November 14th – Writers with Drinks

Writers with Drinks

Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015:

Sarah Jeong (The Internet of Garbage)
Carrie Patel (The Buried Life)
K. Tempest Bradford (Strange Horizons, io9)
Jessica Erica Hahn (Transient Ways, Elysian Fields: A Fucked Up Love Story)
S. Kay (Reliant: An Apocalypse in Tweets)
Michael Collins (How to Sing when People Cut off your Head and Leave it Floating in the Water)

Cost: $5 to $20, no-one turned away
All proceeds benefit the Center for Sex and Culture.
At The Make Out Room 3225 22nd St., San Francisco CA, from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM, doors open at 6:30 PM.

Stop Diluting the Definition of “Dox”

The definition of doxing is the publication of a physical residential address, or information protected by law (social security numbers, medical records, and so forth).


Abusive people love claiming they’ve been doxed.

Here, I have to acknowledge that I’m pulling a similar move. The word “dox,” like “abuse,” is infused with fear and panic. A popular stance is that doxing is strictly unacceptable. It is the great taboo of the Internet. Similarly, who on earth would defend abuse?

But while we engage in some level of productive discourse on what counts as abuse and what abusive dynamics actually are (though not nearly enough!), there is very little productive discourse on what doxing actually is.

Doxing has taken on a deeply nebulous and completely unhelpful definition, mostly thanks to abusers exploiting the hell out of the word.

Screenshot 2015-07-08 12.56.17

Let’s take a look at the evolution of “doxing” or “doxxing,” starting with a textbook example of doxing. In 2007, Kathy Sierra was fully doxed—her Social Security number, her physical address, and much much more was all posted online with malicious intent. Yet the term “dox” was not commonly associated with what happened to her until many years later.

The strict “hacker” definition of “dropping dox”/“dropping docs” involves the publication of documentation, which can include addresses, phone numbers, financial information, medical records, and emails. Schneier dates the term back to 2001 (confined mostly to hacker circles, I imagine), but some people have given me anecdotal and unconfirmed accounts of it being used in the mid-to-late 1990s.

The word burst into the mainstream in 2012 (although it had been used in previous articles in 2011 in the newspaper), as documented by The New York Times’s “Words of 2012.” The NYT defines “dox” as

DOX: To find and release all available information about a person or organization, usually for the purpose of exposing their identities or secrets. “Dox” is a longstanding shortening of “documents” or “to document,” especially in technology industries. In 2012, the high-profile Reddit user Violentacrez was doxed by Adrian Chen at Gawker to expose questionable behavior.

Between 2001 to 2012, “dox” undergoes a remarkable dilution. It starts out as an information dump that includes physical addresses, social security numbers, financial information, and other information protected by law and/or acquired in ways criminalized under federal and state law. Then it comes to mean “unmasking.”

Adrian Chen did not publish Michael Brutsch’s address. He did not publish his SSN. He did not hack and publish Brutsch’s personal documents. He merely outed Michael Brutsch as Michael Brutsch.

Depending on the circumstances, outing someone can be quite dangerous and is unwarranted or immoral. But that depends on the circumstances. When an abusive anonymous individual is terrorizing individuals that go by their real names on the Internet, it is sometimes better for everyone that that person be unmasked. An unmasking can make people safe, even if the abusive anon is not arrested, reported, or even fired from his workplace. Unmasking can deter an abusive personality from serially harassing people out of a community.

For a word so infused with moral authority, “dox” should not encompass actions that are often justifiable depending on the circumstances.

Unmasking someone by their full name, identifying someone by their first name, identifying their place of work, or screencapping e-mails are not doxing. They are—once again, depending on the circumstances—possibly abusive things to do. But they are not doxing.

Do you know what is an abusive thing to do? To expand the definition of doxing in order to harness public outrage without having to actually discuss the circumstances in which you have been exposed.

While the definition of “harassment” remains nebulous, there is no reason that “dox” should be diluted.

The definition of doxing is the publication of a physical residential address, or information protected by law (social security numbers, medical records, and so forth).

A similar analysis will appear in my forthcoming Internet of Garbage, published as an ebook through Forbes.

Thomas Friedman’s Bad Trip

Archiving for posterity.

Who cares if the Supreme Court is bad at computers?

