Pluralistic: 01 Jul 2020

Today's links

EFF on EU interoperability policy (permalink)

My EFF colleagues Svea Windwehr and Christoph Schmon have published a major new paper on how the #EU should manage interoperability policy to ensure that Europeans can claim and preserve their rights to technological self-determination.

It's in the context of the Digital Services Act, the first major update to EU's tech regulation in a generation, intended to amend and supercede 2000's Ecommerce Directive. How DSA comes out will have a profound impact on Europeans' tech future for a generation to come.

The core principles here are to enable immunity for platforms for their users' actions and banning both filtering and mass surveillance (AKA "monitoring") of Europeans' online activities.

Only by preserving these core principles can we ensure that European tech platforms can compete with US, Russian and Chinese Big Tech, while safeguarding Europeans' fundamental rights to free expression and privacy.

Specifically, EFF wants the EU to turn away from adventures in automating mass surveillance and censorship (Avia in France, NetzDG in Germany, and the Copyright Directive) and turn its focus to smashing down the walled-garden barriers within which Big Tech holds us hostage.

To that end, EFF proposes a set of interoperability principles that will create space for alternatives to mass surveillance and the impossible and absurd idea that one company can hope to set and enforce policy governing hundreds of millions of peoples' online lives.

I. General Interoperability Obligations

Fix and expand the GDPR's "data portability" rules to close loopholes and allow Europeans to fetch their data continuously, in realtime from within the big platforms. Expose the same APIs that platforms use internally to competitors.

II. Delegatability

Allow users to designate tech providers – companies, nonprofits, coops, etc – to act on their behalf, pulling in the messages waiting for them inside Big Tech silos and pushing their replies back, without requiring them to expose themselves to surveillance.

III. Limit Commercial Use of Data

Commercial use of data made available through interop should be banned, full stop. It "should only be used for maintaining interoperability, safeguarding users’ privacy, or ensuring data security."

IV. Privacy

Mandate best practices for privacy: "data minimization, privacy by design, and privacy by default" and augment them with "easy-to-use interfaces through which users can give their explicit consent regarding any use of their data (as well as revoke that consent)."

V. Security

Companies have a duty to keep users safe, but regulators musn't allow this to become a pretense for shutting down interop: "communicate transparently, resolve the problem, and reinstate interoperability interfaces within a reasonable, clearly defined timeframe."

VI. Documentation and Non-Discrimination

"Interoperability interfaces shouldn't discriminate between competitors and shouldn't come with strenuous obligations or content restrictions. Interfaces, such as APIs, must also be easy to find, well-documented, and transparent."

"We must take a holistic view of digital policy, and take care that policymakers do not inadvertently give incumbents excuses to block their competitors from entering a market."

BAHA Blues (permalink)

I've been following Patrick Costello's work for more than a decade: he's an open-access musician and music teacher who has taught hundreds – thousands – of people to play banjo through both open courseware and online/in-person tutorials.

In particular, I've followed his amazing – and now brutal – journey through hearing loss and hearing implants, a journey that, at first, restored his hearing to a large degree, and, later, snatched it away again, largely due to mismanagement, indifference and incompetence.

As Costello describes in a new video, BAHA Blues, Cochlear's defective products, indifferent customer service, and poor business practices have brought him to the breaking point.

He's abandoned hearing, because he can't afford the financial and emotional toll of smashing himself against this medtech giant.

But he's not giving up on music. As he describes in his video, banjo frailing is one form of music that fits well into a life without hearing.

(as he demonstrates in this companion video, a frailing cover of Madonna's "Like a Prayer")

Costello wrote to me this morning after reading yesterday's review of Sean Williams's "Impossible Music," a novel about a musician who reinvents his conception of music after sudden hearing-loss.

I'm so heartened to see Costello back at music – he's both a skilled musician and an empathic and talented teacher. His struggles with Cochlear have been a heartbreak to watch from afar – I can only imagine what they were like to live through directly.

Bossware (permalink)

It's bad enough that your boss has decided that you now must turn part of your home into an extension of your workplace at no cost to them.

Then they add Bossware to your computer so they can spy on you (and your family), adding insult to injury.

My EFF colleagues Bennett Cyphers and Karen Gullo take a deep dive into the creepy, invasive world of Bossware, including InterGuard, StaffCop, TimeDoctor, WorkSmart, Teramind, and many others.

They find that many of these products are advertised as having the capability to "read workers’ private messages without their knowledge or consent."

The apps' overt pitch is that they help enforce compliance with privacy and other rules.

But never far from the surface is a neo-Taylorist pitch: we can monitor every keystroke, every click, every URL, and tell you whether your workers are being "productive" while they're in the rental-free office they've gifted to your corporation.

