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Peer-To-Peer News - The Week In Review - January 16th, ’21
January 16th, 2021
Citing 'Censorship' Concerns, North Idaho Internet Provider Blocks Facebook, Twitter
The actions of Your T1 WIFI, which provides internet services to North Idaho and the Spokane area, could violate Washington state's Net Neutrality law.
Sara Roth, Helen Smith
A North Idaho internet provider, Your T1 WIFI, confirmed it is blocking Facebook and Twitter from its WIFI service for some customers due to censorship claims.
Your T1 WIFI provides internet services to North Idaho and the Spokane area.
The move comes after Twitter and Facebook banned President Trump from their platforms due to incitement of violence and undermining the transition of power to President elect Joe Biden.
The social media sites banned the President due to violations of their terms of service. Because Twitter and Facebook are private companies, their bans on the President do not violate the First Amendment, which protects speech from being limited by the government.
Your T1 WIFI's actions, however, could violate Washington state's Net Neutrality law.
Your T1 WIFI said it decided to block Twitter and Facebook after the company received several calls from customers about both websites.
"It has come to our attention that Twitter and Facebook are engaged in censorship of our customers and information," an email to customers reads.
The service provider said the change would go into effect on Wednesday, Jan. 13.
In an email posted to Twitter by a customer, Krista Yep, the company says it was fielding calls from customers asking that the service not display the sites on the internet, and that they didn't want their children to be able to access them.
"Our company does not believe a website or social networking site has the authority to censor what you see and post and hide information from you, stop you from seeing what your friends and family are posting," the email reads. "This is why with the amount of concerns, we have made this decision to block these two websites from being accessed from our network."
The company did not specify what complaints customers had made.
Yep said she found the company's email to customers alarming.
"I was pretty shocked that they were just coming out and saying that," Yep said. "If it's not illegal, it's highly unethical."
Initially, the company said too many customers had requested the sites be blocked, so it would block them for all customers except for those who called the company and requested access. However, the company backtracked on Monday and said those who didn't request the sites be blocked would still have access.
"Just because you don't like what Twitter and Facebook have done, then you decide to block it for everyone else, so in your opposition to censorship, you're going with censorship," Yep said.
Yep said she plans to cancel her service, regardless of the company's backtracking.
"Their original email was pretty alarming and I don't trust them anymore," she said.
Yep forwarded additional emails from the company to KREM. In them, the company states that two-thirds of customers asked for Twitter and Facebook to be blocked.
In the emails, the company also wrote that their contract and acceptable use policy allows them to block websites if they deem the content "break any rules (sic) or illegal or harmful to our customers and more."
In a phone call with KREM, the owner of the company, Brett Fink, again said the websites would only be blocked for customers who asked.
"We've had customers asked to be blocked by it. That is what the email was about, so no we are not blocking anybody, only the ones that have asked for it," Fink said.
While Your T1 WIFI says they acted in response to censorship, the company's actions could also be considered censorship. In addition, they may violate Washington state's Net Neutrality law, which states that internet providers may not manipulate access to content.
The law contains the following language:
A person engaged in the provision of broadband internet access service in Washington state, insofar as the person is so engaged, may not:
(a) Block lawful content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices, subject to reasonable network management;
(b) Impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of internet content, application, or service, or use of a nonharmful device, subject to reasonable network management; or
(c) Engage in paid prioritization
A spokesperson for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's office said the attorney general's Consumer Protection Division was "taking a look at the matter." Brionna Aho, a spokesperson for Attorney General Bob Ferguson, said he takes enforcement of the net neutrality law "very seriously."
Idaho does not have the same net neutrality law. A representative for the Idaho Attorney General said their office lacks the original jurisdiction to be the enforcement authority in this matter.
KREM has also reached out to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for comment.
Uganda Orders all Social Media to be Blocked – Letter
Uganda ordered internet service providers to block all social media platforms and messaging apps on Tuesday until further notice, a letter from the country’s communications regulator seen by Reuters said.
Users had complained earlier on Tuesday that they were unable to access Facebook and WhatsApp, social media platforms being widely used for campaigning ahead of Thursday’s presidential election in the East African country.
“Uganda Communications Commission hereby directs you to immediately suspend any access and use, direct or otherwise, of all social media platforms and online messaging applications over your network until further notice,” said the letter from the commission’s executive director to internet providers.
The commission’s spokesman Ibrahim Bbossa and government spokesman Ofwono Opondo did not answer calls requesting comment. An aide to Minister of Information Judith Nabakooba said she was unable to comment at the moment.
A source in Uganda’s telecom sector said the government had made clear to executives at telecoms companies that the social media ban was in retaliation for Facebook blocking some pro-government accounts.
The U.S. social media giant said on Monday it had taken down a network in Uganda linked to the country’s ministry of information for using fake and duplicate accounts to post ahead of this week’s election.
Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Editing by David Clarke
Telegram Finally Takes Down Neo-Nazi Channels
The encrypted messaging app admits the groups had engaged in “calls to violence.”
As mainstream internet companies like Facebook and Google have gradually limited white nationalist and neo-Nazi access to their platforms, more and more have turned to Telegram, an encrypted messaging app with very lax moderation policies. On the app, neo-Nazis openly talked about threatening minorities, carrying out violence, and made frequent allusions to “Day of the Rope”—their fantasied reckoning when race traitors will be murdered en masse. All the while, Telegram generally opted to not do anything about it.
But after last week’s deadly pro-Trump riot at the Capitol, Telegram appears to be changing its mind. Since Tuesday, a wave of neo-Nazi and white nationalist accounts have come down. The removals follow an online campaign by activists, including extremist researcher Gwen Snyder, who pushed over the last week for Apple and Google to ban Telegram from their app stores, and for the app’s users to undertake reporting campaigns to prompt such channels’ removal.
While Telegram did start taking down neo-Nazi channels on Wednesday, neither Apple nor Google have publicly acknowledged putting pressure on Telegram to delete the channels, nor is it clear if the mass reporting campaign played a role. Telegram has not released the exact number of accounts taken down. Snyder says she’s seen roughly two dozen banned in the last two days, most of which had between 2,000 and 10,000 followers.
Telegram is best known for being an encrypted messaging app, where users or groups can send private, secure messages. But unlike other similar messaging apps, it also lets users create channels that anyone can view and follow. The anti-racist activists targeted those public-facing channels.
Apple, Google, and Telegram did not respond to Mother Jones requests for comment, but in a statement to CNN’s Brian Fung, Telegram said it had removed “dozens” of channels that were posting “calls to violence for thousands of subscribers.” Telegram founder Pavel Durov also acknowledged in a public channel on the app that the company was banning neo-Nazi groups for posting threats.
In a phone call with Mother Jones, Snyder called the bans “unprecedented” for Telegram, especially given that they happened en masse. The only similar action Snyder said she could recall was when the app banned dozens of neo-Nazi channels last year, but only in the Apple version of the app. (That step took place after Mother Jones flagged that the channels violated the Apple App Store’s terms of service.) Since then, many of the channels remained accessible through the Google Android version of Telegram, suggesting that the company was aware of the channels, but opted to let them stay.
Since Parler, a right-wing social media app, was banned from major app stores for its role in helping incite violence on Capitol Hill last week, users have flocked to Telegram and elsewhere. Far-right groups have been trying to seize on the influx of new users to recruit and radicalize them to even more extreme politics. If the bans continue, on Telegram, they won’t get their chance.
Poland Plans to Make Censoring of Social Media Accounts Illegal
Following Trump’s Twitter ban, Polish government wants to protect posts that do not break nation’s laws
Mateusz Morawiecki with Angela Merkel.
Polish government officials have denounced the deactivation of Donald Trump’s social media accounts, and said a draft law being readied in Poland will make it illegal for tech companies to take similar actions there.
“Algorithms or the owners of corporate giants should not decide which views are right and which are not,” wrote the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, on Facebook earlier this week, without directly mentioning Trump. “There can be no consent to censorship.”
Morawiecki indirectly compared social media companies taking decisions to remove accounts with Poland’s experience during the communist era.
“Censorship of free speech, which is the domain of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, is now returning in the form of a new, commercial mechanism to combat those who think differently,” he wrote.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, which is ideologically aligned with Trump on many issues, has itself been accused of trying to limit freedom of speech in recent years.
Some of its members have made a habit of posting anti-LGBT or anti-refugee rhetoric. However, government officials have long claimed that people with rightwing views in Poland and abroad have been the victims of biased decisions by international tech companies.
Sebastian Kaleta, secretary of state at Poland’s Ministry of Justice, said Facebook’s decision to remove Trump’s account was hypocritical, politically motivated and “amounts to censorship”.
He said the draft law prepared by the justice ministry would make it illegal for social media companies to remove posts that did not break Polish law.
“Removing lawful content would directly violate the law, and this will have to be respected by the platforms that operate in Poland,” Kaleta told Rzeczpospolita newspaper.
In recent years, Facebook has moved to block content from far-right Polish organisations and politicians on numerous occasions. The MP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, aligned with the Konfederacja party, was in November shut out of his account, which had 780,000 followers, for what Facebook called repeated violations of community standards. Korwin-Mikke accused Facebook of being run by “fascists and Bolsheviks”.
Under the provisions of the Polish draft law, users would be able to file a court petition to force social media companies to restore removed content if they believed it did not violate Polish law. The court would rule within seven days and the process would be fully electronic.
Morawiecki called on the EU to introduce similar regulations. Other European politicians, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, have also expressed unease at the ban on Trump by various social media outlets, and a new EU proposal, the Digital Services Act, envisions tougher regulations on tech companies, including tough fines for failure to block illegal content.