I wasn’t expecting my last post to pick up so much traffic. I had no idea that SCOTUS tech ignorance was news to other people, and although I do love making fun of judges at any appellate level, my write-up was more geared towards punching down that awful Mashable article. But the takeaway for most people was the ignorance of the justices — which, to be fair, is pretty astounding.

Both Brian Fung over at the Washington Post and Tim Lee at Vox have already made this point, which was perhaps buried in my original post: tech savviness is a secondary consideration when deciding cases like these. This is the Supreme Court, not the Apple Genius Bar. The important thing about Aereo is how it fits into the pre-existing universe of copyright case law, and how Supreme Court precedent will affect existing and future technologies, not how Aereo in particular actually works.

Of course, it could be pretty bad if the justices literally did not understand how Aereo works. I don’t think this is the case. After all, the briefs made it as clear as possible, and Clement and Frederick both spent time talking about Aereo’s technology during oral argument.

In fact, Clement (counsel for the broadcasters) went through this drawn out analogy about valet parking that kind of went nowhere and landed very poorly — but part of why it landed poorly was that the analogy didn’t say anything about whether Aereo should or shouldn’t be legal. All it did was elaborate how Aereo is different from other kinds of services. I think Clement might have been braced for endless and painful explanations of technology, and thought this was what oral arguments would focus on. I’d bet that Clement himself had a rough time understanding Aereo’s technology, and this very analogy might have been the one that made it clear to him. But the justices didn’t really care — they had read the briefs and they understood the tech well enough to move onto the actual legal issues that matter.

And that’s all that’s needed. A justice doesn’t need to know how to code, or the names of every cloud service in existence in April 2014, or whether or not HBO is a distant signal. There are certain technical details that can make or break a correct legal understanding, but as long as the judge and the attorneys are careful, no one is going to make a stupid mistake.

That is, of course, a HUGE caveat. If it were better known in the federal judiciary that “incrementing a URL” is incredibly common and simple to do, Weev would not have spent time in prison.

In the copyright context, one might worry about details like the role and frequency of temporary copies in streaming. If you don’t know jack shit about how streaming works, you might make the terrible error of penalizing a service for hosting temporary copies. (Fortunately, provisions giving temporary copies slack are codified in several relevant portions of the law, but this issue pops up way too often for my personal comfort).

Another thing I often think about is how § 1201 isn’t meant to cover technological protection measures (aka DRM) that are not “effective.” So what do we say about 7 lines of code that can circumvent DRM? Is that DRM still “effective” under the statute? And how is a tech-ignorant layperson supposed to judge whether a mechanism that can be broken with 7 lines of code is ineffective or not? When each side trots out its experts — one side saying that 7 lines is nothing and the DRM is clearly ineffective; the other side saying that the number of lines is no indication of how easy the solution is — what frame of reference are you supposed to lean on to figure out who to believe?

I disagree with Tim when he says that cluelessness is good. I do get his broader point: the Supreme Court is a court of generalists, and we don’t necessarily want specialists to be calibrating huge general legal systems for the entire population. Indeed, just look at the Federal Circuit and what they’ve done to patent law. (E.g., it is now a shitshow). That’s what can happen when you give people who “aren’t clueless” broad power over a legal system. The judges on the Federal Circuit come from a bubble of specialists, and their sensitivity towards broad public interest considerations is going to be different than if they came from a larger pool of generalists.

But when it comes down to it, I think tech-savvinness can’t hurt. Having a little background knowledge about the new digital reality of people’s day-to-day lives helps fill in the gaps without having to pore over the briefs, helps one’s intuition to go off with that gut feeling of “Hey, this would be weird” a lot faster.

I do worry that SCOTUS tech-unsavviness is going to be a problem. But in the case of Aereo, I think the attorneys and the justices did their due diligence. My feeling from oral arguments is that they got it. They understand where Aereo fits in the copyright universe, they understand the preceding cases that have given rise to this particular case, they understand that this case could have broad unintended consequences. Yesterday I was most impressed with something Breyer said — he talked about the first sale doctrine in oral arguments. First sale! In a case that has nothing to do with first sale! Breyer knows that as our media consumption shifts to streaming and the cloud, consumer rights as embodied in ownership of physical copies are being degraded. Breyer is on the money and I have my fingers crossed that he’ll write the opinion for this one.

But you know what? I still don’t think that Breyer knows shit about computers.

