Government surveillance, Elon Musk, and free speech, with EFF executive manager Cindy Cohn
On the frontier of fighting the NSA
Cindy Cohn is the executive managing director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF. If you’re an internet user of a sure age like me, you know the EFF as the premier civil liberties group for the internet. The EFF has fought pitched battles against things like government surveillance, digital rights management for music and movies, and authorities speech regulations that would violate the Outset Subpoena. These fights were important and shaped the internet equally nosotros know it today.
But now the EFF is 32 years onetime, and a lot of those controversies aren’t really almost the government anymore. Private platform companies like Twitter and Apple and Google have an enormous amount of ability over what people do on the internet, and government regulation doesn’t seem similar nigh every bit much of a threat in comparing. So, I wanted to talk to Cindy most balancing between consumer advocacy and ceremonious liberties in a time of giants.
That’s a tricky remainder, and it’s repeated across the entire industry right now — maybe most of all in content moderation, where the First Amendment prevents the government from passing moderation standards for social media companies.
those same social media companies are under a ton of pressure to increase and decrease their moderation all at once. So, you know we talked about Elon and Twitter. Information technology’southward a proficient one.
Okay, Cindy Cohn, the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Here we get.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Cindy Cohn is the executive director of the Electronic Borderland Foundation or
. Welcome to
Give thanks you.
I have been dying to talk to you forever. I went from being a sort of hopeless college student to knowing I wanted to be a lawyer, then to this career because the EFF showed up in my life at a very formative moment. It all happened in the Napster era.
It is a bit of a thrill to talk to you. I just need to practise a good job past the audience of
and start at the beginning, not fall deeply into the weeds of the EFF right away. Tell people what the EFF is and what it does.
So the Electronic Frontier Foundation is 32 years quondam. We are the first, the oldest, and the biggest digital rights arrangement in the world. Nosotros were founded by some very forward-looking folks who realized that as the world moved online, we were going to need people who were there to stand up for users and for basic civil liberties and rights. I sometimes say, “Nosotros brand certain that when you go online, your rights go with you.”
That is how we started. Nosotros have about 100 people now, and nosotros have 3 big strains: Nosotros have lawyers, we have activists, and we take technologists. We work together on things to try to bring almost a better digital world than the ane we might otherwise accept.
That is actually interesting. Usually when yous recall about rights, y’all think about governments. I actually want to talk to you nearly the interplay between users, giant corporations, and governments, which seems more complicated than ever. Yous said you have iii large strains: lawyers, activists, and technologists. Is that how you are structured? Practice you lot have a legal segmentation, an activism sectionalisation, and a technology partition?
Yep, absolutely. Then we have our creative types, artists on staff who kind of sit down in the middle and help all of us.
So yous have 100 people who are lawyers, activists, technologists, and some artists. Where does the coin come from?
EFF is fellow member-supported. We take somewhere in the neighborhood of 45,000 members who give us their difficult-earned cash to make sure that users’ rights are protected. Nosotros besides have some support from big philanthropy, like the MacArthur Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. We actually take our own podcast,
How to Gear up the Internet, which is supported by the Sloan Foundation. So we have some foundation back up and a little bit of corporate support, but over half of our money comes from individuals. So over half of that comes from people who give us $1,000 or less.
We are not appreciative to everyone. Our job is to say what’s best in the public interest. Luckily, our funding is broad enough that if somebody wants to come to usa and accept some strings attached nearly what we might do, we just tell them no. That does happen.
Ane of the interesting things nearly talking to folks in your position is that I get to ask questions like, “What is the job like?” Depending on the setting, sometimes people say, “There is a big side to this. I didn’t realize this whole job was about raising money.” Though sometimes we are on a stage and it’s just, “The job is great.” Is that the background for you equally executive managing director? Are you lot out raising money a lot?
I would say it is about a tertiary of what I do. I am pretty lucky because EFF is a membership organization, and we have a membership team. Most of the money does not come up through me as the executive director coming together with somebody important and shaking their hand. At that place is a slice of that, but nigh of our money comes from people who encounter what we do out in the world, come to our website, and donate.
We too get to tech conferences. If you get to Def Con or whatever hacker conferences, there is unremarkably an EFF booth there. People will come up past and sometimes just throw greenbacks at us because they do not want their proper noun associated. Sometimes there are other things.
