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Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow
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PLURALISTIC

Cory DOCTOROW

Science fiction author, activist and journalist.

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17.04.2024 à 13:38

Pluralistic: The true post-cyberpunk hero is a noir forensic accountant (17 Apr 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (4464 mots)


Today's links



A portrait of William Gibson affably gazing straight into the camera, surrounded by darkness. It was been superimposed over a neon-glowing cyberpunk cityscape. In the background is a Matrix-style 'code waterfall.'

The true post-cyberpunk hero is a noir forensic accountant (permalink)

I was reared on cyberpunk fiction, I ended up spending 25 years at my EFF day-job working at the weird edge of tech and human rights, even as I wrote sf that tried to fuse my love of cyberpunk with my urgent, lifelong struggle over who computers do things for and who they do them to.

That makes me an official "post-cyberpunk" writer (TM). Don't take my word for it: I'm in the canon:

https://tachyonpublications.com/product/rewired-the-post-cyberpunk-anthology-2/

One of the editors of that "post-cyberpunk" anthology was John Kessel, who is, not coincidentally, the first writer to expose me to the power of literary criticism to change the way I felt about a novel, both as a writer and a reader:

https://locusmag.com/2012/05/cory-doctorow-a-prose-by-any-other-name/

It was Kessel's 2004 Foundation essay, "Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender's Game, Intention, and Morality," that helped me understand litcrit. Kessel expertly surfaces the subtext of Card's Ender's Game and connects it to Card's politics. In so doing, he completely reframed how I felt about a book I'd read several times and had considered a favorite:

https://johnjosephkessel.wixsite.com/kessel-website/creating-the-innocent-killer

This is a head-spinning experience for a reader, but it's even wilder to experience it as a writer. Thankfully, the majority of literary criticism about my work has been positive, but even then, discovering something that's clearly present in one of my novels, but which I didn't consciously include, is a (very pleasant!) mind-fuck.

A recent example: Blair Fix's review of my 2023 novel Red Team Blues which he calls "an anti-finance finance thriller":

https://economicsfromthetopdown.com/2023/05/13/red-team-blues-cory-doctorows-anti-finance-thriller/

Fix – a radical economist – perfectly captures the correspondence between my hero, the forensic accountant Martin Hench, and the heroes of noir detective novels. Namely, that a noir detective is a kind of unlicensed policeman, going to the places the cops can't go, asking the questions the cops can't ask, and thus solving the crimes the cops can't solve. What makes this noir is what happens next: the private dick realizes that these were places the cops didn't want to go, questions the cops didn't want to ask and crimes the cops didn't want to solve ("It's Chinatown, Jake").

Marty Hench – a forensic accountant who finds the money that has been disappeared through the cells in cleverly constructed spreadsheets – is an unlicensed tax inspector. He's finding the money the IRS can't find – only to be reminded, time and again, that this is money the IRS chooses not to find.

This is how the tax authorities work, after all. Anyone who followed the coverage of the big finance leaks knows that the most shocking revelation they contain is how stupid the ruses of the ultra-wealthy are. The IRS could prevent that tax-fraud, they just choose not to. Not for nothing, I call the Martin Hench books "Panama Papers fanfic."

I've read plenty of noir fiction and I'm a long-term finance-leaks obsessive, but until I read Fix's article, it never occurred to me that a forensic accountant was actually squarely within the noir tradition. Hench's perfect noir fit is either a happy accident or the result of a subconscious intuition that I didn't know I had until Fix put his finger on it.

The second Hench novel is The Bezzle. It's been out since February, and I'm still touring with it (Chicago tonight! Then Turin, Marin County, Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, etc). It's paying off – the book's a national bestseller.

Writing in his newsletter, Henry Farrell connects Fix's observation to one of his own, about the nature of "hackers" and their role in cyberpunk (and post-cyberpunk) fiction:

https://www.programmablemutter.com/p/the-accountant-as-cyberpunk-hero

Farrell cites Bruce Schneier's 2023 book, A Hacker’s Mind: How the Powerful Bend Society’s Rules and How to Bend Them Back:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/02/06/trickster-makes-the-world/

Schneier, a security expert, broadens the category of "hacker" to include anyone who studies systems with an eye to finding and exploiting their defects. Under this definition, the more fearsome hackers are "working for a hedge fund, finding a loophole in financial regulations that lets her siphon extra profits out of the system." Hackers work in corporate offices, or as government lobbyists.

As Henry says, hacking isn't intrinsically countercultural ("Most of the hacking you might care about is done by boring seeming people in boring seeming clothes"). Hacking reinforces – rather than undermining power asymmetries ("The rich have far more resources to figure out how to gimmick the rules"). We are mostly not the hackers – we are the hacked.

For Henry, Marty Hench is a hacker (the rare hacker that works for the good guys), even though "he doesn’t wear mirrorshades or get wasted chatting to bartenders with Soviet military-surplus mechanical arms." He's a gun for hire, that most traditional of cyberpunk heroes, and while he doesn't stand against the system, he's not for it, either.

Henry's pinning down something I've been circling around for nearly 30 years: the idea that though "the street finds its own use for things," Wall Street and Madison Avenue are among the streets that might find those uses:

https://craphound.com/nonfic/street.html

Henry also connects Martin Hench to Marcus Yallow, the hero of my YA Little Brother series. I have tried to make this connection myself, opining that while Marcus is a character who is fighting to save an internet that he loves, Marty is living in the ashes of the internet he lost:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/05/07/dont-curb-your-enthusiasm/

But Henry's Marty-as-hacker notion surfaces a far more interesting connection between the two characters. Marcus is a vehicle for conveying the excitement and power of hacking to young readers, while Marty is a vessel for older readers who know the stark terror of being hacked, by the sadistic wolves who're coming for all of us:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I44L1pzi4gk

Both Marcus and Marty are explainers, as am I. Some people say that exposition makes for bad narrative. Those people are wrong:

https://maryrobinettekowal.com/journal/my-favorite-bit/my-favorite-bit-cory-doctorow-talks-about-the-bezzle/

"Explaining" makes for great fiction. As Maria Farrell writes in her Crooked Timber review of The Bezzle, the secret sauce of some of the best novels is "information about how things work. Things like locks, rifles, security systems":

https://crookedtimber.org/2024/03/06/the-bezzle/

Where these things are integrated into the story's "reason and urgency," they become "specialist knowledge [that] cuts new paths to move through the world." Hacking, in other words.

This is a theme Paul Di Filippo picked up on in his review of The Bezzle for Locus:

https://locusmag.com/2024/04/paul-di-filippo-reviews-the-bezzle-by-cory-doctorow/

Heinlein was always known—and always came across in his writings—as The Man Who Knew How the World Worked. Doctorow delivers the same sense of putting yourself in the hands of a fellow who has peered behind Oz’s curtain. When he fills you in lucidly about some arcane bit of economics or computer tech or social media scam, you feel, first, that you understand it completely and, second, that you can trust Doctorow’s analysis and insights.

Knowledge is power, and so expository fiction that delivers news you can use is novel that makes you more powerful – powerful enough to resist the hackers who want to hack you.

Henry and I were both friends of Aaron Swartz, and the Little Brother books are closely connected to Aaron, who helped me with Homeland, the second volume, and wrote a great afterword for it (Schneier wrote an afterword for the first book). That book – and Aaron's afterword – has radicalized a gratifying number of principled technologists. I know, because I meet them when I tour, and because they send me emails. I like to think that these hackers are part of Aaron's legacy.

Henry argues that the Hench books are "purpose-designed to inspire a thousand Max Schrems – people who are probably past their teenage years, have some grounding in the relevant professions, and really want to see things change."

(Schrems is the Austrian privacy activist who, as a law student, set in motion the events that led to the passage of the EU's General Data Privacy Regulation:)

https://pluralistic.net/2020/05/15/out-here-everything-hurts/#noyb

Henry points out that William Gibson's Neuromancer doesn't mention the word "internet" – rather, Gibson coined the term cyberspace, which, as Henry says, is "more ‘capitalism’ than ‘computerized information'… If you really want to penetrate the system, you need to really grasp what money is and what it does."

