Thanks to Governments: A Radically Different Internet Is Coming!

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The battle for Net-Neutrality, which despite of what you heard is still ongoing, seems to have changed government regulators attitudes towards the internet on what they can and cannot regulate and censor.

I knew this is where it would go.  As soon as you let Government change how the internet works, you open the doors to all sorts of shenanigans.  All those “Libertarians” who were saying that “Net Neutrality is government interference” even though I have been saying it is the exact opposite for years, well they can just go fuck off, because their ignorance is guaranteeing government interference.

The wild west days of making money off the internet are very much numbered now.  The internet as it looks today will likely be a distant memory within 10 years, even if we somehow get Net Neutrality back.  Big changes are coming, some I might even agree with, but their ultimate effects are unknown.

How Europe’s New Privacy Rule is Reshaping The Internet

Let’s start with one I kind of agree with.  With all the concerns over Facebook sharing data with political data miners Cambridge Analytica with ties to Russia, it seems something needs to be done on the privacy front.  The EU has new rather tough new laws regarding what web sites are allowed to gather about you.  The penalties are big enough that even major companies are changing their policy.

Have you been noticing a lot of “This site uses cookies” pop ups lately? This EU regulation is why.  Also, data collection websites like Google and Facebook have to be open about what data they collect on you, and you have the right to opt out.

Because much of the internet traffic flows through Europe, the EU’s regulations affect everybody, unless you are an American ISP collecting data about your own customers, which the GOP forced through last year.

Meanwhile in America, Law Enforcement Can Access All your Data Just By Asking

Slipped into the must pass budget was the CLOUD Act.  A piece of legislation actually supported by data collection companies, because it basically allows them to wash their hands of the whole issue:

As we wrote before, the CLOUD Act is a far-reaching, privacy-upending piece of legislation that will:

  • Enable foreign police to collect and wiretap people’s communications from U.S. companies, without obtaining a U.S. warrant.
  • Allow foreign nations to demand personal data stored in the United States, without prior review by a judge.
  • Allow the U.S. president to enter “executive agreements” that empower police in foreign nations that have weaker privacy laws than the United States to seize data in the United States while ignoring U.S. privacy laws.
  • Allow foreign police to collect someone’s data without notifying them about it.
  • Empower U.S. police to grab any data, regardless if it’s a U.S. person’s or not, no matter where it is stored.

And, as we wrote before, this is how the CLOUD Act could work in practice:

London investigators want the private Slack messages of a Londoner they suspect of bank fraud. The London police could go directly to Slack, a U.S. company, to request and collect those messages. The London police would not necessarily need prior judicial review for this request. The London police would not be required to notify U.S. law enforcement about this request. The London police would not need a probable cause warrant for this collection.

Predictably, in this request, the London police might also collect Slack messages written by U.S. persons communicating with the Londoner suspected of bank fraud. Those messages could be read, stored, and potentially shared, all without the U.S. person knowing about it. Those messages, if shared with U.S. law enforcement, could be used to criminally charge the U.S. person in a U.S. court, even though a warrant was never issued.

This basically allows police states to trace web activity of individuals all over the world. Bottom line, as I wrote a year ago, is you will need to be even more vigilant with your online privacy than ever before!

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The Horribly Misguided War on Internet Porn

Last year, the Tory Government of the UK attempted to regulate and censor the internet.  Then they had an election which effectively killed those plans (so far).  Meanwhile, in the US, Congress passed legislation that may be more draconian than UK’s attempt.

The U.S. Senate just voted 97-2 to pass the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA, H.R. 1865), a bill that silences online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users. As lobbyists and members of Congress applaud themselves for enacting a law tackling the problem of trafficking, let’s be clear: Congress just made trafficking victims less safe, not more.

Lately, there has been a lot of action to stop sex trafficking.  Sex trafficking is basically organized forced rape of its victims, and unfortunately it is rather prevalent around the world.  Everyone should be against sex trafficking.

Here is the cynical problems with this approach:  1. Somehow conservative politicians equate escort services with sex trafficking.  “Escorts” are in the profession by choice, can choose their clients, and reserve the right to say no.  They are not sex traffickers, no are they part of the sex trafficking industry, but they are low hanging fruit that lawmakers can exploit to say they are doing something about it.  This reduces resources to investigate and stop the real sex trafficking industry which has many real victims including children.

Problem #2: This is a back handed way to implement SOPA.  SOPA in case you don’t remember was a mandate for websites to self police themselves. It would force websites to closely monitor all posts for copyright violations, and other illegal content. It would have effectively closed down major websites that allow user created content unless they hired thousands of people to monitor all content that goes on the site.  FOSTA forces websites to self monitor for sex trafficking.  Because of this Craigslist was forced to shut down the personals section of its website.  No big loss there as far as I am concerned.

