Internet freedom updates and its new poster boy
A global issue with as many layers as a ten-foot-tall onion, Internet freedom has seen its fair share of controversy and development in the past week. Here are the top two stories in the sector at the moment: Google's hefty financial investment in improving the level of access oppressed cultures have to the web and the seeming downfall of freedom advocate and hacker weev.
Google's carte blanche for Internet freedom
As internet freedom continues to stagnate in countries like Russia, Turkey and China, major Internet-based companies have begun to fight in earnest to increase access to citizens of the world in order to extend the reach of their product. According to the Google Research blog and company vice president Vint Cerf, the massive organization will be allocating a total of $150,000 to researchers and Web developers who are placing emphasis on examining the issues that affect Internet freedom and access.
"Twice a year, Google's Faculty Research Awards program seeks and reviews proposals in 23 research areas, assigning to each area a group of experienced Googlers who assess and deliberate over which proposals we should and can fund. With each call for proposals, we receive a wide array of research ideas in fields that fall within the realm of internet policy," he wrote in the post.
What will this mean for the company and for Internet users in affected countries? This is not yet clear, but Google is making an investment in the future of their products by examining the source of the Internet freedom issue, most likely with the end goal of finding ways to negotiate with countries that have limited access. The business has not released any information as to what these studies might entail or who within the company will be conducting them.
Deconstructing an Internet freedom hero: Is he just an online troll?
In 2010, two young hackers discovered a fatal flaw on major Internet Service Provider AT&T's website that exposed the email address of every iPad user who paid for their service. Unfortunately, as Medium reporter David Kushner reported on a recent investigative piece regarding one of the hackers, nicknamed "weev," this information barely required any hacking to access. Anyone with an Internet connection could see the list of emails by guessing the correct URL – the hackers forwarded this glaring error to major outlets like Gawker and gained national attention.
The same action also got both men arrested with "identity theft and conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)," Kusher wrote.
From there, Weev became an overnight Internet celebrity – many found the CFAA law to be an outdated relic of the Reagan administration, and Internet users took to wearing "free weev" shirts and express their opinions about his pending arrest online.
However, the public has grown more critical of the "poster boy" for Internet freedom following his liberation from prison earlier this year. Weev has been arrested for drug possession after a search of his home was completed, as well as his involvement with a fair amount of racial and other online bullying in the years leading up to his web-based fame. He got a reputation for being one of the Internet's biggest "trolls," but his continued lambasting of other cultures and praise of violent criminals has caused the Internet to largely turn their backs on him, according to Kushner.
With an issue that's as ever-changing as Internet freedom, there are bound to be repeated peaks and valleys. Unlike many other issues facing our instantly gratified digital culture today, there's no exact timeline on which the matter will be discussed or evolve. Rather, changes in the landscape like the financial move made by Google or the disappointing portrayal of weev are just pieces in a larger puzzle, one that won't be solved for some time.