I’m just not super bothered by that.

errata for the post that went unexpectedly viralish

So I never expected that post about Mashable and the Supreme Court to be widely read. I wrote it very late at night (I think I made the last edits around 1 am?) after a very long day that began with me waking up at 4 am on a sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court. So 1) the writing isn’t that great and I really could have used a copy-editor; 2) I made some quasi-mistakes — really I think they’re just points that are unclear and could use some longer commentary:

Continue reading

Supreme Court Justices Are Not Good With Computers

I hate this article (“The Supreme Court Justices, Ranked by Their Tech Savvy in the Aereo Case”).

It’s not just a vapid listicle, the analysis is actually majorly wrong.

To be clear, that entire bench is just not very tech savvy. And neither are the attorneys who come and speak to them. This was evident during oral arguments for CLS v. Alice, when counsel for the petitioners told Kennedy that nearly all software was written in a weekend in a coffee shop and then no one contradicted him.


And in today’s arguments, everyone referred repeatedly to “cloud computing” when they really just mean “the cloud” or “cloud music lockers.” And when I say “everyone” I mean all nine justices plus counsel for the petitioners plus counsel for the respondents plus the deputy solicitor general for the United States government.

When it comes down to it, everyone who’s anyone inside that courtroom is most likely an incompetent Luddite. There’s no point even putting them in an ordered list, except to be arbitrarily unkind to Scalia and/or Thomas by putting them in the bottom. And while making fun of the Supreme Court is a paradigmatic example of punching up, this particular form is not just fruitless, it’s ill-informed.

The Mashable analysis is terrible, and here is why:

1. Sonia Sotomayor

What Mashable had to say: Sotomayor, who was appointed by President Obama, demonstrated a good grip of the technology and some of the nuances involved in the Aereo case. At one point, she asked a lawyer for the broadcasters: “How about Simple.TV or Nimble.TV, which is not quite a hybrid?” Both of those services are newcomers to the scene. She also asked questions about how Aereo relates to other cloud computing and streaming companies, like Roku, iCloud and Dropbox.

The obvious truth of the matter: Sotomayor asked a clerk to draw up a list of cloud technologies. She then read the list the night before. She at least owns a Roku, but it’s not clear how familiar she is with very common cloud technologies — like Dropbox and iCloud. Sotomayor made multiple faux pas, including a reference to “iDrop” and “Netflick.” She also asked whether Roku had gotten licenses needlessly. Answer: Roku does not get licenses [addendum here] and no one knows what the hell she’s talking about.

2. Stephen Breyer

What Mashable had to say: Breyer, a Clinton appointee, was among the most active justices in pushing the debate forward during oral arguments. Speaking to the broadcasters’ lawyer, he was clearly weighing whether a decision against Aereo by the court would set a bad precedent for the cloud computing industry […]

And what does this have to do with tech savvy?: It doesn’t. Breyer’s most compelling hypothetical had to do with FedExing a phonograph. In a similar vein, his favorite hypo for the CLS v. Alice oral arguments had to do with King Tut and an abacus. … Are you starting to see a pattern? Breyer has a wonderfully complete and nuanced big picture of the shift in copyright law and the death of first sale doctrine. That doesn’t mean he understands shit about computers.

3. Anthony Kennedy

What Mashable had to say: Kennedy, who was appointed by President Reagan, posed an interesting question about the line between Aereo being in control, a person being in control, and how that affects the situation. He questioned both sides on how they would align the 2008 Cablevision case’s precedent on cloud storage and playback with their own arguments.

What really went down: Kennedy’s questions were boring. He lacked imagination with respect to the different kinds of services that Aereo would affect. Not that this should be surprising. CLS v. Alice made it exceedingly obvious that Kennedy doesn’t know anything about computers.

4. Ruth Bader Ginsburg

What Mashable had to say: Ginsburg, a Clinton appointee, touched on the “dime-size” antennas of Aereo, as well as the fact that the company pays no retransmission fees. She was quiet at first but came alive to push Aereo’s lawyer repeatedly.

Good goddamn grief: Ginsburg mumbled the entire time and was mostly set on making it clear to the other justices how hard she is going to rule against Aereo. This was no surprise to any of the copyright wonks in the room. Ginsburg tends towards copyright maximalism and in that respect is the least innovation-friendly, least tech-friendly justice in that room.

