Your Internet access could be tax-free for another year (at least)

By Hayley Tsukayama

For all the complaints we make about an ineffective Congress, Internet users who want to save a little bit of cash should be happy with the U.S. government today. The massive spending bill introduced last night — the “Cromnibus” as Washington has christened it — includes a provision to extend a moratorium on taxes for Internet sales and services.

That would ban states from imposing taxes on access to the Internet through October 2015. There’s a push to get that ban extended indefinitely — led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has 52 co-sponsors for the measure. The ban was first passed to get people to use the Internet. But its extension has been tied up in the debate over whether the U.S. should compel online businesses to collect state sales taxes.

The two issues are different but not separate, thanks to legislation that would have made the access tax moratorium permanent while also pushing forward sales taxes.  The debate over online sales taxes, however, is also headed nowhere fast. A bill to require sales tax collection online essentially died last month due to opposition from Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) — a known critic of a federal law mandating online sales taxes. Right now, taxpayers are supposed to declare the tax they owe on online purchases themselves. You may be surprised to hear this doesn’t happen that often.

Both issues are likely to be key ones for the tech policy crowd come 2015, but there shouldn’t be any Congressional movement on either in the near term.

In a statement Tuesday, Wyden said that he’s definitely going to keep the access tax issue in the spotlight. “By extending this bill, the Congress has, for the short term, ensured that this longstanding policy keeps Internet access tax-free,” he said. “I’m going to continue fighting to ensure that these protections will bolster the digital economy for the long term.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Congress has yet to pass the spending bill.

Father of Web tells Russia’s Putin: Internet is not a ‘CIA project’


(Reuters) – The inventor of the World Wide Web said on Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was incorrect when he alleged the Internet was a project created by U.S. spies in the Central Intelligence Agency.

Putin, a former KGB spy who does not use email, has said he will not restrict Internet access for Russians, but in April he stoked concerns that the Kremlin might seek to crackdown by saying the Internet was born out of a “CIA project”.

“The Internet is not a CIA creation,” Tim Berners-Lee, a London-born computer scientist who invented the Web in 1989 – the year that the Berlin Wall collapsed – told Reuters when asked about Putin’s CIA comment.

“It was the academic community who wired up their universities so it was put together by smart, well-meaning people who thought it was a good idea,” he said.

Berners-Lee has previously scolded the United States and Britain for undermining the Internet’s foundations with their surveillance program. He has also called on China to tear down the “great firewall” that limits its people’s access to the Internet.

Asked about his World Wide Web Foundation’s rankings of the way 86 countries approach the Internet, Berners-Lee said the Internet should be recognized as a human right and protected from commercial and political interference.

Ethiopia and Myanmar were bottom of the list while Denmark and Finland topped the rankings, which score access, freedom and openness, relevant content and social, economic and political empowerment.

Britain came fourth, the United States was sixth, Russia was ranked 35 and China 44.

The Anti-Surveillance Strategies That Could Ruin the Internet

By Tim Maurer, Robert Morgus, Isabel Skierka

The post-Snowden world is a little like a new parent suddenly worrying about the security of its baby… data. Governments, companies, and citizens alike are now wrestling with how to secure it. Over the past year, Europe has been discussing proposals intended to address foreign surveillance on governments, individuals, and companies. The problem is that many proposals, in fact, do not make data more secure while contributing to an Internet that is less free and open for all of us.

The term you need to know, the one that’s driving a lot of these proposals, is “technological sovereignty” – or the idea individual countries should have control of their citizens’ data and Internet traffic.

What these proposals all have in common is the premise that they can and will help secure the data of people, companies, and governments in Europe. And yet, from laying new undersea cables, and localized routing to data storage initiatives, the vast majority of these proposals lack the foresight to actually protect data.

Take the creation of new undersea cables, for example, which allow the transoceanic delivery of data. Justifying new cables by claiming that they’ll make data secure is misleading: new undersea cables have positive side effects for the Internet as a whole and can increase the general resiliency of the infrastructure, but they do not effectively protect against surveillance. What’s more, even if this was a plausible solution, government intelligence and law enforcement agencies have the well-documented ability to tap these cables –undersea or otherwise– and intercept the data.