Katarzyna Szymielewicz, president of the NGO Panoptykon, said the proposed Polish law, on paper, was “quite in line with what civil society has been fighting for, against arbitrary censorship online”, noting that national laws are a better benchmark for what content should be allowed online than arbitrary decisions taken by tech companies.
However, there is a clear political context behind the Polish law, even if on paper it aligns with the thrust of the EU-wide proposals, which could take two or three years to become law.
“It would be much wiser to focus on co-creating a mature, sound EU-wide regulation,” said Szymielewicz.
PiS officials have made it clear that they believe their fight against tech companies is part of an ideological battle to defend rightwing and far-right political positions.
“Every day there is more news from the US about the mass removal of accounts criticising the left … defending the freedom of speech is again the biggest challenge of conservatives globally,” the MEP Patryk Jaki of the United Poland party, which is in the ruling coalition together with PiS, wrote on his Facebook account.
Russia May Fine Citizens Who Use SpaceX’s Starlink Internet Service
Russia is planning its own Internet from space plan, called Sphere.
Russia's legislative body, the State Duma, is considering fines for individuals and companies in the country that use Western-based satellite Internet services. The proposed law seeks to prevent accessing the Internet by means of SpaceX's Starlink service, OneWeb, or other non-Russian satellite constellations under development.
According to a recent report in the Russian edition of Popular Mechanics, the recommended fines range from 10,000 to 30,000 rubles ($135-$405) for ordinary users, and from 500,000 to 1 million rubles ($6,750 to $13,500) for legal entities who use the Western satellite services.
In the Russian-language article, translated for Ars by Robinson Mitchell, members of the Duma assert that accessing the Internet independently would bypass the country's System of Operational Search Measures, which monitors Internet use and mobile communications. As part of the country's tight control on media and communications, all Russian Internet traffic must pass through a Russian communications provider.
It is not surprising that Russia would take steps to block Starlink service—the country's space chief, Dmitry Rogozin, views SpaceX as a chief rival in spaceflight.
Rogozin has been critical of both NASA and the US Department of Defense for subsidizing SpaceX through government contracts. (While it is true that SpaceX has received launch contracts from the US government worth several billion dollars, it has also provided launch services at a significant discount compared to other providers.) More recently Rogozin has said Starlink is little more than a scheme to provide US Special Forces with uninterrupted communications.
Starlink, Rogozin said last August, is part of “a rather predatory, clever, powerful, high-technology policy of the USA, which uses Shock and Awe in order to advance, before all, their military interests.” Rogozin also called SpaceX’s claim that Starlink was created in order to provide Internet service to the 4 percent of the Earth’s surface not covered by terrestrial Internet “nonsense."
The ban on OneWeb is more interesting, given that the company is using the Russian Soyuz rocket to launch nearly all of its initial constellation into orbit. Monthly OneWeb satellite launches are planned this year, primarily from spaceports in Baikonur, Kazahkstan, and Vostochny, Russia. OneWeb is effectively helping to prop up the struggling Russian launch industry at a time when SpaceX is undercutting the country on commercial launch contracts.
Not to be outdone by Western competitors, Russia is planning its own satellite Internet constellation, known as "Sphere." However there are questions about the affordability of this constellation, which could begin launching in 2024. The program's budget has not been confirmed, but some reports have suggested it could run as high as $20 billion. This is far beyond the amount of money Russia spends on civil space. The current budget for Roscosmos, the Russian space corporation led by Rogozin, receives about $2.4 billion a year.
EU Must 'Move at Speed' on Space Broadband Network
The European Commission says it wants its newly proposed satellite mega-constellation to be offering some sort of initial service in 2024.
The first priority is to fill in gaps in broadband coverage where ground infrastructure cannot reach, but later it will power services such as self-driving cars.
The project will in some ways mirror America's Starlink and the UK-Indian OneWeb networks.
Its scope has yet to be fully defined.
A consortium of aerospace and telecoms companies is doing that right now.
But EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said he wanted to get going on the idea as soon as possible.
"My objective is to go fast. And therefore it would be appropriate that the Commission puts forward this year a proposal to the European Parliament and the Council so we can move concretely," he told the 13th European Space Conference on Tuesday.
"To be ready, we launched a few weeks ago a study on a secure space-based connectivity system. The selected consortium consisting of European satellite manufacturers, operators and service providers, telco operators and launch service providers will study the possible design and development of this project.
"This will provide insights on the technical dimension, but also the governance structure, the financing, the missions, the exact scope. I expect their first feedback in April this year."
The secure communications system would be the next flagship space project to come out of the EU after the Galileo satellite-navigation constellation and the Copernicus programme with its Earth observing Sentinel spacecraft.
EU officials have only spoken in the broadest terms about what they want to see from the new telecommunications project.
They talk about a mix of low, medium and geostationary satellites that use advanced quantum encryption, are interlinked with optical connectors, and which piggyback sensors that might also be used to monitor aviation and shipping - just as examples. But, they argue, fast, secure, low-latency, space-borne connectivity will be the must-have capability to enable a raft of coming technologies, such as self-driving cars.
Europe needs such a capability if it wants to stay globally competitive.
The primary motivation in the first instance, however, would be to fill those last "not spots" in member states where ground infrastructure is incapable of delivering broadband services - thought to be at least five million households.
Pressed on cost, EU officials told reporters on Tuesday that any estimate would have to wait on the industrial consortium's report in the spring. Nonetheless, experience says it would be in the billions of euros price bracket.
And as to where the money will come from to make it all happen, the preferred option seems to be some sort of public-private partnership.
The officials said the commission had some funds across its various directorates that it could call on, but that they expected industry, individual member states and the European Space Agency to invest in the system as well.
Whatever the system looks like and however it is funded, speed of implementation will be paramount.
The Starlink broadband mega-constellation, which is being built by US entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX company, has already started offering "beta", or trial, broadband connections in Northern Europe; and OneWeb, owned by Indian conglomerate Bharti Global and the British government, hopes to have an initial offering for its Northern European customers later this year.
"From the first idea about Galileo through to the first operational service in Europe, it has taken 20 years; we don't have 20 years [for this new project]," observed Jean-Marc Nasr, the head of Airbus Space Systems, which leads the feasibility consortium.
"Speed is of the essence here. The idea of the European space infrastructure has been on the table since early 2020. We cannot have the first service in 2040. If we do that, we are dead.
"We have to have the service operational at the end of this decade at the latest. And this requires all of us to work as a team to deliver the best competitive service and technical background to Europe."
There is talk of having the entire network in place by the end of the new EU multi-annual budget period, which is 2027.
One issue of supreme importance for the implementation of the network will be securing the radio frequencies on which it will operate, as pointed out by Riadh Cammoun, vice president of public and regulatory affairs at the Franco-Italian satellite manufacturer Thales Alenia Space.
"We need funding, we need a vision, we need leadership, but also we need frequency rights to sustain the launch of a European low-Earth orbit constellation," he told the conference.
The commission said it had been working for some months already to try to secure those frequencies. The allocation and use of satellite frequencies is negotiated through the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).
A Small Group of Sleuths had been Identifying Right-Wing Extremists Long Before the Attack on the Capitol
Before a mob of Trump supporters staged a riot in the U.S. Capitol and thousands of Americans became amateur detectives working to identify the culprits, a loosely connected group of seasoned online sleuths were ringing alarm bells and picking off extremists online, one by one.
For a nationwide network of left-wing activists who seek out and publish the identities of those they believe to be violent “fascists,” some investigations can take months, years even.
Or it can take 10 minutes.
That’s how much time Molly Conger spent on her laptop last month searching for the man who used the right-wing social media site Parler to share that he was a police officer and pledge support to a member of the Proud Boys extremist group, advocating violence against Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr..
Turns out the man was a Prince William County sheriff’s deputy. Fifteen-year law enforcement veteran Aaron Hoffman acknowledged he was behind the profile picture of a sheep holding a machine gun, though he maintained in an interview with The Washington Post that his account had been hacked. Alerted to Hoffman’s online presence by Conger’s tweets, the Northern Virginia county’s sheriff fired Hoffman the next day.
Prince William County sheriff fires deputy for ‘disturbing comments’ on social media
Conger, 30, a freelance journalist in Charlottesville who live-tweets local government meetings and posts pictures of her miniature Daschunds under the handle @socialistdogmom, has made doxing “Nazis” her day job — and she is part of a small coterie of left-wing activists who monitored far-right violence long before it arrived at the forefront of the American conscience. They follow online clues to learn the hidden identity of perpetrators. Some go so far as to infiltrate the messaging groups of their targets by impersonating new members.
The majority of people who do this work are anonymous, like their targets, though a handful have been outed and continue to dox others. They often describe themselves as antifascists and are eager to present a faction of the movement that works behind the scenes to prevent violence. They’re tech-savvy, meticulous and incensed by the rise of the far right. They reject the idea that antifa’s methods are steeped in violence — a narrative advanced by President Trump and his supporters.
Conger lives off donations from a growing audience of social media users who want to see consequences for anonymous members of far-right groups who plot violence online and carry it out at demonstrations across the country.
“I’ve just always been very nosy,” said Conger, a former project manager at an education software company. “If you’ve ever stayed up way too late trying to find your ex’s wedding pictures on Instagram, you can dox a Nazi. It’s the same skill set.”
For many, the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, where Heather Heyer was killed by a white nationalist demonstrator, was a tipping point.
“I was not super politically active prior to that,” Conger said. “I was very invested in my job and had my head down and things just got progressively worse until someone got murdered by a Nazi in my neighborhood. This is not a couple of guys on 4chan. These are people who were willing to come together in real life and do real violence. That sort of changes your perspective.