5. Elena Kagan

What Mashable had to say: Kagan, who was appointed by President Obama, showed a keen understanding at times of the basics of how Aereo works, as well as the broader cloud computing industry. At one point, she asked a question of Aereo attorney David Frederick that compared Aereo to basic cable service […]

Kagan is not even that bad: At this point, Mashable is beginning to underrate, rather than overrate, Justices. Kagan clearly understood the problems at play, at least as well as (perhaps better than) Sotomayor and Breyer did. And better yet, Kagan clearly had certain services in mind when asking her questions (user generated content services like YouTube) while having the forbearance not to explicitly name the service and risk sounding silly like Sotomayor did.

6. Chief Justice John Roberts

What Mashable had to say: Roberts, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, had a moment when he displayed some confusion on exactly what Aereo is, and how existing laws might apply to the company. At one point, Roberts said, “It’d be much easier for you if you’d just have to make one copy and everybody could get a copy.”

Frederick then had to explain that subscribers must go to Aereo to watch TV or begin recording and are unable to access content otherwise. Frederick then had to explain the difference between Aereo and video on demand.

The exchange ended with Roberts illuminating Aereo’s own point in that customers can access broadcast TV only at their discretion but the service does not actually serve content on demand.

Roberts is somewhat known for his lack of technology expertise, once asking the difference between email and a pager.

Yeah sure Roberts is a derp: Roberts is bad at graphs and numbers and all that. See, e.g.,

But guess what? Mashable completely missed the line of Roberts’s argument. It’s not that Roberts didn’t “get” how Aereo worked or why Aereo serves multiple “copies.” It’s that he was trying to get counsel to admit that Aereo was purposefully availing itself of the Cablevision “exception”. Why does Aereo have thousands of antennae instead of just a few? Why doesn’t Aereo engage in extensive deduplication practices? Mashable missed this maybe because Mashable doesn’t even understand that the logic of Cablevision, rather than the facts of this particular technology, is the heart of this case.

7.  Samuel Alito

What Mashable had to say: Alito, a George W. Bush appointee, asked one question that demonstrated a nuanced understanding of the difference between Aereo and the Cablevision decision that has been regarded as a precedent in this case, but largely kept quiet during the rest of the oral arguments.

Are you serious?: Given that Cablevision is the most important part of the case, this seems like a pretty damn good question to ask. Another thing to note is that Alito was temporarily recused from this case until he unrecused himself. It’s largely thought that this was because of stock in his portfolio. Stock in which company? A broadcasting company? Aereo? Either way, I’d love to know what he thinks about his (former) investment.

8. Antonin Scalia

What Mashable had to say: The most embarrassing comments of the oral arguments came from Scalia. At one point he indicated that he did not know that HBO is a paid premium cable channel, thinking instead that it is available for free over the airwaves.

Ugh: This is the dumbest fucking part of the list. Here’s the relevant portion of the oral arguments:

Screenshot 2014-04-23 00.51.21

If it looks like Scalia is blustering in the transcript — well, he’s not. He was completely cool, he and Frederick were simply trying to talk over each other the entire time.

There is no indication that Scalia thinks HBO comes free over the airwaves. He was referring specifically to distant signals, which is — AHEM — a technical term:

A “distant signal” is a broadcast signal you cannot receive off the air (with a “rabbit ears” antenna) because you’re too far away from where the signal originates. Expressed another way, a local signal can be defined as one that is within a radius of between 40 and 60 miles of a transmitting antenna broadcast depending on its transmitter’s strength.

Distant signals originate as over-the-air signals and then are picked up and retransmitted as part of the retransmitter’s basic programming package (like basic cable). That means that programming that originates on specialty and pay television services (like Discovery, ESPN, and TBN) does not generate retransmission royalties. (See Copyright Royalties).

Scalia was feeling out Aereo’s effects on the larger system of broadcasts and transmissions. It’s a complicated system with checks and balances and royalties that have been developed over time. If Aereo is allowed to win, then what happens? His question with respect to HBO was aimed at seeing whether counsel for the respondents could paint a convincingly non-alarming future.

[Edit: A reader pointed out that HBO still isn’t a distant signal under this definition, which is true. So either Scalia doesn’t know which services are retransmissions of distant signals, or if we want to be really charitable, he was glossing over to make a broader point about the spectrum of different kinds of television. It’s probably the former. But to be fair, I bet you didn’t know what a distant signal is, either.] 

