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Infrastructures, by xkcd - It says it all
Friday, May 21 2010 @ 11:23 AM EDT

Today's xkcd comic, titled Infrastructures, says it all.

P.S. It's not too late to get this right. Freedom is something people do care about, but sadly sometimes it's only after the fact that they begin to grasp why it matters or exactly when they should have paid attention earlier. A recent poll found that 60% of Facebook users asked are now thinking about quitting. Better late than never, but even doing that is complex. Instructions at the link, if you are thinking about it too. Sadly, as Eric Bangeman on ars technica reports, Facebook has already shared data with advertisers, and they are not alone:

The privacy issues that have been hounding Facebook may be coming to a head. A report in the Wall Street Journal indicates that the Facebook, along with MySpace, Digg, and a handful of other social-networking sites, have been sharing users' personal data with advertisers without users' knowledge or consent.

The data shared includes names, user IDs, and other information sufficient to enable ad companies such as the Google-owned DoubleClick to identify distinct user profiles. Some of the sites in question, including MySpace and Facebook, stopped sharing the data after the Journal asked them about it. The surreptitious data sharing was first noticed (PDF) by researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and AT&T Labs in August 2009, who brought it up with the sites in question. It wasn't until WSJ contacted them that changes were made.

The Wall Street Journal article tells us this:
Advertising companies are receiving information that could be used to look up individual profiles, which, depending on the site and the information a user has made public, include such things as a person's real name, age, hometown and occupation.

Several large advertising companies identified by the Journal as receiving the data, including Google Inc.'s DoubleClick and Yahoo Inc.'s Right Media, said they were unaware of the data being sent to them from the social-networking sites, and said they haven't made use of it.

This is where openness comes in. If companies like Facebook only change after someone notices what is quietly happening, and if the software is proprietary so you can't even look at it, how do you protect yourself? If you end up the victim of a stalker or some crazed ex because a social media site slipped your info to an advertiser without your permission, who do you sue?

Better practice is to see right now why open source and transparency and standards and control matter to you, no matter what you are used to using, and think seriously before you hand over control to proprietary companies. Some of them don't seem to really care about us.

A wise person, a proverb says, when he or she sees danger ahead, avoids it. I hope you will show this comic strip to your family and friends and share it on your noncommercial blogs, and so spread its message.

I hope you can see why it matters that Google just open sourced VP8. As you follow the discussion about video and which codec to use for it, think, please, about this xkcd strip, and remember that while ease of use, elegance, and whiz bang features are lovely, there's nothing that matters more in infrastructures than being able to have some control over what you can and can't do, and what others can and can't do to you.

Dana Blankenhorn explains the issue like this:

Over the years Apple and Microsoft made themselves allies of the content industries, enforcing Digital Rights Management (DRM) and accepting the Hollywood Veto over their technology in order to take over distribution channels. The alliance has sometimes been uneasy.

Google’s WebM, launched at Google I/O yesterday, is the first direct challenge to the Veto launched by a tech company in a decade. The open source, royalty free codec formerly known as VP8 has been met by a full-on FUD attack, but rather than back down Google has pushed forward.

For Internet advocates this is a matter of principle. W3C standards have always been royalty free, patent rights waived, in order to assure maximum penetration of the global market.

The H.264 codec does not meet this test, but Apple, Microsoft, Adobe and the rest of the industry was prepared to make it part of the HTML5 standard, a proprietary technology controlled by MPEG LA, in the name of maintaining peace with the content industries.

So Apple and Microsoft were willing to cave to Hollywood. Google has chosen to stand for openness. That means they are on *your* side. That's how I see it, anyway.

You know what happens when you try to stand up to bullies? They try to bully you more.

I can speak from some experience, I think. What happens is you get falsely accused, and folks pick over every single thing you do and say looking for flaws, and then they highlight them again and again to damage your reputation. And they try to ruin you, by filing accusations against you to entities that have the power to shut you down or try to involve you in bogus litigation. Sadly, sometimes even good people get influenced by such cynical tactics.

That's what happens to you if you are a person. Imagine if you are a company instead. As you look at the news and follow along as Google experiences all this and more, as I have no doubt it has1 and will2, will you be influenced? Maybe join in the bashing? Think. Some of the mainstream media will. What about you?

Can any of the tactics succeed if we all know what is happening and refuse to let ourselves be influenced? Better, if we carefully explain, over and over, politely and clearly, why standards matter? I think the SCO saga tells us that such horrible tactics do not have to prevail, even in the face of overwhelming odds. Groklaw is still here. Bullies don't always win, you know.