The problem is there are legitimate websites used by escorts to safely find clients that are likely to be affected and shut down, this will drive web traffic of this nature further underground and make the sex trafficking problem even worse.

But a bigger fear is that law enforcement will use FOSTA as a way to regulate web traffic of all sorts, and once government’s foot is in the door on this, the next step is to break down the door.  How long before government goes after all porn in the name of stopping sex trafficking?

UPDATE: FOSTA results in raid of Backpage.com. To quote from the story:

Some in the sex worker industry say that removing Backpage from the Internet takes away a safe mechanism for screening clients and that the ads will simply move to sites outside the country or to social media.

There are already governments like the state of Rhode Island proposing taxes on internet porn.  How such legislation could possibly be enforced is troubling. There is no porn on/off switch on the internet.  There exist VPN services designed to block content so that concerned parents can think their kids are safe online, but making everyone use these unless they pay a $20 fee with a picture ID and a written statement saying you want to watch porn, is downright fascist.

Would you be willing to pay a $20 fee and register yourself as a porn watcher just so you can go to legitimate websites that are not “kid friendly”?  Such decisions are likely in our future.

The House of Cards that is Online Advertising

Combining Governments new concern for online privacy with the fiasco that targeted advertising created in 2016 with the Brexit vote in the UK and the Trump election in the US, “targeted advertising” via data collection is getting a bad reputation.

I have been thinking for years that companies that advertise online probably are not getting as much out of it as they think.  Especially those clickbait sites that steal material from other sites, slightly rewrite it to avoid copyright, post it online saturated with ads, then buy ads on Facebook to get people to come to their ad saturated sites, and somehow turn a profit.

Google and Facebook are two of the biggest companies in the world, and they pretty much make all their money on supposedly “targeted advertising”.  Companies looking to sell stuff buy ads on these platforms in hopes that they will be seen by people likely to be interested in their products.  Is the advertising working? Obviously it is working at least a little bit, or nobody would be making any money.

Here’s the problem: it’s not working as well as it used to.

Popular websites struggling

Sites that depend on online advertising for revenue are not doing as well as they used to. Even major sites like Twitter, Snapchat, Tumblr, and Reddit seem to have low profit margins if they make a profit at all.  They try to bolster those profits by adding more ads to their sites which of course just annoys readers.

One of my favorite sites was Cracked.com which I visited frequently mostly for their entertaining videos.  On December 6, 2017 Cracked.com’s parent company laid off all the people responsible for those videos. What is left of the site is a skeleton crew that is likely going to turn into another clickbait site.

You Tube Channels are struggling

Making money on You Tube got really big when word got out that some You Tube stars were making millions annually in ad revenue from the site.  This of course started a flood until newcomers were finding out that making original content videos was hard and only the most popular were making the big bucks.

To make matters worse, advertisers on You Tube were upset to learn their ads were appearing on You Tube channels with controversial content. So You Tube started flagging channels with such content. The controversy started with racist and sexist alt-right hate channels, but You Tube also flagged channels that support the LGBT community.

Some of these channels launched Patreon pages which seeks financial help from viewers in the form of small monthly donations. This has helped small operators make money lost on declining advertising revenue.  There was a policy change on Patreon last December that threatened that as a source of revenue, but fortunately it got reversed.  Still it is a lesson that trying to make a living online is a very insecure and unreliable source of income.

Paywalls and More Paywalls

If you are like me, you are going through your facebook feed and reddit news clicking on links that look interesting and finding more and more that they are blocked by paywalls.  With the decline of online advertising, the only way for news sites to stay profitable is get subscribers.

We internet patrons are already paying a lot for our internet connection. How many web sites and Patreons and Twitch channels can we subscribe to realistically on top of that?

The internet has a financing problem, and I’d says we are one recession away from losing thousands of websites and content creators.

The Future looks like Amazon.com

If regulation shuts down social media sites, and declining advertising and subscribers shuts down news sites, we are probably looking at a future internet that looks like Amazon.com.

A board member of Google pretty much said as much in an interview:

Google has competitors in all of tech’s largest companies, but the one former CEO Eric Schmidt is watching the most is Amazon.

“Many people think our main competition is Bing or Yahoo,” he said during a visit to a Native Instruments, software and hardware company in Berlin. “But, really, our biggest search competitor is Amazon. People don’t think of Amazon as search, but if you are looking for something to buy, you are more often than not looking for it on Amazon.”

Schmidt noted that people are looking for a different kind of answers on Amazon’s site through the slew of reviews and product pages, but it’s still about getting information.

Is that where the internet is headed? Who knows, the future is very difficult to predict, but don’t be surprised if your favorite web sites disappear or radically change in the months ahead.

The Internet Is Becoming A Very Scary Place!

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In the past year, the Internet has changed. It is not as friendly as it once was. It has become a battleground that is threatening all of its users, and the companies that do business here. Worse, many rules we used to live by to protect ourselves, no longer apply.