See more:

New “Google Tax” to be enacted by Australia, UK

The United Kingdom and Australia are planning to introduce new tax policies that would raise rates on multinationals that attempt to move their profits to tax havens overseas. The amounts being discussed in these socialist-leaning countries would be a 5% rise to 25%.

Although it would affect a number of non-tech companies, such as Starbucks, it is specifically being called the “Google Tax” due to that company’s emblematic role multinational tech company with vast wealth and an increasingly nebulous national identity. While this is not specific to the tech sector, I would argue that it is a more acute issue here, as internet providers by their very nature dissolve national borders, leaving the question of internet governance large unanswered.

The Future of Labor, The Wearable Future, The Past Version of the Future

I, Start-Up

by Matthew Bower; The Baffler

“Listen and you’ll hear it humming along quietly in the background of your life. It’s the sound of other people’s labor. Alfred, yet another start-up in the on-demand service economy, promises to make it easy and affordable for you to finally tune that sound out.

Offering an “automatic, hands-off service,” that frees you to “live your life,” Alfred follows the model of companies like TaskRabbit, Wun Wun, and Handy in targeting busy urban professionals with the promise of providing menial tasks for a price. For $99 a month, this company adds the convenience of automation, so you can set and forget all of “life’s necessities.” The company will assign an “Alfred”—frivolously named for the butler of a fictional vigilante billionaire—to sort your mail, do your laundry, shop for groceries, or take on any number of other pesky chores, twice a week.

Alfred went live in New York last month after co-founders Marcela Sapone and Jessica Beck—who began the project at Harvard Business School—closed a $2 million seed round with backing from Spark Capital and additional funding from SV Angel and CrunchFund. While there’s nothing especially new about this service, Alfred is perhaps the most explicit in a growing trend of glib marketing pitches to supplant face-to-face services with the user-centric gloss of an app. In thinking of labor as a function to simply switch on, Silicon Valley is selling an increasingly opaque view of workers’ livelihoods.

Automation has proved a lucrative concept for both on-demand service providers and ventures in the so-called “sharing economy .” It extends the logic of positing “There’s an app for that!” to real-world business opportunities. Underlying the recent criticisms mounted against ride-sharing start-up Uber , for example, is the company’s “disruptive” idea of playing high-tech intermediary between customers and service workers, in effect concealing exploitative wages and its workers’ lack of job security behind the seamlessness of a mobile interface. It should be clear that the only thing these service on-demand companies have actually “innovated” is the consumer’s experience—not the worker’s.”

The rest…

2015 Will Be the Year Wearable Tech Gets Under Your Skin

by Charles Arthur, The Guardian

“Want to know how much ultraviolet exposure you’ve had on a summer’s day? Next year, a hair slide could tell you.

Need to monitor your heart’s electrical activity? A pair of headphones could do that and feed the data to your smartphone.

Both are just around the corner. For the past year or so, the main application of “wearable” technology has been for very simple tasks – measuring how many steps you’ve taken, guessing how many calories you’ve consumed doing so, and measuring your heart rate as you did so. But in 2015, we’ll be moving past that, experts say, with a panoply of products about to be launched. Apple’s Watch, expected to go on sale in spring, will take the wearable idea beyond eager technology and fitness users, to the general public. “It will probably get more uptake than anything so far, just because it’s Apple,” says Ruth Thomson, campaign manager for consumer product development at Cambridge Consultants, who has been following the wearables space intently. “They seem to have this magic method of getting people to buy things.”

Though its full capabilities aren’t yet known, the watch has already grabbed a tonne of publicity simply by being announced – eclipsing other smartwatches announced earlier this year from companies including Samsung, LG and Motorola. “There isn’t a mainstream smartwatch yet,” says Thomson. But she sees potential for wearables to expand beyond simple counting – steps, calories – into something that truly connects.

The UV hair slide is one idea Cambridge Consultants is working on; another is a suit embedded with technology that communicates with itself, so that the different elements “talk” to each other. “The next step is to make wearables truly wearable,” Thomson says.”

