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31 March 2005

£140 Million To Access Your Own Money

UK£140 million. That's the cost to UK consumers for the privilege of accessing their own money via ATMs, as determined by a Treasury Select Committee.

The Select Committee report cleverly surmises that the banking malpractice of charging between £1.25 and £1.75 for each transaction means that people on low incomes suffer the most financially, and that the UK is fast approaching the point where many communities will no longer have access to ATM services free of charge.

A month after HSBC announced £9.6bn ($17.6bn) profits for 2004, and as UK debt tops UK£1 trillion, this latest report has sparked MPs into action to protect the interests of UK bank customers via the enforcement of a new banking regulation:
"signs which warn users of fee-charging ATMs must be made larger and easier to see."
Nice effort, boys.

29 March 2005

Bad Peer Days

It's been an interesting few days in the battle of big business versus the Internet-using population of the World.

First, in the run up to the MGM Vs Grokster case, owner of a number of content companies and the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban, takes a financial stand against the really big content companies and pitches in monies to employ the legal services of Richard Taranto in arguing the EFF case for Grokster.

Next up, members of the U.S. Supreme Court express their concerns that allowing legal action to proceed against technology companies will stifle future technological progress. Intel agreed, and filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court to be used on behalf of Grokster and the other defendants. The Intel brief explains:
"Imposing on innovators, such as Intel an obligation to anticipate potential uses of their innovations, to correctly guess which uses will predominate, and then to design their technologies to prevent infringing uses (even if it were technically and practically feasible to do so) would stifle innovation and dramatically increase the cost of such technologies and of the consumer and enterprise products based on those technologies."

Then, on the day EFF defends StreamCast Networks in front of the Supreme Court, Cuban writes another article questioning the logic behind the RIAA's claim that file-sharing causes a decline in sales.

Cuban goes one step further and says that all other forms of digital media - DVDs, Digital Photographs, Video Games, Software, and Ringtones - have all seen huge increases in sales, either in terms of monetary value, or actual units since the advent of P2P technology, and that any alleged decline in music sales is simply due to lost market share. When you consider the global media mafia's steadfast commitment to their die-not-adapt logic and the sales of non-RIAA-cartel releases popularised by the very peer to peer networks the media mafia are looking to destroy, this all makes perfect sense.

The media companies are fighting just about everyone they can, from members of the general public, to technology companies, to even other media companies who happen to demonstrate a greater understanding of the inherent nature of digital media and Internet technologies. And in this they've taken on the impossible task of stopping the unstoppable.

The world knew it back in the days of Napster. Mark Cuban knew it in the early days of broadcast.com. Maybe, soon, the global media mafia will realise it too.

The Legitimisation of Spyware

According to Microsoft's Security at Home site, spyware is defined as:
"software that performs certain tasks on your computer, typically without your consent. This may include giving you advertising or collecting personal information about you."

However, Microsoft don't seem to apply this definition to their own software. Take versions of Microsoft Word which attempt to contact Microsoft via the Internet when the application is started, and which has long been known to phone home when various functions are performed within the program.

Microsoft are not alone in this practice. Version 3 of popular Instant Messaging software Trillian proudly boasts, "no other included software, pop-ups, or spyware", and also attempts to contact the manufacturers each time you start it, just prior to connecting the configured IM accounts. Nero's CD burning software and many other applications do the same thing.

Given that even the simplest packet of data your computer might send out reveals substantial infomation about its origins and, by default, both of the "certain tasks on your computer" described above occur, "typically without your consent", is this 'software' or 'spyware' functionality?

Now, in a further blurring of the fine line between software and spyware, the concept and function of spyware is being used for dubiously legitimate purposes. A company called Remote Approach is utilising the general ignorance and/or acceptance of surreptitious network activity by commonly used applications as the basis for their new PDF tracking tool:
"Every time the PDF is read, it briefly interacts with the reporting repository to record the event.... Some simply wish to know whether their customers actually read or forward a client's PDFs after downloading them from the client's Web site, while others engaged in peer-to-peer marketing want measurable data on whether their available PDF is being effective."
Software manufacturers will claim you signed-up for this sort of surreptitious, non-explicitly-consensual behaviour when you clicked the Accept button for the End User License Agreement, and Microsoft's definition of spyware is fairly standard, so where are users left who don't wish for everyday applications to report back a wealth of information every time they are used? Is electing to read a PDF document explicit consent for the software to let an arbitrary third party know that you've done so?

Even personal firewalls don't necessarily solve the problem. A user with an inclination to rely on a big-name firewall from any one of a number of large software houses with self-serving and mutually beneficial 'trusted computing' initiatives isn't much better protected than a user without a firewall.