There is a lot to write about here, and plenty of topics to cover, the links in the last paragraph all lead to really good articles about NEW issues and challenges facing the Internet today, and I recommend reading them.

But I am not covering those topics in this post. Instead, I decided to start with the one that is on everybody’s minds thanks to an amazing piece of stupid legislation here in the US: PRIVACY!

ISPs and FCC Chair Ajit Pai celebrate death of online privacy rules

There is absolutely no reason to give Internet Service Providers (ISP) like AT&T and Comcast the right to sell users browsing history. First of all, They are a self enforced monopolies that charge way too much for access already and don’t deserve other revenue streams.  Second, the selling of your browsing habits is already a major industry worth billions of dollars a year.  It is basically the primary revenue stream of both Google and Facebook, as they use user searching and liking data to sell targeted advertising.  Third, they still cannot sell browsing history of individuals, or history that can be tied to an individual, so all they can really sell is bulk group data which is useless, see reason 2.

I’m pretty sick of it, and I hope you are, too, because I am going to present some ways to stick it to the data brokers, especially the ISPs as they are the ones that bought and paid for the Republican Congress to pass the legislation.

Keep in mind that sniffer software, spyware which looks at the streams of data that is coming from your computer, is becoming more common as a hacking tool, sticking it to the ISP’s is also sticking it to spyware. So even if you think you have nothing to worry about with your ISP, it doesn’t hurt to protect yourself from others listening in looking for passwords and answers to security questions.

1. Use HTTPS Everywhere Cost: free, effectiveness in privacy protection: high, technical know how to implement: easy.

How it works: Your ISP doesn’t have ANYTHING that you do on a secure HTTPS web page. They only know which websites you visit, but not what you do on them. Once you have connected to an HTTPS server, your connection is encrypted, and only you and the website will know what you are doing.

This is why more and more websites are converting to https, this is why arianeb.com is now https.

Note: Some unprotected websites will not work with this browser plug in. These are probably the websites you want to avoid, but if you must, you can always temporarily disable it.

2. Use a 3rd party DNS server Cost: free, effectiveness in privacy protection: some, technical know how to implement: medium to high.

Domain Name Servers or DNS are computer servers that translate yahoo.com into “98.138.253.109” which is the actual internet address of yahoo.com. 97% of the users use DNS servers controlled by their ISP.  This is how ISP’s know which websites you are visiting, so by using a 3rd party DNS, you are making it a lot harder for them to get that information. This however does not stop spyware from knowing where you are going.

Using a 3rd party DNS server requires some technical know how of getting in your router and changing some settings. Yes, it is doable even on routers provided by ISP’s, but it may require some digging into the settings. Chances are the ISP support staff will not be helpful. (I highly recommend learning the best way to factory reset your router first, in case you screw up badly.)

Those two combined are pretty effective, but for real browser privacy:

3. Use a VPN service! Cost: free to reasonable priced for individuals, effectiveness in privacy protection: very high, technical know how to implement: easy to medium.

Virtual Private Networks are like mini internet services. Practically every business with more than 2 computers probably have their own VPN, and if you work from home you probably connect to work via VPN. VPN for personal computers, phones, and tablets are practically non existent as there has been very little reason to use them. But with the need for privacy solutions increasing, VPN may be the answer.

VPN + HTTPS = near complete encryption the entire length of your internet connection. Even the CIA can’t get past good encryption.  That is part of the reason China has made VPN’s illegal.

The biggest source of protection VPN’s offer is hiding your IP address. Websites like this one  can track your location sometimes within a few feet if you have an unprotected IP address. The truth is EVERY website can track your location the same way.

With a VPN service, you share an IP address with everyone else on the VPN so you are impossible to track, and the location data will be that of the VPN server which can be located in a different state, different country, or on the other side of the planet. There are hundreds of VPNs to choose from, though if that list is intimidating, here is a list of the more popular ones reviewed by PC Mag.

This of course will mess with many websites that rely on location data. I now use a VPN and can locate my IP address in any of over 30 countries. Switching my VPN to Mexico and going to Google gives me Spanish language Google based out of Colombia. Switching to Canada lets me watch Space TV, where many of my favorite sci-fi shows air before they get to America. If VPN’s become commonplace, it could ruin the business models of most of the major internet sites, which makes me fearful that other countries could follow China’s lead.

I recommend staying away from FREE VPN servers as they tend to slow your internet service and limit your bandwidth. If you are serious about privacy and security spend a little money. Some offer additional bonuses like server based ad blocking that cannot be detected by websites. They cannot block site based ads, but they kill the notoriously bad ones.