I don’t have to do as much equally other executive directors because of the way EFF works. I get to practise other things, and directly participate in a adept clamper of our work. I am the lawyer on the elevation of the pleadings on things that we practice, and in the background, I really just help feed the cats. EFF is 100 very committed, very smart, very good activists. Making sure that they are all pointed in the same direction and get all the care and feeding that they need to be able to focus on their jobs is a whole other chunk of what happens in my day.
Let’due south talk near that group of people, your lawyers and activists. Are the lawyers filing lawsuits all day, are they writing amicus briefs? What are they actually doing with that time? How exercise you lot construction that?
It actually depends on what the consequence needs, but yeah. We do direct representation of people and accept taken at to the lowest degree one case to the Supreme Court; we have been amicus in almost every case that has tech in it that y’all have ever heard of. Nosotros have a whole support network of cooperating attorneys who aid people become counsel if it is not a example that nosotros can handle.
We besides become engaged in policy debates as well, so we have a legislative team. We work in Congress and in the country legislatures, especially in California, because then much of tech is based at that place. If you have a proficient police in California, you protect a lot of people. Nosotros accept a very involved international team. The Eu right now is increasingly regulating tech, and we try to have a vocalization in that, as well every bit other places around the world.
I retrieve on an average day, it is difficult to predict what the lawyers will be doing. We do the whole range of things and try to take a look at the topic and figure out, “Okay, which of the tools in our toolbox is the right i for this problem?” We are not afraid to actually stand up in front of the judge and say, “This is the way the Constitution should be interpreted.” I recollect for every single one of our lawyers, a core piece of why you come to EFF is that you become to practice that work. You go to stand for the public involvement in the judicial branch, simply we don’t leave the other 2 branches out.
I feel like I tin probably judge that the mode yous measure success there is by wins and losses in court. That’s pretty easy for lawyers, just you as well mentioned activists. What do the activists do and how do you lot measure their success?
The activists volition run campaigns, like “write your congressman.” In that location are a couple of bad copyright bills right now in Congress, and our activists are trying to get people’southward voices heard to brand sure that Congress understands where the public involvement lies. If y’all sit down in Congress, you lot hear from all the different business organization groups. Then at that place is the ceremonious society — the vocalisation that is the users — which is either just a couple people or nobody at all. Yous might begin to recollect that sure situations are just about one company versus another.
We saw that in the copyright fights, oftentimes when we become to Congress, they would remember, “Well, isn’t this just a fight between technology companies like Google, and the content industry or Hollywood?” Nosotros would respond, “No, really, the users are here.” People want to be able to make videos and they want to be able to play with their civilisation. That vox has to exist there.
The activists run a lot of that work. They also help make certain that what the lawyers and the technologists are doing gets out into the world, whether that is through blog posts, press releases, or events. Occasionally, we will practise big splashy things to endeavor to depict attending. When Apple decided that it was going to scan people’s devices for a couple different reasons — one of them they take now dropped, thanks to piece of work from united states of america and others — we actually hired a aeroplane and flew a banner over the Apple tree headquarters in Cupertino in i space loop saying, “Apple, don’t scan our phones.” That is not the centerpiece of what we practice, but occasionally, you accept got to have fun and depict attention to things.
This is like the classic
question. You are filing lawsuits, yous are international — at that place are different kinds of laws in this country versus another — you are doing activism, and you are flight planes. How do y’all brand decisions on how to do all that stuff or how to prioritize that stuff?
Well, there are two things that are important. First, it is an art, not a scientific discipline. There is non an algorithm or rubric that we go to. We ask, “Where can our skills practise the most good at the level that nosotros can practice them?” Second, we ask, “Is this something that if nosotros don’t practise, it might not go done?”
Occasionally, nosotros will decide, “The whole civil society community is going to gather together to do this thing, and we desire to exist a part of that.” That’s probably 3rd on the list. But our commencement thing is to do the affair that nobody else is doing. That is how we await at information technology.
People come to u.s. all the time with issues, and we look at, “Is this example going to help this one person or is it going to help a whole lot of people? Is information technology the size that nosotros can do?” If you exercise not have $i meg for some kinds of litigation, like patents, don’t even endeavor. While we do a lot of work in the patent space, we cannot practice direct patent litigation because it is only too expensive. Same with antitrust. That is where the legal arrangement has to be stock-still, then that little guys can play before EFF can actually make a difference. We work on lots of other ways to try to make that world happen, but nosotros do non do the directly litigation. It is a chat.