Is Norton's personal firewall going to disallow Norton Anti-Virus from contacting the Internet whenever it wants? Unlikely.

Is Microsoft going to set the firewall built-in to Windows XP to prevent Word, Media Player and other Microsoft applications from accessing the Internet whenever they like? Unlikely.

This means you're not going to see a warning when 'trusted' applications surreptitiously access the Internet as spyware functionality is legitimised as a tool for detailed application and data tracking.

Richard Stallman gave this sort of thing a name. He called it Treacherous Computing. It's everywhere, watch out for it.

28 March 2005

Smile for Big Brother

"Cameras scan and record the vehicle registration marks of every passing car. The numbers are then cross-checked against a number of databases, including the Police National Computer, the DVLA databases and police intelligence records, both locally and regionally, to identify vehicles of interest to officers."
Communist Russia? Iraq under Saddam Hussein? Not quite... Welcome to Britain.

As the UK government launch the imposition of a nationwide roadside camera network with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), linked to a variety of police and government databases on a nation of unsuspecting and, more importantly, predominantly innocent UK citizens, we must each determine for ourselves whether we are prepared to suffer technologies of mass control in the hands of an increasingly unaccountable few in supposedly 'free' and 'democratic' countries.

17 March 2005

Bush / Wolfowitz World Bank Cabal

American President George Bush has nominated the incredibly hawkish Paul Wolfowitz as a candidate for president of the World Bank.

Wolfowitz is one of the people behind the Project For the New American Century's September 2000 document entitled Rebuilding America's Defenses, "the blueprint for US global domination", which revealed plans for a premeditated attack on Iraq to secure 'regime change' "even before he became the nominee for the Republicans".

Rebuilding America's Defenses claims:

"The history of the 20th century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge."

The document outlines in detail the militarisation and measures required that America might achieve and maintain a position of global dominance before noting, one year prior to the events of September 11, 2001:

"...the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor."

In a world where we have apparently been taught "that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge" and since (before?) the "catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor" that occurred in New York on September 11, 2001, the plans outlined by Wolfowitz and the PNAC crew have rapidly, visibly and unilaterally been coming to fruition the world over.

Bush's nomination of Wolfowitz as president of the World Bank is merely the latest development in the cabal's ongoing plans for world domination and brings America yet another step closer to being the world's single largest power, controlling the money and the might, globally and unchecked.

MP Adam Price Thrown Out Over Blair War Jibe

MP Adam Price was thrown out of the House of Commons chamber after claiming that Tony Blair had "misled" Parliament over the Iraq war. He was ordered to leave by the speaker of the house for refusing to withdraw his comments. If MPs like Adam Price can't hold the Prime Minister to account, who can?

Mr Price was trying to highlight calls to impeach the prime minister for High Crimes and Misdemeanours in relation to the invasion of Iraq, which even Pentagon Hawk Richard Perle admitted was illegal six months after it had started.

The BBC report of the story offers, "The rules bar MPs from accusing fellow Parliamentarians of lying" which, in this case, seems to mean that Parliamentarians aren't allowed to tell the truth either.

13 March 2005

MPAA & RIAA To Sue People Who Touch

"RedTacton is a new Human Area Networking technology that uses the surface of the human body as a safe, high speed network transmission path."
As Japanese technology company RedTacton's Human Area Networking technology hits the streets offering 10Mbps data transfer across the surface of a user's skin, it's only a matter of time before the likes of the MPAA & RIAA attempt to sue people who touch.

Alternatively, they could just get a clue.

Sony Vs Beatallica, Freedom and Creativity

Another example of the media industry's desire to stifle the world of creativity outside of its direct control exists with what's going on between a rather talented parody band called Beatallica and the media moguls at the Sony Corporation.

Formed in 2001 as a one-off Metallica tribute for a local festival, Beatallica came up with the idea of combining Beatles songs with Metallica's heavy-metal format and ended up recording and releasing around two album's worth of material for download. The Internet-word soon spread and Beatallica gained numerous fans around the world, all of which upset Sony Music who have now ordered Beatallica to Cease & Desist while seeking simultaneously to claim compensation for infringement of Beatles copyrights.

Luckily, the Internet is a long way from the passive market of consumers which Sony is used to manipulating and you can still download the excellent Beatallica tracks from metafilter.com, with lyrics available from lyrics-songs.com. Given that Beatallica have made their music freely available, there shouldn't be any problems with downloading it from your friendly file sharing network either.

