Net fatality

slow lane

slow laneA BoB Short

A recent U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) proposal that could have a significant impact on net neutrality in Canada as well as the United States has both users and big business up in arms. The proposal, slated for voting later this month, would bolster access to any website willing to pay the price, while casting the rest into what has been described as an “internet slow lane.”

Critics see the proposal as an attack on net neutrality, the concept of equal treatment of online data regardless of content or payment. Announcement of the proposal was met with a camp-in protest outside of the FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C. and an open letter signed by over 100 tech-based companies, including Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Twitter. Open Media, the Vancouver-based organization responsible for the Stop the Meter campaign in 2011, has gathered over 100,000 digital signatures opposed to the proposal, as of May 15th.

While Canada’s internet is regulated by the CRTC, Canadian content creators will still have to pay American ISPs in order to secure a place in the fast lane south of the border. Tech journalist and former Globe and Mail editor, Peter Nowak, warns that any waves made in the US are likely to cross the border.

“Sure, we have net neutrality rules here in Canada, but if you don’t think our big ISPs are going to be emboldened now to circumvent them or try to re-open the conversation, well then you don’t know them very well,” Nowak told Motherboard.

On the other hand, University of Ottawa research chair and newspaper columnist, Michael Geist, remains confident that the CRTC would be unlikely to give in to demands by ISPs.

“Canadian ISPs might always try to test the CRTC with paid prioritization,” he writes in the Ottawa Citizen, “but with the commission’s adopting a consumer-oriented perspective, the government seemingly willing to wage war against the major telecom companies, and the Canadian pro-net neutrality legal framework, the U.S. controversy over net neutrality seems unlikely to move north for now.”

- Drew McLachlan

CSEC: Hackdom’s Sugar Daddy

A detective looking through a magnifing glass

CSEC HackFest adBy Alison@Creekside

Nope, not a photoshop this time. It’s CSEC, the Canadian government’s version of the NSA, presenting a hacker conference for computer security enthusiasts this November in Quebec. [h/t Lux ex Umbra]

Events scheduled for Hackfest Strikes Back include:

And a panel discussion : “How can researchers make money selling vulnerabilities? Should they or is it extortion?”
A talk titled “Why the NSA should have every vulnerability by now” explains:

“High budgeted intelligence organizations, such as the NSA, will not help fix vulnerabilities, only find as many as possible. The intention is to use these vulnerabilities for offensive operations and fixing them is counter-intuitive to that goal.”

Difficult to escape the irony here.

In 2006 CSEC was entrusted with overseeing the global encryption standards process for 163 countries. CSEC handed those keys to the NSA, which promptly used them to insert vulnerabilities and backdoors to allow them to spy on foreign companies and governments. The NY Times quotes an NSA memo on how they pwned CSEC:

“… beginning the journey was a challenge in finesse. After some behind-the-scenes finessing with the head of the Canadian national delegation and with C.S.E., the stage was set for N.S.A. to submit a rewrite of the draft … Eventually, N.S.A. became the sole editor.”

And now CSEC presents workshops and panel discussions on the efficacy and ethics of profiting from those same backdoors and vulnerabilities.

NSA spying: The Canadian Connection

Get Your NSA ON cartoon

By Alison@Creekside

NYTimes: New iPhone’s Fingerprint Scanner: “Coming just one day after leaked documents suggested that the National Security Agency is able to hack into smartphones, the unveiling of a new iPhone with a built-in fingerprint scanner prompted dismay and mockery…”

Business Insider: NSA Slides Refer To iPhone Owners As ‘Zombies’

Cryptome/ Spiegel Online: How the NSA Accesses Smartphone Data

See the NSA slides at both links above.

Tech Dirt: The NSA impersonates Google Servers

And, as noted by Agent Smith above, it’s all turning into a giant hairball:

The NSA Machine: Too Big For Anyone to Understand … including the NSA

Ok, the Canadian CSEC connection …

The NSA has deliberately weakened encryption on the net by, among other attacks, introducing encryption vulnerabilities and an NSA backdoor into the standards set by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and used by banks, corporations, governments, and individual people to protect sensitive data sent over the internet.

NY Times, Sept 10:

“Canada’s Communications Security Establishment ran the standards process for the international organization, but classified documents describe how ultimately the N.S.A. seized control.

“After some behind-the-scenes finessing with the head of the Canadian national delegation and with C.S.E., the stage was set for N.S.A. to submit a rewrite of the draft,” the memo notes. “Eventually, N.S.A. became the sole editor.”

