Censorship

Google Is Shuttering Domain Fronting, Creating a Big Problem For Anti-Censorship Tools (theverge.com) 52

"The Google App Engine is discontinuing a practice called domain fronting, which lets services use Google's network to get around state-level internet blocks," reports The Verge. While the move makes sense from a cybersecurity perspective as domain fronting is widely used by malware to evade network-based detection, it will likely frustrate app developers who use it to get around internet censorship. From the report: First spotted by Tor developers on April 13th, the change has been rolling out across Google services and threatens to disrupt services for a number of anti-censorship tools, including Signal, GreatFire.org and Psiphon's VPN services. Reached by The Verge, Google said the changes were the result of a long-planned network update. "Domain fronting has never been a supported feature at Google," a company representative said, "but until recently it worked because of a quirk of our software stack. We're constantly evolving our network, and as part of a planned software update, domain fronting no longer works. We don't have any plans to offer it as a feature."

Domain-fronting allowed developers to use Google as a proxy, forwarding traffic to their own servers through a Google.com domain. That was particularly important for evading state-level censorship, which might try to block all the traffic sent to a given service. As long as the service was using domain-fronting, all the in-country data requests would appear as if they were headed for Google.com, with encryption preventing censors from digging any deeper.
We do not yet know exactly why and when Google is shutting down the practice, but will update this post once we learn more.
Privacy

Richard Stallman On Facebook's Privacy Scandal: We Need a Law. There's No Reason We Should Let Them Exist if the Price is Knowing Everything About Us (nymag.com) 327

From a wide-ranging interview of Richard Stallman by New York Magazine: New York Magazine: Why do you think these companies feel justified in collecting that data?

Richard Stallman: Oh, well, I think you can trace it to the general plutocratic neoliberal ideology that has controlled the U.S. for more than two decades. A study established that since 1998 or so, the public opinion in general has no influence on political decisions. They're controlled by the desires of the rich and of special interests connected with whatever issue it is. So the companies that wanted to collect data about people could take advantage of this general misguided ideology to get away with whatever they might have wanted to do. Which happened to be collecting data about people. But I think they shouldn't be allowed to collect data about people.

We need a law. Fuck them -- there's no reason we should let them exist if the price is knowing everything about us. Let them disappear. They're not important -- our human rights are important. No company is so important that its existence justifies setting up a police state. And a police state is what we're heading toward. Most non-free software has malicious functionalities. And they include spying on people, restricting people -- that's called digital restrictions management, back doors, censorship.

Empirically, basically, if a program is not free software, it probably has one of these malicious functionalities. So imagine a driverless car, controlled of course by software, and it will probably be proprietary software, meaning not-free software, not controlled by the users but rather by the company that makes the car, or some other company. Well imagine if that has a back door, which enables somebody to send a command saying, "Ignore what the passenger said, and go there." Imagine what that would do. You can be quite sure that China will use that functionality to drive people toward the places they're going to be disappeared or punished. But can you be sure that the U.S. won't?

Youtube

Employees Who Worked at YouTube Say Violent Threats From Volatile 'Creators' Have Been Going on For Years (businessinsider.com) 342

Anonymous readers share a report: YouTube managers had no way to predict Nasim Aghdam would go on a bloody rampage, but they had plenty of reasons to fear that someone like her might one day show up, say former employees. Aghdam was the 38-year-old, disgruntled YouTube video creator who arrived at the company's San Bruno, California, headquarters on April 3 and began blasting away with a 9mm handgun. She wounded three staffers before she killed herself. Police say leading up to the shooting Aghdam, who was from San Diego, believed YouTube sought to censor her and ruin her life.

This kind of violence is unprecedented in YouTube's 13-year-history, though Aghdam's anger and paranoia aren't unique among the millions of people who create and post videos to the site, according to five former YouTube employees. In exclusive interviews, they told Business Insider that going back to the service's earliest days, frustrated creators -- seething over one of YouTube's policy changes or the other -- have threatened staffers with violence. Typically the threats were delivered via email. At least once, a video creator confronted a YouTube employee face-to-face and promised he would "destroy" him.

