I’ve been sitting on this blog for a while but EFF’s excellent post on Apple’s “crystal prisons” finally made me get off my butt and publish it. It’s based on a more detailed analysis I did for a paper that I can provide upon request.
Should users of Apple’s iOS devices have access to an app that condemns marriage equality? How about an app that lets users create their own joke drivers licenses? Or an app that gives them access to content published by WikiLeaks, or another that advocates for a single-payer health care system in America?
Regardless of one’s opinion of the appropriateness, usefulness or political views represented in these apps, the fact is that whether they are available to iOS users is at the moment up to Apple and Apple alone—and that’s precisely the problem.
Since launching the revolutionary iPhone in the summer of 2007, Apple Inc. has become one of the leading manufacturers of mobile communication devices in the world, having sold more than 314 million iOS-based devices (including the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad) to date. Apple’s dominant position in this market includes its App Store, which as of this writing boasts more than 585,000 apps and has surpassed 25 billion downloads. Apple’s iOS ecosystem has become a critical entry points unto the Internet, which is one of the most important platforms for political action and personal expression available today.
Unlike the Internet, however, the App Store is a relatively closed ecosystem. To gain access to the App Store, developers must have their apps approved by Apple. The company’s app review and approval policies have been criticized for being opaque and arbitrary, and have resulted in the rejection of both explicitly and implicitly political apps—including the apps listed at the top of this blog, as well as many others. Read the rest of this entry »
There is a story in the New Yorker this week about geoengineering research that could help avert the worst effects of climate change. Scientists around the world are looking into ways to alter the composition of the atmosphere in order to reflect sunlight back into space, extract existing CO2 from the atmosphere, or other schemes to offset the expected rise in temperature through the rest of the century and beyond. Some of the schemes — such as pumping sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere to deflect the sun’s rays — are based on relatively well established science. Other ideas seem, well, more fanciful:
There have been proposals to send mirrors, sunshades, and parasols into space. Recently, the scientific entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold, whose company Intellectual Ventures has invested in several geoengineering ideas, said that we could cool the earth by stirring the seas. He has proposed deploying a million plastic tubes, each about a hundred metres long, to roil the water, which would help it trap more CO2.
. . .
The Harvard physicist Russell Seitz wants to create what amounts to a giant oceanic bubble bath: bubbles trap air, which brightens them enough to reflect sunlight away from the surface of the earth. Another tactic would require maintaining a fine spray of seawater—the world’s biggest fountain—which would mix with salt to help clouds block sunlight.
The part of me that always seeks to maximize my sources of amusement would LOVE to live in a planet surrounded by mirrors, shades and parasols, with giant bubble baths, fountains and drink-stirrers sprouting from the oceans. But my enthusiasm for these geoengineering schemes is tempered by the fact that, as Trinity College engineering professor Hugh Hunt says, “If we have to use these tools, it means something on this planet has gone seriously wrong.’’
One of the reasons digital content customers turn to file sharing services like BitTorrent is that content providers are often not meeting customers where they’re at in terms of their expectations. This fact was brought home to me over the past couple of weeks through both personal experience and an encounter with hilarious content on the Web.
First, the personal experience. Last week I lent a classmate a Kindle book for class. This being my first ebook loan, it never occurred to me that when I lent it out, I lost all ability to read the book until the loan was returned. And why would I? Why would I assume that Amazon would choose to replicate one of the worst characteristics of a physical book in digital form? I understand that if I had lent a physical book to my classmate I wouldn’t have been able to read it again until she returned it, but nothing of the sort occurred to me when I lent her the ebook.
When I realized this, I became exasperated, perhaps to an unreasonable degree, because it seemed so ludicrous. Granted, this is a First World Problem if there ever was one–although not as tragic as not having WiFi on the plane–but within my socioeconomic bubble, I believe I was within my rights to be mad.
Petitioning the government for policy changes is a practice as old as the republic, and doing so online is a practice as old as the Web, if not the Internet itself. But last Thursday, the White House announced a new initiative that could potentially up-end the process by which citizens petition their government online.
This new White House initiative, called “We the People,” will allow citizens to create petitions online, gather support for them, and receive a guaranteed official response if they meet a certain threshold. The initiative is about “giving Americans a direct line to the White House on the issues and concerns that matter most to them,” President Obama said in a statement.
Take a look below at the official White House YouTube explainer on the initiative and the overview excerpted from the official announcement.