N/A: Clarence Thomas

What Mashable had to say: As for Justice Thomas, who was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, we have no definite proof he was there, but can assume so because nobody said he was missing. Thomas has not asked a single question at oral arguments in more than eight years.

Well I guess you couldn’t have known, but…: Since the Supreme Court does not stream video, only attendees (*smug look*) could have seen this — Thomas thumbing through the appendices of the briefs, following each citation as oral arguments cited particular pages. Thomas was silent, but he was hyper-engaged.


In conclusion, SCOTUS are not very good at computers, but they are not stupid, either. I wouldn’t want any of them to fix my wi-fi for me, but I am actually feeling okay about them taking a crack at ABC v. Aereo. But anyways, you probably want to know how I’d order a list of the justices by tech-savviness. Well, if I’m sorting by “most willing to allow to fix my wi-fi for me” to “least willing to allow to fix my wi-fi for me” then it would go something like:

1. Kagan

2. Roberts

3. Alito

4. Sotomayor

5. Thomas

6. Breyer

7. Scalia

8. Kennedy

9. Ginsburg


The list is front-loaded with young justices. I pushed Sotomayor back because “iDrop” was such an egregious error. Roberts is likely terrible with computers but I am guessing both he and Alito will go for “turn it on and off” much faster than Sotomayor would. I have no idea how Thomas would be around a router, but I have it on good authority that he would take the task much more seriously than Breyer. Scalia is close to last, beat out by Kennedy, who is just entirely too smug to be trusted around technology, and Ginsburg, who would probably take the opportunity to try to destroy the internet for everyone, not just me.




Edit (9:38 AM): Woke up to find that this post was a little more popular than I thought it would be when I wrote it at 1 in the morning. Excuse the typos and also the fact that I was too tired to look for hilarious oral arguments other than CLS v. Alice, mockery for which I already had on hand. 

Also, if you enjoyed this post, there’s more irreverent informativeness about intellectual property in my weekly newsletter I write with Parker Higgins (@xor). Subscribe here.  


Edit 2 (7:45 PM): I’ve written a follow-up on how much I think tech savvinness actually matters. (Answer: Not much). 

CLS Bank v. Alice: a summary of oral arguments at the Supreme Court

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toes
Did Diehr and Benson in the wabe:
All mimsy were the patent’s claims,
And the infringing raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Software Patent, my son!
The Business that Methods, the Idea that Abstracts!
Beware of Mayo and Bilksi, and shun,
A standard that would make 101 too lax!”

Breyer took his vorpal hypothetical in hand:
At great length he expounded on King Tut
And about his checkbook, and about his mom,
Before Kennedy quite rudely cut him off.

And, as in uffish thought he mused,
how this code could be, by a computer group,
in but a weekend, totally produced
at a cafe! A Silicon Valley computer group!

The counsel for Alice replied strong and bold:
“But that’s true of almost all software!”
And because the bench is all really old
Nary a denial was heard anywhere.

Roberts shook his fist at flowcharts and arrows,
And Scalia went on about fours and fives,
There was no resolution—computers are hard!
“And that’s all the math I know,” Alice’s counsel sighed.

And as they dithered on with 101,
The Software Patent, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal hypo went snicker-snack!
They left it dead, and with its head
the SCOTUS went galumphing back.

“And, has thou slain the Software Patent?
Come to my arms, my beamish Court!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
We chortled in our joy.

Haha, just kidding! Like that’ll ever be.
No one is sure where the Nine will go.
And with the arguments, you can see
not even the Court seems to know.


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State Feminism and Sex Work

It’s important to understand the other side’s worldview, especially if there is a particularly vitriolic, drawn-out conflict. I thought I started out understanding the abolitionist perspective, but as more time goes by, I understand it less and less. I know for a fact that key figures and intellectuals on that side know about police violence and exploitation, know about that exacerbates the violence by clients, and are already quite vocal about dangerous working conditions for many sex workers.

But the conclusion here is that more prohibitory state intervention is necessary, not that the power that the police have (and have sometimes extended to the clients) is unacceptable. When I read articles like Who Killed the Jeff Davis 8, I’m left with nothing profound confusion about what abolition is supposed to achieve. If abolition is to be enacted by the police, is there a magical stash of good cops that we have hidden away in the back? Isn’t the war on drugs already a good barometer for how things will go?