Digital rights Law & Freedom

Rethinking social media privacy

Anonymous contre Acta à Rouen

I was an active Foursquare user back in the first years of it, and it’s been a while since I toned down my participation in it. A few years ago, my girlfriend questioned me on why I was reporting my location everywhere I went. What was my gain on it? How much value did I gained versus the risks and privacy losses? This applied to Foursquare and all the other social media networks, specially Facebook.

Giving some thought to what people post on social media networks, as individuals, there’s a lot of questioning as to why one does such things. They make it a game, addictive with lame rewards and “badges” with no meaning. They get supported by your friend’s peer pressure to go on and join and also to actively participate. If you’ve been an active user of a social network you know it’s hard to quit.

Some don’t even tell you that you’re being tracked while you use it, while you check that photo your friend added or replying to that family member that seems to have forgotten what email is and how it works. We empower the social media sites with content. We write for them, we upload for them. Make it rich in content and attractive to more people for them. They get to sell our content, brag about our ideas and scrutinize your activities and thoughts. And all we get is the social communication benefit. Now we are so highly communicated that we barely talk to each other while waiting in line at the bank or while your car is being washed. I’ve seen families that are so connected that they all stare at little screens at a very quiet dinner table.

By the time my girlfriend was making me think of a balance in my privacy, drug wars in northern Mexico reminded us all why we need privacy. Friends being kidnapped because it was easy to know where they were and who they hang out with. Our own free speech being used against us. Things got so bad (still are) that you could not talk about what was going on in public places. People had to create a language of silences and signs to discretely say what they wanted to say if they were in public. People got so used to it, that even in the comfort of their own homes they could not pronounce the name of the attackers.

Covered protester

Suddenly you’re being reminded that the world is not a happy safe place where you can shout out everything about you. That it is not about having something to hide, it’s about protecting yourself and those around you. You wouldn’t hide your family, but you also wouldn’t like them to be taken away from you. Although I do know people that did had to hide their family.

The problematic part is that leaving the social media sites is not an option. You’ll be like a caveman or outcast, missing on a now big part of your participation in the world for social or even business communication. Your social circles will almost demand your participation in them to stay in touch. Even if you leave and cease all participation, the social media networks will still know about you by what your friends post about you (photos, videos, comments, links). That’s why I have reached to the conclusion that the best answer to that is to moderate my participation in them.

I want to share this talk by Eben Moglen, lawyer of the software freedom law center and who help draft the GNU license among several other things. This talk is from 2011, and he used references to the KGB as examples because he probably knew that using the US government would be too unbelievable by most people at that time. Oh but times change, unfortunately not much for the benefit of freedom and anonymity.

Wow, this blog post was drafted on september 30th 2011 and was sitting idle without much changes or additions. I thought of deleting the entry, as I had no reasons to talk about social media privacy anymore. But times change…or maybe things just got worse, and there’s been a lot of mess with privacy lately.

Digital rights Law & Freedom

Software Patents and Innovation stimulation

Ford Model T, 1926

In Mexico, we don’t have software patents and recently, New Zealand has also banned software patents in an effort to get rid of patent trolls.

A few days ago while talking with a book author and lawyer, I mentioned my interest in copyright and patent law, as they affect my field of work constantly, even though I’m not living in the US. I mentioned that in Mexico we don’t have software patents. That you cannot patent an idea, only inventions. And she asked: “what’s the incentive to create something, if when you do, others can come by and steal your work? That doesn’t seem like a good idea”. I answered that you could copyright software, but not patent it. This way we don’t have patent trolls in Mexico, who only patent an idea but never do anything practical with it, and make it hard for anyone who tries.

Henry Ford revolutionized the car industry, but first he had to fight the patent on the automobile to sell his affordable cars. The owners of the patent were not granting him a license because they didn’t want common people to buy cars. The car patent owners didn’t built any cars, their only business was charging for licenses on every car built by manufacturers, raising the final cost of the car to the customer. If its innovation what we want, patent monopolies are not the answer.

After thinking some more on that conversation, my answer would be: “then I would make it better”. Free use of ideas are a better fuel for innovation, and a constant threat to your business is a great motivation to improve yourself. Market protection will only make it very comfortable to sit on an idea an do nothing to continuously improve and get creative.

New Zealand has also joined this mindset banning software patents by declaring that software is not a patentable invention.

Ford Model T Grille

As a side note, Ford’s Model-T was almost entirely made of hemp (marijuana) resin and initially ran on hemp ethanol, not gasoline. Later Rockefeller’s oil companies changed that.

Digital rights Law & Freedom GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source

10 apps for privacy and secure communication

Mobile security

With all the recent news about privacy violations, user data requests, gag orders and the like, it is useful to know that there are tools to communicate in safer ways. I can’t say that they are bullet-proof, as I’m not a security analyst, but at least you can add an extra layer of complexity to those trying to tap into your communications.

