For the Decentralized Web

I’m joining the board of the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web (FFDW). I want to tell you about the project’s mission, what I hope to bring to the Board, and what we’ll be focusing on this first year.

The Mission and Purpose of the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web

The mission of FFDW is “to ensure the permanent preservation of humanity’s most important information by stewarding the development of open source software and open protocols for decentralized data storage and retrieval networks.”

I love that the organization is committed to the long-term preservation of humanity’s most important knowledge. In the digital age, everything can be preserved, but how well are we actually doing it? Where forward-thinking projects like the Internet Archive and Wikimedia are committed to preserving the historical web and encyclopedic knowledge, Filecoin can help spread that burden: creating an economic system that could allow data to be archived for long periods of time in a reliable but distributed manner.

We especially need this because right now, file storage is basically a monopoly. Much of the modern Internet relies on a single file service – Amazon Web Services—to store and serve literally billions of websites and applications. This means a single corporation—with an agenda, narrow economic incentives, and little accountability—has a powerful ability to shut down access to vast swaths of human information. And we’ve seen the perils of that, including when Amazon Web Services suffered blackouts and hunks of the most popular Internet services were unavailable for long stretches. Centralization of this sort is dangerous and short-sighted. Thanks to the ingenuity of Filecoin developers, we now have new models for thinking about large-scale, distributed, incentivized data storage—so future competitors to Amazon Web Services have a chance at thriving and surviving.

Notably, FFDW doesn’t mention “Filecoin” anywhere in its mission. That’s because FFDW is not about promoting a single blockchain project. Instead, FFDW sees decentralized file storage as part of a larger ecosystem of developers, projects, advocates, and policies that work together to build a future that is more decentralized, more accountable to users, and less resistant to censorship. Filecoin is a key and important part of that, but we must also support the future of the decentralized web overall.

Continue reading “For the Decentralized Web”

The Selective Prosecution of Julian Assange

This post was originally published over on EFF’s Deeplinks blog, and is cross-posted here.

As the extradition hearing for Wikileaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange unfolds, it is increasingly clear that the prosecution of Assange fits into a pattern of governments selectively enforcing laws in order to punish those who provoke their ire. As we see in Assange’s case and in many others before this, computer crime laws are especially ripe for this form of politicization.

The key evidence in the U.S. government’s cybercrime conspiracy allegations against Assange is a brief conversation between Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning in which the possibility of cracking a password is discussed, Manning allegedly shares a snippet of that password with Assange, and Assange apparently attempts, but fails, to crack it.  While breaking into computers and cracking passwords in many contexts is illegal under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, few prosecutors would ever bother to bring a case for such an inconsequential activity as a failed attempt to reverse a hash. But the government has doggedly pursued charges against Assange for 10 years, perhaps because they fear that prosecuting Assange for publishing leaked documents is protected by the First Amendment and is a case they are likely to lose.  

Continue reading “The Selective Prosecution of Julian Assange”

Walled Gardens Don’t Have Customers

I haven’t written much about EFF’s work on competition, and I’ve been hoping to do so for a while. I noticed the recent fight between HEY and Apple’s App Store, and it’s such a perfect example of where the current system fails innovators and the public. You can also read the full post on EFF’s Deeplinks blog.

Just as the service was launching, the HEY developers found the new release of the app—which included important security fixes—was held up over a purported violation of the App Store rules. Specifically, Developer Rule 3.1.1, which states that “If you want to unlock features or functionality within your app, (by way of example: subscriptions, in-game currencies, game levels, access to premium content, or unlocking a full version), you must use in-app purchase.” Apple alleged that HEY had violated this rule by pushing users to pay for its email service outside of the crystal prison of the App Store.

Basecamp’s CTO David Heinemeier Hansson tweeted:

But many apps—like Netflix and Amazon’s Kindle —follow this same payment pathway, with users setting up accounts directly through a website and then logging into that paid account via an app in the Apple App Store. And it’s no wonder that tech companies balk at the idea of following App’s store payment pathway—as the BBC reports, Apple takes a cut of all in-app payments, often as much as 30%.