Youtube

YouTube Will Increase Security At All Offices Worldwide Following Shooting (theverge.com) 495

Following the shooting at YouTube's headquarters in San Bruno, California, yesterday, the company has announced plans to increase security at all of its offices worldwide. YouTube says this is intended to "make them more secure not only in the near term, but long-term." The Verge reports: The move reflects a growing concern in Silicon Valley that the effects of increasingly toxic and partisan online behavior may translate into violent offline actions. YouTube's statement was released through Google's Twitter account for communications; it's not clear whether Google itself will be implementing stronger security measures beyond YouTube. The shooter, 39-year-old Nasim Aghdam of San Diego, died yesterday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after shooting and injuring three employees. From police reports, testimony from Aghdam's family members, and extensive traces of the woman's online behavior on YouTube and other platforms, we now know that Aghdam was disgruntled over the demonetizing of her videos and harm to her financial well-being.
Youtube

YouTube Shooter 'Nasim Aghdam' Reportedly Had Website With Manifesto That Targeted YouTube For Censorship, Demonetization (abc7news.com) 722

The woman who entered the YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, this morning and started shooting has been identified as Nasim Aghdam. According to ABC7 News, "the YouTube shooter was a user of the platform" and had "a website with an alleged manifesto that targeted YouTube for censorship and demonetization of her video content. According to her website, a possible motivation for the shooting could have been tied to her many YouTube accounts, which she says have seen a decline in viewership over the past few months."
Youtube

Update: Possible Active Shooter Reported at YouTube HQ (theverge.com) 788

Police have responded to multiple 911 calls at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California. From a report: Vadim Lavrusik, a product manager at the company, tweeted that there is an active shooter on campus. The San Bruno Police Department instructed people to stay away from 901 Cherry Avenue, where the company is located. Multiple 911 calls have been received from inside the building, according to a report from local news station KRON. In a Twitter thread, YouTube product manager Todd Sherman said that employees first thought there had been an earthquake. People began running out of their meetings, he said, but before reaching the exit, they got word that someone had a gun. Sherman said he saw blood on the floor and the stairs. He also said the shooter may have committed suicide. Vadim Lavrusik, who works at YouTube's products team, tweeted, "Active shooter at YouTube HQ. Heard shots and saw people running while at my desk. Now barricaded inside a room with coworkers."

Update 20:30 GMT: Google has issued the following statement, "we are coordinating with authorities and will provide official information here from Google and YouTube as it becomes available." San Bruno Police said it was "responding to an active shooter. Please stay away from Cherry Ave & Bay Hill Drive."

Update 20:40 GMT: CBS San Francisco reports: KPIX 5 reporter Andria Borba said at least two Homeland Security units were responding. Police radio transmissions describe casualties being taken to local hospitals. San Francisco General Hospital spokesman Brent Andrew said the hospital received patients from the incident but could not confirm a number. Update 21:20 GMT: ABC News is reporting that the suspected shooter is a white adult female, and that this is "leaning towards a workplace violence situation."

Update 21:30 GMT: Law enforcement has confirmed that the shooter was a white female dressed in a headscarf. The woman reportedly shot her boyfriend then herself. It's unclear exactly how many people have been injured, but early reports estimate at least 9-10 victims. There is no word on their conditions.

Update 03:10 GMT: ABC7 News is reporting that the shooter has been identified as Nasim Aghdam. She reportedly had a website with an alleged manifesto that targeted YouTube for censorship and demonetization of her video content. Contrary to previous reports, she is said to have no relationship with anyone in the YouTube facility.

UPDATE 03:40 GMT: Aghdam's website can be found here.

