Liked The Swerve (Locus)

The swerve is our hopeful future. Our happy ending isn’t averting the disas­ter. Our happy ending is surviving the disaster. Managed retreat. Emergency measures.

In the swerve, we’ll still have refugee crises, but we’ll address them hu­manely, rather than building gulags and guard-towers.

We’ll still have wildfires, but we’ll evacuate cities ahead of them, and we’ll commit billions to controlled burns.

We’ll still have floods, but we’ll relocate our cities out of floodplains.

Bookmarked So You’ve Decided to Unfollow Me – Cory Doctorow – Medium (Medium)

Find a writer you like and read them. If you can’t find the writer whose work you want to read, become that writer. That’s what I did. It’s great.

Cory Doctorow addresses the changing times in regards to challenges with being able to be able follow a particular part of someone’s interests or output.

If you loved a writer’s output of x but couldn’t abide their output of y, no problem — you’d just suck their feed into your reader and tell it to block stuff tagged as y.

That dream is mostly dead. Even on the Fediverse, your ability to follow someone for x but not y is crude as hell, hardly better than the web of the early 2000s.

Personally, what I find interesting about Doctorow’s discussion is whether you find a writer or are just interested in a topic. Although I am really intrigued by Chris Aldrich’s model, where you can easily put together a custom feed of the bits you you like. I fear that this sort of model still puts too my onus on the writer, not the reader. I also feel that maybe there is something of a reality of going crate digging. Maybe, feed readers will continue to evolve and become ‘smart’, but for now I will live with the practice of serendipitously sifting and sorting through feeds for the dots.

Bookmarked Tracking Exposed: Demanding That the Gods Explain Themselves (Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Tracking Exposed is a small collective of European engineers and designers who systematically probe social media algorithms to replace the folk-theories that inform Algospeak with hard data about what the platforms up- and down-rank.

Cory Doctorow discusses Tracking Exposed, a collective of designers using adversarial interoperability to go beyond the guessing game of algospeak to provide a more concrete understanding of algorithms and content moderation. I really like Doctorow’s argument about moderation, comparing it with a boss keeping it secret what a worker’s job is.

The gold standard for a security system is one that works even if your adversary understands it. Content moderation is the only major domain where “if I told you how it worked, it would stop working” is considered a reasonable proposition. 

This is especially vexing for the creators who won’t get compensated for their creative work when an algorithmic misfire buries it: for them, “I can’t tell you how the system works or you might cheat” is like your boss saying “I can’t tell you what your job is, or you might trick me into thinking you’re a good employee.”

Liked Pluralistic: 08 Apr 2022 by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow (pluralistic.net)

The music industry got exactly what it wished for: a world in which the customary borrowing and trading between musicians and their songs was prohibited, with incredibly stiff penalties. To the extent that they’d even considered that this would interfere with normal musical activity, they’d assumed that it wouldn’t interfere with their activities, since the three labels would be able to cross-license to one another, and between them, they’d own everything.

But they didn’t think it through. They failed to realize that the legal liability regimes they’d created would cut both ways, and that the peripheral acts and businesses – obscure Christian hiphop artists, say – would see the giant labels and their stars as irresistibly juicy targets.

Bookmarked Pluralistic: 12 Mar 2022 by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow (pluralistic.net)

This power-focused analysis thinks about speech systemically, and works more like a class action than an individual case. It has to move beyond the obsession with takedown/leave-up decision, and the appeals process. Instead, it has to focus on design choices about fact-checkers, algorithm design and sensitivity. Most of all, we need to break free of the trap of requiring ever-shorter takedowns of ever-broader categories of speech, with stronger rights of appeal for when this goes wrong.

Focusing on individual cases isn’t just impractical, it’s unhelpful, for four reasons:

i. Individual cases do little to illuminate systemic problems;

ii. Appeals processes do little to fix systemic problems;

iii. Transparency about individual judgments isn’t transparency into system design;

iv. Fixing things for individuals can make them worse for the group.