The other piece of it is that the people doing the work are the ones who decide. My lawyers decide what the right cases are. It is not an exterior committee. It is not even our lath of directors, because the people who live this all twenty-four hour period long are the right people to decide. Same with the technology. EFF builds a few technologies. We have technologists that make up one’s mind what they need to do next and what is the best utilise of our resources. We have processes to make certain people practice not wander off and that we stay on mission, simply in general, I call up the all-time people to make the decisions virtually what to practice are the people who are doing the work. That is the way EFF is structured.
That is fascinating.
When I was younger and I first started paying attention to the greater happenings of the internet, I would read most the EFF and the different positions they were taking stands against. I call back it was easier back then because every conversation was near expanding copyright or expanding surveillance and the right position was to not expand copyright or surveillance. And I remember information technology has go much harder now. Dorsum then it was
Viacom v. YouTube
, or the authorities wants to spy on y’all. Those were strike zones for the EFF. In every article, there would be someone quoted from the EFF since they had a position. I had a “Free the Mouse” sticker on my laptop to protest the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, besides known as the
Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act
Things have gotten exponentially more than complicated since then. I am not sure that the positions on problems like that are as simple equally they used to exist. Nosotros tin actually apply Mickey Mouse as an example because, like the addict I am, I was looking at Twitter only before we started the show. Republicans in Florida are trying to punish Disney, which has come up out vocally against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. That seems like a pure exercise of free speech by Disney, and the Republican legislature is passing some laws to remove its special tax district. They are maxim, “We are going to do some stuff about copyright police. We take gotten besides many copyright extensions, and the next thing we volition exercise is take that away.” That is a existent ends-justifies-the-means moment, right? That is the matter I have been thinking well-nigh.
How are you balancing that and proverb, “The copyright extensions have gotten out of control at Disney’s behest, just here it is but pure retaliation so we don’t want to get involved?”
Basically what I tell corporate folks all the fourth dimension is that when you do the right thing nosotros will stand with yous, and when you exercise the wrong thing we are going to exist your strongest critics. We don’t make up one’s mind whether we like Disney or not, but we look at, “What is Disney doing and is it the right thing?”
When they are doing the correct affair, we stand with them. When they are not, we are not. This has happened for united states of america with Apple, for instance. When Apple stood upwardly against the FBI and said, “We are not going to break into people’s phones,” we were right in that location with them. Nosotros were big and loud and we participated. Recently, over again, Apple decided it was going to change class and scan people’s phones for certain purposes, and we were the biggest, loudest voice against them.
I think, similarly for Disney, the retaliation is non something that we are ever going to support. Nosotros are going to say what we call up about copyright term extensions, which is that they are bad. We are not going to alter our position just considering the people advocating for them are people nosotros disagree with on other things.
I retrieve that holding your principles throughout the changing political winds is part of the reason why people trust u.s. and why they requite united states money. We are not going to moving ridge in the wind, we are going to say what we retrieve, and if the topic comes upwards, we are going to talk about it. You can look to our history to see what we are going to say about of the fourth dimension. Nosotros cannot be bought; nobody is going to come up and requite us coin to do this kind of affair, and I am not going to accept that kind of coin. We volition say what we call back no matter what the political wins are. I just think in the long term that is how you build a trustworthy organization.
I purchase you on trust. I think my question is how practice you build a politically effective organization in this surroundings? Information technology is so complicated. When y’all have notably bad actors in the Florida case openly retaliating with a thing that good-faith actors have wanted for a long time, that thing itself gets poisoned.
It is a problem. It is a huge problem in free speech besides. In the context of the Florida thing, I think information technology is less of a worry because copyright is federal. I don’t know what the land of Florida is going to exercise. There are some state copyrights, but they are preempted and I don’t call up that is going to go away. While it is an interesting idea experiment, if it grows to be a real trouble, then we volition have to face some hard bug, but I think it is unlikely to.
We have cared nearly gratis spoken communication for a very long fourth dimension, and we actually know what information technology means. Every time somebody tells you that you lot accept said something rotten, it does not mean that they have violated your free spoken language. That is true whether they are a company or an individual.
