Tag Archives: Internet

Access for the People?  Free Streaming and Smart Feature Phones

New Orleans       There was a brief blurb that went across my screen the other day.  ACORN Canada was taking another national action demanding “Internet for All” in the long running campaign we have waged to increase access to the internet for lower income families.  We’ve made progress there. Way more than we have in the USA and many other countries.  A low cost $10 to $15 a month program for high speed has now been extended on a voluntary basis to most of the major internet providers in Canada, thanks to the intercession of the Canadian Radio & Television authority which handles internet access much like the FCC does in the US.  Given the resistance of companies like Canadian Bell, it was a win and showed some progress.  In most countries including the USA, we have less to show, even as there is universal consensus that the digital divide is creating huge barriers that are exacerbating inequality.

There is some good news from an unlikely quarter:  not a smart phone, but a smart feature phone.  75 million were shipped in 2017 to India, Africa, and Indonesia with 84 million expected to roll this year.  In India, where 60 million have now been sold, the phone is called JioPhone and put out by the giant local company Reliance.  The phone can be purchased for $20 and many can keep their monthly payments to as little as $2.50 making them affordable for very low-income families and workers.  As any would expect, they are slower and less powerful, but recognizing the cost and access to electricity, part of that is because they have a much longer battery life on a single charge.  The phones are manufactured largely by Hong Kong-based KaiOS Technologies.  Google of course has invested in KaiOS, according to the Wall Street Journal.  An Indonesian model is reportedly going to go on sale for $7.  A model is being designed for Brazil.  We need one for the USA and the rest of the 3.4 billion people worldwide without internet access.

Beat ‘em at their game, I like it.  Another instance of this kind of shrewdness has to do with streaming, and it’s crazy clever.  I caught notice of this new streaming service when four monopolistic US broadcast networks combined to sue something called Locast.  As described in the Times, Locast “is available through a free app that relays broadcast feeds online.  It has more than 200,000 users in 13 cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington.”  The founder, David Goodfriend, formerly with the Obama administration and now a law professor, found a loophole in the law allowing this service.  “Under federal law, broadcast stations must provide their signals free to the public, making networks …easily available through the use of an antenna.”  Remember always, friends, that the airwaves are public property licensed to broadcasters, not private property!  “Locast argues that its service complies with copyright law because as a nonprofit entity, it is allowed to act as a so-called signal booster for the broadcasters’ programming.”  Wow, isn’t that the bomb!  I wonder if AM/FM and our radio stations couldn’t figure out how to do this as well, but that’s another question for another day.

My point is that in this bleak area there is hope that the disrupters and the monopolies might still be hoisted by their own petard once there is a realization that people come first, and their demands for service and streaming are huge and must be met at an affordable level.

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How Does Anyone Protect themselves from Hacking

Little Rock   If we asked the question plainly: is there any way that we can be protected from hacking? The answer is likely either, “No,” or maybe more optimistically, “not completely.”

At some level this is a problem for everyone. Or at least everyone with access to the internet or perhaps a car or mobile phone or any number of other devices from household appliances to alarm systems to washing machines. Two consultants told a morbid joke among hackers that went like this: what is a self-driving car? Answer: a computer that can go 100 miles per hour. Working for various automobile companies they were fairly easily able to hack a car’s computer system and take over braking, steering and other functions.

The recent worldwide ransomware crisis that may have originated in North Korea, though no one seems positively sure, hit countries, businesses, and others, both high and low, for a potential take that, if fully paid, would have been close to half-a-billion dollars. The US and France have both identified hackers connected with Russia that have penetrated voting systems, though there is still no evidence that they actually tampered with voting. A brief period of inattention where you open a random email might introduce a virus that takes over your computer and compromises your email as we found in the trove of emails hacked from the Clinton campaign and then dumped into the middle of the political process.

Activists and organizers working in autocratic countries with fewer controls on the state are hugely at risk. In Egypt according to a report by The Economist, “nearly 100…hacking attempts” have been made “to gain information from some of the country’s most prominent NGOs and journalists.” There is a lucrative cottage industry of computer companies that sell spying and hacking services to Middle Eastern countries and others without robust local capacity. The Italian company, Hacking Team, was itself hacked in 2015, and it turned out they had contracts with Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. NGOs and others have tracked Fin-Fisher, a German outfit, to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Netsweeper, a Canadian company, won a $1.2 million contract from Bahrain that was disguised as a website solution contract, but seems to have been used to spy on dissidents. Citizen Lab, a renowned Canadian research institute that tracks these matters followed up on a UAE text message to a human-rights advocate there at his request and discovered the link was from NSO, an Israeli company in the spyware sales business with governments. Citizen Lab found software flaws that allowed NSO to turn an iPhone into a cyberweapon that may have cost as much as $1 million.

Meanwhile the ransomware crisis was the result of a hacked NSA tool, and NSA is now hoping for reauthorization of its phone spying, metadata operation in the USA. When the government is doing it, there’s no way to get governments to crackdown on the abuses. When techies are willing to sell back doors to anyone, locking the front door hardly matters.

For now, Moxie Marlinspike and face-to-face conversations seem like the only sure things out there, and the only one with a 100% guarantee is face-to-face. No sense in being paranoid, but you sure can’t be too careful. Oh, and speaking for the techno-peasants among us, do what I say, not what I do!

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