Some companies suggest that this kind of monitoring can help customers decide who to lay off or who to give bonuses to, and Interguard goes further: "conduct covert investigations [of your workers] and bullet-proof evidence gathering without alarming the suspected wrongdoer."

They also recommend their covert data-gathering to fight wrongful termination suits. As EFF writes," InterGuard can provide employers with an astronomical amount of private, secretly-gathered information to try to quash workers’ legal recourse against unfair treatment."

These companies are masters of saying the quiet part out loud: Work Examiner advertises that it can capture your employees' passwords for the personal services they use, and many advertise the ability to slurp in DMs from social media.

The analysis ends with a call to pass national and state privacy laws, under these principles:

  • Surveillance of workers—even on employer-owned devices—should be necessary and proportionate.

  • Tools should minimize the information they collect, and avoid vacuuming up personal data like private messages and passwords.

  • Workers should have the right to know what exactly their managers are collecting.

  • And workers need a private right of action, so they can sue employers that violate these statutory privacy protections.

"Finally, workers may not feel comfortable speaking up about being surveilled out of concern for staying employed in a time with record unemployment. A choice between invasive and excessive monitoring and joblessness is not really a choice at all."

Big Cop's corporate armorers (permalink)

US cities spend 20-45% of their budgets on policing on but cops run foundations that solicit millions from large corporations, which then take tax breaks for their donations.

The money goes into a slushfund used to procure off-the-books military and surveillance gear.

A pair of illuminating reports from Littlesis detail how these foundations turn corporations into deep-pocketed secret armorers for the largest, most violent police forces in the nation.

First, who gives and what is spent:

Houston PD: "SWAT equipment, LRAD sound equipment, and dogs for the K-9 unit"

Philadelphia PD: "long guns, drones, and ballistic helmets"

Atlanta PD: "a major surveillance network of over 12,000 cameras."

LAPD: "surveillance software from Palantir" ("by having the foundation purchase it for them, the LAPD was able to bypass…public meetings and approval from the city council")

Who gives:

BoA: "$200,000 to NYC Police Foundation, $51,250 to Atlanta Police Foundation, $25,000 to Boston Police Foundation, $10,000 to Los Angeles Police Foundation; smaller donations to the Yarmouth MA, Sarasota, Abilene, Duluth, Bellevue, and Sacramento & Glendale CA"

Goldman Sachs: "$250,000 to the Los Angeles Police Foundation in 2018, as well as $15,000 to the NYC Police Foundation."

Wells Fargo: "'partner' and donor to the Seattle Police Foundation, and it sits on the Atlanta Police Foundation’s board and sponsored its Blue Jean Ball"

Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock: "co-chaired the NYC Police Foundation’s annual gala in 2017, 2018, and 2019"

SunTrust Bank: "$3 million to the Atlanta Police Foundation"

Commerce Bank of Washington: "partner and donor to the Seattle Police Foundation"

Target: "major contributions to police foundations across the country, including the NYC, Atlanta, and Seattle Police Foundations..$200K from Target helped the LA Police Foundation purchase sophisticated surveillance equipment"

Starbucks: "active donor to the Seattle Police Foundation and has a representative on its board. The company also recently donated $25,000 to the NYC Police Foundation"

Coca Cola: "long time donor to the Atlanta Police Foundation and pledged to give $2 million"

Walmart: "donates to the Washington D.C. Police Foundation"

Amazon: "sits on the executive committee of the Seattle Police Foundation’s board and is a partner and donor, but it donates to police foundations across the U.S. through its charitable program, AmazonSmile"

Motorola: Board seats on police foundations for Seattle, DC, Detroit; donor to Chicago foundation, and "profits from selling body cams, radios, and other products to police departments"

Verizon: Donor to Chicago and NYC foundations, "a board member of the Detroit foundation," "Platinum Partners of the National Sheriff’s Association, a law enforcement lobbying group"

Facebook, Google, and Microsoft: "partners and donors to the Seattle Police Foundation"

AT&T;: "a deep-pocketed donor to the NYC Police Foundation"

Chevron: "has a spot on the Houston Police Foundation board"

DTE Energy: "donor to the Detroit Public Safety Foundation board"

Also implicated, sports teams: NFL’s Lions, NBA’s Pistons, MLB’s Tigers, Seattle Mariners, Seattle Seahawks MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays, NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, and NY Mets

This "giving" doesn't just arm cops, it also helps corporations avoid taxes. Many of these same companies appear on an Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy list of notorious tax-dodgers, including profitable firms that nevertheless pay NEGATIVE taxes, getting cash subsidies.

