French authorities reportedly asked the company to block certain content.
Josh HarkinsonNov. 17, 2015 9:01 PM
Over the past three days, Twitter has been preventing its users in France from viewing certain images and keywords related to the Paris attacks. The censorship, first reported today by the French newspaper Le Monde, applies to a keyword used by supporters of the Islamic State, tweets advocating terrorism, and, more controversially, graphic photographs taken inside the Bataclan after the terrorist attacks there left dozens dead.
On Sunday, France's National Police used its Twitter account to ask social media users not to contribute to "the spread of photos of crime scenes," out of "respect for victims and their families." It encouraged Twitter users to send links to photos from the Bataclan massacre to PHAROS, a government website that compiles reports of illegal online activity.
The reasons French authorities gave for the request were a "serious attack on human dignity (images of cadavers)" and "secrecy of the investigation."
On the same day, French law enforcement officials sent a request directly to Twitter, demanding the removal of certain tweets, according to Lumen, a Harvard University database of government takedown requests. The reasons the authorities gave for the request were a "serious attack on human dignity (images of cadavers)" and "secrecy of the investigation."
According to Le Monde, Twitter complied by blocking many of the offending tweets and images. Others have been marked "sensitive content" and now must be clicked by users before becoming visible. Twitter has also agreed to prevent a keyword used by ISIS supporters from appearing in the "trending" box on its homepage.
On Tuesday, the French authorities submitted a second request, asking Twitter to delete a tweet advocating terrorism. A French law that went into effect in February allows police to block access to websites that are considered to be promoting terrorism without first obtaining a court order.
"In the face of terrorism, usually the first casualties are free speech and privacy, and that is extremely disappointing."
Twitter did not respond to a request for comment, but civil liberties advocates in the United States were sharply critical of the censorship requests and of Twitter's apparent willingness to comply. "In the face of terrorism, usually the first casualties are free speech and privacy, and that is extremely disappointing," said Eva Galperin, a global policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco-based group advocating for freedom of expression online.
In the past, Twitter has prided itself on resisting government censorship requests. In 2011, for instance, it declined to remove tweets by users in the United Kingdom who had defied a court order by disclosing details of privacy injunctions obtained by public officials. The company's general manager in the UK said Twitter sees itself as "the free speech wing of the free speech party."
Though many details of the French government's speech crackdown remain unclear, there appears to be no legal basis for it to censor images solely due to their graphic content. Even if there were, it would be unusual for Twitter and many other social media companies to comply to such a request without a court order.
"Companies like Twitter and Facebook and Google, the big tech companies in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, have mostly done a pretty good job of standing up to that kind of pressure," says EFF's Galperin. "But increasingly we've see Twitter bend right over."
Despite France's longstanding reputation as a bastion of free speech, it has proven increasingly willing to limit freedom of expression in response to Islamic terrorism. In 2013, a French court ordered Twitter to disclose the identities of people who violated the country's strict hate speech law by sending anti-Semitic tweets. (Twitter complied only after losing in court.) In response to January's terror attacks on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket, the French government announced even stricter hate speech penalties, and a $100 million campaign to monitor and fight "hatred online."
"I never thought I would see the day when France would become the leader in censorship and the criminalization of speech."
The Terrorism Act, passed by France's National Assembly in November 2014, increases penalties for "advocating terrorism" to seven years in jail and a $100,000 fine if the act is "committed using a communication service available to the public on the internet." The same month, France rolled out PHAROS, a site where people can anonymously report "illicit content or behavior" to police.
"France has become nothing short of a nightmare when it comes to free speech," says Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University. "The French government has aggressively rolled back free speech protections for years. I never thought I would see the day when France would become the leader in censorship and the criminalization of speech, however, it has become precisely that."
In February, France brought its campaign against online hate speech to the United States. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve toured Silicon Valley, where he asked representatives of Google, Facebook, and Twitter to immediately remove terrorist propaganda when alerted to it by French authorities. "We emphasized that when an investigation is underway we don't want to go through the usual government-to-government channels, which can take so long," he told reporters at the French consulate in San Francisco, according to the TV station France 24.