Bill Robinson at Lux ex Umbra, a Canadian authority on CSEC, does not believe CSEC was duped into this by the NSA but rather

“CSE and the NSA worked hand-in-glove to game the standards process.”

Update : CSEC responds to Jesse Brown at Maclean’s and declines to deny that they were “finessed” by the NSA into betraying global encryption standards.

Microsoft: Team player

Microsoft privacy video

By Alison@Creekside

Feel free to drop by this Microsoft ad and give it a thumbs down.

“At Microsoft, your privacy is our priority.”

Indeed. About that …

Guardian: How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages

• Secret files show scale of Silicon Valley co-operation on Prism

• encryption including Hotmail unlocked even before official launch

• Skype worked to enable Prism collection of video calls

Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.

• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSA boasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;

• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI and CIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a “team sport”.

US lawmakers, along with Microsoft, Skype, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo all initially attempted to deny knowledge of PRISM or that the intelligence agencies have back doors into their systems, explaining they are very occasionally under a legal compulsion to cough up customer data to comply with “existing and future lawful demands” in Microsoft’s happy phrase, but this tiny ISP company bucked it and won.

Meanwhile …

NSA Writes Code Used in Google Phone  [h/t West End Bob]

The tech giant Google has confirmed the National Security Agency furnished some of the code installed in its new Android phone. The NSA says the code is intended to enhance security against hackers and marketers, but will not confirm whether it also aids the agency’s PRISM program monitoring the global Internet.

Back to the Guardian:

“Blanket orders from the secret surveillance court allow these communications to be collected without an individual warrant if the NSA operative has a 51% belief that the target is not a US citizen and is not on US soil at the time.”

That’s us.

Michael Geist Feb 15 2012 on the situation in Canada:

“[W]ith ISPs and telcos providing subscriber data without a warrant 95 percent of the time, there is a huge information disclosure issue with no reporting and no oversight. This is a major issue on its own, particularly since it is not clear whether these figures also include requests to Internet companies like Google and social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The RCMP alone made over 28,000 requests for customer name and address information in 2010. These requests go unreported – subscribers don’t know their information has been disclosed and the ISPs and telecom companies aren’t talking either.”

If you’d like to opt out of the NSA and their “team sport”, there are other options:

Related from Saskboy: PRISM: Oliver Stone vs NSA and Checkpoints

“The question is not Do you have something to hide? The question is whether we control government or the government controls us.”

PRISM is just the beginning

Glowing bank of servers

Glowing bank of serversBy

As you may have heard, the Obama administration has been outed as ambitiously Big Brother-ish, overseeing a National Security Agency surveillance program which essentially scoops user data from every major online source — Facebook, Google, Skype, even Apple — and puts it into the world’s largest personal information database. (This, surprisingly, means Facebook is probably only the second largest such database.)

There’s an inevitable furore in the press, as there should be, but I think — as I’ve warned before — that people are asking the wrong questions about the latest scandal. The reality is that the sort of pervasive surveillance which the U.S. government now stands accused of dabbling in was inevitable, and is only going to get worse — bigger, more intrusive, more pervasive. Maybe even more secret.

The first problem with the latest spy scandal is, as I’ve repeatedly stated over the past several weeks, that the majority of people don’t care. They won’t say so — especially Republicans — but the reality is that a very small minority both (a) votes and (b) would vote differently based on the latest scandal. Indeed, we’ve reached the point where the party system can’t eliminate a program like PRISM in the United States: it was set up by Bush, and maintained and expanded by Obama, so unless you’re willing to vote for a (basically non-existent) third party over this, you’re hooped. Live with it. Which most people will. Outside of libertarian and Tea Party circles, and maybe not even there, it’s hard to imagine people genuinely care about this. Not people who were already active on Facebook, anyways.

The more serious issue is this, though: pervasive surveillance is rapidly becoming so easy, and so cheap, that it’s foolhardy to imagine governments resisting the temptation to engage in it. The only real difficulty is getting everyone to play along — and that obviously wasn’t a serious problem when it came to Facebook, or Google, or Apple, or Microsoft, or Skype, just to name a few. So in fact, there are no real difficulties.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that you want to build a database containing every text message sent by every American, every day. Apparently, the average American sends 42 text messages per day. (For what it’s worth, I send zero, and I feel very, very old now, despite being under 30.) Let’s further assume that every text message generates 500 characters of text, which is probably an extremely high figure. Now, 300 million Americans times 21 kilobytes of text equals 6.3 terabytes of information per day.

Right now, in a retail store, you can get a two terabyte hard drive for $100, on sale. So even if you’re paying retail rates for your surveillance database, which seems unlikely, you can store every text message sent by every American for around $300 a day.