Update 04:15 GMT: The shooter is believed to have known at least one of the victims, two law enforcement officials told CNN. Other sources suggest the shooter drove up from San Diego. YouTube says her YouTube channel "has been terminated due to multiple or severe violations of YouTube's policy against spam, deceptive practices, and misleading content or other Terms of Service violations."
Books

Amazon is Burying Sexy Books, Sending Erotic Novel Authors to the 'No-Rank Dungeon' (vice.com) 163

Samantha Cole, reporting for Motherboard: In the last few days, word has spread among independent erotica authors on social media that Amazon was quietly changing its policies for erotic novels. Five authors I spoke to, and several more on social media, have reported that their books were stripped of their best seller rankings -- essentially hiding them from casual browsing on the site, and separating them from more mainstream, safe-for-work titles.

[...] Most people browsing Amazon books might not notice or care about the best seller rank -- a number that's based on how well the title is selling on Amazon.com -- but it's part of an algorithm that influences how the book appears in search, and whether it shows up in advertisements, including suggestions from one product to the next ("If you like this book, you might like this book"). For independent authors and booksellers, this ranking is hugely important for visibility.

Youtube

YouTube Bans Firearms Demo Videos, Entering the Gun Control Debate (bloomberg.com) 667

YouTube has quietly introduced tighter restrictions on videos involving weapons, becoming the latest battleground in the U.S. gun-control debate. "YouTube will ban videos that promote or link to websites selling firearms and accessories, including bump stocks, which allow a semi-automatic rifle to fire faster," reports Bloomberg. "Additionally, YouTube said it will prohibit videos with instructions on how to assemble firearms." From the report: "We routinely make updates and adjustments to our enforcement guidelines across all of our policies," a YouTube spokeswoman said in a statement. "While we've long prohibited the sale of firearms, we recently notified creators of updates we will be making around content promoting the sale or manufacture of firearms and their accessories." The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry lobbying group, called YouTube's new policy "worrisome." "We suspect it will be interpreted to block much more content than the stated goal of firearms and certain accessory sales," the foundation said in a statement. "We see the real potential for the blocking of educational content that serves instructional, skill-building and even safety purposes. Much like Facebook, YouTube now acts as a virtual public square. The exercise of what amounts to censorship, then, can legitimately be viewed as the stifling of commercial free speech."

The new YouTube policies will be enforced starting in April, but at least two video bloggers have already been affected. Spike's Tactical, a firearms company, said in a post on Facebook that it was suspended from YouTube due to "repeated or severe violations" of the video platform's guidelines.

Government

Senate Passes Controversial Online Sex Trafficking Bill (thehill.com) 169

The Senate today gave final approval to a bill aimed at cracking down on online sex trafficking, sending the measure to the White House where President Trump is expected to sign it into law. From a report: The legislation, called the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), but also referred to as SESTA, would cut into the broad protections websites have from legal liability for content posted by their users. Those protections are codified in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act from 1996, a law that many internet companies see as vital to protecting their platforms and that SESTA would amend to create an exception for sex trafficking.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the most outspoken critic of SESTA and one of the authors of the 1996 law, said that making exceptions to Section 230 will lead to small internet companies having to face an onslaught of frivolous lawsuits.
EFF expressed its disappointment, saying, "Today is a dark day for the Internet. Congress just passed the Internet censorship bill SESTA/FOSTA. SESTA/FOSTA will silence online speech by forcing Internet platforms to censor their users. As lobbyists and members of Congress applaud themselves for enacting a law ostensibly tackling the problem of trafficking, let's be clear: Congress just made trafficking victims less safe, not more. Sex trafficking experts have tried again and again to explain to Congress how SESTA/FOSTA will put trafficking victims in danger. Sex workers have spoken out too, explaining how online platforms have literally saved their lives. Why didn't Congress consult with the people their bill would most directly affect? [...] When platforms choose to err on the side of censorship, marginalized voices are censored disproportionately. SESTA/FOSTA will make the Internet a less inclusive place, something that hurts all of us. This might just be the beginning. Some of these groups behind SESTA / FOSTA seem to see the bill as a mere stepping stone to banning pornography from the Internet."
EU

EU Wants To Require Platforms To Filter Uploaded Content (Including Code) (github.com) 110

A new copyright proposal in the EU would require code-sharing platforms like GitHub and SourceForge to monitor all content that users upload for potential copyright infringement. "The proposal is aimed at music and videos on streaming platforms, based on a theory of a 'value gap' between the profits those platforms make from uploaded works and what copyright holders of some uploaded works receive," reports The GitHub Blog. "However, the way it's written captures many other types of content, including code."