Cory Doctorow unpacks Evelyn Douek’s paper Content Moderation as Administration and the idea of focusing on systemic speech acts.
Liked We Should Not Endure a King by Cory Doctorow (marker.medium.com)

The point of antitrust isn’t to make companies work better. It’s to make them fail better. It’s to ensure that abusive employers can’t buy off the NLRB, that payday lenders can’t buy off the CFPB, that polluting industrialists can’t buy off the EPA, that murderously reckless aerospace companies can’t buy off the FAA, that intergenerational pharma crime families can’t buy off the FDA.

It doesn’t matter if a monopoly is efficient. If we let rich people structure our lives — if we yield to the right’s eugenic insistence that some are born to rule, the rest to be ruled —we pay a price so high that it erases any “efficiency” gains.

In the short term, it’s “efficient” to build an apartment complex with no fire doors; to toss your waste into the street; to drive drunk rather than paying for a taxi.

“Cory Doctorow” in Pluralistic: 28 Feb 2022 – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow ()
Liked Pluralistic: 28 Aug 2021 by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow (pluralistic.net)

Network effects are how Facebook attracts users, but switching costs are how it holds them hostage.

The higher the switching costs, the bigger the shit sandwich Facebook can force you to eat before you leave.

That’s why interoperability is such a big deal – because it lowers the switching costs. If you can take your apps or friends or files or media with you when you leave a service, then the service has to treat you better, lest you depart.

Bookmarked Self-publishing – Cory Doctorow – Medium by Cory Doctorow (Medium)

Unless you feel you can figure out how to market your book, unless you want to devote as much energy to that marketing plan as you did to its authorship and production, unless you are prepared to sustain your marketing effort through constant iteration and refinement, you probably shouldn’t self-publish.

Cory Doctorow reflects upon the monopolisation of the book publishing industry and the perils associated with self-publishing. He shares some of the lessons that he has learnt along the way:

I’ve evolved a checklist for would-be self-publishers that makes success more than a matter of pure luck.

  1. Observe the publishing fortunes of books whose audiences you imagine to be similar to your book’s audience;
  2. From these observations, formulate a falsifiable hypothesis about how you will reach a similar audience;
  3. Based on this hypothesis, formulate a plan to get your book to that audience;
  4. Execute your plan, and measure its progress by comparing your book’s performance to your hypothesized performance;
  5. As new data comes in about where your hypothesis was mistaken, revise your hypothesis and make a new plan, and execute that;
  6. Go to step 4. and repeat.

This won’t guarantee that you succeed, but without something like this, you will almost certainly fail.

I am intrigued to how this differs in Australia or if it is the same all over the world.

Doctorow also shared a reading of the piece on his podcast:

Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radicalized_(Doctorow_book)

John Scalzi, writing for the Los Angeles Times, described Radicalized as “a collection of four novellas that take on political and social themes relevant today — medical care, immigration, white male rage and technological monopolies, among others — [wrapped] in a layer of fiction, thin enough that most of these stories could be happening, if not today then tomorrow at the latest”.[3] Annette Lapointe of the New York Journal of Books critiqued that “The stories themselves are simple, and the characters thinly fleshed: no relief there. When we tear ourselves free, we find that we’ve found nothing substantial. Doctorow would have been better served to render his ideas as essays, so that he could give them the complexity they deserve, and release his barely realized characters from their political pantomime.”[1]

Radicalised contains four novellas, exploring various current-day topics:

  • “Unauthorized Bread” – A refugee, Salima, confronts the software controlling her kitchen appliances after the companies who created those appliances suddenly cease operations.
  • “Model Minority” – “American Eagle”, a superhero resembling Superman, attempts to take on racial violence in the American policing system.[2]
  • “Radicalized” – A man becomes embroiled in a dark web network targeting insurance companies after his wife’s cancer coverage was declined by their health insurer.
  • “Masque of the Red Death” – A wealthy financier builds and manages a doomsday vault, designed to withstand societal collapse.

I listened to Masque of the Red Death last year when Doctorow released it on his podcast, but I had not read/listened the rest of the stories.

What I like about the Doctorow’s writing is his ability to not only address various issues such as refugees, digital rights and police brutality, but also the way in which he teaches as he writes. Whether it be unpacking the internet of things in Unauthorised Bread and predictive policing in Model Minority.