Continue reading “Walled Gardens Don’t Have Customers”

Creating a sanctuary, wherever you are

We’re on our third week of living in San Francisco during the COVID-19 quarantine, after spending three weeks away from home when the virus first began to escalate locally.

The streets of our neighborhood are twisty and steep, criss-crossed by narrow staircases, and the park at the top of the hill is always teeming with people and dogs. On any run or walk in my neighborhood, it’s pretty much impossible to stay 6 feet away from strangers, much though I dodge into traffic to try. Continue reading “Creating a sanctuary, wherever you are”

When Computer Crimes Are Used To Silence Journalists

I wrote this for the EFF blog, and am cross-posting an excerpt here. 

This week, prosecutors in Brazil filed a criminal complaint against Glenn Greenwald, an internationally lauded journalist best known for publishing leaked documents detailing the NSA’s mass surveillance. Greenwald’s prosecution is an attempt to use computer crime law to silence an investigative reporter who exposed deep-seated government corruption. Sadly, this isn’t the first such effort and, unless we stop this drift to criminalizing journalism, it likely won’t be the last.

Greenwald has faced a prolonged and complicated legal standoff in Brazil since he published documents showing that a federal judge in Brazil colluded with prosecutors to convict former leftist president Lula da Silva. That conviction was crucial to preventing da Silva from running in the last election, which was instrumental in Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro successfully ascending to power. Greenwald published private chat conversations, audio recordings, videos, photos, court proceedings, and other documentation provided by an anonymous source showing, among other things, the collusion between prosecutors and the judge, who has since been appointed as Brazil’s top judicial minister.

Since those articles were published, Greenwald and his family have dealt with legal threats (including a statement from President Bolsonaro that Greenwald could “do jail time”), death threats, and homophobic persecution.

Unfortunately, legal prosecution and character attacks are familiar tools used to silence investigative journalists who expose corruption. The use of cybercrime laws to do so, however, is relatively new.  This case is garnering special international attention in part because the current charges fly in the face of a decision by the Supreme Court of Brazil last year, in which the Court preemptively halted investigations against Greenwald. That decision upheld the rights of journalists to communicate directly with their sources, and stated that Greenwald’s acts deserved constitutional protection—regardless of the content published, or its impact on government interests. Continue reading “When Computer Crimes Are Used To Silence Journalists”

Relearning Russian as an Adult

In college, I spoke Russian all the time. I took a winter immersion course at Wellesley my sophomore year and found the language delightful. It was the first time I’d ever dug into the linguistic quirks of another language with such depth, and I discovered all these subtle and seemingly profound differences from English. I was fascinated by the way all verbs in Russian have two forms—one more focused on the process of doing something, the other more focused on the completed action, and that the latter could not be in the present tense, only the future or past. I also felt that adding a gender to every noun fundamentally impacted its character in ways lost to the English language, and my mind would fiddle over the exact meanings of colloquial Russian phrases.

Now, remembering how I learned Russian, I also think it was my first experience of meditation. Today, I consider thoughts to be something that can be cultivated over time through awareness and conscious choice. But in college my thoughts flew around like so many bats in a dark cave. It never occurred to me that there could be benefit from trying to bring order to them. The obsessiveness with which I picked up the language—and I could spend hours a day in rote memorization drills—was a way to force my brain to one single, carefully chosen idea at a time. Here, the word to go shopping. Here, the word for button. Here, the word for tail. All my dizzying, depressed thoughts would get locked away for however long it was necessary for me to complete my daily Russian practice.

Continue reading “Relearning Russian as an Adult”

Why I’m So Persistently Intrigued by Blockchain

After I changed jobs last September, I stopped doing a lot of digital activism. The break has been great, honestly. It’s hard to fight on NSA surveillance abuses, crackdowns on whistleblowers, and free speech violations for literally years at a time. It was in many ways easier to focus on strategy and the day-to-day challenges of keeping smart people happy in their jobs, coordinated in their work, and highly productive.

The one program area I kept in my docket was blockchain. I’ve published a bunch of different blog posts in the last few months exploring the collision of free expression and blockchain regulations:

Could Regulatory Backlash Entrench Facebook’s New Cryptocurrency Libra?