“So now my life is about making it a little bit harder to be a Nazi online.”
Humiliation and accountability
If Hoffman’s goal was to keep his Parler identity anonymous, his biggest mistake was easily avoidable. Last year he commissioned an artist using the freelance services website Fiverr to draw the armed sheep, and upon completion, Hoffman was nice enough to leave the artist a positive review on the site.
Conger, who had been forwarded the account’s comments by fellow activists monitoring a Proud Boy’s activity on Parler, used a reverse image search to find other instances of the drawing online, leading to the Fiverr page. Hoffman posted his review under the stage name Grant Tucker.
Conger then matched the photo on the reviewer’s account to a Facebook profile for a local country music musician, Grant Tucker. In one of the photos shared on the page, the man going by Tucker is pictured in his Prince William sheriff’s uniform with his name tag visible: “Hoffman.”
Conger shared the revelation on Twitter with more than 95,000 followers. Hoffman was fired hours later.
“That tells me they already knew,” Conger said of the timing. “They already knew, and because it was publicly embarrassing they had to do something about it. And if they already knew, how many more are there?”
Maj. Terry Fearnley of the Prince William County sheriff’s office told The Post the department was not aware of Hoffman’s social media activity until Conger’s posts.
“That type of behavior is not tolerated at the Prince William County sheriff’s department,” Fearnley said. “Never has been, never will be. And we want to stress to the community, if you see anything that looks like conduct unbecoming of our officers, please let us know.”
Conger says she shares less than 10 percent of the identities of the far-right agitators she identifies online. Some aren’t prominent enough in the movement for her to “dilute the discourse” by sharing their names, Conger said. Hoffman, she said, was a “white whale,” though, as a law enforcement officer.
The goal is not to bring physical harm or harassment upon the doxed, she says; she doesn’t post addresses, phone numbers or names of loved ones. The goal is humiliation and the accountability that comes with it.
“I’m interested in disincentivizing this behavior,” Conger said. “I’m interested in raising the cost of being a white nationalist, raising the cost of being a Nazi, raising the cost of making these threats anonymously online, and making it clear that these people are not as hard to find as they think they are.”
Rise of far-right violence leads some to call for realignment of post-9/11 national security priorities
Conger, who began researching the far right in 2017, is a relative newcomer to the doxing scene. Most point to Daryle Lamont Jenkins, the founder of One People’s Project, as the father of the practice. In the early 2000s, Jenkins retaliated against fundamentalist Christian groups who were doxing abortion providers by doxing them back.
The 52-year old Jenkins has been an online mentor to many, including Richmond resident Kristopher Goad, whose interest in the far right began in 2013 when the Virginia Flaggers, a pro-Confederate flag group, began regularly demonstrating on a street corner blocks from his home. Goad, a lanky, mulleted restaurant cook who goes by @GoadGatsby online, responded by drowning out their protests with rap music pumped through stereo speakers, “because I figured rap music would upset them,” Goad said.
Goad was one of several counterdemonstrators assaulted by prominent white supremacist Christopher Cantwell at Unite the Right (Cantwell was later convicted of pepper-spraying Goad and fellow activist Emily Gorcenski).
“After that, I met Emily and we began putting our heads together trying to figure out who all these knuckleheads were,” Goad said.
That effort to identify violent Unite the Right attendees turned into a vocation for both Goad and Gorcenski. Goad has gone so far as to impersonate a hate group applicant to gain access to private social media chats in numerous far-right groups, which he monitors for plans to do violence. He says the desired outcome of a good dox is a “self-deplatforming,” in which a hate group member deletes his accounts and disappears from the far-right networks.
“This narrative exists that we just want to ruin lives,” Goad said, referring to criticism in conservative circles. “In reality, we want to protect lives from what seem to be like the most dangerous people that are given great authority in our country. We want to challenge that, and we want other people to know about it so they also challenge them.”
When Cantwell was facing criminal and civil charges for his actions in Charlottesville, part of his legal strategy was to shift blame to other masked men in his group, using their anonymous online handles as identifiers in court documents. Goad and Gorcenski saw it as a challenge.
“We wanted to be able to say, ‘Everything you’ve put in this lawsuit is now incriminating this other person,’ ” Gorcenski said.
She dug into cached webpages and online social media remnants until she identified each person Cantwell cited anonymously in 2017, then presented that evidence to police. Sitting across from Gorcenski in a police station conference room, University of Virginia police Sgt. Casey Acord was astonished, Gorcenski said.
“Do you want a job?” Acord asked, according to Gorcenski.
Acord did not respond to an email requesting comment.
Instead, Gorcenski spent the next three years doxing on her own.
“The story of what happened in Charlottesville has not fully been told,” Gorcenski said. “Part of our ongoing community defense is to leave a persistent reminder that there’s no way to do violence and get away with it.”
Looking into the abyss
Abner Hauge, who runs Left Coast Right Watch, a website that monitors hate group activity and identifies far-right demonstrators, purchased a gun after receiving threats. But it’s not the threats that wear you down, Hauge says. It’s the research, listening to hours of YouTube videos and podcasts of men making sexist, homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic remarks.
“Everybody has to take vacations from this,” said Hauge, 31. “We do this for as long as we can take it, and then the trauma makes us cease to function in a healthy way and we stop for a week or two and then jump back into it.”
Often, jumping back in means seeing the targets up close and in person.
On Wednesday, Conger made the 115-mile drive from Charlottesville to Washington to document what she suspected would be a day of right-wing violence inspired by President Trump’s address at the Ellipse.
She wore a longhair wig as part of a disguise (Conger normally sports a buzz-cut) to avoid detection — after her last appearance at a far-right gathering in Washington, she says, a member of the Proud Boys “put a hit” on her.
She spent the day on the Capitol grounds filming, zeroing in on exposed faces. Her lens captured the last breaths of one of the three Trump supporters who suffered medical emergencies during the short-lived insurrection and died. She drove home and submitted what must be a rare Google query: “how to get tear gas out of a wig.”
The nation’s collective shock at Wednesday’s events annoyed her. She saw it coming. Why didn’t everyone else?
“These people wanted blood, and we should be at least as clear about that when we talk about what they did — as they were when they talked about what they planned to do,” Conger said. “There should be no rationalizing or excusing this, no weaseling around with language about politically frustrated blue-collar Trump supporters caught up in the moment and expressing their beliefs or whatever nonsense people are bandying about.”
That authorities in Washington appeared to be as unprepared in the face of violent right-wing extremists as police in Charlottesville were in 2017 comes as no shock to Michael German, a retired FBI agent and fellow for the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program.
German, who investigated domestic terrorist groups in the 1990s, says he’s seen a shift in how police handle right-wing violence.
“When I worked these cases, law enforcement knew that when a white supremacist group was discussing having a public event, that their purpose was to instigate violence,” German said. “So they made it more difficult for them to accomplish that objective of injuring people. We’ll make it so that you can come out and say your piece, but you’re not going to get within 100 yards of someone you can hurt, rather than the way we’ve seen over the past several years where we seem to be friendly to the far-right groups and aggressively violent towards the anti-racist protesters.”
Charlottesville police chief resigns in wake of report on white supremacist rally
Police have more “intrusive” information tools including databases not available to the public, German says, and the opportunity to arrest hate group members with outstanding warrants for unrelated charges, yet rarely take advantage.
“They could do far more,” German said. “How much of it is a lack of understanding of this intelligence and how much is a lack of interest in actually doing it?”
Activists who spoke to The Post lean toward the latter.
Christian Exoo, a 39-year-old library building supervisor at a college in Upstate New York, says he grew up with a childhood reverence for police officers until his late mother, Diane Exoo, a child advocate attorney and law professor, let him in on her work advocating for abused children and women.
“Cops constantly victimize marginalized communities,” Exoo said. “That disgusted me as a young person, that these guys don’t protect people from violence and, in fact, they do quite a bit of violence to people.”
In 2019, Exoo was responsible for the doxing of East Hampton, Conn., police officer Kevin Wilcox, then a dues paying member of the Proud Boys. Exoo stumbled upon Wilcox after realizing various chapters of the Proud Boys were paying their group dues openly on Venmo.
Exoo teaches a weekly seminar on doxing via video conference, sharing his methods with a vetted group of activists. In December, he identified three members of the Georgia Three Percent Security Force, an extremist militia group, who Exoo believes attacked unarmed protesters in Atlanta. One of the men was using the same profile picture he used on Zello as on Facebook under the alias “Drake Remora,” a reference to the sitcom “Friends.” Digging into the profile, Exoo found the man had shared his phone number on Facebook years ago while arranging for his house to be power washed. Caller ID data led to his actual identity.
After Exoo released the identity of the three attackers, he learned that at least two were fired from their jobs.
“These people need consequences,” Exoo said. “The consistent ideology across the far right is that human hierarchy is natural and desirable, that some people should have power over other people. And they all think violence is a path to power for them.”
Exoo has no qualms about discussing past doxes and tactics because he’s already been outed by hate groups and conservative journalists. It was inevitable: Exoo has joined hate groups in person and via video chat, performing well enough in interviews to gain access to private chats on websites like Zello and Gab. He wears his hair in a style that some in hate groups call “fashy” — tight-cropped sides with a side-sweep on top.
He faces daily death threats from people who describe murdering his family, too. He isn’t alone. One of Conger’s opponents hosted a podcast featuring a regular segment during which the hosts imagined new ways to rape her. Last year, Gorcenski moved from Charlottesville to Germany to continue her work with an ocean between her and people who threaten her life online. She has plans to soon retire from doxing.
