The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Incomprehensible privacy policies

Kevin Litman-Navarro, writing for the Times, analyzed dozens of privacy policies online for readability and brevity. The situation is grim:

The vast majority of these privacy policies exceed the college reading level. And according to the most recent literacy survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, over half of Americans may struggle to comprehend dense, lengthy texts. That means a significant chunk of the data collection economy is based on consenting to complicated documents that many Americans can’t understand.

Despite efforts like the General Data Protection Regulation to make policies more accessible, there seems to be an intractable tradeoff between a policy’s readability and length. Even policies that are shorter and easier to read can be impenetrable, given the amount of background knowledge required to understand how things like cookies and IP addresses play a role in data collection.

“You’re confused into thinking these are there to inform users, as opposed to protect companies,” said Albert Gidari, the consulting director of privacy at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

As data collection practices become more sophisticated (and invasive), it’s unlikely that privacy policies will become any easier to comprehend. And if states continue to draft their own data protection laws, as California is doing with its Consumer Privacy Act, privacy policies could balloon with location-specific addendums.

Litman-Navarro called out the BBC for its readable, short policy that explains to normal people exactly how the Beeb will use their data. He also called out AirBnB for the opposite: a lawyerly document of incredible length that tells users nothing.

Here at the Daily Parker, we only collect your personal information (specifically, your email address and name) if you give it to us through the Comment form, and we don't show your email address to anyone. Sometimes we will use it to get in touch with you directly about a comment you've left. Otherwise we treat it as we treat our own private information. Clear?

Critics of the Web—30 years ago

Alexis Madrigal takes a look at criticisms of the World Wide Web from when it was new:

Thirty years ago this week, the British scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web at CERN, the European scientific-research center. Suffice it to say, the idea took off. The web made it easy for everyday people to create and link together pages on what was then a small network. The programming language was simple, and publishing was as painless as uploading something to a server with a few tags in it.

Just a few years after the internet’s creation, a vociferous set of critics—most notably in Resisting the Virtual Life, a 1995 anthology published by City Lights Books—rose to challenge the ideas that underlay the technology, as previous groups had done with other, earlier technologies.

Maybe as a major technological movement begins to accelerate—but before its language, corporate power, and political economics begin to warp reality—a brief moment occurs when critics see the full and awful potential of whatever’s coming into the world. No, the new technology will not bring better living (at least not only that). There will be losers. Oppression will worm its way into even the most seemingly liberating spaces. The noncommercial will become hooked to a vast profit machine. People of color will be discriminated against in new ways. Women will have new labors on top of the old ones. The horror-show recombination of old systems and cultures with new technological surfaces and innards is visible, like the half-destroyed robot face of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2.

Then, if money and people really start to pour into the technology, the resistance will be swept away, left dusty and coughing as what gets called progress rushes on.

The whole piece is worth a read.

Thank you for de-linting my blog

This week, I got an email from the SEO coordinator at Alaska Airlines:

My name is Shawn with Alaska Airlines. I'm reaching out concerning a specific link on blog.braverman.org. As you may have heard, Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America last year. We are in the process of updating all Virgin America links to go directly to our website, https://www.alaskaair.com.

We want to make sure your readers are being sent to the correct place!

We would really appreciate it if you could update the link and anchor text, Virgin America, on this page: http://blog.braverman.org/2009/09/default to:https://www.alaskaair.com and Alaska Airlines. 

Please let me know if you have any questions.

If you're not the appropriate person to contact about this, can you put me in contact with the right person?

(The actual post he meant me to change is here.)

See, Alaska took over Virgin America, and now they want to scrub the Internet of all references to the old airline. I politely told Shawn that, no, I was not about to change a 9-year-old blog post to send Virgin down the memory hole.

He replied that he understood, but could I just change the URL to point to Alaska Air at least?

No, Shawn. I'm not editing the post, full stop. It reflects the state of the world in 2009, and to me, it's a document that needs to remain unaltered.

I'm sure the SEO coordinator of an airline believes that it's a doubleplusgood thing to help people who may inadvertently discover a blog post from 2009 not get misdirected. But the whole thing really creeped me out. Alaska or one of its vendors had to go through every one of the over 6,500 posts I've written looking for references to Virgin America, and then Shawn had to field my response to his (no doubt automated) email request. That's a lot of effort to pretend Virgin America never existed.

Did I mention Virgin America Airlines? Just making sure.

