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Google deletes artist’s blog, a decade of his work (fusion.net)
521 points by LaSombra on July 15, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 438 comments



From Reddit: "I've read a few of Cooper's books and the short answer is yes, pedophilia is a common theme in his writing (as is incest and necrophilia)." [1]

I'm calling it now. It was child porn. Google doesn't like to go around deleting people's stuff. When this has happened in the past it's been child porn, which Google is obligated by governments everywhere to delete with extreme prejudice. And of course they're not going to go around publicly accusing the guy of having child porn, even if he did, so they will remain silent. Neither will they tell someone who had child porn which exact piece of child porn tripped their child porn detector, for obvious reasons. This is not a Google issue; this is a law enforcement issue.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/books/comments/4sx9aa/dennis_cooper...


It's still problematic, even if the work was distasteful or even illegal. There was no process involved, no chance for appeal, no explanation of the charges that precipitated it. If it truly is illegal materials that violate laws, then deleting it is deleting evidence and helping cover up crimes. If it was art that borders on distasteful to some then google is deciding taste and public values with private algorithms.

I'm not sure what the right thing is here. To require any publishing platform to retain works they decide violates their TOS seems like a big burden. But we live in a world where publishing seemingly requires the cooperation the private sector. If not google, at very least a hosting company of some kind. If we want the allow social norms to change we can't stifle everything that falls outside of the norm.


The data resided on Google's servers -- their property. Read the terms and conditions you agree to, Google doesn't owe you anything.

    > If it was art that borders on distasteful to some 
    > then google is deciding taste and public values with 
    > private algorithms.
But that's well within their right to do. If you don't like it, there's an easy solution: don't use Google.

This behavior is well-known (remember Google Reader?) and expected out of Google. If you have any data on any cloud storage facility, you probably have no guarantee of its long-term persistence. You should regularly backup all your data that you value. You can get a 3 Terabyte backup drive today on Amazon for < $120, which is more than enough for most people to backup their valued data.

    > I'm not sure what the right thing is here. To require 
    > any publishing platform to retain works they decide 
    > violates their TOS seems like a big burden. But we 
    > live in a world where publishing seemingly requires 
    > the cooperation the private sector. If not google, at 
    > very least a hosting company of some kind. If we want 
    > the allow social norms to change we can't stifle 
    > everything that falls outside of the norm.
Agreed. But, there are alternatives to using a hosting company and there are ways outside of the internet to distribute information. Just because you have a right to publish does not imply that you have a right to be published, nor should it. The author was no customer of Google so the fact that so many people are upset is indicative of the growing technological entitlement mentality. Hosting isn't free, and Google was providing a gratis service to a user. For all we know, a government put pressure on Google to remove the blog -- do we really expect Google to spend money on a legal team to resist such a request?

People either don't value the ability to express distasteful opinions, or they are completely unaware of these practices in modern technology companies.


    >  the fact that so many people are upset is indicative of the growing technological entitlement mentality
A mentality Google fosters constantly with virtually all of their products.

    > You can get a 3 Terabyte backup drive today on Amazon
The first words you see when you visit https://www.google.com/drive/ is "A safe place for all your files".

    > there are alternatives to using a hosting company
Like what? Deeply technical p2p hosting solutions that are completely inaccessible to all but the most adept readers and publishers?

    > there are ways outside of the internet to distribute information
Sure, but as we move most of our communication to the internet, this kind of thing becomes more and more problematic.


    >  A mentality Google fosters constantly with virtually 
    > all of their products.
This statement has no relevance to the conversation -- it doesn't magically produce any obligation for Google to act differently than it does.

    > The first words you see when you visit 
    > https://www.google.com/drive/ is "A safe place for 
    > all your files".
And clearly in the terms of service (the only thing that actually matters,) it says:

    > Google may also stop providing Services to you, or 
    > add or create new limits to our Services at any time. [1]
Safety is subjective, that's how they can get away with this. The terms of service go on to say:

    > WHEN PERMITTED BY LAW, GOOGLE, AND GOOGLE’S SUPPLIERS 
    > AND DISTRIBUTORS, WILL NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR LOST 
    > PROFITS, REVENUES, OR DATA, FINANCIAL LOSSES OR 
    > INDIRECT, SPECIAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, EXEMPLARY, OR 
    > PUNITIVE DAMAGES. [1]
That pretty much seals the deal. The user provides affirmative consent to all of this.

    > Like what? Deeply technical p2p hosting solutions 
    > that are completely inaccessible to all but the most 
    > adept readers and publishers?
Self hosting is a thing. Again, none of this is Google's problem.

    > Sure, but as we move most of our communication to 
    > the internet, this kind of thing becomes more and 
    > more problematic. 
Using any service (online or offline) is inherently risky. Users are deciding to take that risk and then whining when the risk does not pay off. You remain free to distribute information however you like.

I'm not saying these aren't problems -- I'm saying these aren't Google's problems. They're running a business, not a technology charity. If you don't like it, don't use Google products and encourage others not to. It's simple cause and effect: Google treats us badly, we stop using Google. Google is free to operate however they like and I'm free to stop using their services.

[1] https://www.google.com/policies/terms/

EDIT: s/risking/risky/


This statement has no relevance to the conversation -- it doesn't magically produce any obligation for Google to act differently than it does.

It's true that no obligation is created under our current legal structure, but I think the statement still has relevance. Your stance reminds of me people that said, in the wake of the subprime mortgage crisis, "well those loans were legal and the people who defaulted were free not to take them." Yes, that is true, and we definitely would all be better off if people took the accountability and personal responsibility to avoid getting into these situations.

But really, what does that argument achieve? It absolves the centralized powerful entity of any responsibility, shifting it to a decentralized collection of individuals that lack cohesive power to effect change. In terms of pure efficacy, I don't think that style of reasoning is going to move the needle on actually getting the desired result out of the system. In other words, would it be easier to educate all of those people on proper usage of online services, or to maybe change some legal language somewhere so that these services have some responsibility to their users?

I think we can try to encourage personal responsibility in people, and simultaneously acknowledge that it would also be good if the services that hold power and influence were more accountable to their users, because that's just going to be better for everyone collectively.


    > It's true that no obligation is created under our 
    > current legal structure, but I think the statement 
    > still has relevance. Your stance reminds of me people 
    > that said, in the wake of the subprime mortgage 
    > crisis, "well those loans were legal and the people 
    > who defaulted were free not to take them." Yes, that 
    > is true, and we definitely would all be better off if 
    > people took the accountability and personal 
    > responsibility to avoid getting into these situations.
I know what you're getting at here, but it's not really right to compare a policy that resulted in the loss a blog with a set of ethically questionable banking practices that objectively caused one of the worst recessions we've ever seen, resulting in literal death, poverty, and all-around regress.

There's also this key component: the average user is not Google's customer -- they never pay a penny for the services they receive. I think that you and I both agree that consumer protection laws are a good thing; if you pay for access to Google's data storage services then it should be illegal if they suddenly revoke that access. That is an obvious case of breach-of-contract.

Outside the context of a customer-business relation, this amounts to the government ordering Google to supply a service at no charge. Note that certain things (I believe in the states water) have to be given freely to people who request it, but I wouldn't dream of suggesting that access to data that you knowingly stored some place with questionable data persistence guarantees is as fundamental as access to water. You may disagree.

In the end, I suggest educating consumers about the generally sketchy cloud data persistence guarantees is easier and wiser than requiring companies to offer free services. You and I both probably agree that the cloud is a significantly easier approach to organizing, storing, and using data than traditional approaches. Since it has become so ubiquitous, its users should know the dangers. This avoids setting a somewhat strong precedent that such a protection law would make.

After a quick Google (heh, the irony!) there doesn't seem like there's an easy way to backup cloud data. This seems like it might actually be a good personal project for me...


I wouldn't dream of suggesting that access to data that you knowingly stored some place with questionable data persistence guarantees is as fundamental as access to water. You may disagree.

Personally I would like to see society move in this direction. The data persistence guarantees should not be questionable, they should be legally enforced. I'm pretty sure we could come up with some terms that aren't realistically that onerous to Google (and other providers), but give users some assurances.

We're treading new ground with the concept of digital goods that are extremely cheap to manufacture, distribute, and store, and this idea that ubiquitously useful services can be provided to everyone for free by extracting value from the data generated by their usage. In the pre-digital era, the government "ordering Google to supply a service at no charge" would probably be an untenable precedent, but today that could happen with almost negligible impact to their business, because it already operates like that.

You and I both probably agree that the cloud is a significantly easier approach to organizing, storing, and using data than traditional approaches.

This is exactly why we should recognize it as a public utility and endeavor to reduce the inherent dangers, just like we go to great effort to make clean water available instead of teaching everyone how to test and treat it themselves.


I respect that opinion, and I'm with you on treating (computation in general, in fact) as a public utility. It seems that you and I have different attitudes regarding the scope of government involvement in this sort of thing.

I appreciate the discussion and your thoughtful and forthcoming attitude:) Makes the internet much more enjoyable to use when disagreements are carefully examined rather than the usual tendency in comment threads to degenerate into being just plain mean.


Likewise, thanks :)


Google provides a service called takeout[1] which lets users export their data from other Google services including Drive and Blogger.

[1] https://takeout.google.com/settings/takeout

Disclaimer: Alphabet employee, but not related to the takeout service.


And that's great! They just need to make it so when an account is shut down, there is a link to takeout, and it continues to work for 30 or 90 days.


While formally and legally you are correct, Money is data and data is money.

I believe that argument at hand is that massive digital services providers, by power of the market forces, had become just as essential part of our infrastructure as banks. Their behaviour has played a huge role in establishing this position and setting this expectation.

So, the philosophical question is whether Google, AWS, Facebook, et.al. are now "too big to fail" to be subjects of regulation due to their critical role in ensuring preservation and accessibility of human knowledge. They are already being regulated by tons of parties, domestic and foreign, to keep some (lots?) information inaccessible.


> After a quick Google (heh, the irony!) there doesn't seem like there's an easy way to backup cloud data. This seems like it might actually be a good personal project for me...

https://takeout.google.com/settings/takeout

You can download all your google data from there. I wish all cloud services provided such a feature.


It's true that a lot of those subprime loans were legal - however, they were moved off the originators books in a fraudulent manner. If no one would have bought the loans from the originator then they most likely would have never offered them to people with little means to repay.


What that argument achieves is educating people about the dangers of the decisions they make. The alternative is basically "carry on as you were and hope next time it works out."


*This statement has no relevance to the conversation -- it doesn't magically produce any obligation for Google to act differently than it does."

Actually it kind of does -- saying one thing and doing another is a deceptive business practice, and deceiving consumers is generally frowned upon.