But with this push to restrict graphic images of shootings, French officials appear to have taken an incredibly broad interpretation of propaganda. "France is an example of how censorship can become insatiable for the government," says Turley, the Washington University professor. "What we have seen is an effort to regulate images in the name of fighting terrorism, when in reality these images reflect badly on the government."
If you turned out to vote in today's off-year general election, the chances are you voted for a bunch of white dudes. Not because you're racist. (Although you probably are.) But because the ballots are overflowing with white dudes.
According to a study released last week by the Reflective Democracy Campaign, white guys make up 31 percent of the population, but they account for 65 percent of the people elected to county, state, or national office in America in 2012 and 2014. And that probably has a lot to do with the fact that 66 percent of the candidates are white guys. "The problem is not that women and people of color candidates aren't winning," said the campaign's director, Brenda Choresi Carter. "The problem is that the demographics of our office holders are set when our ballots are printed."
All told, the study found that 90 percent of candidates are white and 73 percent are men. Republican candidates, not surprisingly, are even more likely to be white and male. Check it out:
Reflective Democracy Campaign
The racial disparities exposed in the study might have been less stark if it had included elections in large cities, which tend to be more racially diverse than rural areas. But that still doesn't explain the wide gender gap.
Carter blames the imbalances on a political system that favors the social and economic elite. Typically, candidates for elected office can afford not to hold full-time jobs, belong to existing political networks, and are not perceived as "risky" by donors, political parties, and other gatekeepers. And they're typically in office already: 53 percent of all elections are uncontested, and 90 percent of those unopposed candidates are white.
So-called smart guns could become a $1 billion market—and make us safer.
Josh HarkinsonNov. 3, 2015 7:00 AM
The Armatix iP1 pistol
One success of gun-rights activists over the past decade has been their campaign to block the advent of smart guns, firearms that use biometric and other sensor technologies to prevent them from being fired by anyone other than their owners.Even though smart guns are widely available overseas, no American gun retailers sell them—in no small part due to threats and harassment aimed at any who have tried. But now, pending legislation could shake up that status quo.
The chill on smart guns in the United States is to some degree the unintended consequence of a 2002 New Jersey law that would phase out the sale of conventional guns in that state; the law requires New Jersey gun dealers to sell only smart guns once they become available in retail stores anywhere else in the country. The law was intended to spur the market for the technologically innovative weapons, whose backers believe they could enhance safety and help reduce certain types of gun violence, such as attacks with stolen firearms and the all too common accidental shootings deaths of children. But the law badly backfired by becoming fodder for gun-rights activists, who argued that smart guns are part of a government plot to track and ultimately ban all guns.
"This new law forces gun dealers to offer a smart gun, but still provides a choice for gun owners to buy whatever they want."
New Jersey legislators are now aiming to get, well, smarter about the issue. New Jersey state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, who authored the 2002 law, announced on Sunday that she wants to scrap it. A replacement bill that she plans to introduce on Thursday would instead require all of the state's gun dealers to offer at least one model of smart gun for sale.Weinberg made the announcement Sunday night in a 60 Minutes story in which she accused the National Rifle Association of using the 2002 law as a tool to block smart guns nationwide.
"The whole problem with the mandate was that it forced buyers in New Jersey to buy a smart gun," says Ralph Fascitelli, the president of Washington CeaseFire, a prominent Seattle group working to reduce gun violence. "This new law forces gun dealers to offer a smart gun, but still provides a choice for gun owners to buy whatever they want." Fascitelli believes that within a decade smart guns could capture a third of the $3 billion US handgun market. A recent poll presented at a smart-gun conference in Seattle by the political consultancy Penn Schoen Berland found that 54 percent of gun owners under the age of 45 are willing to consider swapping out their conventional pistols for smart guns. And 83 percent of gun owners, it found, want gun dealers to be able to sell the weapons.
The palm-reading biometric gun that James Bond used in Skyfall represents the sexiest version, though the technology still is by no means bulletproof (think the iPhone 6's glitchy fingerprint reader). A more reliable version of the weapons will work only if activated by a radio frequency emitted by a device—typically a bracelet, watch, or ring—worn by the authorized user.