“I want to go back to life,” Gorcenski said. “Before I was doing this, I was always against Nazis, but I didn’t spend 60 hours of the week opposing Nazis.”
Conger has trouble imagining doing anything else.
“It’s damaged my brain for sure,” Conger said. “We all have our own ways of getting through it. But ultimately, you’re not okay. Looking deep into the abyss at the worst parts of humanity on a regular basis is not good for you. But I need to know. I need to understand why these people are like this.”
The Hacker Who Archived Parler Explains How She Did It (and What Comes Next)
The hacker, donk_enby, explained that she only scraped what was publicly available: "I hope that it can be used to hold people accountable and to prevent more death."
With Twitter's permanent ban of Donald Trump and tens of thousands of QAnon-linked accounts following the Capitol takeover on Wednesday, many of Trump’s followers planned to make a new home on Parler, the “free speech” alternative that has become known for hosting far-right content.
Those plans hit a snag when Amazon Web Services, Google, and Apple deplatformed Parler, effectively erasing it off the internet, at least temporarily. Parler was an organizing and rallying point for the far-right, including many of the Capitol Hill insurrectionists, and so its erasure from the internet threatened to destroy months of posts that could be used to better understand the attack on the Capitol.
But the quick thinking of a self-described hacker by the name of donk_enby and a host of amateur data hoarders preserved more than 56.7 terabytes of data from Parler that donk_enby and open source investigators believe could be useful in piecing together what happened last Wednesday and in the weeks and months leading up to it. donk_enby was able to scrape and capture and archive nearly the entire content of the website after it became clear that hundreds of Trump supporters had uploaded potentially incriminating photos and videos of themselves to the platform, many filming from inside the Capitol itself.
When news of donk_enby's archival efforts broke, several viral tweets, Reddit posts, and Facebook posts claimed that she had captured private information, scans of drivers licenses and IDs, and other highly sensitive information. She said those posts are “not at all” accurate.
“Everything we grabbed was publicly available on the web, we just made a permanent public snapshot of it,” donk_enby told me.
Nevertheless, with the FBI, state and local law enforcement, and open-source investigators looking for media from Wednesday's attack, the archive could be highly useful to a whole host of people.
“I hope that it can be used to hold people accountable and to prevent more death,” she said. “I think people should be allowed to have their own opinion as long as they can act civilized, on Wednesday we saw what can happen if they don’t.”
On Saturday, Amazon Web Services announced that it would no longer host Parler, cutting the company off from one of the largest web hosts in the world. The move was set to be effective Sunday at midnight. The clock was ticking.
When rumors of Parler’s imminent deletion began to circulate, donk_enby, who has been researching Parler for months, understood that a litany of important information about America’s most prominent far-right extremist groups was at risk of being permanently hidden from the public eye. In a monumental effort, donk_enby and a few other fellow hackers and researchers managed to capture and archive nearly every post, photo and video on Parler before it was shut down.
“Last night was all gas no brakes,” she told me Monday.
When word of donk_enby’s project broke online, competing theories circled about what information had actually been pulled. What donk_enby actually did was an old school scrape of already publicly available information. Using a jailbroken iPad and Ghidra, a piece of reverse-engineering software designed and publicly released by the National Security Agency, donk_enby managed to exploit weaknesses in the website’s design to pull the URL’s of every single public post on Parler in sequential order, from the very first to the very last, allowing her to then capture and archive the contents.
The task of downloading that data, what she called the “big pull”, was a race against the clock—Amazon was set to revoke Parler’s hosting services within hours, and over 50 terrabytes of data had to be pulled from the site in order to be effectively archived. After donk_enby tweeted about the content she was scraping from Parler, the Archive Team, a volunteer collection of hackers and data researchers who have saved a host of other dying sites, took notice and joined in her effort. “The Archive Team deserves a lot of credit for orchestrating the big pull,” donky_enby told me, saying that he group paid the steep server costs and constructed a tool that allowed anonymous Twitter users to volunteer their own bandwidth to help speed the transfer, which at one point peaked at 50 GB per second. The extra speed proved critical—the group-effort managed to capture 96% of Parler’s content by midnight.
In December, donk_enby published details about Parler's iOS app on her GitHub, which Archive Team used to help them scrape the site. At the time, she posted on her GitHub that the API could be used "to solve fun mysteries such as:
Is my dad on Parler?
Who was on Parler before it first started gaining popularity when Candice Owens tweeted about in December 2018?
Is Parler really the world's most secure social network? (no)"
donk_enby had originally intended to grab data only from the day of the Capitol takeover, but found that the poor construction and security of Parler allowed her to capture, essentially, the entire website. That ended up being 56.7 terabytes of data, which included every public post on Parler, 412 million files in all—including 150 million photos and more than 1 million videos. Each of these had embedded metadata like date, time and GPS coordinates—unlike most social media sites, Parler does not strip metadata from media its users upload, which, crucially, could be useful for law enforcement and open source investigators.
The data is currently being processed and should be available to browse in a couple days, according to donk_enby. Early archives of it are already cropping up as torrent files and are being shared on IRC channels and different git sites. One of the hosters posted this message on their website: "the files were shared from this site, and made into a torrent file so the distribution is mostly out of my hands now," they said. "the data has also been shared with researches and archival organizations." Metadata archives have been uploaded and new scripts have been written to help parse and plot the data.
Users of Parler have responded with threats.
“All the hate and threats I’m getting make it all the more satisfying. I don’t know the full extent of what’s in there but people are afraid,” she said.
A screenshot she posted from a group named the North Central Florida Patriots called out her Twitter handle and named her “the rat running the operation”:
“Bad news. Left extremists have captured and archived over 70TB of data from parler severs. This includes posts, personal information, locations, videos, images etc.
The intent is a mass dox and a list to hold patriots “accountable”. It is too late to scrub your data, and its already archived. There is nothing you can do to prevent whats already happened. All you can do is prepare for the fallout.”
Parler has since registered their domain with Epik, a service that hosts other similar platforms used by far-right groups like Gab and 8chan, and are now suing Amazon).
It’s worth noting that the FBI could have gotten the server information on their own, but what this kind of public dump does is empower other hackers, researchers, activists, and antifascist members of the public to identify suspects on their own and make their names and faces public. It also preserves posts organizing the insurrection and other violent threats, rhetoric, and planning done by the far right groups involved in the takeover, an important piece of information when trying to answer the Capitol Police’s and federal government's inexplicable lack of preparation for the January 6th violence. donk_enby told me that the data is “already being processed to extract metadata, pull still frames, and maybe run some computer vision analysis.” Social media has proved a powerful force in identifying people at riots and protests—as I write this, the FBI is posting screengrabs on Twitter asking for help identifying suspects photographed inside the Capitol.
While donk_enby’s information will surely prove valuable to antifascist groups and others who have a vested interest in naming and shaming right-wing extremists, the level playing field of the internet makes it just as likely to aid the state in seeking prosecution. While donk_enby didn't archive this for the explicit purpose of helping law enforcement (she considers herself an anarcho-socialist and said the data would have utility for those leading crowd-sourced identification efforts), she acknowledges they may find it useful. “Once people start sifting through our archive, it should point them to where they can find the actual legally admissible evidence,” she said.
"I saw what online disinformation can do first hand ...I hope to inspire people like me to use their skillset for political purposes - hacking IS political,” donk_enby told me, “we’ve been slipping down a slippery slope that got us to what happened on Wednesday for a very long time.”
Pirate Bay Founder Thinks Parler’s Inability to Stay Online Is ‘Embarrassing’
Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi calls Parler’s face plant in the wake of its deplatforming 'embarrassing,' driven by 'egotism.'
As one of the original co-founders of The Pirate Bay, Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi knows a little something about keeping controversial services online. Kolmisoppi and his colleagues spent decades battling a global coalition of corporations, governments, and law enforcement agencies intent on wiping the file sharing website from the face of the internet. Unsuccessfully.
Kolmisoppi took to Twitter this week to share some thoughts on Parler’s recent deplatforming for failing to seriously police death threats and illegal content before and after the fatal Capitol riots.
“The Pirate Bay, the most censored website in the world, started by kids, run by people with problems with alcohol, drugs and money, still is up after almost two decades,” Kolmisoppi said. “Parlor and gab etc have all the money around but no skills or mindset. Embarrassing.”
Parler, part of a growing echosphere for rightwing conspiracy theories, is primarily financed by hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah. But the company’s deep pockets haven’t been able to assuage the concerns of companies unwilling to do business with a toxic enabler of hate speech in the wake of last week’s violent riot.
While Parler has found a new provider in the far-right enablers over at Epik, the service isn’t expected to get back online anytime soon, in large part because, according to CEO John Matze, companies with enough firepower to host the platform don’t want to be associated with bigotry.
Platforming white supremacy and hate speech is a tougher proposition than serving users pirated copies of the Prince discography. But Kolmisoppi was quick to laugh at the fact that despite being backed by billionaires and parts of the US government, Parler didn’t seem remotely prepared for the justified firestorm it found itself at the center of.
“The most ironic thing is that The Pirate Bay’s enemies include not just the US government but also many European and the Russian one,” he said. “Compared to gab/parlor which is supported by the current president of the US and probably liked by the Russian one too.”
Over the years, Kolmisoppi and The Pirate Bay crew explored no limit of strategies to keep its servers operational and out of the reach of law enforcement and the entertainment industry, even when that meant hiding them in caves and submarines, or even using low-orbit drones to redirect users to hidden regional servers hosting torrent indexes and trackers.
