Fighting Neo-Nazis and the Future of Free Expression



  • In the wake of Charlottesville, both GoDaddy and Google have refused to manage the domain registration for the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website that, in the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center, is “dedicated to spreading anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and white nationalism.” Subsequently, CloudFlare, whose service was used to protect the site from denial-of-service attacks, has also dropped them as a customer, with a telling quote from Cloudflare’s CEO: “Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.”

    We agree. Even for free speech advocates, this situation is deeply fraught with emotional, logistical, and legal twists and turns. All fair-minded people must stand against the hateful violence and aggression that seems to be growing across our country. But we must also recognize that on the Internet, any tactic used now to silence neo-Nazis will soon be used against others, including people whose opinions we agree with. Those on the left face calls to characterize the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group. In the cases that formed the basis of today’s protections of freedom of speech, the NAACP’s voice was the one attacked.

    Protecting free speech is not something we do because we agree with all of the speech that gets protected. We do it because the power to decide who gets to speak and who doesn’t is just too dangerous to hand to any company or any government.

    What Happened?

    Earlier this week, following complaints about a vitriolic and abusive Daily Stormer article on Heather Heyer—the woman killed when a white nationalist drove a car into a crowd of anti-racism demonstrators—GoDaddy told the site’s owners that they had 24 hours to leave their service. Daily Stormer subsequently moved their domain to Google’s domain management service. Within hours Google announced that it too was refusing Daily Stormer as a customer. Google also placed the dailystormer.com domain on “Client Hold”, which means that Daily Stormer’s owner cannot activate, use or move the domain to another service. It’s unclear whether this is for a limited amount of time, or whether Google has decided to effectively take ownership of the dailystormer.com domain permanently. CloudFlare, whose service was used to protect the site from denial-of-service attacks, subsequently dropped them as a customer.

    We at EFF defend the right of anyone to choose what speech they provide online; platforms have a First Amendment right to decide what speech does and does not appear on their platforms. That’s what laws like CDA 230 in the United States enable and protect.

    But we strongly believe that what GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare did here was dangerous. That’s because, even when the facts are the most vile, we must remain vigilant when platforms exercise these rights. Because Internet intermediaries, especially those with few competitors, control so much online speech, the consequences of their decisions have far-reaching impacts on speech around the world. And at EFF we see the consequences first hand: every time a company throws a vile neo-Nazi site off the Net, thousands of less visible decisions are made by companies with little oversight or transparency. Precedents being set now can shift the justice of those removals. Here’s what companies and individuals should watch for in these troubling times.

    Content Removal At the Very Top of The Internet

    Domain registrars are one of many types of companies in the chain of online content distribution—the Internet intermediaries positioned between the writer or poster of speech and the reader of that speech. Other intermediaries include the ISP that delivers a website’s content to end users, the certificate authority (such as EFF’s Let’s Encrypt) that issues an SSL certificate to the website, the content delivery network that optimizes the availability and performance of the website, the web hosting company that provides server space for the website, and even communications platforms—such as email providers and social media companies—that allow the website’s URLs to be easily shared. EFF has a handy chart of some of those key links between speakers and their audience here.

    The domain name system is a key part of the Internet’s technical underpinnings, which are enabled by an often-fragile consensus among many systems and operators. Using that system to edit speech, based on potentially conflicting opinions about what can be spoken on the Internet, risks shattering that consensus. Domain suspension is a blunt instrument: suspending the domain name of a website or Internet service makes everything hosted there difficult or impossible to access. The risk of blocking speech that wasn’t targeted is very high.

    Domain name companies also have little claim to be publishers, or speakers in their own right, with respect to the contents of websites. Like the suppliers of ink or electrical power to a pamphleteer, the companies that sponsor domain name registrations have no direct connection to Internet content. Domain name registrars have even less connection to speech than a conduit provider such as an ISP, as the contents of a website or service never touch the registrar’s systems. Registrars’ interests as speakers under the First Amendment are minimal.