EFF and Open Rights Group Defend the Right to Publish Open Source Software to the UK Government

Why Outlawing Cryptocurrency Purchases by Americans is a Terrible Idea

Coin Center’s Report Explores Privacy Coins, Decentralized Exchanges, and the First Amendment

SEC’s Action Against Decentralized Exchange Raises Constitutional Questions

I also want to share a bit about why I’m interested in this issue, since my parents find it baffling.

My first job in consumer advocacy was at a scrappy but principled nonprofit called the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. In addition to writing consumer guides about protecting  privacy and cataloguing data breaches by companies, we’d get questions from consumers who were struggling with privacy issues. People could literally call us up on the phone and say, “I’m having this horrible privacy problem, do you have any suggestions?” We’d point them to our guides, or to other nonprofits working in the space, or sometimes we’d explain how to file a complaint with the appropriate regulatory agency. A lot of the time, we’d just tell them how to find an attorney, or ask them if they’d be interested in talking to the press.

Continue reading “Why I’m So Persistently Intrigued by Blockchain”

Our Yosemite Valley Wedding Adventure

Anton and I got married on September 15th of this year. We invited 80 loved ones out into the Sierra Nevada and said our vows on the banks of the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.

How can I begin to put into words the expanse of emotions and experiences packed into the two days we spent in the mountains getting married? It was both deeply intimate and almost uncomfortably public. I found my emotions skittering wildly in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.

Throughout it, I found my hands reaching for Anton’s arm or hand, found myself tucking against him and looking up into his eyes to see the same delight and amazement I felt reflected back in his eyes. I’d feel anchored, steady, and connected. For a while at least, the pull and expectations of other people would fade behind the deeper connection between us.

This blog post includes details of our Yosemite wedding—the fantastic vendors we used, our vows, the ceremony in its entirety, and a sampling of the photos from the weekend. It’s mostly for me to remember everything, as well as to share with friends and family. It might also be useful if you are planning a Yosemite wedding.

360_rainey_anton.jpg Continue reading “Our Yosemite Valley Wedding Adventure”

We’re Not Foodies

I asked my partner what he considered the best dinner out we’d ever had. We were walking on a trail somewhere, and I sometimes use these random questions to pass the time. He didn’t answer flippantly, as I might have expected. Instead, he offered two moments.

First: we were in Brazil, on the island of Isla Grande with its rainforests and howler monkeys and mossy ruins and perfect white beaches. We found an unnamed beachside restaurant with chairs and tables just a few feet from the sand-lapping ocean, a full bar, and a small menu that changed daily. The lights on the entire island would flicker and go out often, casting the whole village into darkness, but it happened so regularly that the restaurant just casually lit candles and continued cooking with a propane stove. I was so thrilled with it, so enamored, that I asked my partner if we could eat there again the next day, and he said we could eat there every night we were on the island.

Second: we were hiking the Colorado Trail and we arrived on day 18 at Lake Ann, a small alpine lake tucked into the crook of a mountain. I had been struggling with intestinal issues for the last few days, and so I’d missed out on the decadence of real meals while we were in town. When we reached Lake Ann, my tummy had finally settled and the view was brilliant.  We had miles of valley below to enjoy and rejoice in before sleep. As we set up camp, my partner surprised me with a can of alcoholic root beer, a decadent treat I love and wasn’t able to enjoy when we were in town. We shared it on a rock overlooking a sun-kissed valley and fell asleep in the tent together.

These two meals weren’t remarkable because of what we ate. I don’t even remember what we ate. Maybe it was ramen (it likely was, at Lake Ann). These meals were unforgettable because of where we were, both in the world and in our relationship. Things were flowing—we were connecting, discovering each other. We were adventuring together, our senses attuned to the beauty of simple things—like a can of root beer on a rock watching the sunset, or a candle on a small table at the edge of the ocean.

I was reminded anew of one of the things I love most about my partner. He doesn’t care about expensive or “fancy” dinners out. No five star restaurants, no waiters, no cloth napkins (or any napkins). Just the two of us and the wonder of nature unfolding around us.

 

lake-ann-2
Lake Ann