a recent book by author Steve Bell on explaining the gospel to those from an Eastern context, one of the points he makes is that Western Christians often explain the gospel in terms of guilt: “I was guilty before God, and Christ took the punishment for my sins”. This is true, and gloriously so, but Eastern societies tend to be based on shame, and this does not resonate with people from them. There is, however, also a telling of the gospel based on the concept of shame: “My sin shames me, but Jesus has taken away my shame and given me honour”. In expounding this point, he writes (p.12):

The unfortunate thing is that the Western focus on ‘guilt’ has developed to the exclusion of the eastern focus on ‘shame’…

This got me thinking (as all good books do) about the relative places of guilt and shame in UK society today. As would be expected for a 21st century Western country, I think that we are almost entirely a guilt-based society. Politicians no longer resign if they are caught in moral turpitude. People argue that private lives should have no effect on public status. Few actions which used to lead to shame do any more – in fact, “shaming” someone is in some quarters considered to be a great evil.

What consequences does this have? If people only have the ability to understand the world in guilt-based categories, then I wonder if they will tend to take their ideas of what is right and wrong from what is legal and illegal. “This is legal, so it must be OK.” This then means that people attempting to make something socially acceptable campaign hard for its legalization, because they believe it will then lead to its social normalization and acceptability. And, in a society with little concept of shame, they may well be right.

TEMPORAl Distortion

The UK’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has a system called TEMPORA. TEMPORA is the signals intelligence community’s first “full-take” Internet buffer that doesn’t care about content type and pays only marginal attention to the Human Rights Act. It snarfs everything, in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a single bit. Right now the buffer can hold three days of traffic, but that’s being improved. Three days may not sound like much, but remember that that’s not metadata. “Full-take” means it doesn’t miss anything, and ingests the entirety of each circuit’s capacity. If you send a single ICMP packet 5 and it routes through the UK, we get it. If you download something and the CDN (Content Delivery Network) happens to serve from the UK, we get it. If your sick daughter’s medical records get processed at a London call center … well, you get the idea. … As a general rule, so long as you have any choice at all, you should never route through or peer with the UK under any circumstances. Their fibers are radioactive, and even the Queen’s selfies to the pool boy get logged.


European Cybersecurity Strategy and Proposed Network Security Directive

The European Commission recently published 2 documents:

* the Cybersecurity Strategy of the European Union (English version; 20 pages)
* the Proposed Directive on Network and Information Security (English version; 27 pages + 2 annexes)

Mozilla is trying to work out whether we need to have a position on these documents and, if so, what that position should be. How might this affect the open web? Are there any actions we could or should take in response?

This is part of the work of the new Public Policy module. Particularly if you live in the EU, we would appreciate it if you would read one or the other and indicate any parts of it which are particularly of interest to you and to Mozilla.

The first document, the Strategy, sets forth the EU’s vision of cybersecurity. The second one, the proposed NIS Directive, if enacted, would require all Member States, and key “Internet enablers” such as e-commerce platforms, social networks, plus critical infrastructure companies (energy, transport, banking, and healthcare) to take action to ensure “a secure and trustworthy digital environment throughout the EU”. This might mean, for example, requiring them to adopt risk management practices and report major security incidents on their core services.

(I would expect these documents to be available in other EU languages but, although the press release is, I can’t see where the documents are. Pointers gratefully received.)

A Reprehensible Human Being

It took me a long time to realize the following truth: No matter how compassionate, charitable, winsome, and kind you are, if you oppose the sexual revolution you are the enemy. And in many ways, you’re not merely the political “enemy,” you’re also a reprehensible human being.

David French

‘Do Not Track’ and the Role of Government

Following Mitchell’s recent comments on DNT, here’s a riff from me.

There are currently two views of how Do Not Track, the standard for a browser to signal to a website that its user does not want behavioural tracking, should be enabled.

My position (and that, as far as I can tell, of the standardization group, and of many within Mozilla) is that Do Not Track is “no preference” by default (i.e. no header is sent), and must be explicitly enabled or disabled (without specifying an exact user experience). While it may change in the future, Microsoft’s current position is that users will be asked about “Do Not Track” during installation or upgrade, and the checkbox to turn it on (visible only in the non-speedy install) will be checked, and so the feature will be enabled, by default.

This made me think that the two views of “Do Not Track” correspond to some degree to two views of the role of government in innovation and user empowerment.

If you are in favour of market-driven solutions, then the power of Do Not Track comes from the fact that everyone who has it turned on has made a conscious decision to do so. This action speaks with a powerful voice in the market, and is hard to argue against. The idea is that any advertiser which refuses to respect a specific user request will suffer from a poor reputation, and loss of business. Hence, consumer pressure leads to positive change without regulation. But for this to work, it requires that the default be “off” (or “no preference”, which amounts to the same thing).

If you are in favour of regulated solutions, then the power of Do Not Track comes when governments force advertising companies to respect it. So how it gets turned on or not is a secondary question, and your goal is simply to get it enabled on the computers of as many people as possible, and get a law passed that makes website owners pay attention to it. After all, once it’s a government mandate, the advertiser has to respect it, whether the user made a choice to enable it or not. And so having it on by default allows you to make the claim that you are “protecting more users”.

I suggest that history shows us that government regulation of technology is usually written by those who don’t understand it, arrives late, and demonstrates inflexibility in the face of future innovation. The EU cookie law, as implemented in the UK, is a case in point – its net effect is that most UK websites how have to have a click-through dialog before you can continue to use them as before. I doubt that many people’s privacy has been meaningfully enhanced, and website usability has suffered.

Government-mandated DNT would not nearly be as flexible and open to further innovation as market-driven DNT. I hope we get the market-driven sort.