4. Use STARTPAGE as your search engine. Cost: free, effectiveness in privacy protection: keeps your search history out of the hands of Google while simultaneously using Google, technical know how to implement: easy if you use Firefox, more difficult if you use Chrome (which insists on real Google) or Edge (which insists on Bing)

Ixquick is a search engine company based out of Netherlands. Their search engine gives the same results as Google because they use Google to provide the results (yes Google is aware of this and there are contracts involved), BUT they cut off your searches from actually reaching Google where they can track you and push targeted ads at you. It’s a very nice loophole, it is sort of the search engine equivalent of a VPN.

5. If you need Facebook on your phone, use mbasic.facebook.com in the browser. Cost: free, effectiveness in privacy protection: its still Facebook, but its not always running in the background watching your every move, technical know how to implement: fairly easy but unfortunately not as easy as just using the app.

Facebook may know you better than you know yourself. It’s pretty much their business model.  Want to find out what Facebook has on you? Log into Facebook and click here to find out.

The majority of the people use the Facebook app on their phone to get on Facebook. It is probably the biggest piece of spyware known to exist, and definitely the most distributed. If you want real privacy, don’t even use it. A bare bones interface to Facebook can be found at mbasic.facebook.com. It is designed for older phones that can’t handle the latest html standards, or lack memory for cookies, etc.

Another important privacy tip if you are using Facebook: NEVER “COPY AND PASTE”, ALWAYS SHARE! More and more viral posts ask you to “copy and paste” into your status instead of share because it supposedly makes you harder to track, but guess what, it is the opposite! Data brokers can search for key words and find who copied and pasted a post, thus making it easier to categorize people and sort them for advertisers. Sharing is much safer and shared posts can be deleted if they turn out to be false.

Of course if you REALLY are serious about privacy, stay the hell off Facebook.

6. Close your Yahoo! account. No Really! Their security record is abysmal. They have been hacked 3 times in the last 4 years and waited months to report it to users, leaving their accounts vulnerable. Here’s how!

Since Congress passed the anti-privacy bill, I have done most of these. It hasn’t slowed my internet down and I haven’t been blocked from doing what I want online.

The Power of Privacy

This is the new ARIANEB.COM

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That’s right, we moved! My wordpress blog is now my main site. A few months ago I added a lot of the main content from the old site to this site, accessible by the menus at the top.

Want info on Date Ariane? click the button at the top. Links to download are there, as well as the international versions, and my other games.

You can leave comments on any of the pages, something you couldn’t do before, and this site is more secure than my old site. Also as a WordPress site, there is a mobile version of this site now.

The old site is still available for now at http://virtualunderworld.net/arianeb/. Once I move everything over here, I will probably drop that site (this one is cheaper).

I’m sure there are plenty of broken links to fix. Tell me what you think.

The Age of Facebook is Over

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As my last post documented there is a plague on the internet that is having a negative affect on civilization as a whole.  Facebook is the leading cause of this plague, and despite many opportunities, has completely failed to do anything about it.  Pretty much every open group has been taken over by trolls and spam and it is impossible to have any intellectual discussion.

Social Media is the New Television

Fahrenheit 451 is a book by Ray Bradbury which is often mistaken as a tale of censorship. In fact it is a tale about how television has destroyed intellectual discourse.  I thought about this recently upon reading a couple of different articles.

First is an article “Social Media Is Killing Discourse Because It’s Too Much Like TV” which correctly identifies social media as an entertainment platform rather than an actual discussion platform. It is this decades new TV:

The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining.” (Emphasis added.) And, Postman argued, when news is constructed as a form of entertainment, it inevitably loses its function for a healthy democracy. “I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?”

Social media not only does this, it makes it worse.

Social media, in contrast, uses algorithms to encourage comfort and complaisance, since its entire business model is built upon maximizing the time users spend inside of it. Who would like to hang around in a place where everyone seems to be negative, mean, and disapproving? The outcome is a proliferation of emotions, a radicalization of those emotions, and a fragmented society. This is way more dangerous for the idea of democracy founded on the notion of informed participation.

I attempted to join a Facebook group that would challenge me intellectually, it didn’t work. In fact it will never work on Facebook. The problem is that there is no mechanism for moderation on Facebook, because it would go against its business model.

Our Changing “Internet” Minds

Second is an article “Are humans evolving beyond the need to tell stories?” which starts with the observation that “novels” are a dying art form, replaced by visual storytelling that is less satisfying to our mental development.

My view is that we’re deluded if we think new technologies come into existence because of clearly defined human objectives – let alone benevolent ones – and it’s this that should shape our response to them. No, the history of the 20th century – and now the 21st – is replete with examples of technologies that were developed purely in order to facilitate the killing of people at a distance, of which the internet is only the most egregious example. Our era is also replete with the mental illnesses occasioned by such technologies – sometimes I think our obsession with viewing violent and horrific imagery is some sort of collective post-traumatic stress disorder.

The article is more broadly directed at tech and internet culture as a whole, and I am not convinced of the thesis, but as I have documented time and time again, the internet does change us and our ability to think rationally.

So stop reading blogs and pick up a book.

