Thursday, May 31, 2007

Lala and Free Streaming Music On-Demand...

As described in this Techcrunch article, Lala.com has announced that it will start offering free streaming music on-demand. This means that soon you'll be able to go to their website, choose any song from their catalog, and simply click to play it, legally and for free. Lala's plan for making money... if users buy only one CD per month on average from the site, their costs will be recouped.

A couple of observations: First, don't other websites already do this? I have some friends who signed up for MySpace accounts for the sole reason of being able to legally listen to their favorite artists' songs for free. Second, Lala's business model seems doomed to failure because, in the end, they are still relying on sales of music CDs in order to keep their business afloat. Why anybody would shell out money to purchase music while that same music is available legally and for free (and listed side-by-side) is beyond me. Third, even if Lala's new business model is capable of turning a profit, it still faces potentially massive institutional barriers, namely the RIAA lobbying to regulate internet radio and legal downloading services out of existence.

There is a different alternative model out there though: Offer legal, freely downloadable or streaming music without paying any royalties to the RIAA. A quick search at Creative Commons or BitTorrent sites like Etree.org will reveal thousands of artists who allow the downloading of their music at no cost. The idea is that giving their product away for free is actually an extremely effective promotional tool, and will market the artist in such a way that will drive huge profits - not in CD sales, which stopped being a viable model about 7 years ago - but in concert ticket sales. Use the music to promote the concerts, instead of the other way around, and you'll experience the same successes that other bands who've "given it away for free", such as the Dave Matthews Band and Grateful Dead, already have.

But basing a 21st-century business on the selling of CDs? Are they serious?
  

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Estonia-Russia Cyberwar...

The New York Times ran an article this morning on the cyberwar between Estonia and Russia that has been going on for the past month. The New York Times assesses its significance as being "the first war in cyberspace", yet the real story is why it took the newspaper over a month to report on the story while blogger journalists have been writing on it since its inception.

The focusing event for this cyberwar was the Estonian authorities removing a statue of a World War II-era Soviet soldier, which prompted ethnic Russians - and allegedly the Russian government itself - of attacking Estonian cybertargets including nearly "shutting down the country’s digital infrastructure, clogging the Web sites of the president, the prime minister, Parliament and other government agencies, staggering Estonia’s biggest bank and overwhelming the sites of several daily newspapers".

The Russians did all of this, not by "hacking" into Estonian computer systems the way the mainstream public uses the term, but by distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks. Basically, software bots turn computers around the world into "zombies" that send and request so much data from Estonian servers that they become overloaded and shut down from not being able to handle all of the traffic.

It is presumed that such DDOS attacks have been previously used in the Israeli-Palestinian and Serbian-Croatian conflicts, and the New York Times makes the frightening revelation that China, Russia, the U.S., and numerous other nations already have an "offensive information-warfare programs".

But the real story here is why it took over a month for this story of cyberwar to be reported in the mainstream media. The New York Times has taken quite a beating the past few years, and I really don't want to jump on that bandwagon, however the fact remains that blogger journalists have been reporting and commenting on the Estonia-Russia cyberwar since late April, and it is now almost June. Perhaps we can toss that up to the traditional press doing a poor job, or to the New Media carrying the torch of news reporting to better effect. But, regardless, after following this story for several weeks already, does anyone else find today's Times article somewhat ridiculous?
  

Thursday, May 24, 2007

MySpace and its Treatment of Sex Offenders...

Recently MySpace announced it would crack down on known sex offenders who use the popular website. As described in this New York Times article, MySpace will cooperate with state attorneys general who had requested information on its members - provided they issue subpoenas and comply with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act - and also begin running its own database check against public Megan's Law databases to identify and ban sex offenders with MySpace accounts.

This all seems well and good. After all, who can complain about MySpace taking steps to protect its underage users from predatory sex offenders?

Sex offenders can. Carl H. is a registered sex offender who has responded to MySpace closing his account by writing into a Wired Blog. To summarize, he states that he has not committed a sex crime in the nine years since his conviction, that none of his MySpace conversations were inappropriate or alluded to sex in any way, and that he uses MySpace "for the most part to find good music bands to listen to, as well as more buddies to game with."

Carl H. says that he seeks justice. He makes a valid argument in that if MySpace is going to ban sex offenders, than why not also "for identity theft convictions, drug dealing convictions, murder convictions? Because criminals use MySpace for these things as well." His prescription... MySpace should monitor its site and kick off pedophiles, while leaving ex-offenders alone.