Maria also wrote one of my all-time favorite reviews of Red Team Blues, also for Crooked Timber:

https://crookedtimber.org/2023/05/11/when-crypto-meant-cryptography/

In it, she compares Hench to Dickens' Bleak House, but for the modern tech world:

You put the book down feeling it’s not just a fascinating, enjoyable novel, but a document of how Silicon Valley’s very own 1% live and a teeming, energy-emitting snapshot of a critical moment on Earth.

All my life, I've written to find out what's going on in my own head. It's a remarkably effective technique. But it's only recently that I've come to appreciate that reading what other people write about my writing can reveal things that I can't see.

(Image: Frédéric Poirot, CC BY-SA 2.0, modified)


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This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago The RIAA's Clean Slate “amnesty” euthanized https://web.archive.org/web/20040517135600/https://blogs.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/001435.php

#20yrsago 1995 web-hosting rates https://web.archive.org/web/20040421110701/http://1c4.net/

#15yrsago UK wine-sellers declare that wine has horoscopes, advise wine-drinkers to avoid certain moon-days https://www.theguardian.com/business/2009/apr/18/wine-lunar-calendar-tesco-supermarkets

#10yrsago Army comes clean about its recruitment AI, accidentally discloses info about pedophile- and terrorist-catching chatbots that roam the net https://spacenews.com/pepsi-drops-plans-to-use-orbital-billboard/

#5yrsago The Antitrust Case Against Facebook: a turning point in the debate over Big Tech and monopoly https://memex.craphound.com/2019/04/18/the-antitrust-case-against-facebook-a-turning-point-in-the-debate-over-big-tech-and-monopoly/

#5yrsago The sovereign nation of Iceland has finally invalidated the European trademark on “Iceland,” formerly held by a British discount grocery chain https://www.techdirt.com/2019/04/17/end-absurdity-iceland-country-successfully-invalidates-trademark-iceland-foods-grocer/

#5yrsago Dentistry’s evidentiary vacuum allows profiteering butchers to raid our mouths for millions https://memex.craphound.com/2019/04/18/dentistrys-evidentiary-vacuum-allows-profiteering-butchers-to-raid-our-mouths-for-millions/

#5yrsago 1% of England owns half of England https://whoownsengland.org

#5yrsago Effective July 15, British porn consumers will be required entrust their sexual tastes to private companies’ badly secured databases https://www.wired.com/story/porn-block-uk-wired-explains/

#5yrsago We lost the fight for balance in the EU’s Copyright Directive, but here’s what we won https://felixreda.eu/2019/04/not-in-vain/

#5yrsago John Oliver tackles the Sacklers: the litigious, secretive billionaires whose family business engineered the opioid crisis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qCKR6wy94U

#1yrago How tech does regulatory capture https://pluralistic.net/2023/04/18/cursed-are-the-sausagemakers/#how-the-parties-get-to-yes


Upcoming appearances (permalink)

A photo of me onstage, giving a speech, holding a mic.



A screenshot of me at my desk, doing a livecast.

Recent appearances (permalink)



A grid of my books with Will Stahle covers..

Latest books (permalink)



A cardboard book box with the Macmillan logo.

Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: Capitalists Hate Capitalism https://craphound.com/news/2024/04/14/capitalists-hate-capitalism/


This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.


How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Pluralistic.net

Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

https://pluralistic.net/plura-list

Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

https://mamot.fr/@pluralistic

Medium (no ads, paywalled):

https://doctorow.medium.com/

Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

https://twitter.com/doctorow

Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

https://mostlysignssomeportents.tumblr.com/tagged/pluralistic

"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

16.04.2024 à 14:15

Pluralistic: Rebecca Roque's "Till Human Voices Wake Us" (16 Apr 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (2986 mots)


Today's links



The Blackstone cover of Rebecca Roque's 'Till Human Voices Wake Us.'

Rebecca Roque's "Till Human Voices Wake Us" (permalink)

"Till Human Voices Wake Us" is Rebecca Roque's debut novel: it's a superb teen thriller, intricately plotted and brilliantly executed, packed with imaginative technological turns that amp up the tension and suspense:

https://www.blackstonepublishing.com/till-human-voices-wake-us-gn3a.html#541=2790108

Modern technology presents a serious problem for a thriller writer. Once characters can call or text one another, a whole portfolio of suspense-building gimmicks – like the high-speed race across town – just stop working. For years, thriller writers contrived implausible – but narratively convenient – ways to go on using these tropes. Think of the shopworn "damn, my phone is out of battery/range just when I need it the most":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIZVcRccCx0

When that fails, often writers just lean into the "idiot plot" – a plot that only works because the characters are acting like idiots:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiot_plot

But even as technology was sawing a hole in the suspense writer's bag of tricks, shrewd suspense writers were cooking up a whole new menu of clever ways to build suspense in ways that turn on the limitations and capabilities of technology. One pioneer of this was Iain M Banks (RIP), whose 2003 novel Dead Air was jammed with wildly ingenious ways to use cellphones to raise the stakes and heighten the tension:

https://web.archive.org/web/20030302073539/http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.03/play.html?pg=8

This is "techno-realism" at its best. It's my favorite mode of storytelling, the thing I lean into with my Little Brother and Martin Hench books – stories that treat the things that technology can and can't do as features, not bugs. Rather than having the hacker "crack the mainframe's cryptography in 20 minutes when everyone swears it can't be done in less than 25," the techno-realist introduces something gnarlier, like a supply-chain attack that inserts a back-door, or a hardware keylogger, or a Remote Access Trojan.

Back to Roque's debut novel: it's a teen murder mystery told in the most technorealist way. Cia's best friend Alice has been trying to find her missing boyfriend for months, and in her investigation, she's discovered their small town's dark secret – a string of disappearances, deaths and fires that are the hidden backdrop to the town's out-of-control addiction problem.

Alice has something to tell Cia, something about the fire that orphaned her and cost her one leg when she was only five years old, but Cia refuses to hear it. Instead, they have a blazing fight, and part ways. It's the last time Cia and Alice ever see each other: that night, Alice kills herself.

Or does she? Cia is convinced that Alice has been murdered, and that her murder is connected to the drug- and death-epidemic that's ravaging their town. As Cia and her friends seek to discover the town's secret – and the identity of Alice's killer – we're dragged into an intense, gripping murder mystery/conspiracy story that is full of surprises and reversals, each more fiendishly clever than the last.

But as good as the storytelling, the characterization and the mystery are, Roque's clever technological gambits are even better. This book is a master-class in how a murder mystery can work in the age of social media and ubiquitous mobile devices. It's the first volume in a trilogy and it ends on a hell of a cliff-hanger, too.


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Canadian government spending public funds to develop DRM https://web.archive.org/web/20040508011338/www.pch.gc.ca/pc-ch/pubs/2004/4_e.cfm#5

#15yrsago Pirate Bay defendants found guilty, sentenced to jail https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2009/apr/17/the-pirate-bay-trial-guilty-verdict

#15yrsago London cops mug tourist for his bus-station photos https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/apr/16/police-delete-tourist-photos

#5yrsago On the eve of a contentious election, Twitter suspends the accounts of progressive activists https://www.sprawlcalgary.com/twitter-suspends-left-leaning-albertans-before-election

#5yrsago Your kid’s “smart watch” lets anyone in the world trace their location. Again. https://www.pentestpartners.com/security-blog/tic-toc-pwned/

#1yrago How To Make the Least-Worst Mastodon Threads https://pluralistic.net/2023/04/16/how-to-make-the-least-worst-mastodon-threads/


Upcoming appearances (permalink)

A photo of me onstage, giving a speech, holding a mic.



A screenshot of me at my desk, doing a livecast.

Recent appearances (permalink)



A grid of my books with Will Stahle covers..