Littlesis makes the connections between dark-money arms and cyberweapon purchases and corporate tax avoidance:

Invigilation CEO doxes student (permalink)

Lockdown created a spyware gold-rush, from Bossware that monitors workers coerced into turning their homes into rent-free branch offices to students forced to use "invigilation" software to monitor pedagogically bankrupt high-stakes tests.

These tools are extraordinarily invasive – you can't design a monitoring app that treats users adversaries unless its processes and files are obfuscated, sinking deep hooks into systems that are often shared with family members for work and education.

It shouldn't surprise you to learn that these companies have extremely cavalier views of other peoples' privacy – especially the privacy of the children whom they are paid to spy upon.

Even so, it's ghastly to learn that the CEO of Proctorio personally dumped a student's private chat logs on Reddit in response to criticism from the student of his product.

Protorio CEO Mike Olsen admitted that he used the pseudonym "artfulhacker" to dox the child, posting "If you’re gonna lie bro… don’t do it when the company clearly has an entire transcript of your conversation. …shame on you."

The company told Naaman Zhou for the Guardian that they "take privacy very seriously."

Previously, they promised critics that "footage, keystrokes and other data can never be accessed by Proctorio staff" and could only be viewed by a university's “approved administrators."

(Image: Rawpixel Ltd, Cryteria, CC-BY, modified)

Sun Ra's syllabus (permalink)

In recent years, the idea of afrofuturism went from the fringes to being so central that it's sparked debates about overuse:

But one thing is beyond dispute: Sun Ra is central to the afrofuturist canon.

In 1971, Sun Ra designed a course for UC Berkeley called "African-American Studies 198" – which had a host of subtitles, from "Sun Ra 171" to "The Black Man in the Universe" to "The Black man in the Cosmos."

As Open Culture's Josh Jones writes, everything about this course is spectacular, even the reading list.

But best of all were the lectures, which biographer John Szwed described:

"Sun Ra wrote biblical quotes on the board and then ‘permutated’ them—rewrote and transformed their letters and syntax into new equations of meaning, while members of the Arkestra passed through the room, preventing anyone from taping the class. His lecture subjects included Neoplatonic doctrines; the application of ancient history and religious texts to racial problems; pollution and war; and a radical reinterpretation of the Bible in light of Egyptology."

Despite Ra's attempts, at least one student recorded at least one of these lectures, and it's amazing:

Snowden on Little Brother (permalink)

In just one week, Tor Books will publish a new omnibus edition of the preferred texts of my NYT bestsellers LITTLE BROTHER and HOMELAND, with a new introduction by Edward Snowden and a new cover from Will Staehle.

Alas, I won't be able to visit the festivals and bookstores I'd planned to travel to for this launch, but there's still Dark Delicacies, my marvellous neighborhood bookseller, who are taking orders for signed, personalized copies of the book:

Note for overseas readers: Dark Delicacies will ship to you, but you need to email them for a quote on shipping:

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Bullying restauranteur: People should keep their blogs on paper

#5yrsago McKinney, TX wants $79K to retreive emails of the cop who tackled bikini-clad teen

#5yrsago Bigoted officials: First Amendment means we don't have to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples

#5yrsago GCHQ spied on Amnesty International, Investigatory Powers Tribunal lied about it

#5yrsago Secret court will let NSA do mass surveillance for another six months

#5yrsago We've evolved to disbelieve evolution

#5yrsago US Customs and Border Protection: America's largest, most corrupt police force

#1yrago "I'm 10-15": the secret CBP Facebook group full of racism, sexism, and jokes about migrant deaths

#1yrago "Fake News is an Oracle": how the falsehoods we believe reveal the truth about our fears and aspirations

#1yrago Why can't we see big companies' tax returns?

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (, Matthew Rimmer (, Kottke (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 519 words (33441 total).

  • A short story, "Making Hay," for MIT Tech Review. Yesterday's progress: 477 words (4735 total) — FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE

Currently reading: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 08)

Upcoming appearances:

Upcoming books: "Poesy the Monster Slayer" (Jul 2020), a picture book about monsters, bedtime, gender, and kicking ass. Pre-order here: Get a personalized, signed copy here:

"Attack Surface": The third Little Brother book, Oct 20, 2020.

"Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new introduction by Edward Snowden:; personalized/signed copies here:

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commerically, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

One thought on “Pluralistic: 01 Jul 2020”

  1. Thank you Cory for the tip to email Dark Delicacies. Have now put my order in after discovering that it would cost $44 AUS from my local bookstore 🙁 (It was cheaper on, but.)

    I also wanted to say, I have really been enjoying Plurasitic (via RSS). My usual method of reading is to skim the links and then dive in deeper to those things that interest me. I initially signed up for the email version, but found that the formatting within my email client was really problematic.

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