Archive for February, 2011

Freedom Box

February 22, 2011

Today I decided to support Freedom Box. Funding for the project is hosted on Kickstarter. I encourage contributions but if that’s not possible, please read the following excerpt below explaining why this software is being written.

Why Freedom Box?

Because social networking and digital communications technologies are now critical to people fighting to make freedom in their societies or simply trying to preserve their privacy where the Web and other parts of the Net are intensively surveilled by profit-seekers and government agencies. Because smartphones, mobile tablets, and other common forms of consumer electronics are being built as “platforms” to control their users and monitor their activity.

Freedom Box exists to counter these unfree “platform” technologies that threaten political freedom. Freedom Box exists to provide people with privacy-respecting technology alternatives in normal times, and to offer ways to collaborate safely and securely with others in building social networks of protest, demonstration, and mobilization for political change in the not-so-normal times.

Freedom Box software is built to run on hardware that already exists, and will soon become much more widely available and much more inexpensive. “Plug servers” and other compact devices are going to become ubiquitous in the next few years, serving as “media centers,” “communications centers,” “wireless routers,” and many other familiar and not-so-familiar roles in office and home.

Freedom Box software images will turn all sorts of such devices into privacy appliances. Taken together, these appliances will afford people around the world options for communicating, publishing, and collaborating that will resist state intervention or disruption. People owning these appliances will be able to restore anonymity in the Net, despite efforts of despotic regimes to keep track of who reads what and who communicates with whom.

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Google has “no plans” to ban copyleft

February 20, 2011

Both Apple and Microsoft have blocked the distribution of copylefted Free Software through their App Store and Windows Phone Marketplace respectively. Though there’s no indication or reason to believe this might happen with Google’s Android Market, I wrote their Open Source Programs Manager, Chris DiBona, asking him about the possibility. He replied:

No, we have no plans to restrict copyleft based programs. When we were creating our application market for android, we wanted to make sure that developers could offer programs that contained open source and free software. (email: 2/20/11)

Google’s inclusive approach to licensing will only help make their market more appealing to developers and users alike.

Kindle books’ latest antifeature: Lendle

February 16, 2011

A group of developers want us to believe they’ve made a wonderful new technology that “allows” digital books to be “lent”. With digitized works, the key advantage is the ability to easily make and distribute many copies at essentially no extra cost. A new antifeature (dubbed “Lendle“), aims to make books behave like physical artifacts (it is essentially an antifeature built on top of the Kindle books’ DRM antifeature). That is, while your book is being “lent” you no longer have access to your copy. Users should reject regressive technology that restricts the ability to share by copying.

For those thinking of chiming in with a, “but this will help people lend books and stop piracy” argument, here’s another perspective.

externalities, smoking, and the DMCA

February 7, 2011

Responding to Joe Gregorio:

Joe, I don’t think giving tobacco companies a “safe harbor” is realistic in this case. People will still smoke. A better approach may be to tax the companies producing cigarettes. Cigarettes have a very inelastic demand so the companies should be able to push most of those costs onto the consumers. If the tax is set at an optimal level (that’s the difficult question to answer), it should somewhat reduce the amount of cigarettes consumed and not stimulate much of a black market. The government can then use that money to improve access to merit goods and education related to cigarette consumption. Essentially, the idea would be to raise the marginal social costs of cigarettes and use that money to close the gap (i.e. reduce the externality) between the marginal social benefits and the marginal private benefits.

I think the DMCA example is off-kilter because I don’t see a negative externality in sharing copies of published works (I think it’s a myth and propaganda that there is harm in non-commercial copying). Requirements that service providers comply with take-down requests are putting the onus on service providers when it should not be their responsibility. This approach acts as a disincentive to launch and operate such sites as the costs of doing so go up. Service providers should only have to comply with a “take-down” if the content itself is illegal (e.g. slanderous comments or child pornography). Copyright violations should be between the copyright holder and person doing the copying – not the companies that provide technology that *could* be used for transmitting copyrighted works. I think the current safe harbor provisions for service providers in the EU are a better approach than the DMCA.