A Dissection of Internet Piracy

At the beginning of the week, Paul posted a TED talk and commentary about fair use. He asks: “Does the fight against piracy end up, in some ways, encouraging it? I wonder how the general public’s view of piracy has changed over the last decade or so. I’d be interested to hear what the class has to say about that.”

There are three kinds of people that use the internet. The “casuals” who don’t do much on the internet aside from checking their facebook and email, and maybe repinning things on pinterest every so often; the people who are slightly more invested in the internet, who maybe know a little bit of code, are consistent online gamers, or run a blog in addition to the daily activities of the casuals; and the people who build their lives off the internet i.e. web developers, internet celebrities, etc.

What does that have to do with piracy? Well I think that each of these kinds of people have different prerogatives when it comes to illegal uploading and downloading. Casual internet users are probably the most likely to download movies, music, and other entertainment media. They don’t have much use for software programs and aren’t at much risk for legal action if they steal or reproduce that kind of data. The middle group is probably more likely to download software programs in addition to entertainment files. They’re also more likely to have the know-how to perform more complex acts of piracy like creating torrents and streaming files. The third and final group is probably the least likely to steal or reproduce data simply because they are at the highest risk for getting caught, and have greater access to certain kinds of files and programs because of their work– not because they don’t know how to do it. However, they are still likely to pirate media that they only intend to use privately. The only exception to this group would be the people who make a living out of internet piracy.

The common denominator between these groups is that they will most likely illegally download entertainment media, whether that be movies, TV shows, or the entire discography of The Mountain Goats. Everyone knows that it’s illegal to get these kinds of files without paying for them, but because sites like the iTunes store, Google Play, and Amazon Media offer individual tracks, entire seasons of TV shows, and movies for a much lower cost than buying them at the store, people think that downloading won’t be stealing much from anyone. In that sense, I think that the “methods to protect against piracy” have encouraged people to pirate data.

Otherwise, I think a majority of piracy occurs simply because people don’t really care. Internet piracy has become a widely accepted part of our culture, which is pretty well represented by our reactions to anti-piracy warnings:

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Because there’s so little risk involved with internet piracy, unless you’re operating a large-scale pirated movie business, I think people generally don’t worry much about stealing. If the internet were a different kind of platform where file sharing could be controlled, I think that attempts at stopping piracy would have been more effective. But as it is, the attitude about piracy has always been either “whatever” or “I think it’s probably wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway.”

 

Social Media Activism Is (Not) Pointless

With the advent of social media sites like Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook, the way that we receive our information has changed. At one time, longer newspaper articles and TV news stories were the primary source of breaking news. Now, it seems as though Twitter is often a faster and sometimes a reliable source of information. Not only can you see information from major news networks (with differing political biases), but also live feeds of information from civilian reporters, and all of the reactions and opinions surrounding that news. Thus, when events occur you can instantly form an opinion from primary and secondary sources in addition to feedback to those sources, all while scrolling a single, organized hashtag. I use Twitter as an example because the algorithm that it uses makes the sharing of information rapid and comprehensive, as opposed to facebook which filters out ‘offensive’ posts (source), and tumblr which frequently adopts a liberal bias and promotes misinformed posts.

Often, what we see is that Twitter hashtag movements spark outrage that lasts as long as the tag is trending, creating a brief period of social empathy. For example, the Ferguson shooting from last August, the #BringBackOurGirls movement from early summer, or the infamous Kony 2012 fiasco.

Many would argue that the brevity of these movements and their lack of real, tangible results make social media activism pointless. But I would argue that social media activism brings attention to pressing problems, and has a sort of “drop in the bucket” effect. One person alone tweeting, Facebooking, and Instagramming their version of the ice bucket challenge has little effect on the bottom line of the ALS Association. But when those sorts of things go viral, there’s an infinite number of possibilities, as is shown by the $114 million that said ice bucket challenge has raised.

While hashtag activism is mostly ineffectual now aside from increasing awareness, it has the potential to become a great source of social change. Recently, Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens was ‘indefinitely suspended’ from the team because of a scandal involving the abuse of his wife, Janay Palmer. The reason for this was (unsurprisingly) not because of the abuse itself, but because Anheuser-Busch beer company, one of the NFL’s biggest sponsors, noted their disapproval of the way the NFL had handled Rice’s crime. They did not want to be associated with the NFL in its current state for fear of how it would impact their sales.

Therein lies the key. If social media activism can somehow graduate to become a method to influence consumer culture, a lot more is likely to be done. Memetic spreading of ideas or causes, a la the white house petition site, kickstarter, or the ice bucket challenge, is a great way to get the attention of people in power, whether they be government agents, corporate CEOs, or wealthy celebrities. The proles themselves may not be able to influence change, but even the most basic plebeian can influence the Man if he has friends by his side.