If that still seems unlikely to you, consider that that amounts to 2.3 petabytes per year of data. Almost two years ago, IBM built a 120-petabyte hard drive cluster in California “for an unnamed customer.”

Is Google making us less lituritt?

map of brain, including the "google-yahoo" lobe

map of brain with google-yahoo lobeBy Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Today is Family Literacy Day in Canada, an initiative organized by ABC Life Literacy Canada, which encourages families to incorporate reading and other literacy-related activities into their daily routines.

There’s no question that developing literacy in children is necessary and important. Adult literacy in Canada, however, doesn’t appear to be getting the attention it also sorely deserves. Nine million adult Canadians struggle with low literacy; that’s four out of 10, ages 16 to 65. Surprised? Well, what may be even more disconcerting is the fact that the number of Canadians with relatively high literacy skills — that is, who can integrate several sources of information and solve complex problems (that is, who can think critically) — is dropping over time.

A study by economists at the University of British Columbia, based on the 2003 International Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey, found that university-educated adults aged 26-34 years old in 2003 had lower literacy scores than the same age group in 1994. The study also reported that literacy levels for university-educated adults in Canada had generally declined from 1976 to 2003.

An earlier study by those same economists found that literacy tends to drop once individuals leave school, because the skills they acquire in the classroom are no longer used on a regular basis. Apparently if adults aren’t forced to think, most of them won’t.

One possible reason for the decline between generations comes to mind: the Internet. Why try to use your brain to come up with an answer to a question when the Great and Powerful Google can do it 0.62 seconds?

The Web also appears to have a peculiar power over people — as in, if it’s on your computer screen, it must be true. Facebook in particular has become a fount of absurd and baseless “knowledge,” such as quotes from Einstein that Einstein never said. These are, of course, immediately shared with another 75, or 5000, people. The phrase “Google it” in itself implies that the search engine provides only accurate and fact-based information. Perhaps we should add “and carefully examine where the information is coming from and cross-reference it.”

Whatever the reason for Canada’s declining literacy rate, the result is the same: democracy suffers, because people with low literacy levels are less likely to exercise their right to vote and get involved in bettering their communities. Let’s face it: it takes a lot to sling through politicians’ bullshit and really understand their positions, let alone the complex issues behind them. The last thing we need are more apathetic and disengaged citizens.

With the results of the 2011 international literacy survey due out later this year, it will be interesting to see if literacy levels among the university-educated continue to drop. If so, it might be high time to examine technology’s role in the problem, and if it is to blame for our brains slowly turning into corn mash.

Canada’s startups get the flag


checkered-flagBy Mark Evans

Canada’s startup landscape is healthier than ever, as evidenced by the recent International Startup Festival in Montreal.

Putting aside the ambitious name (I would have selected something like the Canadian Startup Festival), the fact that it was well-organized and well-attended suggests there might just be some real traction within the startup community.

For too long, the landscape has been dominated by a supply and demand problem – lots of enthusiastic entrepreneurs chasing too little capital. That meant there was a lot of talk but not a lot of walk, because without financing, it’s difficult to develop an idea and drive growth.

A few key things have changed in the past year or so.

First, I sense entrepreneurs are more sophisticated, experienced, and creative about how they start, operate, and finance a new business. We’re talking about people who have been in the startup trenches, and are now starting to see the benefits of their toil.

Second, there has been a surge in the amount of seed and startup capital available. It’s far from a financing tsunami, but it’s a solid start. It means (hopefully!) entrepreneurs can get the money they need to take a real shot at building something. It doesn’t have to be millions of dollars, although it would nice it if that kind of dough-ray-me were available. Many entrepreneurs can go a long way with $100,000 to $250,000, using a lean and mean approach.

Third, we’re starting to see exits; nothing spectacular, but acquisitions nonetheless. The recent hit list includes Pushlife (acquired by Google), Tungle (RIM), PostRank (Google) and Five Mobile (Zynga).

What’s more encouraging is that, if you scratch beneath the surface, there’s an awful lot going on. In my consulting business, I’m doing a lot of work with startups and, as important, coming across a lot of startups during my travels. These are companies with great ideas working away in relative anonymity, until the time comes for some of them break out.

All in all, call me optimistic that Canada’s startup community is starting to see some serious traction after too many years of struggling. A lot more can be done but at least we’re getting there.

