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The Digital Imperialists Strike Back!

Published: Sunday 9 June 2013

We information renegades have been fighting for free information and an open net free of censorship. But, those wanting to control information have struck back. The digital imperialists are those companies that exploit our online information and gather it to blast advertising at us while violating the basic right to privacy at the same time which is part of the globalization of the surveillance state. As the late Aaron Swartz said in a speech at the Freedom to Connect Conference in 2012, “The enemies of the freedom to connect have not disappeared. The fire in those politicians’ eyes hasn’t been put out. There are a lot of people, a lot of powerful people, who want to clamp down on the Internet. And to be honest, there aren’t a whole lot who have a vested interest in protecting it from all of that.”

I was reminded of this reality when AnopsLegion tweeted that “Liberty Reserve's domain has been officially seized,” in this case by the dirty five: the Secret Service, the DHS, the Treasury Department, DOJ and the Global Illicit Financial Traffic Team. To give some background, I used the Internet Wayback Machine and found an archived page from April, in which the site defines itself as “an account-based payment system where you can store value in U.S. Dollars, Euro or Gold Grams and transfer payments to others and receive payments from others. It is safe, reliable and confidential. Payments are irrevocable...In just minutes, you can send and receive payments from anyone, anywhere on the globe!” A BBC article on the subject noted that “Authorities in the Central American country said Arthur Budovsky [the founder of the Liberty Reserve] had been taken into custody in Spain on suspicion of money laundering...[but that] the closure of Liberty Reserve has the potential to "cause a major upheaval in the cybercrime economy" [and that while] there had been "anxious discussions" about the news on several internet forums after fraudsters and malware sellers found themselves unable to access their accounts...others say they used the service for legitimate reasons, and are concerned about the lack of information.” While this Bitcoin-like system has been shuttered, according to Wikipedia, BitCoins have also been threatened with the “Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (or FinCEN), a bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury, issu[ing]...a report currencies and other digital payment systems such as Bitcoin as "virtual currencies" because they are not legal tender under any sovereign jurisdiction. FinCEN cleared American users of Bitcoin of legal obligations...However, it held that American entities who generate "virtual currency" such as bitcoins are money transmitters...if they sell their generated currency for national currency...This specifically extends to "miners" of the Bitcoin currency...Additionally, FinCEN claimed regulation over American entities that manage bitcoins in a payment processor setting or as an exchanger...In summary, FinCEN's decision would require Bitcoin exchanges where bitcoins are traded for traditional currencies to disclose large transactions and suspicious activity, comply with money laundering regulations, and collect information about their customers as traditional financial institutions are required to do.”

Such a clampdown on exchanges of digital decentralized currency is not why I wrote this post in the first place. Rather, it is because of the corporate concentration in blogosphere and over the internet as a whole. Already, 52% of the top 100 blogs are hosted on Wordpress which used open source and is also the “most popular blog site” in the world. However, there are some competitors which are gaining steam. I mention this because I recently dumped my Tumblr because as I wrote on the now-archived page of my blog, “the American multinational giant, Yahoo! just bought Tumblr...[which] is a horrible thing because despite the promise by Yahoo! in their agreement with Tumblr that they won’t fuck it up...[they have fucked up everything they have taken over].” As I noted, “I already left Google’s blogspot...and I’ve already permanently deleted my Yahoo! email account I had for years in concerns about privacy and information-gathering.” There is an even more troubling aspect of this buyout: users will be bombarded with ads from Yahoo! making them users of the site itself and the over $1 billion dollars given to the founders of Tumblr for their site! Now, who is behind this site anyhow? Well, as it turns out, it is run by David Karp, who lives modestly, but happens to have a net worth of over $200 million dollars according to Forbes Magazine. In terms of the super-rich, this just a little less than the lowest measure of the second richest person in the House of Representatives, Darrell Issa, who has a net worth of $215 to $715 million dollars! This is troubling in the least, that those who ran Tumblr didn't even try to notify their users of such a massive change, but is not uncommon as Facebook commonly changes policies on privacy (like introducing the timeline) without the consent of the users.

Other places of the internet are getting gobbled up and fast. With the buying of Tumblr, Yahoo!, it only one of the 78 mergers and acquisitions the company has made since 1997 which include GeoCities, FoxyTunes, Flickr and Google has consolidated its power as well since 2001, making 126 mergers and acquisitions. These have included five search engines, 4 video sharing services, 2 blog-hosting sites and much more. One must remember that Google also owns YouTube and Blogspot as well, ensuring their interwoven nature with the American multinational. Another internet giant, Facebook, has made 36 mergers and acquisitions since its founding which have included Instagram,, Friendster Patents, ConnectU and many more. Similar to Google, Facebook has also bought a facial recognition company, a service that likely likely violates the expectation of privacy afforded by the 4th amendment and concerns people like Richard Stallman, the “founder” of the free software movement. Even Microsoft has stepped into the fray, by buying Skype, a video-sharing and streaming service. In the area of music sharing, it isn't much better, with Apple owning huge music service, iTunes (in 2009 and Amazon having their own music service with little area to compete.