Latest books (permalink)



A cardboard book box with the Macmillan logo.

Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: Capitalists Hate Capitalism https://craphound.com/news/2024/04/14/capitalists-hate-capitalism/


This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.


How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Pluralistic.net

Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

https://pluralistic.net/plura-list

Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

https://mamot.fr/@pluralistic

Medium (no ads, paywalled):

https://doctorow.medium.com/

Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

https://twitter.com/doctorow

Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

https://mostlysignssomeportents.tumblr.com/tagged/pluralistic

"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

15.04.2024 à 15:18

Pluralistic: How to screw up a whistleblower law (15 Apr 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (3882 mots)


Today's links



A proletarian-looking figure glowering from between rusty bars. In front of the bars is a capitalist-type guy in a top hat holding a huge money-sack emblazoned with a dollar-sign. He's shouting over his shoulder at the imprisoned prole. A whistle sits on the ledge of the cell bars.

How to screw up a whistleblower law (permalink)

Corporate crime is notoriously underpoliced and underprosecuted. Mostly, that's because we just choose not to do anything about it. American corporations commit crimes at 20X the rate of real humans, and their crimes are far worse than any crime committed by a human, but they are almost never prosecuted:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/10/12/no-criminals-no-crimes/#get-out-of-jail-free-card

We can't even bear to utter the words "corporate crime": instead, we deploy a whole raft of euphemisms like "risk and compliance," and that ole fave, the trusty "white-collar crime":

https://pluralistic.net/2021/12/07/solar-panel-for-a-sex-machine/#a-single-proposition

The Biden DOJ promised it would be different, and they weren't kidding. The DOJ's antitrust division is kicking ass, doing more than the division has done in generations, really swinging for the fences:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/03/22/reality-distortion-field/#three-trillion-here-three-trillion-there-pretty-soon-youre-talking-real-money

Main Justice – the rest of the DOJ – promised that it would do the same. Deputy AG Lisa Monaco promised an end to those bullshit "deferred prosecution agreements" that let corporate America literally get away with murder. She promised to prosecute companies and individual executives. She promised a lot:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/03/22/reality-distortion-field/#three-trillion-here-three-trillion-there-pretty-soon-youre-talking-real-money

Was she serious? Well, it's not looking good. Monaco's number two gnuy, Benjamin Mizer, has a storied career – working for giant corporations, getting them off the hook when they commit eye-watering crimes:

https://prospect.org/justice/2024-04-09-reform-groups-lack-of-corporate-prosecutions-doj/

Biden's DOJ is arguably more tolerant of corporate crime than even Trump's Main Justice. In 2021, the DOJ brought just 90 cases – the worst year in a quarter-century. 2022's number was 99, and 2023 saw 119. Trump's DOJ did better than any of those numbers in two out of four years. And back in 2000, Justice was bringing more than 300 corporate criminal prosecutions.

Deputy AG Monaco just announced a new whistleblower bounty program: cash money for ratting out your crooked asshole co-worker or boss. Whistleblower bounties are among the most effective and cheapest way to bring criminal prosecutions against corporations. If you're a terrified underling who can't afford to lose your job after narcing out your boss, the bounty can outweigh the risk of industry-wide blacklisting. And if you're a crooked co-conspirator thinking about turning rat on your fellow criminal, the bounty can tempt you into solving the Prisoner's Dilemma in a way that sees the crime prosecuted.

So a new whistleblower bounty program is good. We like 'em. What's not to like?

Sorry, folks, I've got some bad news:

https://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/news/200/stephen-kohn-on-the-justice-department-plan-to-offer-whistleblower-awards/

As the whistleblower lawyer Stephen Kohn points out to Russell Mokhiber of Corporate Crime Reporter, Monaco's whistleblower bounty program has a glaring defect: it excludes "individuals who were involved with the crime." That means that the long-suffering secretary who printed the boss's crime memo and put it in the mail is shit out of luck – as is the CFO who's finally had enough of the CEO's dirty poker.

This is not how other whistleblower reward programs work: the SEC and CFTC whistleblower programs do not exclude people involved with the crime, and for good reason. They want to catch kingpins, not footsoldiers – and the best way to do that is to reward the whistleblower who turns on the boss.

This isn't a new idea! It's in the venerable False Claims Act, an act that was signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln. As Kohn says, making "accomplices" eligible to participate in whistleblower rewards is how you get people like his client, who relayed a bribe on behalf of his boss, to come forward. As Lincoln said in 1863, the purpose of a whistleblower law is to entice conspirators to turn on one another. Like Honest Abe said, "it takes a rogue to catch a rogue."

And – as Kohn says – we've designed these programs so that masterminds can't throw their minor lickspittles under the buss and collect a reward: "I know of no case where the person who planned or initiated the fraud under any of the reward laws ever got a dime."

Kohn points out that under Monaco, the DOJ just ignores the rule that afford anonymity to whistleblowers. That's a big omission – the SEC got 18,000 confidential claims in 2023. Those are claims that the DOJ can't afford to miss, given their abysmal, sub-Trump track record on corporate crime prosecutions.

(Image: Karen Neoh, CC BY 2.0; Robert Thivierge, CC BY-SA 2.0. modified)


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A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Why national ID cards make us less safe https://www.schneier.com/essays/archives/2004/04/a_national_id_card_w.html

#20yrsago EFF guide to Gmail privacy https://web.archive.org/web/20040516090804/https://blogs.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/001425.php#001425

#20yrsago Stephenson’s money-centric interview on Wired News https://web.archive.org/web/20040510183726/http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,63050,00.html?tw=wn_tophead_1

#15yrsago Somali pirates versus European toxic-waste dumpers https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-you-are-being-lied-to-about-pirates-1225817.html

#15yrsago If you lose your Amazon account, your Kindle loses functionality https://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=44350&highlight=amazon+banning

#15yrsago Secretive US prisons hold “terrorists” including animal rights activists and people who gave to the wrong charity http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/communication-management-units-mcgowan/1747/

#15yrsago Amazon explains cataloging error that banished queer books to “adult” purgatory https://www.latimes.com/archives/blogs/technology-blog/story/2009-04-13/amazon-begins-to-re-rank-affected-adult-books-theories-swirl

#15yrsago Texas lawmaker: Chinese Americans should change names so “Americans” can handle them https://web.archive.org/web/20090410142836/https://thinkprogress.org/2009/04/09/brown-asian-names/

#15yrsago John McDaid’s “(Nothing But) Flowers”, sweet and haunting sf story https://web.archive.org/web/20090414052546/http://www.torvex.com/jmcdaid/node/984

#15yrsago Terrible anti-piracy ads from the past 15 years https://www.theguardian.com/media/pda/2009/apr/08/piracy-piracy

#10yrsago Study: American policy exclusively reflects desires of the rich; citizens’ groups largely irrelevant https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/testing-theories-of-american-politics-elites-interest-groups-and-average-citizens/62327F513959D0A304D4893B382B992B

#10yrsago HOWTO buy your way out of a California speeding ticket https://priceonomics.com/can-you-buy-a-license-to-speed/

#10yrsago Japanese game-show asks celebs to eat household objects that may or may not be chocolates https://kotaku.com/can-you-tell-whats-chocolate-and-what-isnt-asks-japa-1496174116

#5yrsago The #ShellPapers: crowdsourcing analysis of all correspondence between Shell and the Dutch government https://www.ftm.nl/dossier/shell-papers

#5yrsago Air tanker drops are often useless for fighting wildfires, but politicians order them because they make good TV https://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-wildfires29-2008jul29-story.html

#5yrsago America today feels like the last days of the Soviet Union https://eand.co/how-american-collapse-resembles-soviet-collapse-94773b44fe17

#5yrsago EFF to Facebook: enforce your rules banning cops from creating sockpuppet accounts and be transparent when you catch cops doing it https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/04/facebook-must-take-these-four-steps-counter-police-sock-puppets

