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'Hactavists' Get $3M for Internet Monitoring

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the seem-a-little-high-to-anyone dept.

Censorship 38

raceface writes "The CBC is reporting that a group from the University of Toronto know as the Citizen Lab has received a $3 million grant. They intend to use the grant money to monitor and determine who is blocking information access on the internet." The grant, given to an international project that fights censorship, was given to the group by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a Chicago-based institution.

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Mirrors? (4, Funny)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658805)

I can't seem to connect to the site for some reason.

Re:Mirrors? (4, Funny)

Fex303 (557896) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658814)

I can't seem to connect to the site for some reason. So... How is China this time of year, anyhow?

Re:Mirrors? (1)

arivanov (12034) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658822)

Maybe 3 million are not enough to prevent it being censored?

Re:Mirrors? (2, Funny)

unhuman_being (657069) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658833)

Yes I make mistakes. Don't we all?

Well, since the site is connecting fine over here, I'm presuming you did it again. :)

Re:Mirrors? (3, Funny)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658864)

When I used to work in the local college, the web proxy was periodically updated with dodgy domains.
One time, the admin ran the update and for the next couple of hours practically all sites were down.

It took them a while to realise that blocking all domains with *.c* in them wasn't the best approach.

Re:Mirrors? (1)

afaik_ianal (918433) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658944)

Nothing for you to see here. Please move along.

Good for them... (2, Interesting)

Mad_Rain (674268) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658820)

I think this is a great project to keep the information flowing to censored places in the world, but I suppose the problem I've got picturing this set-up is two-fold.

First, how do you start receiving "blocked" information if the government blocks you first (which they're sure to do, now that you've just announced a $3M grant to fight censorship)?

Second, how do you know the information is going to the right people (activists and such, rather than just "the man")?

And on a third note - How much of this organization will be concerned with the truthfulness, usefulness, or goodness of the information being sent? It's one thing to be able to see the Tienamin Square results unfiltered by Google, it'd be another thing to be spending a $3M grant on ways to sneak porn (or illegal stuff) past the government proxies.

Re:Good for them... (3, Interesting)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658845)

And on a third note - How much of this organization will be concerned with the truthfulness, usefulness, or goodness of the information being sent? It's one thing to be able to see the Tienamin Square results unfiltered by Google, it'd be another thing to be spending a $3M grant on ways to sneak porn (or illegal stuff) past the government proxies.

No it isn't. It's exactly the same. Information on what happened in Tiananment Square is 'illegal stuff' in China.

Free speech is free speech, whether it's political protest or Lady Chatterley's Lover. If we're setting up to monitor censorship, we should not differentiate here, lest we become censors ourselves.

Re:Good for them... (1, Insightful)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659021)

I think there is a difference between facts about the world, such as a photograph of an event that happened, and pictures which are simply entertaining to look at, such as porn, or just intended to shock and cause offence, such as goatse [ragingfist.net] . It may be hard to distinguish in practice because the line is fuzzy - what about the Mohammed bomb cartoon for example? - but that doesn't mean they are exactly the same, as you claim.

Re:Good for them... (4, Insightful)

Wordsmith (183749) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659070)

The pointless is that fundamental to the idea of free speech and expression, is that no entity should be in charge of deciding what's worthwhile speech and what isn't. Ever. Some ideas ARE useless, and some DO have no value, but just you try and get 100 people in a room and have them agree over which ones are which.

In a truly free society, bad speech is answered with good speech, and those who hear both are empowered to pick for themselves. I can't argue against, for instance, neo-nazism, without first hearing what the neo-nazis have to say; and if we stifle them, their vile speech gets pushed underground, where it goes unrefuted.

Re:Good for them... (1)

tsalaroth (798327) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659780)

This has got to be the most intelligent response I've ever seen in regards to free speech on /.

Re:Good for them... (1)

montyzooooma (853414) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659137)

The problem with facilitating information flow to repressive regimes is that the people who go on to access the banned content become criminals in the process. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for freedom of speech but is it right to encourage someone in a foreign country to break the local law? Isn't it more productive to put pressure on the regime for change?

Conditionally "free" speech (2, Insightful)

dstone (191334) | more than 8 years ago | (#14661270)

It's one thing to be able to see the Tienamin Square results unfiltered by Google, it'd be another thing to be spending a $3M grant on ways to sneak porn (or illegal stuff) past the government proxies.

I don't know that it's "another thing" at all.

There's "free speech", and then there's "conditionally free speech" (which, arguably, China already has). You may be a supporter of the latter concept, just to a different degree than the government in power.

