Twitter blocked in Turkey; activists graffiti alternate DNS workaround

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has instated a ban of Twitter ostensibly over concerns that it hosts pornography, but from all appearances actually in response to repeated leaks of damning recordings of government officials.

However, the way that the ban is implemented is very rudimentary — the government has forced all ISPs in the country to remove twitter.com from their DNS servers.

In response to this ban, activists have been graffitiing Google’s DNS servers:

Graffiti on a turkish wall reading 'DNS: 8.8.8.8 Alternatif: 8.8.4.4'

Picture obtained here, can’t find the original source — if you do, let me know.

It’s not clear how long this workaround will last, but there are other avenues. One could, for instance, switch DNS to OpenNIC, or if changing DNS no longer provides enough of a workaround and these ISPs are forced by the government to shut down all traffic to Twitter’s servers, then you could instead connect to Tor or some other anonymizing VPN or proxy service.

When people complain that they’re being silenced for being blocked or moderated on a blog, I have to laugh — that’s not in any way an abrogation of your freedom of speech. Having all access to the internet cut off by a totalitarian government, on the other hand, is most decidedly one, and is most decidedly something we all must fight.

Fraudster skeptic Brian Dunning’s shell game

It’s been known for quite some time that Brian Dunning is dirty. From 2006 to 2007, he and his brother set up their joint venture Kessler’s Flying Circus as part of the eBay affiliates program wherein you get commission from every sale if someone purchased something after clicking on a banner ad on your site. Two of Dunning’s other websites, WhoLinked.com and ProfileMaps.info were configured to “stuff cookies” for eBay — that is, to create persistent cookies in your web browser such that if you visited one of those sites, the next time you visited eBay it would imagine that you’d clicked on one of those banner ads. Basically, by going to the site, without knowing it, you were treated as though you’d clicked on the Dunning brothers’ ad campaign even if you’d never even seen that ad. And the cookie would persist such that all your purchases looked as though they came from that ad campaign.

He’d figured out to do this by reverse-engineering Shawn Hogan’s tools — Shawn Hogan being the top-most eBay affiliate, who had himself defrauded eBay of $30+ million USD.

In 2008, eBay filed a lawsuit alleging that Dunning and Dunning had defrauded them of $5,300,000 USD. Though not as big a fraud as Hogan’s case, the Dunnings were the number two affiliate, and this was not chump change. eBay was definitely not getting the advertising bang for their buck. In 2010, a federal grand jury indicted him on five counts of wire fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343. The FBI issued a press release in April 2013 showing that Brian Dunning had pled guilty. He faces 20 years jail time for his crimes.

Given that his general defense to the FBI was that eBay had been “stupid” in the way they set up the program, it’s fairly self-evident he was not repentant of his crimes and thought he could fight the suits in a sort of characteristically Libertarian “if you can do it, then it’s okay to do” defense. Now that he’s pled guilty, it’s fairly evident that he could not fight this case with that method of thinking.

Dunning’s legacy, his skeptical podcast Skeptoid, has long been known to be a cash cow as well — with its own advertisements, and a kitsch store with huge markups on t-shirts and mugs and the likes. However, now that Dunning has pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing, Skeptoid’s fate is in question.

In May of 2012, Dunning filed to convert the Skeptoid Media, Inc into a 501(c)3 non-profit charity, removing the ads from the podcast and site. This is mere months after he’d been forced to publicly admit that the lawsuits were ongoing.

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This is a screenshot of the filing for non-profit status from the Department of Justice website.

It’s an easy leap to believe that this was done to protect it from fallout from his fraud; it’s an easier leap to believe that all he has to do to protect the money he stole is to donate it all to Skeptoid as soon as the non-profit status comes through. I am under the impression that Dunning is presently setting up a board for this non-profit entity prior to the status actually changing. I don’t think it’s possible, at this point, to consider the brand anything but spent and destroyed — any efforts made by any members of our community toward rehabilitating its image and disassociating Skeptoid the brand from Brian Dunning the imprisoned felon are, in my mind, wasted and themselves tainted efforts.

I’m certain that the FBI will not allow this shell game to happen, especially not with the scrutiny that’s levelled at Brian Dunning presently. But on the off chance that it does happen, that Skeptoid is allowed to use funds from the eBay fraud, and that it doesn’t die on the vine thanks to the ongoing support I see from numerous big-name skeptics in our community, at least it won’t have happened because everyone stayed silent.

I do not consent to the skeptical “brand”, insofar as there is one, being represented by malicious con-men and other ne’er-do-wells. The skeptical way of thinking is a toolset that supplements a person’s identity. Not every person’s identity toolset is complete — many people lack empathy or a strong moral compass, among other numerous lacks. The skeptical toolset has too long been associated with amoral Libertarian con-artists that comprise the big-name skeptics, like Dunning, and I’d very much like that to end now. We have enough of an image problem with so-called “honest liars”; no need to prop up dishonest con-artists as part of a package deal.

Speak up. Repudiate any efforts to resurrect the Skeptoid brand. Dissociate yourselves from it if you have ties. Dunning is an unrepentant con-man and none of us need to go down with his ship.

I say that as someone who got into movement skepticism with Skeptoid being the first podcast I ever listened to.

Much ado about cyber-nothing

I’ve been drowned in the world of tech over this holiday season. It is, after all, my lifeblood, as well as my hobby — it’s how I pay the bills and help keep this family afloat. So time has been in short supply for anything but work, and I’ve been choosing (as I mentioned recently) to spend most of my free time either playing Starbound (an absolutely incredible space sandbox game that’s still in pre-release — I’m going to write up a review ASAP), or working on learning Java and creating a procedurally generated platform game that will probably never see market because I suck at art.