The rest…

Future Perfect: Social progress, high-speed transport and electricity everywhere – how the Victorians invented the future

by Iwan Rhys Morus, Aeon

efore the beginning of the 19th century, the future was only rarely portrayed as a very different place from the present. The social order, like the natural order, was supposed to be static, with everything in its proper place: as it had been, so it would be. When Sir Isaac Newton thought about the future, he worried about the exact date of Armageddon, not about how his science might change the world. Even Enlightenment revolutionaries usually argued that what they were doing was restoring the proper order of things, not creating a new world order.

It was only around the beginning of the 1800s, as new attitudes towards progress, shaped by the relationship between technology and society, started coming together, that people started thinking about the future as a different place, or an undiscovered country – an idea that seems so familiar to us now that we often forget how peculiar it actually is.

The new technology of electricity seemed to be made for futuristic speculation. At exhibition halls in London, such as the Adelaide Gallery or the Royal Polytechnic Institution, early Victorians could marvel at electrical engines that promised to transform travel. Inventors boasted that ‘half a barrel of blue vitriol [copper sulphate] and a hogshead or two of water, would send a ship from New York to Liverpool’. People went to these places to see the future made out of the present: when Edgar Allen Poe in 1844 set out to fool the New York Sun’s readers that a balloon flight had just made it across the Atlantic, he made sure to tell them that the equipment used had been ‘put in action at the Adelaide Gallery’.

Bringing the future home, Alfred Smee, then surgeon to the Bank of England, told readers of his Elements of Electro-Metallurgy (1841) how they would ‘enter a room by a door having finger plates of the most costly device, made by the agency of the electric fluid’. The walls would be ‘covered with engravings, printed from plates originally etched by galvanism’, and at dinner ‘the plates may have devices given by electrotype engravings, and his salt spoons gilt by the galvanic fluid’. It was becoming impossible to talk about electricity at all without talking about the future.”

The rest…

UK hosts D5, the First Digital Leaders Summit

By UK Government

The D5, a group of the world’s most digitally advanced governments, is holding its inaugural meeting in London on 9 and 10 December. The Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, and HRH the Duke of York will host events.

The 5 founding members are UK, South Korea, Estonia, New Zealand and Israel. All 5 countries have a record of excellence in digital government. They design services around users’ needs and share open source solutions with other nations. Read about their digital achievements.

Ministers and senior officials from these countries will meet in a variety of digital innovation centres across London. One of the venues is TechCity, known for its thriving tech start-ups.

D5 summit themes

The summit will concentrate on promoting economic growth through open markets, improving Internet connectivity, and ideas for future collaborative projects. The group’s founders will also sign a charter. It will include best practice and commitments to further work on activities such as teaching children to code and encouraging and promoting a start-up culture.

The D5 summit follows the Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement that thousands of maths and physics teachers will get specialist training to help raise the quality of teaching in schools. He also announced the first ever national college for digital skills and coding by 2015 to train the digital innovators and technology experts of tomorrow.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said:

We are proud to host in London the very first meeting of the D5, a network of the leading digital governments, designed to share best practice. Since 2010 the United Kingdom has become the most digitally advanced government in the G7 including by establishing GDS, launching our award-winning GOV.UK and digitising 25 ‘exemplar’ public services. We’re also making the UK one of the safest places in the world to do business online. As part of this government’s long-term economic plan we will do even more – moving to a ‘government as platform’ model and ensuring by 2020 that everyone who can go online is online.

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said:

Hosting the first D5 Summit puts the UK’s digital economy on the map as one of the strongest markets in the world, worth over £100 billion a year. Ensuring that our people and businesses have world-class digital skills so they can compete in the economy of the future is a key part of our long-term economic plan to back business, create jobs and secure a brighter future for Britain.

We have already put coding into the school curriculum and our rollout of superfast broadband, backed by over £1 billion government investment in our digital infrastructure, has now passed more than 1.5 million homes and businesses and is reaching 40,000 more each week.

Buckingham Palace reception

As part of the summit, HRH the Duke of York hosted an evening reception at Buckingham Palace. This brought together the international digital delegations and celebrated the group’s aim of promoting digital growth and cooperation.