Bookmarked Cory Doctorow: Tech Monopolies and the Insufficient Necessity of Interoperability (Locus Online)

Tech is the logical place to start, not just because everyone is fed up with tech, but because tech is so central to everything else we do – it provides the communications and coordination that are at the heart of every mass movement. And tech’s flex­ibility – that protean, foundational ability to plug everything into everything else – means that tech trustbusters have a uniquely suitable tool for prying apart monopolies: interoperability.

Forcing interop back into tech won’t be the end of the anti-monopoly fight, but it’ll be the end of the beginning – the necessary but insufficient step we’ll take before moving on to far more ambitious projects.

Cory Doctorow continues his discussion of anti-trust and the break-up of monopolies. He argues that the place to start is with technology companies. Using the example of the challenge of Australian railways to demonstrate what interoperability would mean for technology companies.

Despite all the handwringing over the inaccessibility of old digital data, the reality is that new computers can emulate old computers and run the programs that were used to create and read that data in the deep past of computing (getting the data off of old storage media that is physically deteriorating is another story). If Austra­lia’s middle-gauge muddle were a matter of digital incompatibilities, some programmers could whip up a “translation layer” that mediated between different tracks and cars and unify the system. If we can connect billions of devices running millions of versions of scores of operating systems to each other via the internet, getting six Australian states’ railcars to connect to each others’ (digital) tracks is a piece of piss.

Although we need to do more than open platform capitalism up in regards to interoperability, it is the start that has the potential to get the ball rolling in regards to change.

One of the interesting points that Docotorw made was that in the end the companies are really all the same, just with different flavours.

Maybe large companies all have the same ideology (“profit”). Maybe the distinctions between their characters are as meaningful as the “flavors” of the different marshmallows in a box of Lucky Charms. Maybe the reason John Legere worked at AT&T and Sprint before going to T-Mobile is that they are interchangeable monopolies whose top ranks all came up together, know each other, take vacations together, and are godparents to one-another’s children. Maybe they aren’t really rivals.
Maybe monopolists have class solidarity, is what I’m saying.

Bookmarked The Memex Method | Cory Doctorow’s craphound.com by Cory Doctorow | Cory Doctorow’s craphound.com (craphound.com)

Blogging isn’t just a way to organize your research — it’s a way to do research for a book or essay or story or speech you don’t even know you want to write yet. It’s a way to discover what your future books and essays and stories and speeches will be about.

In this reading of his Medium piece, Cory Doctorow reflects upon the power of blogging as a digital commonplace book.

Every day, I load my giant folder of tabs; zip through my giant collection of RSS feeds; and answer my social telephones — primarily emails and Twitter mentions — and I open each promising fragment in its own tab to read and think about.
If the fragment seems significant, I’ll blog it: I’ll set out the context for why I think this seems important and then describe what it adds to the picture.

These repeated acts of public description adds each idea to a supersaturated, subconscious solution of fragmentary elements that have the potential to become something bigger. Every now and again, a few of these fragments will stick to each other and nucleate, crystallizing a substantial, synthetic analysis out of all of those bits and pieces I’ve salted into that solution of potential sources of inspiration.

That’s how blogging is complimentary to other forms of more serious work: when you’ve done enough of it, you can get entire essays, speeches, stories, novels, spontaneously appearing in a state of near-completeness, ready to be written.

This builds on a previous piece in which Doctorow unpacks his daily process.

Bookmarked Pluralistic: 21 Apr 2021 by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow (pluralistic.net)

de-identifying data is really hard, and it only gets harder over time. Say the NHS releases prescribing data: date, doctor, prescription, and a random identifier. That’s a super-useful data-set for medical research.

And say the next year, Addison-Lee or another large minicab company suffers a breach (no human language contains the phrase “as secure as minicab IT”) that contains many of the patients’ journeys that resulted in that prescription-writing.

Merge those two data-sets and you re-identify many of the patients in the data. Subsequent releases and breaches compound the problem, and there’s nothing the NHS can do to either predict or prevent a breach by a minicab company.

Even if the NHS is confident in its anonymization, it can never be confident in the sturdiness of that anonymity over time.

Cory Doctorow discusses the problems on anonymity of de-identified data over time. He talks about the paper in Nature about the use of generative models to re-identify datasets and the site developed by the Imperial College of London which demonstrates how problematic the notion of de-identified data is.
Liked Pluralistic: 19 Apr 2021 by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow (Pluralistic)

The anonymous author of the leaked memo calls themself and their colleagues “the tonsils of the internet, a constantly bombarded first line of defense against potential trauma to the userbase.”