#5yrsago Not just Apple: Microsoft has been quietly lobbying to kill Right to Repair bills https://medium.com/u-s-pirg/microsoft-named-as-stopping-right-to-repair-in-washington-b880bf4ad052

#5yrsago Silicon Valley’s techie uprisings reveal growing support for socialism in tech https://www.salon.com/2019/04/11/silicon-valley-once-a-bastion-of-libertarianism-sees-a-budding-socialist-movement/

#5yrsago Investors controlling $3B in Facebook stock demand Zuckerberg’s ouster, and they will lose https://www.businessinsider.com/facebook-investors-will-vote-to-oust-mark-zuckerberg-as-chairman-2019-4

#5yrsago Starz abuses the DMCA to remove EFF’s tweet about Starz abusing the DMCA https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/04/effs-tweet-about-overzealous-dmca-takedown-now-subject-overzealous-takedown

#5yrsago RIP, science fiction and fantasy Grand Master Gene Wolfe, 1931-2019 https://reactormag.com/gene-wolfe-in-memoriam-1931-2019/

#5yrsago Leaked, “highly classified” French report shows that the slaughter in Yemen depends on US support https://theintercept.com/2019/04/15/saudi-weapons-yemen-us-france/

#1yrago SVB bailouts for everyone – except affordable housing projects https://pluralistic.net/2023/04/15/socialism-for-the-rich/#rugged-individualism-for-the-poor


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Latest books (permalink)



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Upcoming books (permalink)

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  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
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  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

13.04.2024 à 15:58

Pluralistic: Twinkfrump Linkdump (13 Apr 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (5986 mots)


Today's links



A bowl of goulash.

Twinkfrump Linkdump (permalink)

Welcome to the seventeenth Pluralistic linkdump, a collection of all the miscellany that didn't make it into the week's newsletter, cunningly wrought together in a single edition that ranges from the first ISP to AI nonsense to labor organizing victories to the obituary of a brilliant scientist you should know a lot more about! Here's the other 16 dumps:

https://pluralistic.net/tag/linkdump/

If you're reading this (and you are!), it was delivered to you by an internet service provider. Today, the ISP industry is calcified, controlled by a handful of telcos and cable companies. But the idea of an "ISP" didn't come out of a giant telecommunications firm – it was created, in living memory, by excellent nerds who are still around.

Depending on how you reckon, The Little Garden was either the first or the second ISP in America. It was named after a Palo Alto Chinese restaurant frequented by its founders. To get a sense of that founding, read these excellent recollections by Tom Jennings, whose contributions include the seminal zine Homocore, the seminal networking protocol Fidonet, and the seminal third-party PC ROM, whence came Dell, Gateway, Compaq, and every other "PC clone" company.

The first installment describes how an informal co-op to network a few friends turned into a business almost by accident, with thousands of dollars flowing in and out of Jennings' bank account:

https://www.sensitiveresearch.com/Archive/TLG/TLG.html

And it describes how that ISP set a standard for neutrality, boldly declaring that "TLGnet exercises no control whatsoever over the content of the information." They introduced an idea of radical transparency, documenting their router configurations and other technical details and making them available to the public. They hired unskilled punk and queer kids from their communities and trained them to operate the network equipment they'd invented, customized or improvised.

In part two, Jennings talks about the evolution of TLG's radical business-plan: to offer unrestricted service, encouraging their customers to resell that service to people in their communities, having no lock-in, unbundling extra services including installation charges – the whole anti-enshittification enchilada:

https://www.sensitiveresearch.com/Archive/TLG/

I love Jennings and his work. I even gave him a little cameo in Picks and Shovels, the third Martin Hench novel, which will be out next winter. He's as lyrical a writer about technology as you could ask for, and he's also a brilliant engineer and thinker.

The Little Garden's founders and early power-users have all fleshed out Jennings' account of the birth of ISPs. Writing on his blog, David "DSHR" Rosenthal rounds up other histories from the likes of EFF co-founder John Gilmore and Tim Pozar:

https://blog.dshr.org/2024/04/the-little-garden.html

Rosenthal describes some of the more exotic shenanigans TLG got up to in order to do end-runs around the Bell system's onerous policies, hacking in the purest sense of the word, for example, by daisy-chaining together modems in regions with free local calling and then making "permanent local calls," with the modems staying online 24/7.

Enshittification came to the ISP business early and hit it hard. The cartel that controls your access to the internet today is a billion light-years away from the principled technologists who invented the industry with an ethos of care, access and fairness. Today's ISPs are bitterly opposed to Net Neutrality, the straightforward proposition that if you request some data, your ISP should send it to you as quickly and reliably as it can.

Instead, ISPs want to offer "slow-lanes" where they will relegate the whole internet, except for those companies that bribe the ISP to be delivered at normal speed. ISPs have a laughably transparent way of describing this: they say that they're allowing services to pay for "fast lanes" with priority access. This is the same as the giant grocery store that charges you extra unless you surrender your privacy with a "loyalty card" – and then says that they're offering a "discount" for loyal customers, rather than charging a premium to customers who don't want to be spied on.

The American business lobby loves this arrangement, and hates Net Neutrality. Having monopolized every sector of our economy, they are extremely fond of "winner take all" dynamics, and that's what a non-neutral ISP delivers: the biggest services with the deepest pockets get the most reliable delivery, which means that smaller services don't just have to be better than the big guys, they also have to be able to outbid them for "priority carriage."

If everything you get from your ISP is slow and janky, except for the dominant services, then the dominant services can skimp on quality and pocket the difference. That's the goal of every monopolist – not just to be too big to fail, but also too big to care.

Under the Trump administration, FCC chair Ajit Pai dismantled the Net Neutrality rule, colluding with American big business to rig the process. They accepted millions of obviously fake anti-Net Neutrality comments (one million identical comments from @pornhub.com addresses, comments from dead people, comments from sitting US Senators who support Net Neutrality) and declared open season on American internet users:

https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/2021/attorney-general-james-issues-report-detailing-millions-fake-comments-revealing

Now, Biden's FCC is set to reinstate Net Neutrality – but with a "compromise" that will make mobile internet (which nearly all of use sometimes, and the poorest of us are reliant on) a swamp of anticompetitive practices:

https://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/blog/2024/04/harmful-5g-fast-lanes-are-coming-fcc-needs-stop-them

Under the proposed rule, mobile carriers will be able to put traffic to and from apps in the slow lane, and then extort bribes from preferred apps for normal speed and delivery. They'll rely on parts of the 5G standard to pull off this trick.

The ISP cartel and the FCC insist that this is fine because web traffic won't be degraded, but of course, every service is hellbent on pushing you into using apps instead of the web. That's because the web is an open platform, which means you can install ad- and privacy-blockers. More than half of web users have installed a blocker, making it the largest boycott in human history:

https://doc.searls.com/2023/11/11/how-is-the-worlds-biggest-boycott-doing/

But reverse-engineering and modding an app is a legal minefield. Just removing the encryption from an app can trigger criminal penalties under Section 1201 of the DMCA, carrying a five-year prison sentence and a $500k fine. An app is just a web-page skinned in enough IP that it's a felony to mod it.

Apps are enshittification's vanguard, and the fact that the FCC has found a way to make them even worse is perversely impressive. They're voting on this on April 25, and they have until April 24 to fix this. They should. They really should:

https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/DOC-401676A1.pdf

In a just world, cheating ripoff ISPs would be the top tech policy story. The operational practices of ISPs affect every single one us. We literally can't talk about tech policy without ISPs in the middle. But Net Neutrality is an also-ran in tech policy discourse, while AI – ugh ugh ugh – is the thing none of us can shut up about.

This, despite the fact that the most consequential AI applications sum up to serving as a kind of moral crumple-zone for shitty business practices. The point of AI isn't to replace customer service and other low-paid workers who have taken to demanding higher wages and better conditions – it's to fire those workers and replace them with chatbots that can't do their jobs. An AI salesdroid can't sell your boss a bot that can replace you, but they don't need to. They only have to convince your boss that the bot can do your job, even if it can't.