The organizations shift to magnet links in 2012 helped make it more difficult to take offline. And despite numerous trials, fines, multi-country IP address blockades, police raids, and even a stretch in prison, the website he originally co-founded on a shoestring budget remains more or less operational.
In contrast, Parler lost its primary cloud service provider and simply disappeared, seemingly incapable of any adaptation. Meanwhile, thanks to sloppy coding and substandard security standards, researchers are hard at work scraping publicly-available Parler data to help identify platform users who thought it might be fun to flirt with violent sedition on live television.
“In all honesty, the reason we did The Pirate Bay was to bring freedom and take back control from a centralised system,” Kolmisoppi said. “The reason that Gab et al will fail is because they're just whining bitches that have only one ideology: egotism. Sharing is caring y'all.”
In more recent years, Kolmoisoppi has moved on to fund Njalla, a privacy-centric domain name registration service. One he says was already asked to host Parler, and refused.
“Of course we wouldn't,” Kolmisoppi said. “We're pro human rights, which includes the right to not be killed by extreme right wing terrorists.”
Parler Helped the FBI Identify at Least One Person Charged in Connection with the Capitol Riot
• Parler is sharing information with the FBI on federal investigations into the Capitol riot.
• An FBI affidavit shows that Parler gave information that helped FBI agents identify and locate a Proud Boys supporter arrested on suspicion of making threats on Parler.
• Tech companies typically help law-enforcement agencies with these types of requests. But the cooperation could have unusually significant consequences for Parler users who organized violence at the Capitol on January 6.
Parler is sharing information with the FBI for the Department of Justice's investigations into the riot at the US Capitol.
An affidavit from an FBI special agent filed in court Tuesday says Eduardo Florea stockpiled more than 1,000 rounds of ammo and threatened to kill Sen.-elect Raphael Warnock of Georgia.
The affidavit says the FBI received records from Parler to identify the user behind the account "LoneWolfWar," where the threats originated. Parler provided the phone number associated with the account, the affidavit says, and the FBI used it, and info from T-Mobile, to identify Florea.
Florea, a professed supporter of the Proud Boys, a neofascist pro-Trump group with chapters across the US, was denied bond and remains in jail while awaiting trial.
Florea ultimately didn't travel to Washington, DC, for the protest turned insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. The affidavit says that on that day, though, Florea posted that New York, where he lives, was "target rich."
It's not clear whether Parler handed over the account information to the FBI after the Department of Justice issued a warrant or subpoena for it or whether the company gave the information over of its own accord.
It is typical for major tech platforms to cooperate with law-enforcement requests. Local and federal prosecutors routinely obtain the location and text-message history of suspects from cellphone carriers like T-Mobile, Verizon, and AT&T as well as direct messages from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
As Insider's Madison Hall reported, Parler also recently cooperated with a separate FBI investigation, in a case against Michael Reyes, who's accused of threatening to kill President Donald Trump and Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
Court documents show that Parler provided the email address, phone number, signup IP address, and creation date of an account where the threats were made, and associated with Reyes, after the "FBI submitted an exigent request to Parler for subscriber information."
Extremists used Parler to organize violence at the Capitol
But the knowledge that Parler is cooperating with law enforcement for cases related to the Capitol insurrection could create problems for the social-media platform.
Parler has a large user base of far-right extremists. The Department of Justice says many of those people used the platform to organize violence at the Capitol.
It has also become a haven for people barred from other social-media outlets — such as Lin Wood, who has spread conspiracy theories about the 2020 US election and used Twitter to call for the execution of Vice President Mike Pence and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts — as well as right-wing media personalities, such as the Fox News host Mark Levin, who believe they can't freely express themselves on other platforms.
The platform has been offline since Monday when Amazon, which hosted its servers, cut it off, saying it "cannot provide services to a customer that is unable to effectively identify and remove content that encourages or incites violence against others." Before that decision, Apple and Google booted Parler's app from their smartphone app stores.
Parler and Amazon are involved in a lawsuit over the service cancellation, where Amazon has detailed some of the violent and threatening messages on the platform in court filings. Parler CEO John Matze has sought another host for the service but has also said the platform might shut down permanently.
Representatives for Parler didn't immediately provide comment because a spokesperson was "out to lunch right now" and later "swamped with calls." Representatives for the US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, which is overseeing investigations related to the Capitol riot, also didn't respond to requests for comment from Insider. A representative for the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, where Florea was arrested, declined to comment.
The Department of Justice on Tuesday said it had opened more than 160 investigations into people at the Capitol on January 6, with more expected.
Many of the court filings publicly available in relation to those cases so far show investigations based on publicly available social-media activity rather than information obtained directly from social-media companies.
Members of the pro-Trump mob livestreamed their activities or allowed themselves to be photographed while storming the Capitol. The documents also show that federal agents physically searched phones and reviewed screenshots of messages sent to acquaintances.
Most of the information in court filings was supplied to establish just cause for officials to arrest the people suspected of participating in the insurrection. Prosecutors normally provide more information when filing an indictment and when bringing evidence for a trial.
He Created the Web. Now He’s Out to Remake the Digital World.
Tim Berners-Lee wants to put people in control of their personal data. He has technology and a start-up pursuing that goal. Can he succeed?
Three decades ago, Tim Berners-Lee devised simple yet powerful standards for locating, linking and presenting multimedia documents online. He set them free into the world, unleashing the World Wide Web.
Others became internet billionaires, while Mr. Berners-Lee became the steward of the technical norms intended to help the web flourish as an egalitarian tool of connection and information sharing.
But now, Mr. Berners-Lee, 65, believes the online world has gone astray. Too much power and too much personal data, he says, reside with the tech giants like Google and Facebook — “silos” is the generic term he favors, instead of referring to the companies by name. Fueled by vast troves of data, he says, they have become surveillance platforms and gatekeepers of innovation.
Regulators have voiced similar complaints. The big tech companies are facing tougher privacy rules in Europe and some American states, led by California. Google and Facebook have been hit with antitrust suits.
But Mr. Berners-Lee is taking a different approach: His answer to the problem is technology that gives individuals more power.
The goal, he said, is to move toward “the web that I originally wanted.”
“Pods,” personal online data stores, are a key technical ingredient to achieve that goal. The idea is that each person could control his or her own data — websites visited, credit card purchases, workout routines, music streamed — in an individual data safe, typically a sliver of server space.
Companies could gain access to a person’s data, with permission, through a secure link for a specific task like processing a loan application or delivering a personalized ad. They could link to and use personal information selectively, but not store it.
Mr. Berners-Lee’s vision of personal data sovereignty stands in sharp contrast to the harvest-and-hoard model of the big tech companies. But it has some echoes of the original web formula — a set of technology standards that developers can use to write programs and that entrepreneurs and companies can use to build businesses. He began an open-source software project, Solid, and later founded a company, Inrupt, with John Bruce, a veteran of five previous start-ups, to kick-start adoption.
“This is about making markets,” said Mr. Berners-Lee, who is Inrupt’s chief technology officer.
Inrupt introduced in November its server software for enterprises and government agencies. And the start-up is getting a handful of pilot projects underway in earnest this year, including ones with Britain’s National Health Service and with the government of Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region of
Inrupt’s initial business model is to charge licensing fees for its commercial software, which uses the Solid open-source technology but has enhanced security, management and developer tools. The Boston-based company has raised about $20 million in venture funding.
Start-ups, Mr. Berners-Lee noted, can play a crucial role in accelerating the adoption of a new technology. The web, he said, really took off after Netscape introduced web-browsing software and Red Hat brought Linux, the open-source operating system, into corporate data centers.
Over the years, companies focused on protecting users’ privacy online have come and gone. The software of these “infomediaries” was often limited and clunky, appealing only to the most privacy conscious.
But the technology has become faster and smarter — and pressure on the big tech companies is mounting.
Tech companies have formed a Data Transfer Project, committing to make personal data they hold portable. It now comprises Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and Twitter. The Federal Trade Commission recently held a “Data to Go” workshop.
Is this helpful?
“In this changed regulatory setting, there is a market opportunity for Tim Berners-Lee’s firm and others to offer individuals better ways to control their data,” said Peter Swire, a privacy expert at the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business.
Inrupt is betting that trusted organizations will initially be the sponsors of pods. The pods are free for users. If the concept takes off, low-cost or free personal data services — similar to today’s email services — could emerge.
The National Health Service has been working with Inrupt on a pilot project for the care of dementia patients that moves from development into the field this month. The early goal is to give caregivers access to a broader view of patients’ health, needs and preferences.
Each patient has a Solid pod with an “All About Me” form with information submitted by the patient or an authorized relative, supplementing the person’s electronic health record. The pod might list that the patient needs help for daily tasks like getting out of bed, tying shoelaces or going to the bathroom. It might also include what soothes the patient when agitated — perhaps country music or classic old movies. Later, activity data from an Apple Watch or Fitbit could be added.
The medical goal, said Scott Watson, technical director on the pilot project, is improved health and better care that are less stressful for the patient. “And it’s a fundamental change in how we share information in health care systems,” he said.
The initial project will begin with up to 50 patients in the Manchester region and be evaluated in a few months.
In Flanders, a region of more than six million people, the government hopes the new data technology can nurture opportunities for local entrepreneurs and companies and new services for citizens. Personal data in pods can be linked with public and private data to create new applications, said Raf Buyle, an information architect for the Flanders government.
One potential app, Mr. Buyle said, might suggest routes and modes of travel for work commutes, once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. Such an app, he said, could combine location data from a person’s smartphone, with preferences for exercise and reducing the carbon footprint, and weather and public transport schedules and bike or scooter rental pickup sites.
