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First POST: The Web We Want?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Thursday, December 5 2013

The Web We Want?

  • Barton Gellman and Ashkan Soltani's latest scoop in the Washington Post reveals that the NSA collects "nearly 5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world" in order to track individuals and map their relationships. A vast database with information on hundreds of millions of devices is the result, including substantial records of Americans' locations. Gellman and Soltani note that "Cellphones broadcast their locations even when they are not being used to place a call or send a text message."

  • Rolling Stone's Janet Reitman has a long and well-reported feature story on Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden. Most of the ground it covers is familiar, but near the end, there is this small revelation: During their first meeting in Hong Kong, along with documentarian Laura Poitras, Snowden told them:

    ?that he'd set up a website and written a manifesto explaining the breadth of the surveillance system the NSA had constructed. He'd intended to post the roughly 1,000-word essay on the website, in the hopes of getting hundreds of thousands, even millions to read it and sign a petition to end the surveillance state. But the manifesto, as Greenwald says, 'was a little Ted Kaczynski-ish.' He and Poitras advised Snowden it might be misinterpreted by the public. 'It was pretty melodramatic and overwrought, which makes sense, because you've got to think in pretty extreme terms if you're going to throw your life away to fight against these injustices. But to the average person you want to reach, it might sound creepy.' Snowden ultimately let it go."

  • Also, Reitman reports that "Snowden has been an undeniable boom for WikiLeaks….After Snowden went public, donations to the group began to pour in at around $1,300 per day. WikiLeaks now sells T-shirts, mugs and tote bags with Snowden's face on them (Bradley Manning's visage, which once adorned similar paraphernalia, has all but disappeared)."

  • Speaking at a United Nations gathering this morning, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, made a stirring call for freedom from online censorship and spying and endorsed the launch of theWeb We Want initiative.

  • Internet firms are now in an arms race to demonstrate that they've implemented the toughest security measures, The New York Times reports, with Yahoo in the rear of the pack.

  • “The idea that the government may be hacking into corporate data centers was a bit like an earthquake, sending shock waves across the tech sector,” Microsoft chief counsel Brad Smith tells the Times.

In other news around the web:

  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the nerve center for, is still stonewalling reporters' requests for the number of errors on 834 files, which are sent by the exchange to insurers when someone signs up for their plan, Sarah Kliff of Wonkblog reports.

  • This Epic Snark-down Between Two Online Journalists Wins the Day: Slate writer Dave Weigel rightly goes ballistic on Buzzfeed politics editor McKay Coppins for publishing an aggregation of Elan Gale's Thanksgiving hoax (yes, the whole thing was made up), earning 1.3 million hits (the title was "This Epic Note-Passing War on a Delayed Flight Wins Thanksgiving"), and then mocking him for pointing out it was all wrong. As Weigel writes:

    Yes, people on the Internet want to believe salacious stories. Reporters want to publish stories that people read. If there’s a great reward, and little downside, to be had in publishing bullshit, the Internet’s going to get more bullshit. As one of my colleagues put it, “‘Too good to check’ used to be a warning to newspaper editors not to jump on bullshit stories. Now it’s a business model.”

  • Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have pledged a total of $5 million to a small nonprofit, Education Superhighway, that helps school districts make more cost-efficient decisions about technology, the Washington Post reports.

  • China's central bank says no to Bitcoin. The digital neo-currency dropped 20% on the news.

  • Guernica magazine's Jamilah King interviews Deepa Gupta, the founder of Jhatkaa, an Indian online organizing start-up modeled on MoveOn.

  • Anne Wojcicki, the CEO of 23andMe, admits that her company has been "behind schedule" in responding to the FDA's inquiries about its genetic testing kits. "We failed to communicate pro-actively," she told an audience in San Francisco Tuesday night. The FDA has ordered the company to stop marketing the kits.