SF writer Karl Schroeder is one of the rare sf practitioners who grapples seriously with the future, a "strategic foresight" guy who somehow skirts the bullshit that is the field's hallmark:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/03/07/the-gernsback-continuum/#wheres-my-jetpack

Writing on his blog, Schroeder describes the AI debates roiling the Association of Professional Futurists, and how it's sucking him into being an unwilling participant in the AI hype cycle:

https://kschroeder.substack.com/p/dragged-into-the-ai-hype-cycle

Schroeder's piece is a thoughtful meditation on the relationship of SF's thought-experiments and parables about AI to the promises of AI hucksters, who promise that a) "general artificial intelligence" is just around the corner and that b) it will be worth trillions of dollars.

Schroeder – like other sf writers including Ted Chiang and Charlie Stross (and me) – comes to the conclusion that AI panic isn't about AI, it's about power. The artificial life-form devouring the planet and murdering our species is the limited liability corporation, and its substrate isn't silicon, it's us, human bodies:

What’s lying underneath all our anxieties about AGI is an anxiety that has nothing to do with Artificial Intelligence. Instead, it’s a manifestation of our growing awareness that our world is being stolen from under us. Last year’s estimate put the amount of wealth currently being transferred from the people who made it to an idle billionaire class at $5.2 trillion. Artificial General Intelligence whose environment is the server farms and sweatshops of this class is frightening only because of its capacity to accelerate this greatest of all heists.

After all, the business-case for AI is so very thin that the industry can only survive on a torrent of hype and nonsense – like claims that Amazon's "Grab and Go" stores used "AI" to monitor shoppers and automatically bill them for their purchases. In reality, the stores used thousands of low-paid Indian workers to monitor cameras and manually charge your card. This happens so often that Indian technologists joke that "AI" stands for "absent Indians":

https://pluralistic.net/2024/01/29/pay-no-attention/#to-the-little-man-behind-the-curtain

Isn't it funny how all the really promising AI applications are in domains that most of us aren't qualified to assess? Like the claim that Google's AI was producing millions of novel materials that will shortly revolutionize all forms of production, from construction to electronics to medical implants:

https://deepmind.google/discover/blog/millions-of-new-materials-discovered-with-deep-learning/

That's what Google's press-release claimed, anyway. But when two groups of experts actually pulled a representative sample of these "new materials" from the Deep Mind database, they found that none of these materials qualified as "credible, useful and novel":

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.chemmater.4c00643

Writing about the researchers' findings for 404 Media, Jason Koebler cites Berkeley researchers who concluded that "no new materials have been discovered":

https://www.404media.co/google-says-it-discovered-millions-of-new-materials-with-ai-human-researchers/

The researchers say that AI data-mining for new materials is promising, but falls well short of Google's claim to be so transformative that it constitutes the "equivalent to nearly 800 years’ worth of knowledge" and "an order-of-magnitude expansion in stable materials known to humanity."

AI hype keeps the bubble inflating, and for so long as it keeps blowing up, all those investors who've sunk their money into AI can tell themselves that they're rich. This is the essence of "a bezzle": "The magic interval when a confidence trickster knows he has the money he has appropriated but the victim does not yet understand that he has lost it":

https://pluralistic.net/2023/03/09/autocomplete-worshippers/#the-real-ai-was-the-corporations-that-we-fought-along-the-way

Among the best debezzlers of AI are the Princeton Center for Information Technology Policy's Arvind Narayanan and Sayash Kapoor, who edit the "AI Snake Oil" blog. Now, they've sold a book with the same title:

https://www.aisnakeoil.com/p/ai-snake-oil-is-now-available-to

Obviously, books move a lot more slowly than blogs, and so Narayanan and Kapoor say their book will focus on the timeless elements of identifying and understanding AI snake oil:

In the book, we explain the crucial differences between types of AI, why people, companies, and governments are falling for AI snake oil, why AI can’t fix social media, and why we should be far more worried about what people will do with AI than about anything AI will do on its own. While generative AI is what drives press, predictive AI used in criminal justice, finance, healthcare, and other domains remains far more consequential in people’s lives. We discuss in depth how predictive AI can go wrong. We also warn of the dangers of a world where AI continues to be controlled by largely unaccountable big tech companies.

The book's out in September and it's up for pre-order now:

https://bookshop.org/p/books/ai-snake-oil-what-artificial-intelligence-can-do-what-it-can-t-and-how-to-tell-the-difference-arvind-narayanan/21324674

One of the weirder and worst side-effects of the AI hype bubble is that it has revived the belief that it's somehow possible for giant platforms to monitor all their users' speech and remove "harmful" speech. We've tried this for years, and when humans do it, it always ends with disfavored groups being censored, while dedicated trolls, harassers and monsters evade punishment:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/08/07/como-is-infosec/

AI hype has led policy-makers to believe that we can deputize online services to spy on all their customers and block the bad ones without falling into this trap. Canada is on the verge of adopting Bill C-63, a "harmful content" regulation modeled on examples from the UK and Australia.

Writing on his blog, Canadian lawyer/activist/journalist Dimitri Lascaris describes the dire speech implications for C-63:

https://dimitrilascaris.org/2024/04/08/trudeaus-online-harms-bill-threatens-free-speech/

It's an excellent legal breakdown of the bill's provisions, but also a excellent analysis of how those provisions are likely to play out in the lives of Canadians, especially those advocating against genocide and taking other positions the that oppose the agenda of the government of the day.

Even if you like the Trudeau government and its policies, these powers will accrue to every Canadian government, including the presumptive (and inevitably, totally unhinged) near-future Conservative majority government of Pierre Poilievre.

It's been ten years since Martin Gilens and Benjamin I Page published their paper that concluded that governments make policies that are popular among elites, no matter how unpopular they are among the public:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/perspectives-on-politics/article/testing-theories-of-american-politics-elites-interest-groups-and-average-citizens/62327F513959D0A304D4893B382B992B

Now, this is obviously depressing, but when you see it in action, it's kind of wild. The Biden administration has declared war on junk fees, from "resort fees" charged by hotels to the dozens of line-items added to your plane ticket, rental car, or even your rent check. In response, Republican politicians are climbing to their rear haunches and, using their actual human mouths, defending junk fees:

https://prospect.org/politics/2024-04-12-republicans-objectively-pro-junk-fee/

Congressional Republicans are hell-bent on destroying the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau's $8 cap on credit-card late-fees. Trump's presumptive running-mate Tim Scott is making this a campaign plank: "Vote for me and I will protect your credit-card company's right to screw you on fees!" He boasts about the lobbyists who asked him to take this position: champions of the public interest from the Consumer Bankers Association to the US Chamber of Commerce.

Banks stand to lose $10b/year from this rule (which means Americans stand to gain $10b/year from this rule). What's more, Scott's attempt to kill the rule is doomed to fail – there's just no procedural way it will fly. As David Dayen writes, "Not only does this vote put Republicans on the spot over junk fees, it’s a doomed vote, completely initiated by their own possible VP nominee."

This is a hilarious own-goal, one that only brings attention to a largely ignored – but extremely good – aspect of the Biden administration. As Adam Green of Bold Progressives told Dayen, "What’s been missing is opponents smoking themselves out and raising the volume of this fight so the public knows who is on their side."

The CFPB is a major bright spot in the Biden administration's record. They're doing all kind of innovative things, like making it easy for you to figure out which bank will give you the best deal and then letting you transfer your account and all its associated data, records and payments with a single click:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/10/21/let-my-dollars-go/#personal-financial-data-rights

And now, CFPB chair Rohit Chopra has given a speech laying out the agency's plan to outlaw data-brokers:

https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/newsroom/prepared-remarks-of-cfpb-director-rohit-chopra-at-the-white-house-on-data-protection-and-national-security/

Yes, this is some good news! There is, in fact, good news in the world, bright spots amidst all the misery and terror. One of those bright spots? Labor.