FB is a company that says it can do everything – operate local offices in more than 100 countries, field a major VR platform, issue a currency. But when it comes to moderation, it is rendered helpless before the enormity of the task.

The “we must outsource” explanation grows ever thinner, while the “tonsils” hypothesis has enormous explanatory power.

Bookmarked Cory Doctorow: Free Markets (Locus Online)

When monopolists control the way to the market, all the other market participants have to form cartels to fight them. The reason the Big Six publishers col­luded with Apple to fix prices was that Amazon was destroying them. The reason the Big Six have turned into the Big Four is that the only way to survive the mobile duopoly and the ebook monopoly is to merge and merge and merge.

After all, when different companies collude on prices, that’s an antitrust violation. When different divisions of the same company collude, that’s just do­ing business. If you want to collude with a competitor without getting sued, you just need to buy them first.

Cory Doctorow reflects on his experience of running a campaign associated with the audiobook for Attack Surface and the challenges faced by a ‘free market’. He discusses the user experience associated with selling people an mp3 file compared with purchasing a book via an app like Audible or even integrated within Kindle.

Apple and Google are serious about keeping their 30% ferryman’s rake on everyone they row to the market. They use lawsuits to kick out noncompliant apps and DRM on their devices to keep apps out after they’ve been tossed (Google’s Android devices are better on this second front). Both companies make billions in economic rents on app purchases.
Can it really be a coincidence that both companies have also made it nearly impossible to download a file from the internet and get it to play on your phone without an app?
Unfree markets are the order of the day: not because governments intervene in them, but because they don’t. Predatory mergers have clustered publishing, payment processing, app delivery, distribution, and most other parts of the book world into industries dominated by five or fewer firms; some sectors (on­line bookselling, national book retail) are dominated by one firm. In many cases, the same firm appears in multiple places in the value chain, letting it flank the sectors it doesn’t control and squeeze them as a supplier on one side and as a customer on the other.

Doctorow also recorded a reading of the article too:

Bookmarked Cory Doctorow: Neofeudalism and the Digital Manor (Locus Online)

To engage in data-collection in the wake of 2013 isn’t just an oversight, it’s an act of collaboration with the forces of surveillance. In 2020, Google has admitted that it is being required to respond to “reverse search warrants” that reveal the identities of every person who was present at a certain loca­tion at a certain time; and “search-term warrants” to reveal the identities of every person who used a specific search-term. These warrants are utterly foreseeable. Google collects this data, so governments will require them to turn it over – and not just the US government, either.

As with Apple, the best way for Google to avoid being ordered to turn over data on its users is to not collect or retain that data in the first place. And, as with Apple, the next best thing is to give users the power to turn off that data-collection and data-retention altogether, something Google’s gotten marginally better at in the past year.

Reflecting on Apple’s move to restrict which operating systems are able to run, Cory Doctorow discusses what Bruce Schneier has called ‘feudal security’. This is where we hand over power and trust to platform capitalism to keep us say.

The security researcher (and Hugo Award-nominee) Bruce Schneier has a name for this arrangement: he calls it feudal security. Here in the 21st century, we are beset by all manner of digital bandits, from identity thieves, to stalkers, to corporate and government spies, to harassers. There is no way for us to defend ourselves: even skilled technologists who administer their own networked services are no match for the bandits. To keep bandits out, you have to be perfect and perfectly vigilant, and never make a single mistake. For the bandits to get you, they need merely find a single mistake that you’ve made.

To be safe, then, you have to ally yourself with a warlord. Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and a few others have built massive fortresses bristling with defenses, whose parapets are stalked by the most ferocious cybermerce­naries money can buy, and they will defend you from every attacker – except for their employers. If the warlord turns on you, you’re defenseless.

Going further, Doctorow ponders if in fact it is ‘manorial security’:

Schneier calls this “Feudal Security,” but as the medievalist Stephen Morillo wrote to me, the correct term for this is probably “Manorial Security” – while feudalism was based on land-grants to aristocrats who promised armed soldiers in return, manorialism referred to a system in which an elite owned all the property and the rest of the world had to work on that property on terms that the local lord set.