Is it possible that Carl H. has a good idea, and yet is simultaneously misguided? It does make sense for MySpace (and similar social networking websites) to monitor its site for pedophiles and behavior that is predatory. In fact, even more protections are need. That would certainly help to better protect children, and would establish people's behavior as the basis for banning them from participation on the site.

But that also seems to be exactly the point where Carl H. goes wrong. People's behavior does matter, not only on the website, but in the real-world as well, and for a crime as despicable as being a sex offender (for which he was convicted), that is a behavioral legacy that's not unreasonable to still be having effects after nine years.

The question of what constitutes a fully rehabbed former criminal is always one that societies must grapple with. But that is in the public sphere. It must be remembered that MySpace is a private company in business to make a profit. And from their perspective, if they have the choice of gaining a reputation for being a safe environment for kids through being overcautious against ex-sex offenders, versus being known as a progressive cyber space where even sex offenders are given second chances, for them that's a no brainer.

Maybe this is unfair for Carl H. But if banning ex-sex offenders from MySpace will prevent even a single act of child predation, then that is a trade-off surely worth making at the expense of banning them from this one particular website.
  

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Politics of Chaos...

The Washington Post recently ran an article describing the "widening gap between Democrats and Republicans on the Internet, and that [the GOP] will have to scramble to catch up". The article cites how Democratic presidential candidates have attracted far more website visitors and raised more campaign money over the web than their Republican counterparts, however the most striking aspect of the article is its brief examination of the causes for this digital disparity.

The article asserts that the chaos inherent to the Democratic Party (not getting 20 people to ever agree on the same thing or stay on message) is now a valuable asset in cyberspace. The diversity of ideas and wide range of opinions - more evident with the Democrats than with the Republican Party, which has historically prided itself for being more disciplined - leads to vigorous debate in the blogosphere, and thus the power and reach of left-leaning blogs have thus far been more successful in those two essential political activities - fundraising and mobilizing the grassroots base.

Certainly, this is an argument and not a statement of fact. Critics might see the successes of the liberal blogosphere as being more the result of, say, the demographics of internet-savvy users, than the idea of Republicans having some innate aversion to undisciplined dialogue. Stereotyping entire political parties and all of their millions of members on such a basis is not exactly the way to construct a strong argument.

However, it is a fascinating idea that chaos can be a political asset. In the past, surely there have been public speakers who would make reference to chaos in the streets as a way of invoking fear, and turning that into political will. But in the Internet Age, is chaos actually something to be embraced and encouraged as a public good? John Stuart Mill would say yes, and that the more chaotic the "marketplace of ideas" the better, in terms of maintaining a healthy democracy.

It's no surprise to anybody that the Internet is something of a free-for-all and makes controlling one's message with a top-down command-and-control approach impossible. But to, not control the chaos, but embrace it as a positive method of advancement is an idea truly revolutionary in respect to systems of control and power. We can see this fight between those who want to control it versus those who embrace it as a positive engine of growth play out on numerous other digital fronts - perhaps the most prominent example being the RIAA and the music industry as compared to Web 2.0 sites like YouTube and Wikipedia.

So maybe this isn't anything new, but just an encapsulation of an idea we've already come to know and understand. But how the politics of chaos will be framed over the next few years will ultimately have a tremendous effect on, not only political discourse, but also more tangible entities like electoral outcomes and public institutional arrangements.
  

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Response to Mark Helprin...

Yesterday, Mark Helprin of the Claremont Institute wrote a stunning op-ed piece for the New York Times in which he argues that intellectual property rights should be assigned to authors and artists, and all of their heirs, FOREVER (in perpetuity), with no time limits.

To put this in context, Helprin is saying that Shakespeare's descendants ought to still be receiving royalty payments; that Mozart's heirs ought to be able to claim copyright over the musical genius' work centuries later; that perhaps even the offspring of Moses ought to be able to claim ownership and prevent copyright infringement for the Ten Commandments.

The traditional news media has been quick to point out the "extreme fringe" of cyberspace where a few people desire no copyrights whatsoever and to make everything free. Certainly, Helprin must be labeled in a similar vein, as his extreme position clearly represents an equally absurd end of the ideological spectrum. To extend intellectual property rights in perpetuity would put scientific advancement at a standstill, severely diminish the output of creativity through derivative works, and in one fell swoop, completely eliminate the public domain and any notion that we all share a common culture.