I feel like right now in this earth, people are looking for something they can trust. They’re looking for something that doesn’t waver in the wind of politics. If you lot want an system that wavers in the current of air of politics, then find somebody else other than EFF; there are plenty of them. We are a nonpartisan 501(c)(3), and we make our stances based on the issues. I believe that will serve us in the long run. It may put united states in some uncomfortable positions in the brusque run, only I think that in the fullness of time, those positions terminate up being vindicated and we are better off with that.
It is weird to be somebody who stands on principle in this time, when the currency of the day is nigh what tribe you are in. We are doing something dissimilar. Happily, I think our membership supports that, and I retrieve we accept continued to grow and exist stronger. It may mean that in a detail example we are put in a slightly uncomfortable position, but in the long run I retrieve it serves us.
Let’s talk near some other one of these balancing acts that you may accept to do. You mentioned Apple. They hate it when y’all phone call information technology scanning the phone, but information technology is the quickest mode of describing what they are doing.
Well, that is actually what they are doing. I mean, information technology is called client-side scanning for a reason. Client-side means your telephone, people. Don’t let that encompass you; they are scanning your phone.
I volition just have the emails when they come in. I but know they are going to come up, so I will accept them.
Yeah. Tell them to ship them to me. We have had these conversations. Nosotros have conversations with them privately, similar with most of the tech companies. If what yous are doing is correctly described, that is what we’re going to call it.
Fair plenty. And so Apple is doing that. They are looking on your phone for images and then potentially doing something if they match a database. That is sort of the small-scale definition of surveillance. Historically, you think about the authorities surveilling y’all, but large, private companies surveilling you is something unlike. It is not necessarily something you can necessarily point a lawyer at unless yous can find some statute that says information technology is illegal, merely there do not announced to be besides many of those. You have got to point activism at that.
On the flip side, if the government were to write a bunch of regulations determining what these companies could practice, you might end up with some things that infringe on their rights, or the rights of users. Phone scanning is 1 you cannot simply point lawyers at. I would say social network moderation is definitely correct in the crosshairs. If the government starts writing speech communication regulations about what moderation policies are acceptable, that seems like a very bad effect.
We have those, like the must-carry laws in Texas and in Florida. This is admittedly happening.
We desire those companies to comport ameliorate because they are the actual power that the users see. I retrieve more people are aware of YouTube’s copyright policy than the speed limit five miles abroad from their firm. They encounter them more than. How are you balancing that? How do yous think about keeping the government away from this when in that location is no countervailing pressure — aside from raw activism — that ever gets these companies to change?
Yous’re exactly correct. EFF has developed something called the Santa Clara Principles, which are basically how to use due process and fairness in the context of content moderation. Nosotros use the bully pulpit to yell at them and endeavour to get them to do the right thing. There are many people inside these organizations who want the companies to do the right thing. We try to give an exterior point of reference for the right affair to practise.
We have seen some changes, simply I do not recall that there can be a regulatory structure on content moderation that will not violate the Starting time Subpoena, at least not the ones that I accept seen proposed so far. There are some possibilities effectually 14th Amendment anti-discrimination laws where y’all could see a few things going, but it is pretty hard.
Our shift on this is that we yell at the companies and make as much noise every bit we can, especially around the way content moderation disproportionately affects marginalized people. I call back sometimes — because of the way the media works internationally — we know more about the four or five conservative people who have been subject to content moderation than nosotros exercise almost the millions of people who are not rich, white conservatives that are silenced every twenty-four hours.
If you count the number of heads being censored globally, it is much bigger among marginalized people than it is amid people who already have big admission to the megaphone. I recollect that is the thing to go on in listen. If you are setting your answer based upon an unclear vision about where the problem happens, yous are going to finish upwards in the incorrect identify. That is what these must-carry laws are doing; they are responding to a minority business organization, not a majority concern almost censorship.
We pound on them, and we look for angles for things that nosotros can do. There accept been many attempts to try to sue the large content companies claiming that they are somehow like the government, so they should act like the regime. Nosotros stand up with them on that; they are not the authorities and we should not care for them like the government. I 9also think some of the people bringing those cases would not like the result if we treated them similar the government anyway. I think the common-carry kinds of arguments are not only wrong, only volition not do what the people who are putting them forward recollect they will do.
