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Information Network World Networks

The bunker and the train station

What does someone do in a bunker? And in a train station? The answer seems quite straightforward. The bunker guy protects himself, the station guy buys a ticket and catches a train. But they are also doing something else more relevant to the transformations that the new information environment is making possible.

The people in the bunker are isolated from the world. Their primordial value is security. They want to protect themselves and their property. In principle, they have everything they need inside the bunker. Whenever they need something else they know where to get it. They quickly get out of the bunker, go to the predetermined place, get what they need and go back straight after. All the information they get is contained in the bunker, and in the few trips to their “trusted sources”. They live in a self-inflicted closed information environment, with nearly zero occurrence of serendipity.

And at the train station?

The people in the train station are in a public space. Their objetives are normally straightforward: buy a ticket or/and catch a train, but to perform these tasks they enter in an open, not -controlled environment in which they may find themselves doing something unexpected (i.e. by serendipity) e.g. buying a bag in a shop at the station, meeting a friend that offers them a new job, meeting their future spouse or a brief passionate affair. A train station, as any other public space, is an open information environment, in which safety and control are not primordial values, but sharing is. The shop has to put a big sign and front window to announce their products, the people at the information centre offer you the necessary information for your trip and even beyond, a stranger may give you directions to the nearest exit, metro station or restroom.

This analogy describes two opposed information environments: closed and open. Each of them has benefits and costs. Closed environments are safe, but not creative. For they don’t allow for the unexpected, the unplanned to happen. Open environments may be hazardous if we’re in them completely unprotected – think of the small kid in a train station alone -, but they give opportunity to new, surprising and innovative things to emerge.

When things are stable and not connected. A closed environment can be the solution. Too much openness can be unproductive when one needs standardised procedures and behaviour for things to work. But when the world is in transformation and increasingly more connected, openness is not only beneficial, but perhaps the only way to survive. For new solutions, new ways of looking at the things, the fast integration of different perspectives become advantages in front of those that do not change and are closed to new ways of thinking.

So now think of the bunker as bureaucracies, and the train station as networks. Two different ways of organising our activities to produce useful things for all of us. Which one is more ready for the world that’s coming?

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Information Politics

Greece, Wall St and the Seven Dwarfs

In a world where politicians and civil servants do nearly what they please with our money and resources, because we, the citizens, don’t have enough instruments to scrutinize what they are doing, the banks take advantage to reap the possible benefits. This is what happened in Greece and other European countries on the road to the Euro before 2001. And this is probably what continues to happen today.

The New York Times, still the best newspaper in the world IMHO, has a news article on how Goldman Sachs and other Wall St banks negotiated financial products with the Greek government, and possibly other European countries, which facilitated their hiding of high deficits to get onto the Euro. In return, they got the future proceeds of Greece’s airports and highways, among other things in a deal termed as a “garage sale”.

This is what happens when governments and public administrations do what their please without the proper scrutiny. In most of Europe, parliaments are not anymore, if they ever where, a place of accountability, but of consent and quarrelling. Today, it is up to the citizen to control that those who govern us and administer our resources and tax money do it properly. Every bit of control, even the minor one is useful by aggregation. For this we need new instruments and rules. Opening public data to all (e.g. data.gov and data.gov.uk) is a very good step in this direction.

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Information OII Politics

We’ve got a new online sheriff: Facebook

At the request of the UK government, Facebook took down 30 pages linked to prison inmates who were, according to the authorities, behaving inappropriately on the site, including taunting victims’ family members. It took them 48 hours to do it.

In itself this fact is worrisome. At the request of a government Facebook decides, at its own judgment, to curtail the individual freedom of 30 people (for though they are in prison and they are crime offenders, they are still people), without the intervention of a judge to guarantee the respect of fundamental rights. It seems that victims, government and Facebook (!) are the new authorities with regards to online freedom.

But it gets worse, for these new authorities are taking their self-assigned responsibilities very seriously, according to their declarations reported on today’s International Herald Tribune (print-version).