    > Actually it kind of does -- saying one thing and doing 
    > another is a deceptive business practice, and deceiving 
    > consumers is generally frowned upon
False advertisement isn't the question here -- nice strawman.

Google specifically states they make no guarantees, so they're not "saying one thing and doing another." They're saying one thing and doing that thing. The parent mentioned that Google encouraged technological entitlement -- that may or may not be true, that would be a tough thing to have a reasonable conversation about -- not that Google is making blatantly false claims about its services.


It's rather unfair to accuse the other person of creating a strawman.

Google was quoted above as calling the service "A safe place for all your files", and deletion is clearly not "safe", and there have been court decisions saying that fine print caveats cannot completely negate the clear English part of the advertising.

Of course, there have been court decisions saying the opposite, too, but that's sufficient for the OP's point to be better than "strawman" material even if, hypothetically, their argument turns out to be incorrect.


Right, but that's not what they were responding to. OP was trying to make it seem like Google acting hypocritically by allegedly helping foster an entitlement mentality was the same as false advertising.


"Entitlement mentality" is a highly loaded and manipulative term, and I reject its use in this context.

Managing consumer expectations in a way that does not reflect reality is the same as false advertising, however.


>Google was quoted above as calling the service "A safe place for all your files", and deletion is clearly not "safe"

Then most files aren't safe. A file on your computer isn't safe.


There is nothing that is perfectly safe, nor perfectly smooth, nor perfectly white, nor perfectly anything.

That doesn't mean that words mean nothing, just because absolutes generally don't exist.

In this case, a "reasonable person" (which is often the litmus test that courts use) might well think that "A safe place for all your files" means that Google will take reasonable precautions to keep your files safe, within reason, given current technology and economics and practices.

Unilaterally deleting things without notice and without recourse absolutely does not fit that sort of reasonable definition, although it may well be legal nonetheless for various reasons.

And regardless of all that, there still is no reason to accuse the OP of a strawman argument, which is kind of rude unless there is a truly strong reason for it -- that's the primary thing I'm arguing, not about philosophical absolutes nor even legality.


>Unilaterally deleting things without notice and without recourse absolutely does not fit that sort of reasonable definition, although it may well be legal nonetheless for various reasons.

If it is a 1 in a million (or less) chance, then its safer than storing them on your own computer, which I think would fit the definition of safe. You're requiring that Google meet an extreme defintion of safety that is beyond what a reasonable person would expect (since a reasonable person woud likely not backup files, or back them up locally, both of which are less safe than google).

You're conflating control with safety. As in, you're committing the same fallacy that people who are afraid of flying on airplanes do. An airplane is safer than a vehicle. Drive is safer than a computer. People are afriad of airplanes not because it is more dangerous, but because they are sacrificing control.

>there still is no reason to accuse the OP of a strawman argument

I didn't. That was someone else, but I appreciate the downvote nonetheless.


> I appreciate the downvote nonetheless.

You're too paranoid. I don't yet even have the ability to downvote people; my rating is too low.

> the same fallacy

Gee thanks. We're not just in disagreement, I'm the idiot who can't reason correctly.

I think your logic is unreasonable. I already said why; google isn't living up to what a hypothetical "reasonable person" would expect -- such a person wouldn't expect deletion with no recourse.

And if it happened to you, obviously you would change your attitude about what is and is not reasonable; no one wants their stuff deleted. So arguing about it seems possibly disingenuous, regardless of the fine details.

> You're requiring that Google meet an extreme defintion of safety that is beyond what a reasonable person would expect

Actively deleting files is included in the definition of "safety"? I think not.

However again, my main point isn't whether the above person is correct, it's that his point is reasonable enough that it is uncalled for to say he's arguing a strawman.


Surely the line "a safe place for your files" is only saying that it's secure from hackers and they won't be deleted by mistake. It says nothing of them being deleted if they're against Google's terms. Similarly Amazon's marketing of a 3 terabyte backup drive - the use of the word backup implies that you shouldn't rely on it as the only copy of your files. It's not a backup if there's only one copy.


The first word you see when you visit "Honest Al's Used Car Lot" is "Honest". Doesn't mean anyone should just trust it.


Your house should be safe, secure, a place to store all your valuables, yet it's understood it could be robbed, destroyed by nature, or burn down by accident.

You're responsible for making backups or taking out whatever insurance you think is reasonable for your data.


There is a difference between deliberate vs accidental deletion. This was not a random act. Thus is like the fire department coming and burning down your house.


Arson is a thing, and you should be insured against it. Plus, sometimes the fire department does set fires: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/firefighter-char...


But possession of child pornography is what's illegal. They very well may have reported the owner of the blog to the authorities but, in the mean time, google was both possessing and distributing the material.

It's not that it's violating their TOS, it's that Google thought they may have been violating the law.

EDIT: At least if that's what the content was.


From the OP who said:

> "I've read a few of Cooper's books and the short answer is yes, pedophilia is a common theme in his writing (as is incest and necrophilia)."

Because of the words 'book' and 'writing', I have the impression that everything there is written text and no certainly no pictures.

This puts it in a nebulous position, at least in the USA.

Dunlop v. U.S., 165 U.S. 486 (1897), ended up ruling that text-only content can be deemed obscene and being text-only is not a reason to get total 1st amendment protection. However later cases, decided there was a division between erotica and obscene material, which is essentially decided on a case-by-case basis subjectively.

When it comes to things such as obscenity, its not really enough to go by our 'feelings' and intuition on the matter.

For instance, would you believe the US is a fully functioning, 1st world democracy, where sex toys are illegal (Alabama, upheld by State Supreme court and enforced as recently as 2009)?

To me, personally, anything that comes entirely from someones fanciful imagination, no matter how distasteful, should not be considered illegal unless it directly results in the harm of another individual.


So in the US (and Japan and only a handful of other countries), fictional depictions of under age or incestual content isn't illegal (per the court case you referenced above), so long as you're not using real people to act it out.

This doesn't hold true for ... most of the rest of the planet. In the UK a man was put in jail for Simpsons porn, something that's legal in the US (although potentially a trademark violation; unless you can argue it's satire).

In Cooper's home country of France, fictional depictions are actually illegal (books like Lolita are banned).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_regarding_child_pornograp...

But as already stated, even if legality wasn't the issue, yes they are still a private company and can do what they want. The article mentions this and there really needs to be an effort to educate people that they need multiple backups, not just on-line, but on their own media.


> So in the US (and Japan and only a handful of other countries), fictional depictions of under age or incestual content isn't illegal (per the court case you referenced above), so long as you're not using real people to act it out.

Actually, visual incest pornography exists in the US. I am not sure why (I am within the industry, but I don't actually keep tabs on legalities that I'm not involved in), but it seems that 2 years ago VISA decided it was okay for it to take credit card payments for incest-fantasy sites, and since then there's been an explosion of mainstream studios supporting said material.

Cynically speaking, it seems to me that the adult industry is more scared of how their merchant banks will react to their content, than any chance of being taken down by the US government.


No, Lolita by Nabokov is not banned in France. I saw this book myself in a French library a few years ago. And according to French wikipedia (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lolita#Les_traductions_fran.C3...), a new French translation was published in 2001.


It's been a while since I've read _Lolita_. If my memory serves me correctly, the novel contains no depictions of sex or sexual intimacy.

Amazing work of literature, by the way.


That's incorrect. For example, the scene where HH climaxes with Dolly on his lap.

(I don't think Lolita should be banned anywhere. It's not a pro-pedophilia artwork.)


According to the article linked, Cooper is mainly a visual artist.

> Cooper used the blog to post his fiction, research, and visual art, and as Artforum explains, it was also “a platform through which he engaged almost daily with a community of followers and fellow artists.” His latest GIF novel (as the term suggests, a novel constructed with animated GIFs) was also mostly saved to the blog.


Meanwhile, on google.com, I can read excerpts of Lolita, by Nabokov:

https://books.google.com/books/about/Lolita.html?id=TOQxAgAA...


To be fair, it would be very unreasonable for anyone to make the claim that Lolita is erotica.

The Supreme Court define obscenity as being a work that was reasonably lude by the standards of the day, and lacked "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." Lolita doesn't really fit this description due to its literary and artistic value.

I haven't read the blog in question, but obviously issues like this are trickier to decide with contemporary artists that are unestablished. Google certainly doesn't want to be labeled as being a distributor of child pornography, and you can't really compare some guy's blog to a book like Lolita.


Actually erotica is not automatically obscene. Lolita need not be non-erotic, to be non-obscene.


"Directly resulting in their harm" is an unenforceable standard, unless you are referring to hitting someone with a printed copy, which I suspect you are not.


An example of direct harm, would be an totally imaginary article that aims to humiliate or defame someone. It's not true; it's not real, but its directly aimed at destroying a persons reputation anyways.

This is something that current day harassment laws (and in some countries slander laws) already cover.


It works poorly. A true article that destroys someone's reputation is equally harmful, but (in the US), completely protected.


Then suspend the blog, and allow for some process to deal with the situation. Don't just torch everything on some suspicion of something going wrong. This isn't a new issue for Google. They're notorious for fucking with people's accounts and providing no recourse or customer support. Something happens? Better hope your uncle works at Google or your shit out of luck.

Hell, I've hosted most of my personal domains' email accounts via Google. A few months ago one of them was deleted. I never really used the email, but I certainly had things on their I would like to have for posterity. When Google deleted the account I was given no recourse or ability to appeal. It was just gone. It's not as if the account was even anything controversial, it was just my contact-me email for an old NES modding site I had.


I mean, who's to say that isn't the case. The blog might still exist on Google's side, and it's just been quarantined or otherwise looks like it's been deleted from the outside.


The point is not the "soft delete" vs "hard delete" but their total lack of transparency or customer support. It doesn't matter to the end user the difference if all outward appearance is that the blog was deleted.


If there's any legal thing going on they wont be able to make any statements on it anyway...


They don't say a damned thing anytime your account gets nuked. Hell, when I tried buying a Nexus 4 it mysteriously never shipped and I only could get in touch with a robot support person. I said fuck it, cancelled the order, and went to a T-Mobile store. Never bothered to deal with them again.


"Due to ongoing litigation we are unable to comment" would still be valuable in that case. Radio silence on the other hand, is not acceptable.


In some jurisdictions it is illegal to let your client know they are being secretely investigated. Such statement may interfere with the investigation - they may destroy the evidence etc.


If that's actually what's happening. Google's policy seems to be radio silence in all cases.


> "Google's policy seems to be radio silence in all cases"

This may be an intentional decision to cooperate with law enforcement. If they only go silent in the case of ongoing investigations, then "Google went silent" functions in the same way as "the warrant canary disappeared" does for other sites, which could in theory jeopardize an investigation.


