Pluralistic: 03 Jul 2020

Today's links

Working as intended (permalink)

On Jul 21, I'm giving a free live talk with Q&A; for LogicLounge, an 32nd CAV 2020 event sponsored by the Vienna Center for Logic and Algorithms.

It's called "Working as Intended: Surveillance Capitalism is not a Rogue Capitalism," which is (not coincidentally) the title of a forthcoming pamphlet I've written on the role that monopoly plays in our toxic and conspiratorial discourse.

The "surveillance capitalism" thesis holds that companies spy because data lets them conduct devastatingly effective influence operations while racing past regulators who might otherwise rein in their operations.

I believe this gives undue credence to Big Tech's sales literature — the source of the claims about the power of behavioral advertising to influence behavior. Worse, it underplays the role that monopoly and state surveillance play in both the decay of public discourse and governmental complacency when it comes to corporate surveillance.

What if Big Tech's ability to command billions for ads have more to do with cornering markets and eking out marginal gains through targeting, with stale data being largely useless for commercial purposes — but still full of kompromat for greedy state surveillance agencies?

Buying (not licensing) my ebooks (permalink)

Many people have written lately asking for the best way to get electronic editions of my books and audiobooks, so now's a good time to remind you that I run my own ebook store, where I sell my publishers' electronic editions of my books:

So I'm getting the 30% that Amazon would take if you bought the books from them, then I send the 70% to my publishers, and then they send me 25% of that back as my royalty – basically doubling my income.

But it's also a better deal for you: while all my books, in all bookstores, are sold without DRM (including these ones), these ebooks are also sold with no terms and conditions. Kindle books require that you "agree" to a sprawling garbage novella of impenetrable legalese.

Clicking "Buy" is also clicking "Agree" and what you agree to is a near-total waiver of your privacy and consumer rights. Amazon even reserves the right to reach into your device and delete your books if they change their minds about selling them to you.

They've done that before…with George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. No, I'm not making that up.

I have asked dozens of Amazon press spokespeople whether they would do this again, and…crickets.

I once got invited to give a paid speech at Amazon and I said, "Sure, I'll even waive my fee. Just answer my questions about whether you will delete the Kindle books people buy in the future." I never got an answer, and I never gave the speech.

My store's also got my audiobooks. You can't even buy those on Amazon, or its audiobook monopolist Audible – that's because Audible refuses to carry my audiobooks because they're DRM-free.

Every book on Audible has DRM that locks it forever – even after the copyright has expired – to Amazon's platform. They and they alone can decide which devices can play those books.

This is the company that one day decided (for example) that it wouldn't stream its video to rivals' TV dongles, like Google's Chromecast. They changed their mind…eventually. Do you think it's the last time they'll change it?

Audible controls 90%+ of the audiobook market, and audiobooks presently account for about the same number of sales as hardcovers. That's an entire universe of literature that is under total control of a monopolist.

There are rivals to Audible that have virtually identical inventories and exactly the same prices:,, and – for my audiobooks, at least –

My audiobooks – like my ebooks – come with no terms and conditions. The deal you make with me is the same deal you make with bookstores when you buy physical books: "Every right Congress ever gave you is intact. Don't violate copyright. We're cool. Thank you and come again."

As far as I know, this is the only way to buy ebooks published by commercial publishers without signing away your rights. It's not a "license," it's a sale. You bought it, you own it. It's a book. Books are older than copyright, than publishing, than paper, than commerce.

I totally reject the idea that the ancient compacts that bind us when we trade in literature can be unilaterally rewritten by a monopolist simply by making you click "I agree."

Scihub boosts cites (permalink)

Alchemy looks a lot like science: an alchemist observes a phenomenon, hypothesises a causal relationship, and designs and performs an experiment to test the hypothesis.

The difference is in what happens next.

The scientist publishes their findings so that others can critique it. The alchemist does not. Scientists aren't smarter than alchemists, so scientists are every bit as capable of making themselves believe that drinking mercury is good for their health.

But scientists have to expose their work to peer-review, which means that their self-deception can be exposed and corrected. Alchemists just die of mercury poisoning.

Today, most peer-review happens through publication by a handful of giant, monopolistic journal publishers.

Scholarly and scientific research, most of it publicly funded, is given for free to these multibillion-dollar empires, who then charge the institutions where the authors work millions to access the journals in which that work appears.

The editorial boards and reviewers of these journals are volunteer positions, filled by scholars from those same institutions that pay millions to access the journals they're producing.

The journals themselves are pure rentiers, useless intermediaries that barely even edit the papers they publish:

And yet, scholars send them work, because their career advancement depends on publication, preferably in widely cited journals.

For more than a decade, scholars have been fighting back, switching to "open access" journals that fund their (minimal) costs by charging to submit a paper for review and then publish for free. Major science funders now demand that grantees promise open access publication.