We participate all over the map on these kinds of things. The other matter that we kind of realized a few years ago is that the answer to having a dictatorship by a bunch of big companies is not to put unlike people in the chair of existence the dictator, only to get rid of the dictators. A lot of the work that we are doing is most how to reintroduce competition in things we rely on like social networking, messaging, and app stores. Replacing Zuckerberg as king with somebody else should non exist our strategy. Our strategy is to not have whatever kings anymore.
I call up I would do a not bad task in that role, I just desire to be perfectly clear.
Nosotros all would. I certainly would. What did George W. Bush-league say? “If this were a dictatorship it would be a heck of a lot easier.” A chivalrous dictatorship is fabled, but we really don’t take any Richard Vs, the skilful kings. We demand no kings. I am an American, and the rex-based strategy is not the correct strategy. Making billionaires into kings is not the right way forward. What we demand is a bunch of different options, and that puts y’all in some dissimilar places. It makes you start thinking about antitrust law, and nosotros support a lot of the reforms to antitrust law that is happening right at present.
We also call back virtually things like interoperability, existent adversarial interoperability. This is something that gets a little geeky pretty fast, simply you should have a bunch of different ways to interact with your social media information and you lot should exist able to option the community that you desire to exercise it with. Mark Zuckerberg should not be in accuse of what you lot see in your social media feed. Yous could pick Mark’due south if you lot want, but you ought to have 100 other options, including your local Kiwanis club or the hacker space down the route.
You should be able to pick and choose what your interface looks like, what the recommendation engine is prioritizing, and how that works. That means nosotros have to build a network that looks a trivial more like the original net and not like these gigantic platforms that we have evolved into. EFF has this mix of lawyers and technologists — people who are deeply engaged with the technology — and has really championed this as a piece of the story about how we go out of the trouble of social media. There are some tech things that we could harness.
Nosotros all were able to have the home internet revolution because AT&T was required by the FCC to let you plug something else into the wall. AT&T said, “If anything gets plugged into our phone network other than our phones, the security volition go crazy and the world will fall apart.” The FCC said no, which is a set up of decisions called Carterfone. That was the first 1 that permit the states plug our modems into the telephone line and get the internet into our houses. We take washed this before. It was a mix of regulation and innovation.
I know this is kind of a long digression from where you started, only it is because the problem of trying to fix social media at scale is so hard. If we really desire to get back to a identify where we have privacy and complimentary speech that includes empowering marginalized voices, then we demand to get-go thinking about how to take existent competition in these technologies.
I merely want to button on that a piffling scrap. I’yard with you. It is a foreign turn for a ceremonious liberties organization to say, “Actually, what we need to exercise is deploy land power to regulate large corporations.” It takes you lot abroad from the user and directly into the fray of one corporation versus another corporation. Ballsy Games would love for the antitrust laws to be rewritten in this country. I do not think they have a civil liberties posture in heed at the cease of that.
Well, no. As with many things, people can have different values that they go into the conversation with. I call up from our perspective, it is a civil liberties problem when free speech and privacy are appreciative to just a few gigantic companies that have a concern model. I throw privacy in here — we talk about free oral communication a lot considering it takes up all the air in the room, and it’s non unimportant. But the surveillance business organisation model is why these companies are so profitable and why information technology is and then hard to take them down. I think that if you care about civil liberties, you merely cannot ignore the problem. As a couple friends say — Cory Doctorow is 1 of them — the internet has become five giant tech companies using screenshots of the other four.
We take to create competition if we want to create the preconditions for existent civil liberties. Does that involve governments? I don’t remember it has to, but I call up at that place are ways that governments can exist involved, just like with the Carterfone decision. Information technology is not a question of whether to regulate or non, and then much equally whether the regulation stands with users and spurs innovation. I would love to have Facebook decide they were going to open up up their APIs and let you build a front end to await at all your social media at once. A little company called Power Ventures built that a few years ago, and they got sued into a smoking pigsty by Facebook using the anti-hacking laws. Laws are here. Facebook protects its monopoly by having laws.