"Torch everything" is perhaps a poor way to convey you mean "soft delete".


>Don't just torch everything on some suspicion of something going wrong.

You can rest assured, if it was child porn, they'd be obligued to keep backups as proof for law enforcement. I doubt the material is actually deleted, just hidden until they sort it out with the feds.


>Hell, I've hosted most of my personal domains' email accounts via Google. A few months ago one of them was deleted. I never really used the email, but I certainly had things on their I would like to have for posterity.

That's what you get for not making backups. This isn't rocket science. You're using someone else's free service, and they have zero obligation to continue to provide that service to you. Even if they didn't intentionally delete your account, mistakes do happen sometimes. Who actually thinks it's a good idea to keep only one copy of data that you value? Especially on a site with the name "Hacker News"? Do hackers these days not understand backups?


Maybe I'm just a lazy fuck? I know backups, I get it, but you know what? I'm human.


A very very lazy human if you cant backup for 14 years....i hate mowing my lawn or doing my shopping but i have to do it. Going to work each day is a chore but somehow it happens...being lazy and human is the poorest excuse ive heard for not backing up over such a long period of time, and I deal with data loss whiners every day. If you dont want to lose it, make a copy, end of story.


[flagged]


Personal attacks are not OK on Hacker News.


It is astounding to contemplate that it's possible to type a series of English words which would be illegal to _possess_! Even if I was the only one to know about these words and, for example, kept them in a safe.


It's a pure risk management problem.

Child pornography is contraband. It's the virtual equivalent of a kilo of cocaine. If, as a service provider, you come across someone's artistic expression that is reckoned to be close enough to the line you have a problem. You need to worry about whether there's an elevated risk that the next post will cross the line, you shut it down.

Your freedom of speech doesn't require a third party to broadcast your speech.


I'm not sure what the right thing is here

But I know. Either Google hosts a platform for other people to share their life, in which case Google should not have done anything without a warrant. Or Google owns the entire platform and all content, in which case they should be held liable for every bit of disputed content on their servers (including Youtube).

There is no middle ground. Either you are a (de-facto) common carrier, or you're not.


If the customer violated Google's TOS, the terms he agreed to when signing up, he already agreed to having his stuff deleted.


> no process involved, no chance for appeal, no explanation of the charges

Child porn is not a TOS issue. It's a legal issue, and he has legal recourse. He can sue and get a judge or jury to decide his case. Google is doing what the law requires, so if you have a problem with that you have a problem with the law, not with Google.


Trust me, there was very much a process involved here. You just don't know it. And there was no removal of evidence - you can be sure everything is very well documented - just not on the public internet.


To require any publishing platform to retain works they decide violates their TOS seems like a big burden. But we live in a world where publishing seemingly requires the cooperation the private sector.

Was it any different in the days of the printing press? Newspaper companies didn't have any requirement to keep around material they didn't want to print, and unless you wanted to build/buy and operate your own printing press, you depended on the private sector...

Much like freedom of travel, while nobody can stop you, nobody must provide you a free platform either.


> But we live in a world where publishing seemingly requires the cooperation the private sector

With real net-neutrality protections, I believe this is false. You are free to connect your own server to the internet and serve your own content through it. Also, if you do host with a third-party, it still makes sense to do backups of your data so if something like this does happen, you can move to another host.


He's not a Google customer. Hard to establish standing when a property owner cleans up your graffiti.


This is a terrible metaphor and the entire thought behind it. If you provide some sort of consideration in exchange for something even if that consideration is your eyeballs which the provider can rent out you are a customer.


I doubt they actually deleted the data.


You are welcome to host his 'art' on your own computer.


Childporn seems to be the trigger here, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. This story illustrates a huge problem facing nearly all social media re child pornography. The laws seem like bright line, but in reality they are no such thing. Nearly everything is a judgment call. Nearly every daily decision is based on vague and uncertain definitions.

(Fyi, I try to avoid the now-popular term "child abuse imagery" because that is both too loaded and too narrow.)

I teach the definition of child porn to forensics students because they will be running into it in the profession. It is massively complicated. My child porn lecture goes as follows: Here are the rules (cases, laws etc). Then I show a series of images and clips that, given the definitions we just went through, cause the cops in the room to reach for their handcuffs. Then I show where the clips are from: popular pg13 movies and TV shows, none of which would ever be considered illegal. I do this to illustrate the lack of bright lines, and how definitions and treatments change based on context.

To avoid uncomfortable discussions best done only in person, let me simply say that there exists a range of material at issue here, from 1 to 10. 1 is stuff that while it trigger flags clearly isn't illegal. 10 is stuff where there is no debate. The law declares everything above 5 a crime, but nothing below 8 is ever prosecuted absent political pressure (webeweb et al). To be safe, Google moves against anything a 3, as happened here. So there is a range of stuff, from 3 to 8, that may or may not be illegal. It will be deleted/reported by the likes of Google but will never result in prosecution.

This is yet another a horrible story of an artist suddenly finding himself in that gray area between 3 and 7. His stuff is probably not illegal, but nobody can say for certain. Google has chosen to run in fear, but we outsiders, most of whom have not seen the material, tend to side with the artist against the big evil corporation. And nobody want to speak openly for fear of the labels that attach. It's a messy area full of emotions and pitfalls. Society needs to address this problem.


This should be the most upvoted comment.


Writing about incest, necrophilia, sex with children; these are not child pornography. Neither are artistic renderings about such subjects.

Only obscene photographs of actual children (and apparently 3d models with photographic skins) are considered to be child pornography (and those primarily because they are artifacts of child abuse).

Unless he crossed that line, there's still no legal cause to pull down his material. It's worth remembering that there are stories of Google deleting accounts due to pictures of cherubs as well, so there is reason to doubt Google's reasons for bringing the account down.

Even if you find the material distasteful, it's not a reason to condemn someone, nor condone the censorship of that material. Remember, there are some who consider images of women not covered by a hijab to be distasteful and obscene.


> Writing about incest, necrophilia, sex with children; these are not child pornography. Neither are artistic renderings about such subjects.

In the US and a few other countries, yes, images where no real person other than the artist was involved is classified as Child Pornography.

It's disgusting and squarely in the realm of thought crime, but no one cares because once you think of the children you can do almost anything.


The US law that did that that was struck down as unconstitutional more than 14 years ago, so the "is classified" claim is false.

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/16/national/16CND-PORN.html



PROTECT has been upheld to the extent that it only criminalized virtual explicit child sex content that also met the obscenity test, which -- since obscenity had separately been ruled outside of First Amendment protections irrespective of whether it is factual at all, much less whether or not it contains real images of children, is unsurprising; this distinguished it from previous laws that had been struck down that included blanket band on virtual explicit child sex content. To the extent provisions of it appear on their face to go further, they have been viewed unfavorably by the courts, including being expressly found unconstitutional by the trial court in the Handley case you refer to.


The way obscenity laws in the US and the states work is that these drawn images will always be looked at as obscene.

The standard currently used for obscene is

(a)whether the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole,appeals to the prurient interest

(b) whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law

(c) whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

Now, would the 'average American' find lilocon/shotacon to be excessively focused on sex? (yes) would it be found offensive under applicable laws, in this case child porn laws (yes). Would the 'average American' take any random manga as having serious literary or artistic value? (no). So, is lolicon/shotacon illegal? It sure is.

The problem with the above is it is not a measurable standard, it is left up to interpretation, and that interpretation will come down on the side of obscene with anything that is not regarded mainstream. Not that long ago homosexual porn was, and in some states it's still difficult to sell sex toys because of obscenity laws. Obscenity laws are used as an end run around the First Amendment for these cases, as it was here. You can say it wasn't because of the PROTECT Act, but the fact remains he had to plead guilty to possession of shotacon and he was facing the penalties of the PROTECT Act because the court could go ahead and call it obscene to bypass the problem of explicitly calling something illegal.

Images of children engaging in sex, or lilocon/shotacon are considered illegal in the US as kiddy porn, either by the PROTECT act explicitly in jurisdictions outside that courts ruling, or by obscenity laws in general. And that is disgusting because it is a thought crime.

The exception would be Oregon which shot down general obscenity laws in their entirety.


Google doesn't need a legal cause. It is their service, so they only need a cause defined in their own terms of service.


Google acts like it is a public utility when it is convenient to them, and a private service when it isn't.


They're a private service all the time. Keep that in mind and you'll go far.


Corporations such as Google are much more like quasi-governmental municipal corporations than like Mom & Pop's Private Bakery.


Quasi governmental corporations are typically granted special privileges (protected monopolies). If Google doesn't have some arrangement like all blogging must be done on blogspot, they're not quasi government.


When an entity has a formal governance structure, elected leaders, armed security forces, issues its own bonds, negotiates directly with foreign governments, and has a "GDP" greater than most nations, it has a lot more in common with governments than it does with a typical private business.

This phenomenon of "private" corporations amassing the power of governments without the responsibilities of governments is a relatively new chapter in history and still needs to be sorted out.


Some would call that marketing.

If you have N copies, assume the next state will mean have N-1. What would you do different if you could postpone the state change? Do it.


Bull.

It's the artist's own fault that he didn't make a backup.


Do have an example?


It's perfectly reasonable for Google to not wish to host drawings of naked children, nor sex stories about underage children. That isn't censorship.


>Censorship is the suppression of free speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions. Governments, private organizations and individuals may engage in censorship.

Sounds like censorship to me, just a socially acceptable form of it. The "only governments are capable of censorship because my understanding of the idea of freedom of speech deliberately stops at the First Amendment" meme needs to die.


Meme? That's what freedom of speech is. It specifically has to do with the government. Censorship is a broader term, but don't invoke "free speech" if you don't want it to apply to the government case.


That's what freedom of speech is. It specifically has to do with the government.

No, it damn well is not.

Freedom of speech is the principle, the first amendment is the law. The law protects a principle our society has deemed important. The principle exists with or without a government.


In this case, it certainly does only apply to the government. You can't force another person or entity to host your content - they're allowed to set whatever conditions they want to.


You can't force another person or entity to host your content

Which literally nobody here suggested that they should be obligated to do so. What's your point?


What use is the legal right to speech if your neighbors will bash your head in for it? Freedom of speech is not just the right, but also the idea of a society that tolerates it. This is what bothers me: Every time an internet corporation deletes someone's account for wrongthink, a herd of crypto-facists pops up to remind everyone that the First only pertains to government censorship (or even erroneously claim that only governments are capable of censorship). They are missing (and indeed proving) the point. The point is that they live in a society that encourages the limitation of expression, and that they are happy about this as long as they don't like the things being censored.


In this (US) society, you can speak your mind just about all you want without worrying about the government sending jack-booted thugs to haul you away.