Unions are back, baby. Not only do the vast majority of Americans favor unions, not only are new shops being unionized at rates not seen in generations, but also the largest unions are undergoing revolutions, with control being wrestled away from corrupt union bosses and given to the rank-and-file.

Many of us have heard about the high-profile victories to take back the UAW and Teamsters, but I hadn't heard about the internal struggles at the United Food and Commercial Workers, not until I read Hamilton Nolan's gripping account for In These Times:

https://inthesetimes.com/article/revolt-aisle-5-ufcw-grocery-workers-union

Nolan profiles Faye Guenther, president of UFCW Local 3000 and her successful and effective fight to bring a militant spirit back to the union, which represents a million grocery workers. Nolan describes the fight as "every bit as dramatic as any episode of Game of Thrones," and he's not wrong. This is an inspiring tale of working people taking power away from scumbag monopoly bosses and sellout fatcat leaders – and, in so doing, creating an institution that gets better wages, better working conditions, and a better economy, by helping to block giant grocery mergers like Kroger/Albertsons.

I like to end these linkdumps on an up note, so it feels weird to be closing out with an obituary, but I'd argue that any celebration of the long life and many accomplishments of my friend and mentor Anne Innis Dagg is an "up note."

I last wrote about Anne in 2020, on the release of a documentary about her work, "The Woman Who Loved Giraffes":

https://pluralistic.net/2020/02/19/pluralist-19-feb-2020/#annedagg

As you might have guessed from the title of that doc, Anne was a biologist. She was the first woman scientist to do field-work on giraffes, and that work was so brilliant and fascinating that it kicked off the modern field of giraffology, which remains a woman-dominated specialty thanks to her tireless mentoring and support for the scientists that followed her.

Anne was also the world's most fearsome slayer of junk-science "evolutionary psychology," in which "scientists" invent unfalsifiable just-so stories that prove that some odious human characteristic is actually "natural" because it can be found somewhere in the animal kingdom (i.e., "Darling, please, it's not my fault that I'm fucking my grad students, it's the bonobos!").

Anne wrote a classic – and sadly out of print – book about this that I absolutely adore, not least for having one of the best titles I've ever encountered: "Love of Shopping" Is Not a Gene:

https://memex.craphound.com/2009/11/04/love-of-shopping-is-not-a-gene-exposing-junk-science-and-ideology-in-darwinian-psychology/

Anne was my advisor at the University of Waterloo, an institution that denied her tenure for fifty years, despite a brilliant academic career that rivaled that of her storied father, Harold Innis ("the thinking person's Marshall McLuhan"). The fact that Waterloo never recognized Anne is doubly shameful when you consider that she was awarded the Order of Canada:

https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/queen-of-giraffes-among-new-order-of-canada-recipients-with-global-influence

Anne lived a brilliant live, struggling through adversity, never compromising on her principles, inspiring a vast number of students and colleagues. She lived to ninety-one, and died earlier this month. Her ashes will be spread "on the breeding grounds of her beloved giraffes" in South Africa this summer:

https://obituaries.therecord.com/obituary/anne-innis-dagg-1089534658

(Image: Valeva1010, CC BY-SA 4.0)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#5yrsago The Pinkertons’ plan for climate change: a mercenary army that guards one-percenters as the seas rise https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/04/10/magazine/climate-change-pinkertons.html

#5yrsago Ford CEO: we “overestimated” self-driving cars https://www.engadget.com/2019-04-10-ford-ceo-says-the-company-overestimated-self-driving-cars.html

#5yrsago Talking Radicalized with John Scalzi in the LA Times https://www.latimes.com/books/la-ca-jc-fob-cory-doctorow-interview-radicalized-20190411-story.html

#5yrsago Illinois almost passed a bill that banned devices that record you without your consent — and then Big Tech stepped in https://www.vice.com/en/article/ywyzm5/big-tech-lobbying-gutted-a-bill-that-would-ban-recording-you-without-consent

#1yrago Gig apps trap reverse centaurs in wage-stealing Skinner boxes https://pluralistic.net/2023/04/12/algorithmic-wage-discrimination/#fishers-of-men


Upcoming appearances (permalink)

A photo of me onstage, giving a speech, holding a mic.



A screenshot of me at my desk, doing a livecast.

Recent appearances (permalink)



A grid of my books with Will Stahle covers..

Latest books (permalink)



A cardboard book box with the Macmillan logo.

Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Bill Budington, Gord Doctorow, Ryan Singel.

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: Subprime gadgets https://craphound.com/news/2024/03/31/subprime-gadgets/


This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.

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"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

12.04.2024 à 14:12

Pluralistic: No, "convenience" isn't the problem (12 Apr 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (4788 mots)


Today's links



A Rube Goldberg drawing of a man using an elaborate automatic napkin, a contraption that integrates a wall-clock, a parrot, a pop-up toaster and other contrivances. The background has been replaced with the 'code waterfall' effect seen in the credits of the Wachowskis' 'Matrix' movie. The fact of the wall-clock has been replaced with the staring eye of HAL 9000 from Kubrick's '2001: A Space Odyssey.'

No, "convenience" isn't the problem (permalink)

Using Amazon, or Twitter, or Facebook, or Google, or Doordash, or Uber doesn't make you lazy. Platform capitalism isn't enshittifying because you made the wrong shopping choices.

Remember, the reason these corporations were able to capture such substantial market-share is that the capital markets saw them as a bet that they could lose money for years, drive out competition, capture their markets, and then raise prices and abuse their workers and suppliers without fear of reprisal. Investors were chasing monopoly power, that is, companies that are too big to fail, too big to jail, and too big to care:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/04/04/teach-me-how-to-shruggie/#kagi

The tactics that let a few startups into Big Tech are illegal under existing antitrust laws. It's illegal for large corporations to buy up smaller ones before they can grow to challenge their dominance. It's illegal for dominant companies to merge with each other. "Predatory pricing" (selling goods or services below cost to prevent competitors from entering the market, or to drive out existing competitors) is also illegal. It's illegal for a big business to use its power to bargain for preferential discounts from its suppliers. Large companies aren't allowed to collude to fix prices or payments.

But under successive administrations, from Jimmy Carter through to Donald Trump, corporations routinely broke these laws. They explicitly and implicitly colluded to keep those laws from being enforced, driving smaller businesses into the ground. Now, sociopaths are just as capable of starting small companies as they are of running monopolies, but that one store that's run by a colossal asshole isn't the threat to your wellbeing that, say, Walmart or Amazon is.

All of this took place against a backdrop of stagnating wages and skyrocketing housing, health, and education costs. In other words, even as the cost of operating a small business was going up (when Amazon gets a preferential discount from a key supplier, that supplier needs to make up the difference by gouging smaller, weaker retailers), Americans' disposable income was falling.

So long as the capital markets were willing to continue funding loss-making future monopolists, your neighbors were going to make the choice to shop "the wrong way." As small, local businesses lost those customers, the costs they had to charge to make up the difference would go up, making it harder and harder for you to afford to shop "the right way."

In other words: by allowing corporations to flout antimonopoly laws, we set the stage for monopolies. The fault lay with regulators and the corporate leaders and finance barons who captured them – not with "consumers" who made the wrong choices. What's more, as the biggest businesses' monopoly power grew, your ability to choose grew ever narrower: once every mom-and-pop restaurant in your area fires their delivery drivers and switches to Doordash, your choice to order delivery from a place that payrolls its drivers goes away.

Monopolists don't just have the advantage of nearly unlimited access to the capital markets – they also enjoy the easy coordination that comes from participating in a cartel. It's easy for five giant corporations to form conspiracies because five CEOs can fit around a single table, which means that some day, they will:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/04/18/cursed-are-the-sausagemakers/#how-the-parties-get-to-yes

By contrast, "consumers" are atomized – there are millions of us, we don't know each other, and we struggle to agree on a course of action and stick to it. For "consumers" to make a difference, we have to form institutions, like co-ops or buying clubs, or embark on coordinated campaigns, like boycotts. Both of these tactics have their place, but they are weak when compared to monopoly power.