First published on

Canada AWOL at eG8

eg8By Frank Moher

PARIS – It is a curious thing, to host the lions of the digital world in a series of tents in a public park. But that is what French President Nicolas Sarkozy did this week in Paris, for the so-called eG8 forum, a prelude to the G8 forum 173 km to the north-west, in Deauville. The police were out in full force along rue Rivoli, the hectic thoroughfare adjoining les Jardins de Tuilleries, as one might expect for an event commingling billionaires and high-level politicians. I watched a motorcyclist inadvertently bombard a roped-off side street, defended by a cordon of police, and thought he was lucky to escape with his life, as opposed to the scolding he got.

But the digs thrown up for the conference were decidedly déclassé. Were the usual likely venues in Paris all booked-up? Or was Sarkozy signalling to the mostly American attendees – the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Eric Schmidt, and John Perry Barlow, formerly lyricist for the Grateful Dead and more recently co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation — that they oughtn’t get all up in that – that he and the other real world leaders would decide how the internet should be developed, while the digirati need only learn their place as electronic street performers?

In any event, Canada was as absent from the conference as you might expect. The subject was intellectual property, and, while we produce our fair share, we are not in any significant way a player in its distribution — not like the Americans and the Europeans (represented on the dais by Bertelsmann and Universal Music France). So there’s no point in feeling snubbed; we aren’t important enough to be snubbed.

But our lack of profile and influence in l’age d’internet doesn’t bode well for our economic fortunes in a world where silicon is increasingly the international currency. The lack of Canadian start-ups that might turn into players, the failing fortunes of our one major hardware manufacturer, RIM, and the Conservative government’s disinterest in creativity, the driving force behind all the achievements and innovations in technology represented onstage at the eG8, suggest we will remain largely hewers of wood, drawers of water, and processors of tar sands.

By the way, Parisian police apparently dealt with protests with a novel approach: simply not tolerating protests. Students of irony will note that this takes some of the power out of the G8 leaders’ endorsement of the “Arab Spring,” comprised as it is of nothing but protests. Meantime, a few thousand dissidents were tolerated last week in the city of Le Havre, across the river from Deauville. There, when property violence broke out, of the same sort seen along Yonge Street during the G20 last year, the protestors took care of it.

Nice job. Note to Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair: That’s how it’s done.

The Chrome revolution has been postponed


by Eric Pettifor

Last year at this time I predicted that a small revolution in web apps would occur in 2010, thanks to the introduction of Google Chrome OS, and may have implied that this would have a negative effect on the iPhone. I also expressed the opinion that, if all went well with the Google branded Nexus phone, Microsoft would follow with one of their own.

This year I will have to revise and amend somewhat, since Google did not introduce Chrome OS mid-year as planned, so the fallout from that will have to wait until the first half of 2011. Daniel Eran Dilger has written a piece on this over at Perhaps not surprising given the source, it has a bit of a pro-Apple bias. Dilger notes, for example that “Unlike the Chrome OS, these machines [Apple laptops and desktops] can run native Mac apps, can host X11 Linux apps, and can even run Windows apps in a virtualization environment.” This suggests that he doesn’t get it, in spite of having extensively quoted Google’s intention earlier in the article:

”Google Chrome OS is being created for people who spend most of their time on the web, and is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems,” the company blogged last summer.

“We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better. People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up,” the company explained.

“They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them. They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files. Even more importantly, they don’t want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates. And any time our users have a better computing experience, Google benefits as well by having happier users who are more likely to spend time on the Internet.”

It is Google’s intention to out-iPad the iPad by offering a world where you don’t have to worry about apps or backups or where your data is, a world in which everything “just works.” A paranoid geek like myself won’t allow Chrome OS anywhere near any of my devices, because I care about where my data is and who has access to it and things like administrative access. It’s bad enough that they have my email, I’m not handing over everything to the buggers, even if they are my favourite corporation.

But that’s just curmudgeonly old me. If they can deliver on this vision of drop dead easy computing, Steve Jobs will find himself in the position of having to play catch up, and Microsoft will then play catch up to Jobs. Technologically it won’t be difficult for either of them. The killer will be that while they sell their stuff, Google gives it away free. That could be a very difficult dime for them to turn on.

In other 2011 news: I’m not going to predict the demise of the iPhone. That’s one area that I think is fairly secure for Apple. Though with Nokia’s introduction of the N8, I wonder if the iPhone won’t become just a normal smartphone, ceding the high end to others.

You may have seen articles like this one over at, suggesting that Nokia isn’t doing so well against Apple since the iPhone is outselling the N8 by six to one even in Nokia’s home territory of Europe. (Pro-Nokia site offers a rebuttal.)