The problem is that we are then at the whims of somebody else’s choices or, in the case of Cambridge Analytica, abuses. In response, Doctorow posits that rather than a turn towards survellance, companies like Apple, Facebook and Google have an opportunity for a Ulysses Pact where in a position of strength these platforms decide to step away from shady data practices.

In his own commentary, Alan Jacobs suggests that this is why the open web is so important.

So let me bang this antique drum one more time: You need to own as much of your turf as you can. I explain why and how, in detail, in this essay. Avoid the walled gardens of social media, because at any moment they could appeal to digital eminent domain and move the walls somewhere else, and if they did you’d have zero recourse.

Replied to Pluralistic: 13 Jan 2021 by Cory DoctorowCory Doctorow (pluralistic.net)

I don’t often do “process posts” but this merits it. Here’s how I built Pluralistic and here’s how it works today, after nearly a year.

Congratulations on 20 years Cory and thank you for sharing your process. I really liked your point about first and fore mostly doing it for yourself.

First and foremost, I do it for me. The memex I’ve created by thinking about and then describing every interesting thing I’ve encountered is hugely important for how I understand the world. It’s the raw material of every novel, article, story and speech I write.

And I do it for the causes I believe in. There’s stuff in this world I want to change for the better. Explaining what I think is wrong, and how it can be improved, is the best way I know for nudging it in a direction I want to see it move.

I also like your suggestion that it is your ‘outboard brain’.

I go through my old posts every day. I know that much – most? – of them are not for the ages. But some of them are good. Some, I think, are great. They define who I am. They’re my outboard brain.

The question I wonder is how your purpose has changed over time? Clearly your process with Blogger is different than what you do now, is there anything beyond that?

Bookmarked Mashapedia: Technologies of Attack Surface by Cory Doctorow (pavelanni.github.io)
Pavel Anni has put together a companion to Cory Doctorow’s novel, Attack Surface and the Little Brother series documenting the various technology and terms used.

Cory Doctorow in Pluralistic: 09 Jan 2021 – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow ()

Bookmarked The Justice Department Finally Takes on Google and the Danger of Monopolies by Cory Doctorow (The Daily Beast)

We are long overdue for a reckoning with concentrated corporate power in every industry. The entertainment and telecoms giants who are cheerleading a turn in the barrel for their archrivals in Silicon Valley are making a bet that a revitalized, muscular antitrust will neuter tech, and then stop. They’re wrong. The momentum building for breakups and other anti-monopoly actions is unstoppable.

Cory Doctorow responds to the efforts to curtail Google. He provides a context to the monopoly laws.

Bork’s fundamental belief was that if you stared really hard at anti-monopoly laws like the Sherman Act and the Clayton Act, you’d find that their drafters never really worried about monopolies. Rather, they only worried about harmful monopolies—which is to say, instances in which companies do something nakedly anticompetitive in a way that results in an immediate increase in prices. Bork’s big idea was that unless you could prove that some monopolistic crime would raise near-term consumer prices, it shouldn’t be prosecuted.

And now, after 40 years of non-enforcement of monopoly laws, the world has:

· five giant publishers

· four giant movie studios

· three giant record labels

· two giant brewers

· one giant eyewear maker

One of the main reasons we are where we are is because Google was not  regulated early.

There’s a Silicon Valley consensus that Google survived its infancy because Microsoft elected not to strangle it in its cradle, the way the Beast of Redmond had done with Netscape and other upstarts of the previous decade. This forbearance is attributed to the Justice Department’s long (and ultimately unsuccessful) antitrust action over the Windows monopoly. The theory goes that Microsoft had its predatory spirit tamed after a decade-long regulatory siege and was frightened of what an all-out assault on Google might provoke.

Doctorow suggests that today’s start-ups are really just glorified hiring processes:

Today, the best a budding technologist can hope for is to do a fake startup whose “product” exists only to demonstrate that they and their team can successfully complete an ambitious project. These post-grad practicums are the precursor to an “aqui-hire,” when a large firm buys out a startup solely to get a proven team, shutting down its products after the acquisition. Venture capital is now a glorified talent agency, and the “acquisition” is split between “investors” and “founders” in lieu of a finder’s fee and a hiring bonus.