Pictured: wanted cyber-criminal "The Hamburgler"

Pictured: wanted cyber-criminal “The Hamburgler”

Being drowned in tech as I am, the things I’ve been reading are mostly technology-related as of late. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped being a skeptic or atheist — just that they haven’t been topics on my must-read list.

This particular piece in All Tech Considered made my skeptical and security-minded tech parts of my brain flip the hell out, and I figured I should share that feeling with you. The piece starts appropriately doomsday, extrapolating from the actual information at hand in a manner that makes me think the piece was written by a very experienced science journalist:

If your computer is infected with a virus or other forms of malware, disconnecting the machine from the Internet is one of the first steps security experts say you should take. But someday, even physically separating your laptop from a network may not be enough to protect it from cyber evildoers.

[Read more…]

Rage Blogging and Drama: The Elan Gale Story

It has come to my attention that there are some members of the various internet skeptical and secular communities, not to mention members of the greater internet “blogosphere”, who evidently do not know what “blogging” actually IS. I am obligated, therefore, to explain, because I happen to be a “blogger” on occasion myself. It behooves me that everyone understand exactly what it is I’m doing here.
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You are free to choose how to use the internet

I’d like remind everyone that you are free to curate your internet experience however you please. When your internet experience starts to suck because people are trying to make your life miserable, you are free to deal with that as you see fit.

You are free to withdraw from a space. You are free to ban and block. You are free to call on friends for help. You are free to dig in and argue with every entitled douchebag who comes along trying to win a war of attrition in order to force you out of that space. You are free to be pseudonymous; you are free to use your real name. You are free to publicly disagree with them, even via a blog post if you so choose; or you can privately disagree with them amongst a small tight-knit circle of friends and allies. You can use any number of block-list services like Akismet, RBL, the A+ Block Bot, or even a whitelist-only setup like making your Twitter account Private. You can engage with everyone who thinks the internet is a debate club, or you can ignore those people, or you can block them.

And be damned anyone who says that this is “fascist”.
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Why they don’t report — except, sometimes, they do

Trigger warning: accounts of rape and discussion of how these rape conversations are cyclical.

Every time we go ’round the rape mulberry bush, well-meaning newcomers to the conversation make unreasonable demands of victims of a crime. It seems obvious to anyone armed only with common sense that if you are the victim of a crime, you report it to the police. So these newcomers make demands of the victims, and some long-term participants in the same conversations actually relish the opportunity to argue the same ground again. The demands almost always include that rape victims be re-victimized by submitting their life to intense scrutiny by the police and by bystanders who are reflexively defensive of the accused.
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CONvergence – Real World vs the Internet

It’s a false dichotomy. End of panel. Thank you all for coming!

Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that. You’ll want to listen to this one, especially where we draw significantly on our personal experiences and discuss how the lines are blurring, and how “meatspace” is not really all that distinguishable from the internet. In fact, the biggest and most important “internet-based” event in my life actually took me some time to recall, because I wasn’t mentally classifying it as internet-related, which is why you’ll hear me fumble for an experience at the start of the panel.

Panelists were Stephanie Zvan, Jason Thibeault, Lux Pickel, PZ Myers, and Jamie Bernstein.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

cvg2013-skepchickcon-realworldvsinternet.mp3

Sorry it’s taking so long to get these out. I basically came crashing back to reality hard after CONvergence, coming home to two gigantic work crises at once, creating a perfect storm that I’m still shovelling out. Fifteen hours yesterday, seven hours sleep, more work since I’ve been awake. Essentially, the only reason I’m posting this now is because I’m on an enforced break while my VPN access point is rebooting. Seriously, God must really hate me for being so dismissive of him over the weekend or something.

Thou Shalt Pirate Pornography

A few people are pointing this out as an example of some of the religious hypocrisy endemic in organized Catholicism. While they’re making a good case about it — this is in fact hypocritical, if you consider piracy stealing — I’d rather point out that this makes these people every bit as human as anyone else. They are not special, they are not sacred, and they are not better than anyone else in any way.

What am I talking about this time? Another sex scandal, perhaps? Well, tangentially, maybe. But in this case, it’s priests admitting to downloading DVD screeners of yet-unreleased movies, and logs of holy men downloading some perfectly ordinary lesbian and BDSM pornography.

But not just any holy men… the IPs in question belong to people inside the Holy See.

Helped by Scaneye, TorrentFreak decided to take a look at the recent downloading habits of people living in the most religious city-state in the world – the Vatican.

The Vatican is a small place so downloading levels are very low. However, we did notice that one particular IP address came up a number of times, on each occasion linked to TV shows such as Chicago Fire, Lightfields, The Neighbours and Touch. Another IP address showed an interest in The Americans.
[…]
In the interests of science we researched each of the titles (including the curiously named RS77_Episode 01) and discovered that downloaders in the Vatican have one or two unusual ‘niche’ interests. We won’t link to our discoveries here, but feel free to do your own ‘research’ using the titles shown above. There isn’t a commandment that covers these films directly, but some might argue there should be.

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Spot the Sexual Language

If you were watching the SkepTech hash tag on Twitter during the conference last weekend, you probably would have seen the usual suspects making the usual whine-plaints about harassment policies, and how they’re ruining all the fun at conferences. Then you would have seen some of those same whiners lose their shit over the fact that there was a whole panel about sex (HEAVENS FOREFEND), populated by feminists (FETCH MY FAINTING COUCH).

An example tweet from a pro-harassment tweeter (I mean, seriously, what else can you make of this?), believes they’ve caught us feminists, and the founders of SkepTech who supported harassment policies, out on some sort of hypocrisy:

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/iamcuriousblue/status/322614556880949249″]

@iamcuriousblue #SkepTech policy:”Sexual language & imagery not appropriate for any conference venue, including talks.” In practice: [link to Youtube video]

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