TV News is something you don’t need

Facebook is not the source of “fake news” and misinformation, it is the conduit for its dissemination.

TV news should take a lot of the blame for what is going on in society. We watch it because it is the quickest way to become “informed”, but it is not really informing us. Many people have decided that in the age of Trump, TV news is no longer worth watching.

The news isn’t interested in creating an accurate sample. They select for what’s 1) unusual, 2) awful, and 3) probably going to be popular. So the idea that you can get a meaningful sense of the “state of the world” by watching the news is absurd.

Their selections exploit our negativity bias. We’ve evolved to pay more attention to what’s scary and infuriating, but that doesn’t mean every instance of fear or anger is useful. Once you’ve quit watching, it becomes obvious that it is a primary aim of news reports—not an incidental side-effect—to agitate and dismay the viewer.

What appears on the news is not “The conscientious person’s portfolio of concerns”. What appears is whatever sells, and what sells is fear, and contempt for other groups of people.

As I stated in my last post, I blame the media for creating and promoting Trump. I see the exact pattern happening with “Brexit” in Britain, and the rise of the radical right all over Europe. The fear-mongering of the media is creating false fear in the general population.

If you really want to be informed, dig deeper. There are sources out there, find them.

The Need For a Course Correction

I have decided I need a change from this culture of meme and misinformation and troll trash.

For now, I have found it in Reddit, where the upvote/downvote tends to self moderate. There are still problems, especially since a lot of people like a lot of stupid crap, but I have found it to be quite a few IQ points above facebook.

The internet is a big place, and for every problem there are solutions. Reddit is not the perfect solution, but it is a start.

Internet Memes are Destroying Civilization!

Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream? Part 6
(read part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5)

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My last post was on happiness, this is the exact opposite.

As you all know by now the US has elected a ultra right wing dictator wannabe who the only hope he gives to continued freedom in this country is that he has no idea what the hell he is doing.

This comes just months after the UK did something extremely stupid and voted to leave the European Union.

Both were campaigns built on lies, both were billed as “protest votes” of the status quo.

Both got their start as internet memes.

Nobody thought the UK would vote to leave Europe, the very idea was ludicrous. At the same time nobody thought an illiterate celebrity would become President of the United States.

And yet here we are. Both results created overnight economic recessions that we may never recover from.  The desire to “stick it to the man” is a universal one, but sticking it to the man is not smart when “the man” signs your paychecks.

But don’t think this is isolated to just the US and UK. Awful people and policies are being voted on around the world for the same reasons.

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The Role of the Internet Press

Old fashioned media is dying. News today is all about the click bait, paid advertising, and getting eyeballs and email subscribers. The internet is becoming filled with “humor” websites that just rehash lists and funny news stories from two or more years ago (so you forget if you already read it) and turn them into slideshows that slow your internet down with advertisement gifs and videos.

(Personally, if one of these sites publishes something I am interested in, I will just google the title and find the original story sans ads, or barring that, right click and view source and see all the slideshow text right there buried in the code. But I digress.)

The thing is, the news is driven by clicks and memes. If a story can’t generate clicks, it goes unreported.

Brexit generated clicks in the UK, people were fascinated by the idea of Britain without Europe. Eventually they lost site of the fact that it was a really bad idea, but less educated working class thought it might be fun to try something different.

Similarly, Donald Trump generated clicks in the US. For some reason, people have this myth that if we ran government like a business, it would work better, and therefore a businessman should run government.  No one bothered to find out that it NEVER works! Every businessman elected to high government office has failed miserably. I give you Governor Evan Mecham as a typical historical example.

It is estimated that Trump got $4 Billion in free air time from the complicit American media.  In a campaign season that cost $5 Billion, that is a lot of free advertising.

The media wouldn’t report on Trump so much if it didn’t bring in clicks. TV news got higher ratings with Trump, and internet based news got millions in new ad revenue.

The media is not going to turn that kind of money down in the interest of equal time.

For that reason, I blame the media — all of it, both “liberal” and “conservative” — for Trump’s victory.

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Memes are Ruining Democracy

The term “meme” originated from the 1976 book The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. The  meme is a unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene, and like a gene the best ones replicate themselves into human culture.

Memes have always been a part of US politics. From “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” to “Yes We Can” the meme has been a major factor in elections. And they are not always positive. “Daisy” was a negative meme that won Lyndon Johnson the White House in 1964.

With the internet, memes find a huge petri dish to replicate rather rapidly into millions, sometimes billions of minds.

In an article in the Guardian by Daniel Haddow, he makes the case that this petri dish has a major negative effect on intelligent discourse:

What’s novel here is an inversion of control – political memes are no longer rare flashes of uncensored personality or intensely manicured visual messages. They are now born from the swamps of the internet in real time, distributed from the bottom up. They have grown into a form of anarchic folk propaganda, ranging from tolerable epigrams to glittering hate-soaked image macros akin to a million little rogue Pravdas.