However, this does not mean that a private company is obligated to give you a free platform to disseminate your speech. You can go make yourself a sign and stand on a street corner if you want, but no one has an obligation to listen to you, or to help you spread your speech.

This is why the distinction about government censorship is so important. People like you seem to think that private entities have an obligation to host other peoples' speech. If some neo-Nazis knocked on your door and asked to post a bunch of their signs on your lawn, would you agree to it? It's only a problem when the government censors because there's only one government, and they have enforcers who can use deadly force. If a private party censors you by refusing to help air your views, you can go somewhere else, like a street corner, and you don't have to worry about going to jail or being shot.


> It's only a problem when the government censors because there's only one government, and they have enforcers who can use deadly force.

I would add that it's also because the government can censor people when it otherwise wouldn't be involved - a person hosting a blog with a third party, for example. Ordinarily, only that third party gets to decide whether or not to provide a platform for your data.


Just because it's reasonable doesn't mean it's not censorship.

Going a step further, there's nothing inherently wrong with censorship.


> Going a step further, there's nothing inherently wrong with censorship.

So long as they're censoring the things you want them to censor. Of course, everybody would like something different to be censored, which is why it's better to err on the side of "no censorship". There's a reason librarians tend to fight against any form of censorship.


I think even the more politically minded librarians are OK with a private company deleting a blog that has child pornography images on it.


Unlikely, since if it was art (and not photographic porn), most of the librarians work in libraries with manga collections.


Just because it's not mandated by the government does not mean that it is not censorship.

> Censorship: the system or practice of censoring books, movies, letters, etc.

> Censoring: to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable


As a private company, yes they do. And the article even states people like the writer need to be educated about backing up their work and not trusting cloud storage alone.

On a side note though, if it's fictional stories and art involving under age people, that's actually legal (kinda/sorta/not tested often in court) in the US and Japan but not in most of Europe (including France).

For example: drawing of Bart fucking Lisa Simpson. Legal in the US (and if you argue it right, possibly not even a trademark violation under parody/satire -- depends on the judge really). In the UK, that exact drawing sent a man to prison and put him on the sex offender registry.


Exactly.


I think you have a fairly limited definition of pornography.

Any kind of writing with a purely puerile sexual-intent, lacking in any redeeming scientific, cultural or educational merit, is considered pornographic.

Considering the writing is pornographic... then the fact it used literally representing of people under the age of 18, would make it 'pornography involving children' or... as a short hand 'child pornography'.

Let's not argue over definitions here. If you feel that this man shouldn't be prosecuted because no real people were harmed, that's a good place to start. Obscenity laws need to be clarified.


I'm arguing that Google likely does not have a legal requirement to do what they've done, which is opposite what the grandparent was arguing. I'm not arguing that they do or do not have the right to make their own decisions about the content, but the phrase "child pornography" has a very specific legal definition.


Ah, it may not be a legal requirement, but its against their terms of service. They're pretty clear with banning "textual content that depicts or encourages rape, incest, bestiality, or necrophilia."

As children (even depicted imaginary ones) can't give consent, its automatically rape material.


Whelp. I hope you're wrong.

A former in-law was detained and deported by the USA, leaving family behind. I hate this man and all he's done. So while my liberal pinko commie sensibilities opposes everything done to him, and how it was done, it couldn't have happened to a nicer person.

Being conflicted like that is a terrible feeling. It shows the need for rules. If the rules are applied unevenly, especially against those we don't like, they're no longer rules but state sanctioned grudges.


I hate this man and all he's done... it couldn't have happened to a nicer person.

I'm... confused.

Do you mean it wouldn't have happened to a nicer person?

"couldn't have happened to a nicer person" suggests this individual is the nicest person you've ever met.

Edit: completely missed the ironic usage.


"Couldn't have happened to a nicer person" is often used in an ironic sense.


Apologies. Idiomatic sarcasm. Too late for me to edit for clarity.

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/it-couldn-t-happen-to-a-nic...


Came here to make roughly this same assertion. As soon as I started reading about 'art' I was like well... the only reason google would pop it and not say anything is because it contained pedophilia material/underage 'art' and they probably wont be able to make an official statement until a police investigation results in either the material being released/oked or the guy getting charged.

Or the alternative, google didn't want to continue hosting the questionable content since it resides on their servers.


And, for as odd as it might sound, there are routine stories about run-of-the-mill criminals calling law enforcement to report their criminal behavior was the victim of somebody else's criminal behavior[1] to keep as a reference point.

[1] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/ohio-coke-head-call...

Sounds like mostly a TOS violation type thing though, which, if he sues, we'll delve a little deeper into I suppose.


Wouldn't Google also be obligated (or at least highly self-interested) in reporting Cooper to the police? I wouldn't expect Google to publicly accuse him of anything... but if he published child pornography and Google had digital records of it, I think we could reasonably expect legal actions to be taken against Cooper, and swiftly. Have there been any? If there haven't been or won't be any, I'd suggest this is reasonable evidence he actually didn't publish anything criminal. But who knows, perhaps the authorities are building a case and this a wait-and-see thing.

If there is nothing criminal here- Google is absolutely within its rights to delete his blog. However given the power that Google has a gatekeeper to information, I think the public should be highly interested in how Google allows or disallows information to be published using its services. Especially if they are censoring materials they find offensive or in poor taste.


Your link does not really support your claim.


It looks like this guy's blog hosted photos of necrophilia (or what seems to have been labeled as such): https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2F1.bp.blogs...

Anal fisting: https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fphotos1.bl...

Naked children from 1970s calendars: https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2F1.bp.blogs...

And something in the vein of bestiality (whether it is or not, I have no desire to know): https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2F1.bp.blogs...

I'm expressing no opinion here about what qualifies as art (or not) or what is legal (or not). But it is the type of content that, taken together, could cause a blog to be deleted for TOS violations.

It seems to me that if you want a free place to publish photos that appear to be necrophilia, anal fisting, and bestiality, well, maybe pay $5 a month to host your site somewhere yourself? I suspect that any free blog hosting service is not the place for you.


your guess sounds reasonable... however:

if its true, its an issue for law enforcement to address, not you or I

if its false, you've just smeared a man's name out in a public and effectively permanent forum.


Ok, so that's a pretty serious accusation you're leveling at the author and their reputation.

What bothers me about the lack of transparency is that it makes it very difficult for any person in such a situation -- whom I think should be presumed innocent until and if they're proven guilty -- to defend their reputation against such presumptions.


In which case they should have reported him to the authorities. I'm curious f they have done so.


Which would also explain why he wouldn't have local back-ups, to avoid prosecution. Though this may be something of a case of, "Innocent until algorithms say otherwise."


Considering how few people actually take backups, I'm willing to assume laziness.

You wouldn't believe how many people I know who say things like, "Yeah I'd lose my entire PhD project if this laptop died, because I haven't taken a backup in X years" (and proceed to continue not backing up their work)


Maybe we should take a day of the year and declare it "Official Set Up Automated Backups".

Oh hang on, it already exists. March 31st. http://www.worldbackupday.com/en/

Man we really need to publicize that one more.

[edit] The lesson here is: Before you start "Official Thing", actually google "Official Thing".


You could be the backup-backup day.

Or restore day.


This seems a step before that sense of the word "backup". The guy's PC did not die.

He apparently created "GIF novels", which presumably involved using some application to work on a file on his local hard drive. What did he do after uploading the finished GIF to his blog? Manually delete it from his hard drive? Why?


Or maybe it was always just saved as a draft on his blog (or on Google Docs/Drive/whatever). It's perfectly possible that he did all his work in a web browser and that it never touched his drive (aside from browser cache).

Maybe he wasn't even creating his own images, instead building the story through a meme generator, or something.


When is their birthday. Gift them one of those 64GB USB-sticks. Write "BACKUPS" on it with a nice marker or something. Tell them to copy their important stuff into a folder YYYY-MM-DD. If the laptop is there, make them do it now :) Depending on how big that crucial data is (given it's a few years old laptop, can't be too big, right?), after you've shown them it takes just 15 minutes or so, tell them to do this every so often so it's full for their next birthday :) [again, depending how large the data is, and/or how much you're willing to spend on a life-saving birthday gift ;)]

Sure it's not a bullet-proof system, but maybe as they experience the feeling of security, they'll get a taste for implementing something more comprehensive. Lots of low-hanging fruit, too :) But this is already a hundred times better than what they (don't) have now.


[flagged]


Please comment civilly and substantively, or not at all.


I should have known better, but it was intended as a joke.


Depends entirely on which state. People have absolutely gone to prison in the US for e.g. owning loli manga.


The hindsight-prescriptive comments here focus on backing up, and that's a sensible practice.

But there was another kind of damage done here, to the man's identity, location and voice. His blog and his email address were his public persona. He used his blog and his address as identity, and as his channel of communication with followers, other artists, and I assume most of his general online communication.

That persona no longer exists. He's been all but disappeared, and it's going to take a long time for him to reconnect.

The technical lesson that should be learned here, beyond backups, is to have your own domain. You can still use services with your own domain. I've used many ISPs and email services, and I've had the same domain since about 2000. I used to use gmail (with me@mydomain.com). I use fastmail now. I've never since 2000 had to tell anyone to change my email address, because it's never changed, even though providers changed. The subject of this article would have a much easier time of reconnecting, had he used his own domain.

(Added to that, in the "backup" theme, download all your email as it happens. I use thunderbird, and it does that for me. I once resolved a dispute with a former employer because I had email that they had no incentive to find.)

Using your own domain is not absolute protection, because you don't really own your domain, you rent it. Your registrar can decide to sell your domain to someone else, and if your consumer rights were violated it's going to be difficult to reclaim your domain. In the future I think we're going to need meta-domains that can't be transferred, that are our identity, but I don't know how that would be implemented.

I said this person has been disappeared, which was a provocative use of the word (this isn't Argentina or Chile in the seventies). But thinking more broadly, consider that as our lives are lived more and more online, any government could compel a provider to remove you. Even if it was unjust removal, it could be so expensive to restore your presence that you just can't do it. Harder to fight a government than it is to fight Google, if the government decides it won't be moved. We have a no-fly list now that has no associated due process. I can imagine a no-communicate list.

Which is all to say, try to be as self-sufficient as is practical, and as is warranted by the importance of your communication.


Fully agree with your comments, but I fear we're going in the wrong direction with the silo-ization of the web and the decline in open standards being ratified and used by large companies.

Just look at Google's hostility towards maintaining standardized IMAP/SMTP support for third party mail clients. Google Apps and Office 365 would drop IMAP access to their services in a heartbeat if they could.

