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First POST: Self-censorship

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, December 16 2013


  • The NSA doesn't "spy" on Americans. It just collects and keeps the phone records of everyone, going back five years. But General Keith Alexander insisted to 60 Minutes that that was not spying.

  • Also, in a new claim for the NSA, Alexander told 60 Minutes that it had foiled a plot to take over computers in America, which could have "impact[ed] and destroy[ed] major portions of our financial system."

  • A top NSA official alsohas told 60 Minutes that he would consider recommending amnesty for Edward Snowden in exchange for documents that have not yet been given to journalists. Though Snowden has said he gave all the documents he downloaded to journalists, the NSA apparently believes he has access to more.

  • 60 Minutes got lots of flak on Twitter from the likes of Glenn Greenwald, Tim Karr of Free Press, Amy Davidson of the New Yorker, and Jay Rosen for its fairly uncritical story on the NSA.

  • “What’s clear is that tracking technologies have outpaced democratic controls,” Ben Wizner, the director of the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at the A.C.L.U., told Nick Bilton of the New York Times. “What we’ve learned this year is that agencies are determined to conduct surveillance on us, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it.” He added, on a more optimistic note:

    “This may be one of those once-in-a-generation moments when we recalibrate the powers of the citizens and the state. And that change can happen on the technological side, where the technologists that are disillusioned by the incessant tracking will use their skills to make surveillance more costly.”

  • With facial recognition software getting better and better, a movement has begun to counter its powers. One example, CV Dazzle, or anti-face fashion, was featured in Sunday's New York Times.

  • Facebook keeps track of the posts you don't publish, which it calls "self-censorship." That's according to a paper by two Facebook researchers uncovered by Jennifer Golbeck of Slate. Why do they care? Golbeck reports, the researchers

    "argue that self-censorship can be bad because it withholds valuable information. If someone chooses not to post, they claim, "[Facebook] loses value from the lack of content generation." After all, Facebook shows you ads based on what you post. Furthermore, they argue that it’s not fair if someone decides not to post because he doesn't want to spam his hundreds of friends—a few people could be interested in the message. "Consider, for example, the college student who wants to promote a social event for a special interest group, but does not for fear of spamming his other friends—some of who may, in fact, appreciate his efforts,” they write.

  • Joshua Kopstein takes a close look in The New Yorker at various efforts to revive the decentralized Internet, including ArkOS, Diaspora, Freedom Box, Mailpile, Bitcoin, Bitmessage, and Namecoin.

  • For on the decentralized Internet movement, check out

In other news around the web:

  • Kenneth Vogel reports for Politico on Ready for Hillary's quiet efforts to get a jump on the Big Data campaign for 2016, hiring NGP-VAN for a massive voter file project.

    We're looking forward to this bill getting read out on the House floor. The 416d65726963612043616e20436f646520 Act of 2013, also known as the America Can Code Act," introduced by Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Cute), is aimed at pushing the teaching of computer science in schools as early as kindergarden. “416d65726963612043616e20436f646520” is the hexadecimal code translation of “America Can Code.”

  • Techies need to become better urbanists, writes Allison Arieff in the New York Times. Noting that when big tech companies like Google and Twitter settle in urban cores, they tend to both throw local rents out of joint (leading to more evictions) and keep their employees ensconced in their own private quarters, she writes, "they might as well have stayed in their suburban corporate settings for the interacting they do with the outside world." She points to some good examples too, like Zendesk and 5M.

  • Talk to your browser: That is, if you're using Chrome. The future envisioned in Star Trek, when you talk to your computer and it understand you? Maybe not that far off.

  • Alan Feuer explores "The Bitcoin ideology," finding a lot of libertarianism, some anarchism and some humanitarianism too.

  • NPR is announcing $17 million in new grants, almost $10 million of which will pay for building a "seamless local-national listening platform."

  • Tickets for Personal Democracy Forum 2014, taking place June 5-6 in New York City, are on sale now. Early-bird prices are the best time to buy and the supply is limited.