If nosotros want to disengage that monopoly, we are going to accept to look at some of the laws that they use to protect themselves. Every bit somebody who came up on the cyberspace in the ‘90s, it is definitely the example that regime can do really impaired and awful things. In the ‘90s, it was because they did not understand at all what people were doing online. Now, it is a little different. They often do empathize, just they get swayed by one large visitor or another. I would exist very happy to take a more competitive futurity in this context, but I think a lot of laws and structures are keeping us feeling stuck in this time. It is off-white to ask about whether we could practice something meliorate. What would Carterfone for social media look like?
I want to talk most that a petty fleck more than, but get-go I want to grab onto something y’all said. You said, “take them down,” in relation to the big companies. Is the goal to take them down?
Not necessarily, but if nosotros have to take them down in society to accomplish the goal of empowering users and putting them dorsum in the commuter’south seat, I am not opposed to information technology. I recall that is different, only it may have y’all to the same identify. I do not take a problem with companies being big or rich, simply the side effects of whether people can speak on their privacy in the digital world that nosotros are living in, I desire to fix that. You know,
How to Fix the Internet. If we cannot fix the net while having the electric current tech giants and billionaires in accuse, so we have to become them out. The question is how nosotros get to the stop goal where users are empowered, people have real choices, and people have privacy once again.
And so you see where that takes you. As I said, nosotros did non really make up one’s mind to get into thinking about contest at EFF considering we needed a bigger mandate. We decided because we started seeing intractable problems that nosotros felt were not going to be fixable unless nosotros started talking about how to bring competition back to digital services. Facebook trying to do content moderation at scale is not working, and I think everybody agrees it is not working in very unlike directions. I think it is over-censoring marginalized voices, and it may exist under-censoring other kinds of voices. In that location is no due procedure and people practise not understand.
YouTube is another one. People may experience like YouTube’s copyright policy is tremendously important to them, but male child is it opaque. You can’t figure it out. Nosotros have to help people all the time who get taken down for weird reasons. The fact that we have a hotline to YouTube to say, “Wait, yous merely did this dumb thing,” does not scale. We grew out of those problems. Honestly, how do you protect people’s privacy with the surveillance business model? Back to a thing you said, government surveillance and corporate surveillance are very unlike things as a legal affair, but corporate surveillance is feeding authorities surveillance, absolutely.
I accept been suing over the NSA tapping into AT&T’southward telephone network since 2006 and 2007, but they also show up at Google’s forepart door and practice a reverse IP lookup warrant. They know all of the innocent people who were in the vicinity of a crime, despite having no probable cause against them. That is because Google has all that information and is subject area to regime request for it.
I know I am getting far afield again, but people sometimes inquire me, “Are y’all more than worried virtually government surveillance or corporate surveillance?” I respond with, “If yous don’t think that government surveillance relies on corporate surveillance, then you lot accept not been paying attention, my friend. They are not two distinct categories anymore, and have non been for a very long time.” Sad, I went off from your question.
No, I call up this is the heart of information technology. In most every issue that you tin can recollect of in tech right now — whether it is surveillance, privacy, interop, copyright law, or however anyone wishes to define gratuitous spoken communication at this moment in fourth dimension — there is a fix of powerful corporate actors that are the first touch points for users, and the users care about their actions more. Then there is the legal framework that they operate in. The government is much more theoretically restricted in what it can do than any of the companies.
I think this also makes the regulation that they can impose much more potentially restricted, especially when information technology comes to spoken language, surveillance, and security.
Yeah. They have a big range within the realm of contract police, those click-throughs, to do a whole bunch of stuff. This is not the but thing we exercise. At that place are also a lot of laws supporting them that I recall nosotros need to inquire almost.
EFF has spent years working on the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which Facebook used — along with some state laws — to trounce a competitor that was offering users a unlike interface into Facebook. At that place is a little visitor called HiQ that was sued by LinkedIn for offering a service that was based on scraping publicly available information off of LinkedIn. We were able to get the Supreme Court to interpret the Computer Fraud and Abuse Deed in a better manner, and the Ninth Circuit confirmed that scraping a public website in club to create a competing product is not a violation of the anti-hacking laws.
On the one hand, the companies have a lot of space in their contractual and other areas to do things, but it is important to remember that they rely on laws sometimes to protect their monopolies. Nosotros need to kickoff talking about that as well.
One matter you have mentioned a few times now is true interoperability. A theme on
over the concluding few months is Web3, the blockchain. We only had Chris Dixon on, who is spending billions of dollars to tell yous that the hereafter of the web is interoperable and based on blockchains. Is that something that the EFF is involved in? Is it something y’all are advocating in? Is information technology something your technologists are building?