Furthermore a lot of our online interactions are moving from open formats like Usenet, IRC, XMPP and SMTP/IMAP to closed off walled gardens like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

This artist's online presence could have been entirely based on Instagram and Twitter for example and I bet many (younger than I) folks nowadays do eschew email for other forms of communication.

I don't think self sufficiency in communication is a problem the end user can be realistically expected to solve. It's up to engineers and technology stake holders to try and push us back to a more open way of using these apps and provide standards based communication.

I don't know how the heck we'll do that - I don't see any user pressure for companies to even try, but news like this troubles me and I think it's going to get much worse before people realize their data isn't their own and push for it to get better.


We need to follow Richard Stallman in his obsession with ehtics. "Sorry mate, I find FB/Google/Skype/etc. unethical, so I won't get in touch with you using this, let's better stick with email, phone call or meeting in person".


No, we just need to stop trying to solve social problems with technical solutions.

Domain getting stolen by a registrar? That's a crime, treat it like theft, there ought to be some justice for that theft.

Big business doing something awful/scandalous/inappropriate? Change the laws, and work to persuade people that it ought to be societally unacceptable to violate those laws.

I see this a lot on tech-oriented forums, that you can "fix" social problems with the right kind of code, or you can get out of legal repercussions with the right set of legalese, and really, no, stuff like this will stop happening when people's ethics expand to cover new stuff.

Treating business and law like a black box, or something to be worked around, as though there were sufficient cleverness to solve everything without engaging with larger society, well, no, that's not gonna get you anywhere.


> stuff like this will stop happening when people's ethics expand to cover new stuff.

So you effectively agree that solid ethic opinions help fighting this. Then why you started your comment with "No, ..."? :)


This doesn't have to be an either/or.


Which is, maybe, the reason nobody knows or cares about Richard Stallman and his ideas beyond us tech folk.


He is also a bit of a windbag. He likes to change words because the semantics don't suit his world view. Additionally, his rants are very alienating. The man is a genius in a lot of ways, but he really misses the mark on a lot of things.


That is a dilemma, isn't it? I also don't think it's the most useful or practical way to accomplish a goal.


Pots isn't open source...


It's an open protocol and there are open source implementations of the technology. I can use asterisk to set up a phone system and have numbers routed to me from a provider. It's the same as the Internet in that regard.

It's like saying email isn't open source because it has to have a connection to the Internet to be useful.


Yeah I struggle to think of corporations more "unethical" than ATT and VZN.


I've heard stories from multiple people older than me about ATT physically entering people's homes (typically when their husbands were at work) because they had "illegal" extensions.


How about Volkswagen?


This is a gestalt response, but leonroy, I hope you don't mind if I put it here. You are talking about what I want to talk about: solving a problem. ...

Someday, maybe today, we have to ask ourselves if email (Gmail) is a public utility.

Suppose Dennis Cooper forgets his online banking password today. Does Google have a responsibility to somehow deliver the forgot password email?

Did not the initial Gmail marketing say something like "This will be free forever! Don't delete your old mail, archive it! Use search on the records of your own life!"

Sounds like a utility to me.

The law isn't always right. Times change, for example.

I believe that 1. the majority of individuals aren't TOS savvy and 2. the majority of individuals believe that they have a right to a persistent email account.

If property laws and corporate policies and user habits tend to visit tragedy on users... Well, something should change!

The USAmerican Congress does have a history of designing rules to serve the common good and forcing tech giants to play by those rules. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications_Act_of_1934

One rule could be that service providers must make a reasonable effort to give users their data in a functional, useful form in the event of account termination. For the good of society.

Another might be that critical services (online banking password recovery) cannot be revoked without due process.

Oh, does that one cause a big effing problem for Gmail, Outlook.com, etc? Well so be it. Online service providers made that problem for themselves when they fought tooth and nail to become important parts of everyone's lives.

This kind of thing is what Government is FOR.

Title II of the 1934 Comms Act required interoperability between networks. In modern times, that might mean implementing a open format, or open protocol. Maybe another rule would prohibit offering a message delivery service to consumers if said service doesn't implement an open protocol.


> Someday, maybe today, we have to ask ourselves if email (Gmail) is a public utility.

That's an interesting way of looking at it and you're right, Google's initial approach to marketing the product did frame it in that way.

I think it's going to become increasingly important for users to be able to pull their data out of a system and migrate it to another. Open APIs for pulling data out would be a great start and there are already nascent efforts to make migration of data from one cloud hosted service to another possible. For example Todoport here converts tasks between all the major task list managers like Asana, Wunderlist, Trello, etc.

https://todoport.com/index.html

In the above case of task managers I recently tried to switch from Things by Cultured Cloud to another service. The migration process was practically non-existent and I eventually ended up having to write a fairly large AppleScript to get my data out of Things into a CSV and then a Python script to push it up to my new Task List provider.

It was a messy few days of scripting to say the least!

Office365 to Google Apps or Dropbox to OneDrive in my opinion should be a one click migration and companies need to stop holding user's data to ransom to keep them on their services.

I personally think pressure to make these changes will have to come from outside the industry since it's clear that all the major players are basically trying to duplicate each other's features in an effort to ensure their users stay within their own platforms.


I have wished from the beginning that Twitter was a protocol, and not a business. (I wonder if Twitter investors wish that? :)

Fastmail et al. show that you can run a business on a protocol, even if it won't necessarily make you a unicorn.


This was a subject of large debate roughly 6-7 years ago at Twitter, back when Ev was CEO. This was before advertising existed on Twitter (except for a banner ad in Japan). At the time there were many strands to the debate but the tldr rolled up into three ways of being -- closed Twitter, the one that looked like FB then and Twitter today, open Twitter, the one Twitter looked like then without all the API restrictions and developer community difficulties and probably still with ads, and finally -- for lack of a better term -- Internet Twitter, which would be a federated service much like Diaspora has ended up working.

It was very hard to imagine how Twitter the company would make enough money to justify the investments it had taken by that point if Twitter the service looked more like Diaspora. You on,y have to look at Diaspora today to see that it's not obviously meeting the mission that Twitter serves today.

One interesting aspect of this is you had people like Alex Payne voting with their code in the form of the API and later with his feet after the company was clearly going down the ad-supported route (and hiring a lot to support that model -- you need to build a large amount of revenue-oriented infrastructure in that world). The API then had to be pulled substantially back because it didn't fit the revenue model, something the developer community still hasn't forgiven Twitter for.

It's amazing to me how much of what looks like corporate BS can be traced to individual personalities and their debates, or the echoes of their debates.

[to be clear, all of what I've outlined can be gleaned from media reports, books and presentations about Twitter over the years. While I am an ex-employee, this history is available to anyone who either was paying attention back then or has a small amount of investigatory skillset.]


If Twitter were an open protocol, I'd probably have had some interest in using it, but as a closed proprietary business service, it seems completely uninteresting, and I've never signed up or really paid any attention. Why would I want to let some random company own my communications like that?


Hm, I've spoken to gmail's lead developer for imap many times over the years and never detected even a hint of hostility. What have I missed?


He doesn't run the business, just the pipes.


I'll elaborate a little.

The impression I have formed is that gmail will have whatever features google's gmail-for-businesses product needs. If a considerable percentage of customers (ie. the ones who pay per month and user) use a particular feature, then that feature stays and is maintained.


Does not the ol' Don't-Be-Evil corporation owe it to society to maintain features that support the common good?

I know from my experience in hwops that plenty of people on the corp domain DO believe that they are working towards a better world--and that making more money will only accelerate progress towards that goal.

The question is: are they wrong? Has Google lost its way?

Let's look not just at this IMAP issue but also at the OP as we ponder that.


XMPP is even better example than IMAP.


Rumour had it that they tore down the federation due to an unmanageable spam wave. Something about friend requests from spam puppets. I've never heard details. Has anyone else here?


His/her superiors.


Aren't you saying that despite the observable part of the moon being rock, the unobservable part is cheese?


Google management is neither unobservable nor unobserved.


Judging by the actions of Google's people in IETF, any feature that's used by paying mail customers seems to have management support. Management seems to like income, as far as I can tell.


I'm saying that while the technical lead may not be hostile towards IMAP, the "higher ranks" may decide it's not a business priority anymore and ask to get rid of it.


The effing rotating TLS keys. You missed that?


Cite RFC?


Back when I set up a client to pull from Gmail it would break twice a year: when the changed their TLS cert, and when the later changed it BACK.

My conclusion at the time was that they wanted to keep the percentage of users of the IMAP service below some value, and every time the jerked the config around, they'd see a dip in the graph on their end. My setup is currently non-functional. The maintenance cost was too high. Mission accomplished.

Note: now that I think about it, maybe the cert rotation issue was on (e)SMTP, not IMAP. Same diff.


In addition, what Google claims is an "SMTP server" does surprising things in violation of the relevant RFCs, in furtherance of Google's business models:

http://lee-phillips.org/gmailRewriting/


That blog posting is from 2012, so I think it's surprising that its author clearly hadn't read RFC 4409, published in 2006.

The first paragraph about message modification is: "Sites MAY modify submissions to ensure compliance with standards and site policy. This section describes a number of such modifications that are often considered useful." From is typically modified to comply with SPF and/or DKIM.


RFC 4409 is obsoleted by RFC 6409 (Nov. 2011), which is the one I refer to. The sections therein on header rewriting do not allow the modifications that Google makes to the From: header, which can, as I point out, lead to mismatches of personal names and email addresses and falsification of sender identity, with all the easily foreseeable damage that may result.


6409 contains the same wording: "MAY modify submissions to ensure compliance with standards and site policy" and gives examples.

The sections on header rewriting are essentially examples of what the document describes as "modifications that are often considered useful", they're not an exhaustive list. The only MUST NOT rule that concerns email address rewriting is about destination addresses.


Is it your opinion that a reasonable interpretation of 6409 is that a submission agent may falsify the sender of an email? Or create false associations between personal names and email addresses?


No RFC rule prevents that, and as far as I know no RFCs even try to define what constitutes a true or false association between a personal name and an email address. But RFC 6409 gives site policy unrestricted permission to allow or deny that.

(Well, almost unrestricted. The results have to be syntactically valid.)


I don't think your interpretation of the RFCs is natural or remotely reasonable; in fact it leads to absurd consequences. We'll have to leave it at that. I stand by everything in the article.


I've seen IMAP certificates changing back and forth, too.

There's an explanation of this phenomenon that doesn't assume malice: there are N (> 1) servers with different certificates, and you're not hitting the same one every time.


Why did changing the TLS cert break things? Were you pinning it in your client?


I don't remember. Oh, it was this: http://comments.gmane.org/gmane.mail.imap.offlineimap.genera...