The Internet of Things

I think this video is an absolutely fascinating view of how we can maximize our internet usage. In the video, Dr. John Barrett explains how the internet has progressed from the very first public web servers in the late 80’s and early 90’s to the web today– which contains over 4000 exabytes of data. He explains how the internet now, or in the near future– the “internet of things”– is an internet in which the physical world is entirely connected and monitored by the internet. He talks about how some of our applications like traffic, news, travel agency, and restaurant apps can tell us exactly when things are available for us to use or not. For example, you can use a restaurant app to not only see how long the wait will be at a particular restaurant, but to book a table as well. In a similar manner, he says that the “internet of things” could be used in the future to improve the quality of life for everyone, especially those living in cities. For example, to send feedback from a patient’s heart monitor to a hospital, no matter where the patient is. He talks about how we can expand the use of green energy by limiting nonessential electricity use through the internet– your washing machine only turns on when there are enough clothes in it, and when energy levels are high enough to warrant it. This way, no one goes without energy, and no one has a surplus. Essentially, Dr. Barret talks about how far we’ve come, and how far we have the potential to go.

Barrett addresses the idea of “big brother” in the video as well. In order for his “internet of things” to work, basically everything important has to be monitored. But he says that he would hope that the benefits of such a system would outweigh the lack of privacy. He also addresses concerns about security risks, where one hack could bring down a vital system and cause loss of life or limb.

In any case, I think it’s good food for thought.

 

A New Front: Cyber Crime and Warfare in the Digital Age

This article, titled “Cybercrime, Cyberweapons, and Cyber Wars: Is There Too Much of It in the Air?” discusses how the capabilities of criminals and terrorists has evolved with the advent of increased online traffic. Criminals can produce and/or sell fake documents, malware, credit card and bank information, bulletproof web hosting, and hacking services such as DDoS attacks and bot spamming for a relatively low cost. And they still make a huge profit because the market for those things has expanded so greatly.

The use of malware and hacking techniques is not limited to the criminal underbelly of the internet. In fact, law enforcement and counter-terrorist forces have had to don the black hat in order to prevent so-called “cyber-terrorist” attacks. These attacks are easy to launch with very little skill in computer programming– in fact, according to the article, they can be waged with little more than the malware available on a petty cyber-criminal’s website. Even so, counter-cyber-terrorists seem to be one step behind their adversaries, and the effects of their efforts have been mostly negative for the general populace. Violations of privacy and freedom of information by intelligence agencies in its attempts to combat terrorism have become more and more popular in the news, especially following the Snowden leaks.

Mapping the Internet

 

Image credit to Nicolas Rapp for Fortune Magazine

This article by Andrew Blum provides a terse but relatively complete description of how “the internet” makes it from your friendly neighborhood ISP to that little box on your desk– or pad, if you’re into the whole tablet thing. He tells us about the infrastructure of the global fiber-optic cable network that oh-so-speedily transmits all of your favorite cat videos (if you’re still confused on how that works, I recommend this video from the discovery channel). He talks about the “middle-mile” and “last-mile” problems that plagued internet providers in the 90’s and 00’s– which is essentially when ISP’s asked themselves “How are we going to quickly and cost-effectively convert digital information to analog information to digital information while also moving it from Point A to Point B?”

One thing that I frequently find myself forgetting is that “free Wi-Fi” isn’t actually free. Blum explains that the cost for this magical, invisible thing we call “the internet” varies with direct proportion to the distance of Point B from Point A, i.e. the farther you are from an internet exchange point, the more you have to pay to instagram your blueberry overnight oats complete with recipe.

You’re probably thinking “Well yeah, that’s pretty obvious and totally logically sound, so why is it important and/or relevant?”

Good question, Friend! The implications of this distance to cost proportion mean that companies who can afford to purchase spaces that are physically closer to internet hubs immediately have an advantage over their competitors, who have to wait longer to receive their information. Not to mention that fast internet equals less waiting for your page to load equals more time to actually get things done, and we all know that time equals money. Q.E.D., fast internet equals money. In the grand scheme of things, this means that the speed of the internet literally has some power to dictate which companies will be successful. Spooky thought, right?

That’s not all, either! As Blum states in his article, “‘Internet exchange points’ […] for the most part, follow geography and population,” meaning that where there are people there is internet, and vice versa. This means that “boom towns” tend to crop up around new internet hubs, giving the nigh-omnipotent internet the power to physically shape our world around itself. Forget ghosts and goblins, I’m being the internet for Halloween.