    If the entities that run the domain name system started choosing who could access or add to them based on political considerations, we might well face a world where every government and powerful body would see itself as an equally or more legitimate invoker of that power. That makes the domain name system unsuitable as a mechanism for taking down specific illegal content as the law sometimes requires, and a perennially attractive central location for nation-states and others to exercise much broader takedown powers.

    Another lever that states and malicious actors often reach for when seeking to censor legitimate voices is through denial-of-service attacks. States and criminals alike use this to silence voices, and the Net’s defenses against such actions are not well-developed. Services like CloudFlare can protect against these attacks, but not if they also face direct pressure from governments and other actors to pick and choose their clients. Content delivery networks are not wired into the infrastructure of the Net in the way that the domain name system is, but at this point, they may as well be.

    These are parts of the Net that are most sensitive to pervasive censorship: they are free speech’s weakest links. It’s the reason why millions of net neutrality advocates are concerned about ISPs censoring their feeds. Or why, when the handful of global payment processors unite to block certain websites, like Wikileaks, worldwide, we should be concerned. These weak links are both the most tempting, and most egregiously damaging places, to filter the Net.

    The firmest, most consistent, defense these potential weak links can take is to simply decline all attempts to use them as a control point. They can act to defend their role as a conduit, rather than a publisher. And just as law and custom developed a norm that we might sue a publisher for defamation, but not the owner of a printing press, or newspaper vendor, we are slowly developing norms about who should take responsibility for content online. Companies that manage domain names, including GoDaddy and Google, should draw a hard line: they should not suspend or impair domain names based on the expressive content of websites or services.

    Have A Process, Don’t Act on the Headlines

    Other elements of the Net risk less when they are selective about who they host. But even there, there’s always a risk that others—including governments—will use the opaqueness of the takedown process to silence legitimate voices. For any content hosts that do reject content as part of the enforcement of their terms of service, we have long recommended that they implement procedural protections to mitigate mistakes, or are pressured by states to secretly censor—specifically, the Manila Principles on Intermediary Liability. The principles state, in part:

    • Before any content is restricted on the basis of an order or a request, the intermediary and the user content provider must be provided an effective right to be heard except in exceptional circumstances, in which case a post facto review of the order and its implementation must take place as soon as practicable.
    • Intermediaries should provide user content providers with mechanisms to review decisions to restrict content in violation of the intermediary’s content restriction policies.
    • Intermediaries should publish their content restriction policies online, in clear language and accessible formats, and keep them updated as they evolve, and notify users of changes when applicable.

    These are methods that protect us all against overbroad or arbitrary takedowns. It’s notable that in GoDaddy and Google’s eagerness to swiftly distance themselves from American neo-Nazis, no process was followed; CloudFlare’s Prince also admitted that the decision was “not CloudFlare’s policy.” Policies give guidance as to what we might expect, and an opportunity to see justice is done. We should think carefully before throwing them away.

    It might seem unlikely now that Internet companies would turn against sites supporting racial justice or other controversial issues. But if there is a single reason why so many individuals and companies are acting together now to unite against neo-Nazis, it is because a future that seemed unlikely a few years ago — that white nationalists and Nazis now have significant power and influence in our society — now seems possible. We would be making a mistake if we assumed that these sorts of censorship decisions would never turn against causes we love.

    Part of the work of all of us now is to push back against such dangerous voices with our own voices and actions. Another part is to seek to shore up the weakest parts of the Internet’s infrastructure, so it cannot be easily toppled if matters take a turn for the (even) worse. These actions are not in opposition; they are to the same ends.

    We can — and we must — do both.

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/08/fighting-neo-nazis-future-free-expression





Tmux Commands

screen and tmux

A comparison of the features (or more-so just a table of notes for accessing some of those features) for GNU screen and BSD-licensed tmux.

The formatting here is simple enough to understand (I would hope). ^ means ctrl+, so ^x is ctrl+x. M- means meta (generally left-alt or escape)+, so M-x is left-alt+x

It should be noted that this is no where near a full feature-set of either group. This - being a cheat-sheet - is just to point out the most very basic features to get you on the road.

