Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.

Re: New Third Voice version out

Author:Paul Snively
Posted:9/15/1999; 3:37:19 PM
Topic:New Third Voice version out
Msg #:11092 (In response to 11076)
Prev/Next:11091 / 11093

First: Jeremy, thank you for taking the time to write such a thorough and well-reasoned reply. This is the level of discourse that I hope for and expect from the UserLand DG.

Newspapers don't have to deal with large numbers of people intercepting the trucks and adding their comments to the newspapers. (Note, it doesn't have to be all the newspapers... and for that matter, it wouldn't really matter whether or not the reader wanted those comments; I'd still expect the newspaper to win the lawsuit against the markers.)

Really? It seems to me that you're conferring an awful lot of legal power on the physical medium. What about an op-ed piece in a competing newspaper that quotes portions of your article and cites "fair use?" What about a newsletter that pays you for the right to reprint your entire article and then puts it in the context of a scathing rebuttal? What about the customer who goes to the newsstand where he buys the newspaper occassionally and has known the proprietor for 25 years, and goes there as much for his buddy's ascerbic commentary on the news as for the news itself? (I live in LA, which is very nearly as dotted with these streetcorner newsstands as New York is; I'm not making this last scenario up.)

Now: what's the difference between the competing newspaper, the newsletter, and the garrulous newsstand operator and someone, say, writing in the newspaper margins before selling the newspaper at the same price? No profit motive questions, just some customers asking for the marked-up newspaper because they enjoy the additional (free) commentary? Let's go farther and say that the marker-upper is scrupulous about never obscuring the original content; he never deletes or changes a thing. He only adds to. What then?

Incidentally, my point wasn't that such guarantees exist in the real world (although thanks to establishments such as the Better Business Bureau and the legal system, they may as well). My point was that such guarantees *can* exist online; we just need to be aggressive about constructing/adopting the appropriate infrastructure.

To me, the root of the problem is that there are changes made to a site. A copyrighted site, might I add. As far as I can tell, it doesn't matter whatsoever whether or not the reader "chooses" to modify his copy of the web page. Modification is clearly one of the rights granted by copyright.

This is simply wrong, as far as I can tell: there are precisely zero changes made to the site. The site's contents remain intact. All of the original content is still available to the user, even in its original format--Marshall McLuhan must be posthumously ecstatic. All that's happened is the reader has said "I wish to see other people's comments on this content." It so happens that the delivery mechanism for those comments visually overlays the comments atop the material being commented on. It even does so in a very obvious, opaque way, using a well-known, easily interpreted metaphor: a yellow sticky note. It's virtually impossible for even the least web-literate surfer to mistake this somehow for the content of the site itself. There are no legitimate content-modification issues; there aren't even any legitimate branding issues. As far as I can tell, all the broughaha arises because some of the comments might be negative.

Further, the assertion that copyright prevents me from modifying my local copy of a copyrighted web page is specious insofar as laws regarding "fair use" obtain.

I don't much care what those changes are. That you have some right to free speech is not a concern to me. I have it too; my website is me using it. If you want to discuss my site or my content, fine, but use YOUR free speech, not mine.

But Third Voice users *are* using their free speech. Until and unless they create a way to *unilaterally* install themselves on an unwitting user's system, against the user's will, they aren't interfering with your free speech at all. You yourself said:

It's so easy to forget that on the web, there are TWO parties at the very least: Webmaster and reader...

You're insisting that the Webmaster has the right to prevent the reader from inviting other people to discuss what the Webmaster wrote. I suggest, in the strongest possible terms, that you're wrong.

It can interfere with the message of the site. I don't even care if it's a "good" interference... on my site, that's my decision to make, not yours.

Again, you cannot prevent (either technically or legally) your reader from inviting a conversation regarding your "message." If it's really *that* important, make your site secure. More about this in a moment.

I heard from a professional psychologist who didn't want any messages on his site, as even well-meaning messages can make things go wrong, and do a lot of damage. In his case, he's not interested in whether or not the user asked for his message. He needs the control so he can deal with a sensitive group of people without interference.

An excellent example, and one where I would say that having a secure site was simply mandatory. And I don't just mean "basic authentication," either.

Flip side too... for some people, having a website and knowing that those comments are there can be damaging. I don't want to try to detail specific instances, but some people put deeply personal stuff on the web, and while they can handle mail they know nobody else got, putting messages on the site is a lot more public of an insult (or whatever the problem).

People that sensitive should strongly reconsider the wisdom of publishing deeply personal material in a public forum of any kind; to insist that the entire unknown, anonymous readership of such material needs to be technically or legally restricted from commenting upon it so as to "protect" the feelings of the publisher is, frankly, ludicrous. Once again, a strongly secure site--digital certificates tied to verified e-mail addresses, at the least, and possibly even certified-mail-verified physical addresses--would be a good idea.

How much money has Microsoft spent serving their pages to people who were there for the sole purpose of participating in an ongoing Third Voice (or other annotation service) conversation? Why should they spend this money?

Because it's traffic, which is, after all is said and done, the lifeblood of a site. It's not possible to know which conversing person will somehow reach a person who comes to the site and... does whatever makes the site revenue. Buys something; clicks through an ad (God help us all...) In fact, Third Voice really *should* be an ad-driven site's dream come true--which is, frankly, the only compelling argument against it I've seen so far.

