peer-to-peer pressure

history of peer to peerI had an interesting conversation with Brian Taptich, the VP of Business Development at bittorrent.com and gained an insight into the machinations of the industry.

I learned that “Big Media” only now appreciates how good they had it back in Napster days, when every file download was logged and tracked through the central Napster server. Now that they are starting down the barrel of true peer-to-peer networking (which bittorrent — the protocol, not the company — affords), they have the perspective to appreciate in hindsight the benefits that omni-present surveillence provides for them.

You could even speculate that bittorrent.com’s value proposition is to turn the bittorrent protocol, back into Napster. If they become the central clearinghouse of bittorrent seeds, they can (and will) keep records of all of the network activity. What files are being exchanged, and who is exchanging them.

In bittorrent, the seeds are the servers, and technically these seeds can be distributed all across the Internet. I was really surprised to learn that Brian was actually aware of an obscure branch of Austrian code for the PloneMultimedia product which auto-generates bittorrent seeds (which we helped merge into the trunk at the Big Apple Sprint). Apparently, The Lawyers were getting all antsy about the existence of tools which make seeding all too easy. Right now, it takes a degree of technical know how to create these ad-hoc bittorrent servers, but once the auto-generation tools make it out to the premier blog, wiki, and CMS platforms, there won’t be much stopping them.

The delicate balance between the overly concentrated power of centralized services vs. their practical usefulness is a theme I began to explore in my post on Serenity. I have also imagined other contexts (e.g. Creative Commons licensing) where simply landing an important feature in the top dozen authoring tools could really shift the scales in terms of adoption. I continue to actively wonder what features could be introduced to these tools to promote equality, democracy, and social justice.

Someone should tell the lawyers that the cat’s head has already wriggled out of the bag, and when she gets out she is going to teach her peers the same trick.

One Lost-identity Per Child

I attended wikimania this past weekend, and was encouraged by the philosophers present take a critical stance towards the euphoria surrounding the 21st century agendas – Will Science, Technology, and Rationality necessarily make the world a better place? Didn’t we make the same mistake last century?

This led me to a scary thought regarding the One Laptop Per Child project, which I am generally very excited and optimistic about. The team seems to be asking all the right questions and taking all the right ideological positions with regards to the importance of viewing this project as an educational one (not a tech one), structuring the venture as a non-profit, and deeply understanding the value of free software and free culture.

But there is another freedom at stake here – one I have explored in the past (permanent records) – the freedom to remain anonymous, which is the keystone supporting personal privacy, which I am beginning to believe ought to be a basic human right.

I started thinking about how these laptops could easily become the instruments for an international id program, and for all the reasons that people are concerned about this, OLPC should seriously consider shipping with tools that support anonymous network activity. Tools like TOR, which regrettably the EFF has just had to cut funding for…

If you think this is important, perhaps you might want to chime in, and let laptop people know.

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