Like me, you probably have more than a few Facebook friends who make it their life’s work to circulate political memes in hopes of influencing how you see the world. They are our deadbeat uncles, former co-workers and long-forgotten high school acquaintances. They are agents of nowhere, apparatchiks of nothing in particular. And through the raw power of mass replication, even their most insipid ideas are able to surface from below. By typing some text on an image and sharing it with friends, they too have a voice capable of reaching a critical mass.

The reason why it is now possible for Darryl from Accounting who hates “social justice warriors” to have the same communicative power as a television network is down to the DNA of the medium: speed and lack of gatekeepers. Memes thrive on a lack of information – the faster you can grasp the point, the higher the chance it will spread.

He then links to a Breitbart article written by  propagandist Milo Yiannopoulos (a very pro-Trump web site) which explains the use of meme warfare, or as he calls it “Meme Magic” in getting Trump all that free publicity:

Trump’s supporters have treated the campaign as one long trollfest. First Jeb, then Marco and finally Lyin’ Ted all stumbled and fell before the chaotic power of Trump’s troll army. Facing a hilarious combination of in-jokes, YouTube remixes, and Photoshop mashups, Trump’s opponents were subjected to non-stop ridicule from the cultural powerhouses of the web.

The internet made them look stupid. The internet made them look weak. And what begins on /pol/ and leaks out into Twitter has a way of colouring media coverage and, ultimately, public perception, even among people who don’t frequent message boards.

The power of Trump’s branding is partly down to the media’s hunger for drama — but it’s also in large part due to his internet supporters, who have an uncanny ability to create and popularize cultural tropes. Or, as we on the internet have come to know them, memes.

Haddow continues:

At their most basic, meme warfare presented an opportunity for individuals to seize control of the means of media production from corporate interests. It was a viral and open-source medium that would allow individuals to compete for attention against the all-consuming hydra of advertising, marketing and public relations.

This line of thinking was, in retrospect, breathtakingly naive. It assumed that the act of meme generation by a non-corporate entity would be innately good. Like many instances of the tech-centric idealism, it would unravel in spectacular fashion. It’s not that anti-corporate activists were wrong about how the internet could be leveraged to change politics – it’s that they were terribly right.

To Meme or Not To Meme

The success of internet trolling in shaping the debate in this election will go down in history as a watershed moment.

Do we condemn it? Or do we create an actual meme war — debate social issues with nothing but memes devoid of intellectual honesty as long at it infects the viewers brains.

Science and rational, logical thought should be the tools of debate.  Meme warfare has undermined rational though in favor of easy tag lines, which are often false (“England is better off without Europe”) or too simplistic and unrealistic (“Let’s build a wall”).

George Orwell was absolutely right! “Newspeak”, the language of propaganda and control, is now alive and well in internet memes.

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Memes are a Symptom of Democracy Run Amok

Back in the 90’s I was big into philosophy, especially Plato and Aristotle. In Plato’s Republic parts 8 and 9, Plato describes the tendency for different forms of government to morph into others. History has proven Plato right time and time again. His most upsetting is the transformation from democracy to tyranny:

“Can liberty have any limit? Certainly not…By degrees the anarchy finds a way into private houses…The son is on a level with his father, he having no respect or reverence for either of his parents; and this is his freedom…Citizens…chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority… they will have no one over them…Such…is the fair and glorious beginning out of which springs tyranny…Liberty overmasters democracy…the excessive increase of anything often causes a reaction in the opposite direction…The excess of liberty, whether in States or individuals, seems only to pass into excess of slavery…And so tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty… “

So what does this mean? I’ll explain shortly in more modern terms.

But first, Andrew Sullivan took this as a starting point in an excellent article written in May of this year, which turned out too prescient: Democracies End When They Are Too Democratic

Democracy to Tyranny in the Internet Age

The internet has democratized media, putting every poster, blogger, and vlogger in charge of the news to their followers. This ultimately created “bubbles” of followers who follow their favorite internet media stars to the exclusion of actual researched and vetted information.

These “bubbles”  have their own version of reality often very at odds with actual reality: “Obama is a secret Muslim!”,  “Immigration is killing our jobs!”,  “The government is hiding space alien corpses at Groom Lake!”, “The “rapture” will happen soon so we don’t need to worry about the environment!”

The mainstream media no longer has control of public conscience, and as a result there is no common understanding of “facts”. Civilization requires a common understanding among its citizens.

Once lies become widespread among many bubbles, it becomes a substitute for the actual facts, thus a new fantasy reality is born.

We have self sorted ourselves into different groups who live in different realities and moralities. It is no longer possible for people living in one reality to communicate with members of another reality and convince them of anything.

Eventually, as Plato predicted, one “reality” will become tired of the belittling of its fantasy reality and will seek a tyrant to impose the “new reality” on the unenlightened.