  1. Redphone – allows you to have encrypted phone calls
  2. TextSecure – for secure SMS/MMS communication
  3. Gibberbot – for encrtypted chat over Jabber (XMPP) or Google Talk (Hangouts), Facebook Chat, VKontakte, Yandex, Hyves, Odnoklassniki, StudiVZ, Livejournal, and more
  4. OscuraCam – helps you censor out parts of an image like a phone number, license plate, a face…or body part
  5. NoteCipher – stores encrypted notes on your mobile device
  6. GNU Privacy Guard for Android – to encrypt anything, from notes, photos.. any file and emails
  7. K-9 Mail – an open source email client with PGP support for sending and receiving encrypted emails
  8. Orbot – a free proxy app for your mobile device that encrypts your traffic using the TOR network.

    On the browser you can use:

  9. Mailvelope – for encrypting your emails through webmail.
  10. Cryptocat – for private chats within the web browser using OTR encryption

As I mentioned before in my encryption tutorial, having your privacy is not about having something to hide, it’s more about protecting yourself.

In the words of author Ayn Rand:

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

Digital rights Law & Freedom

How Orwell’s 1984 novel is very accurate for 2013

Big Brother is watching you

George Orwell published his dystopian novel 1984 in the year 1949 guessing a scary version of what the society might be in the future. His predictions have become so accurate to today’s world that we can almost say that if he was trying to predict the future, he only missed by some decades.

Big Brother is watching you

Telescreens have now taken the form of gadgets like the Xbox One and similar smart TVs that you can operate with gestures are always watching. Even smartphones and tablets can be switched on to be always listening and watching.

War is Peace

President Obama not only continued Bush’s wars on the middle east, but expanded them to more countries, and he’s been awarded with the nobel peace price. In his award acceptance speech, he said that more weapons are needed to preserve peace . The world has been in constant war that we no longer can pin-point on what war happend what. In the past we could say “oh, in Vietnam” or “during the Gulf War” or similar. Today is constant war against a faceless enemy…most times, ourselves.

Freedom is Slavery

Being free is an ideal that most people have forgotten what it means. People are now afraid of free. People prefer monopolies and government control privacy is almost forgotten in the name of safety.

Ignorance is Strength

The press is controlled by very few people, also involved in government and corporate interests. Free press and investigative journalism is very rarely found these days. Most news media only repeat the corporate statements given to them, most times not even checking facts. In the case of Snowden the government said that they revoked his passport and everyone assumed that he couldn’t travel anymore. Well the State Department’s official information says that the only way a passport can be revoked is by entering the United States, a thing Snowden hasn’t done, and that revoking a passport doesn’t affect the citizen to travel to other countries. This is just to name one of many examples of how bad the press is not checking any facts and just passing along the official statements produced by government and corporations PR agencies. In Mexico, ignorance became the president of the country. The proles votes got bought and cheated with $2 dollar gift cards and the most ignorant candidate became president. The old party manipulated the media and used people’s ignorance as their strength.

In case you haven’t read the book, you can buy it from Amazon here

Here’s a movie adaptation of it from 1954. This adaptation is very accurate to the book.

Digital rights Law & Freedom

Quick and Honest Guide to Creative Commons Licenses


In a way, the best way to fight piracy is by making it impossible for people to do illegal things with your works.

Zacqary Adam Green came up with this handy guide to Creative Commons for his article on copyright reform. Funny as it may seem, it is a very practical and straight-to-the-point analysis of the licenses, since it seems that you can only enforce a license as long as you can afford the legal battle.

In the case of software licensing, it is not recommended to use a Creative Commons license, since they were not designed for that use. CC was thought for artistic works, and although software is considered “art” in some countries’ copyright laws, they are practical works, more than just artistic ones. That is why using a Free Software license is recommended instead. They were designed to cover any technical and practical use for the work that you need to protect. Also, there are organizations like the Software Freedom Law Center that help developers and non-profit organizations to enforce their licenses among many other services with little or no budget.

I don’t know if there is something similar to defend works under a CC or similar free license. Maybe there’s an unexplored business opportunity for law firms.

Digital rights Law & Freedom GNU/Linux Free Software & Open Source News

YouTube offers Creative Commons licensing for video uploads

Today I uploaded my monster truck videos to YouTube and found the surprise that they are now offering the option to publish your videos under the Creative Commons Attribution license.

That is great news! YouTube is the biggest online video community and it was lacking this option, unlike its competitors Vimeo and

But what does this mean?

Before this, all user uploads were licensed with full copyright, the famous “All Rights Reserved”, which means that if you want to use, distribute, share or remix (create a derivative work) you had to obtain explicit consent from the video author for doing so. This new option of licensing is a very important deal, because it meas that being the big video distributor that YouTube is, it will be a great platform for a lot of commons content that we can share, use and remix (of course, only material published under the CC-BY license by the author).

Although they are not giving users the ability to choose from all the six Creative Commons licenses available, they made a very smart choice of simplifying the options to the users by offering only the most free one. It benefits us all in the tech and culture worlds.

Free Culture = Free World

If you wish to change all your previously uploaded videos to CC license, you can go to your list of uploaded videos, mark the checkboxes on the left on all videos (or just mark the top one to auto select all), click the “Actions” button and select the menu option “Creative Commons (CC-BY)”.

I hope to see CC licensing in other Google products like Picasa web albums, like Flickr does. But anyways, the YouTube offer is a great milestone for Creative Commons. Lets just wait and see what new creations and remixes this move brings to the world.