If we analyze the actual content of speech and judge it "worthy" or "legal" then we allow governments and powerful moral majorities to silence anyone that doesn't share their values by simply labelling certain speech illegal or immoral. We're still left living in a system where we have to be scared that what we speak or write or share might offend someone because of prevailing political and moral values, and those values can change overnight and be subject to interpretation to server greater agendas.

Political DOS? (1)

BlueStrat (756137) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658832)

The last part of the linked article facinates me...the part about the opposition website servers being attacked. That story sounds like it could be much more interesting than TFA, IMHO.

Strat

Re:Political DOS? (2, Insightful)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658849)

I am 100% in the opinion that the majority of DDOS attacks are spread through the media.

Its not a malicious action, but the news sites all spread word that foo.com is currently under attack, and the most obvious reader response is to click the link and try it for themselves.

"click. Oh look, google is still down what am I going to do? click click click, nope its still down."

IM.You: "Hey joe, have you heard that google.com is under attack?"
IM.Joe: "Click. Yer its down over here"

Re:Political DOS? (1)

MarkChovain (952233) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658922)

I am 100% in the opinion that the majority of DDOS attacks are spread through the media.

I don't think it's necessarily intentional. Slashdot DDOSs a site every time they post an article!

heh (1, Funny)

wwmedia (950346) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658852)

$3 million grant. They intend to use the grant money to monitor and determine who is blocking information access on the internet
heh u dont have far to go just GOOGLE IT! [slashdot.org]

That's easy, I block it! (2, Insightful)

Universal Nerd (579391) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658877)

I understand the waves of hatred towards Google for their chinese policy but I believe most people REALLY do take their liberty of access to information for granted.

Corporations do what they must to protect their intrests - see Ambrose Biere's "Corporation: An ingenious device for obtaining profit without individual responsibility." Google does it in China because they want a presence there as MSN and Yahoo and whatever-else-there-is-out-there.

Freedom of access to information is not an unalienable human right, in today's world, it's a privilege so enjoy it before someone comes and snaps it up from under you.

Just think about this for a moment... (5, Interesting)

MarkChovain (952233) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658911)

Last month, Google said it would adhere to Beijing's censorship policies and limit certain search results in China to get broader access to the large market.

Deibert and his team help dissidents access banned information, "assisting them in ways to get around censorship and surveillance, developing tools that will help them protect their privacy online and get around censorship," he said.


At to the first paragraph, it's been mentioned by a number of people here on slashdot that Google really doesn't have much choice about their decision to ban content Either they block the content that 1% of the population is interested in, or withdraw their service, which connects people with information , from everyone in China; the second option seems more evil to many of us than the first.

The second paragraph suggests that Deibert and his team want to use the funds to help people such as the people of China break the laws of their country. The Chinese government's track record seems to suggest that they have no problems holding a grudge (Falun Gong?). I know this is a somewhat controversial opinion, but would you want money donated by you being used in a way that is likely to piss off the Chinese government, given that you may want to deal with them in the future?

Now, before everyone downmods me for my "anti-free-speach" opinion here, keep in mind here that the donors may have more valuable services to provide to these people!

Finally, am I the only one who read that guy's name as Dilbert? :D

Re:Just think about this for a moment... (1)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658986)

given that you may want to deal with them in the future?

There are 6 billion people in this world only about 1 out of 6 are chinese, i'm sure if they want to deal with the chinese for whatever reason in the future they can set up a shell company or do business by proxy (no pun intended).

It's likely you do business with businesses that you would not intentionally support.

Re:Just think about this for a moment... (1)

luge (4808) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659714)

"The second paragraph suggests that Deibert and his team want to use the funds to help people such as the people of China break the laws of their country. The Chinese government's track record seems to suggest that they have no problems holding a grudge (Falun Gong?). I know this is a somewhat controversial opinion, but would you want money donated by you being used in a way that is likely to piss off the Chinese government, given that you may want to deal with them in the future?"

It is safe to say that the donors know exactly what they are getting into here. Grants this large don't get given without fairly extensive understanding by both parties about what they are getting into.

[Ob. Disclosure: I work at the Berkman Center, one of the hosts of ONI. I am not privy to any specific details about the nature of this grant, though, or any strings that might be tied to it.]

Grant hedges on one obvious condition... (0)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658912)

The results will of course be classified!