In response to Helprin's op-ed, noted scholar Lawrence Lessig decided to reply through demonstration. Rather than simply author a counter-argument published in the New York Times (which would consequently be copyrighted), Lessig created a wiki - an open, publicly-accessible web page - inviting the world to submit and edit responses to Helprin. If you read it, the point becomes obvious: opening up intellectual ideas to the public typically creates higher quality outputs than keeping them closed through exclusive copyrights.
  

Friday, May 18, 2007

Censoring Muncipal Wi-Fi in Boston...

Municipal Wi-Fi has sprung up all around the country, allowing citizens to connect to the internet wirelessly through government-sponsored programs. The idea is for governments to make the internet more universally available to anyone who wants to use it, but as Danny Weitzner has reported, certain municipalities like the city of Boston have begun using filters to block certain websites and other content.

Now, of course, no government wants to willingly provide a conduit for child pornography, sexual predation, and other harmful and illicit activities. However, it appears that Boston is using "mandatory content filtering that blocks all kinds of sites which are not even close to illegal nor are they sources of pornography that might be considered harmful to children". The major problem is that no one knows exactly what or how much is being censored, nor on what basis. Weitzner is right to point out that if the government filters perfectly legal and non-pornographic, non-harmful material - and that this, they say, is justified - then what's to stop them from also filtering websites from the opposing political party or Yankees.com?

In this sense, Boston is censoring websites on a completely arbitrary basis. It's one thing for a private company or ISP to do this, but a public government program using taxpayer dollars has to be held accountable to a different standard.

Ultimately, it seems inappropriate for any democratic government to get in the business of filtering websites without full disclosure of the basis on which it is doing so. Providing municipal wi-fi is actually a terrific thing and making the internet more universally accessible is indeed a noble objective. They just have to make sure that if they do it, they don't sacrifice other fundamental democratic values in the process.
  

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Battle Over Wireless Spectrum...

Although it may not be the sexiest topic, one of the most important issues facing the future development of the internet is how the FCC allocates wireless spectrum. I'll try to keep this as simple and non-mind-numbingly-boring as possible (because it will affect all of us more than you realize).

Here's how things work. The FCC each year decides who gets to use the airwaves - whether for radio, TV, or some other purpose. They do this because a long time ago it was ruled that the public owns the airwaves, not private companies, and therefore the government (occasionally thought of as the instrument of The People) should be responsible for deciding who should have the rights to use those airwaves. How do they make such decisions? They grant the licenses based on whoever can best serve "the public interest, convenience, or necessity".

Still with me? Ok, now as this Wired article reports, there is currently a huge battle over who should get the rights to use a certain part of the spectrum to offer wireless data services. This affects cell phones, Blackberries and Palms, and wireless internet (wi-fi) connectivity. On one side of the debate are the big telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon, who want to "keep protocols closed, and control what you can connect to the network". Their primary argument is that the government should not over-regulate the industry.

On the other side of the debate are Silicon Valley tech companies like Google, a consortium of consumer groups, and a startup named Frontline Wireless. They argue that that part of the spectrum should be an open access network, "which means it would be open to any company that wants to lease it, and to any device or service that's capable of running on it, whether it's the iPhone or Skype."

Here's an example to help put this in plain English and demonstrate why this will affect your life. Next month when Apple comes out with its highly-touted iPhone, only AT&T Wireless subscribers will be able to use it. If you're a Verizon customer then you lose out. Doesn't that stink? Wouldn't it make more sense that if I pay Verizon every month for cell service, shouldn't I be able to buy any cell phone I like, regardless of manufacturer, and use it with my Verizon service?

Imagine if, in order to watch NBC, you were only allowed to buy NBC-manufactured television sets? Imagine if, instead of an open internet, you had to choose between a "Dell internet" versus a separate "HP internet" versus a separate "IBM internet", where if you bought one of those computers you'd have no choice which internet to participate in? Imagine if, in order to use Microsoft Windows, you were able to buy only Microsoft software and nobody else's? (Actually, maybe that's a bad example.)

The point here is that the services should be kept separate from the devices. Bundling them together kills any notion of market competition - leading to higher prices, poorer quality service, and a lack of new innovations. Making the network "open access", on the other hand, would reduce barriers to market entry, increase product variety and consumer choice, reduce prices, and greatly improve the existing state of affairs for consumers of wireless services in a tremendous number of other ways.