Google has done a wonderful and brave thing. Their reward will be, I expect, that Hollywood and its allies will try to ruin them and they will attack VP8 in whatever ways they can. If there are lawsuits, we'll be here to search for prior art, of course, but on the FUD, remember that FUD only works if you let it. Will you let it? Will you hop on that bandwagon and highlight every Google flaw you can find? Yes, there are always flaws, no matter in what direction we look or at which entity or person. But there is something very big at stake here. Open and royalty free standards matter.

Will you, alternatively, comment on articles about this issue that all you care about is what works best? That those who care should "give it a rest already"? Who cares about codecs? You should. Think *now*, please, because at the end of the day, it is you who will be affected the most. And it's one of those things that probably can't be easily fixed, if at all, after the damage is completed.

Here are the author's instructions on copying and spreading this comic to others:

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.
This means you're free to copy and share these comics (but not to sell them). More details.


1 Exhibit A - Steve Jobs email dismisses VP8 video codec, by Stewart Meagher, THINQ:

Apple boss Steve Jobs has dismissed Google's much-trumpeted open source video codec by referring to a technical analysis written by a third-year college student.

According to Apple Insider, the Messaianic chief Macolyte was asked what he thought of the VP8 WebM video in an email, to which Steve simply replied with a link to a posting on Jason Garret-Glaser's Diary Of An x264 Developer blog.

2 Exhibit B - Google’s “Royalty-Free” WebM Video May Not Be Royalty-Free for Long", by John Paczkowski, AllThingsDigital:

Indeed, Larry Horn, CEO of MPEG LA, the consortium that controls the AVC/H.264 video standard, tells me that the group is already looking at creating a patent pool license for VP8....For what it’s worth, Google seems to believe that it has done its due diligence here and has the necessary patent clearance for VP8. Said Google product manager Mike Jazayeri: “We have done a pretty thorough analysis of VP8 and On2 Technologies (VP8’s developer) prior to the acquisition and since then, and we are very confident with the technology and that’s why we’re open sourcing.”


Infrastructures, by xkcd - It says it all | 240 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections Thread
Authored by: artp on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 11:33 AM EDT
Change the title, please. s/eror/error or eror -> error

Us techies are good at finding erors.

Userfriendly on WGA server outage:
When you're chained to an oar you don't think you should go down when the galley
sinks ?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off Topic Thread
Authored by: artp on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 11:35 AM EDT
For anything not germane.

You know who you are.

Userfriendly on WGA server outage:
When you're chained to an oar you don't think you should go down when the galley
sinks ?

[ Reply to This | # ]

News Picks Thread
Authored by: artp on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 11:37 AM EDT
Titles, URLs, commentary...

Did I forget anything ?

Userfriendly on WGA server outage:
When you're chained to an oar you don't think you should go down when the galley
sinks ?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Comes Thread
Authored by: artp on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 11:40 AM EDT
For work on all Comes case documents.

I have no comments.

Userfriendly on WGA server outage:
When you're chained to an oar you don't think you should go down when the galley
sinks ?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Infrastructures, by xkcd - It says it all
Authored by: The Cornishman on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 12:39 PM EDT

Randall always puts a little followup in the title text for the img source tags for xkcd comics, which appears in most browsers if you hover the mouse over the image.

In this case, it says (apropos the WTOSV):

The heartfelt tune it plays is CC licensed, and you can get it from my seed on whenever that project gets going.

(c) assigned to PJ

[ Reply to This | # ]

VP8 analysis vs. H.264 patents?
Authored by: songmaster on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 12:58 PM EDT
While I have no experience or skill in any of the necessary areas, I wonder if
it would it make sense for the Groklaw community to do a patent analysis of the
VP8 codec, now that the code is available? All the H.264 patents are published,
so it should be possible to compare their claims against the VP8 implementation
and spec, to see how they match up. Some people might say this is a bad idea in
case we come up with something that Google missed, but I would think that the
sooner this was discovered the better so the spec can be changed to avoid the
patented claim.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Google knows what's coming
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 01:06 PM EDT
And so does everyone else on the planet. Not if but when. Let's see, all the
relevant players seem to be in the 9th Circuit.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Facebook only has 3 months left to comply w. earlier agreement
Authored by: Barbie on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 01:22 PM EDT
Facebook to make privacy changes

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Facebook has agreed to make changes to better protect users' personal information on the social networking site and comply with Canadian privacy laws within one year, Canada's privacy commissioner said Thursday.

Basically, the fines for violating PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) are serious, and could give grounds for the commissioner to ask the federal courts to block all access to Facebook from any ISP in Canada, as well as provide the grounds for individuals or groups to sue.

The company also said the changes will be rolled out worldwide because some of the concerns raised in Canada have also been raised by privacy watchdogs in other countries
The Europeans watched, and they have the same concerns, and pretty much the same laws.