While you're enjoying Beatallica's talents, do the world of freedom, innovation and creativity a favour, join the other 10,000 or so people with a sense of reason, and go now and sign the online petition requesting Sony to retract their Cease and Desist order against beatallica.org and beatallica.com (both of which, at the time of writing, were offline thanks to Sony's actions, unlike Beatallica's messageboard).

The case is still ongoing and Metallica's Lars Ulrich recently got involved offering Beatallica his support. Mr Ulrich is famous for his role as drummer in Metallica, and a little more famous in some circles for being the chief Anti-Napster spokesman in the Napster witch-hunts of yester-year. This is before Metallica realised the error of their ways, did a complete U-turn, and began releasing Metallica material for download, so who knows quite what's going to happen next.

Update: I just found All Along The Blog Tower which promises, "All Beatallica. All the time. At least until Sony sues me" which includes, amongst other things, an amusing list of possible titles for songs on Beatallica's next album. Dude, dude, let's hope we don't get sued...

11 March 2005

2,618 Minutes of Silence

On the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings in which 191 people died, I read that Spain remembered the victims with 5 minutes silence and I wonder how many people spare a second for the 2,618 pro-rata minutes of silence it would take to pay similar homage to the 100,000 Iraqis slaughtered during the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

10 March 2005

Scott Ritter: Iraq Vote Fixed

NewsMax.com: Inside Cover Story - Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter said yesterday that January's historic election in Iraq was fixed.

Ritter also claimed that the White House has already approved plans to attack Iran within the next four months, explaining, "In October of 2004 the president reviewed the Pentagon's plans for military operations against Iran in June 2005 and he signed off on them."

Quelle surprise, the carefully scripted global soap opera continues.

All that's needed now is a bit of high publicity WMD and nuclear scaremongering and Iran's fate will be sealed in the same manner as that of Afghanistan and Iraq. All of which nicely explains the recent media focus on Syria instead.

Global Free Trade Under Threat From Corporate Greed

On 28th February The Register reported that: "The market for downloaded music is strong enough to take a price rise, according to the major music labels." This might lead people to believe that all is going well in the corporate music world. Apparently, not so.

Less than two weeks later, and under the banner of 'Music industry 'nails UK pirates', the results of the British Phonographic Industry's first round of threatening to sue peer-to-peer users are announced as 23 people pay up for file-sharing.

As the BPI follow the lead of the RIAA, and more recently, the MPAA and the actions of a number of other slightly lower profile cases in Denmark, Germany, Italy and Canada, the global media Mafia step-up their campaign to ensure the music download market will sustain the same sort of cartel-inspired, artificially inflated prices that the media industries have always managed to impose on their captive audience.

The use of the word 'pirate' to describe a range of people who include a student, the director of an IT company, and a local councilor, who range in age from 22 to 58, strikes me as rather strange for a 'pirate' is one who preys on others.

Picture, if you will, groups of cocaine-snorting, cross media-industry representatives at a lavish industry gathering, quaffing bottles of champagne that cost more than most music consumers pay to keep a roof over their heads each month, rejoicing at how well music sales are going and how nicely online sales are now they've finally got round to figuring out a little bit about how this new Internet thing works, and wondering still how maybe they can make themselves all just that little bit richer, even if it is at the expense of the very people that gave them all their money in the first place.

Then picture a 22 year old student sat at home with a PC and an Internet connection. Their favourite band has released a new single. She's bought all their previous albums and singles and even a couple of solo efforts by various members of the band, and now the papers, the magazines and just about everyone else is raving about how good the new single is. But, the last thing that the budget will stretch to is a new CD, no matter how desirable it might be. After searching the Internet for a while the student manages to find the new song for download and, after waiting for it to download, she finally gets to listen to the much hyped song.

Now picture the former threatening the latter with legal proceedings and fines of thousands of pounds on the basis that she is a pirate.

In any case where the former, a group of incredibly wealthy media organisations with billions of pounds/dollars/euros/etc at their disposal, are threatening and intimidating the latter, an impoverished, student trying to scrape her way through college, or indeed any other individual with less material wealth than say, whatever a reasonable, current value for habitable accommodation to suit their circumstance might be, the only possible discernible 'piracy', or 'preying on others' occurring is that which is being orchestrated by the media corporations, en masse, against comparatively defenseless individuals.

The sad irony of the music business suing their customers is that artists create to share their passions with others and any artist will willingly admit that their art is nothing without an audience to appreciate it. The more people that have an opportunity to experience and appreciate an artist's work, by whatever means available, so much greater will the success of the artist be. Conversely, if you've never heard of an artist, you're never likely to buy their CD, or tell your friends about them and buy a bunch of tickets to their concert.

