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John Oliver and his new show Last Week Tonight has become Sunday night entertainment in my house. He’s simultaneously brilliant and hilarious.
Oliver took on Net Neutrality on Sunday. Due to my cable connection being down, I didn’t see it until Monday when I was able to watch it on my DVR. He started off by reminding us that American’s simply don’t respond to “boring” so he suggested we change the phrase “Net Neutrality” to “Cable Company Fuckery.” He then goes on to explain, in clear and outstanding prose while being hysterically funny, exactly what is going on.
If you are perplexed by Net Neutrality and are having trouble parsing the discussion, just watch this. If you want to laugh your ass off, watch this. And then take the requested action at the end.
Boing Boing has a good set up cribnotes up on their post It’s not Net Neutrality that’s at stake, it’s Cable Company Fuckery. The snippets they highlighted (a few of many) were:
- On Internet Fast Lanes: “If we let cable companies offer two speeds of service, they won’t be Usain Bolt and Usain Bolt on a motorbike. They’ll be Usain Bolt and Usain Bolted-to-an-anchor.”
- On the Rare Cooperation Between Consumer Advocates & Major Tech Companies: “What’s being proposed is so egregious, activists and corporations have been forced onto the same side. That’s basically Lex Luthor knocking on Superman’s apartment door and going, ‘Listen, I know we have our differences but we have got to get rid of that asshole in apartment 3-B.”
- On the Appointment of Former Cable/Wireless Industry Front Man Tom Wheeler As FCC Chair: “The guy who used to run the cable industry’s lobbying arm is now running the agency tasked with regulating it. That is the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo.”
- On the Notion that the Comcast/TWC Merger is Okay Because the Companies Don’t Overlap: “You can’t reduce competition when nobody is competing. You could not be describing a monopoly more clearly if you were wearing a metal while driving a metal car after winning second prize in a beauty contest.”
This effectively creates “fast” and “slow” lanes for the Internet which means that website owners and entrepreneurs may be forced to pay an arbitrary fee to ISPs like Comcast and Time Warner if they want their visitors to be able to access their website at regular speeds – or at all.
Last week I wrote a post titled Dear Internet: Let’s Demo The Slow Lane. What you are seeing on my site for the rest of this week is the demo. Don’t worry, you’ll only have to endure that popup and slow down once, unless the FCC does something like what they are proposing with these new rules.
The call to action, js code, and WordPress plug in for #stoptheslowlane is available for you to put on your site if you want to demo this for your users. The GitHub repo fightforthefuture/stoptheslowlane has the full source code in case you want to modify / add to it.
Help us send a message that a slow lane on the Internet isn’t acceptable.
Just now Fred Wilson posted an Open Internet Letter to the FCC that my partners and I at Foundry Group signed on to. It came together in the last 24 hours and was driven by our friends at Union Square Ventures.
If you are a VC and are interested in signing on before we file this formally with the FCC, please send me or nick [at] usv [dot] com an email.
Help us avoid the fast lane / slow lane / no lane problem on the Internet that the new FCC proposed regulations may create, which we strongly believe will stifle innovation, inhibit competition, and limit interest in new startup activity.
Doc Searls wrote a great, very detailed post this weekend titled Thoughts on privacy where he argues we have passed the point of “Peak Surveillance.” He says, about halfway through the post:
“I can’t prove it, but I do believe we have passed Peak Surveillance. When Edward Snowden’s shit hit the fan in May, lots of people said the controversy would blow over. It hasn’t, and it won’t. Our frogs are not fully boiled, and we’re jumping out of the pot. New personal powers will be decentralized. And in cases where those powers are centralized, it will be in ways that are better aligned with individual and social power than the feudal systems of today. End-to-end principles are still there, and still apply. “
Five minutes later, I read an article in the New York Times titled Drug Agents Use Vast Phone Trove, Eclipsing N.S.A.’s which basically explains how the DEA has been paying AT&T for access to all its phone records for at least the last six years and to embed AT&T employees alongside DEA agents and local law enforcement to supply them with phone data going back to 1987. This program is called Hemisphere and – like Fight Club – is not allowed to be talked about. The text from p12 of the official presentation follows:
“All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document. If there is no alternative to referencing a Hemisphere request, then the results should be referenced as information obtained from an AT&T subpoena.”
Searls refers to a quote from Bruce Schneier about our new feudal overlords, which I think is just brilliant.
“Some of us have pledged our allegiance to Google: We have Gmail accounts, we use Google Calendar and Google Docs, and we have Android phones. Others have pledged allegiance to Apple: We have Macintosh laptops, iPhones, and iPads; and we let iCloud automatically synchronize and back up everything. Still others of us let Microsoft do it all. Or we buy our music and e-books from Amazon, which keeps records of what we own and allows downloading to a Kindle, computer, or phone. Some of us have pretty much abandoned e-mail altogether … for Facebook.
These vendors are becoming our feudal lords, and we are becoming their vassals. We might refuse to pledge allegiance to all of them – or to a particular one we don’t like. Or we can spread our allegiance around. But either way, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to not pledge allegiance to at least one of them.”
And then, I saw the hilariously sad and funny video “I Forgot My Phone.”
I have no idea if we’ve passed Peak Surveillance. But I know we are talking about a lot these days. I’m lucky that I’m married to Amy who has spent an enormous amount of time thinking about privacy (her college thesis was on the right to privacy). Our conversations about this are rich, and it’s caused me to start thinking 20 years in the future about the dynamics. This has happened before and it will happen again. So say we all.
I was shocked for a few minutes last week after I heard that Lavabit committed corporate suicide. I pondered it for a while and then forgot, but two things this weekend caused me to remember it.
The first was the suicide of Cylon Number One (John) near the end of Battlestar Galactica. I didn’t expect it at all (there were a bunch of things in the last three episodes that I didn’t expect.) The other was Barry Eisler’s tweet about Obama’s statement about the NSA (NSFW) from the weekend (Eisler is one of my favorite Mental Floss writers.)
I didn’t see Eisler’s tweet until Sunday morning because of my digital sabbath and it made me think of Lavabit shutting down. And then I had a moment of fear that I was reading it and considering retweeting it. The thought that crossed my mind was “if I retweet this, will the NSA record it somewhere.” Then I decided this was a fear-based reaction that was absurd, but not irrational.
Then I read Homes for Hackers gets a visit from the FBI. My friend Ben, who inspired me to buy a house in the Google Fiberhood in Kansas City, talks about the FBI poking around in his house because he has gigabit Internet. Now, Ben’s a trusting dude so he let the FBI in and was polite, but he speculates that he’s now got a surveillance device in his bathroom.
We are just beginning to understand – and struggle with – the crossover of humans and technology. When you ponder the NSA, it’s starting to feel like a giant computer run by humans, where the computer dominates and the humans are just the mechanics. Sure – the humans want to feel like the ones who are actually running things, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see this evolving along the same lines as Battlestar Galactica.
I accepted a long time ago that I had no actual privacy – that all of my data was being captured somewhere. I gave a talk at my 20th business school reunion in 2008 where I stated directly that “we no longer had any privacy.” But it’s getting worse – fast. Even if we work hard to have privacy, as in using Lavabit to send email, the government can still break through this privacy, or force the service to shut down.
I’m fascinated by all of this. Not scared – fascinated. It’s easy to be cynical, or scared, or angry. But our civilization is going to evolve in very strange and radical ways over the next twenty years. Hang on – it’s going to be a crazy ride.