But what that doesn't show is that they then changed it back, and forth... for a while. It was just a UX issue that only affected computer literate people. THE BEST KIND. :(

I remember when some combination of Gmail features* enabled me to upload my old mbox with years of personal email into my GAFYD account... emails from before Gmail publicly existed. And now I could SEARCH them! The future was bright.

I certainly felt confident that I would be a gmail user for life. I certainly didn't consider the possibility that they'd one day just deny my access to the whole thing because I spoke ill of them in a HN comment. ;)

* access external pop3 account and auto-rewrite message headers so messages would be associated with my gmail address even though they were originally delivered to a different domain... Brilliant.


>> "I certainly felt confident that I would be a gmail user for life. I certainly didn't consider the possibility that they'd one day just deny my access to the whole thing because I spoke ill of them in a HN comment. ;)"

Sorry I'm being a bit thick, but did this happen, or does the emoticon at the end mean it's hypothetical?


Did not happen. Hopefully it's even less than hypothetical.


Closed platforms come with a risk of censorship. Open platforms come with floods of spam and phishing attacks.

Fundamentally life is about trade offs. For most people closed platforms are the better choice.


Luckily, everyone's happy to come to the compromise of doing nothing and letting the dominant paradigm figure out what should happen, because that's such a great solution. /s


> Just look at Google's hostility towards maintaining standardized IMAP/SMTP support for third party mail clients. Google Apps and Office 365 would drop IMAP access to their services in a heartbeat if they could.

But they cannot, at least not for a foreseeable future. Both are used in enterprise environments, who would flee the first platform in droves which would disable IMAP/POP3.

And even if they'd both disable IMAP, people would write adapters.


Why not just get a stable, world-reachable[1] IP address? All the services you use have them. You can too.

When you have your own, then you can run your own "services", not to mention many other possibilities, such as true decentralized communications -- no third party servers needed.

1. "World-reachable" means you control the firewall, not a third party.

Alternatively, be satisfied and keep depending on third parties.

Google: "Let us make many consecutive requests to your webserver, download and store copies of your content." You: "Agreed." You: "Let me make many consecutive reuqests to your webserver, download and store copies of my own or other people's content." Google: "Sorry".

Then Google makes your content available to others, but only for a few searches at time[2]. To add insult to injury, it sells advertising and, if the regulators are correct, promotes its own websites -- all serving user-generated content -- as people are searching through publicly available information.

"Middleman" or "service"?

2. Any attempt to collect in bulk results in IP ban. Compare Internet Archive who encourages users to crawl their collection.

Organizing public information sounds like a lovely goal for a company, until you realize it will be access controlled (it's public information), laden with ads (because the company cannot support itself without advertisers), user tracking for the advertisers and that the changes to the algorithms that include or exclude results are secret. And there will be no index. You can only access the data through search.

Moving beyond the first page of results is OK only so long as you do not go "too fast" or go too deep -- you will never get to page 100 witout first being banned. WTF?


What you'd need to get is provider independent (PI) address space and you're not going to get that, at least not for v4, as an individual, anymore. You're then going to have to find someone that will announce that prefix for you (Amazon could) or do that yourself (which also means getting an AS number and peering with people at internet exchanges, assuming you can get away with that without also getting some paying transit) and then start building out your infrastructure. That's a rather unreasonable amount of hoops to put someone without a strong technical background through.

Having a custom domain would get your far enough in this case, owning your own IP address isn't really needed.


So the intent of the meta-domains I mentioned in my original might be better served by a personal IPv6 block, that doesn't come from a corporation's reserved blocks.

Just as I move my domain around between email (and other) providers, I could then move my IPv6 block around. Instead of asking Linode for an IP address out of their block, I could tell them "serve this block." (Or can we already do that? For a reasonable price?)


IP addresses are meant to be addresses; if you move your address around everyone else has to update their routing tables. To do what you want you probably want to get your own AS Number and actually participate in routing (BGP etc). I've heard of quite small businesses doing that, but not individuals.


I was looking to do this, but it was just too hard. I believe you need to have a company / association of some kind with a VAT number to get registered. The closest I have found is going with the IPv6 tunnels from someone like Hurricane Electric, but speed is a bit limited.


It's a lot easier than you might think to set up a company and get a VAT number (I'm a contractor so have done that already), though it does cost some money (IIRC something like 40 quid).


Yet with only a personal IPv6 block half the world can't access your resources so that's not a reasonable method at this time.

If you control the DNS there's no real need for owning your own IP addresses as you can just change what they point to. That's usually also much faster to do in a pinch than find a new party that will announce your block and convince the old one to stop doing so. That's usually hours if not days in lead time.

Though if you truly care enough about it you'll also want your own DNS servers and own gTLD in order to own the whole chain.


And to serve that private gTLD to others, you'll need a reachable IP address. :)


I only meant "renting" a reachable IP from some third party. I think that's realistic.

However what you describe -- building out your own infrastructure -- still remains a lofty but worthy endeavor for anyone with the skills and determination.


No, third parties can change your IP address on fairly short notice (days or weeks) for their own reasons. And of course you can't change provider without changing IP either.


But if and how frequently such changes occur depends on the third party. And as you say, the terms should require adequate notice.

Businesses of all sizes rent stable IP addresses. Some ISPs in some countries also provide them to non-business subscribers as part of the standard subscription.

It's really not too difficult to have a persistent IP address for an individual who only needs reachability and is not trying to run a high traffic, global enterprise. Avoid the popular large, high-volume providers. Obviously do not use something like AWS.


Good luck getting email to work with that setup though.


Yeah, at that point, in this day and age, running email either has to be your day job to keep that running, or you as an individual have to at least be capable of doing that job; most people aren't, and I pay Fastmail to get that done.


I did it for 2 years until November last year. Its not... too hard. You find the pages where you can keep an eye on you address etc. Issues normally happen because of two things:

1. Misconfigured servers: This is the hardest part. Rule number 1: keep it as small as possible. Disable everything, and then only enable what you need. Rule 2: READ, I mean read every document, blog post etc you can find about e-mail, email attacks, etc.

2. IP address: The normal address you get from Digital Occean or Linode for example, are normally horrible as a lot of spam has been sent from them. If your lucky it might work, but check the lists for those IPs. Try to change if you can, until you find one with low scores. Also, I dont know if this helped, but i had my domain on both Gmail and Outlook servers for a while before migrating to my own servers. I dont know if this helped me to not get stuck in their filters etc? Or I was just lucky i guess :)

I finally moved because I did not have the energy to keep up with the server etc, and when i noticed that i had not even logged on to the server for 3 months, i just moved it to gmail. I am however looking at migrating away from google, as i don't like the web interface (use it from the iPad now). So who knows where I'll end up next.


"Email" as it is run today by third parties.

Email dates back to timesharing, when people shared computers, each user having an "email account" on a single computer.

For people today, each with their own computer, it's still possible to do email without store and forward, with each user running SMTP servers that talk directly to each other instead of connecting to "email providers".

This is grassroots. Not meant to leverage existing "email provider" ecosystem.


it's still possible to do email without store and forward, with each user running SMTP servers that talk directly to each other

What's America's largest ISP? I think Comcast? Good luck passing SMTP in either direction over Comcast's residential network: https://customer.xfinity.com/help-and-support/internet/list-...

I agree with your general point, but it's hard to keep up with this sort of thing, even for geeks. For the Muggles it's impossible.


An ISP will block ports -- the goal is top stop spam -- but nothing requires you to use the traditional SMTP ports that are used for spam. Because you're not sending spam.

You are sending email to people you know, on a port you have agreed to, who also have reachable IP addresses and will accept connections from your IP address.

ISP's are not going to do DPI on open ports like 22, 80, or 443 or any high port, in order to filter out SMTP traffic. Why would they bother?

If you must use the existing "email provider" system -- e.g., you need to send commercial email -- then you must use the standardized ports they use, and yes, you must jump through their hoops. And you will experience spam and other nuisances. It's supposed to be open and decnetralized, but the reality is it's quite centralized because everyone relies on "major email providers".

But there's nothing about SMTP protocol that requires anyone to use an "email provider" or any specific port, nor to accept email from all IP addresses.

Two people can communicate directly via SMTP on a non-standard port and can choose to filter by IP address.

Maybe no one does this anymore, but I've done it; it's possible.

It's not that difficult to set up. The showstopper is not the set up, nor the ISP filtering port 25. It's that most people do not have a reachable IP address.


Brilliantly said. I think everyone, unless they intend to be a digital hermit, should have his or her own personal domain. I know people are not routinely educated about these things, and that is a problem; but when an otherwise serious person tells me that his email address is joe12345@stupidmail.com, a red flag about his competence is raised somewhere in the back of my mind, at least.


Personal domains won't help you if the state releases laws which enables providers to silence whole domains against unwanted opinions.

What we need is a new decentralized Internet. We need not only open source software (for security reasons), not only open hardware (for security reasons) but also a new open non-commercial Internet which cannot be censored.


> but also a new open non-commercial Internet which cannot be censored.

Why does it need to be non-commercial?

Personally I see commercial (with healthy competition) as a good sign that something will stick around for a while.


> Why does it need to be non-commercial?

We already have a commercial Internet, we don't need a second one. Commercial interests would make the second Internet also a target of control.


Could you elaborate on the non-commercial aspects of this proposed solution? I think it's especially important to make it clear where the money will come from.


From the users of course. Remember the modem times when the users had to pay for the phone bills. In the same way users could use their phone lines for the next internet. We could also build a wifi mesh with mobile devices.


Not to be negative, but last mile was a viable part of the internet because the government mandates that that system be reliable. I'm interested in a wifi mesh, but until this moment I haven't thought about whether the government, or the technology itself, focuses on high reliability in that area. I think all the government cares about is if you don't interfere, but they don't care if your bits get through.



It's not necessarily a competence issue. Obviously not for non-technical people. But competence (maybe awareness is a better term here) isn't binary, and you grow as you age.


Probably instead of a domain, it should be a private key. Generated at the time your birth certificate is.


Would be able to generate keys now that will be secure for a whole lifetime? For anyone older than about 40, even state-of-the-art crypto from the time of their birth has been broken. Will modern crypto hold up any better?


Does your name mean "big goldfish-shaped space ship"?

This is a great question. Possibly related: I don't know the answer. :)


Problem is, what if somebody steals that private key, or if you lose it?

The solution clearly goes on that direction, but this is not enough. And I'd really like to see this one problem solved before we have to start asking something like "and what if somebody takes control of your brain, or you lose access to it?"


I've had my own domain for quite a while and have been meaning to start using an email address on that domain. The main reason I haven't is that I'm procrastinating the initial trouble of setting it up, but I'm also a bit scared from hearing stories of people who do this and then occasionally have email to them or from them bounce or disappear. (Maybe this is not as common a problem as I get the impression it is.)

