HTTP Status 451 – The HTTP Status At Which Requests Burn

Tim Bray is proposing a new HTTP status, 451 for:

…when resource access is denied for legal reasons. This allows server operators to operate with greater transparency in circumstances where issues of law or public policy affect their operation. This transparency may be beneficial both to these operators and to end users.

This is awesome and I 100% support this idea. I’d even like to see governments mandate that 451’s be used. Of course North Korea, Iran, and China would never follow along, but hopefully most western countries would.

It’s also a very fitting tribute to Ray Bradbury, the author of Fahrenheit 451 who recently passed away.

The Web As We Know It Is Being Threatened

From Scientific American:

The Web as we know it, however, is being threatened in different ways. Some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles. Large social-networking sites are walling off information posted by their users from the rest of the Web. Wireless Internet providers are being tempted to slow traffic to sites with which they have not made deals. Governments—totalitarian and democratic alike—are monitoring people’s online habits, endangering important human rights.

If we, the Web’s users, allow these and other trends to proceed unchecked, the Web could be broken into fragmented islands. We could lose the freedom to connect with whichever Web sites we want. The ill effects could extend to smartphones and pads, which are also portals to the extensive information that the Web provides.

– Tim Berners-Lee

The same web we credit with promoting freedom and taking down dictatorships is under attack itself. Will the web in 10 years still have the power to shift political power?

Tim Berners-Lee may know a thing or two about the web.

Firefox Home: Adults Only

Firefox Home iTunes WarningApple posted the Firefox Home application, which complies with Apple’s policies by using WebKit as opposed to Gecko. Regardless, for whatever reason Apple feels that Firefox Home is a NC-17 application.

Presumably the reasoning behind this is that since a web browser can view anything on the internet and 12% of it is porn among other things out there.

If Apple really feels the Firefox Home app is dangerous, why doesn’t it update Safari so that it warns people of the risks before first use? Presumably a fair amount of iPhone users are under 17 and potentially unaware of the risks. Should parents be warned in the store? Safari is a default app and included in every iPhone that ships.

Other web browsers like Opera and Perfect Browser have the same restriction but much less verbose warnings (only “Frequent/Intense Mature/Suggestive Themes”). At least two others, iCab Mobile and Browser has the same warnings as Firefox. Apple isn’t very consistent.

Meanwhile the Twitter app (formerly Tweetie) will let you “follow” porn starts who will provide services if a particular team won the world cup. It also embeds a web browser that will go to links in tweets regardless of content. That app is rated 4+.

This strikes me as inconsistent and unnecessary.

Edit: This is the dialog presented when you try and download it. This must be one hardcore app:

iTunes Firefox Warning Dialog

Google vs. China

Google’s announcement about China is rather stunning in many respects from its candidness to the rather bold decision to potentially leave China over “[t]hese attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web…”.

Some may remember a few years ago that Yahoo! controversially provided information to the Chinese government that resulted in the arrest of Shi Tao and Li Zhi. There’s no evidence this impacted the decision but I would be shocked if it didn’t play any role.

It sounds like within the next few weeks we’ll know if Google and the Chinese government have come to an agreement regarding the censorship of search results. I suspect this is only a tiny part of the full story regarding google.cn.

Political Statement Via Add-on

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Firefox Add-on used as a way to make a political statement. An Add-on called China Channel will replicate in Firefox what it’s like to be behind the Great Firewall of China. So if you want to see what it’s like not being able to read about Tibet or other content China doesn’t approve of, this is a good chance. It appears to use proxy servers in China to replicate the experience.

Perhaps the next version will let you toggle between China’s Great Firewall and Australia’s Great Firewall’s (currently in development). I should note Iran and Saudi Arabia are also known for extreme censorship on the internet.

American Airlines To Block Porn

Several weeks after flight attendants asked for American Airlines to block porn on it’s WiFi service, the carrier will now do so.

You can still bring porn on your hard drive or on DVD’s. Assuming you encode SD video using H.264 @ 3000 kbits/sec that’s roughly 1.5GB per hour. If you want to travel light, your iPod or iPhone is a good solution.

For non-pornographic entertainment, there’s a list of flight friendly movies including Alive, and Snakes On A Plane, check out my previous post. You could always just go to YouTube and search for “plane crash“.

Seems like there are a lot of holes here. A person who really wants to look at porn on a plane is going to do it anyway. This will however lower bandwidth costs a little and hopefully keep the service more profitable than Boeing’s Connexions service. That in my opinion, is their real reason for changing.

If American really wanted to stop the porn problem, they would ban personal ban watching media on a personal device during flight, and put cheap terminals on the backs of seats. Then your limited to their hardware and network. Completely isolated.

Flight Attendants Ask American To Block Porn

Flight Attendants have asked American to block porn via internet access offered on board the aircraft. Of course this is pretty laughable if you really think about it. Anyone who is willing to view porn on a full airplane likely has enough on their hard drive, and several DVD’s that will last the entire flight. A big advantage to the local material is no waiting for it to download, and more viewing time. This isn’t anything new.