Combine this with the latest SEC scandal, and maybe it's time Facebook changed its name to FacePlant.

[ Reply to This | # ]

This is really coming to a head.
Authored by: dwiget001 on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 01:28 PM EDT
I had a Linked In account for a very short time a few months ago, about a week
in total.

I finally got around to reading the Terms of Service and similar legal verbiage
about my use of their site, their use of my data, etc.

I promptly cancelled my account.

And, outside of a few tech related forums, I will never have a Linked In,
Facebook or similar social networking site account. They are evil, truly evil

[ Reply to This | # ]

Infrastructures, by xkcd - It says it all
Authored by: hans on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 01:46 PM EDT

"Google has chosen to stand for openness. That means they are on *your*

I'd humbly disagree with this statement. Google is on Google's side. Its nice
that it coincides with my side, and I'm even willing to admit that they might be
doing it for the right reasons. I think it is more likely that they are doing
it as a way to make more money (which I'm completely ok with).

Are they doing it because the believe they have a social and ethical
responsibitity to promote an open infrastructure? Or is it that their business
model demands an open infrastructure?

My earnest hope is that it is somewhat equal parts of both.



[ Reply to This | # ]

Infrastructures, by xkcd - It says it all
Authored by: Hargoth on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 02:05 PM EDT
Harry Chapen wrote, in his song, "I Wonder What Would Happen To This

As I look around us
There's such strange things
There's muggers and there's jugglers
And we are led by clowns
If an answer ever found us
Would we change things
Or are we just a people
Rotten ready for the ground

The dangers of Apathy were cried from the rooftops and in the streets by many
during the 60s.

The name "Frodo" was spray painted, written, typed and conversed by
millions as an example that one small, brave person can change the world.

And now, in the new millennium the dangers of Apathy are even greater. My
children, as they begin their own family lives, do not see how many rights and
freedoms they are losing. Just as my World War 2 era parents have always told
me how much we are giving up for convenience, instant rewards, and affluence.

In our ever increasing need for more technology, we see the same trends,

We don't own the media we watch.

We have no more influence on technical market trends when tech companies are
able to target specific psychologies instead of marketing innovative products.

And I still wonder what will happen to this world ...

[ Reply to This | # ]

concerning Google
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 02:34 PM EDT
PJ, I think you're being too generous w/ Google. Their policy concerning privacy
and openness is best summed up as: "Only enough to get people to stop
complaining." Viz. GMail, Chrome, and even www-dot-google-dot-com. These
highly-touted Google services are not known for keeping user info private.

[ Reply to This | # ]

I love xkcd
Authored by: The Mad Hatter r on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 04:05 PM EDT

Go there every day - great stuff.


[ Reply to This | # ]

Infrastructures, by xkcd - It says it all
Authored by: Carlo Graziani on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 05:17 PM EDT
Funny, I was just writing my own riff on that cartoon and code freedom, when I saw this. I guess xkcd hit a nerve today.
(Sorry about the blog pimping, but it does seem relevant to the issues raised here).

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Patent Threat
Authored by: DrHow on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 05:36 PM EDT
The quote, "Apple boss Steve Jobs has dismissed Google's much-trumpeted
open source video codec by referring to a technical analysis written by a
third-year college student.", seems to deprecate the analysis based on
implied inexperience of the analyzer. However, it would not be wise to question
Jason Garret-Glaser's expertise in this area. He is currently one of the
principal developers working on the open source H.264 codec. If there are any
other persons on earth who know more about the innards of H.264, they are
undoubtedly but a very few. I looked over the cited analysis, and it is clear
that he knows what he is talking about. He claims that the inner workings of
VP8 are very similar to those of H.264. He believes that VP8 probably does
violate patents associated with H.264. (He does not address the issue of
possible prior art relative to such patents.)

Jason was also critical of VP8 based on some performance issues; though he
admits that VP8 does come close enough to H.264 performance that it does deserve
consideration as an alternative - probably the only viable alternative with an
open source codec. According to Jason, the documentation situation with respect
to the VP8 spec itself is atrocious, and there are known bugs in the spec which
Google does not intend to fix. I don't think that he was slamming VP8 just
because he is so deeply involved in H.264 himself.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Infrastructures, by xkcd - It says it all
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 09:06 PM EDT
A few thoughts : I support the notion of patent free standardised codecs. Google is just another big 'for profit' company doing what is good for it, if those things happen to benefit the little man in the street thats nice but dont let your guard down. The technical criticism of VP8 can be summed up thus, it's better than Theora, not as good as H.264 (but close enough in many areas) with very poor (non existant) documentation. Remember this analysis was by a nerd whose life is video compression (apparently) so he should know. I'd like to see a tech analysis by somebody with no direct tie to x.264. When the new codec becomes widely available we will be in a position to do some side by side comparisons of performance to judge for ourselves. The nerd himself points out how big companies have tripped over patent trolls in the past with video codecs (eg. Micro$oft > VC1, Sun > OMS) Im cautiously optimistic that Google may take this new codec, improve it, popularise it & fend of patent threats but I'm not holding my breath. On the other hand Google may just do what many tech companies have done in the past ie. use it to slowly inexorably lock us in to their ecosystem. As I see it ,right now H.264 is the best technical solution. Those of you old enough may remember the fuss over .gif & .jpeg compression of still images & how for many years we lived under that patent threat also. Cheers