Luckily, we're not just "consumers." We're also citizens who can exercise political power. That's hard work – but so is organizing a co-op or a boycott. The difference is, when we dog enforcers who wield the power of the state, and line up behind them when they start to do their jobs, we can make deep structural differences that go far beyond anything we can make happen as consumers:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/10/18/administrative-competence/#i-know-stuff

We're not just "consumers" or "citizens" – we're also workers, and when workers come together in unions, they, too, can concentrate the diffuse, atomized power of the individual into a single, powerful entity that can hold the forces of capital in check:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/04/10/an-injury-to-one/#is-an-injury-to-all

And all of these things work together; when regulators do their jobs, they protect workers who are unionizing:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/09/06/goons-ginks-and-company-finks/#if-blood-be-the-price-of-your-cursed-wealth

And strong labor power can force cartels to abandon their plans to rig the market so that every consumer choice makes them more powerful:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/10/01/how-the-writers-guild-sunk-ais-ship/

And when consumers can choose better, local, more ethical businesses at competitive rates, those choices can make a difference:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/07/10/view-a-sku/

Antimonopoly policy is the foundation for all forms of people-power. The very instant corporations become too big to fail, jail or care is the instant that "voting with your wallet" becomes a waste of time.

Sure, choose that small local grocery, but everything on their shelves is going to come from the consumer packaged-goods duopoly of Procter and Gamble and Unilever. Sure, hunt down that local brand of potato chips that you love instead of P&G or Unilever's brand, but if they become successful, either P&G or Unilever will buy them out, and issue a press release trumpeting the purchase, saying "We bought out this beloved independent brand and added it to our portfolio because we know that consumers value choice."

If you're going to devote yourself to solving the collective action problem to make people-power work against corporations, spend your precious time wisely. As Zephyr Teachout writes in Break 'Em Up, don't miss the protest march outside the Amazon warehouse because you spent two hours driving around looking for an independent stationery so you could buy the markers and cardboard to make your anti-Amazon sign without shopping on Amazon:

https://pluralistic.net/2020/07/29/break-em-up/#break-em-up

When blame corporate power on "laziness," we buy into the corporations' own story about how they came to dominate our lives: we just prefer them. This is how Google explains away its 90% market-share in search: we just chose Google. But we didn't, not really – Google spends tens of billions of dollars every single year buying up the search-box on every website, phone, and operating system:

https://pluralistic.net/2024/02/21/im-feeling-unlucky/#not-up-to-the-task

Blaming "laziness" for corporate dominance also buys into the monopolists' claim that the only way to have convenient, easy-to-use services is to cede power to them. Facebook claims it's literally impossible for you to carry on social relations with the people that matter to you without also letting them spy on you. When we criticize people for wanting to hang out online with the people they love, we send the message that they need to choose loneliness and isolation, or they will be complicit in monopoly.

The problem with Google isn't that it lets you find things. The problem with Facebook isn't that it lets you talk to your friends. The problem with Uber isn't that it gets you from one place to another without having to stand on a corner waving your arm in the air. The problem with Amazon isn't that it makes it easy to locate a wide variety of products. We should stop telling people that they're wrong to want these things, because a) these things are good; and b) these things can be separated from the monopoly power of these corporate bullies:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/11/08/divisibility/#technognosticism

Remember the Napster Wars? The music labels had screwed over musicians and fans. 80 percent of all recorded music wasn't offered for sale, and the labels cooked the books to make it effectively impossible for musicians to earn out their advances. Napster didn't solve all of that (though they did offer $15/user/month to the labels for a license to their catalogs), but there were many ways in which it was vastly superior to the system it replaced.

The record labels responded by suing tens of thousands of people, mostly kids, but also dead people and babies and lots of other people. They demanded an end to online anonymity and a system of universal surveillance. They wanted every online space to algorithmically monitor everything a user posted and delete anything that might be a copyright infringement.

These were the problems with the music cartel: they suppressed the availability of music, screwed over musicians, carried on a campaign of indiscriminate legal terror, and lobbied effectively for a system of ubiquitous, far-reaching digital surveillance and control:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/02/02/nonbinary-families/#red-envelopes

You know what wasn't a problem with the record labels? The music. The music was fine. Great, even.

But some of the people who were outraged with the labels' outrageous actions decided the problem was the music. Their answer wasn't to merely demand better copyright laws or fairer treatment for musicians, but to demand that music fans stop listening to music from the labels. Somehow, they thought they could build a popular movement that you could only join by swearing off popular music.

That didn't work. It can't work. A popular movement that you can only join by boycotting popular music will always be unpopular. It's bad tactics.

When we blame "laziness" for tech monopolies, we send the message that our friends have to choose between life's joys and comforts, and a fair economic system that doesn't corrupt our politics, screw over workers, and destroy small, local businesses. This isn't true. It's a lie that monopolists tell to justify their abuse. When we repeat it, we do monopolists' work for them – and we chase away the people we need to recruit for the meaningful struggles to build worker power and political power.

(Image: Cryteria, CC BY 3.0, modified)


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#20yrsago Implicit ideology in video games https://reason.com/2004/04/01/free-play-2/

#20yrsago BBC tries DRM-free distribution https://web.archive.org/web/20040422090025/https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2004/mp3.shtml

#20yrsago Remembering gopher https://www.wired.com/2004/04/gopher-underground-technology/

#20yrsago MSFT pays $440MM to settle DRM patent dispute https://www.theregister.com/2004/04/12/ms_settles_intertrust/

#15yrsago Billboards versus the attention economy: critical essay from 1960 https://web.archive.org/web/20090414052206/http://howtolookatbillboards.com/

#15yrsago Statebook: how UK gov’t spooks see the Internet http://www.statebook.co.uk

#15yrsago Manchester’s streets to be patrolled by CCTV cars that film you picking your nose at the wheel and then send you a fine http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/manchester/7994449.stm

#10yrsago Copy Me: a new critical animation series about copying, culture and copyright https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=62-UT84-fXM

#10yrsago Everything is a Remix vs Patent Trolls https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Il9nXHoprsU

#5yrsago Foxconn’s inconsistent, chaotic behavior in Wisconsin looks awfully grifty https://www.theverge.com/2019/4/10/18296793/foxconn-wisconsin-location-factory-innovation-centers-technology-hub-no-news

#5yrsago Victory! House of Reps passes legislation to restore Net Neutrality https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/04/victory-house-representatives-passes-net-neutrality-protections

#5yrsago Chicago is demanding that children on bail wear private-sector ankle-cuffs with mics that can record them without their consent https://theappeal.org/chicago-electronic-monitoring-wiretapping-juveniles/

#5yrsago Security keys are “transformative” and “revolutionary” for information security https://mrisher.medium.com/phishing-and-security-keys-b5c8e8e26931

#10yrsago RIP, Sue Townsend https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-26982680

#5yrsago Text-mining journalists find that lawmakers introduced 10,000 bills that were copypasted from lobbyists’ “model legislation” https://publicintegrity.org/politics/state-politics/copy-paste-legislate/you-elected-them-to-write-new-laws-theyre-letting-corporations-do-it-instead/

#5yrsago Someone is targeting “critical infrastructure” safety systems in networked attacks https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2019/04/mysterious-safety-tampering-malware-infects-a-2nd-critical-infrastructure-site/

#5yrsago Courts and cops don’t know what to do with “sovereign citizens,” the delusional far-rightists who claim the law doesn’t apply to them https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_y-gLm9Hrw

#5yrsago Amazon stores recordings of Alexa interactions and turns them over to internal staff and outside contractors for review https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-10/is-anyone-listening-to-you-on-alexa-a-global-team-reviews-audio

#5yrsago Teen Vogue explains capitalism https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-capitalism-is

#5yrsago French officials call Project Gutenberg archive, 15 million ebooks, Grateful Dead recordings and Prelinger Archive “terrorism,” demands removal from Internet Archive https://www.techdirt.com/2019/04/11/eu-tells-internet-archive-that-much-site-is-terrorist-content/

#5yrsago Brexit is cratering London house prices https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-04-10/house-prices-in-london-southeast-u-k-forecast-to-keep-falling

#1yrago Alissa Quart's 'Bootstrapped: Liberating Ourselves from the American Dream' https://pluralistic.net/2023/04/10/declaration-of-interdependence/#solidarity-forever


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10.04.2024 à 14:54

Pluralistic: The unexpected upside of multinational monopoly capitalism (10 Apr 2024)

Cory Doctorow

Texte intégral (3734 mots)


Today's links



Abraham Bosse's 17th century etching of David with a defeated Goliath. In the original, David marvels at his sling while standing astride the giant head of Goliath, which has been severed and sports a notable forehead-dent. The image has been modified, replacing the rock in David's sling with the Earth, and adding a monocle and top-hat to Goliath's severed head.