States can charge sales tax on Internet purchases now

The Supreme Court handed down its ruling in South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. this morning:

Brick-and-mortar businesses have long complained that they are disadvantaged by having to charge sales taxes while many of their online competitors do not. States have said that they are missing out on tens of billions of dollars in annual revenue under a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that helped spur the rise of internet shopping.

On Thursday, the court overruled that ruling, Quill Corporation v. North Dakota, which had said that the Constitution bars states from requiring businesses to collect sales taxes unless they have a substantial connection to the state.

South Dakota responded to Justice Kennedy’s invitation by enacting a law that required all merchants to collect a 4.5 percent sales tax if they had more than $100,000 in annual sales or more than 200 individual transactions in the state. State officials sued three large online retailers — Wayfair, Overstock.com and Newegg — for violating the law.

Here's a really interesting bit: "KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which THOMAS, GINSBURG, ALITO, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., and GORSUCH, J., filed concurring opinions. ROBERTS, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined."

Ginsburg siding with Thomas and Alito against Roberts, Sotomayor, and Kagan? That's just weird.

More stuff to read

What a day. I thought I'd have more time to catch up on reading up to this point, but life intervened. So an hour from now, when I'm cut off from all telecommunications for 9 hours, I plan to sleep. And if I wake, I'll read these articles that I'm leaving open in Chrome:

And now, I head to my airplane.

Travel day; link round-up

I'm heading back to the East Coast tonight to continue research for my current project, so my time today is very constrained. I hope I remember to keep these browser windows open for the plane:

So much to do today...and then a short, relaxing, upgraded flight to BWI.

This fake news is from Donbass, dumbass

Laura Reston at New Republic has a good piece on how the Soviets Russian government is doubling down on its disinformation campaign against Western democracies:

One of the most recent battles in the propaganda war took place on January 4, less than a week after President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation for the Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. election. The Donbass International News Agency, a small wire service in Eastern Ukraine, published a short article online headlined “MASSIVE NATO DEPLOYMENT UNDERWAY.” Some 2,000 American tanks were assembling on the Russian border, the agency reported. The United States was preparing to invade.

The story was a blatant fabrication.

Such tactics were pioneered during the Cold War, as the Soviet Union worked covertly to influence political dialogue in the West. From KGB rezidenturas scattered around the world, a small division called Service A planted false stories in newspapers, spread rumors, and worked to stir up racial tensions. In 1964, a KGB front group helped Joachim Joesten, a former Newsweek reporter, publish a sprawling conspiracy theory about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, which later became the basis for Oliver Stone’s JFK. In 1983, Russian operatives planted a story in a small Indian newspaper claiming that the U.S. government had manufactured the AIDS virus at a military facility in Fort Detrick, Maryland—and Soviet wire services then trumpeted the story all over the world. As U.S. officials later explained in a report to Congress, “This allows the Soviets to claim that they are just repeating stories that have appeared in the foreign press.”

The internet has enabled the Kremlin to weaponize such tactics, making propaganda easier to manufacture and quicker to disseminate than any guided missile or act of espionage. Russian operations like the Internet Research Agency have employed hundreds of bloggers to mass-produce disinformation in the form of misleading tweets, Facebook posts, and comments on web sites ranging from The Huffington Post to Fox News. “Since at least 2008,” Peter Pomerantsev, a Russian media expert, observes, “Kremlin military and intelligence thinkers have been talking about information not in the familiar terms of ‘persuasion,’ ‘public diplomacy,’ or even ‘propaganda,’ but in weaponized terms, as a tool to confuse, blackmail, demoralize, subvert, and paralyze.”

Meanwhile, our deranged President this morning openly threatened private citizen James Comey on Twitter, which should give everyone pause.

Long day...

The last two days, I've been in meetings more than 7 hours each. I'm a little fried. Meanwhile, the following have popped up for me to read over the weekend:

I'm now off to the opera. Thence, perhaps, to sleep.

August 9th has some history

The world's most recent nuclear attack on 9 August 1945 immediately springs to mind, as does Richard Nixon's resignatoin on 9 August 1973. But 9 August 1991 may be almost as important:

On this day 25 years ago the world's first website went live to the public. The site, created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, was a basic text page with hyperlinked words that connected to other pages.

Berners-Lee used the public launch to outline his plan for the service, which would come to dominate life in the twenty-first century.

"The WWW project merges the techniques of information retrieval and hypertext to make an easy but powerful global information system," said Berners-Lee on the world's first public website. "The project started with the philosophy that much academic information should be freely available to anyone."

Then, on 1 October 1994, during my first year of law school, Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium, and here we are.