Gary Trodwell of Families United, a group founded by relatives of young murder victims, said:

When someone is convicted of a crime he loses his civil liberty through sentencing…We say he should lose his cyberliberty as well.”

Will Mr. Trodwell run for Parliament to get that law passed?

Even worse, John Straw commenting on the excessive time that took Facebook to take off the pages (48 hours!), he said:

What we’ve got to do is set up a better system with Facebook so that if they get a notice from us that this site is improper the all tehy have to do is not make a judgment about it but press the delete button”

What about given the same powers to China or Iran, Mr. Straw?

Even, even worse, Facebook wants to become the online sheriff, or at least that’s what Sophie Silver, a Facebook spokeswoman, is implying when she affirms that:

Facebook is absolutely committed to keeping its sites safe and clean…[the web could] be a wild an unruly place. Facebook tries to put some rules and protocols on top of the unruly Web.”

Wow, good thing we have Facebook, don’t you think? Otherwise we’ll be all online raped and smuggled by the scary people populating the “wild and unruly” online world!

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Information OII Politics

Information is revolution: from Haiti to Ushahidi

Pilar Juárez was the head of the political section in the European Union delegation in Haiti. She was trapped in the collapse of the United Nations building in last week’s earthquake. On Sunday, 17 January, the Commission received news of the confirmation of her death, with High Representative Cathy Ashton releasing a press release, after her body was found the day before…but was it?

Today, we know that the body claimed as Pilar’s is not hers (in English). Apparently, the United Nations Police, UNPOL, made a mistake in the recognition of her body. The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs discovered the truth after checking the fingerprints. Her furious husband said that he was “disgusted” by this “very serious mistake.” He accused international organizations and donors of lack of proper channels of information and coordination among them.

Meanwhile, a relatively small organization called Ushahidi was mounting an impressive network of people to gather information on the field to help the coordination of aid assistance and rescue missions, which has been translated into a website (haiti.ushahidi.com) gathering all the reports they receive via SMS and web apps. On the Ushahidi Situation Room, Patrick Philippe Meier, one of the persons behind this effort of humanitarian crowdsourcing and writer of the blog iRevolution, tells us about a

live Skype chat between Anna here in the Sit Room and Eric Rasmussen (InSTEDD and former Chief Medical Officer of the US Navy). Eric skyping from tarmac of PoP airport asking for GPS coordinates of the most obscure addresses, sites, locations and Anna providing these in record time. She has wowed the entire team in PaP including military, UN, etc. Incredible to witness all this real time networking and collaboration.

Witness the gap between an international organization that is trapped in old bureaucratic, unnecessary and expensive procedures and the agility, low-cost efforts of a network of people sharing information. The gap is how they treat and respect information. One understands information as a secondary element of “action”, whatever the latter means. Ushahidi is born with information at its core. We need to understand that information is not what is written on a paper, stored in a computer or in a book, information is alive and it is the most essential element for action. Without information one is blinded. Information is not what an expert knows, it is what everybody knows and shares. The arrogance of bureaucratic organizations is their own nemesis, for they think they know, when they don’t. They thought they knew where Pilar was. The truth was unfortunately not theirs.

Categories
Europe Information Politics Technology

From Russia with Twitter (and my blog) in defence of our online rights

This week is ending. I’ve been (still I am) in Moscow for a week of teaching at the MGIMO, as I do every six months. On the academic side, no big changes or problems – well, besides a drunk student who told me in front of the rest of the students that “this year everything is changing”, for I will have to start teaching in Russian (!), because he couldn’t understand English and my subject interested him very much (ignoring the fact that there was very good simultaneous translation!). I took it as a funny anecdote anyway, similar to the email I got last year from the worst-translator-ever, who was complaining that he got fired because of me.