Trust the developers and manpage writers more than me. This document is originally from 2009 when tmux was still new - since then both of these programs have had many updates and features added (not all of which have been dutifully noted here).

Action tmux screen
start a new session tmux OR
tmux new OR
tmux new-session
screen
re-attach a detached session tmux attach OR
tmux attach-session
screen-r
re-attach an attached session (detaching it from elsewhere) tmux attach -d OR
tmux attach-session -d
screen -dr
re-attach an attached session (keeping it attached elsewhere) tmux attach OR
tmux attach-session
screen -x
detach from currently attached session ^b d OR
^b :detach
^a ^d OR
^a :detach
rename-window to newname ^b , <newname> OR
^b :rename-window <newn>
^a A <newname>
list windows ^b w ^a w
list windows in chooseable menu ^a "
go to window # ^b # ^a #
go to last-active window ^b l ^a ^a
go to next window ^b n ^a n
go to previous window ^b p ^a p
see keybindings ^b ? ^a ?
list sessions ^b s OR
tmux ls OR
tmux list-sessions
screen -ls
toggle visual bell ^a ^g
create another window ^b c ^a c
exit current shell/window ^d ^d
split window/pane horizontally ^b " ^a S
split window/pane vertically ^b % ^a |
switch to other pane ^b o ^a <tab>
kill the current pane ^b x OR (logout/^D)
collapse the current pane/split (but leave processes running) ^a X
cycle location of panes ^b ^o
swap current pane with previous ^b {
swap current pane with next ^b }
show time ^b t
show numeric values of panes ^b q
toggle zoom-state of current pane (maximize/return current pane) ^b z
break the current pane out of its window (to form new window) ^b !
re-arrange current panels within same window (different layouts) ^b [space]
Kill the current window (and all panes within) ^b killw [target-window]
  • Criteo is an ad company. You may not have heard of them, but they do retargeting, the type of ads that pursue users across the web, beseeching them to purchase a product they once viewed or have already bought. To identify users across websites, Criteo relies on cross-site tracking using cookies and other methods to follow users as they browse. This has led them to try and circumvent the privacy features in Apple’s Safari browser which protects its users from such tracking. Despite this apparently antagonistic attitude towards user privacy, Criteo has also been whitelisted by the Acceptable Ads initiative. This means that their ads are unblocked by popular adblockers such as Adblock and Adblock Plus. Criteo pays Eyeo, the operator of Acceptable Ads, for this whitelisting and must comply with their format requirements. But this also means they can track any user of these adblockers who has not disabled Acceptable Ads, even if they have installed privacy tools such as EasyPrivacy with the intention of protecting themselves. EFF is concerned about Criteo’s continued anti-privacy actions and their continued inclusion in Acceptable Ads.

    Safari Shuts out Third Party Cookies…

    All popular browsers give users control over who gets to set cookies, but Safari is the only one that blocks third-party cookies (those set by a domain other than the site you are visiting) by default. (Safari’s choice is important because only 5-10% of users ever change default settings in software.) Criteo relies on third-party cookies. Since users have little reason to visit Criteo’s own website, the company gets its cookies onto users’ machines through its integration on many online retail websites. Safari’s cookie blocking is a major problem for Criteo, especially given the large and lucrative nature of iPhone’s user base. Rather than accept this, Criteo has repeatedly implemented ways to defeat Safari’s privacy protections.

    One workaround researchers detected Criteo using was to redirect users from sites where their service was present to their own. For example, if you visited wintercoats.com and clicked on a product category, you would be first diverted to criteo.com and then redirected to wintercoats.com/down-filled. Although imperceptible to the user, this detour was enough to persuade the browser that criteo.com is a site you chose to visit, and therefore a first party entitled to set a cookie rather than a third party. Criteo applied for a patent on this method in August 2013.