Edit: I'm not even considering running my own email server; I know that's a full-time job. Just something like forwarding my custom email to my Gmail address, which is the type of thing I've heard the aforementioned scary stories about (though a quick web search isn't turning up many such stories).


I have a domain, serviced by a registrar. When I change email providers, I go to the registrar's site and point my email address at my new provider. That might take a little time (way less than a day, by observation) to propagate. I then go to my new provider and set things up to "send mail as me@mydomain." If you run a local client like Thunderbird (rather than run exclusively through your provider's web interface), then you'll need to do similar there (like point it at your provider's smtp and imap/pop3 servers).

Problems arise when you run your own server, because of fairly detailed authentication settings. If you pay a provider to run their servers, they take care of that.


I do that. It's actually not too bad, I think the occasional missing email is overblown. At least, I don't typically have problems.

Of course, it's important to keep backups of everything (configs, logs, mail, etc), and test. Just slowly port everything over, as you gain more confidence that your not missing anything. Most email providers also will let you put a rule in place that lets you bounce mail to both addresses.


Hosting your email with an established provider is easy, set up SPF records and the existing IP reputation of your provider will get you past spam filters quite easily.

Where you run into problems is when you do what I just did, I was using Google Apps, then Outlook.com with a custom domain and decided I was tired of giving other people access to my data - since I have a decent business-class cable connection at home including a static IP I bought a couple GroupWise licenses for myself, my wife and my daughter and moved our email in-home where all our data sits comfortably on my FreeNAS storage array. Since I rarely send email, and my home IP is 'unknown' to any IP reputation services at the moment getting past spam filters will require some time. It's a non-issue for me, it's a personal email account and I can tell my friends and family to check their spam folders the first time I contact them to whitelist my address, but it's not something everyone wants to deal with.


I had my own domain-based email address rerouted to yahoo email. Started to get a LOT of spam that would not get filtered out at all, not even close from the the yahoo-based email filtering. Gave up the forward. Maybe should try gmail?


Hosting was pretty easy with https://github.com/tomav/docker-mailserver

Tho FWIW I use Postmark to do my email delivery because then at least I know my email will end up in the inbox of the recipient vs their spam box which my hosted server was having problems with.


Running your own mail server is a pain. Paying for google apps to handle your email is very easy. Other providers can do the same thing for you.


I've had my own domains for over a decade and I switched my mail off Google to my own servers as well.

One thing I worry about thought: what happens when I die? My credit cards will eventually shut down, my Linode will turn off when my card gets declined, and my domains will fail to renew.

But the same thing happens the other direction. Github could shut down Github pages one day, or they could even go out of business. Geocities is gone (although I think Archive.org backed up a lot of it) and there are tons of services that have gone belly-up over the years.

Even in our age of massive data retention, it's still interesting to see what's gone, and what may never be recovered if it wasn't indexed by the Wayback machine.


If it was/is culturally relevant it lives on in future works. I don't think google looses anything internally. They need that stuff one day to teach AI some tricks.


> That persona no longer exists. He's been all but disappeared, and it's going to take a long time for him to reconnect.

If the internet didn't exist, an artist would have bought storage for his art. Why this artist feels that a service he didn't pay for owes him anything is baffling to me.


Ah, blaming the victim, always easy.

Turn it around, though: if Google feels like it's not responsible for anything it hosts, shouldn't it say so, loud and clear? Say, a banner that says, "Hey, we'll delete your stuff any time we feel like it," at the top of every Gmail page?

Google's users aren't parasites. There is both a relationship and an exchange of economic value. That's why Google has worked very hard to be trusted by everybody, to be seen as responsible stewards of vast amounts of often very personal information.

If Google doesn't want people to trust them, they should not work so hard to be seen as trustworthy. That the artist believed them is not an error on his part.


> Ah, blaming the victim, always easy.

Typing out words on a forum and hitting "reply" is easy regardless whether you support the victim or not. Don't see your point?


Most services, but especially Gmail, promote themselves as something you can safely go all-in on. I recall an advertisement for Gmail where a father left messages to his just-born child, with the idea that when they were an adult they would be able to read them. The archive (vs delete) feature in gmail similarly reinforces that "we'll always have your stuff for you", as does the fact that they want your mail to stay on their servers, rather than fetched with IMAP/POP.

Sure, the TOS says "we can delete it whenever"/"no promises", but the advertising and general pitching of the product have heavily indicated otherwise. I don't see the service going away, and when you have so much identity tied to your email, it's pretty shocking to realize that it could all disappear in a flash.

If Google were to kill my email accounts, I would be _seriously_ disadvantaged.

Saying that only fools trust Google to keep your things forever is true, but also lacks empathy.


And if the artist had bought that storage, and then the storage company said "oh, we burned all your art for a terms of use violation," the artist would be rightly outraged.

Sure, he's not paying, but Google doesn't ask for payment. They provide a service which is backed by Google's implicit guarantee that their web hosting is safe and reliable, and they've broken that guarantee. Google may not have a legal responsibility to not delete everything this artist made, but every time something like this happens, the rest of us should notice it and reconsider whether Google is a good platform to trust with our work.


My work isn't child pornography, so that reconsideration does not change my affirmative answer.


> Using your own domain is not absolute protection, because you don't really own your domain, you rent it.

Good point; your domain can be seized for various sorts of percieved IP violation.


Or by mistake or fraud, or other reasons that you the renter had nothing to do with.


For trademark violations, yes. But the risk is extremely low if you use yourname.com (or some other U.S. TLD).


I've got 8 years of emails, logins and now Android apps associated with a Google Apps domain (1 user, $6AUD a month).

I've got an exit plan for my email, but I'd lose at least $200 of apps.

It's really easy to become dependent on a service.


Better way to put this is to pay for the service if you're relying on it as a source of income or advertising yourself to the world.


It's not better at all.

There are plenty of paid services that will lock you in and will terminate your account if something big enough happens.


It's not just income, it's speech and association (which are capitalized words in the US Constitution).


"Association" doesn't appear in the Constitution at all.

"Speech" appears twice, but is only capitalized when referring to legislators' speeches:

"and for any Speech or Debate in either House, they shall not be questioned in any other Place"

"or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press"


Unfortunately, it's no longer possible to simply read the constitution to fully understand the rights afforded to an individual. The US Supreme Court has long upheld that a person has more fundamental rights than are explicitly enumerated in The Constitution.

Technically speaking, persons always had a freedom of association, but the court made it explicit during N.A.A.C.P. v. ALABAMA [1].

[1] http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-supreme-court/357/449.html


Poetic license. I could have more accurately said that they're specifically protected rights.


Namecoin is a little more censorship resistant.


Namecoin isn't used in production anywhere, is it?


It is being disappeared. The exact same deployment of power, with practically no recourse other than a revolution (which I doubt fora such as HN can trigger).


Ah yes, the "customer support by Internet shaming" strategy, the only approach that appears to work with inexplicable Google takedowns.


Seems to be the only approach that works with a lot of companies these days.


[flagged]


For all autistic people: this is not being autistic, I guess maybe sometimes arrogant, sometimes dumb (as an organisation) or rather "too big" for our own good would be better descriptions.

But at least not autistic, and definitely not with a follow up where that is used as an excuse for not feeling sorry for them. :-/


[flagged]


I'm pretty sure that the intended message was that we should not associate poor customer service with autism and then tar autistic people for whatever Google decides to do.


Yep.

Also in addition to tarring autistic people I read the original post more or less as: because they behave in an autistic way I won't feel sorry for them, thus adding insult to injury.


> then tar autistic people for whatever Google decides to do.

Who's saying that?

And Google does it because of incompetence, not because of a condition they have no control over. That's the main difference

I'm not implying Google does it because they suffer from autism, and maybe there's a better adjective to describe what they do.


> I'm not implying Google does it because they suffer from autism,

Yes you are. Here's what you said:

> Given that Google's customer support has autistic tendencies to put it mildly


Do I really have to explain figures of speech to you?

Beyond that, tendency is defined as: an inclination towards a particular characteristic or type of behaviour

More importantly, it does not mean "it (Google) is that (Autistic)"

If I had said "Google is literally autistic" I would agree with you.


The point isn't that anyone thinks you mean it literally; it's that they find it offensive to use "autistic" as a synonym of "rude and inconsiderate."


instead of feeling "sorry for autistic people", perhaps you should treat us like human beings. Many of us love who we are and how we think, and don't need your pity, and certainly don't need you acting like our identity should be used as an insult.


I know what you mean. But there may be autistic people reading this.


I understand you worries, I'm focusing on the characteristic rather than people with that condition


Pretty much sums up my life. I'm an individual with a condition to pick fits because, Reddit.


Nobody's suggesting feeling sorry for Google. Feel sorry for the people who aren't able to work up an internet shitstorm.


When my brother died in 2010, I posted to that effect on Facebook. Many friends (majority of them "real life," pre-Facebook/outside of Facebook friends) gave their condolences. Others called me. A few messaged me, etc. You get the picture.

That correspondence was, and remains, important to me.

Does Facebook own it? Can they delete it if they want to? Can they block me from accessing it?

The answer, at least as far as current law stands, is yes they can. I imagine the ToS that I signed up to indemnify them from any claims I may have.

But should they have these rights? If people had written me snail mail condolences, I'd keep that archive for as long as I want.

From where I'm standing, Facebook, Gmail, etc, are like the post office, as far communication between people is concerned. It just happens whereas the post office sells postage stamps to senders, and rents post office boxes to recipients, Gmail puts adverts in my inbox. In return, they deliver my mail, and agree to store my archive for me.

That shouldn't give them unilateral rights to my stuff, any more rights than a post office or FedEx or DHL would have (Oh look, DHL is actually a post office off-shoot). Because although it is on their servers, it's my stuff, in every sense of ownership.

The law currently favors them, but the law, I feel, will have to change. Even if the ToS says they own my stuff, that will have to change.


We do have a problem because Facebook and Gmail are huge, and because people are starting to assume the convenience and size of them somehow means Facebook and Gmail should be considered public services and regulated as such.

While I see the same problem you do- that we're all at risk of losing the correspondence and history that we care about, man do I think your reaction is super weird.

Facebook and Gmail are private web sites, and always have been. You are mistaking them for public services, when they are not and never were public services. Your mistake in no way means that laws should change or that Facebook should be required to archive and provide you access in perpetuity. You made a choice, and if you realize now that your choice comes with implications you don't like, you should start correcting that choice yourself. You should collect and gather your digital assets out from Facebook and Gmail, and archive them yourself.

Facebook is not the post office. If you want the post office, use the post office. The post office services cost you money, and Facebook's don't. The post office does not archive your correspondence at all, while Facebook does. The post office delivers physical goods, while Facebook only delivers digital goods. I am just not seeing any reasonable way to conclude that you can treat Facebook like the post office in order to suggest that Facebook be required to provide you what you wish for.