“Most of the cool use cases will come from companies building new apps on top of the data,” Mr. Buyle said.
For Mr. Berners-Lee, the Solid-Inrupt venture is a fix-it project. He has spent his career championing information sharing, openness and personal empowerment online — as director of the World Wide Web Consortium, president of the Open Data Institute, and an academic at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Oxford University. His accolades include a Turing Award, often called the Nobel Prize of computer science. In his native England, he is a knight — Sir Tim.
“But Tim has become increasingly concerned as power in the digital world is weighted against the individual,” said Daniel Weitzner, a principal research scientist at the M.I.T. Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. “That shift is what Solid and Inrupt are meant to correct.”
The push to give individuals greater control over their data, Mr. Berners-Lee said, often begins as a privacy issue. But a new deal on data, he said, will require entrepreneurs, engineers and investors to see opportunities for new products and services, just as they did with the web.
The long view is a thriving decentralized marketplace, fueled by personal empowerment and collaboration, Mr. Berners-Lee said. “The end vision is very powerful,” he said.
Whether his team can realize that vision is uncertain. Some in the field of personal data say the Solid-Inrupt technology is too academic for mainstream developers. They also question whether the technology will achieve the speed and power needed to become a platform for future apps, like software assistants animated by a person’s data.
“No one will argue with the direction,” said Liam Broza, a founder of LifeScope, an open-source data project. “He’s on the right side of history. But is what he’s doing really going to work?”
Others say the Solid-Inrupt technology is only part of the answer. “There is lots of work outside Tim Berners-Lee’s project that will be vital to the vision,” said Kaliya Young, co-chair of the Internet Identity Workshop, whose members focus on digital identity.
Mr. Berners-Lee said that his team was not inventing its own identity system, and that anything that worked could plug into its technology.
Inrupt faces a series of technical challenges, but none that are “go-to-the-moon hard,” said Bruce Schneier, a well-known computer security and privacy expert, who has joined Inrupt as its chief of security architecture.
And Mr. Schneier is an optimist. “This technology could unlock an enormous amount of innovation,” potentially becoming a new platform as the iPhone was for smartphone apps, he said.
“I think this stands a good chance of changing how the internet works,” he said. “Oddly, Tim has done it before.”
Cory Doctorow: Neofeudalism and the Digital Manor
As I write this in mid-November 2020, there’s quite a stir over the new version of Apple’s Mac OS, the operating system that runs on its laptops. For more than a year, Apple has engaged in a covert, global surveillance of its users through its operating system, which automatically sent information about which apps you were running to Apple, and which gave Apple a remote veto over whether that program would launch when you double-clicked it. Most Apple customers don’t know about this, but the kind of Apple user who does know about it is also likely to be the kind of security-conscious person who doesn’t like it and even takes steps to block it.
A confluence of events has tipped this obscure “feature” into global notoriety: first, Apple suffered an outage in the servers that received this information and okayed the launch of its customers’ programs, meaning that Mac OS us#ers couldn’t run the programs they relied on to do their work. To make things worse, the outage coincided with the release of “Big Sur,” the latest version of Mac OS, which locks out the aftermar#ket additions that privacy- and security-conscious Apple customers use to block Apple’s OS-level surveillance. In other words, at the very same moment that millions of Apple device owners were discovering why they might want to switch off this hidden “feature,” Apple made it all but impossible to do so.
All this was written up in “Your Computer Isn’t Yours,” (<sneak.berlin/20201112/your-computer-isnt-yours/>) an excellent article by Jeffrey Paul, a Berlin-based technologist. Paul makes the point that the latest Apple hardware will only run the new, more-surveillant version of Mac OS, so, barring a change in Apple’s corporate philosophy, this is the future of Mac OS. Paul also namechecked me at the start of his essay, which means that I got a look at it early and have had occasion to follow along with the commentary it provoked.
Why would Apple bother to do this spying? The best guess (and most charitable explanation) is that Apple is surveilling the whole ecosystem of MacOS devices so that it can discover malicious software early, and it has arrogated the ability to block certain programs from running on its customers’ computers in order to protect them from bad software. In a world of rampant and ghastly cybersecurity failures, these are both highly desirable features.
But, as Paul points out, Apple has now arrogated to itself the power to know, with a reasonable degree of granularity, which programs its custom#ers are using, and to decide whether customers should be permitted to do so. Nothing in this surveillance system prevents it from being used against legitimate software. Nothing prevents it from being used to extract surveil#lance data about Apple customers – for example, to determine where you are, or whether there is anyone else there with you running a Mac. The only thing that stops Apple from blocking you from running legitimate apps – or from gathering information about your movements and social activities – is its goodwill and good judgment, and therein lies the problem.
The security researcher (and Hugo Award-nominee) Bruce Schneier has a name for this arrangement: he calls it feudal security. Here in the 21st century, we are beset by all manner of digital bandits, from identity thieves, to stalkers, to corporate and government spies, to harassers. There is no way for us to defend ourselves: even skilled technologists who administer their own networked services are no match for the bandits. To keep bandits out, you have to be perfect and perfectly vigilant, and never make a single mistake. For the bandits to get you, they need merely find a single mistake that you’ve made.
To be safe, then, you have to ally yourself with a warlord. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and a few others have built massive fortresses bristling with defenses, whose parapets are stalked by the most ferocious cybermerce#naries money can buy, and they will defend you from every attacker – except for their employers. If the warlord turns on you, you’re defenseless.
We see this dynamic playing out with all of our modern warlords. Google is tweaking Chrome, its dominant browser, to block commercial surveillance, but not Google’s own commercial surveillance. Google will do its level best to block scumbag marketers from tracking you on the web, but if a marketer pays Google, and convinces Google’s gatekeepers that it is not a scumbag, Google will allow them to spy on you. If you don’t mind being spied on by Google, and if you trust Google to decide who’s a scumbag and who isn’t, this is great. But if you and Google disagree on what constitutes scumbaggery, you will lose, thanks, in part, to other changes to Chrome that make it much harder to block the ads that Chrome lets through.
Over in Facebook land, this dynamic is a little easier to see. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook tightened up who could buy Facebook’s surveillance data about you and what they could do with it. Then, in the runup to the 2020 US elections, Facebook went further, insti#tuting policies intended to prevent paid political disinformation campaigns at a critical juncture.
But Facebook isn’t doing a very good job of defending its users from the bandits. It’s a bad (or possibly inattentive, or indifferent, or overstretched) warlord, though. We know this thanks to Ad Observer and Ad Observatory, a pair of tools from NYU’s engineering school. Ad Observer is a browser plugin that Facebook users run; whenever they encounter an ad, Ad Observer makes a copy of it and sends it to Ad Observatory, an open repository of Facebook ads. Researchers and accountability journalists use Ad Observatory to document all the ways that Facebook is failing to enforce its own policies.
In October, Facebook sent a legal threat to NYU, demanding that Ad Observer and Ad Observatory shut down. Facebook says that it is doing its duties as an honest warlord here, because Ad Observer could (but doesn’t) violate its users’ privacy. As the local warlord, Facebook has a duty to prevent anyone from supplying the people inside its fortress with tools that could expose those under its protection to risk.
While the risk to Facebook users from Ad Observer is wholly hypotheti#cal, Ad Observer poses a concrete risk to Facebook itself, by exposing the company’s failings to live up to both its promises and its legal duties stem#ming from various settlements over past privacy violations – and the one entity Facebook will never, ever protect you from is Facebook. They’ve got lots of resources at their disposal, too: not just cybermercenaries that could tweak Facebook’s systems to try to block Ad Observer, but also a legion of lawyers who can enlist the crown to destroy Ad Observer on its behalf.
Back to Apple. In 2017, Apple removed all effective privacy tools from the Chinese version of the iPhone/iPad App Store, at the behest of the Chinese government. The Chinese government wanted to spy on Apple customers in China, and so it ordered Apple to facilitate this surveillance. Despite mounting evidence that the Chinese state was using concentration camps, punitive rape, coerced sterilizations, and forced labor in its ethnic cleansing program in Xinjiang province, Apple went along with the order, exposing vulnerable populations to state surveillance that could lead to gross human rights abuses.
The order to compromise its customers’ privacy was a lawful one. Apple has to follow Chinese laws, because it has both a commercial presence in China (the subsidiary arm that sells iPhones, ads, apps, and other products and services in China) and because it relies on Chinese manufacturing to make its products. If Apple chose not to comply with the Chinese order, it would either have to risk fines against its Chinese subsidiary and pos#sible criminal proceedings against its Chinese staff, or pull out of China and risk having its digital services blocked by China’s Great Firewall, and its Chinese manufacturing subcontractors could be ordered to sever their relations with Apple.
In other words, the cost of noncompliance with the order is high, so high that Apple decided that putting its customers at risk was an acceptable alternative.
Therein lies the problem with trusting warlords to keep you safe: they have priorities that aren’t your priorities, and when there’s a life-or-death crisis that requires them to choose between your survival and their own, they will throw you to the bandits.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Of course warlords will only protect us to the extent that doing so doesn’t risk their own extinction. Is there any way that warlords can reduce the likelihood that bandits will achieve the leverage they need to convince them to throw us over the wall to be torn to pieces?
There most assuredly is, and that’s the most frustrating part of the whole business of Apple’s app surveillance/cutoff program.