[ Reply to This | # ]

...but letting fud sit around is never a good idea.
Authored by: SilverWave on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 09:58 PM EDT

"This is pretty far off topic, but letting fud sit around is never a good idea." 7795.html Link here.

RMS: The 4 Freedoms
0 run the program for any purpose
1 study the source code and change it
2 make copies and distribute them
3 publish modified versions

[ Reply to This | # ]

Infrastructures, by xkcd - It says it all : 3 Reactions
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 11:22 PM EDT
First Reaction : Cheers loudly for Google at apparent beneficeince.

Second reaction : Reading tech analysis of VP8 Boo to Google for choosing a
crap codec.

Third Reaction : Enlightenment. This codec strength is ONLINE video where it
is a 'good enough' substitute for H.264.

This codec is pretty crap for OFFLINE video but according to the video geeks
is close enough to a replacement for H.264 for ONLINE video.

Okay so i get it now... This is all about Google the company doing what is
best for goole i.e. finding a codec to use for their vast You Tube archive to
use for streaming video to browsers (cough.. Chrome) that is not a target for
patent trolls.

Get it guy's? We the little people happen to benefit by having a standardised
(not very great) codec for HTML5 and Google the giant company saves itself
millions in royalties & potential litigation from MPEG-LA.

Sorry, long time GL reader, can't login for some reason

[ Reply to This | # ]

Infrastructures, by xkcd - It says it all
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 21 2010 @ 11:34 PM EDT

Hulu's Eugene Wei wrote and then deleted his own blog on HULU

"Said Eugene Wei, vice president of product with Hulu, said that his
company's contractual requirements make the transition to HTML5 too difficult.
The current player on the website, built with Adobe Flash, does a great deal
more than stream video.

"We continue to monitor developments on HTML5, but as of now it doesn’t yet
meet all of our customers' needs," Wei wrote. "Our player doesn’t just
simply stream video, it must also secure the content, handle reporting for our
advertisers, render the video using a high performance codec to ensure premium
visual quality, communicate back with the server to determine how long to buffer
and what bitrate to stream, and dozens of other things that aren't necessarily
visible to the end user.""

PRIVACY has two areas
1 Obvious I said you said we wrote type
2 hardware access I read you typing signal as you type
"his company's contractual requirements" to SPY means NO BETTER OS

[ Reply to This | # ]

Facebook is a Mini-Me of MS?
Authored by: SilverWave on Saturday, May 22 2010 @ 07:50 AM EDT
I would say you could argue the case.

Google are the good guys (but not the GOOD guys).

That is, they don't think they are, or try to be, evil.
That doesn't stop them making mistakes or having evil ppl working for them, just
that its not corporate policy.

Compare and contrast with that other large SW corp.

I would say that when Facebook grows up it wants to be MS.

RMS: The 4 Freedoms
0 run the program for any purpose
1 study the source code and change it
2 make copies and distribute them
3 publish modified versions

[ Reply to This | # ]

Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 24 2010 @ 07:35 AM EDT
I'm at an ISO meeting this week (working on Systems & SW Engineering standards). The Secretariat reminded us of rules for submitting documents, including

  • PDFs must be in a version no greater than version 1.5 (apparently some sort of tools problem somewhere, rationale was not provided.)
  • All documents must be accompanied by an abstract in ".doc" format (version not specified.)
  • All comments will be submitted using an Excel spreadsheet template.
After all that bovine effluent about ISO standardization of competing document formats, ISO is still using proprietary formats for standardization work. I think the relevant phrase is eating your own dogfood...

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Irony... - Authored by: Wol on Monday, May 24 2010 @ 08:28 AM EDT
    • Irony... - Authored by: glimes on Monday, May 24 2010 @ 11:40 AM EDT
    • Irony... - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 24 2010 @ 02:05 PM EDT
  • Irony... - Authored by: PJ on Monday, May 24 2010 @ 10:43 AM EDT
    • Irony... - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 24 2010 @ 02:02 PM EDT
  • Irony... - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, May 25 2010 @ 03:13 AM EDT
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