The biometric handgun used by James Bond in Skyfall MGM
In the 1990s, Colt's Manufacturing Co. built a prototype smart gun that could be fired only if the user wore a special ring. In 2000, rival Smith & Wesson promised to make all of its guns available with high-tech safety features. But both companies dropped the efforts after facing devastating boycotts led by gun-rights activists. Smith & Wesson was forced to lay off 15 percent of its staff. Ever since, the mainstream gun industry has steadfastly refused to pursue the technologies.
But some now see a lucrative US market for smart guns. Armatix engineer Ernst Mauch recently quit the company and visited the United States to explore creating a new start-up to build a lower-cost version of the gun for Americans. As the lead engineer at the German gunmaker Heckler & Koch, Mauch designed some of the world's most lethal weapons, including one that reportedly killed Osama bin Laden. "I still want people to understand that there is a huge potential for this technology," he told the Washington Post. "The technology was never in question."
In fact, some high profile Silicon Valley investors are betting that smart guns can disrupt the firearms industry. The billionaire angel investor Ron Conway formed the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation in 2013 to create "the Googles, the Facebooks, the Twitters of gun safety." Conway recently announced plans to fund the development of a biometric gun lock; a version of the technology may eventually be integrated into a gun.
For now, though, gun dealers remain wary. Several in New Jersey contacted by Mother Jones declined to comment on the proposed law, but one was less than enthusiastic. "You can't be required to carry anything in a store," said the person who answered the phone at Lou's Firearms in Raritan, NJ (he declined to give his name). "It's just like telling every shoe store that they have to sell a Nike. I believe they should be available, but the market has to decide what they want to use."
The Oakland A's exec is named and shamed for excessive water use.
Josh HarkinsonOct. 16, 2015 8:02 PM
One of the most frustrating things about the ongoing California drought is knowing that some people just don't give a damn. Letting your lawn die and your toilet bowl turn yellow can seem absurd when you know that a few water hogs are keeping their gardens as green as Costa Rican golf courses (like the mystery Bel Air resident who uses 12 million gallons per year).
Citing privacy concerns, every major California water district has refused to name their biggest users. Until today.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District just released a partial list of homeowners who have violated its new excessive-water-use rules. In this district encompassing the cities and hills east of San Francisco, scofflaws are defined as those whose daily usage exceeds 1,000 gallons—four times the residential average of 250 gallons a day.
The EBMUD's list of shame only covers customers who are billed in September, and excludes any who filed appeals. Yet it reveals many cases of egregious water use among the owners of massive properties in the East Bay hills. One of the largest violators is Oakland A's executive Billy Beane, whose team is known as one of the most eco-friendly in baseball.
Here are the top five water guzzlers on the water district's list—and aerial snapshots of their homes:
1. George Kirkland, former vice chairman of Chevron Daily water use: 12,579 gallons Location: Danville, California Property value: $3.5 million Mitigating factor: Kirkland told the San Jose Mercury News that there was a leak in a water line to the two acres of vineyards on his four-acre lot.
2. Mark Pine, venture capitalist Daily water use: 8,091 gallons Location: Alamo, California Property value: $6.9 million
3. Billy Beane, vice president of baseball operations and minority owner of the Oakland A's Daily water use: 5,996 gallons Location: Danville, California Property value: $4.8 million
4. Dane Bigham, software executive Daily water use: 5,747 gallons Location: Walnut Creek, California Property value: $891,000
5. Gene Yee, intellectual property attorney Daily water use: 5,659 gallons Location: San Leandro, California Property value: $269,000 Mitigating factor: Yee's water use is hard to explain given that he has very little landscaping. Perhaps he also has a leak?
"I believe that at least 80 percent of the creative or technical people in this room consume cannabis."
Josh HarkinsonSep. 23, 2015 6:00 AM
Snoop Dogg pitches his marijuana company.
At San Francisco's annual TechCrunch Disrupt conference on Monday, rapper Snoop Dogg unveiled a media company that will provide users with "all they need to know" about pot. "It gives me proud honor to say that Merry Jane will be the door to bring people out of the closet, because there's so many people in the closet right now," he told a standing-room-only crowd. "Just admit it. I'm a smoker. My name is Snoop Dogg and I'm a stoner."
