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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.”

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