Certainly, that better describes what's in "the public interest".
  

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Nerfherder's 100th Anniversary and Lessons Learned from Blogging...

This is officially the 100th post for The Nerfherder, which began last June as part of a class project being taught at the City College of New York. As a way to commemorate this landmark achievement of actually sticking with it consistently for so long (and not going insane from wondering if anyone actually reads it), let's stop and reflect on what lessons The Nerfherder has learned about blogging...

1) You can increase your number of page hits, but it's seemingly impossible to get people to subscribe - either by email or through RSS - to your blog. Except for relatives and close friends who begrudgingly humor your "cute little hobby" that "serves no purpose" and demonstrates how you "have way too much time on your hands". These remarks typically come from those who are unemployed and spending their days watching YouTube videos.

2) Shockingly, just because you have a blog does not mean people will start donating money to you through PayPal.

3) The number of comments you get is directly proportional to your ability to incite anger and go against the grain of mainstream thought. The Nerfherder's most commented story of the year was one which criticized the Pirate Bay organization, followed by a barrage of comments by Pirate Bay members flaming me for doing so. But those people are lunatics :-)

4) Conversely, the number of Diggs you get is directly proportional to your ability to re-inforce the mainstream thinking of Digg users. Surefire opinions to proliferate for this purpose: Linux = good, George W. Bush = bad, Open source = good, DRM and the RIAA = on par with fascist Soviet-era dictators.

5) Pimping out your blog with fancy features, writing well and on relevant topics, and submitting your post to Technorati and social-network/bookmarking sites will only increase your credibility. It will not increase the number of people who read it. (Caveat: Unless they are your students who are required to.)

6) It's still a million-dollar mystery of 1) how to catch the genie and, once you do, 2) how to keep him in the bottle. Last week, The Nerfherder landed a whopping 127 Diggs and over 1200 page hits for a story on how ABC censored comments on its website supporting presidential candidate Ron Paul. A few small paragraphs, not even breaking news, just editorializing as always - really, a post no different than any other I post here. Why did it catch fire? I have absolutely no idea! And worse, it seems impossible to replicate that success. Is it really all just that random?

We'll check back in with more lessons learned when The Nerfherder reaches its 200th post. That is, assuming I still have "way too much time on my hands".
  

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Conflict of Tomorrow, Visible Today...

The two biggest tech stories on Monday were that 1) iTunes was cracked, and 2) Microsoft is suing Linux users for patent violations. Now step back from the particulars for a second and see the forest through trees: what these two stories share in common is a pitting of new-world internet free culture warriors versus old-world corporate industry behemoths. Put another way, these two cases grabbing headlines on the same day symbolize the larger ideological battle taking place in our society - a culture of freedom clashing with an economy of control.

Here are some details to help make the point clear. A crack for iTunes was posted on an internet discussion board Monday, revealing to the world how iTunes users can circumvent DRM copy-protection and basically play, copy, and share their songs however they please.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is claiming that Linux, the free open source operating system, violates an astounding 235 of its patents, and is planning on suing Linux users and distributors for royalties.

In each case we see warriors of free culture at odds against a for-profit corporation reliant on control. The hacker (or "cracker", to be more precise) who shared his knowledge of how to undermine Apple's copy-protection controls is only the latest tale in the ongoing anti-DRM movement. Likewise, in the Microsoft case, we see the maligned monopolist battling the open source community through legal threats and intimidation in order to... what? Prevent programmers from writing code and having the nerve to not charge for its use?

There are two cyberspaces that currently exist. One which is feared for its inability to control behavior, and one which is embraced as a potential liberator that can empower people, allow creativity to flourish, and embolden society to achieve things never before imagined. The music industry sues teenagers for "piracy", while nearly 90% of all internet users admit to illegally downloading music through "file sharing". Microsoft insists on keeping its source code closed and proprietary, despite how more than half of Fortune 500 companies now use the open and free operating system, Linux, in their data centers - with that number growing and Microsoft shares stagnating.

