Posted by childofthehive | Filed under Uncategorized
If you’ve been on the internet in the past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed that there’s something going on. Something called SOPA that seems to be annoying people and causing protests, such as Wikipedia blacking out its site for 24 hours. In case you’ve somehow missed it, SOPA is a bill being pushed through Congress in the USA with the supposed goal of stopping piracy on the internet.
But I’m sitting typing this blog post in England. Surely a law being passed in the USA doesn’t apply to me. Right?
Actually, it does, largely because of the ridiculous definitions of foreign or domestic sites that are included in the text of SOPA. These definitions seem proof that whoever wrote the bill doesn’t really understand how the internet works. Websites are divided into two buckets: those that are domestic to the USA and those that are foreign. How is this decided? By where the domain name was registered. So you could have a web designer in the UK building a website, hosting all the data on a server in the UK, targeting content at UK customers, talking about things relating to the UK – but it could be classed as a domestic site under SOPA if it has a .com domain name registered in the USA. There’s no thought in the bill for where the data resides, where content was created, where users are or many other elements. So, despite the fact I’m in the UK, my blog would count as a domestic site as far as SOPA is concerned.
There are some other major issues with SOPA, as it is currently written. One of them allows sites to be taken down for suspected pirate activity. Note the word: suspected. What happened to innocent until proven guilty? A company that makes all their money online might have their site taken down because someone accuses them of pirate activity, even if they’ve done nothing wrong. This would be enough to put many start-ups out of business completely. It also opens the door to potential abuse. If two companies are offering competing services in the same area, one could accuse the other under SOPA to get the website taken down. While most companies wouldn’t dream of doing something like this, the fact that it would be possible, even easy, to do so, would open the door for those with less of a social conscience to completely abuse the system for their own gain.
Aside from the ease of abuse, there is a big problem with the fact that SOPA would call for the entire site to be taken down. Let’s say, hypothetically, that there was a single blog hosted on blog.com that was engaged in dubious activity. Under SOPA, the whole of the blog.com domain could be stopped, including my blog and hundreds of others that have done nothing wrong. A law to block or take down offending content is one thing, but what’s allowed by SOPA would be the equivalent of blowing up a small down in order to kill an individual living there. The bill takes overkill to extremes.
Then there’s the issue of what counts as pirate activity under SOPA. A single link to a site with illegal content would count, whether it’s deliberate or not. On this blog, I get hundreds of spam comments, often with links to random content. Most are automatically filtered by the system and sit in a pile awaiting moderation. But they’re still on the site. If a spambot posts a comment that contains a link to some pirated material, my site is instantly in violation of SOPA. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t me who posted the link, or that I would delete the comment on my next trawl through the moderation pile.
So, under the SOPA rules, hundreds of perfectly innocent blogs could be instantly pulled down without trial or due process, because a spambot posts a comment on a single blog with a single link to pirated content.
There’s an anti-SOPA petition that included a link to a copyrighted image on a post on the White House’s website. Under the terms of SOPA, the White House website is now in violation and the US government could arrest the US government, put them in prison for five years and fine themselves millions of dollars. Read about the ridiculousness here. Or you could just go and sign the petition.
The ideas behind SOPA are reasonable. The bill proposes to stop online piracy and make sure that people who create content get the money they should for it. As an author, I don’t want to lose royalties because someone pirated an ebook of my novel. So I agree with the principles behind it.
But what’s actually described in the text of the bill just doesn’t make sense. It would damage individual creative as well as companies. It is too full of loopholes that could be abused and would let authorities act on mere suspicion rather than proof. And it probably won’t stop piracy.
It could cause massive amounts of hurt with very little benefit.
SOPA, in its current form, needs to be stopped. Then the US government can sit down with experts who actually understand how the internet works and come up with a bill that would achieve the desired effect without causing problems for millions of innocent people.
Posted by childofthehive | Filed under Tech Tuesday
Social networking sites are interesting. Yes, they can offer great ways to keep in touch with old friends from school and university, organise events and be in the know about major changes in the lives of your acquaintances, but there is a dark side to it.
If you’re not carefully about privacy settings and security, you can put more out there than you intended. There are stories about people being fired for making comments about their job on Facebook.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, things can get much more sinister. The site Evil displays the phone numbers of unsuspecting people (note: maybe you shouldn’t respond to one of those “I’ve got a new phone, can you remind me your number” groups unless you’re sure it’s private) and there are examples of people who list their full address publically and then make announcements about the fact they’re going away. That’s basically an invitation to thieves that their house is empty.
If you’re sensible, you can avoid these things but being careful about what you post and making sure of your privacy settings. But I still find the idea intriguing. This is an update of 1984 waiting to happen!
A common theme in dystopian society stories is the idea of someone watching people’s actions and listening in on their conversations. Combine that idea with social networking websites and you can have a deliciously sinister turn on technology that people take for granted.