Democracy becomes a dictatorship. Trump has all the qualities of a tyrant, if we let him become one.

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The Internet is No Longer a Reliable Source of Anything

Since I wrote this a new chapter has arisen in this drama. “Fake News” is being blamed for Trump. Specifically, Facebook and Google’s complicity in spreading fake news reports without identifying them as fake.

At the start of this series, I mentioned that the internet as it currently stands is predominantly controlled by a handful of websites. Facebook, Google and Wikipedia are among them.

The problem with this consolidation is it reduces what it takes to control the truth. This TED talk explains “astroturfing” or fake grass roots movements to control “research” with marketing.

Google is trying to do its part by cutting off paid advertising on fake news sites, thus cutting off their main source of income. Considering how easy it is for fake news to bubble to the top of Google News, I am not sure it is enough.

Facebook is quietly figuring out what to do. Earlier this year it was revealed that Facebook adjusts their “trending” list based on the readers perceived biases. This caused a bit of a conservative backlash which halted moves to expand the program to keep “fake news” from trending. Due to their complicity in creating “President Elect Trump” they will no doubt do something eventually.

As the video above points out, Wikipedia has its own problems with what is truth and what is fake.  They are supposed to have their own safeguards, but increasingly it is not working out that way.

And so we are left with a conundrum: Where can we get the truth? An even worse conundrum: How do we survive in a world where the “majority” believes the lies?

What ISP “Data Caps” are REALLY all about

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Many major ISP in America seems to be talking about hard data caps. It seems to be a rather odd coincidence (meaning that it isn’t one) that this seems to all be happening in many ISPs all at the same time, like it is some coordinated effort or something.  The reasons are many but here’s the bottom line:

This is all about TV.

TV is dying, its old tech that some are saying will be history by 2030. Traditional Cable TV is the first on the chopping block. Almost every cable company is converting to “all digital” which basically means they will go from traditional cable to IPTV.

Traditional Cable TV feeds all the 500 or so channels through a cable at different frequencies that your tv tuner can pick up and display. On the other hand, IPTV “live streams” all the channels the same way internet “live streams” video, and an IPTV “cable box”is just a dedicated computer that serves the live stream to your TV.  In other words IPTV is just a dedicated function of your internet connection.

The most popular IPTV services in the US are AT&T Uverse, Verizon Fios, and CenturyLink Prism TV. They all use Internet to provide TV.

Now all the major cable companies are dumping their old traditional cable service and converting cable to a pure internet feed as well, thus distributing all the channels through the internet and becoming IPTV themselves.

The upshot is that there will be more dedicated internet bandwidth on cable internet service. The downside is that you will have to “rent” an IPTV “cable box” to watch TV. Hooking a cable directly to your TV will no longer do anything.

Current IPTV services are renting boxes at between $8 to $12 a month for each TV in the house.  My cable company which is just converting to IPTV wants to charge me only $3 per month per TV, which will no doubt be going up in years to come.

The FCC wants to allow customers to use any cable box they want including their own PCs or gaming consoles to do away with the rental fees. IPTV and Cable TV companies are fighting rule changes like this big time, as it means a major loss of revenue.

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I’m glad I cut my cable a long time ago, and I am not alone. But to Cable companies “cord cutting” is an even BIGGER loss of revenue, which IPTV providers are fighting with a new tool:

Data Caps

Almost every ISP in America has data caps*. This has been the case for many years. ISPs generally don’t want to discuss them because it makes customers mad. Data caps on cell networks are a necessary evil because cell service has limited bandwidth and it is expensive. High data users can slow down everyone cellular data service.

Data caps on home wifi make anyone who has paid huge data overage charges upset, so ISPs haven’t been talking about them. The only time they enforce them is when super heavy users download and upload huge amounts of data each month.

But ISPs, especially those that provide TV service (which is practically all of them) are publicizing them more, and keeping track of them. BUT (and here is the big kicker) ONLY on customers that DO NOT ALSO have TV!

When trying to explain their reasons, they will point out that IP based TV uses internet bandwidth and thus TV watchers would hit the data cap on a regular basis.

So really, the data cap is only directed at users of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Live, and HBO Now, etc. which provide alternatives to IPTV at much cheaper prices.  Only cable cutters are affected by data caps.

If you don’t like it, you can sign up for TV, or pay an additional monthly charge (usually around $30 a month) for unlimited home internet data, or upgrade to a “business” level account.

But before you start counting your pennies to get “unlimited” data, figure out how much you actually use.  Oddly ISP’s seem to be stingy with actual usage data, but you know you will get that data if you start to get close to going over.

ISP’s are currently setting these data caps really high by TODAY’S STANDARDS, that is to say that even families with large numbers of internet users in the household are unlikely to hit the data caps that are being currently set (on average 600 gb on 24 mbps broadband).