Your language is so strange to me - "That shouldn't give them unilateral rights to my stuff". You gave them your stuff. If you don't want them to have it, don't give it to them.

I'm completely lost as to how the laws are unfairly balanced in this situation. I'm normally in favor of all kinds of regulation, but this just seems unreasonable to me to suggest that we should have laws that require Facebook to provide you with permanent archive access. Do you want to pay for that archive access, or are you demanding that the government ensure that Facebook has to pay for it forever? The post office isn't required to keep archives for you, how how does your analogy work here?


To be fair, Facebook and Google profit from this misunderstanding.

I do see your point, but I don't feel they should be able to advertise themselves, effectively, as utilities and then refuse to carry the burden of that claim. If Google says you'll be able to store their email with them in perpetuity, one of two things should be true: either they should be legally treated as a utility, or they should be taken to court for false advertisement.


I don't think there's any "effective" advertising as utilities. Where do they say you can store email with them in perpetuity?

One of the biggest problems, I think, is user education: the average user sees these widely-adopted services online and assumes they're equivalent to meatspace, where real utilities have been created over time by institutions -- not private corporations. If anything, we need a legally enforceable way to set up true virtual utilities, or for more people to internalize what the media has been telling anyone who listens carefully for years: your data, once handed over, no longer belongs to you.


Are they falsely advertising, pretending to be public utilities? And is that what's going on - people actually being tricked and thinking they're public services?

To be honest, I can't say I've ever seen an ad for Facebook or Gmail. They entered my world like I imagine most people -- because I heard about them from friends.


The utility of Facebook to me is exactly the same as that of the post office. The post office derives value from me by directly charging me for it. Facebook doesn't, but it's not because they asked and I said I won't and so they offered to offer me the utility anyway out of their benevolence. It's because they found a way to have advertisers pay for it on my behalf, in return for me looking at the advertisements of those advertisers. My attention and my presence on Facebook has value, just as my cold, hard cash has value. The reason I'm on Facebook is because it has a utility for me. If it didn't have that utility, I wouldn't be on it, and advertisers wouldn't pay for my being on it. When Facebook unilaterally takes away that utility from me, it feels akin to the post office closing my P.O. Box with my mail still in it.

Facebook and Gmail are private websites. What is privacy we talk about? Ownership? Investment? Is that all there is to it? Suppose the government wanted to shut down Google and Facebook; would the public object? Of course they would. Why would the public object at the closing of a private website? After all, they don't own it, so what's in it for them? Whatever is in it for them is what I'm arguing needs to be protected, and not necessarily under Facebook's or Google's terms.

My comment was in response to a story where Google has deactivated somebody's email address. Think about that for a minute. I receive payments for work I do using PayPal. My ownership of my PayPal account, and hence access to money I've worked for, is directly tied to my Gmail address. If Google can take away my Gmail address, they are, effectively, taking away my PayPal "bank account." Should they be able to do that, just because Gmail is "a private website"? I don't think so.

I didn't give Gmail my stuff. They offered to carry my communications between me and those I communicate with. I derive value from it, and so do they. It's a business transaction like any other, even though no money changed hands between them and myself. The world has come to know that David Wanjiru can be found at dwanjiru@gmail.com. That arrangement has suited David Wanjiru. That arrangement has also suited Gmail.

The question then is, who owns "dwanjiru@gmail.com"? If a prospective employer who's had my CV for three months wishes to talk to me, they'll fire an Email to dwanjiru@gmail.com. If my PayPal account becomes compromised, PayPal will send remedial steps of action to dwanjiru@gmail.com. When the higher education loans body in my country wants to pursue me for my college student loans, they send Emails to dwanjiru@gmail.com.

How then can it be proper that Gmail owns dwanjiru@gmail.com, so much so that at the press of a button, dwanjiru@gmail.com ceases to exist? And that this is done without any reference whatsoever to this David Wanjiru person?

Do I pay for Gmail and Facebook? No I don't. But me and Facebook, or me and Gmail, are in business as much as any other traditional, and protected business transaction, and I feel that my interests in that transaction should be protected too.

If they no longer wish to provide me that service, fine. But they can't block me out at their own will. They can, and the terms of service I agreed to say as much, but that's what I'm saying should change.

I'm not asking for Facebook or Gmail to mandatorily keep my stuff. I'm asking that I be given an opportunity to keep my stuff if they're no longer willing to keep it on my behalf, whether they're doing that because they want to cut costs, or because, per them, I've violated their terms of usage. When I first opened my Yahoo Email account, my storage was limited to 6MB. Megabytes. When it got full, I had a choice to delete some, download others, and so on. I didn't demand for more storage, because my deal with them said 6MB. (If I'm not mistaken, I could pay for more if I wished to).

Now they offer me unlimited storage (with a few caveats). If they want to revert back to 6MB mailboxes, they can't just unilaterally do so and get rid of my excess. They'd give me a chance to save my stuff, just as they've done in the past when they shut down services like 360 and Geocities. My argument is that the opportunity to save my stuff should be mine by right, not simply because Yahoo has good basic manners.


> I'm not asking for Facebook or Gmail to mandatorily keep my stuff. I'm asking that I be given an opportunity to keep my stuff if they're no longer willing to keep it on my behalf, whether they're doing that because they want to cut costs, or because, per them, I've violated their terms of usage. When I first opened my Yahoo Email account, my storage was limited to 6MB. Megabytes. When it got full, I had a choice to delete some, download others, and so on. I didn't demand for more storage, because my deal with them said 6MB. (If I'm not mistaken, I could pay for more if I wished to).

There is "Gmail for Work" which does provide some of the guarantees you are looking for. Though none regarding illegal content, as per the laws.


> Facebook and Gmail are private websites. What is privacy we talk about? Ownership? Investment?

Yes. Ownership. Operational funding as well. Not paid for by tax dollars, but paid for with income from the products sold by the private company, as well as private investments.

> Suppose the government wanted to shut down Google and Facebook; would the public object? Of course they would.

That's speculative, but the government has shut down many private companies, with and without objection. Should public objection prevent the government from shutting down a private company that is breaking the law? If Google was selling your private email, should they be required to continue to do so, simply because a lot of people enjoy the convenience?

> My comment was in response to a story where Google has deactivated somebody's email address. Think about that for a minute... Should they be able to do that, just because Gmail is a "private website"? I don't think so.

Did you catch the part about the person who's email address that was shut down may have been violating child pornography laws? Not only can Google shut that down at will, they are literally compelled by law to turn it off immediately.

But even in general, Yes, I do think private companies can and should be able to discontinue their products at will, as do many, many people. I'm not hearing a compelling argument why they should be required to provide a public service without tax funding. You are suggesting a public service.

> The question then is, who owns "dwanjiru@gmail.com"?

Google does, plain and simple. If you have organized your life so that you depend on your gmail address, and loss of it would compromise your livelihood, I humbly suggest that we stop talking right now and you go make some backup plans.

> But me and Facebook, or me and Gmail, are in business as much as any other traditional, and protected business transaction, and I feel that my interests in that transaction should be protected too.

Facebook is making money by showing you ads. Their primary business transaction is with advertisers, not with you. They are selling your browsing habits and information about your social network to the advertisers, and that's how they make money. They protect their advertiser's interests first, your interests are only protected as far as it keeps you on the site looking at ads.

I'm not sure what you mean about protected business transactions, but your business transaction is already protected as far as it can be. The transaction is that Facebook delivers your message to your friends in return for your allowing them to tell advertisers about your behavior. That's what they agreed to do, that's what they did, and the transaction ends once they did what they agreed to do. Why are you expecting the government to extend the scope of the transaction beyond what the company promised?

> I'm asking that I be given an opportunity to keep my stuff if they're no longer willing to keep it on my behalf

You have that opportunity right now. Take care of it right now!

If they have to shut down your account for you violating the law, then they cannot legally offer you the option to download your content.

If they have to shut down because they run out of money, then they can't legally force employees to stay there and provide this service to you.

If they decide to shut down your account because the service is losing money, then leaving it on means losing more money. Why should they be required to pay to leave it on? Your dependence on the service and failure to plan doesn't, and shouldn't, bind them to anything.

> My argument is that the opportunity to save my stuff should be mine by right...

Still as wild an idea as before, and I just don't get where you're coming from, I'm sorry. I agree about the problem, but this proposed solution baffles me. I'm sure you're not the only one, and you're clearly a smart person, but I'm surprised that it feels correct to expect private companies to be legally obligated to fulfill your dependencies. I don't see how it's even possible to fulfill this right you propose.


> Can they delete it if they want to? Can they block me from accessing it?

Since they are paying to store this data, and you agreed to let them do that for you, then yes they can.

But it's not in some kind of escrow. They even make it easy for you to get all of it for your own storage:

https://www.facebook.com/help/131112897028467/ https://takeout.google.com/settings/takeout


Imagine how much better the world would be if a majority of people took the time to think about these issues as you have AND were also willing to simply boycott facebook until the ToS were changed.

This level of personal responsibility would be much better, IMO, than falling back on the government to coerce facebook into better behavior.


>how much better the world would be

Unfortunately it is not. Issues like this are the reason why government and state occasionally can be useful.


If you want Gmail to act like a post office, treat it like one: fetch the emails on your computer, keep an archive. I pop my mail (pop(keep off)->spamassassin&clamav->maildirs, via procmail) and my archive is on my computer, so whatever service I use can't do anything with it. AFAIK there are software to fetch from IMAP too.

With Facebook, well, I guess you agree to them being able to delete your data at their will via the little box you tick on sign-up. And as long as you accept those terms, law won't help.


>But should they have these rights?

Yes, because you gave them those rights when you agreed to their terms of service. The US Post Office makes no similar claim of ownership over the mail that i'm aware of, so the metaphor really doesn't work.


You can - and should - archive your FB data. There's a built-in feature for that and I periodically archive everything for the same sentimental reasons.


> the law, I feel, will have to change

What is a reasonable law that won't, say, make services like Snapchat illegal (which many people seem to find useful)?


Good point, but not unsolvable. I can imagine the law would require user specifically giving permission to delete the data afterwards, maybe even mandating a certain form of presenting the gist of the deal, instead of lengthy and indecipherable TOS.

I don't know the legal language, but requiring a text box with a tick mark or equivalent that presents a legally mandated predefined statement designed as a short and simple (unlike most TOS and EULAs), in clear and visible text, should not be impossible.

For example, "I agree that $corp may delete my data without notice and opportunity to back it up" if the $corp isn't willing to offer a TOS that grants the user those rights. Possibly another similar one about privacy.

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