Nosotros are not edifice anything right now, but we are paying attention to decentralization. In some ways, to make certain that all this money that is flooding in hither does non end up creating new bosses the same as the old bosses. Aye, we are interested in the possibility that the blockchain and decentralized services could exist one of the pieces of helping us create a improve earth. There are ways in which information technology can. My friend Brewster Kahle at the Internet Annal has been convening a lot of things around a decentralized web to try to help go out of some of these problems.
We think that there is promise here, and an awful lot of grift, besides. We are trying to make sure that we recognize the babies in the bath h2o and don’t throw the whole affair out, while at the same time making sure those babies actually survive the big-grift, Ponzi-scheme feel of a lot of what is going on in this world. We feel like we need to do it. Nosotros plain have a choice to pick what nosotros exercise, just this is large and it is important. Nosotros would end up in a better place if we could vindicate some of the values here, but it is not guaranteed. If nosotros and other people of goodwill are not in at that place trying to make sure that this thing ends up creating good — not merely creating bad or fleecing people — and then I am non sure it will automatically happen.
I think information technology is one of those situations where nosotros feel like nosotros have something to say. We feel like we understand the deviation between what is possible and good, and what is non. It would exist unethical in terms of our values to just walk away, because in that location is so much grift going on.
When people want to make interoperable things, we desire to back up them. We have a whole set of what we do, called Coders’ Rights. I think a lot of these efforts to try to build a decentralized social network run into problems with the law. We try to assist people where we tin, especially people who have open-source projects or may be building something that the world needs to have, merely exercise not have money for lawyers. So we are involved. We have been trying to be the sensible people in the room who understand the potential of the technology, but also the pitfalls.
We only have a few minutes left. Let me add all of this up and then add the absolute chaos-bomb of Elon Musk to the equation.
We are in a spot correct now where
Elon is talking about buying Twitter
; we will come across if he can do it or not. (Editor’south note: this interview was conducted earlier the lath approved Musk’s proposal to purchase Twitter.) He thinks that Twitter should modify its content moderation policies in some mode. It is totally undefined, just has more complimentary spoken language, whatever that means in that context. Nosotros presume he means less moderation. The electric current CEO of Twitter, Parag Agrawal, is saying maybe Twitter should exist a protocol. They have a thing called Bluesky — that Jack Dorsey has endorsed — that will endeavor this. That is a lot of swirl around a core social networking product that is run by 1 billionaire or another. Does EFF engage on that? Is that just beyond the office gossip distraction? Is that where you say, “Okay, we are a user rights organization, we take a lot of thoughts on all these things, so we can and should engage hither and attempt to button towards an outcome,” or are y’all just waiting for the chips to autumn?
Nosotros are engaged a trivial, merely on the issues that we know. I exercise not hang out with billionaires, so it’s non like I tin run into them in the club and tell them what I think.
I retrieve a lot of billionaires are EFF fans. I experience like you lot could definitely arrive the game if you lot desire to.
Well, Jack certainly has said that on occasion. Bluesky does have the original idea of turning Twitter back into a protocol. They used to accept TweetDeck and all these other ways. They had an open API, and yous could have a different front end to information technology, but they locked all that down a few years agone. For a long time, nosotros have called on Twitter to go dorsum to beingness open up API. To allow not just interoperability, but adversarial interoperability, which we call competitive compatibility. Yous want people to not have to come to y’all on bended knee for permission, because that ends upward giving the primary actor as well much power.
So aye, we called on Twitter to do the thing. When Jack announced Bluesky, it did seem like he had heard united states of america — and nosotros weren’t the merely ones — say, “You need to remember about your role differently and move away from the platform mentality towards a protocol mentality.” All credit is due to my friend, Mike Masnick, who actually first coined the “protocols, not platforms” framing of this, which I call back is right. We remember that is the right thing. There are a lot of dragons along the way, and means that information technology could not happen. Musk is saying he wants interoperability, and I think a couple of the prominent crypto people have said they want that too. I think that is great, but we could do this correct and we could do this incorrect. If we only run into the new boss the same as the old boss with less content moderation, we will not have washed this right.