But the paywalled journals are still hanging in there. They have huge warchests of money looted from universities, and they have massive, locked up back-catalogs of scholarly work whose copyright they extorted from uncompensated researchers.

Enter Scihub, an unauthorized repository of millions of scientific and scholarly papers liberated from paywalls and made available for free to all comers.

The scholarly publishing industry hates Scihub so much that they've actually gone to courts around the world to demand that Scihub and its mirrors be blocked by national firewalls, censoring science in a bid to restore the mercury-swilling days of alchemy.

But what about the scholars – the actual researchers whose uncompensated words publishers sue to suppress when they go after Scihub?

For them, Scihub is a godsend.

Not only does Scihub make it possible for scholars to see all the literature they need to review to continue their work, irrespective of institutional affiliation (this is especially important in the Global South, where many universities can't afford subscriptions).

But – as a quartet of scholars from Brazil, Colombia, Czech, and Australia show in a new paper…well, the title says it all, really: "THE SCI-HUB EFFECT: SCI-HUB DOWNLOADS LEAD TO MORE ARTICLE CITATIONS."

That is, when your work is freely available, more people read it and cite it. And for scholars, more citations means more career opportunities: jobs, grants, conference invites…Everything that matters to the progress of scholarship.

I mean, yes, it's obvious, but it has some pretty fascinating implications – like, "If you're a scientist who wants to progress, you should let Nature publish your work and get the prestige, then defeat Nature's paywall so that Scihub can distribute it and get the impact."

Topple monuments…with science (permalink)

With monument-toppling season upon us, it's time for the popular scientific and engineering press to dust off their beloved "What's the scientifically best way to tear down a statue" pieces and republish them for our quick reference.

"How to Topple a Statue Using Science," by James Stout for Popular Mechanics covers all the classics:

Leverage: Get 70 buddies (for a notional 7000lb horse statue), 4×4 recovery straps (tied for leverage, look for heads, etc), split in two teams and rock back and forth.

Heat: You can reduce the team-sizes by weakening the materials – 40mins with a butane torch or 15-20 with propane torch.

Chem heat: Thermite around the ankles is more efficient than torches but is potentially harder to source

"Editor's Note: As national and worldwide attention to the removal of statues has grown, we have continued our reporting on the related science and safety issues, and have amended this article to reflect our findings."

Privacy Analyzer (permalink)

The Privacy Analyzer from is a good, comprehensive way to check what kind of data your browser is leaking to the ad-tech industry:

It steps through five separate tests:

I. Basic info (IP address, OS, etc)

II. Autofill leaks (does your browser allow malicious scripts to capture sensitive info with "autofill" capture?)

III. Which services are you logged into? (third parties can use this to figure out what services you use)

IV. Browser capabilities (including whether you have dangerous plugins that allow for malicious code execution)

V. Browser fingerprint: how unique is your browser configuration (tells you how easy it is to track you across the web even without cookies)

Frederick Douglass's descendants read his July 4 speech (permalink)

With July 4th upon us*, it's a good time to (re)acquaint yourself with Frederick Douglass's "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July," which you can read here:

*Remember, though: All countries matter

NPR gathered five of Douglass's young descendants and had them read excerpts from the speech, reacting to each. It's a powerful, moving video, and a reminder that this isn't just history, it's the present moment:

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Hardware, software and services I use

#5yrsago XKEYSCORE: under the hood of the NSA's search engine for your Internet activity

#5yrsago July 4: Rumblefish claims to own US Navy rendition of "America the Beautiful"

#5yrsago Why we're still talking about Terminator and the Matrix

#5yrsago EFF's new certificate authority publishes an all-zero, pre-release transparency report

#5yrsago Haunted Mansion Graveyard Scene made from My Little Ponies

#1yrago Youtube's ban on "hacking techniques" threatens to shut down all of infosec Youtube

#1yrago The rent's less damned high: rents falling in most of America's most expensive cities

#1yrago User Inyerface: collecting every "dark pattern" of web design in one place

#1yrago Celebrate Independence Day with Cordell Jackson, the "Rock n Roll Granny" a psychobilly pioneer who played until she was 81

#1yrago Insiders claim that Google's internet-fixing Jigsaw is a toxic vanity project for its founder, where women keep a secret post-crying touchup kit in the bathroom

#1yrago After Propublica expose, the "nonprofit," "Christian" Memphis University Hospital suspends practice of suing the shit out of poor people

#1yrago The widening health gap between America's rich and poor is the result of worse health for the poor, not better health for the rich

#1yrago Frontier: if you don't buy your router, we'll charge you a rental fee; if you DO buy your router, we'll charge you a "support" fee

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (, Kottke (, Dennis, Skepchick (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 510 words (33951 total).

Currently reading: Anger Is a Gift by Mark Oshiro

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One thought on “Pluralistic: 03 Jul 2020”

  1. Cory, the only other published that I have come across that works as openly as Craphound is Verso Books. The book that you buy is yours and actually is imprinted with your name.

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