If my ISP charges by the byte, why should I spend this money?

Another excellent question. First, get a reasonable ISP. Secondly, see above.

If I have a secure site, and in the interests of protecting my customers against security flaws in software (for which I will be blamed!), I want to disable Third Voice & friends, that's too bad. Third Voice has taken possession of the entire web. If they have a security hole in their product, and anybody who uses it hits it, then the site is compromised, and that's just too darned bad, because you can't stop it (and apparently you would argue we have no right to). Those holes can extend beyond those who have TV installed too (constructing such an example is not really that difficult or implausible), so the argument that it only puts those who choose it in danger is not viable either.

With all due respect, Jeremy, I really don't believe this to be true: if your site truly is secure (to the greatest extent your particular OS/web server/CGI/etc. can provide, anyway), how can a client-side proxy server make it any less secure? If the proxy is being careful, it supports and passes through certificates from the browser, challenges from the web server, SSL-encrypted communication, etc. and your security continues to work. If it's NOT careful (God knows simple proxies tend not to worry themselves with passing along Netscape digital certificates!), then authentication simply fails, and you remain secure. So I challenge you to present one of your "not really that difficult or implausible" examples--you've piqued my curiosity, as Internet security is something of a hobby horse of mine.

It's also intriguing to me that you're raising this issue in the context of Third Voice, but you haven't in the context of, say, NetNanny, CyberCop, WebWasher, IBM's WBI, or any of the other client-side proxy servers out there. Are they *all* glaring security risks, or just Third Voice? If they all are, then it seems like we can figure out how and why, fix them, and let them be--including Third Voice. If it's just Third Voice that's a risk, it seems like we can figure out how and why, urge them to fix it, and it's still OK. But I rather strongly suspect that this issue is a red herring.

I submit to you that if it is OK for the current users of Third Voice to use it, it is OK for everyone, and we should deal with the ethical issues as if anybody and everybody uses it. Aside from the technical issues, what happens on the web when anybody can drown out an unpopular opinion by saturating it with posts espousing a majority view? This is already happening on sites that dare suggest that Third Voice is not a good thing; it's not going to stop. What of the webmaster's rights then?

The webmaster has the right to use Third Voice to post rebuttals all over the obnoxious posters' sites. What's that? You don't know who the obnoxious poster is, or even if they have a site? That's correct, and we're back to the real problem: lack of accountability. Ironically, your example is self-defeating: the problem you cite of anti-TV sites getting plastered can only occur when not everyone uses TV or something like it: in particular, it happens when the folks who don't like TV don't use it, and the ones who do, do. Hardly surprising at all upon a second's reflection.

The solution isn't to do away with TV (which is neither possible nor desirable). The solution is to insist upon accountability, as I've posted before in this thread.

It results in no new rights for the "user", and no real new abilities; the "user" can still address the entire internet. Yet it seriously impinges on both the rights of the webmaster (who is also a user at other times) and the ability of the webmaster to carry out their exercise of the rights to free speech of their own and the responsibility to provide a secure environment, when applicable (e-commerce and such).

I'm intensely curious as to how TV impinges upon any of the webmaster's rights--in particular, how it does so in a fashion the solution to which does *not* impinge in a much more obvious and broad fashion upon reader's rights to both free speech and free assembly.

I remain more curious still as to how TV threatens security in any fashion that could not be detected and halted by an appropriately-constructed server environment.

(I am assuming here that free speech implies the right to go uninturrupted. That may be not true... in which case I think we're all going to wish it was real soon.)

Free speech as an abstract concept can't possibly include the right to go uninterrupted without impinging upon the free-speech rights of the interruptor. The most you can hope for is a trusted mediator who can proffer certain ancilliary guarantees, e.g. equal time, rebuttal time, etc.

So, my answer to your question of where it matters... this is an issue for those who choose to communicate over the web. Certainly there's no reason from the user's point of view to be upset... THEY can just shut it off and be more-or-less shielded from the effects (not perfectly, though). What rights do a webmaster have?

Shielded from *what* effects? Why should they be "shielded" if they've volunteered for those effects? Why would shutting off the proxy server "not perfectly shield" the user from the proxy server's effects?

Webmaster's have *exactly* the same rights they've always had: no more, no less. The problem at hand is that apparently some webmaster's assumed--incorrectly--that they had the right to prevent their second party from inviting third parties--even third parties unknown to either of the first two parties--into a conversation about the first party. That right has never existed. (I was as surprised as Linda Tripp to learn that for her to record her phone conversations with Monica Lewinsky was illegal; in virtually every state in America, either party to a conversation can record that conversation and play it back to whomever they wish.) Even if it did, it's nonsensical to talk about enforcing it on the web without instituting web infrastructure changes that I have posted about elsewhere in this thread.

Perhaps it's time to start clearly delineating the political discussion and the technical discussion, because right now the gap between them is insurmountable and will likely remain so for the predictable future.

To summarize, politically: you, Jeremy, believe that the webmaster has the right to prevent his/her readers--any and/or all of them--from allowing any or all third parties to offer their comments on the webmaster's site. Would you say this is a fair and accurate representation of your belief? If not, how would you amend my description of your belief?

I'll leave the technical aspect open for now pending your thoughts regarding secure sites, the security risks of annotation services, and why my suggestions above might be inadequate solutions to the issues you raised.

Thanks again for an engaging and lively discussion!

Paul Snively

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