Touring the digital through type

Year: 2011 (Page 5 of 8)

Vancouver’s Human Flesh Search Engine

Photo by Richard Eriksson

I don’t like violence, vandalism, or other actions that generally cause destruction. Certainly there are cases where violent social dissent is a sad but important final step to fulfil a much needed social change (e.g. overthrowing a ruinous dictator, tipping the scale to defend or secure essential civil rights) but riotous behaviour following a hockey game lacks any legitimating force. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of game seven between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins a riot erupted in downtown Vancouver that caused significant harm to individuals and damage to the urban environment.

The riot itself is a sad event. What is similarly depressing is the subsequent mob mentally that has been cheered on by the social media community. Shortly after the riot, prominent local bloggers including Rebecca Bollwitt linked to social media websites and encouraged readers/visitors to upload their recordings and identify those caught on camera. In effect, Canadians were, and still are, being encouraged by their peers and social media ‘experts’ to use social media to locally instantiate a human flesh search engine (I will note that Bollwitt herself has since struck through her earliest endorsement of mob-championing). Its manifestation is seemingly being perceived by many (most?) social media users as a victory of the citizenry and inhabitants of Vancouver over individuals alleged to have committed crimes.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I have significant issues with this particular search engine. In this post, I’m going to first provide a brief recap of the recent events in Vancouver and then I’ll quickly explain the human flesh search engine (HFSE), both how it works and the harms it can cause. I’m going to conclude by doing two things: first, I’m going to suggest that Vancouver is presently driving a local HFSE and note the prospective harms that may befall those unfortunate enough to get caught within its maw. Second, I’m going to suggest why citizens are ill-suited to carry out investigations that depend on social media-based images and reports.

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ISPs, Advocates, and Framing at the 2011 Telecom Summit

3183290111_989c5b1bec_bEach year Canada’s leaders in telecommunications gather at the Canadian Telecommunications Summit to talk about ongoing policy issues, articulate their concerns about Canada’s status in the world of telecommunications, and share lessons and experiences with one another. This years Summit was no exception. While some commentators have accused this year’s event of just rehashing previous years’ content – it is true that each Summit does see similar topics on the conference agenda, with common positions taken each year – there are some interesting points that emerged this year.

Specifically, discussions about the valuation of telecom services regularly arose, discussions of supply and demand in the Canadian ISP space, as well as some interesting tidbits about the CRTC. For many people in the industry what I’ll be talking about isn’t exactly new; those not inside the industry’s fold, however, may find elements of this interesting. After outlining some of the discussions that took place I will point to something that was particularly striking throughout the Summit events I attended: Open Media loomed like a spectre throughout, shaping many of the discussions and talking points despite not having a single formal representative in attendance.

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Publications in OpenMedia’s ‘Casting an Open Net’

Openmedia.caFor the past several months I’ve been working away at a series of ‘traditional’ publication-type writings. One of those pieces included major sections of’s report that was released today, entitled “Casting an Open Net: A Leading Edge Approach to Canada’s Digital Future.”

More specifically, I worked as the lead author on the economic section of the report, arguing that obtrusive network management practices, bandwidth speeds, and download/upload capacities that unduly favor one party over another are damaging to innovation in Canada. I’m also third author of the technical section, where I brought my expertise around deep packet inspection and usage based billing to the group of excellent authors who led that section. I’ve included the introduction, below, as well as links to download the report. Comments are, of course, welcome.

The Open Internet: Open for Business and Economic Growth

The Internet is widely regarded as one of the modern era’s greatest engines of economic growth and innovation. Ensuring ubiquitous, affordable, and open access to the Internet across all social sectors supports and promotes economic growth. By providing a reliable platform for applications development, communications improvements, and content distribution, we create the potential for greater efficiencies and growth in business-to-business, business-to-consumer, peer-to-peer, and consumer-to-business transactions.

In this section, we delve deeper into the essential role that the open Internet plays in the Canadian economy as an engine of innovation and growth. The unique characteristics of the Internet have allowed Canadians to create some of the world’s leading websites and applications. We argue that when businesses and citizens are forced to pay more for Internet access in Canada, or face other restrictions on use — especially compared to our global counterparts — we have fewer opportunities to invest in and develop the kind of innovations that make our economy flourish.

In Section One, we argue that co-invention and web-based entrepreneurship flourish best in neutral networks and that the Internet’s innate openness enables a democratization (i.e. of access and success) that fosters creativity, competition, and innovation. In Section Two, we argue that Canadian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are transitioning towards technical architectures that discriminate against and seek to control certain applications, and we warn that this gradual enclosure of the Internet threatens to restrict user access, choice, and innovation, and thus threatens to reduce the value of the Internet overall. In particular, we discuss how ISPs use the practice of bandwidth throttling of specific applications (e.g. P2P file sharing) and usage-based pricing to discriminate against certain types of online activities in an effort to centralize control. Finally, we conclude by emphasizing that ISP interference undermines the core values of equality and neutrality operating at the heart of the Internet and that this interference threatens the Internet’s invaluable role as an engine of innovation and economic growth.

The ability for Canadians to innovate is more and more central to our economic well-being and competitiveness. As we explain below, the open Internet is an essential engine of innovation; without a fast, ubiquitous, and open Internet, Canada will continue to fall behind in economic productivity. E-commerce, the information and communications technologies (ICT) sector, and increasingly, traditional businesses, depend heavily on open access to the Internet. Any barrier to Internet use is a barrier to business development in general.

Review: Network Nation – Inventing American Telecommunications

Image courtesy of Harvard University Press

I spend an exorbitant amount of time reading about the legacies of today’s telecommunications networks. This serves to historically ground my analyses of today’s telecommunications ecosystem; why have certain laws, policies, and politics developed as they have, how do contemporary actions break from (or conform with) past events, and what cycles are detectable in telecommunications discussions. After reading hosts of accounts detailing the telegraph and telephone, I’m certain that John’s Network Nation: Inventing American Telecommunications is the most accessible and thorough discussion of these communications systems that I’ve come across to date.

Eschewing an anachronistic view of the telegraph and telephone – seeing neither through the lens that they are simply precursors to contemporary digital communications systems – John offers a granular account of how both technologies developed in the US. His analysis is decidedly neutral towards the technologies and technical developments themselves, instead attending to the role(s) of political economy in shaping how the telegraph and telephone grew as services, political objects, and zones of popular contention. He has carefully poured through original source documents and so can offer insights into the actual machinations of politicians, investors, municipal aldermen, and communications companies’ CEOs and engineers to weave a comprehensive account of the telegraph and telephone industries. Importantly, John focuses on the importance of civic ideals and governmental institutions in shaping technical innovations; contrary to most popular understandings that see government as ‘catching up’ to technicians post-WW I, the technicians have long locked their horns with those of government.

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