The big news for me are that while I was in Russia, I could do politics in Spain. I could participate as a blogger and citizen in the massive online protest against the surreptitious provision included at the end (and some say in the last minute) of Prime Minister Zapatero’s new Ley de Economía Sostenible (Law for a Sustainable Economy), currently being read by the Spanish Parliament. This provision modifies the Spanish Information Society Law passed in 2002. It creates a new Commission for Intellectual Property (Comisión de Propiedad Intelectual) in the Ministry of Culture. And, according to the interpretation I concur with, it gives to this Commission powers to shut off a website or online service infringing intellectual property rights without judicial intervention. This set off a viral fire on the web in a matter of hours. Twitter was the main conduct through which this increasingly candescent political momentum ran. The morning after the law proposal was presented to the Parliament, a (still) unidentified group of “journalists, bloggers, professionals and creators” had written a Manifesto for the defence of the rights of Internet users (Manifiesto en defensa de los derechos fundamentales en Internet).

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Information Politics Technology

The social benefits of online piracy

pirate-main

For many, “online piracy” appears to be a bad thing. The music, film and software industries and governments want to convince us that IT IS bad. Bad not only for the poor artist or programmer, but also for innovation and for society as a whole. However, many practice it. Many copy songs, movies or software using the Internet. And I say, many do a good thing.

Before the Internet, people could indeed photocopy a book, copy a record on tape or duplicate a movie on VHS, these were possible, though somehow cumbersome and quality-reducing mechanisms of reducing the cost of our “intellectual consumption”. Without them, many people would have probably read less books, listened to less new songs and watched less stories on the screen. Nevertheless, the scale of it was small, thus its social effect tiny. Today, the liberty and usability feature of the Internet have opened unimaginable venues for these “unauthorized” reproduction of intellectual goods, the scale is, indeed, very, very relevant. Thanks to file sharing, hundreds of thousands of people have at their disposal a myriad of intellectual products that were unattainable before, be it for price or accessibility. Thanks to “piracy”, these people, adults and children, are expanding their intellectual scope, they are probably becoming more demanding, in search of more and more varied things.

Categories
Europe Information Politics Technology

Spanish Manifesto on the rights of Internet users

A group of journalists, bloggers, professionals and creators want to express their firm opposition to the inclusion in a Draft Law of some changes to Spanish laws restricting the freedoms of expression, information and access to culture on the Internet. They also declare that:

1 .- Copyright should not be placed above citizens’ fundamental rights to privacy, security, presumption of innocence, effective judicial protection and freedom of expression.

2 .- Suspension of fundamental rights is and must remain an exclusive competence of judges. This blueprint, contrary to the provisions of Article 20.5 of the Spanish Constitution, places in the hands of the executive the power to keep Spanish citizens from accessing certain websites.

3 .- The proposed laws would create legal uncertainty across Spanish IT companies, damaging one of the few areas of development and future of our economy, hindering the creation of startups, introducing barriers to competition and slowing down its international projection.

4 .- The proposed laws threaten creativity and hinder cultural development. The Internet and new technologies have democratized the creation and publication of all types of content, which no longer depends on an old small industry but on multiple and different sources.

5 .- Authors, like all workers, are entitled to live out of their creative ideas, business models and activities linked to their creations. Trying to hold an obsolete industry with legislative changes is neither fair nor realistic. If their business model was based on controlling copies of any creation and this is not possible any more on the Internet, they should look for a new business model.

6 .- We believe that cultural industries need modern, effective, credible and affordable alternatives to survive. They also need to adapt to new social practices.

7 .- The Internet should be free and not have any interference from groups that seek to perpetuate obsolete business models and stop the free flow of human knowledge.

8 .- We ask the Government to guarantee net neutrality in Spain, as it will act as a framework in which a sustainable economy may develop.

9 .- We propose a real reform of intellectual property rights in order to ensure a society of knowledge, promote the public domain and limit abuses from copyright organizations.