Upload filters, also known as "censorship machines," are some of the most controversial elements of the copyright proposal, raising a number of concerns including: -Privacy: Upload filters are a form of surveillance, effectively a "general monitoring obligation" prohibited by EU law
-Free speech: Requiring platforms to monitor content contradicts intermediary liability protections in EU law and creates incentives to remove content
-Ineffectiveness: Content detection tools are flawed (generate false positives, don't fit all kinds of content) and overly burdensome, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that might not be able to afford them or the resulting litigation
Upload filters are especially concerning for software developers given that: -Software developers create copyrightable works -- their code -- and those who choose an open source license want to allow that code to be shared
-False positives (and negatives) are especially likely for software code because code often has many contributors and layers, often with different licensing for different components
-Requiring code-hosting platforms to scan and automatically remove content could drastically impact software developers when their dependencies are removed due to false positives
The EU Parliament continues to introduce new proposals for Article 13 but these issues remain. MEP Julia Reda explains further in a recent proposal from Parliament.
Censorship

Encrypted Email Service ProtonMail is Being Blocked in Turkey (protonmail.com) 35

ProtonMail: We have confirmed that Internet service providers in Turkey have been blocking ProtonMail this week. Our support team first became aware of connectivity problems for Turkish ProtonMail users starting on Tuesday. After further investigation, we determined that protonmail.com was unreachable for both Vodafone Turkey mobile and fixed line users. Since then, we have also received some sporadic reports from users of other Turkish ISPs. At one point, the issue was prevalent in every single major city in Turkey. After investigating the issue along with members of the ProtonMail community in Turkey, we have confirmed this is a government-ordered block rather than a technical glitch. Internet censorship in Turkey tends to be fluid so the situation is constantly evolving. Sometimes ProtonMail is accessible, and sometimes it is unreachable. For the first time ever though, we have confirmed that ProtonMail was subject to a block, and could face further issues in the future. In the post, ProtonMail has also outlined ways to bypass the block.
Censorship

Sri Lanka Blocks Facebook, Instagram To Prevent Spread of Hate Speech (lankabusinessonline.com) 123

Sri Lanka has blocked social media websites Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp to avoid the spread of hate speech in the country, local media reported on Wednesday. From the report: Even though there is no official confirmation from the authorities, the Cabinet Spokesman Minister Rajitha Senaratne on Wednesday said the government has decided to block access to certain social media. Telecom Regulatory Commission (TRC) has started to monitor all social media platforms to curb hate speech related to communal riots escalated in Kandy district. Telecommunication service providers (ISPs) have also restricted internet access in Kandy district on the instructions of the TRC.
Twitter

Twitter Asks For Help Fixing Its Toxicity Problem (engadget.com) 155

Engadget: Twitter has come under a lot of fire in recent years for issues ranging from not doing enough to stop harassment on its platform to allowing foreign actors to sow political discord. In the past, the company has tweaked its tools, giving individuals more options when it comes to controlling what they're exposed to online, as well as updated its guidelines a handful of times. But today, Twitter announced it's trying out another route -- asking people outside of the company to propose ways that it can promote healthy, open and civil conversations online. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted today that the company isn't proud of how some have taken advantage of its service, specifically calling out troll armies, misinformation campaigns and bots. And he added that Twitter has been accused of apathy, censorship and political bias as it has attempted to fix its problems.
Communications