For now, only the gullible and paranoid will shell out the extra cash for “unlimited”, when less than 0.05% even need it, so that’s free money for the ISPs.

And what about TOMORROWS STANDARDS?

By setting cap limits so generous it is likely not going to generate many complaints to the FCC, and that is exactly the way ISPs want it. FCC complaints mean regulation, which is why filing complaints with the FCC is probably a good idea.

600 GB is a very high cap. It is the equivalent of 300 hours of HD streaming, or 10 hours a day for an entire month.  That is why 99.95% of the public will likely not even come close.

But what happens in the near future with 4K streaming? or 360 degree virtual reality streaming? or ever more complicated MMORPG streaming? or stuff we haven’t even thought about yet but uses a ton of bandwidth?

Data caps could become a serious costly burden on customers in the near future. The internet is our economy, and for many their livelihood depends on it. ISPs should not be allowed to tax economic progress.

*Verizon’s Fios cap is significantly higher than most others, high enough that there is practically no cap, but that hasn’t stopped some Fios customers from getting notices.

Unplanned Obsolescence and “Lost” Art

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The above picture is the oldest picture from the oldest version of Date Ariane. The modified date is listed as August 6, 2004.

As I was finishing the Renpy version of Date Ariane, I decided to dive into my archives and attempt to play the oldest version I could find.

It wouldn’t run on any browser, not the way it is supposed to anyways. The game was written for Internet Explorer 4 using some HTML coding that only worked on IE4. Over the years I updated the code to run on as many browsers as I could, but the first version is now completely obsolete.

It gets worse: Date Ariane was written using Microsoft FrontPage which basically has ceased to exist. This week I upgraded to Windows 10, and FrontPage loads on Windows 10 but it is unstable. I have been forced to switch to KompoZer, a nice open source HTML editor, but I can’t mass edit a thousand web pages at a time which makes further upgrades to Date Ariane Online version way more difficult. Besides that browser security issue is already a reason to throw in the towel and stick with Renpy version from now on.

But it is a little sad that a piece of my history, a “work of art” I created, is likely lost to the future.

I’m not the only one facing unplanned obsolescence

Obsolescence is becoming an issue on the web now.  Recently security flaws were found in Flash Player, one of the most used programs on the web. You Tube, once the biggest supporter of Flash has now basically stopped using it. Worse yet, Mozilla turned off Flash by default until Adobe released a secure version, which they have now done, but who knows how long it will last.

So now as the world scrambles to move to HTML5 or some other substitute to flash, what happens to the millions of flash based videos, and online games which someday soon may no longer run?

Preservation efforts for the internet?

We humans like to preserve the past.  There are whole industries devoted to film preservation thanks to the unstable nitrate most of the old films were originally filmed in. More than half of the movies made before 1950 no longer exist.

This is why film gurus get excited about discovering a lost reel to a classic movie thought lost.

Similarly we are slowly losing our musical heritage as most master tapes before 1990 or so are on a medium which also degrades over time. Most all of it has been digitized, but many music gurus will tell you music is better in the original analog, and the original analog sources are decaying.

We see it also in video games. Many of my old games will no longer run on my computer, and the ones that do run in a tiny 800 x 600 window, since that is how they were designed. Some classic games like Age of Empires II or Leisure Suit Larry, have gotten the HD treatment, but hundreds never will.

Will much of the internet content suffer the same fate?

Yes, I know about things like The Wayback Machine which archives lost text and picture content, but what will preserve online games?

The “medium” problem

When the medium by which we distribute content changes, it becomes necessary to find ways to bring old content to the new medium. Entire libraries are being digitized, although paper books have largely proven to be a resilient medium, sometimes finding that rare volume is a lot easier online.

Except that “mediums” themselves are radically changing every few years it seems, so we are constantly having to convert, especially as popularity wanes in the old medium.  Sometimes we lose some things in the conversion, even as recent as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Simpsons.

Communication mediums eventually get replaced, by better mediums that we all convert to.  But in so doing we lose some of the “art” of the old medium.

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For example: “Twitter”

Here is one I bet you didn’t see coming: Apparently Twitter is dying.  Yes, one of the most popular web sites on the planet is seeing a sharp decline in active users.

My solution to fixing it is pretty revolutionary: Drop the 140 character limit.  We can thank twitter for the abundance of short link generators. Those links leave Twitter and go to other web sites that allow long essays. Why can’t Twitter users write long essays on Twitter itself and have it show up as a title with a “read more” button, instead of a link to another site?

Yes, I know the 140 character limit was what made the site famous, but the novelty has worn off, and prevents people like me who can’t write in 140 characters to not even bother using the site.

If twitter dies then so does the hashtag. (Yes I am aware that other sites support hashtagging, but they also support other types of tagging, which are more useful except they can’t be printed on a t-shirt)

That’s a whole chunk of internet culture lost if it happens.