by Furry Girl

01.14.12

I'm not a hardcore nerd the way some of my wonderful friends are, so what I like with geek events are discussions of social implications of technologies, surveillance, privacy, anonymity, and fighting state power and censorship.  Most of these recommended videos are from the 28th Chaos Communication Congress, which concluded a couple of weeks ago.  These are my favorites, but you can find even more talks from the CCC by searching for "28c3" on YouTube.

How Governments have tried to block Tor by Jacob Appelbaum and Roger Dingledine [description].  Some amount of nerd jargon, a basic understanding of how the internet and censorship works is helpful.  Something to love here is both speaker's insistence that it's not about things like "Tor versus China," but the Chinese government versus their people.  There's good discussion of context and how things work differently under different regimes, and how ultimately, Tor developers want to help people decide their own fates in their own countries, and the life-or-death importance of truth in marketing when you offer a censorship circumvention tool.  It's valuable to look at how censorship is deployed in the world's most oppressive countries, and that those censorship tools are developed and sold by American companies like Cisco and Nokia, much like how IBM colluded with the Nazis during WWII.

Marriage from Hell: On the Secret Love Affair Between Dictators and Western Technology Companies by Evgeny Morozov [description].  Morozov is one of my favorite tweeters, the author of The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, and is fun to read for his snarky skepticism of the popular mentality that says that "the internet" magically makes activism and politics better.  (I'd call him a delightfully crabby old man, but he's a year younger than me.)  This talk has very little nerd jargon, and assumes you're already aware that US tech companies knowingly sell things to dictatorships to help them oppress people.

Macro dragnets: Why trawl the river when you can do the whole ocean by Redbeard [description].  Low amount of nerd jargon.  Redbeard is an awesome activist/hacker friend, and this talk takes a very quick jaunt though the basics of a wide array of data mining/collection/storage: US Customs and Immigration, DNA databases, voter records, facial/iris recognition, the data that Amazon stores on customer, IdentifyRioters.com, criminal/prison information collection, and more.  (If this topic interests you, Steve Rambam's multi-hour talks at HOPE are accessible and awesome.)

If you're into nerd-jargon-heavy stuff, Meredith Patterson's talk on The Science of Insecurity is a fun take on security from the perspective of someone who studies linguistics, math, and programming.  Another honorable mention goes to Your Disaster/Crisis/Revolution Just Got Pwned by Tomate and Willow.  Low amount of nerd jargon, this is aimed at hacktivists/coders on how humanitarian groups respond to disasters and crises.  I especially like that it emphasizes self-care, taking breaks, getting sleep, and keeping a sense of humor.  Stressed is the importance of knowing how secure your tools really are before suggesting people trust their lives to them, as well as taking an approach that focuses on the needs of people you're trying to help, rather then selling them on using something you created without their input.  "Don't make a solution for a problem that doesn't exist."  (Good advice for any activist.)

And, from back in October, I finally got around to watching Jacob Appelbaum speaking at an internet activism conference in Sweden on Internet surveillance, censorship, and avenues of resistance with anonymity.  Low amount of nerd jargon, scroll down to the fourth video on the linked page.  This talk includes the importance of privacy-by-design rather than privacy-by-policy, and how the specter of "child pornography" prevents people from questioning the "need" for internet filtering, and how the state functions as the real terrorists who most threaten our freedom.  I appreciate Jake's noting of the West's "othering" of censorship, assuming it's just an issue for foreigners and those in Arab dictatorships.  "Technological utopianism is really part of the problem."

And, finally, a bonus item, so long as I'm throwing out suggestions: PBS's Ascent of Money miniseries, available free online.  This four-hour documentary by Niall Ferguson is wonderful at making financial history of the world interesting, from the development of math and bookkeeping, how money has driven trade and colonization, determined the course of wars and revolutions, all the way up to hedge funds, derivatives, the current financial mess.  I've been looking to learn more about economics, and this is a highly recommended primer on everything from the history of stock, commerce, insurance, and how the real estate crash that's destroying America's poor and middle class was brought about by decades-earlier attempts to quash the appeal of communism.  Really, even if you're not curious about economics, this is a cool history of the not-so-well-known drunks, murderers, gamblers, entrepreneurs, and clergy who got us where we are today.





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