10 .- In a democracy, laws and their amendments should only be adopted after a timely public debate and consultation with all involved parties. Legislative changes affecting fundamental rights can only be made in a Constitutional law.

translation taken from Cory Doctorow’s http://www.boingboing.net/2009/12/02/spanish-activists-is.html

Categories
Europe Information Politics Technology

Manifiesto en defensa de los derechos fundamentales en Internet

Ante la inclusión en el Anteproyecto de Ley de Economía sostenible de modificaciones legislativas que afectan al libre ejercicio de las libertades de expresión, información y el derecho de acceso a la cultura a través de Internet, los periodistas, bloggers, usuarios, profesionales y creadores de Internet manifestamos nuestra firme oposición al proyecto, y declaramos que:

1. Los derechos de autor no pueden situarse por encima de los derechos fundamentales de los ciudadanos, como el derecho a la privacidad, a la seguridad, a la presunción de inocencia, a la tutela judicial efectiva y a la libertad de expresión.

2. La suspensión de derechos fundamentales es y debe seguir siendo competencia exclusiva del poder judicial. Ni un cierre sin sentencia. Este anteproyecto, en contra de lo establecido en el artículo 20.5 de la Constitución, pone en manos de un órgano no judicial -un organismo dependiente del ministerio de Cultura-, la potestad de impedir a los ciudadanos españoles el acceso a cualquier página web.

3. La nueva legislación creará inseguridad jurídica en todo el sector tecnológico español, perjudicando uno de los pocos campos de desarrollo y futuro de nuestra economía, entorpeciendo la creación de empresas, introduciendo trabas a la libre competencia y ralentizando su proyección internacional.

4. La nueva legislación propuesta amenaza a los nuevos creadores y entorpece la creación cultural. Con Internet y los sucesivos avances tecnológicos se ha democratizado extraordinariamente la creación y emisión de contenidos de todo tipo, que ya no provienen prevalentemente de las industrias culturales tradicionales, sino de multitud de fuentes diferentes.

5. Los autores, como todos los trabajadores, tienen derecho a vivir de su trabajo con nuevas ideas creativas, modelos de negocio y actividades asociadas a sus creaciones. Intentar sostener con cambios legislativos a una industria obsoleta que no sabe adaptarse a este nuevo entorno no es ni justo ni realista. Si su modelo de negocio se basaba en el control de las copias de las obras y en Internet no es posible sin vulnerar derechos fundamentales, deberían buscar otro modelo.

6. Consideramos que las industrias culturales necesitan para sobrevivir alternativas modernas, eficaces, creíbles y asequibles y que se adecuen a los nuevos usos sociales, en lugar de limitaciones tan desproporcionadas como ineficaces para el fin que dicen perseguir.

7. Internet debe funcionar de forma libre y sin interferencias políticas auspiciadas por sectores que pretenden perpetuar obsoletos modelos de negocio e imposibilitar que el saber humano siga siendo libre.

8. Exigimos que el Gobierno garantice por ley la neutralidad de la Red en España, ante cualquier presión que pueda producirse, como marco para el desarrollo de una economía sostenible y realista de cara al futuro.

9. Proponemos una verdadera reforma del derecho de propiedad intelectual orientada a su fin: devolver a la sociedad el conocimiento, promover el dominio público y limitar los abusos de las entidades gestoras.

10. En democracia las leyes y sus modificaciones deben aprobarse tras el oportuno debate público y habiendo consultado previamente a todas las partes implicadas. No es de recibo que se realicen cambios legislativos que afectan a derechos fundamentales en una ley no orgánica y que versa sobre otra materia.

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Information Technology

Los beneficios sociales de la piratería online

pirate-main

Para muchos, la “piratería online” es algo malo. La industrias de la música, el cine y el software y algunos gobiernos quieren convencernos de que ES malo. Malo, no sólo para el artista o programador pobre, sino también para la innovación y para la sociedad en su conjunto. Sin embargo, muchos piratean. Muchos siguen copiando canciones, películas o software a través de Internet. Y yo digo, muchos están haciendo algo bueno.

Antes de la emergencia de Internet, la gente podía fotocopiar un libro, copiar una cinta o duplicar una película en VHS. Todos estos eran mecanismos, algo engorrosos y con reducción importante de la calidad, para reducir el coste de nuestro “consumo intelectual”. Sin ellos, muchas personas probablemente hubieran leído menos libros, escuchado menos canciones nuevas y visto menos historias en la pantalla.