The media industry versus peer-to-peer file-sharing battle has nothing to do with piracy.

The industry openly admits that business is booming and getting better all the time, whether this be despite the existence of peer-to-peer networks, or as a direct result of artists obtaining increased exposure via them.

The media industry versus peer-to-peer file-sharing battle is one of control.

Control the supply in a market driven economy and you control the market. What anyone with a passing interest in peer-to-peer developments is witnessing now is a frantic and desperate attempt by the media conglomerates to maintain control of the artificial marketplace they created and which was, until very recently, beyond the bounds of any serious threat.

Technologies like peer-to-peer file-sharing are the ultimate in capitalist, free-market fantasies - international and operating without let or hindrance the world over in the true sense of the word free. If the multi-million dollar entertainment industry is too bloated to keep up with this and other media revolutions without dictating what the world can and can't do online, and has to die as a result, so be it.

By liberating the media marketplace, file-sharing has opened up a whole new world of direct-to-audience opportunities for artists everywhere for it is after all 'audiences' that true artists seek, not the 'demographics' media oligopolies seek to control with their every action.

The transition to this new media age may not be smooth but when anyone with access to camcorder, a computer and an Internet connection can make and distribute films and music of equal and better quality to that available elsewhere at artificially inflated prices, we are all assured a far more diverse and interesting media future.

09 March 2005

India helped FBI trace ISI-terrorist links

9/11 - Complicity, Collusion or Conspiracy?

Mahmoud Ahmad is the ex-head of the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Pakistan and was in charge of the ISI prior to, and at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Ahmad is widely reported to have been in America on regular 'visits of consultation' with senior officals in the U.S. administration in the weeks before and after 9/11.

When the attacks occurred on September 11, 2001, Republican Congressman Porter Gross, Democratic Senator Bob Graham and Mahmoud Ahmad were having breakfast in Washington, discussing Osama bin Laden.

In early October 2001, Indian intelligence learned that Mahmoud Ahmad had ordered Saeed Sheikh - the convicted mastermind of the kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl - to wire US$100,000 from Dubai to one of hijacker Mohamed Atta's two bank accounts in Florida.

An Asia Times story says the "US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has confirmed the whole story: Indian intelligence even supplied Saeed's cellular-phone numbers".

The original India Times story is reproduced below for posterity.
India helped FBI trace ISI-terrorist links
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 09, 2001 11:08:55 PM

NEW DELHI: While the Pakistani Inter Services Public Relations claimed that former ISI director-general Lt-Gen Mahmud Ahmad sought retirement after being superseded on Monday, the truth is more shocking.

Top sources confirmed here on Tuesday, that the general lost his job because of the "evidence" India produced to show his links to one of the suicide bombers that wrecked the World Trade Centre. The US authorities sought his removal after confirming the fact that $100,000 were wired to WTC hijacker Mohammed Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the instance of Gen Mahumd.

Senior government sources have confirmed that India contributed significantly to establishing the link between the money transfer and the role played by the dismissed ISI chief. While they did not provide details, they said that Indian inputs, including Sheikh’s mobile phone number, helped the FBI in tracing and establishing the link.

A direct link between the ISI and the WTC attack could have enormous repercussions. The US cannot but suspect whether or not there were other senior Pakistani Army commanders who were in the know of things. Evidence of a larger conspiracy could shake US confidence in Pakistan’s ability to participate in the anti-terrorism coalition.

Indian officials say they are vitally interested in the unravelling of the case since it could link the ISI directly to the hijacking of the Indian Airlines Kathmandu-Delhi flight to Kandahar last December. Ahmad Umar Sayeed Sheikh is a British national and a London School of Economics graduate who was arrested by the police in Delhi following a bungled 1994 kidnapping of four westerners, including an American citizen.

The Antagonist thinks this information is worth a little recap, just in case anyone's missed the point, so here it is.

The head of Pakistani intelligence ordered the guy convicted of kidnapping and killing an american journalist that may have inadvertently stumbled on the missing link between the US and the 9/11 attacks to transfer $100,000 to lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta, and was having a breakfast meeting with american senators and congressmen, discussing Osama Bin Laden, while the September 11 attacks were happening.

Yet, despite this information being available since October 2001, complete with mainstream news reports to support it all, the general consensus of opinion seems to be that this guy did it.

07 March 2005

Testing Tube Babies to Be

The Antagonist has long maintained that if cattle were transported in the same conditions that London's commuters face as they endure their daily journeys to and from their places of work, there would be a public outcry.