YouTube's New Moderators Mistakenly Pull Right-Wing Channels (bloomberg.com) 277

In December, said it would assign more than 10,000 people to moderate content in an attempt to curb its child exploitation problem. Today, Bloomberg reports that those new moderators mistakenly removed several videos and some channels from right-wing, pro-gun video producers and outlets in the midst of a nationwide debate on gun control. From the report: Some YouTube channels recently complained about their accounts being pulled entirely. On Wednesday, the Outline highlighted accounts, including Titus Frost, that were banned from the video site. Frost tweeted on Wednesday that a survivor of the shooting, David Hogg, is an actor. Jerome Corsi of right-wing conspiracy website Infowars said on Tuesday that YouTube had taken down one of his videos and disabled his live stream. Shutting entire channels would have marked a sweeping policy change for YouTube, which typically only removes channels in extreme circumstances and focuses most disciplinary action on specific videos. But YouTube said some content was taken down by mistake. The site didn't address specific cases and it's unclear if it meant to take action on the accounts of Frost and Corsi. "As we work to hire rapidly and ramp up our policy enforcement teams throughout 2018, newer members may misapply some of our policies resulting in mistaken removals," a YouTube spokeswoman wrote in an email. "We're continuing to enforce our existing policies regarding harmful and dangerous content, they have not changed. We'll reinstate any videos that were removed in error."
China

China Bans Letter N From Internet as Xi Jinping Extends Grip on Power (theguardian.com) 196

Speaking of things the Chinese government has been censoring in the country, The Guardian reports: It is the 14th letter in the English alphabet and, in Scrabble, the springboard for more than 600 8-letter words. But for the Communist party of China it is also a subversive and intolerable character that was this week banished from the internet as Chinese censors battled to silence criticism of Xi Jinping's bid to set himself up as ruler for life. The contravening consonant was perhaps the most unusual victim of a crackdown targeting words, phrases and even solitary letters censors feared might be used to attack Beijing's controversial decision to abolish constitutional term limits for China's president. The Communist party has painted the move -- which experts say paves the way for Xi to become a dictator for life -- as an expression of overwhelming popular support for China's strongman leader. However, there has been widespread online push-back in China since it was announced on Sunday on the eve of an annual political congress in Beijing.
Censorship

China Censors Social Media Responses To Proposal To Abolish Presidential Terms (theverge.com) 163

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: Negative social media reactions in China toward the government's interest in abolishing presidential term limits have sparked a crackdown on memes since Sunday evening. China's constitution currently restricts the president and vice-president to 10 years of leadership, meaning that President Xi Jinping would have been out of power by 2023. The Party's Central Committee proposed removing a phrase in the constitution that stated the two leaders would "serve no more than two consecutive terms," according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency. Authorities will vote on the proposal in March. Many took to social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo with Winnie the Pooh memes, as the animated bear resembles President Xi Jinping to some degree. Winnie the Pooh has been associated with Xi for years and this week, he donned a crown and sat on a throne, enjoying his honey pot. These memes and social media posts were then taken down, hours after the Committee's announcement, signaling that the public's reaction was more unfavorable than authorities predicted. An assortment of phrases have been filtered out by new censors, including "constitution amendment," "re-elected," "proclaim oneself as emperor," and "two term limit." The lag time between the censorship and the initial proposal indicates authorities expected the public to react less critically.
Books

HBO's Fahrenheit 451 Trailer Teases Dystopian World Filled With Burning 'Chaos' (hollywoodreporter.com) 171

HBO has released the first trailer of its film adaptation of Ray Bradbury's best-selling 1953 dystopian tale, Fahrenheit 451, which depicts a time period where history is outlawed and "firemen" burn books. The Hollywood Reporter reports: In the Ramin Bahrani-directed film, Michael B. Jordan stars as Guy Montag, a fireman who comes to question his role in enforcing the state's censorship laws, and in so doing finds himself at odds with his "mentor," Beatty (Michael Shannon). "By the time you guys grow up, there won't be one book left," Jordan is shown telling a group of students. Throughout the trailer, a reel of destruction is shown as Beatty's voiceover warns that "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." "We are not born equal, so we must be made equal by the fire," Beatty explains. Jordan will also serve as the film's executive producer. Sofia Boutella, Martin Donovan, Laura Harrier, Keir Dullea, Jane Moffat and Grace Lynn Kung also star.
AI