But do they run... (2, Funny)

afaik_ianal (918433) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658937)

Since these guys are all for freedom of information, and all that good stuff, do you reckon the research team would run Linux? ;)

Free Speech 2.0 (5, Interesting)

SavvyPlayer (774432) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658997)

It's only a matter of time before the Chinese government realises that free speech is no threat to a well-organized propaganda machine. The formula we've perfected in the west requires only four components:

1. Single-party rule, or dual-party rule provided there is no meaningful difference between each party.
2. Polarization of the citizenry such that members of each party are inclined to prefer gravitas-laden Spin-Alley journalism over fact-based reporting. The beauty of this is that market forces guarantee the creation of these entities at no cost to the taxpayer.
3. An efficient staff chartered with discrediting any voice that speaks out against the establishment. Again, very little money needs to be spent here -- talking points with which Spin-Alley journalists are free to clog the airwaves are simply published to the web.
4. Convenience. A comfortable citizenry is a complacent citizenry.

Item #4 will be the most difficult to implement as it requires a rich market infrastructure that China will likely not achieve for another 10 years.

Don't forget, universal control of media. (2, Interesting)

twitter (104583) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659283)

You need to make sure only two or three companies have the ability to "clog the airwaves" with "official" opinion. With a single telco, you can sell your broadcast spectrum to two or three of the highest bidders which you can threaten and pit against each other. While the public debates the specious arguments you troll them with, real policy is decided by you and your friends. Everone else will then be a non mainstream crackpot easy to ignore.

If you allow a free press, true local cultures and thoughts will spring up and things are much more difficult to arrange.

Re:Free Speech 2.0 (2, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659299)

2. Polarization of the citizenry such that members of each party are inclined to prefer gravitas-laden Spin-Alley journalism over fact-based reporting. The beauty of this is that market forces guarantee the creation of these entities at no cost to the taxpayer.

Are you daring to question the truthiness of modern journalism, sir? Why, just last night I saw hard-hitting journalists on CNN mulling over numerous sensationalist celebrity court cases that could effect our lives. Are you saying THAT'S not serious journalism?!?!?

-Eric

Re:Free Speech 2.0 (2, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659361)

1. Single-party rule, or dual-party rule provided there is no meaningful difference between each party.

2. Polarization of the citizenry such that members of each party are inclined to prefer gravitas-laden Spin-Alley journalism over fact-based reporting. The beauty of this is that market forces guarantee the creation of these entities at no cost to the taxpayer.

This to some degree contradicts your first point. If there is truly no diffrence between parties, there is no need to influence the results. But we know a great deal of effort goes into influencing results.

The parties are different, but the differences bewtween them are inherently self-limiting. Elections in a two party, plurality voting system are won in the middle. The parties structure themselves on either end of a somewhat artificial spectrum, and peddle their goods to the center. Meanwhile they lay confident claim to their end of the spectrum, up to the point on the tail end of the distribution where appeasing an extreme voter limits their centrist appeal.

This tendency of the parties to try to crowd into the center of the see-saw means that people who control money have the opportunity to tip the election by putting their thumb on the scales. Furthermore, since election reform limits the amount of money in the system, money is scarce therefore dear. Money, which is artificially limited, has little pernicious effect in itself, it's the influence of money, which is unrestricted as ever. The net effect is to make buying a congressman, economically speaking, a bargain.

What is shocking about Washington is not that money buys influence, but that it buys it so cheaply. The real costs lay in coordination and bringing pressure to bear so you can convert that influence into real power.

3. An efficient staff chartered with discrediting any voice that speaks out against the establishment. Again, very little money needs to be spent here -- talking points with which Spin-Alley journalists are free to clog the airwaves are simply published to the web.

This is where you are seriously wrong. A great deal of money needs to be spent, although if you do this right, it largely swirls around in your incestuous group of cronies. To be sure, the money is nearly useless without coordination and discipline. The object is to control the very terms of the debate so that no process approaching critical thinking has a chance to arise in the public mind. But conspicuousness counts: you need a large soapbox and a megaphone that is as loud as possible. Fox News, for example, is a huge investment of capital. But it would be useless without two things, a coordinated messages, and having enough people who count beholden to you that they don't start running off and talking as if they think for themselves.

The interesting thing about the US system is the degree to which it rewards conformity. If you don't have the substantially same opinions or repeat the same kinds of language, no matter how inane, you are instantly written off by the media as not serious. In effect, in US politics, you must demonstrate a minimal willingness to engage in insincerity before you are considered credible. If you appear uncomfortable with this, you are considered phony; if you go so far as to show signs of individuality, then you risk being considered downright crazy.

It takes money to accomplish this, but the effect of well leveraged wealth and power is that anybody who stands out from the herd is immediately savaged. The last presidential contender who was unabashedly individual was Ross Perot, who was painted as a nutcase and didn't stand a ghost of a chance, but was to wealthy to ignore.