Many people have pointed out that there have been lots of attempts to have platforms with less content moderation. They pretty much either fail, because people do not want to be in a place with all that dreck, or they end up being just echo chambers for a few people who hold with each other. That is okay. I don’t mind those little echo chambers, but they exercise non end up being the ascendant place considering people run and hide from a identify that is then toxic.
Musk is going to detect out that you accept to accept content moderation and that it is very hard to do it at scale. I think that information technology would be a very good thing if Twitter really does turn itself into an open protocol that lets people choose their own adventure and leave when they want to. There are pitfalls along the mode, simply we would like to meet something like that happen. I am not so sure our vision is the same as Musk’s, simply honestly I take never talked to him. What he said about it is so cryptic that I don’t want to exist unfair and merely presume 1 way or the other. Just considering somebody says interoperability, does non mean they are on the side of empowering users. There is a lot more to the story.
Doesn’t this all just come back to the tension that we take been circling around? You certainly do non want the government writing a content moderation guideline. You do not want the government going beyond the boundary of the First Amendment that restricts information technology from writing voice communication regulations, and saying, “Here are the content moderation guidelines for social networks in the United States.” You practice non want that to happen.
On the other hand, information technology seems like billionaires just deciding whatsoever style they desire is a bad thought. Somewhere in the middle is a somewhat hazy, just coming into focus, notion of, “There should be protocols for social networks.” You should exist able to pick your client, and mayhap choice your filter. If you are an unhinged person, you lot can choice no filter and accept the full burn hose of crazy. Almost people will pick a default, or maybe you will pay a company. In that location will be marketplace competition for user interfaces and content moderation.
I think there should be a nonprofit sector of that besides, and maybe even a public sector. My friend, Ethan Zuckerman, says, “Well, maybe nosotros have a public TV version of social networking as well.” I think there is a possibility here. Distressing, I cut you off every bit you were getting to the question part.
Information technology but seems like to get to that place, you lot have to tell the government, “Yous are not allowed to do speech regulations, merely go far in that location and tell these companies exactly what to do.” The market is not going to accept yous to that place on its ain. It seems like the EFF is in a weird spot of being an activist, telling the government to do one thing simply not another.
I just recollect that is the reality of the globe we alive in. Again, the law exists; the Computer Fraud and Abuse Human action exists. It helps support their monopolies correct now. Even if your frame is that all government is always bad, that lever is already being used to support the monopoly. We accept to be smarter than that. We have to think most how the government can foster innovation. Information technology ought to in the places that it can, and it ought not to in the places that it cannot. It cannot write the rules for content moderation, but it tin can create incentives, as well as rules around blocking and diminishing competitors. It ought to do those. It is non the only thing to bring to bear though, honestly. We need more funding heading into people who are trying to build competitors to the large companies. If you talk to the VCs, there has been this idea that you just cannot support anything that might compete with Google or Facebook.
There is work for people exterior the government too. I just don’t desire to put the regime off the list of things we have to practise. We need to pressure level the VCs. Nosotros need to support the people who are trying to build innovations. We need to intervene similar EFF did in the
Facebook v. Power Venturesouthward case, to protect small competitors who find themselves being crushed. There are some governmental things, but at that place are too a lot of non-governmental things we need to do. We need to really envision the globe nosotros want to make and and so find the levers where we can push toward it.
Some of information technology may exist for people to just build the matter and use the matter, the next new project. We used to accept this wheel of innovation, where a engineering science company would come along and it would ain the world one day. Yahoo owned search, then MySpace owned social networking. And so the next one would come along with the next innovation, and they would just eat their dejeuner. That cycle has stopped. We have the same companies that we had 15, 20 years agone still in accuse of our online experience.
We demand to exercise a whole agglomeration of things to shake that upwardly. Information technology was not just one matter that got us into it, so information technology is not going to be only ane thing that gets us out. I think users are feeling hopeless and helpless. I guess office of what I’thou trying to hopefully do with our podcast, and with coming on and talking to you lot most this, is to assistance people feel like they have choices. Nosotros are non stuck in this world. We do not accept the solutions yet, but we have some ways out, and we should brainstorm to work towards them.
Cindy, this has been an incredible conversation. I know you have to go, but nosotros will take you lot back on
soon. Thanks then much for joining u.s.a..
I would be delighted. Thanks.