The mere existence of such a killswitch is a moral hazard. If you can cut off your users’ privacy – or their tools that improve competition or undo lock-in – then you invite others to demand that these tools be used to their advantage. The fact that Apple devices are designed to prevent users from overriding the company’s veto over their computing makes it inevitable that some gov#ernment will demand that this veto be exercised in their favor. After all, the Chinese government wasn’t the first state to demand that Apple expose its customers to surveillance – that was the Obama administration, which sought a back-door for Apple’s devices in order to investigate the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Apple resisted the US government demands, something it was able to do because the US constitution constrained the government’s ability to compel action. China faces no such constraint.
But even if Apple exited the Chinese market and repatriated its manu#facturing to countries with strong rule-of-law protections for human rights, the killswitch would still present a serious risk. Maybe Tim Cook is a good egg who’ll defend the company’s customers from state surveillance and not abuse Apple’s killswitches to shut down competition, but what about all the CEOs that come after Cook?
Schneier calls this “Feudal Security,” but as the medievalist Stephen Morillo wrote to me, the correct term for this is probably “Manorial Security” – while feudalism was based on land-grants to aristocrats who promised armed soldiers in return, manorialism referred to a system in which an elite owned all the property and the rest of the world had to work on that property on terms that the local lord set.
After all, the thing that gives tech companies the power to overrule your choices on your computers and devices is that they’re not really yours. Thanks to onerous licensing terms and bizarre retrofits to copyright and patent law, the only entities who can truly be said to “own” anything are aristocratic corporations, who may have to capitulate to the king, but owe no fealty to us, the peasants.
That’s how Facebook can roll out a new Oculus VR headset that is tied to your Facebook account – if you resign from (or get kicked off of) Facebook, your VR headset turns into a brick. It’s not really yours. Rather, you are a tenant of Facebook’s, which has graciously extended the use of its property to you for the low price of $400.
Feudalism was also based on manorialism, but it was tied to hereditary titles; you couldn’t aspire to become a lord of the manor unless you were to the manor born.
In the early tech bubbles – the PC years, the dotcom boom – there was real manorialist energy, the sense that “two guys (ugh) in a garage” could seize a manor from one of the great hereditary, titled lines, as Microsoft did to IBM. But lurking in the heart of all those mercantalists was a secret aristocrat, someone whose commitment to overturning the old order was highly selective and applied only to themselves.
Having attained walled manors of their own, these merchant-warlords are determined to ensure that no one does to them what they did to their toppled forbears.
That aristocratic urge is why we see lock-in, kill-switches, overcollection and overretention of data, and the invocation of state power to silence crit#ics. As with feudal aristocrats, the state is happy to lend these warlords their legitimacy, in exchange for the power to militarize the aristocrat’s holdings.
There is a middle path available to tech giants, something that allows them to maintain their presence in countries with weak human rights frameworks without putting their users at risk: the Ulysses Pact.
A Ulysses Pact is a pre-commitment that you make in a moment of strength: think of throwing away your Oreos when you go on a diet, so that when you’re hungry at 2AM you can’t eat a whole sleeve of them. The Ulysses Pact takes its name from Ulysses’s voyage through the siren seas, where he declined to follow the usual protocol of filling his ears with wax to block out the siren song, and instead instructed his sailors to lash him to the mast, so he could hear the song but could not follow its otherwise irresistible command to throw himself into the sea.
Apple’s App Store (and its new MacOS killswitch) are so tempting to governments because there is no way to opt out of them. For its own business reasons (including the power to exclude competitors from its mobile store, or to compel them to cut the company in for a large commission on in-app purchases), Apple takes extreme measures to prevent users from overriding its killswitch. If an app is kicked out of the App Store or blocked by Apple’s anti-malware surveillance, then by design you have no way to put your judg#ment ahead of Apple’s.
That means that any government that orders Apple to use its killswitches to achieve its goals knows that Apple’s customers will be helpless before such an order.
On the other hand, what if Apple – by design – made is possible for users to override its killswitches? When governments came to Apple demanding that some app be removed from the App Store, Apple can say, “Yes, we will do that, of course, but all the citizens you want to spy on or censor will just download those apps from somewhere else and reinstall them.” At least some of the time, governments will recognize the futility of pursuing this kind of control and leave Apple – and Apple customers – alone. And if they stubbornly press ahead with a symbolic killswitch order, Apple’s customers can go ahead and download the blocked apps from elsewhere, reclaiming the security that Apple had taken away from them.
Apple had plenty of warnings about the likelihood of its App Store kills#witches being enlisted by oppressive governments, long before the 2017 Chinese order. Perhaps the company can be excused for not heeding those warnings. After all, they referred to a hypothetical (if likely and foreseeable) outcome.
But the company can’t be excused for its latest killswitch. The risk is not hypothetical. It’s live. There are product managers and executives at Apple who lived through the 2017 Chinese killswitch orders who signed off on the latest killswitch. There are people in concentration camps in Xinjiang province who might have evaded capture if they had working privacy tools.
It’s not just Apple. Ever since the passage of the Patriot Act, tech companies knew that any data they collected on their users could be taken from them by spy agencies, using secret warrants that they couldn’t disclose…ever. But in 2013, the whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that these secret, invasive warrants were a sham. The US government was spying on everything the tech companies collected, wiretapping the lines between tech companies’ data-centers, and then issuing warrants for the stuff that seemed interesting, so that when that data got used in the real world, tech executives wouldn’t guess at the existence of the secret wiretaps.
The 2013 revelations proved that the US government viewed the tech companies as host organisms to be parasitized at will, a force that would mobilize market investments to erect a vast, expensive surveillance apparatus that the state could then wield at bargain-basement prices.
To engage in data-collection in the wake of 2013 isn’t just an oversight, it’s an act of collaboration with the forces of surveillance. In 2020, Google has admitted that it is being required to respond to “reverse search warrants” that reveal the identities of every person who was present at a certain loca#tion at a certain time; and “search-term warrants” to reveal the identities of every person who used a specific search-term. These warrants are utterly foreseeable. Google collects this data, so governments will require them to turn it over – and not just the US government, either.
As with Apple, the best way for Google to avoid being ordered to turn over data on its users is to not collect or retain that data in the first place. And, as with Apple, the next best thing is to give users the power to turn off that data-collection and data-retention altogether, something Google’s gotten marginally better at in the past year.
The writing has been on the wall about the relationship of government control and surveillance to private sector control and surveillance since Bill Clinton’s war on cryptography. It became unmissable after the Patriot Act passed Congress in 2001. And now, after 2020, the writing is no longer on the wall – it is in flaming, 20-story-tall letters in the sky overhead.
AT&T Kills Off the Failed TV Service Formerly Known as DirecTV Now
AT&T TV Now folded into AT&T TV, which finally gets a no-contract option.
AT&T is killing off the online-video service formerly known as DirecTV Now and introducing a no-contract option for the newer online service that replaced it.
AT&T unveiled DirecTV Now late in 2016, the year after AT&T bought the DirecTV satellite company. Prices originally started at $35 a month for the live-TV online service, and it had signed up 1.86 million subscribers by Q3 2018. But customers quickly fled as AT&T repeatedly raised prices and cut down on the use of promotional deals, leaving the service with just 683,000 subscribers at the end of Q3 2020.
In 2019, AT&T changed the name from DirecTV Now to AT&T TV Now, creating confusion among customers and its own employees because the company simultaneously unveiled another online streaming service called AT&T TV.
AT&T TV was pitched as a more robust replacement for satellite TV, and it even mimicked cable and satellite by imposing contracts, hidden fees, and a big second-year price hike. Going forward, AT&T TV Now will no longer be offered to new customers, and AT&T TV will be the flagship for AT&T's live-TV streaming business. "AT&T TV Now has merged with AT&T TV," the service's website says in an update flagged in a news article by TV Answer Man yesterday.
For existing users, "AT&T TV Now customers' service and plans remain in effect" without any changes, an AT&T spokesperson told Ars. "We have no other price changes to announce at this time."
Convoluted pricing, an AT&T tradition
Previously, AT&T TV was only available with a contract. There is now a no-contract option that costs more in the first year but could be cheaper in the long run if customers use it for multiple years.
The no-contract AT&T TV prices are $69.99 per month for 65 channels; $84.99 for 90 channels and one year of HBO Max; $94.99 for 130 channels and one year of HBO Max; and $139.99 for 140 channels and HBO Max without the one-year time limit. There's no regional sports network fee in these packages.
The first-year prices for contract plans range from $59.99 to $129.99, plus a regional sports network fee of up to $8.49 for all packages except the cheapest one. Including the sports fee, the first-year prices on most of the contract plans are $10 or so cheaper than the equivalent no-contract options. An exception is the "premier" package with 140 channels and HBO Max, which costs about $140 the first year regardless of whether you have a contract or not.
Customers who select the two-year contract will get a big price hike the second year, with base prices ranging from $93 to $183 per month plus the sports fee. The second-year prices could actually be more than that since it's based on the "then-prevailing rate," which AT&T could change. The contract option also requires a $19.95 activation fee and an early termination fee of $15 for each month remaining on the contract.
Prices can change at any time
There is no automatic price increase after 12 months for the no-contract option, but that is not a guarantee that prices won't rise. AT&T's fine print says that "pricing, channels, features, and terms are subject to change and may be modified or discontinued at any time without notice."
There's another factor that makes the no-contract price $10 higher if you want a lot of cloud-DVR storage. While the contract option comes with 500 hours of cloud DVR storage, the no-contract option only comes with 20 hours unless you pay an extra $10 per month to upgrade to 500 hours. The contract option also comes with one free AT&T TV device, which costs $5 per month for 24 months on the no-contract plan. Third-party streaming devices also work with the service, so there's no requirement to buy this.