Reddit Bans 'Deepfakes' AI Porn Communities (theverge.com) 110

Reddit has banned the r/deepfakes subreddit that's devoted to making AI-powered porn using celebrities' faces, classifying it as a form of "involuntary pornography." Reddit follows several other platforms that have already banned deepfakes pornography, including Pornhub, which said yesterday that deepfakes imagery counted as nonconsensual pornography. The Verge reports: In a post today, Reddit announced an update to its rules on posting sexual imagery of a person without their consent. The new rule extends a ban on posting photos or video of people who are nude or engaged in sexual acts without the subject's permission, saying that this includes "depictions that have been faked" -- including the sophisticated face-swapped videos that have become especially popular on Reddit over the past month. "Do not post images or video of another person for the specific purpose of faking explicit content or soliciting 'lookalike' pornography."

This doesn't affect all AI-based face swapping enthusiasts on Reddit. The subreddit for FakeApp, a program that allows anyone to swap faces in videos, is still online. So is r/SFWdeepfakes, which is devoted to non-pornographic use of the technology. At least one small, specific subreddit devoted to simulated porn for an individual actor also seems to have slipped under the radar. But along with the central deepfakes hub, the main subreddit for posting not-safe-for-work deepfakes has gotten shut down, and so has the community r/YouTubefakes. The subreddit r/CelebFakes, which focused on non-AI-powered photoshopped pornographic images, was initially left online, but removed shortly after the announcement.
The site will rely on "first-party reports" to shut down future deepfakes material.
Censorship

Facebook Users Cry 'Censorship' After Being Told Which Russian Troll Pages They Liked (gizmodo.com) 487

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Gizmodo: As the FBI's investigation into Russian election interference reaches a fever pitch, Facebook rolled out a new News Feed alert Monday night. The bulletin told users who followed pages created by Russian trolls that those pages have been removed. And some of the affected users did not like this. A brief search revealed that numerous people believe that this is an act of censorship by Facebook. Some users argued that they should be allowed to decide what's "true, fake, or otherwise," a challenge that's bound to be a slippery slope in this era of algorithm-based confirmation bias. Others took on a more conspiratorial tone, claiming that Facebook failed to reveal which pages were removed (despite the alert containing a link listing the pages in question). Facebook first released the information in December, creating a help page that showed users if they liked or followed pages and accounts associated with the Internet Research Agency, Russia's notorious troll farm, but today's alert seems to have inspired newfound alarm. The fact that Facebook explicitly stated which pages were deleted seems to have done little to reduce the anger over the allegedly clandestine silencing.
Government

A Single Line of Computer Code Put Thousands of Innocent Turks in Jail (www.cbc.ca) 180

Long-time Slashdot reader kbahey writes: Can a single pixel cost you your livelihood and/or freedom? Apparently, this has already happened in Turkey to thousands of people and their relatives. It all stems from the purge by president Edrogan following a failed coupe. The result is that many innocent people lost their jobs (and source of income), their freedom, their reputation, and more.

The details are frightening. The underlying technology is the use of 1x1 transparent pixels, as most web sites do, to track their visitors. This particular pixel was used by Bylock, a messaging app that the Turkish government deemed seditious, in their purge against Fethullah Gulen loyalists. Pre-dawn raids by police were conducted on those who have this pixel. The long legal proceedings caused a digital forensic expert to challenge those cases, because [the pixel using] the servers for Bylock was also being used by other applications for music streaming, and prayer times/direction of Mecca.

30,000 innocent people may have been swept up among the 150,000 Turks detained, arrested or forced from their jobs under state of emergency decrees since the summer of 2016. One 29-year-old high school teacher "wished the worst" for the revolutionaries accused of using Bylock, "until authorities said he was one of them."

The government eventually exonerated 11,480 of the wrongly accused, but some had already spent months in prison, and reportedly some even committed suicide.

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