This is a little like comparing sales of Rolls Royce to BMW, and, if Apple doesn’t up the ante soon, maybe Lexus. The techno-elite have already turned in their iPhones, and now it is just for little girls. (I’m only partially kidding — Sara Yin over at reports that when considering the purchase of a smartphone, men prefer Android, women the iPhone.)

Microsoft did not release their own branded smartphone this year, instead simply releasing a new OS for phones, Windows Phone 7. I’m not going to predict a Microsoft branded phone for 2011. I think Google’s motivation for the Nexus was sluggish uptake of Android by third parties, and if Microsoft finds themselves in a similar situation, perhaps they will adopt a similar strategy. But if they haven’t copied Google by now, I don’t think they’re going to, especially if it is strongly adopted, or even moderately well adopted.

So if I can’t predict the death of the iPhone, whose demise can I predict? Ah, yes, the overused and much abused Adobe (formerly Macromedia) Flash. And who will kill it? A new specification for web pages, HTML5. This specification provides for much greater support of multimedia content. When those Chrome OS web apps come rolling out, they won’t use Flash. Look for them to be written in HTML5 with other supported specifications (for example, the latest in cascading style sheets [CSS]), and associated technologies. Flash will be a thing of the past.

The revolution has not been cancelled. Merely postponed. Until then, best wishes for the holidays and the new year.

Poledancing to the Web’s Tune – page 2


Coninued from page 1

Good, original content is the first and most important factor in getting and growing traffic, Peach explains. It not only draws potential customers in, but also keeps them browsing around and clicking on links and ads. For Lennard, creating content has had another plus side. “Sometimes it’s a struggle to find the words,” she says, “but I’ve been quite surprised to find out that I can actually write. I’m very proud of the writing I’ve done.”

Optimizing websites by using keywords is also important. Keywords are the terms — “pole dancing” for example — that visitors enter into a search engine to locate relevant information. When optimized, a site can more easily be found and categorized by search engines, improving its ranking and hence how easy it is to find.

That may seem like a lot of new jargon and esoterica to learn, especially for people who grew up in an era without computers. Fortunately, there’s just as much help to be had. “When I first started,” Peach says,”I knew very little about websites, but the hosting service I use has a self–study course that showed me how to put it all together.”

Now that Peach’s traffic has gone from under 100 unique visitors a day to over 400, she’s moved on to creating “pole dancing for fitness” DVDs. With retail and wholesale services like Kunaki and Amazon, it’s fairly straightforward. Once the video is produced, all she has to do is copy it to her hard drive mambo-momsand then upload to Kunaki along with the cover art. Getting on Amazon is a little more complicated and not as financially rewarding, but she says it gets her name out in cyberspace and drives more traffic to her site. “Though I don’t make as much with Amazon, I’ve already got one video up that’s bringing in $300.00 to $600.00 a month. If I could get three more up there, I think I’d be set!”

Like many Canadian women, Peach is branching out, exploring new employment territory, learning new skills, and stretching her comfort zone. Thirty–three percent of entrepreneurs in Canada are women and of those, over 58 percent are between the ages of 35 and 54. The largest growth rate in entrepreneurial endeavours, however, is being seen in women over the age of 55. In a tough economy, they’re finding innovative and creative ways to make a buck and stay sane.

And while not all will succeed, the gamble has more than paid off for Peach. Her directory has grown to contain listings for pole dancing studios in nearly every American state and Canadian province, as well as from countries all over the world, including a huge representation from the U.K. AdSense revenue has also been increasing steadily and her site’s ranking is improving daily. Not bad for a former 9-t0-9er, now turned pole-dancing WebMatron.

Quick Tips for Building a Web-Based Business

1. Find a niche market that is specific. Fitness and Health are broad topics. Narrow it down to something more specific like pole dancing for fitness or eating vegan on a budget.

2. Don’t monetize your site until you have at least 25 pages of content produced. There’s no use putting AdSense on your web pages if no one visits them. Google chooses the quality of ad that’s put on your website. If you don’t get much traffic, you won’t get the good ads.

3. Make sure the content on your site is relevant and well-written. Repeat traffic means increased revenue. If visitors find irrelevant or poorly written information on your site, they won’t come back.

4. Do link exchanges with related websites. Have a recipe for blueberries on your site? Find a site dedicated to blueberries and ask the webmaster if they’d like to put a link to your recipe. In exchange, you’ll link your recipe to their website. Spiders love sites with outgoing and incoming links.

5. Add video and pictures to your website. Make a how–to–video on how to make a blueberry cake. Upload it to YouTube, link it to your site and watch the traffic and AdSense revenue increase.