    …And Closes the Backdoor

    Last summer, however, Apple unveiled a new version of Safari with more sophisticated cookie handling—called Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP)—which killed off the redirect technique as a means to circumvent the cookie controls. The browser now analyzes if the user has engaged with a website in a meaningful way before allowing it to set a cookie. The announcement triggered panic among advertising companies, whose trade association, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, denounced the feature and rushed out technical recommendations to work around it. Obviously the level of user “interaction” with Criteo during the redirect described above fails ITP’s test, which meant Criteo was locked out again.

    It appears that Criteo’s response was to abandon cookies for Safari users and to generate a persistent identifier by piggybacking on a key user safety technology called HSTS. When a browser connects to a site via HTTPS (i.e. a site that supports encryption), the site can respond with an HTTP Strict Transport Security policy (HSTS), instructing the browser to only contact it using HTTPS. Without a HSTS policy, your browser might try to connect to the site over regular old unencrypted HTTP in the future—and thus be vulnerable to a downgrade attack. Criteo used HSTS to sneak data into the browser cache to produce an identifier it could use to recognize the individual’s browser and profile them. This approach relied on the fact that it is difficult to clear HSTS data in Safari, requiring the user to purge the cache entirely to delete the identifier. For EFF, it is especially worrisome that Criteo used a technique that pits privacy protection against user security interests by targeting HSTS. Use of this mechanism was documented by Gotham City Research, an investment firm who have bet against Criteo’s stock.

    In early December, Apple released an update to iOS and Safari which disabled Criteo’s ability to exploit HSTS. This led to Criteo revising down their revenue forecasts and a sharp fall in their share price.

    How is Criteo Acceptable Advertising”****?

    "… w__e sort of seek the consent of users, just like we had done before_."__1_ - Erich Eichmann, CEO Criteo

    _"Only users who don’t already have a Criteo identifier will see the header or footer, and it is displayed only once per device. Thanks to [the?] Criteo advertisers network, most of your users would have already accepted our services on the website of another of our partner. On average, only 5% of your users will see the headers or footers, and for those who do, the typical opt-out rate is less than .2%._" - Criteo Support Center

    Criteo styles itself as a leader in privacy practices, yet they have dedicated significant engineering resources to circumventing privacy tools. They claim to have obtained user consent to tracking based on a minimal warning delivered in what we believe to be a highly confusing context. When a user first visits a site containing Criteo’s script, they received a small notice stating, _"_Click any link to use Criteo’s cross-site tracking technology." If the user continues to use the site, they are deemed to have consented. Little wonder that Criteo can boast of a low opt-out rate to their clients.

    Due to their observed behaviour prior to the ITP episode, Criteo’s incorporation into the Acceptable Ads in December 2015 aroused criticism among users of ad blockers. We have written elsewhere about how Acceptable Ads creates a clash of interests between adblocking companies and their users, especially those concerned with their privacy. But Criteo’s participation in Acceptable Ads brings into focus the substantive problem with the program itself. The criteria for Acceptable Ads are concerned chiefly with format and aesthetic aspects (e.g. How big is the ad? How visually intrusive? Does it blink?) and excludes privacy concerns. Retargeting is unpopular and mocked by users, in part because it wears its creepy tracking practices on its sleeve. Our view is that Criteo’s bad behavior should exclude its products from being deemed “acceptable” in any way.

    The fact that the Acceptable Ads Initiative has approved Criteo’s user-tracking-by-misusing-security-features ads is indicative of the privacy problems we believe to be at the heart of the Acceptable Ads program. In March this year, Eyeo announced an Acceptable Ads Committee that will control the criteria for Acceptable Ads in the future. The Committee should start by instituting a rule which excludes companies that circumvent explicit privacy tools or exploit user security technologies for the purpose of tracking.

    1. http://criteo.investorroom.com/download/Transcript_Q3+2017+Earnings_EDITED.pdf

    https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/12/arms-race-against-trackers-safari-leads-criteo-30

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  • Have you ever sent a motivational text to a friend? If you have, perhaps you tailored your message to an activity or location by saying “Good luck in the race!” or “Have fun in New York!” Now, imagine doing this automatically with a compuuuter. What a great invention. Actually, no. That’s not a good invention, it’s our latest Stupid Patent of the Month.