Bringing this back on track, the system as it has evolved here works very well for its masters. However, I don't think it woudl work for the Chinese Communist party. Any concentration of wealth can participate, so that party power will be diluted. Controlling wealth is going to be difficult givin their growth rate.

Re:Free Speech 2.0 (1)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659625)


The formula we've perfected in the west requires only four components:


The west? I think you're talking about the United States here. I'm pretty sure many other western countries don't have a single party or two party system. I've never lived in a country other than the US, but my understanding is that in other countries there isn't the kind of polarization that seems to have only intensified in the last 6 years here. That's not to say other countries are perfect, or even better than the US. But your example of "the west" only applies to the US from what I know.

Re:Free Speech 2.0 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14660440)

Oh my God! I can't believe you could speak such truth and Slashdot's manipulative moderation system didn't mark you 0 or -1!!!

I love your comments. Absolutely true. I would imagine if you started speculating as to what our government is doing with it's manipulative powers the powers that be (puppetmasters) behind Slashdot would put a stop to it in a hurry!

Thanks for the rare inspiration dude. I used to hear great comments like yours years ago on Slashdot. Not any longer. So THANK YOU very much!!

Finders Fee available? (2, Funny)

magores (208594) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659007)

$100 per correct answer?

-Google
-Microsoft
-China
-Saudi Arabia
-Iran
-North Korea
-Every other country in the world, to some extent or another.

----

Minus $100 for every OBVIOUS answer?

Where do I send the check?

----

M

Is Internet access the only measure of freedom? (5, Insightful)

Jivha (842251) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659023)

While I laud the initiative, I do(at the risk of getting negative karma) wonder why we're so fixated with Internet access as the sole metric for global freedom?

Is the press free all around the world? Do undertrials or accused enjoy fair trials everywhere? Does corporate money/advertising implicitly censor what we see in the media? Do citizens in democracies have access to all information that concerns them? Can the poor ever have equal chances to attend universities and schools?

I'm from India, a democracy and a market economy(mostly). I can say confidently that my answers to most of the above questions are "no". I'm guessing the same is true for countries around the world, including the US and the west.

So lets strive for unrestricted Internet access around the world, but lets also figure out what else comprises freedom for the non-/. folks out there.

Re:Is Internet access the only measure of freedom? (3, Interesting)

stinerman (812158) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659112)

Is the press free all around the world? Do undertrials or accused enjoy fair trials everywhere? Does corporate money/advertising implicitly censor what we see in the media? Do citizens in democracies have access to all information that concerns them? Can the poor ever have equal chances to attend universities and schools?

The point of Internet access is that, by nature, access opens the door to so much information. Your local totalitarian government can censor the paper media and just about everything in their country (if the citizens let them get away with it). They can not censor the media in other countries. Of course China is trying to do this, but they still haven't gotten it all covered. Trying to completely censor anything people in a non-free country might want to search is difficult, so most often people will gain the insight that only a diverse media can bring ... hence the fixation on Internet access.

"Hactavists"? (0)

John Nowak (872479) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659195)

I could see Hactivists or Hacktivists, or even Hackervists.

But ... Hactavists? Why i -> a?

Yeah, bit it's (1)

n6kuy (172098) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659363)

... Canadian money, right?

Re:Yeah, bit it's (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14660534)

As of 2006-02-07:
$1.00USD = $1.15CND
That comes out to $3.5million CND

Sadly, before 2003, the exchange rate was more like $1.00USD -> $1.75CND, which makes that 3 mill a cool $5 1/4 million CND. And our cost of living is way lower and our quality of life is way higher. Oh and "universal health care" is a sweet thing.

So the joke's on you pal-y-o. ;)

Re:Yeah, bit it's (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14660752)

From the very first sentence of TFA:

A University of Toronto group of "hactivists" will benefit from a $3-million US grant given to an international project that fights internet censorship.

The university group will get roughly $3.435 million according to google [google.ca] .

Hacktivists? not exactly (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14660033)

I believe a hacktivist is not one who simply monitors, but does something about the information which 'comes into their hands' ( ;) ).

So how can a government sponsored university which is simply monitoring the censorship without doing a thing to stop it hacktivist?

anyone?....

didn't think so...

I know it's a made up word but... (1)

Radak (126696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14661497)

Spelling courtesy of Google:

Results 1 - 10 of about 93 for hactavist.
Results 1 - 10 of about 187,000 for hactivist.
Results 1 - 10 of about 204,000 for hacktivist.

Personally, I'm partial to hacktivist, but take your pick of the last two. TFA spells it the second way. The way the headline spells it is definitely not right.
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