Sin embargo, su escala era bastante pequeña, y consecuentemente su efecto social era muy limitado. Ahora, la libertad y usabilidad de Internet han abierto lugares inimaginables para la reproducción de bienes intelectuales “no autorizada”; la escala es muy relevante. Gracias al uso compartido de archivos, cientos de miles de personas tienen a su disposición una gran variedad de productos intelectuales que antes eran inalcanzables, ya sea por precio o accesibilidad. Gracias a la “piratería”, estas personas, adultos y niños, están ampliando su ámbito intelectual, probablemente son cada vez más exigentes, en busca de más cosas y más variadas.

Veo en esto un desarrollo muy positivo. Una sociedad compuesta de individuos que tienen un acceso mucho más fácil y más barato (incluso gratis) a los productos intelectuales es una sociedad mejor. Algunos dirán, que las personas están consumiendo las mismas películas de acción con los mismos clichés, nada de que enorgullecerse. Creo sinceramente que no, hay algunos (probablemente muchos) que están encontrando nuevas perspectivas de vida y ampliando sus conocimientos gracias a la variedad de libros, cursos, programas informáticos, películas, música fácilmente disponibles en Internet. Otros dirían que con más piratería, las empresas tendrán menos incentivos para producir estos productos, por lo que un día, va a terminar, la producción y la innovación morirá. Creo que lo contrario está sucediendo, más personas están innovando y creando – por ejemplo, podcasts -, porque ahora es más fácil y más barato hacerlo. Al mismo tiempo, cuando a alguien le gusta algo todavía lo compra en soporte físico – por ejemplo, el disco de Radiohead se ofreció a cambio de una donación voluntaria hasta que fue lanzado en CD, batió récords de venta. La producción y la innovación no desaparecen por compartir productos intelectuales en Internet. Los únicos que deben tener miedo son los que producen lo mismo una y otra vez, los que no crean un valor agregado intelectual, con el que una persona pueda sentirse conectado de maneras que generan más consumo e ingresos para el productor p.ej. un concierto.

En general, la “piratería”, que se define exclusivamente como intercambio de archivos (no para obtener beneficios económicos), es un bien social. Tiene claros beneficios, y por lo tanto debe ser promovido. Los únicos que deben estar temblando son los que han estado aprovechando durante años de un mercado de oligopolio, capturado legalmente, en que el consumidor se veía obligado a tragarse la pequeña gama de productos que se le ofrecía por un precio muy alto. Afortunadamente, esto se ha acabado, ¿o no? Me temo que las grandes empresas y los gobiernos que han capturado no van a reconocer la derrota sin una buena pelea. Vamos a ver …

Categories
Information OII Technology

Twitter’s time chambers

The Internet may be facilitating the creation of echo chambers and the balkanisation of politics. This is what Cass R. Sunstein, now Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, said in his book Republic and then repeated in Republic 2.0. It meant that because of the new possibilities of filtering our information as “Daily Me” we may be heading towards a world where people will only read, watch and hear what they want to. According to Sunstein, in a democracy it is essential to have public spaces where different opinions are contrasted and collide. The Internet may not only hinder the existence of these spaces, but actually it may facilitate the emergence of echo chambers where what we believe is repeated.

This morning I checked my twitter. Yesterday I checked my twitter. Until this weekend, most of the people I followed where in the US and other English-speaking countries. Basically it was mostly in English. After this weekend, after attending the PDFEU in Barcelona, I started to follow more people in Spain and, particularly, in Catalunya. Until now I was getting information about a variety of issues regarding internet, politics, culture… from the English world. Now I see information mainly from Spain and Catalunya. What happened? You will say that now I follow, in proportion, more people from there, but actually I don’t. What happened is that among all the new followed people there were US people and Spanish people, in more or less equal proportion. What happened is that I checked my twitter when the latter are awake and the former are sleeping. A time chamber is being created. It makes me think that geography/location is still very important on the Internet. Or even, location is becoming even more important than before, an apparent paradox, but it is not.