Back to the blogosphere itself, there are a number of other popular sites, many that are corporatized. These include MySpace blog, part of MySpace, formerly owned by News Corporation, owned currently by Specific Media LLC which describes itself as a “global interactive media company...[that is]the partner choice for brand advertisers.” Also of note is that the co-owner of the site is Democratic Justin Timberlake who has a net worth of over $100 million according to CelebrityNetWorth. LiveJournal, an open source blog hosting site, which is criticized by Futuristic Sex Robotz, in one of their songs a bit jokingly how “livejournal is a disease...that will kill again and again until stopped.” Well in 2006, a private company named Six Part, currently led by Japanese Businessman Nobuhiro Seki, which still owns Moveable Type and Typepad, sold LiveJournal to a Russian company called SUP Media. This company's Director of Corporate Development, Benjamin Wegg-Prosser, was formerly part of Tony Blair's government and the chairman, Andrew Paulson, who heads what BusinessWeek calls a “growing internet empire in Russia.”

Then there’s the power of huge internet service providers, the ISPs. According to an article on a site called practical ecommerce published in 2011, the biggest twenty ISPs in the US are; Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Century Link, Charter, Verizon, Cox, Optimum, Frontier, SuddenLink, EarthLink, Windstream, Cable One, Net Zero, Juno, AOL, MSN, Mediacom, Basic ISP, and Of these companies, “5 major Internet service providers – AT&T, Cablevision, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon” along with the RIAA and MPAA are members of the Center for Copyright Information or CCI that has implemented the copyright alert system. TorrentFreak writes that “After years of negotiating and planning the “six strikes” copyright alert system finally went live in February. Three months have passed since...Overall there appears to be a very positive vibe surrounding the Copyright Alerts.

The CCI reports, for example, that ISP customer service lines have received “calls of appreciation” from thankful subscribers who had no clue that there were pirates using their connections...Unfortunately the CCI is not yet ready to announce any public statistics detailing how many alerts have been sent out so far.” In another article, TorrentFreak rebukes the fact that these programs work, saying that there has been a boost in the demand for VPNs and Proxies since the news that Six Strikes has been coming. Let us not forget, companies like AT&T and Verizon cooperated with the National Security Agency (who paid them) to move call telephone calls into a call database, which are stored and supposedly there are no recordings of the calls themselves.

What does all of this mean? Well, it means a less free internet. Already, Hollywood studios have tried to take down the Creative Commons documentary about the Pirate Bay which already chilling. However, what is more chilling is the fact that Facebook seems to have censored a photo showing two children protesting Monsanto resulting the conspiratorial site ditching Facebook for their comments section below posts and deciding to use Disquis instead. The liberal site, ThinkProgress, had a post about censorship on the site as well, noting that “when a subsidiary of Mark Zuckerberg’s new political group started airing ads for expanded oil drilling and the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, CREDO Action decided to post an ad of their own calling Zuckerberg out — on Facebook. This morning, Facebook rejected CREDO’s Facebook ad (pictured right). According to CREDO Action, Facebook initially informed them they rejected the ad because it used Facebook trademarks — specifically, Zuckerberg’s image. Though the image used was fully licensed for creative commons use, a Facebook representative told ThinkProgress that any images of Zuckerberg are off-limits, as he is part of the Facebook brand. The rules governing Facebook brand usage specify “trademarks, names, domain names, logos” but does not explicitly restrict images of Zuckerberg.” The right-wing site, The Blaze, noted censorship of views of right-wingers on Facebook as well, resulting in the creation of a Facebook-like site called the Tea Party Community. But for most Facebook users, they likely wouldn't post such material on the site because 71% of them have elected to self-censor. Already, this has expanded to places like the page of the Toronto Mayor, who censored comments on the page showing he doesn't care about the freedom of speech. One person was even banned from posting posts on the mayor's page! Vice Magazine has some critical articles of the service as well including this great list of interviews with people on their views of Facebook, another person who facebook thinks is 13, and the continuing censorship on the site.

Governments have used Facebook to stop dissent as well. Recently, according to Darker Net, “five people in Spain were arrested after violent police raids on their homes in the province of Barcelona and subsequently charged with, basically, posting propaganda in support of resistance against the Spanish Government. The propaganda happened to be published online via Facebook. Moreover, the court has ludicrously widened these charges to include membership of a terrorist group, praising terrorism, recruiting terrorists, indoctrination, and the storage of explosive substances.” These people have been called the “Facebook Five,” who must be supported by all of us. The translated manifesto of the group supporting them continues in the same vein. Then there's the surveillance and fake social media profiles set up the US government to track what is being said on social media outlets. Recently as a response to the Occupy Turkey Revolution, the government of Turkey arrested 25 people for using their social media accounts. The Guardian reported that Turkish police accused them “of using Twitter and social media to stoke anti-government sentiment during protests that have engulfed the country.”  Let us also not forget the arrested anons as well, who have also been targeted for their views online like whistleblower Jeremy Hammond, Topiary, Barrett Brown, and many others (also see this). They must be freed just as Bradley Manning, whose trial just began with a protest numbering 1-2,000 only a few days before (Disclosure: I went to this protest) and Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange who has a secret indictment against him.

All of this is absolutely horrible but something can be done. You can fight back, in whatever way seems right to you. Whatever you choose, you must stand up to the commercialization of the internet by: either leaving Facebook or Tumblr (if you have one), calling out censorship where you see it, and speak out against corruption of government by those who want to make the internet less free. A CISPA I and II have been stopped but the CISPA hydra will come back. Let us get up, stand up declaring that there is a fundamental right to internet access for all and that the World Wide Web should be just like the whole of the United States: one big free speech zone! Let's keep fighting!

ABOUT Burkely Hermann
Burkely Hermann is a writer, activist, and researcher who tries to challenge perceptions about the world we all live in and pushing for the creation of discussion spaces to talk about pertinent issues. In doing this, Burkely has not only written articles but also used his tech savvy skills to aggressively fight for an internet that serves the masses.
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