There's no price change right now for existing AT&T TV customers. Despite the new no-contract option, the contracts for existing AT&T TV customers "remain in effect," AT&T told Ars. As is always the case with AT&T TV services, the pricing tiers are convoluted, so new customers should examine them carefully before signing up. This table provides a breakdown of key differences between contract and no-contract options:
For financial reporting purposes, AT&T TV is part of a category AT&T calls "Premium TV" services, which also includes DirecTV satellite and U-verse wireline TV. AT&T has lost nearly 8 million customers from the category in the past few years, dropping from over 25 million in early 2017 to 17.1 million at the end of September 2020.
More customer losses could be on the way, as AT&T is raising prices on both DirecTV and U-verse effective January 17. AT&T is trying to sell DirecTV, but offers so far have reportedly valued the satellite provider at about a third of the $49 billion AT&T paid in 2015.
With Movie Theaters in Limbo, Netflix Plans Its Biggest Year Yet
The streaming service intends to release 70 original films in 2021.
Netflix Inc. will release 70 original movies in 2021, the company said in a statement Tuesday, touting the streaming service’s most ambitious slate yet as the theatrical movie business remains stuck in limbo.
Netflix’s lineup of movies includes one of its most expensive to date, “Red Notice,” an action movie starring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot, as well as sequels to its hit romantic comedies “The Kissing Booth” and “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.” The streaming service has also commissioned more than a dozen dramas, including the directorial debut of Halle Berry and a feature starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence.
Once a naughty word among filmmakers loyal to movie theaters, Netflix is now one of the few reliable studios in town. Netflix is increasing its output as theaters remain closed in much of the world. The pandemic has made it hard for rival studios to release their projects, and many of them have delayed most of their top titles until more theaters are open.
Netflix took advantage in 2020, releasing new movies from directors Spike Lee, George Clooney and Gina Prince-Bythewood to entertain people stuck at home. It also acquired several movies from studios that were unable to use theaters.
The streaming service has scaled up its operations over the past few years under film chief Scott Stuber, adding action movies “Extraction,” “The Old Guard” and “Spenser Confidential” to its crop of Oscar-winning dramas, documentaries and romantic comedies. Netflix will release movies in almost every genre in 2021, including action, horror, comedy, thriller, drama, western and animation.
“With this big of a global audience, there’s a great appetite for film,” Stuber said in an interview. “I’m excited about the diversity of what the teams are doing.”
Stuber’s team is overseeing a slate of 52 live-action movies in English and a further 10 in foreign languages. Netflix will also release eight animated movies in 2021. The 70-film tally doesn’t include documentaries.
Netflix shares were little changed just under $500 in New York trading Tuesday, giving the company a market capitalization of about $220 billion. The stock rose 67% last year, outpacing the Nasdaq 100 and S&P 500 indexes.
Connecticut Probing Amazon’s E-Book Deals with Publishers
Connecticut authorities are investigating whether Amazon’s e-book deals with certain publishers are anticompetitive and violate antitrust laws, state Attorney General William Tong said Thursday.
Tong released only a few details of the probe. He said the state attorney general’s office has previous taken action against Apple and e-book publishers to protect competition in the marketplace.
“Our office continues to aggressively monitor this market to protect fair competition for consumers, authors, and other e-book retailers,” Tong said in a statement.
An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment Thursday.
The investigation is part of the widening scrutiny by state and federal government agencies of possible anticompetitive practices by giant tech companies. Google and Facebook are facing similar probes by federal and local officials into whether their business practices are illegally squashing competition and harming consumers.
Amazon has become the dominant force in print book sales and e-book sales in the U.S. The company accounts for over half of all print book sales and more than 80% of e-book sales, according to research cited in an October report by the antitrust committee of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee.
Tong’s office issued a subpoena to Amazon in 2019 requesting documents about the company’s dealings with five book publishers: HarperCollins Publishers, Hachette Book Group, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan. A copy of the subpoena was obtained by the nonprofit investigative Tech Transparency Project and shared with The Wall Street Journal, which reported on the investigation Wednesday.
Simon & Schuster declined to comment. Messages seeking comment were left with the other four publishers Thursday.
In a previous antitrust investigation of electronic books, Apple was found to have conspired with publishers to raise e-book prices in an effort to challenge Amazon’s dominance of the market. Apple fought the findings all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected the appeal in 2016 and let stand a lower court ruling that found Apple violated antitrust laws in 2010.
The Justice Department and 33 states and territories originally sued Apple and five publishers. The publishers all settled and signed consent decrees prohibiting them from restricting e-book retailers’ ability to set prices.
In settlements of lawsuits brought by individual states, Apple agreed to pay $400 million to be distributed to consumers and $50 million for attorney fees and payments to states.
The ‘Great Gatsby’ Glut
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel about America and aspiration is now in the public domain, so new editions, as well as a graphic novel and a zombie adaptation, have gotten the green light.
If you’ve been planning to read (or reread) “The Great Gatsby,” your biggest challenge now might be deciding on which edition.
Every Jan. 1, books, songs, movies and other copyrighted works more than 95 years old enter the public domain. This year, that includes F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic, first published in 1925, as well as the Virginia Woolf novel “Mrs. Dalloway.”
Scribner, which had held the rights to “Gatsby” since it first appeared, reissued the novel in 2018 with a new introduction by the two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward. Now, in addition, readers can choose versions with introductions by John Grisham (Vintage Classics), Min Jin Lee (Penguin Classics), Malcolm Bradbury (Everyman’s Library) and Wesley Morris, a critic at large for The Times (Modern Library). In March, Norton Critical Editions will publish the novel with an introduction and annotations by the Harvard scholar David J. Alworth.
Four of those editions are issued by imprints at one publisher, Penguin Random House. Tom Perry, the publisher of Modern Library, said that some decisions about what to bring under his division’s umbrella, like “The Great Gatsby,” are easier than others.
“Deciding to publish ‘Gatsby’ or ‘A Passage to India’ didn’t require a lot of mulling over,” he said. “While we are spending more time trying to expand the current classics canon by finding more overlooked books and under-published voices, like the poetry of Chika Sagawa or ‘There Is Confusion,’ by Jessie Redmon Fauset, to not publish these 20th-century classics when they become available would be like not putting ‘Moby-Dick’ on the 19th-century shelf.”
If you prefer reinvention to reinterpretation, the lapse of copyright protection also means that writers and artists can mine the characters and plots of a work for their own purposes without having to ask permission or pay a fee. K. Woodman-Maynard, for example, has adapted “Gatsby” into a graphic novel (Candlewick Press). The illustrator Adam Simpson has created extensive art for a new edition (Black Dog & Leventhal). Independently published variations on the novel include “The Gay Gatsby,” by B.A. Baker, and, in the tradition of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” “The Great Gatsby Undead,” by Kristen Briggs. (From the promotional copy: “Gatsby doesn’t seem to eat anything, and has an aversion to silver, garlic and the sun, but good friends are hard to come by.”)
The most ambitious early entry in the reimagining game might be “Nick” (Little, Brown), a novel by Michael Farris Smith that tells the life of Nick Carraway, Fitzgerald’s narrator, before he arrived on Long Island and became caught in Gatsby’s orbit. The book follows his harrowing experiences in World War I and time later spent in New Orleans.
Smith first read “Gatsby” when it was assigned to him as a teenager (“I truly didn’t get it,” he said) and again in his 20s (“I started to feel it”), a period in which he was often living abroad, including in Paris. But it wasn’t until 2014, after Smith had published his first novel, that Fitzgerald’s work fully grabbed him.
Smith related to Carraway’s detachment and disillusionment. “The moment that really spoke to me,” he said, “was when he was about to turn 30, and he was expecting a ‘decade of loneliness.’ That struck me right in the heart, because I was that age when I came home and I had decided I wanted to write. My friends had found jobs, gotten married, had children. I felt like an alien.”
Struck by just how little the reader comes to know about Carraway, Smith remembers thinking, “It would be really interesting if someone were to write his story.” He immediately set out to do that, writing the novel five years ago, not telling his editor or agent.
“I didn’t want to hear it was impossible,” Smith said. “I just knew I was emotionally invested in it and I wanted to do it. I didn’t even think about the copyright issue, to be honest. I just assumed it was expired.”
It wasn’t. And while it was set to expire this year, Smith knew it was potentially subject to further changes in the law. “I’ve sat here every year thinking, ‘Is the copyright going to change?’ I didn’t know if it would be five years, 10 years, 20 years, whatever,” he said.
Often cited as a — if not the — great American novel, the new editions of “Gatsby” allow for fresh analysis, nearly a century later, of what our ideas of “American” now entail. Morris, who received the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2012, parses the book’s themes using references to blackface, industrialization, “capitalism as an emotion,” silent films, reality television and, uniting these strands, what it means to “perform versions of oneself.” (Morris writes, “Fitzgerald had captured that change in the American character: Merely being oneself wouldn’t suffice.”)
Lee, a National Book Award finalist who moved to the United States from South Korea when she was 7, described herself as someone who’s “always approached books as a way to learn more about America.” Because of her formative experiences, “I always identify with the marginal people,” she said. “That’s the way I can immediately understand where I would be. When I read about Myrtle, I can totally see her.”
To her mind, the book’s cleareyed view of money and class is still a rarity. “We can talk about race all day and night in the 21st century,” Lee said, “but not money.”
As a young reader relatively new to the United States, she did read the book as a cautionary tale, but mostly about trusting and falling in love with the wrong people. “I didn’t think of it as ‘The American dream isn’t true,’” she said. “I just thought, ‘Don’t be like Gatsby.’”
Until next week,
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