It also promoted the UK’s thriving digital economy as a number of UK digital SMEs showed their talents and products to international delegates. Companies that exhibited include:

  • Crowd Emotion, offering cloud based facial coding
  • Therapy Box, specialising in healthcare and education apps for people with disabilities

Digital experts were also attending, including World Wide Web founder Sir Tim Berners Lee and former Vice-President of the European Commission Neelie Kroes.

The future of D5

D5 is not just a single event but the start of a sustainable network of countries. It will continue to grow as more countries join. The 2015 summit will be hosted in Estonia.

Working groups will continue to work together after D5 London to provide digital government faster and more efficiently. They will report publicly on progress and learning throughout the year. A D5 blog will provide links to where the working groups are collaborating online.


Chinese Internet regulator welcomed at Facebook campus

(Reuters) – Lu Wei, China’s top Internet regulator, may not welcome Facebook to his house, but he’s certainly welcome at Facebook.

Lu, the minister of China’s Cyberspace Administration, recently toured the campuses of U.S. tech giants Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and Amazon Inc, according to a report and pictures posted on a Chinese government website on Monday.

In friendly exchanges that belied Facebook’s status in China, where it has been blocked since 2009, Lu and Facebook Inc founder Mark Zuckerberg greeted each other in Mandarin and with broad smiles, according to the report, which did not say when, or why, the visit took place.

When Lu noticed a copy of Chinese president Xi Jinping’s book, “The Governance of China,” in a pile on Zuckerberg’s desk, Zuckerberg reportedly told him: “I also bought this book for my coworkers; I wanted them to learn about socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

Lu was also pictured meeting with Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on his trip.

China remains one of the last great obstacles to Zuckerberg’s longstanding vision of connecting the world’s entire population, and he has made no secret of his desire to enter a market with more than 600 million Internet users.

Lu, a former Beijing propaganda chief who took up his current central government role in 2013, has repeatedly defended China’s Internet censorship as critical to preserving domestic stability.

“China has always been very hospitable, but we can choose who enters our house,” he told reporters in October. “We could not allow any companies to enter China and make money while hurting the country.”

He added: “I didn’t say Facebook could not enter China, but nor did I say that it could.”

Prone to colorful and sometimes conflicting statements, Lu played host last month to the World Internet Conference, an event meant to show off the growing influence of China’s tech industry but also lay out policymakers’ vision for Internet governance: open, but on the government’s terms.

Cyberspace should be “free and open, with rules to follow and always following the rule of law,” Lu said during an opening ceremony.

Outside the conference, authorities detained a small group of students demonstrating to seek access to Facebook, attendees said.

Pirate Bay Has Been Raided and Taken Down: Here’s What We Know

The popular file-sharing service Pirate Bay was taken down today following a raid in Sweden by police who seized servers and computers.

The Pirate Bay portal went down Tuesday morning after Swedish police raided a server room in Stockholm over alleged copyright violations. In addition to its file-sharing section, Pirate Bay’s forum was also down.

“There were a number of police officers and digital forensics experts there. This took place during the morning and continued until this afternoon. Several servers and computers were seized, but I cannot say exactly how many,” Swedish prosecutor Fredrik Ingblad told Radio Sweden.

Pirate Bay may not be the only target. According to TorrentFreak, other sites related to file sharing such as EZTV, Zoink, and Torrage went down today as well, though it’s not yet known if they were also raided.

Founded in 2003, Pirate Bay has been in the legal crosshairs for years, but has managed to stay afloat despite efforts by governments, anti-piracy groups and the music and film industries to close it down. Today’s raid comes after a number of recent events have occurred around the service, putting it in the spotlight once again.

The Timeline of Pirate Bay’s Recent Troubles

In October, Pirate Bay’s co-founder, the Swedish national Gottfrid Svartholm, was found guilty in Denmark and sentenced to 3.5 years in prison. Although the conviction this time was unrelated to file-sharing, it follows a previous 2009 conviction on copyright violations related to the file-sharing service. Svartholm had been convicted on the copyright charges along with his Pirate Bay co-founders, Fredrik Neij, Peter Sunde, and Swedish telecommunitations owner Carl Lundstrom. While all three had been apprehended, Neij went on the lam, however.