Of course you can also try visiting a list of plane crash videos, sure to freak out someone on the plane, especially if you turn the volume up.

You can also settle for movies like Alive (1993), Air Force One (1997), Snakes On A Plane (2006), Executive Decision (1995), or if you really want to be daring, United 93 (2006). Airplane! (1980) is a favorite, though likely not very controversial.

Or you could use a VPN, easy enough to pipe data through your own home, and around their likely-DNS based filtering.

Airlines rules are intentionally written very vague so that they can make decisions at whim and remove or prosecute passengers. Even a political message on a shirt is enough. I recall a story with visible merchandise from a competing airline being enough as well.

China Blocks RSS

China’s Great Firewall has now started blocking RSS, a long known loophole to get information blocked all other ways. An entire syndication standard is now blocked. According to the Ars Technica:

PSB appears to have extended this block to all incoming URLs that begin with “feeds,” “rss,” and “blog,” thus rendering the RSS feeds from many sites—including ones that aren’t blocked in China, such as Ars Technica—useless.

I wonder if a good workaround would be to just use yourdomain.com/d0e862d00be15796f/ or some other randomness. It would be a better way around filtering of just the url. Then the government would need to start sniffing content-type. The problem they would encounter there is that it’s far from standardized when it comes to feeds on the web. As a result they would have to either live with a high error rate. Unless of course the would resort to content sniffing, which has a ton of overhead when your talking about an entire countries internet bandwidth. That would be extremely expensive and either: slow down the internet in China, make it much more expensive, or just shut things down. My guess is a slowdown.

You can also just switch to atom until they catch on and block that too. The article mentions several other tricks including RSS aggregators, ssh tunnels, etc.

[Hat Tip: Slashdot]

V-Chip 2.0?

According to CNet:

The Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation Thursday asking the Federal Communications Commission to oversee the development of a super V-chip that could screen content on everything from cell phones to the Internet.

The article omits the fact that it’s 99.99997% sure to fail and the committee knows that. Taking a look at it from a tech and historical view of the Internet alone proves that. From a web developer perspective, this stuff is pretty interesting.

The V-Chip is really not a complicated device. Essentially it works on the following logic (written in js for psudocode fun):

if(content.rating > user_setting.max_rating){
    interface.block();
}

Pretty simple right? Well that’s all the true “technology” does. The science of meta data decides how rating is determined and organized (what’s “Violent”, and what’s “Gore”?). That’s the tech side of things in a nutshell.

Here’s where the problem lies. The rating must come from somewhere. In order for this system to have any sort of effectiveness, every site on the Internet needs to be accurately rated. That’s right, every site. Doesn’t matter if it’s in English, German, or Japanese. It doesn’t matter if it’s hosted in the US, or in Korea. It still needs to be rated. But who does this? You could pass a law requiring content to be labeled. But that would only apply to US based sites. Enforcement overseas is virtually impossible. Enforcement in the US is virtually impossible. According to Pew Internet & American Life Project in 2005 “more than 11 million American adults who say they have created blogs”. I’m sure that numbers higher now. That means there’s at least 11 million blogs that need to be patrolled by the FCC to ensure they are labeled, and labeled correctly. Forget about the rest of the blogs in the world and the millions of different owners.

Still think this plan has a shot at working? Well it’s been done and pretty much failed before. It was the ICRA Rating Sytem. At first it was thought every site would label themselves. A quick glance around the web shows most sites don’t bother. AOL and Yahoo both do (both were big backers years ago), Microsoft also was, and even equipped IE with “Content Adviser”, but they no longer have their homepage labeled. MySpace, Facebook? Despite all the criticism about safety they receive: not labeled. PBS Kids, Disney, Sesame Street, Nickelodeon? Nope, though Disney does use P3P, which also never took off. Now you’d expect the Senate, who deeply wants to keep the net safe for kids would set a good example. Think again. Same goes for the White House. We could go on for quite a while.

Think you can automate calculating ratings for sites that don’t provide (or lie)? Fat chance. Just ask the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation who is famous for being considered a porn site by filters. I can’t even imagine how filters would interpret something like YouTube, where the content in question is binary garbage like most other Flash heavy sites.

The tech side is pretty easy. It’s been around for about a decade now. The precedent for enforcing US laws upon content providers overseas? That’s a new one. Enforcing laws by checking millions of websites owned by millions of people around the world? Good luck.

I’m not going to even bother with Mobile phones, because since the iPhone, the precedent has been set that the phone is just a mobile browser and is subject to the same rules.

Bush tells the world to go away

Bush has taken his political policies to the web. He’s blocking non-american IP addresses now. Once again telling every non-American to go to hell. An interesting note is that he might by trying to keep Americans overseas from reading his website before deciding who to vote for. Vote blind rather than see how anti-world his agenda may be. Many are saying these foreign based Americans may be key to the election. Not letting them see his foreign policy may provide him with an advantage.