Author Archives: jpesh

New service is released to stop sites from tracking you online

This article explains that a former Google employee, Brian Kennish, released a new plugin called Disconnect that helps protect your privacy online. The plugin was released for both Chrome and Firefox and it blocks over 2000 different websites that track you to provide targeted advertisements, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter. In addition, the plugin allows you to force websites to use secure HTTPS logins whenever possible. The plugin is available on their site, linked below, for a pay-what-you-want fee (including nothing) and you can even designate a percentage of the payment to go to charity rather than to Disconnect.

Kennish worked at Google in their advertising department and helped pioneer targeted ads. First of all, isn’t this a conflict of interest? I can’t imagine that Google likes him taking his knowledge of Google’s inner workings and then using it to prevent them from tracking users.

Secondly, is preventing sites from tracking you an ethical decision? The sites that you use on a daily basis make their money from ad-clicks and to get them, websites need to make sure their ads apply to you. Without revenue from ad-clicks, websites that we take for granted may decrease in quality or become a pay site after a certain amount of uses, such as WolframAlpha has done. I think that the privacy tradeoff is worth it to keep websites running in the long term, because it provides the most happiness to both parties. I can use their site, they can sell my data. Let me know what you guys think.

Here’s the link to the plugin.

The Pirate Bay Database-Why it’s impossible to stop piracy

Recently released an article about The Pirate Bay’s database file. For those of you who don’t know, The Pirate Bay (TPB) used to be a search engine to search torrents that were hosted on TPB’s servers, usually that contained copyrighted content. Nowadays, TBP has removed all torrents from their search engine and only link to magnet links. The difference is that a magnet link is just a link to a file, rather than the actual file. TPB did this so that they could claim less liability in any court cases. In addition to this, there was another positive effect for the site’s users. The so-called “pirates” could now download the entire contents of TBP at once, and it only took up a tiny 50 megabytes. 50 megabytes to link to millions of files. Their newest release of their database is 75 megabytes and links to over 2 million magnet links. Even if/when TPB is shut down, there will be no way for the government to prevent people from accessing and downloading the magnet links. As soon as one website is shut down, another opens its doors. The pirate community is amazingly resilient. Even when the Swedish government was pressured by the US to raid TPB, all their servers were taken and they were only offline for 2 days. Presumably access to the database of TPB’s magnet links will allow piracy to occur even if TPB goes offline for good. What sort of unintended effects do you think this will have on piracy? Do you think the government is aware of this problem and thinking of ways to stop it?

Obama administration defends $222,000 file sharing verdict

In our book, it mentions a single, Minnesota mother of four who was found guilty of a massive file-sharing verdict. Her name is Jammie Thomas-Rasset and she was accused and found guilty of violating copyright laws for 24 songs she downloaded from Kazaa. Recently, the Obama administration asked the Supreme Court NOT to review her case, which would allow the penalty of $222,000 to stand. This Wikipedia article can bring you up to speed on the past statuses of the case, as the amount of damages has rangedfrom $54,000 to the absurd amount of $1,920,000. Currently the damages are at $222,000 dollars, or $9,250 per song. The Obama administration has tried to set this case as a precedence to give the music industry more power to prosecute and strike fear into would-be copyright violators. A quote from the Arstechnica article, found here, is “The feds don’t buy the woman’s argument that the massive size of the award makes it unconstitutional.”
Using this rationale, isn’t the 8th Amendment to the Constitution null? The whole point of the 8th Amendment is to make sure the punishment matches the crime. The government is essentially saying that they understand the song costs $1.00 or $1.29, but they are going to charge you for thousands of dollars per song. Since the music industry likes to draw parallels between physical objects and the intellectual property that is a song, let’s do the same. Say you steal a pair of sunglasses from Walmart that cost $5.00. The Wal-mart doesn’t look at the cost that went into creating the sunglasses, they just go after you for the value of the sunglasses. By the music industry’s logic, you should have to pay for all the worker’s salaries that made the sunglasses, and the machinery that created the sunglasses! Now doesn’t that just sound ridiculous.

What do you guys think about this? Is it complete garbage? I think so.

Anonymous: Operation Last Resort

This post will encompass a few things, primarily Anonymous and their Operation Last Resort, but also a distinction I would like to make between hacking and DDOS-ing.

First, what is the difference between hacking and DDOS-ing? Hacking is when a hacker, whether for good or bad intent, finds a vulnerability in a website’s code and then exploits it to do any number of things, including injecting malicious code into the site, stealing information (credit card numbers, phone numbers, email addresses), or taking control of the site to shut it down semi-permanently. A DDOS attack is where a large number of computers, usually making up a botnet, are all sent to the same site at the same time, and the site is overwhelmed by the web traffic that no one can get access to the site. This is currently considered illegal, but if you want more information on how Anonymous is challenging that illegality, read this article.

Now that this distinction has been made, Anonymous hacked the website of the US Sentencing Commission and used it to distribute encrypted government files that have been obtained over months of hacking.  However, the hacker collective stated that they wouldn’t release the encryption keys if the government made sweeping legislation on sentencing reform. This hack is symbolic because the US Sentencing Commission is the organization that sentenced Aaron Swartz to a possible 50 year prison term. Anonymous is blaming his suicide on the fact that he was facing such a long prison term, and is taking this blame out directly on the government. They are urging for a “return to proportionality of punishment with respect to actual harm caused” in addition to a change in minimum sentencing standards. If the Department of Justice is unable to comply with these demands, what kinds of files could Anonymous be leaking?

Obviously, the government says this action is illegal, but what about whether it is morally right or wrong? The utilitarian views are too difficult to calculate since there are so many unknowns about what kind of files have been hacked, and who they might apply to. Kantianism would say that this act is morally wrong because the maxim would be that it is good to hack everyone else, which is obviously not true.

I personally like their form of vigilante justice but that’s just me, what do you guys think?