The unexpected upside of global monopoly capitalism (permalink)

Here's a silver lining to global monopoly capitalism: it means we're all fighting the same enemy, who is using the same tactics everywhere. The same coordination tools that allow corporations to extend their tendrils to every corner of the Earth also allow regulators and labor organizers to coordinate their resistance.

That's a lesson Mercedes is learning. In 2023, Germany's Supply Chain Act went into effect, which bans large corporations with a German presence from using child labor, violating health and safety standards, and (critically) interfering with union organizers:

https://www.bafa.de/EN/Supply_Chain_Act/Overview/overview_node.html

Across the ocean, in the USA, Mercedes has a preference for building its cars in the American South, the so-called "right to work" states where US labor law is routinely flouted and unions are thin on the ground. As The American Prospect's Harold Meyerson writes, the only non-union Mercedes factories in the world are in the US:

https://prospect.org/labor/2024-04-08-american-workers-german-law-uaw-unions/

But American workers – especially southern workers – are on an organizing tear, unionizing their workplaces at a rate not seen in generations. Their unprecedented success is down to their commitment, solidarity and shrewd tactics – all buoyed by a refreshingly pro-worker NLRB, who have workers' backs in ways also not seen since the Carter administration:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/09/14/prop-22-never-again/#norms-code-laws-markets

Workers at Mercedes' factory in Vance, Alabama are trying to join the UAW, and Mercedes is playing dirty, using the tried-and-true union-busting tactics that have held workplace democracy at bay for decades. The UAW has lodged a complaint with the NLRB, naturally:

https://www.commondreams.org/news/alabama-mercedes-benz

But the UAW has also filed a complaint with BAFA, the German regulator in charge of the Supply Chain Act, seeking penalties against Mercedes-Benz Group AG:

https://uaw.org/uaw-files-charges-in-germany-against-mercedes-benz-companys-anti-union-campaign-against-u-s-autoworkers-violates-new-german-law-on-global-supply-chain-practices/

That's a huge deal, because the German Supply Chain Act goes hard. If Mercedes is convicted of union-busting in Alabama, its German parent-company faces a fine of 2% of its global total revenue, and will no longer be eligible to sell products to the German government. Chomp.

Now, the German Supply Chain Act is new, and this is the first petition filed by a non-German union with BAFA, so it's not a slam dunk. But supermajorities of Mercedes workers at the Alabama factory have signed UAW cards, and the election is going to happen in May or June. And the UAW – under new leadership, thanks to a revolution that overthrew the corrupt old guard – has its sights set on all the auto-makers in the American south.

As Meyerson writes, the south is America's onshore offshore, a regulatory haven where corporations pay minimal or no tax and are free to abuse their workers, pollute, and corrupt local governments with a free hand (no wonder American industry is flocking to these states). Meyerson: "The economic impact of unionizing the South, in other words, could almost be placed in the same category as reshoring work that had gone to China."

The German Supply Chain Act was passed with the help of Germany's powerful labor unions, in an act of solidarity with workers employed by German companies all over the world. This is that unexpected benefit to globalism: the fact that Mercedes has extrusions into both the American and German political spheres means that both American and German workers can collaborate to bring it to heel.

The same is true for antitrust regulators. The multinational corporations that are in regulators' crosshairs in the US, the EU, the UK, Australia, Japan, South Korea and beyond use the same playbook in every country. That's doubly true of Big Tech companies, who literally run the same code – embodying the same illegal practices – on servers in every country.

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority has led the pack on convening summits where antitrust enforcers from all over the world gather to compare notes and collaborate on enforcement strategies:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/cma-data-technology-and-analytics-conference-2022-registration-308678625077

And the CMA's Digital Markets Unit – which boasts the largest tech staff of any competition regulator in the world – produces detailed market studies that turn out to be roadmaps for other territories' enforcers to follow – like this mobile market study:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/63f61bc0d3bf7f62e8c34a02/Mobile_Ecosystems_Final_Report_amended_2.pdf

Which was extensively referenced in the EU during the planning of the Digital Markets Act, and in the US Congress for similar legislation:

https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/2710

It also helped enforcers in Japan:

https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Technology/Japan-to-crack-down-on-Apple-and-Google-app-store-monopolies

And South Korea:

https://www.reuters.com/technology/skorea-considers-505-mln-fine-against-google-apple-over-app-market-practices-2023-10-06/

Just as Mercedes workers in Germany and the USA share a common adversary, allowing for coordinated action that takes advantage of vulnerable flanks wherever they are found, anti-monopoly enforcers are sharing notes, evidence, and tactics to strike at multinationals that are bigger than most countries – but not when those countries combine.

This is an unexpected upside to global monopolies: when we all share a common enemy, we've got endless opportunities for coordinated offenses and devastating pincer maneuvers.


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#20yrsago Promising anti-obesity pill https://web.archive.org/web/20040419011611/http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/apr2004/tc2004048_9548_tc122.htm

#20yrsago NDP leader Jack Layton endorses P2P https://memex.craphound.com/2004/04/09/canadas-ndp-leader-endorses-p2p/

#20yrsago EFF on Gmail https://web.archive.org/web/20040420195950/https://blogs.eff.org/deeplinks/archives/001375.php#001375

#15yrsago Cold dead hand of Frank Herbert reaches up from grave, stabs Dune Second Life megafans in the back https://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2009/04/enforcers-of-dune.html

#15yrsago French government nukes crazy Internet law in open revolt against Sarkozy https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2009/apr/09/france-illegal-downloads-state-surveillance

#10yrsago NSA spies on human rights groups, including those in the USA https://techcrunch.com/2014/04/08/snowden-council-of-europe-testimony/

#10yrsago Prosecutors wage war on judges who insist on fairness https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2014/03/07/judge-says-prosecutors-should-follow-the-law-prosecutors-revolt/

#10yrsago LAPD officers sabotage their own voice-recorders: nothing to hide, nothing to fear? https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/04/lapd-officers-monkey-wrenched-cop-monitoring-gear-in-patrol-cars/

#5yrsago Today, Michigan regulators vote on conservative education “reform” plan to purge the word “democracy” from curriculum https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2019/04/michigan-conservatives-vie-to-cut-democracy-from-classroom.html

#5yrsago The Chinafication of the internet continues as the UK proposes blocking any service that hosts “illegal” or “harmful” material https://memex.craphound.com/2019/04/09/the-chinafication-of-the-internet-continues-as-the-uk-proposes-blocking-any-service-that-hosts-illegal-or-harmful-material/

#5yrsago How to Do Nothing: Jenny Odell’s case for resisting “The Attention Economy” https://memex.craphound.com/2019/04/09/how-to-do-nothing-jenny-odells-case-for-resisting-the-attention-economy/

#1yrsago How To Make a Child-Safe TikTok https://pluralistic.net/2023/04/09/how-to-make-a-child-safe-tiktok/


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Upcoming books (permalink)

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025
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Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources:

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING
  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: Subprime gadgets https://craphound.com/news/2024/03/31/subprime-gadgets/


This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.

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