Does anyone else see a disconnect here? Take a survey of any group of American teenagers or young adults and the results are always stunningly and overwhelmingly in favor of the ideological "free culture" of which Lawrence Lessig speaks. How can you fight that? More and more often, Microsoft, Apple, the RIAA, and their brethren seem as antiquated and out of touch with modernity as manual typewriters or 8-tracks - simply fighting a lost cause trying to protect their inarguably outdated business models, clinging to the past so stubbornly that it almost invokes a sense of pity - like Al Bundy able to do nothing in the face of failure but try to relive his high school football glory days thirty years later.

But if history is any guide, you cannot deny reality forever; you can, at best, only postpone it a little. Microsoft can't compete with a free operating system of superior quality, so it tries to sue it out of existence. The RIAA and Apple can't stop people from copying and sharing their files, so they get more aggressive in tightening controls and criminalizing their own customers. Neither seeing the futility of their actions.

And so the beat goes on...
  

Friday, May 11, 2007

Killing the WIPO Broadcasting Treaty...

The final draft text of the WIPO Broadcasting Treaty is expected to be hashed out this summer. The international treaty seeks to allow broadcasters to copy-protect the content of their transmissions, irrespective of the wishes of the actual copyright owners. It's fascinating who has come out united in opposition to this treaty.

Under the treaty, broadcasters would have the right to protect their broadcasts from "reproduction, retransmission, and even from public communication". An example of what this would mean: if NBC broadcast an episode of "Heroes", they would be free to place whatever copy-protection they wished over the episode, regardless of what the show's producers (and copyright holders) actually desired. NBC would then control that right for the next 50 years. Apply the same analogy to all television, radio, and even internet broadcasts, and suddenly you've thrown the entire idea that copyright exists to protect and provide incentive for content creators into chaos.

As this Boing Boing article notes, however, the opposition to the WIPO Broadcast Treaty is not only strong, but also consists of a diversity of organizations who almost never agree on anything. Even sworn enemies such as AT&T and the EFF - who happen to be suing each other - have still somehow managed to unite in opposition to this treaty. Virtually nobody except the big broadcasting firms think it's even remotely a good idea.

Certainly, the politics of the WIPO Broadcasting Treaty will test the power of the broadcasting industry's lobby, both here in America as well as abroad. But what may be of even more interest to the study of future internet policymaking is testing the effectiveness and durability of such an unprecedented type of advocacy coalition.
  

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

ABC and the Ron Paul Censorship Fiasco...

In last week's Republican presidential debate, a little-known third-tier candidate named Ron Paul was able to participate alongside John McCain and Rudy Guiliani. ABC took a poll after the debate in which Ron Paul scored extremely well with viewers. Apparently, too well. Looking at those results, ABC decided that the poll must be horribly inaccurate and therefore taken down.

This might not seem so catastrophic, except that ABC also decided to delete all of the comments left by users on their web page who were critical of the news organization. Things spiraled all day Tuesday, ABC censoring more and more comments while users kept retaliating with even more critical comments.

Here is a case that begs the question: What is appropriate behavior for a professional news organization in the Digital Age? Surely, there is some need for moderating what users can post in a public forum, owned by a private company which is liable. But so is there also an expectation that respectable news organizations ought to remain neutral arbiters (or at least as close to neutral as possible) and only censor the worst type of content - notably, libelous charges and defamatory remarks. Neither democracy nor ABC shareholders are well served by a news media that deletes comments simply because they might disagree with their viewpoint.

In the meantime, ABC deserves the negative publicity and its new status as being a primary hacktivist target. Anyway, is this really an issue worth picking a fight over and incurring the wrath of its own users? It's a non-scientific poll, for goodness sake!
  

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Boucher's New Shield Law and Why Bloggers Still Won't Be Considered Journalists...

As Jacqui Cheng has reported, Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA) has introduced a bill to provide federal "shield" protections for journalists and would provide a broader definition for journalism, which Boucher says is meant to include bloggers. While well intended (and badly needed), the bill will ultimately be a failure.

As Cheng describes, "Under the wording of the bill, journalists are protected from divulging their sources for news stories except in cases where there is imminent harm to national security, imminent death or significant bodily harm involved, a trade secret "of significant value in violation of State or Federal law," individually identifiable health information, and in instances where "nondisclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest.""

Furthermore, "instead of requiring journalists to be tied to a news organization, the bill now defines "journalism" to focus more on the function of the job: "the gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public."

Even the typical 18 year-old pre-law student would immediately recognize how open this is to interpretation. What exactly constitutes being "contrary to the public interest"? Is there really any internet activity that doesn't involve "gathering" or "writing" about "information" that "concerns" "events"? These types of questions would ultimately weaken the bill, rendering it largely just symbolic policy, and at worst, meaningless.