    U.S. Patent No. 9,069,648 is titled “Systems and methods for delivering activity based suggestive (ABS) messages.” The patent describes sending “motivational messages,” based “on the current or anticipated activity of the user,” to a “personal electronic device.” The patent provides examples such as sending the message “don’t give up” when the user is running up a hill. The examples aren’t limited to health or exercise. For example, the patent suggests sending messages like “do not fear” and “God is with you” when a “user enters a dangerous neighborhood.”

    The patent’s description of its invention is filled with silly, non-standard acronyms like ABS for “activity based suggestive” messages or EBIF for “electronic based intelligence function.” These silly acronyms create an illusion of complexity where plain, descriptive language would reveal the mundane nature of the supposed invention. For example, what the patent grandly calls EBIF appears to be nothing more than standard computer processing.

    The ’648 patent is owned by Motivational Health Messaging LLC. While this may be a new company, at least one of the people behind it has been involved in massive patent trolling campaigns before. And the two named inventors have both been inventors on patents that trolls have asserted hundreds of times. One is also an inventor listed on patents asserted by infamous patent troll Shipping and Transit LLC. The other named inventor is the inventor on the patents asserted by Electronic Communication Technologies LLC. Those two entities (with their predecessors) brought over 700 lawsuits, many against very small businesses. In other words, the ’648 patent has been issued to Troll Co. at 1 Troll Street, Troll Town, Trollida USA.

    We believe that the claims of the ’648 patent are clearly invalid under the Supreme Court’s decision in Alice v. CLS Bank, which held abstract ideas do not become eligible for a patent merely because they are implemented in conventional computer technology. Indeed, the patent repeatedly emphasizes that the claimed methods are not tied to any particular hardware or software. For example, it states:

    The software and software logic described in this document … which comprises an ordered listing of executable instructions for implementing logical functions, can be embodied in any non-transitory computer-readable medium for use by or in connection with an instruction execution system, apparatus, or device, such as a computer-based system, processor-containing system, or other system that can fetch the instructions from the instruction execution system, apparatus, or device and execute the instructions.

    The ’648 patent issued on June 30, 2015, a full year after the Supreme Court’s Alice ruling. Despite this, the patent examiner never even discussed the decision. If Alice is to mean anything at all, it has to be applied to an application like this one.

    In our view, if Motivational Health Messaging asserts its patent in court, any defendant that fought back should prevail under Alice. Indeed, we would hope that the court would strongly consider awarding attorney’s fees to the defendant in such a case. Shipping & Transit has now had two fee awards made against it for asserting patents that are clearly invalid under Alice. And the Federal Circuit recently held that fee awards can be appropriate when patent owners make objectively unreasonable argument concerning Alice.

    In addition to the problems under Alice, we believe the claims of the ’648 patent should have been rejected as obvious. When the application was filed in 2012, there was nothing new about sending motivational messages or automatically tailoring messages to things like location. In one proposed embodiment, the patent suggests that a “user walking to a hole may be delivered ABS messages, including reminders or instructions on how to play a particular hole.” But golf apps were already doing this. The Patent Office didn’t consider any real-world mobile phone applications when reviewing the application.

    If you want to look for prior art yourself, Unified Patents is running a crowdsourcing contest to find the best prior art to invalidate the ’648 patent. Aside from the warm feelings that come from fighting patent trolls, there is a $2000 prize pool.

    Despite the weakness of its patent, Motivational Health Messaging LLC might still send out demand letters. If you receive such a letter, you can contact EFF and we can help you find counsel.

    We have long complained that the Patent Office promotes patent trolling by granting obvious and/or abstract software patents. The history of the ’648 patent shows how the Patent Office’s failure to properly review applications leads to bad patents falling into the hands of trolls.

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