Today, in both a confirmation of the fact the tube system is struggling under the strain of the insane levels of traffic it has to face each day, and a worrying indictment of Londoner's ability to distinguish between 'fat' women and 'pregnant' women, London Underground (LU) announced that it is to give special badges to pregnant women in a drive to encourage people to give up their seats to mums-to-be.

If there are no seats on trains for pregnant women and, if pregnant women are entitled to seats, the implication is that there are generally not enough seats available. Most commuters in London will tell you that there isn't even enough space to stand most of the time so no one's even likely to see these badges unless pregnant women stick them to their foreheads or wear them on the end of Deeley Bopper-style head attachments.

That there is a deficiency in both seats and space on tube trains suggests that the service isn't adequately coping with demand and that, perhaps, money would be better spent addressing more fundamental service issues than issuing badges that don't really improve the tube experience for anyone.

06 March 2005

P2P Vs the 0.01 Percent-ers

In a recent blog entry The Antagonist wrote how, if the music industry continues to demonstrate its historical recalcitrance to adapt in the face of unstoppable technological novelty, specifically with regard to digital media, it is doomed. This is especially true when these technological novelties occur with insistent regularity, are entirely unstoppable, and they lead to exponential increases in the ease and pace at which media can be digitised and distributed.

In February of 2001 the world knew that Sean Fanning's Napster network had over 60 million registered users worldwide. Despite the availability of this information and knowing that there could be nearly that many users in America alone, the Recording Industry Ass. of America (RIAA) launched the first found of law suits against 261 peer to peer users in September 2003 amid a blaze of publicity - publicity designed to distract from the lack of substance and logic behind the action and in a shock-tactic attempt to deter other peer-to-peer users from file-sharing.

In just over two years the RIAA has fired off another dozen or so rounds of law suits, with accompanying media frenzy, at varying numbers of individuals in America. Recent Wired News coverage of similar actions by the Motion Picture Ass. of America (MPAA) suggests that the RIAA has filed more than 6,000 lawsuits against individuals to date.

In the two years the RIAA has been issuing legal threats, a lot else has happened. One of these things is a broadband revolution and another is the release of a report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project entitled "A decade of adoption: How the internet has woven itself into American Life". The report claims that 128 million people aged 18 and over form the basis of the American Internet population and that 29% of them regularly download and share music. This equates to over 37,000,000 file-sharers in America alone, and that's without including figures for those under 18 years of age.

Seeing as the RIAA have dictated that we include under-18s by firing law suits at 12-year olds, we must also try to account for them here. The Pew report tells us that almost 30% of 18-29 year olds participate in file-sharing and I think it's safe to guess that the figure would be at least as many again in the 12-17 year old range, 87% of whom are regular Internet users. Whichever way you look at it, 37 million file sharers is a hellishly conservative estimate and figures of at least double that, in America alone, are eminently possible when considering that computers and Internet connections are regularly shared among an arbitrary number of family members.

So, we have around 60-80 million peer-to-peer users in America, ISPs and communications companies claiming that as much as 80% of all network traffic is peer-to-peer related, and the RIAA playing a veritable game of Sissyphean catch-up with 6,000-8,000 threats of legal action issued.

By The Antagonist's quick and ready reckoning this is less than 0.01% of the filesharing population in America and it's taken a little over two years to 'achieve'. In light of these facts and the apparent commitment of the RIAA to this flawed logic of suing customers, some might also wonder about the logistics of issuing legal threats against the remaining 99.99% of American peer-to-peer users. What about people that don't want to settle out of court? That's a lot of court cases. Oh, and what about peer to peer users in the rest of free world?

Even Intellectual Property advisors seem to think the RIAA and MPAA are misguided in both action and intention. Intellectual Property Law & Business, in an article headed Don't Sue The Customers, says the number of legal threats issued by the RIAA is "at 4,280 and counting" with the analysis that "evidence thus far suggests that the RIAA litigation campaign has had little, if any, effect on P2P file-sharing".

4,280 and counting. It's a long way from 4,280 to the 37,000,000 confirmed users and even further still to the 60,000,000 suggested by Intellectual Property Law & Business. Their recomendation? The only sensible one for the RIAA, MPAA and their global counterparts - that they give up their "dreams of controlling distribution in favor of collecting fair compensation".

In any form of business, you have to be one step ahead of the competition. When the competition is free, you've got your work cut out to survive. Instead of attempting to sue their customers, the conglomerates should be looking to provide some of that ever-elusive 'value-add' that all businesses claim to offer and all consumers seek to find. Until then, they're on a road to nowhere.