The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

We are all publishers now

[This gopher site] has had, from very early days, a policy which allows [users] to request that their account be removed and all their content immediately and permanently deleted. This is called "claiming your civil right", … The Orientation Guide explains:

This promise is not a gimmick … It is a recognition that the ability to delete your accounts from online services is an important part of self-ownership of your digital identity. This is genuinely an important freedom and one which many modern online services do not offer, or deliberately make very difficult to access.

I have always been, and still am, proud that [this gopher server] offers this right so explicitly and unconditionally, and I have no plans to change it. I really think this an important thing.

And yet, it always breaks my heart a little when somebody actually claims their right, and it's especially tough when a large amount of high-quality gopherspace content disappears with them. As several people phlogged about noticing, kvothe recently chose to leave gopherspace, taking with him his wonderful, long-running and Bongusta-aggregated phlog "The Dialtone" … I loved having kvothe as part of our community, but of course fully respect his right to move on.

As I deleted his home directory, I thought to myself "Man, I wish there was an archive.org equivalent for Gopherspace, so that this great phlog wasn't lost forever". A minute later I thought "Wait… that is totally inconsistent with the entire civil right philosophy!". Ever since, I've been trying to reconcile these conflicting feelings and figure out what I actually believe.

The individual archivist, and ghosts of Gophers past

Some of the commentary on solderpunk's piece has shown, of course, divided opinion. There are those who claim that all statements made in public are, res ipsa loquitor, statements which become the property of the public. This claim is as nonsensical as it is legally ridiculous.

By making a statement in a public place, I do not pass ownership of the content I have "performed" to anyone else, I retain that ownership, it is mine, noone elses. I may have chosen to permit a certain group of people to read it, or hear it; I may have restricted that audience in a number of ways, be it my followers on social media, or the small but highly-regarded phlog audience; I may have structured my comments to that audience, such as using jargon on a mailing list which, when quoted out of context, can appear to mean something quite different; I may just have posted a stupid or ill-judged photo to my friends.

In each of those cases, it is specious to claim that I have given ownership of my posts to the public, forever, without hope of retrieval. It is not the case that I have surrendered my right to privacy, forever, to all 7.7bn inhabitants of this earth.

In much the same way, I reacted strongly when I realised that posts I had made on my phlog were appearing on google thanks to that site's indexing of gopher portals. I did not ever consent to content I made available over port 70 becoming the property of rapacious capitalists.

Ephemera, or the Consciousness of Forgetting

Back during college I wrote a humor column for the university newspaper. In one of my early columns (and not one I have on my site here) I wrote a column with disparaging remarks about a few English teachers from high school. Even worse, I named names!

I never expected said English teachers to ever hear about the column, but of course they did. My old high school was only 10 miles away (as the crow flies) and there were plenty of students at FAU who had attended the same high school I did. Of course I should have expected that. But alas, I was a stupid 18 year old who didn't know better.

Now I know better.

It was a painful experience to learn, but things spoken (or written) can move in mysterious ways and reach an audience that it was not intended for.

The copies of the humor column I have on my site are only a portion of the columns I wrote, the ones I consider “decent or better.” The rest range from “meh” to “God I wish I could burn them into non-existance.” But alas, they exist, and I've even given a link to the paper archives where they can be unceremoniously resurrected and thrown back into my face. Any attempt to “burn them into non-existance” on my part would be at best a misdemearnor and worst a felony.

In this same vein, Austin McConnell erased his book from the Internet. He managed to take the book out of print and buy up all existing copies from Amazon. There are still copies of his book out there in the hands of customers, and there's nothing he can do about that. The point being, once something is “out there” it's out, and the creator has limited control over what happens.

I'm not trying to victim shame Daniel Goldsmith. What I am trying to say is that Daniel may have an optimistic view of consumption of content.

As to his assertion that his content via gopher is now “the property of rapacious capitalists”—plainly false. Both Ireland (where Daniel resides) and the United States (where Google primarily resides) are both signatories to the “Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works” which protects the rights of authors and Daniel owns the copyright to his works, not Google. Daniel may have not wanted Google to index his gopher site but Google did nothing wrong in accessing the site, and Google has certainly never claimed ownership of such data (and if it did, then Daniel should be part of a very long line of litigants). Are there things he can do? Yes, he could have a /robots.txt file that Google honors (The Internet Archive also honors it, but at best it's advisory and not at all mandatory—other crawlers might not honor it) or he can block IP addresses. But sadly, it was inevitable once a web-to-gopher proxy was available.

The issue at heart is that everyone is a publisher these days, but not everyone realizes that fact. Many also believe social media sites like My­Face­Me­Linked­Space­Book­We­In will keep “private” things private. The social media sites may even believe their own hype, but accidents and hacks still happen. You can block a someone, but that someone has friends who are also your friends. Things spoken or written can move in mysterious ways.

I feel I was fortunate to have experienced the Internet in the early 90s, before it commercialized. Back then, every computer was a peer on the Internet—all IP addresses were public, and anything you put out on the Internet was, for all intended purposes, public! There's nothing quite like finding yourself logged into your own computer from Russia (thanks to a 10Base2 network on the same floor as a non-computer science department with a Unix machine sans a root password). Because of that, I treat everything I put on the Internet as public (but note that I am not giving up my rights to what I say). If I don't want it known, I don't put it on the Internet.

Daniel goes on to state:

The content creator, after all, is the only person who has the right to make that decision, they are the only one who knows the audience they are willing to share something with, and the only ones who are the arbiter of that.

Ephemera, or the Consciousness of Forgetting

To me, that sounds like what Daniel really wants is DRM, which is a controversial issue on the Internet. Bits have no color, but that still doesn't keep people from trying to colorize the bits, and others mentioning that bits have no color and doing what they will with the bits in question. It's not an easy problem, nor is it just a technical problem.

You put content on the Internet. You are now a publisher with a world wide audience.

Obligatory Picture

[It's the most wonderful time of the year!]

Obligatory Links

Obligatory Miscellaneous

You have my permission to link freely to any entry here. Go ahead, I won't bite. I promise.

The dates are the permanent links to that day's entries (or entry, if there is only one entry). The titles are the permanent links to that entry only. The format for the links are simple: Start with the base link for this site: http://boston.conman.org/, then add the date you are interested in, say 2000/08/01, so that would make the final URL:

http://boston.conman.org/2000/08/01

You can also specify the entire month by leaving off the day portion. You can even select an arbitrary portion of time.

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