TechCrunch reporter Jordan Crook, Snoop's interviewer, turned to the sea of attendees: "Who enjoys smoking, uh, marijuana?"
A few hands shot up.
"It's okay, it's okay," Snoop said. "We gonna figure out a way to get you out of that closet."
"The motto is: Don't ask for permission; ask for forgiveness. That is going to be no different with cannabis."
The geek gathering famously lampooned in Mike Judge's Silicon Valley might seem like a weird place for a rapper to unveil a pot business, especially one that isn't doing much of anything that's technologically innovative. But for pot and tech entrepreneurs alike, the relationship makes perfect sense. "Disrupt is really mostly for investors, and I think they can no longer ignore investors and their interest in cannabis," Brandon Davis, the host of the interview program Investing in Cannabis, told me when I ran into him on the conference floor.
In January, Peter Thiel's Founders Fund, best known for its early investments in Facebook and Airbnb, invested $75 million in Privateer Holdings, a holding company for pot businesses. The following month, Justin Tan, the founder of the $1 billion tech startup Twitch.TV, enthused about the cannabis sector during a marijuana investment conference at San Francisco's posh Fairmont Hotel. Tan's Y-Combinator fund has invested in Meadow, the Uber of medical cannabis delivery.
The allure of pot for tech investors is as much financial as cultural. As Stanford communications professor Fred Turner points out in his book, From Counterculture to Cyberculture, the Bay Area's techie and hippie cultures have a long history of cross-fertilization—just consider geodesic domes, the Whole Earth Catalog, and Apple's countercultural marketing campaigns. Though marijuana isn't a tech product, pot-related businesses jibe with the Valley's love for outsiders and outlaws like Airbnb and Uber, both of which have succeeded by violating existing regulations. "The motto is: Don't ask for permission; ask for forgiveness," Davis points out. "That is going to be no different with cannabis."
And then there's the money factor. Investing in the pot sector helps angel investors hedge against a tech bust. And by positioning themselves as tech companies that provide services to pot growers without touching the plant, cannabis businesses can court investors who might be reluctant to invest more directly in a product that remains illegal in most of the United States.
"This year just seemed like a tipping point of sorts for marijuana companies, especially with regulation and legalization deadlocks showing signs of thawing."
Not to say it's an easy relationship. At the Disrupt NY conference in May, TechCruch interviewed Privateer's Brendan Kennedy onstage and featured the online "cannabis community" MassRoots in the exhibitor space known as Startup Alley. Businesses in the alley compete through votes from conference watchers for the right to become a "wild card" entry in the Startup Battlefield, where they can jockey for prize money and attention from brand-name investors. Although MassRoots, which is basically Facebook for stoners, won enough votes to put it in the running for the Battlefield, TechCruch's top editor, Matthew Panzarino, selected a different company. According to MassRoots CEO Isaac Dietrich, Panzarino told him that his company, which has 500,000 users, was "not significant." "I think they wanted to present a certain image of the cannabis community, a very scripted and polished image," Dietrich says, "whereas we're the true cannabis community."
Panzarino declined to comment on the incident but pointed out that, at this week's Disrupt event, two cannabis companies had already been selected to compete in the Startup Battlefield. "We do our best to include companies that represent nascent trends every year," he says. "This year just seemed like a tipping point of sorts for marijuana companies, especially with regulation and legalization deadlocks showing signs of thawing."
One of the two pot companies in the Battlefield, Leaf, manufactures a sleek, self-contained hydroponics system that looks like something from the Apple store. An accompanying smartphone app can select optimum light, water, and nutrient levels for particular pot strains at the touch of the button, streams live or time-lapse video of the grow from a built-in camera, and can even download and sync growing conditions employed by other users. Leaf CEO and cofounder Yoni Ofir envisions making money on the $1,500 device the same way Hewlett-Packard makes money on printers: by selling refill cartridges—but for plant nutrients instead of printer ink.
Ofir, who is based in Colorado and has a background in software and hardware, believes the interest in Leaf from people at the conference is more than merely professional. "I believe that at least 80 percent of the creative or technical people in this room consume cannabis," he told me as dorky-looking guys with oversized name tags milled past his booth. "But, you know, this is not a cannabis conference."