Also, it must be mentioned that the current political climate in Washington will make it extremely difficult to pass the shield protections even for professional journalists of the traditional media companies, never mind amateur bloggers. In the wake of the Judy Miller/CIA leak case, the New York Times report on American military plans in Iraq, and the Bush Administration's hostility towards whistle-blowers, it is nearly impossible to imagine what "broad bipartisan support" Boucher is referring to.

A more skeptical eye might perceive that Boucher threw in the blogger provisions as a political tactic - something that could be used as a bargaining chip and offered as a concession during congressional negotiations.

The bottom line remains that some, though certainly not all, bloggers should be afforded the same journalistic protections of free speech in order to report and editorialize on what's happening in the world, without fear of subpoena. Boucher seems to have the right intentions, and indeed it's definitely an encouraging direction for lawmakers to be moving in, but unfortunately the fact remains that this bill doesn't stand a chance of passing in its present form.

.
  

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Obama Takes Control of MySpace Page...

For the past two years, a guy named Joe Anthony created and has since maintained a MySpace page in support of presidential candidate Barack Obama. This week, however, as the Associated Press has reported, the Obama campaign team decided they didn't want an outsider to have control over the content of the web page, and thus told Anthony they wanted him to turn the site over to them.

What happens when someone creates a fan website, builds a base of grassroot support, maintains the site daily for years, only to have it stripped away overnight? Some things to consider: 1) Joe Anthony was an Obama supporter and thus the web page was completely supportive of the presidential candidate, 2) Anthony spent the past two years drawing in nearly 160,000 MySpace "friends" to the site, and 3) nobody is claiming whatsoever that Anthony did anything wrong.

Ultimately, MySpace reluctantly stepped in to settle the dispute and decided that Obama should have the rights to control http://www.myspace.com/barackobama, while Anthony had the right to take the contact information for all the friends who signed up while he was in control. That includes the right to tell them exactly how he feels about the Obama campaign. He has come out to say that he is "heartbroken that the Obama campaign was "bullying" him out of the page he built. He said the candidate has lost his vote."

This is certainly not the first time that someone has claimed that a domain name which they did not previously claim the rights to was their intellectual property and protected by copyright. Remember Suri Cruise? But this case revolves around a fan site with honest intentions. There is a serious danger when anyone can claim a website centered about them ought to legally be theirs. If Obama can claim the rights to a website about him, created and maintained by someone else, then what's to stop the next politician from doing the same but towards a website that might be more critical.

It's not too difficult to see the danger here in chilling free speech and expression. But again, perhaps the most shocking aspect in this case is how, in attempting to better control their official message, the Obama camp might have actually helped chill future SUPPORT for the candidate!

What genius is running that campaign anyway?
  

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Wrath of the Hacktivists...

Here's a classic example of how old-world ideas of control are clashing with new-world decentralization. I'll try to keep this simple for the not-so-tech-savvy readers out there.

Someone posted the encryption key for cracking HD-DVDs on an internet discussion board, basically informing people of how to circumvent the copy protection on those DVDs. As you can imagine, the HD-DVD people were not too happy, so they sent hundreds of legal threats to websites that posted the key. One of these sites was Digg.com, which removed all postings about the key and even deleted the accounts of the users who posted them. Then yesterday, Digg users revolted and set out to make every single story on the Digg front page display the encryption key. This prompted Digg founder Kevin Rose to promise "he would no longer take material down, even though it could very well cost him the site."

Here's what's amazing about this story. When the encryption key was first posted on the Doom9 discussion board, an extremely small number of people knew of its existence. Now, as a result of the aggressive attempt to suppress that information, the blogosphere can't stop writing about this story. Google now lists over 58,000 web pages that contain the encryption key.

The lesson to be learned here is that aggressive tactics to control information on the internet - particularly legal threats and the censorship of websites - has the exact opposite effect than what is intended. To draw an analogy, has the RIAA's lawsuits against teenagers for copyright infringement helped to eliminate music piracy? Of course not - it's only enraged and emboldened their own consumers to practice electronic civil disobedience. It's not news to anyone that cyberspace is notoriously allergic to systems of control, however agents of information protectionism need to realize that overly aggressive tactics lead to raising the likelihood of drawing the hacktivists' ire... and then all bets are off.