But just last month, Neij was arrested at the Thailand-Laos border on the 2009 conviction.

And last week a French court ordered ISPs in that country to block access to Pirate Bay, as well as any of its mirror sites, from within French territory.

Then days ago Google removed and banned a number of third-party Pirate Bay file-sharing apps from the Google Play store. The apps help users circumvent blocks instated by ISPs to prevent users from accessing Pirate Bay.

Today’s raid comes after some of the movie files stolen from Sony Pictures Entertainment in its recent hack became available for download through links at Pirate Bay. It’s unknown if the raid and takedown were instigated by the distribution of those Sony files.


Despite the previous convictions, Pirate Bay has managed to forge ahead without its founders, catering to millions of daily users. Although today’s raid is not the first—Pirate Bay was also raided in 2006—in 2012 its operators bragged that they had moved their operations to the cloud to make the service virtually impervious to police raids. By hosting their operation from multiple cloud hosting providers located in a number of countries, a single police raid would not be able to disrupt their operation. Or so they thought.

It’s unclear how long authorities can keep Pirate Bay down this time before it pops up again.

Merkel speaks out against net neutrality

Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at the Digitising Europe conference in Berlin. Photo: DPA

Published: 04 Dec 2014 15:03 GMT+01:00
Updated: 04 Dec 2014 16:15 GMT+01:00

Merkel said that some key services for the digital economy would require reliable transmission quality and should therefore be treated differently than other data.

At the Vodafone-hosted Digitising Europe conference in Berlin, she called for a splitting of services, “one for free internet, and the other for special services”, adding that it was up to Brussels to negotiate how it would work.

“An innovation-friendly internet means that there is a guaranteed reliability for special services,” she said. “These can only develop when predictable quality standards are available”.

Merkel added that these special services would run over existing internet infrastructure.

Social Democratic Party (SPD) MEP Petra Kammerevert told The Local that this would make it more difficult to find a common European position on net neutrality.

“If Merkel goes into negotiations with the position she’s outlined today, it will be very difficult for the European Council to find a common position,” she said.

The Council, composed of the heads of state and government of all the EU member countries, must find a common negotiating position to deal with the European Parliament, which voted against a European Commission plan for regulations that would allow a two-tier internet in April.

“There is a clear position on this with a big majority in the European Parliament,” Kammerevert said. “There should only be special services for closed groups of users under very strict conditions when capacity is sufficient.

“Merkel’s comments are catastrophic, she’s calling for a two-tier internet.”

Kenya arrests 77 Chinese in Internet hacking case


NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Police in Kenya are consulting technical experts to determine if 77 Chinese nationals arrested with advanced communications equipment in several houses in an upscale Nairobi neighborhood were committing espionage, an official said Thursday.

The Chinese were arrested since the weekend with equipment that Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper said was capable of hacking into government servers.

“We have roped in experts to tell us if they were committing crimes of espionage,” said Ndegwa Muhoro, the head of criminal investigations for Kenya’s police. “These people seem to have been brought here specifically for a mission which we are investigating.”

The arrests began on Sunday, when computer equipment in one of the upscale houses the Chinese nationals had rented near the U.S. Embassy and U.N. headquarters caught fire, killing one person.

Police said it appeared the group was manufacturing ATM cards, and that the suspects may have been involved in money laundering and Internet fraud. The case has caught the attention of the highest levels of Kenya’s government as authorities investigate whether the group was also engaging in espionage.

The minister of foreign affairs and the minister of information communications and technology both were on hand Wednesday as police arrested 40 people. The Chinese ambassador was summoned to the foreign affairs ministry over the arrests.

The 37 suspects arrested Sunday were charged with operating an illegal radio station. Many of those arrested cannot speak English and some don’t have identification such as a passport, police detective Nicholas Kisavi said.

A woman at China’s embassy in Kenya told The Associated Press on Thursday to call back on Friday to speak with an embassy spokesman.

Fred Matiang’l, an official in Kenya’s ministry of information, communications and technology, told the Daily Nation that China has promised to send investigators to Kenya to work on the case.